Christmas morning started with an early bird phone call from Connor. “Merry Christmas babe, you up yet?”
“No,” Daisy yawned and stretched quietly, “Not yet.”
He leaned back into his pillow, amused by her morning noises. Shutting his eyes, he envisioned her smiling face. “Come on babe, take a run with me.”
“Okay.” She yawned again. “It will take me a minute to get dressed and tell Grandpa.”
“I’m coming over, I will talk to Grandpa for you so you can get out quicker.”
“Kay, see you in a few minutes.” Daisy rolled over in bed and blinked blankly at the red numbers on her alarm clock. “5 a.m. Looks like Connor caught Grandpa’s early-bird disease again,” she mumbled sleepily. “God, help me get up.” She didn’t want to keep Connor waiting so she whispered a few more words to her prayer, “And please, please help me not take too long getting ready. Amen.” She stared at the spot on the floor where she wanted to be standing. “Ready. On your mark. Get set. GO!”
Quick as a whip, she jumped out of bed. “Ah, bird turds!” She bent over and grabbed her calf muscle. “Man, they’re so tight. Better stretch those babies out first.” She went to her wall and stood about three feet away from it. Placing her hands square on the wall in front of her, she leaned forward slowly, making sure to keep her feet flat. Very slowly she did 10 push-ups against the wall. Then she did a few stretching lunges, making sure again that her feet remained flat and pointing forward. “There we go, that should do it. Now… for running clothes.” Her black and white jogging set was out of the drier and hanging in her closet, right in front where she could see it easily. “Hmm, looks like pray ‘in really does help,” she pondered this thought as she got dressed and wandered down the hallway.
The doorbell rang the moment she entered the living room. “Perfect timing.” Opening the door, she greeted Connor with a gentle morning hug. “Missed you,” she whispered in his ear.
He closed his eyes, enjoying her affection for a moment. “Did you tell Grandpa Joe we were going to the beach yet?”
“Not yet.” She reluctantly let go of him and they walked into the kitchen.
Grandpa was in the kitchen making pancakes.
“Mmmm, smells great in here.” Connor breathed deeply.
“Good morning Grandpa, Merry Christmas.” Daisy gave her Grandpa a hug too.
“Merry Christmas!” He boomed. “Are you two ready for breakfast?”
“Can we run first, then eat? It’s easier on the stomach that way,” Connor asked.
“Sure, that’d be fine.”
“Great, thanks Grandpa. We will be back in an hour or two.”
Joe pointed to the tied up trash in the corner of the kitchen. “Take the trash out on your way down.”
“Sure.” Connor grabbed the trash bag and they were out the front door. In the hallway, he grabbed the trash bag that was sitting in front of his own apartment door and carried both bags down the stairs to the dumpster and threw them in.
Daisy turned on the hose that was in the parking lot area so Connor could rinse his hands off.
“Thanks, babe.” He flicked his wet hands in her direction then took off running.
“Aaaa, Connor…” she giggled as she turned the water off as quickly as possible.
Christmas morning was bright, clear and chilly. The sun was peeking out from behind the one and only cloud in the sky. You could hear the gulls calling from the dunes, “Feed me, Feed me!” The salty air was so fresh and clean smelling, it invigorated you immediately.
Connor and Daisy jogged down the street, side by side, enjoying the beautiful morning together. When they hit the boardwalk, they turned to the right and picked up pace. Their light feet patted the wooden platform in unison. Raising their eyes, they watched the gulls play in the sky.
“The gulls are everywhere this morning.” Connor noticed with amusement.
“Yea, we must have just missed the fishermen,” Daisy concluded as she watched the gulls circle and dart about, hungrily.
The ocean pounded out its welcome to the runners and Connor responded to the ocean’s encouragement by speeding up. He stretched out his legs and released them to run freely. He glanced at Daisy to see if his pace stressed her any, but he found her eyes to be bright and her breathing to be quiet. There did not seem to be any stress in her countenance anywhere. He noticed her legs, they were not as long as his but her stride was good. He was secretly impressed with how someone so short could compete with other long legged athletes and keep up with them so well. He wondered to himself how fast she would be in eleventh and twelfth grade. If she continued to improve at this rate, she might even end up faster than Maria. Wouldn’t that be something? He’d never seen any girl beat Maria, but that could change any day.
“Hey Day, I read this article recently about how our feet are like springing mechanisms. If we take time to practice a bouncier step, it is suppose to help our running. Wanna try?”
Connor slowed down, almost to a walking pace. Then lifting his knees high, he began springing forward with smaller but higher steps, like a prancing horse might do.
With a little giggle, Daisy copied him.
For maybe an eighth of a mile they practiced bouncy, prancing type steps. Then Connor made a sudden switch to skipping. He continued to lift his knees high and spring from the platform as high as he was able go but he also added a skip to it.
Daisy copied his new action. Lifting her knees, she sprang up and skipped forward. It took all her energy and focus to do it correctly so she wasn’t able to giggle even though she wanted to. It was really a lot of fun.
They practiced a springing-skip for a while longer then returned to free style running.
They were almost to the birdwatchers station now. Connor wondered, if he picked up the pace again would Daisy be happy about it? Or would it stress her out and disappoint her? Sometimes, she would get angry about him getting ahead of her. She liked him to stay with her, but he secretly loved to push her and see her at top speed. He wondered what he should do.
This was Christmas day, the day he wanted to give her the promise ring, maybe he shouldn’t risk it. He debated back and forth in his head. He finally decided not to push her further, not today. He remained at the pace he was going, just happy to be running with her.
Then out of the blue she stretched out past him, just a stride or two. Her effort excited him but he kept to his planned pace, not daring to push her on their ring exchanging day. If she could push herself, he would enjoy watching that just as much as if he were doing it himself.
She turned her head slightly in his direction. “Why aren’t you trying?” she breathed the words softly.
“Do you want me too?” he asked hesitantly.
“Of course.” She focused again on the birdwatchers benches ahead and pushed out another two strides. He grinned. Her effort again excited him! It must be okay since she asked him too so he pressed in and stretched out. He began to fly at his best and she took her place behind him. He stretched out farther ahead of her. They both flew at their best speed and enjoyed the thrill of it exceedingly!
They finally hit the birdwatchers station and ran in circles around the center bench attempting to slow down. After a few circles, Connor grabbed Daisy around the waist and hugged her energetically! “Thanks Day-Day! That was great!” He swung her around playfully.
Daisy laughed and soaked up his affection, truly enjoying the show of his strength in running. They jumped on top of the bench that faced the ocean and stood there holding hands, looking out over the rumbling waves, breathing in the cold ocean air.
After a few deep breaths, Connor spoke again. “Daisy, will you wear my ring now?” His eyes were bright with the excitement of his run and his invitation.
Her smile enlarged to its fullest size. “Of course I will. Did you bring them?”
He pulled the box from his pocket and held it out for her to see.
Her eyes began to tear up as she reached for the little box in his hand. Her hand shook and she pulled it back and wiped her tears instead. She started laughing at herself, embarrassed by her inability to cope with the excitement. “I’m sorry.” She pressed the palms of her hands against her eyes, willing the tears to leave.
Connor sat down on the railing with his back to the ocean and his feet firmly planted on the bench. “Come here,” he said softly as he pulled her closer to him.
She stood in front of him and placed her hands on his shoulders. He gently pulled her closer again and lay his head against her. He could feel her hands still shaking against the back of his shoulders and he hugged her tighter. “Relax, Daisy,” he said quietly.
She slowly sat on his knee and hugged him. “I’m sorry, Connor. I don’t know why I am crying. I’m just so worked up and excited. My system is just freaking out.” She laughed at herself for crying, again.
“We can wait a minute.” He sat there, holding her quietly for a good long while.
Then she wiped her face off on his shirt which made her start laughing again. “I did the same thing that little boy in Sunday School did. It is not liquid cement. It will come out with water.” She was now red with embarrassed at the mess she was making of their special moment. “Sorry,” she giggled through her tears again.
He wiped her tears and laughed with her. Her show of emotion never bothered him. In fact, it was one of the things he liked about her. He never had to play the guessing game that Andy and Mark often had to play with their girls. Connor always knew exactly what Daisy was thinking and feeling. No sleepless nights trying to figure out what was going on with Daisy, no-siree. It was always right there on her face, in her eyes, plain as Day.
He ran his hand through her hair. “I am… so…. in love with you,” he whispered. Staring into her eyes, he kissed her tear-streaked cheeks, then her mouth. He held her until she regained control of herself, unbothered by her show of emotion.
She finally took a deep breath and relaxed. Her heart stopped its wild pounding and she laid her head on his shoulder peacefully. “I’m okay now, I think.”
He held the little box back out in sight again and she opened it. They gazed at the contents and an uncontrollable grin stretched across Daisy’s face again. She lay her head back down on his shoulder, afraid she might have another outburst. She breathed quietly for a minute longer, then she tried again. She reached in and took Connor’s ring out. He brought the correct hand out for her, he took off the little silver hoop earrings that he had been wearing on his ring finger and moved them to the other hand. Daisy gently slid the promise ring on his finger. Then she reached up and laid her hands on both sides of his face.
She looked him directly in his eyes. “I love you Connor Bailey.” She touched her lips to his and gave him the softest kiss he’d ever had in his life. When she was done they touched their foreheads together and looked down at the little box that was between them. Connor took her ring out of the box and held her hand steady. He slid it on her ring finger very carefully, pushing it up into its proper place. He brought her hand to his mouth and kissed her hand. Then he looked up into her face. “I love you too, Daisy Ray. Please always be mine. Forever be my Daisy girl.” He touched her face gently then pushed his hand back into her hair, pulling her mouth to his. He kissed her with all the youthful strength that he was capable of. He whispered his words a second time into her mouth. “Always…always be my Daisy girl.”
They gave in to the moment and kissed there at the birdwatchers station for the longest time. The only sound around was the gulls begging someone to feed them and the ocean pounding its encouragement into the sand. There was no one around on this cold Christmas morning to interfere with them so they remained lost in their happy embrace. Lost in their own private world.
Then a thought entered Connor’s mind. No, not a thought really. It was more like a memory flashing through his mind, a picture, of him and Daisy at church asking God to enter their private world. The same picture flashed suddenly though Daisy’s mind at the exact same moment. They gazed into each other’s eyes, foreheads touching, mouths holding still. A wordless impression passed between them, a sense of God being really, truly present all around them.
They looked up into the bright morning sky.
“The sky is so big and never ending,” Daisy whispered in amazement.
The ocean boomed loudly behind them.
“The ocean is so powerful,” Connor added, equally amazed.
“God… He’s all around us. Everywhere we go!” Daisy exclaimed.
Connor looked all around them and realized Daisy’s words were true.
“God isn’t in our world, we… are in His world.”
“Yea.” Leaning her head on his shoulder, she smiled softly. “And we are not alone.”
“Yea, we are not alone,” Connor agreed.