THE CHRISTMAS DAUGHTER: A MARIENSTADT STORY
In the soft light of a December afternoon the snow around St. Joseph's Convent glowed, seeming to blend into the white of the old building's walls. Tall, solemn pine trees looked as though they had been sprinkled with sugar and the air was alive with the chirping of hundreds of birds flocking to feeders the sisters kept well-stocked. Someone had poked slices of oranges onto the branches of a bare tree and Baltimore Orioles perched beside them feasting on the juicy fruit.
Boone Wilde wove his way down a narrow drive leading to the convent door, his heart hammering in his huge chest. At six feet two inches tall and well over two hundred muscular pounds, Boone had little experience being afraid of anything throughout his forty-plus years. Until now. How could a little girl, who came barely to his elbow and weighed less than a hundred pounds, cause him so much anxiety? He parked his truck and sat for a minute with his face in his hands. The convent door opened and a nun, wrapped in a black shawl and wearing a corona and veil, stepped out onto the porch. Boone got out of his truck.
“Boone,” she said, smiling at him. “You must have flown here.”
He mounted the steps, leaned down, and kissed her cheek. “Hi, sis,” he said. “Thanks for calling. I was going crazy.”
Sister John-Paul reached up to hug her brother. Even though he had always been the toughest guy she knew, this new vulnerability amazed—and to a certain extent pleased—her. “Don't be angry with her, Boone,” she said.
“I'm not.” He stuffed his hands in the pockets of his jeans. “I just don't get this. I thought we were doing pretty good. Charity's been with me for going on a year now. I thought she was beginning to trust me.”
“It's not that simple. Come inside.” She held the door open. “Charity's never known what it means to have a family. When she was with her mother she never knew where she was going to get dumped off. The only stability she knew was when Luna left her at a nearby convent. Is it any wonder that she comes here when she's scared?”
Boone took a deep breath. “No, it's not and having an aunt here has to help, but I wish I knew what spooks her. She's like a filly that just bolts for no apparent reason.”
Since the day in January that Daniel Boone Wilde found out he had a daughter, his life felt like one long panic attack. The product of his affair with a dancer in an Atlantic City casino—a dancer nearing death from late-stage alcoholism and drug abuse—Charity was twelve years old when he drove to New Jersey, stayed with her through her mother's funeral, then brought her back to Marienstadt. Since then his life consisted of constant fretting. He hated it.
“Well,” Sister John-Paul said, “just be glad she feels safe coming here. Lots of kids take off to places not nearly as welcoming. Come on. She's in the ceramic shop with Sister Hilda.”
He took a deep breath. “Sister Evangelista sent a note home with her from school. I suppose that's what scared her, but when I woke up this morning and she was gone I nearly went nuts.”
“What did the note say?”
Boone was uncomfortably aware of the sound of his boots clumping along the long, perfectly polished floors of the convent, and of his over-sized, rampant maleness in this quiet house of women. “She said Charity's obviously very bright but she's having trouble keeping up because her reading is so poor. She thought maybe Mom could encourage her to read more.”
Their mother, Minnie Werner Wilde, had been the head librarian for decades at Marienstadt Public Library. Now, approaching eighty, she was frail and forgetful. It was her failing health that had brought Boone back to Marienstadt five years earlier.
“Is Mom up to that?” Sister John-Paul glanced at him.
“Not really. She's absent-minded and falls asleep in mid-sentence.” He sighed. “She seems to love Charity but sometimes forgets who she is.”
Sister John-Paul pushed open the ceramic shop door. Sister Hilda, an older nun in traditional Benedictine habit, sat at one of the long tables. Across from her Charity knelt on a plastic-covered kitchen chair, gripping a paintbrush, and dabbing glaze on a figurine. She glanced at Boone from under her long dark bangs but silently went back to work. Boone nodded to Sister Hilda then pulled out the chair next to his daughter and sat down.
“Hi,” he said.
She glanced sideways. “Hi.” It was barely a whisper.
“You left before breakfast,” he said. “I was going to make blueberry waffles.”
She dipped her brush in a pot of gold glaze and delicately painted the halo of the angel she held.
“Did you have breakfast?” Boone asked.
She nodded. “Sister Ursula gave me some milk and a muffin.”
He took a deep breath. “I was worried about you.”
She kept her eyes on her work. “Are you mad at me?”
Boone sighed. “No, sweetie, no.” He reached to stroke her hair but she flinched and he pulled his hand back. “I'm not mad but you should tell me when you're going somewhere.”
She turned the angel over and dabbed at its wings. “Do I have to leave now?”
Boone glanced up at Sister Hilda who shrugged.
“I'll tell you what,” he said. “I have to do a couple errands in town. How about if I come back for you in an hour?” He looked over at his sister who nodded and smiled.
“Okay,” Charity said.
Boone sat still for a minute but when she made no move to look at him he sighed and got to his feet. Back in the hall he let out a low groan. “I don't know what to do,” he said at last.
“You handled that perfectly. She's used to being told what to do and having no control over her life. It's good for you to let her make some choices of her own.”
He ran his big hand over his face and groaned. “You know I never planned on being a father.”
“You're doing as much as you can.” Sister John-Paul patted his arm. “You have to let Charity come to you when she's ready. What are you two doing for Christmas?”
It was less than three weeks until the holiday and Boone had been driving himself crazy trying to remember everything that needed to be done. “Lucius's brother Juney invited us to have dinner at their house but I was afraid it would be too much for Mom so I invited Juney and his wife, and Lucius and his girlfriend, to have dinner with us. You're welcome to come, too.”
Lucius Wickett was Boone's oldest and closest friend. They had been boys together, been in a motorcycle gang together, and narrowly escaped prison together—on more than one occasion.
“We'll see. I might not make it for dinner but I'll come by to see Mom. What about presents for Charity? How are you doing with that?”
“Belva, Lucius's girlfriend, has been buying stuff for her. I told her to spend as much as she wants—she's young. She knows what girls like.”
Sister John-Paul nodded. “That's good.” She opened the door and walked out onto the porch beside him.
“Thanks, sis,” he said again. “I'll see you in a bit.” He trotted down the steps then turned back toward her with a grin. “How did I get myself into this?”
She gave him a mock frown and shook her finger at him. “You know perfectly well how you got yourself into this.”
He laughed. The sunlight picked up the highlights in his thick, sandy hair and Sister John-Paul thought it would be impossible to love anyone more than she did him.
“See you later.” He stepped up into the truck and drove away.
FIVE YEARS EARLIER
When Chief of Police Henry Werner came into the police station early one October morning, Donna Lynch, their dispatcher, gave him a huge smile.
“Good morning, Henry. You're in for a surprise,” she said.
He picked up the stack of mail waiting for him and shuffled through it. “What's that?” Henry was past the point in life where he was particularly thrilled by surprises.
“There's someone waiting for you in your office.” She grinned and tipped her head toward the door. He looked up at her.
“Go see.” Her smile told him that whoever it was had brightened her day, but that was no guarantee that it would his. He resisted the urge to draw his gun and walked toward his office. The door was open but the interior seemed unusually dark. A large man stood in front of the office's sole window with his back to the room. He was as tall as Henry and considerably wider, wearing a black leather jacket, and faded jeans.
“Can I help you?” Henry asked.
The man turned toward him with a sideways smile. He had a rugged, weather-beaten face and wore mirrored sun-glasses. When he reached up and removed them they revealed familiar blue-green eyes.
“Hey, cuz,” he said in a gravelly voice, “miss me?”
Henry hesitated, then recognition flooded him with pleasure. “Boone Wilde! I don't believe it. Where the heck did you come from?” He crossed the room in two steps, hand extended. Boone took his hand in a hippie-handshake—thumbs locked around each other—then put his massive arms around Henry and hugged hard, nearly lifting him off his feet.
“I pritneer didn't recognize you with that shiny star on your chest,” Boone said.
“I pritneer didn't recognize you without a beard down to your gut.”
“I don't have a gut.” Boone patted his stomach and he was right. He was a huge man but did not appear to have an ounce of fat on him. “You look pretty fit yourself. I couldn't believe it when Mom told me you were a lawman now.”
“Yeah, just made Chief a couple years ago. Sit down, sit down.” Henry settled into the chair behind his desk. “Does my dad know you're back?”
Boone's mother, Minnie, was Hank Werner's older sister. “I haven't talked to him yet. When Mom told me that you were the Chief of Police I had to come downtown and see for myself.” He grinned a wide, sly grin. “A few years back that would have come in real handy.”
To Be Continued.....