Updated: Mar 12
by Jim Sellers
CHAPTER FIVE | HOLIDAYS
Except for the incident at school, the Christmas holidays turned out to be wonderful. Danielda woke up early on Christmas Day to the smell of fresh baking along with bacon, pancakes and maple syrup. Her mother took Christmas cooking seriously and was up at the crack of dawn to prepare all the food they would eat.
They liked to wear their pajamas on Christmas morning unless they were having visitors. Sometimes Danielda’s grandparents came by to visit but not this year. It was just going to be the two of them and Danielda preferred it that way, having her mother all to herself for the whole day. After breakfast, they opened their gifts. Danielda gave her mother a professional looking briefcase with her initials engraved on the lock as well as some warm socks with puppy faces on them and a new book by Janet Evanovich, who she liked. Danielda got clothes, books, chocolates from Germany, gift cards and a new diary; which her mother gave her every year since she began writing in them.
Later, they dressed warmly and went to the skating rink to try skating. They weren’t good at it and both of them spent so much time sitting on the ice from falling they felt too cold to keep going. They drove around downtown and around the government buildings and some of the big churches to see the lights and Christmas displays. There was hardly anyone outside so it felt like they had the city to themselves. A big Christmas tree stood next to City Hall. Danielda and her mother took selfies next to it and threw snowballs at each other until they were covered and had to retreat to the car for warmth. They went home and ate ham and turkey until Danielda felt she would burst. Then they ate mince pie and ice cream until she felt she would burst again.
Christmas Day was perfect. They spent the rest of the evening watching A Christmas Story, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, A Christmas Carol (in black and white because it was an old film) and The Santa Clause. They ate chocolates and oranges and popcorn and dragged themselves to bed.
For the rest of the week Danielda slept late every morning while her mother had to get up and go to work. There was nothing to do but read and work on the computer. She didn’t have any friends nearby so she stayed at home all week.
Danielda and her mother celebrated New Year’s Eve together by staying up until midnight and drinking champagne, which was really ginger ale, and lighting sparklers. They sang the first two lines of Auld Lang Syne because that was all they could remember. They spent all of New Year’s Day outside in the snow, tobogganing and drinking hot chocolate. The next day was spent cleaning up the apartment and putting their gifts away as life returned to normal. Back to school. Back to taking the bus in the morning.
CHAPTER SIX | DANIELDA IN CHARGE
She loved being on the bus. Riding it in the morning was always her favorite part of the day. She found a seat where she could enjoy her book or study notes for a test. Often, she would find herself watching the old man who always sat in the same spot wearing his old uniform. She wondered where the man went to every day. Why anyone would spend every day on the bus.
The driver still ate his candies and still took no notice of the old man. It was like he was a ghost that only Danielda could see. She knew it wasn’t true but it would make a great story, a driver comes back from the dead to haunt the driver because of – some reason. Although it was more likely that the driver just chose to ignore the old man because he was irritating. A person can only stand so much bragging before they lose their patience. The old man nattered endlessly and then nodded off to sleep. Sometimes the bus would jolt and he would wake up suddenly and carry on his one-sided conversation, picking up where he left off as if he hadn’t stopped at all.
School was becoming less fun with more homework and a lot more writing. It seemed every week brought yet another quiz.
“Remember, your reports on Canadian history are due by the end of next week. I want those hand-written so there will be no copying off the Internet.” Mrs. Hart was very strict with her assignments, “and I will be marking them for legibility as well so make sure I can read them.”
The kids around the room groaned. This was on top of the essay assignment in Language Arts and a math quiz. Danielda looked over her lengthy list of homework for the evening. With the writing and studying for her math test the next day, she would have to stay up all night. No time for television or reading.
This was also a busy time for her mother. More often lately, when Danielda came home from school, her mother would call and say she had to work late—again.
“It’s just this time of year,” her mother explained, “They get very busy with advertising for the summer catalogues. It won’t be long, I promise.”
After a while, it didn’t matter, Danielda got used to it. She felt a lot older now that she had some responsibility. She came home, started her homework and then cleaned up around the apartment. She would put dishes in the dishwasher, wiped the table and counters to make sure there were no crumbs to attract mice. Then she would have a glass of chocolate milk and finish her homework. Her mother always came home after dark, fussing and apologizing.
“I told them my daughter’s at home by herself. But they still give me more work to do,” her mother ranted as she pulled off her coat and tossed it in the closet. “I’m sorry, Danielda, I feel so bad about this.” She kept talking while she walked around the apartment picking things up and dropping them randomly. Danielda followed her mother around the apartment, picking up the things behind her and putting them away.
“It’s OK, Mom. I’m fine. I made some spaghetti for you. It’s in the fridge.”
“Thank you, you’re great. Oh, those people!”
While her mother warmed her dinner in the microwave Danielda went back to her homework.
After a while, her mother let Danielda run things around the house. Each day they reviewed the rules.
“I’m not at home and someone knocks at the door,” she asked, “What do you do?”
“I answer through the door, ask them who they are and tell them you’re in the shower. Mom, I already know this.”
“If anything happens in the apartment, what do you do?”
“I run to Mrs. Sanderson’s, next door, and call you.”
“You’re so smart. This apartment is your responsibility when I’m away. You’re in charge.”
Of course, Danielda was the manager of the apartment, but it was still nice to be told. She liked that her mother trusted her. Danielda was also proud of her mother. She had an important job. It was a lot more important than Brittany’s mom who stayed at home and sold Avon. So Danielda naturally felt excited for the upcoming career day at school. Everyone invited their parents to talk to the class about what they did for a living. It was so important to Danielda that her mother managed to get the day off from work to attend.
When Career Day arrived Danielda and her mother took the bus together to school and sat in class waiting their turn. They listened to Chelsea’s dad talk about the benefits of life insurance; he gave his card to each of the kids to “give to your parents and tell them to call anytime.” Some kids snickered. The adults, including Mrs. Hart, rolled their eyes to the ceiling.
When it was her turn, Danielda’s mother explained she worked for a big advertising agency creating artwork and taking pictures. She passed around some of her work and many of the kids recognized the pictures from different stores and ads they’d seen. Brittany was getting angry. Her mother’s makeup presentation was cut short by Mrs. Hart, who told her she couldn’t sell things to the girls and she left in a huff.
“Don’t you have to use a computer to do all of these?” Brittany asked, holding one of the ads.
“Yes, I do. We have software to help, but I still have to do the work. Computers don’t know how to make things look nice.”
Mrs. Hart chimed in. “My, that looks like a lot of work. How do you manage things as a full-time artist and a single mom?”
Danielda stood up and proudly exclaimed, “My mom and I have it all worked out. I make dinner and clean up. If she has to work late, I’m in charge of locking up and getting myself to bed. My mom trusts me.”
The room got very quiet. The teacher and the other parents stared at her mother, who turned a bright shade of red. She quickly gathered the pictures and thanked everyone, hugged Danielda quickly and left the room.
“All right then.” Mrs. Hart spoke up, breaking the awkward silence. “Who’s next?”
Danielda felt confused by the sudden change of mood, and disappointed that her mom left before Career Day was over.
At the end of the day, Danielda was surprised to see her mother waiting for her. She ran to the car, excited, but when she got in, her mother looked upset. She looked straight ahead and drove. She didn’t speak a word all the way home. When they got to the apartment, they parked but didn’t get out of the car. Danielda waited, nervous. Was something wrong? Had something happened? Why didn’t her mother say anything? They sat there for a long time before her mother spoke.
“Danielda, you don’t—” She struggled to find words. “Don’t what?” Danielda asked. She recognized the tone of her mother’s voice.
“Sweetie, you just can’t go telling people that I leave you home alone. It’s not safe.”
“But you told me to always tell the truth”
“Of course, you always tell the truth but sometimes—”
Danielda interrupted. “And you said I was the manager of the apartment. You said I was old enough.”
“Yes, but sometimes certain people will misunderstand, Danielda. People who don’t know us, might assume things—”
“Danielda, please! I know what I said. Just don’t tell people about our private lives, all right?” Her mother stared at her, her face red. Then she sighed and rubbed her eyes. “I’m sorry, this is not your fault, Danielda. I’ve been neglecting you so I could get ahead at work. But that’s wrong, and I’m sorry. I won’t leave you alone anymore.”
They walked silently into their building. Danielda waited for her mother to get the mail, then walked ahead of her up the stairs. This wasn’t how the day was supposed to go. She was so happy her mother was coming to Career Day. She had felt proud to talk about how responsible she was. Why was that wrong? Why wasn’t she the manager of the apartment anymore? She had done everything she was supposed to; she was being responsible. Now that was taken away from her too. Just because she told the truth. It was unfair. When they got in the apartment, her mother threw down the keys and sat, staring at the ceiling.
“Mom,” Danielda spoke quietly. She wanted to understand, to ask what she was supposed to have done.
“Danielda, please just leave me alone right now. Go do your homework.”
As she picked up her bag and went to her room, Danielda resolved not to write about this day in her diary. This was not one that she would want to remember.
CHAPTER SEVEN | DANIEL
The bus had become her only refuge.
Nothing bad had ever happened there. Each day was the same as the one before. The bus filled up with people going to work or school or wherever. Danielda watched out the window, keeping track as they passed all the landmarks that she had memorized on her first day. She read the ads over her head but they were always the same: Birth control, adult education, debt counseling, gambling problems. Nothing that had anything to do with her.
After everyone else left the bus, the only person she could watch was the old man who was always snoozing in the same spot by the front door. And, of course, there was the driver, chewing his candies. The inside of the bus was calm and quiet after the other passengers left. Just the rumble of the engine, the old man muttering to himself, and the crunching of the driver chewing his candies. He obviously liked hard-shell candies, he always had a large bag of them propped next to his seat.
Danielda decided that he was a nice man. He hadn’t said more than six words to her since she started taking the bus — but he hadn’t yelled at her either. She wanted to do something nice for him. She thought up a plan while watching for her stop. She would buy some of the best hard candies with chocolate centers for the bus driver, as a gift to show her appreciation. It made sense; they shared 30 minutes of every morning together.
All she needed to do was buy some candies. The difficulty was that her mother would flip if she thought Danielda was eating too much sweets. When she was seven, her mother had to spend a fortune on dentist bills because she had eaten too much sugar and had lots of cavities. Of course, she didn’t have to worry about that now. Danielda didn’t eat candy. She wasn’t a kid anymore.
The rest of the day went by in a blur. Danielda worked out a plan during lunchtime, sitting by her locker. Getting the candies was the easy part. She walked past the grocery store every day. She would take five dollars of the money she kept hidden in her room and buy the biggest bag of candy she could find. Then she would bring it home and transfer them into one of the gift bags she had saved from her last birthday party. Perfect!
The next day Danielda’s plan went exactly as expected. The store had the right kind of candies and Danielda would have plenty of time to get home to put them in the gift bag and hide it in her backpack. But when she opened the door to the apartment she saw her mother’s coat thrown over the chair and her shoes by the door. This wasn’t right. Why was her mother at home from work so soon?
“Mom?” Danielda called. Maybe she dropped off her coat and went out again.
“In here, sweetheart,” came the voice through the bathroom door. “My allergies have started up again and I can’t breathe. I’m having a bath.” When Danielda’s mother had her allergies, she would get watery eyes and a stuffed-up nose. She took medicine that made her sleepy, but she said it’s better to be dopey than be able to breathe.
“Oh, okay.” Danielda called back pleasantly, hiding her panic. She would have to move fast. She ran into her room to retrieve the gift bag, then took out the candies out of her backpack and put everything on the bed. The bag was sealed tight; she would have to cut it open.
“How was your day?” her mother’s voice called through the door.
“Oh, fine.” Danielda quietly ran to the kitchen with the bags and rummaged through the junk drawer to find the scissors. Why were they never where they were supposed to be? She pulled open the other drawers.
“Did you have your math quiz today?” her mother’s voice asked.
“Um, math quiz?” No scissors, she was going to have to tear open the bag. That never turned out well. She started pulling on the top of the bag.
“Oh yeah, the math quiz. Sure, I passed it. Yeah, I did real great.”
“That’s good, Sweetie. Danielda, what are you doing?” Come on you stupid bag, she thought as she pulled on the top seam with both hands. “Danielda?”
The bag burst open and covered the counter with candies. To make things worse her mother had left her bottle of pills open on the counter and it fell over too, spilling into the mound of candies. Now Danielda had a big problem. The round, colored allergy pills looked just like candy, except they had writing on the top. Danielda had to fish them out and put the candies in the gift bag. And she had to answer her mother. “Nothing, just putting my stuff away from school.”
“Well come in here please, so I can talk to you without having to shout through the door.”
Danielda picked out the pills and put them in the bottle, then she swept the candies into the gift bag as fast as humanly possible. She tied the bag with a ribbon and put it in her backpack. Then she took a deep breath to calm herself and walked into the bathroom to talk to her mother. The steamy room was filled with a strong smell of menthol. Danielda loved that smell. It was the only good thing about getting sick.
Her mother was clouded in steam. She looked strange with her nose all red and her eyes bugged out. She forced a smile, “Hi yah, Sweet pea.” She said in her nasal voice.
She lay back in the hot water and put a washcloth over her face. Danielda sat next to the tub.
“Mom, you don’t always have to make up names for me. I’m not a sweetie, or a sweetheart or a sweet pea. I’m not sweet anything. Just call me by my name.”
“How about Danny?” her mother asked playfully.
Danielda shook her head and frowned. She hated when kid sat school joked about her name, it wasn’t funny to her. “No, Mom. I told you I don’t like nick names. My name is Danielda.”
Her mother lifted off her facecloth and cocked her head as she sat up, “And what a beautiful name you have. I remember when I gave you that name. All the time I was carrying you I wanted to name you Patricia, because I liked the name Patty. I even called you that when I talked to you through my stomach. I’d say ‘hi Patty’ and ‘there’s little Patty’ when you were restless. But when that accident happened and your daddy died I wanted to share a part of him with you. I called you Danielda because his name was Daniel.”
Even though her face was puffy from her allergies and wet from the bath, Danielda knew her mother was crying. She always had tears when she talked about Danielda’s father.
Her father died in a car accident six months before Danielda was born. It was one of those situations where the road was icy and no one could stop. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Even though she never knew her father, Danielda had a picture of him in her room. He looked a lot like Danielda and she had often wondered what it would be like to have two parents, but she never wished for things to be different than they were. She loved being with her mom and she wanted things to stay the same.
She smiled, “I know, Mom. You told me.” They sat in silence for a minute. The she stood up, “I’m going to work on my homework,” she said and left the bathroom.
Later, when they were in the kitchen making dinner together, Danielda thought about how surprised the bus driver would be when she gave him the candies—and how great she would feel knowing she had done something nice. Her mother opened the bottle of pills and took two. Then she started coughing and drank some water.
“What the heck?” she coughed. “What’s the matter, Mom?”
“This medicine is so sweet, and hard as a rock. I just about choked on them.”
CHAPTER EIGHT | THE GIFT
The next morning, Danielda was up before the alarm. She made sure everything was ready, including the small, colorful bag full of candies tucked into her backpack. She practiced what she would say in the mirror, knowing her mother was in the shower.
“Here you go, Mr. Driver. A special gift.” No, calling him Mr. Driver was lame. “Good morning Sir, here is a gift from me.” Definitely not. How about: “Good morning, Sir, I have a gift for you, something that you like.”
Then her door opened. Her mother stuck her head in. Her eyes were still watery. She sniffled, her voice sounded terrible.
“Who are you talking to?” Her allergy medicine didn’t seem to be working.
Danielda grabbed the only thing within reach, her stuffed rabbit. “Mr. Bunny. He’s having a nice day.”
Her mother frowned. “You’re not a child. Come on, we have to go.” When her mother closed the door, Danielda grabbed her coat and school bag and left.
Waiting for the bus was frustrating. There were too many people getting on when it arrived and the driver barely noticed her when she came in. Danielda attempted a “good morning” as she showed him her bus pass but the people behind her kept pushing and she was quickly shuffled to the back. Danielda sat and waited as the familiar sights passed and people gradually got off. Finally, the bus was empty. Now was her chance. As soon as the driver pulled over for his usual break she got up and walked to the front, gift bag in hand. “Excuse me sir.” She extended the bag to him.
“Hmm?” He grunted as he turned his head. It took a minute to register, then he pulled his head back and looked suspiciously at her eager face and cautiously reached for the bag, “What’s this?”
“It’s a gift. I know you like candies, so I got you some. I think they could be your favorites.”
He opened the bag and saw the multitude of colored treats and grinned wide.
“Well, thanks kid.” He said nodding as he took some and crunched them cheerfully. “I think you may be right, these are my favorites. Thank you.”
Danielda smiled wide. Her gift was a success. He had spoken to her. She beamed like a light bulb as she walked happily back to her seat. Everything was good, nothing would go wrong today. The bus started moving and she read her book. Each sound of the driver’s crunching made a happy little zing in her stomach.
Every day, as she rode the bus, Danielda had been able to time the ride and knew in her mind where they were. She knew roughly how long she could read and could tell by how often the bus started and stopped just how close she was to school. She never missed her stop. But this time, as she sat reading, she thought something was different. For a second she worried she had lost track of time and missed her stop, but no, when she looked they were still downtown. They were stopped at a light and for some strange reason cars were honking their horns. She stood up and looked out the window and saw people were driving their cars around the bus.
She had a bad feeling.
She looked up the center aisle of the bus from her seat and saw no movement. The old man was sleeping in his seat and the traffic light was green but the bus wasn’t moving. She had to check. Danielda walked up the length of the bus carefully to the driver’s seat. There he was, fast asleep, while cars drove around honking and the drivers were yelling at him. She had to wake him. Danielda reached over and nudged the driver. He snorted and kept on sleeping. She shook him harder. Suddenly he jerked up and looked around, confused and surprised.
“What the?” The driver rubbed his eyes and looked at Danielda, then at the traffic, then his watch.
“What the?” He looked at Danielda again and frowned. He picked up the bag of candies and dug through them. He found a red one with white writing on it. He held it up to Danielda.
“What is this?”
She recognized it right away. She was sure she had picked them all out of the candies.
“Um, it might be some of my mom’s medicine. It accidentally fell in the bag. I thought I got them—”
“Your Mom’s medicine? What kind of medicine is that?” he was staring at her.
“I can’t pronounce it. Anti heesta—something.”
“Antihistamines!” he yelled. “You’re trying to poison me, you little gremlin?”
He drove the bus through the intersection, pulled over to the curb and opened the door, “Get off this bus!”
He glared at her while Danielda walked to her seat, picked up her bag and walked out the open front door. She wanted to say something, but the look on his face changed her mind. The door shut the instant she was off and the bus roared away. Danielda had no idea where she was so she waited at the stop for the next bus. She felt uncomfortable in that strange place but, even worse was the terrible feeling she had about herself. She had taken the only thing that was right in her life and wrecked it. Why couldn’t she just leave things alone?
TUNE IN NEXT SATURDAY FOR PART 3 OF “DANGEROUS DANIELDA” BY JIM SELLERS!