Home > Christmas in Connecticut

Christmas in Connecticut
Author: Jasinda Wilder


Chapter 1



“Miss Cole!” A young boy’s voice calls my name. “Miss Cole! Miss Cole!”

“We were chased by a dog, Miss Cole!” A second voice joins the first, and now the two boys, Jake Tormey and Dane Woolsey, are running pell-mell down the hallway toward me, backpacks bouncing, voices overlapping as they both try to tell me the story at the same time.

I hold up my hands to quiet them. “Boys, hush.” Their jaws clack closed. “That’s better. Now, perhaps you were chased by a wild, rabid dog, or perhaps not. But, I need you to be on time, okay? Can we do better, do you think?”

They both nod.

Dane, towheaded, short for his age, and likely undiagnosed and -treated ADHD, glares up at me. “There was a dog, Miss Cole. He escaped-ed his yard and chased us. He was big as me and had big lion teeth and every time he barked he got this big drool everywhere. He almost got me, too. See?” He turns around and awkwardly lifts his left foot up behind himself while trying to see it at the same time. “Look!”

Sure enough, the cuff of his jeans is ripped and damp, very much as if a slobbery dog had gotten its teeth in the fabric.

I blink in surprise. “Well, I’ll be—you’re telling the truth, it seems.”

He puts his foot down and nods vigorously. “Told you.”

“Is there an adult that can walk with you?” I ask.

Jake shrugs. “Nah. Our dads work together and our moms do too, and they all have to be at work at the buttcrack of dawn. Before school even starts. So we gotta ride our bikes to school on our own.” His eyes widen as if he’s realizing he’s saying something he probably shouldn’t. “But, um, it’s only like two blocks, and we been riding our bikes to school since forever.”

Sounds like a tricky situation, indeed. I sigh. “Well, I don’t like you being chased by mean dogs. Maybe there’s a route you can take that won’t make you go past that dog’s house.”

Dane considers. “Maybe? We’d have to go around the other way, and that’s lots longer.”

Jake shoves him. “Nuh-uh. We could go through the other school.”

“The gates aren’t always open.”

“During school they are. That might be even faster than the way we usually go.”

I put my hands on one each of their shoulders. “We’ll look into it—I’ll help you. For now, let’s get settled for class so I can start the lesson.”

They trudge in and find their desks—at the same table together, while I stand outside my door and wait for the rest of my first-grade class to arrive.

Like the kids, and my fellow teachers, I have a case of the first day jitters. I don’t ever let the kids see it, of course, but I feel many of the same things they do—what’s it going to be like this year? Will the class be fun, challenging, weird? I have thirty-two first-graders whose names I have to learn, whose learning styles I have to figure out, have to sort out the needy, clingy ones from the stubborn, independent ones, the ones who can already mostly read on their own from the ones who need a little more work yet.

But, overall, getting to know the kids is my favorite part. I mean, I think at least in part, I became a teacher because I like kids more than I do adults. They’re honest, for one thing. Brutally so, sometimes, maybe, but you know where you stand with them. Their needs are upfront, and mostly easy to meet: be kind, provide structure, and make sure they have fun. There’s a little more to it than that, of course, but that’s the general idea, and if you can get those three things in place, the details tend to be the easy part.

My classroom is prepped, initial seats are assigned—things always shift around a little in the first few weeks…such as Jake and Dane, for example; I foresee myself having separate them. I clutch my mug of coffee and stand outside my classroom as I hear the squeaks of sneakers and chatter of voices as the busses begin dropping off the children.

Saugatuck Elementary is bustling and noisy as the kids arrive. I wave and smile at faces I saw yesterday, and spend a moment chatting with a mom dropping her son off for the first day of kindergarten—she’s nervous and emotional and he’s clingy, and I reassure both her and the child; his teacher, my classroom next-door neighbor, Susan Delahay, is already busy comforting another nervous first-timer.

My kids start showing up, as most of them are on the second bus to arrive. I make a game of trying to remember their names as they arrive, greeting them with intentionally the wrong name—it makes them laugh and sets them at ease, and then they tell me their name and I win both ways. They find their desks and put their lunches in the lunch bin, and hang their backpacks in their lockers, and some find a book or a stack of blocks, and I’m filled with the eagerness to start a new year.

I have a few stragglers I’m waiting for, according to my seating chart, and since these are the same kids who were last to show up for orientation last week, I’m guessing they’ll be the ones who always show up a few minutes late. I’m keeping an eye on the classroom from the doorway while the kids get started on our first assignment—a Tell Me About Your Summer Break writing prompt to tell me where the kids are in handwriting and spelling, and to get to know each one a little better—when a scene down the hall catches my eye.

A little girl with her father, slowly trudging down the mostly empty hall, hand in hand, not speaking. She looks nervous and he looks no better. The girl is about seven, I’d say, making her a second-grader; my guess is confirmed when they stop together outside Kelly Fratelli’s second-grade classroom, two doors down and across the hall. They look a lot alike. She’s tall for a second-grader, with jet-black hair that has been inexpertly put into a ponytail—it’s uneven, and there are flyaways already wisping into her wide dark eyes. She’s pretty, with delicate, fine features. Jeans, sneakers, and a pink T-shirt with a unicorn on it, all brand new.

He’s gargantuan.

And handsome, in a rugged, almost brutal way. I’m a tall woman at five-ten, but he’s a good half a foot taller than me, making him at least six-four. His shoulders are broad and rounded with hard muscle—his shirt isn’t tight or fitted, but still clings to his powerful physique. Jet-black hair, like his daughter’s, curls up under the back of a faded, battered tan Carhartt ball cap; his beard is thick, curly, and a little unruly. Deep-set eyes, very dark, almost black. Like his daughter, he wears jeans and a T-shirt, but his are aged and faded, and he’s wearing heavy work boots.

He drops to one knee and holds her shoulders in huge, weathered, scarred hands. Mutters to her. She nods, eyes downcast. He hugs her, and she hugs him back, and he rises to go.

Makes it approximately ten steps before she launches into a run. “Daddy, wait!”

He turns and catches her as she slams into him. “I gotta go, sweet pea. Can’t be late for work.”

“Daddy, I’m scared.” Her voice is small, but it carries.

His is quiet, deep and rough, gravelly, almost hoarse. “I know, Riley. But it’s going to be okay.”

“I don’t know anyone. What if no one likes me?”

“I don’t know anybody here either, babe.”

“But you’re a adult. It’s different.”

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