A First For Noel
by Kerry Lenny
"Sleep well little children," she whispered as she tiptoed around the still bodies splayed over every available inch of the carpeted floor.
Making her way carefully to the directors office, she stepped across the threshold and used her weary body to force the door closed behind her. The wooden and glass door was doing her a great service by keeping her upright and she felt no need to assist the inanimate object in any way.
As her body immediately began to relax in the inner sanctum, she opened her eyes to meet the gaze of Tiny Tots esteemed director, and her closest friend, Ellen James. Clearly amused by the blondes need for respite, Ellen made no attempt to chase the grin off her face. Instead, the impossibly relaxed woman merely leaned back in her plush leather chair and delighted in the harried look of the pre-school teacher before her.
"Do you hear what I hear?" the disheveled blonde asked.
The tilt of Ellens head and the shapely eyebrows drawn together across the pleasantly lined face spoke the question the older woman obviously didnt need to voice.
"Silence," she breathed, "blissful silence."
A light chuckle was heard from across the room as she made her way to the welcoming loveseat that immediately swallowed her in its plush comfort.
"I guess I should have given you some warning about the last day before the holiday break, huh?" Ellen offered guiltily.
She slowly picked her head up off the back of the couch, where it had immediately fallen upon her descent, and looked her friend in the eye.
The chocolate brown eyes were a mixture of laughter with just a touch of self-recrimination. Never content to have Ellens demeanor reflect anything but her almost constant good humor, she hastily came to her friends aid.
"Im not sure," Noel said wryly, "that any amount of warning could prepare me for 17 toddlers sugared up and just hours away from a veritable orgy of gifts."
"Well youre not the first Noel, to take on a room full of rugrats the day before the holidays, and goodness knows you wont be the last," she said sincerely, "but I really am glad that youre here."
Noels face softened as she looked over at Ellen and a warm, heartfelt smile graced her features as she accepted the gratitude. "I am too E."
Satisfied that her friend didnt seem to harbor any resentment about the exuberant state of her current charges, Ellen relaxed and settled in for a full report.
"So tell me what the little monsters have been up to so far today?" she inquired. Ellen pushed one of the ten plates of cookies, supplied by the parents of said monsters, in front of the blonde bottomless pit. Noel snatched up two chocolate kiss shortbread cookies without hesitation.
Ellen retrieved two kid size cartons of milk from her private stash. Delivering one to Noel, she waited for the blonde to scoot over to her half of the loveseat before kicking off her shoes and joining her.
Nap time at Tiny Tots over the past four months meant chat time for the old friends. Most days found the two of them sitting cross legged knee to knee on the small sofa, drinking milk and sharing stories of their hectic day. Noel shared all her new experiences with Ellen and regaled her with stories of the antics of her daily brood, while Ellen told her own wild stories that invariably starred one or more parents of Noels gang.
Since her start at the school in September, the two immediately recognized their strengths and weaknesses in managing the school and quickly fell into a routine. Never a morning person, Noel would arrive around 9am after all the children had been safely deposited. She would take over their care along with another teacher and a teachers assistant. That would leave Ellen free the remainder of the day to attend to the running of the business end of the pre-school. Occupied with paperwork and meetings most of the day, it didnt leave much time for Ellen to participate in events with the children, and she had come to cherish their chat time as a way to help her stay in touch.
Before Noels arrival, Ellen struggled every day to balance the increasing workload with the demand of caring for 17 kids. Good, dedicated, caring teachers were hard to find and even harder to keep in an ever demanding economy. She fired the last teacher when she overheard her threatening to wash out one of the childrens mouths with soap for speaking out against the President. A staunch Republican, the teacher obviously felt it was her duty to recruit the next generation. While the threatened punishment never came to fruition, Ellen nevertheless felt that it far exceeded the crime. Certainly she could recall several times that she herself had privately referred to the man as a poopy-diaper President. Free speech would always be recognized as a personal right at her schools, so Ellen was more than happy to introduce the wayward teacher to the unemployment line. She had no doubt that being on the receiving end of the government in that capacity would shed new light onto the GOP for her.
Ellen helped herself to a blue Star of David cookie as she wriggled into position for the tot tales.
Being a pre-school teacher was incredibly stressful and Ellen always encouraged Noel to unload on her. Knowing full well what any given day could bring to you in this tiny world of sticky fingers, runny noses and suddenly public family secrets, she was incredibly adept at helping Noel focus on the humorous side of her job.
Todays story was no different as it began with an explosive statement from the usually levelheaded blonde.
"I swear I will deck the Halls the next time I see either one of them!"
Having expressed this sentiment herself several times, Ellen felt no need to remind her friend that certain laws prevented her from actually being able to follow through on the threat to the parents.
"Dont tell me theyve been jumping off the bookshelves again?" the director exclaimed, referring to the twin terrors of the threes - Nick and Tom Hall.
"No, no," Noel said with just a hint of exasperation. "Theyre expanding their repertoire. They spent a good portion of their morning playing plumber and clogging all the toilets in the bathroom."
"Oh no," groaned the proprietor of the miniature commodes. "Please tell me they didnt overflow."
"Well luckily I got an idea early on as to what kind of day this was going to be," the green-eyed blonde stated pointedly. "I had Staci on Hall duty. She managed to catch up to them before they did any real damage."
Her investigation of the cookie crumbs in her lap now complete, Ellen lifted her head to meet Noels gaze. "I dont know that I blame the parents for their lack of control Noel," she said rather unconvincingly. "Theyre three year old boys; there just happens to be two of them."
"Thank goodness they werent triplets," Noel grumbled.
Anxious to keep her friend in good spirits, Ellen steered the conversation towards their two favorite charges. "What were Lucy and Renee up to today?" she said, referring to the dark-haired beauty and her faithful shadow.
Never missing an opportunity to talk about her daughter, Noel rose to the bait. "Renee announced on the drive over this morning that she was changing her name. For the entire day we were to refer to her only as Gabrielle and Lucy as Xena."
"Yeow!" the blonde screeched as she jumped off the sofa, milk dripping from her bangs.
Ellen desperately tried to keep the rest of the liquid intact, slapping her hand over her mouth. The precocity of the two and a half year old proved to be too much for the woman however, and the milk was forced to exit out her nose when another round of laughter overtook her.
Grabbing for some tissues off the desk, Noel threw several at her sopping friend as she blotted the offensive beverage from her hair. "Geez Ellen, youre as bad as the kids!" she exclaimed.
"S-s-sorry," she managed to get out as she tried desperately to catch her breath. "The image of Lucy as Warrior Princess and Renee as the Battling Bard of Potedeia was a little too much I think."
"Who?" Noel asked, clearly at a loss as to what Ellen was talking about.
Ellen abruptly stopped trying to dry herself and cocked her head looking quizzically at her friend. "Are you sure youre on our team?"
Noel caught the lesbian "team" inference easily and just glared at the brunette.
Ellen settled herself back on the sofa, taking a bite of a sugared green Christmas tree as she did so.
"Hmpf, Warrior Princess huh?" Noel said thoughtfully. "I guess that explains why Lucy spent the entire morning making a sword out of cardboard and tinfoil and fending off anyone who got near Renee."
At that moment, Noel was extremely grateful that she had chosen to remain standing for a moment longer, as another stream of milk was spewed across the sofa.
"Jesus Ellen! What is the matter with you?"
Clearly embarrassed by her lack of control, Ellen began the now familiar process of cleaning up the spilled milk while trying to regain her composure.
Desperate for a topic change, Ellen steered the conversation towards the upcoming holiday and her friends plans. "Any big plans for the holiday?"
Noel artfully maneuvered the blanket to cover the wet spots on the loveseat and sat back down across from her friend. "Id settle for a nice silent night, or three, after a day like this," she said wistfully. "How about you?"
"Mmmm, just headed home for the holidays," she responded.
"Where are your parents living now?" Noel asked while grabbing a gooey chocolate chip cookie in an effort to quiet the rumbling of her stomach.
"Greensboro," Ellen said, laughing at the ever-present growl of her friends stomach. "Just over the river and through the woods."
"Well at least you dont have to travel far," the blonde offered supportively.
A small snort met her comment, "Hmpf, I wouldnt be going otherwise. Nothing I hate worse than holiday traffic." Pausing, she wryly added, "well and overflowing toilets."
With this she offered up a silent toast to her friends brilliant foresight, each taking a sip from the tiny plastic straws.
"Ooooo, I almost forgot to tell you," Ellen exclaimed joyfully while grabbing for more doughy sustenance. "Guess whos picking up Lucy today?"
Noel shrugged non-committaly and mumbled, "dunno, who?"
"Madame X," Ellen provided rather smugly.
The green eyes grew startlingly wide at the revelation and the blonde swigged a mouthful of milk to help send the beloved cookie onto its final resting place.
"Wow," she stated. "To what do we owe this honor?"
After four months, Noel had yet to meet the mother of her daughters beloved best friend. Five days a week used to be plenty of time for the two to share all of their lifes secrets, but the pressure was firmly being applied by Renee to spend every waking moment with her friend. Various phone calls and invitations to get together had been repeatedly ignored by the other woman and Noel was frankly getting very tired of the pouty face firmly implanted on her daughter every weekend. Noel adored Lucy, but she was hesitant to invite the young girl for sleepovers until the two parents had met.
"Well from the sound of it, shes giving the nanny the afternoon off so shes going to pick Lucy up herself."
Ellen of course had met Christine Xavier last year when she had enrolled Lucy at Tiny Tots. She had refrained from describing the strikingly beautiful corporate executive in detail, preferring instead to aide in the womans mystery and subsequent allure. She could not, however, stop the mischievous little grin that snuck across her features.
The slight tweak in the stoic features did not go unnoticed. "Why do you look like the cat that ate the canary?" Noel asked suspiciously.
"No reason," Ellen responded, successfully dropping the mask back in place.
The blondes eyebrows narrowed at her friends antics, but before she could pursue her line of questioning they were interrupted by a quiet knock at the door.
The director pulled herself up from her comfortable perch and opened the office door to suddenly find her knees in a warm embrace.
She gently squeezed the knee hugger and patted her on the head. A pair of red-rimmed green eyes, startlingly similar to the woman sitting across from her, gazed up at the director.
Immediately responding to her goddaughters obvious pain, Ellen dropped to her knees and gave the little girl a hug, rubbing her back gently. She led her over to the sofa where she crawled into her mothers lap.
Noel took over the back rubbing as Ellen rejoined them on the sofa, both of them patiently waiting for the young girl to get comfortable so she could tell them what was wrong.
Neither of them had to wait long. Sniffling, Renee sat up abruptly and looked at first her mother, than her aunt, than back to her mother. "Its not twue is it?"
Clearly at a loss as to what was disturbing her child, Noel simply continued rubbing gentle circles across the small back as she asked, "Is what true sweetie?"
"My gwanma didnt get wun over by a weindeer, did she?" The little voice pleaded for relief from the sudden shock.
Unable to retain her composure completely from this sudden declaration, Noel couldnt help but chuckle as she comforted Renee. "No honey, your grandmothers alive and well in Florida," wryly adding, "and probably kicking grandpas butt on the golf course as we speak."
Immediately comforted by the surety of her mothers statement, a tiny scowl began to form on the delicate features.
"Who told you Grandma got run over by a reindeer?" her mother questioned.
"Kevin," said the little voice forcefully.
Two heavy sighs filled the room as Noel helped her daughter to stand and then extricated herself from the comfortable seat. "Sounds like nap times over," she said sharing a knowing look with Ellen.
She led her daughter back into the playroom. All signs of naptime vanquished without a trace as she was met with squeals and laughter from re-energized toddlers.
Curious as to how her friend was going to handle the taunting inflicted upon her cherished goddaughter, Ellen followed her into the fray.
Neither of them was prepared for the scene that greeted them when they finally came upon Kevin, and Ellen was eternally grateful that she had already finished what was left of her milk.
Kevin was seated on the Time Out bench with his head hung low mumbling incoherently while Lucy, wearing what looked to be a spaghetti strainer across her body, knee pads on her legs and brandishing a tinfoil covered sword, kept watch over her prisoner.
Trying to control the fit of laughter that so desperately wanted to escape, Noel placed her hand gently on Lucys shoulder and turned her around. Kneeling down to kid level, Noel looked Lucy directly in the eye. "Thank you so much for sticking up for Renee, er I mean Gabrielle," she hastened remembering todays moniker. "That was very, very kind of you."
Lucy shrugged and said simply, "Im a warrior. Its what we do." And with that she sauntered off to find the feisty little blonde that she called friend.
Knowing that if she turned to look at Ellen that the two of them would spend the rest of the afternoon in a fit of laughter, she chose instead to address the captive.
Sitting down on the bench next to Kevin, she gently put her arm around his shoulder and drew him closer.
"Why did you make up that story about Renees grandmother Kevin?" the teacher gently asked.
The boy kept his eyes trained on his little black boots and just shrugged.
"You know its wrong to tell a lie dont you?"
A slight nod of the head was her only answer.
"Did Renee do something to make you mad?" she asked, always sensitive to any extra coddling on her part of her daughter in front of the other kids.
This time a little shrug gave her a much-needed clue.
Stroking the boys dark wavy hair, Noel leaned down to try to make eye contact. "Whats the matter Kevin? Did you want to play with them?" This immediately gave her the eye contact she sought and confirmed her suspicions that the dynamic duo had chosen not to increase their tight little circle by one.
Grasping the small hand in her larger one, Noel extricated herself from the ridiculously low bench and led Kevin on a quest to find the suddenly elusive pair. She winked at Ellen as the older woman nodded in the direction of the two young girls trying very hard to blend into their surroundings all of a sudden. Noel gathered the three together and took them to the center of the room where they all sat down upon the carpet. She took a deep breath before addressing the tops of the girls heads. Apparently there was something incredibly fascinating happening on the carpet that completely escaped the adult.
"Renee and Lucy, please look at me." Two heads slowly tilted up as four eyes looked at her sheepishly.
Satisfied that she had their attention she continued, "Why didnt you let Kevin play with you?"
"We did!" two high-pitched squeals were her answer.
A quick glance to her left saw their counterparts head suddenly investigating the fascinating carpet.
Another sigh and Noel waded further in, "Kevin? I thought you told me they didnt let you play?"
The dark head snapped up and the automatic defenses took over. "They always want me to play the bad guy and I didnt wanna!"
"Well we cant play Warrior Princess without a bad guy, Kev-in," Lucy said smartly, drawing out his name in that annoying tone that only children could master.
Before Noel could comment, Renee spoke up, "but Kevin youre soooo good at it."
As her mother, Noel had been on the receiving end of that sweet talk so many times and she was well attuned to it. Kevin, however, was not.
A cocky smirk the likes of which she had never seen before suddenly claimed the boys face. She watched in bemusement as this little display caused Lucy to scowl and unconsciously shift closer to Renee.
Anxious to put this little rift to rest, Noel played her trump card. "If you three can agree to work together and," she looked at each of them in turn, "play nice, Ill let you play with Jingle Bells." Her reference to the newest member of the school, a floppy-eared rabbit recently donated by a students father who happened to be a vet, got her a small group cheer.
The three scampered over to the rabbits cage and waited for Noel to extricate the furry bundle. As she cradled JB in her arms, just out of reach of the grabby little hands, she reminded them of the rule. "Now remember, only one person at a time may hold him; no tugging on his ears, feet or tail; do not feed him any crayons or paste and the more you all share holding him, the longer well let you keep him out." She paused.
Ready and waiting with the expected answers that would magically release the rabbit into their care, the teacher was greeted with two "Yes Miss Noels!" and one "Yes Mom!" upon which she promptly relinquished control of the animal.
Her super-sonic teacher hearing picked up Lucys comment with ease as the three scrambled to the floor for quality bunny time. "Okay, but Gabrielle gets to hold him first!" this pointedly directed at Kevin who abruptly stopped grabbing for the rabbit and contented himself with merely being in close proximity, for now.
Rolling her eyes and laughing softly, Noel moved to straighten up the arts and crafts area as the children flocked to the floor for the coveted pet time. Temporarily relieved of Hall duty while the rabbit entertained the kids, Staci helped Noel clean up. Some of the children had spent the better part of the day painting holiday scenes for their parents. It was a messy activity for them to have to clean up, but the kids loved it and she was convinced the parents always adored the end result.
She and Staci closed up the last of the paint jars and started tacking the pictures to the bulletin board so they could dry. A startlingly blue picture that Staci was hanging, caught Noels eye.
"Who did that one?" Noel asked nodding at the picture in Stacis hands.
Slightly embarrassed, Staci responded softly, "Um, Lucy did."
Curious, Noel moved closer to get a better look. The entire background of the picture had been carefully painted over with a vivid blue color. Over top of the blue background was an image of a green Christmas tree floating up near the left-hand top of the page. Below the tree was several brightly covered boxes surely meant to be Christmas presents. At the bottom of the page over to the right was a stick figure sitting on the floor with what appeared to be a sword at her feet. Noel followed the curly line from the girls hand to the far right of the page where another stick figure sat and the curly line ended, seemingly depicting two people on a phone. The second stick figure also had a Christmas tree with presents floating at the top of the page.
Without thinking, Staci blurted out, "She told me it was called Blue Christmas."
"I never should have explained about naming artwork to them," the blonde grumbled, shaking her head. Her stab at humor wasnt enough to detract from the flicker of guilt that crossed her features and Staci mentally kicked herself for her comment.
"Theyre kids Noel." Staci tried valiantly to help ease the pain she had helped inflict. "Theyre not going to remember one silly Christmas that they didnt get to spend together when they were four."
Noel didnt correct her on her daughters age, knowing that really wasnt the point. But she couldnt quite shake the feeling that she had somehow failed her daughter. Pushing the feeling aside for the moment, she helped Staci pin up the last of the paintings.
A loud ruckus near the front of the room grabbed their attention and Noel turned to see Billy Joxer beating an overturned trash can with a pair of wooden blocks.
"Staci, could you do me a favor and go explain to the little drummer boy over there that trash cans are for trash?" she yelled slightly so has to be heard over the din.
As Staci headed over to intercept the rock star, Noel went to help extricate the rabbit from the greedy little clutches of the toddlers. She was able to fend off the impending wails when she instructed the children to begin packing up their stuff, as the first of the parents began to arrive. The sudden elation of being set free to usher in the holiday urged them all to diligently gather their treats, artwork and clothing. As usual, the children were sure to pack their treats; the jackets and scarves not always getting the same care.
Noel was busy checking each departing child from head to toe making sure they each had a hat, scarf, jacket, mittens, bag of treats and any remnants of arts and crafts from the day. Drop off and pick up was always the busiest time of the day, and she could have easily missed the opportunity to meet Lucys mother if she hadnt caught Ellens eye from across the room.
The director spoke to Maggie for a moment, obviously asking the other teacher to fill in for Noel, since the plump woman made a beeline for her and the coat rack.
Noel extricated herself from the melee and made her way over to the office. Christine Xavier was discussing something with Ellen and had her back to the door. Unfortunately for Noel, Ellen had a clear shot of the teacher and was able to clearly see every reaction the slight blonde had to the dramatic woman.
Ellen read her best friend like a book as the young woman took in the figure before her. Wow! If thats her response to the womans back, I cant wait to see her reaction to the rest of her," Ellen chuckled to herself.
Noel came to a halt just inside the door when she caught sight of the woman standing between her and Ellen. She stood almost a foot taller than her friend and if Ellen had not been standing just off to her right, the director would have been hidden completely by the imposing woman. Gleaming, black hair cascaded down her back to several inches below her broad shoulders and was gathered together with a beautiful hand-carved wooden clasp. She was dressed in a magnificent pair of black slacks that were clearly custom made for her, with a pristine starch white dress shirt tucked neatly into the pants. Stylish black shoes with a slight heel added a classic look to the ensemble, without making her appear outlandishly taller than she already was. There was not a single wrinkle anywhere on the woman. It was if she had just stepped out of a magazine, "Or a dream," Noel mused. Noels gaze wandered upward from the shoes and traveled a pleasant little path, lingering appreciatively on the scrumptious derriere. She sucked in a little breath when she suddenly realized what she was envisioning doing to that luscious body and found herself caught in the smirky gaze of her friend.
A suit jacket that matched the slacks was casually draped over Christines arm and her head was tilted to one side as she gave the director her undivided attention.
Well, undivided until she realized that Ellens focus had slowly wandered away from her that is. Used to having her presence command attention from people, she was immediately drawn to the interruption and tracked Ellens gaze directly behind her.
Turning to see the intrusion for herself, she heard the faintest of gasps as she met the alluring green eyes with her own. "Was she just looking at my butt?" She chuckled, silently amused.
After years spent in the boys club of the corporate world, she was incredibly adept at assessing people quickly and without drawing attention to herself. As she approached the woman to introduce herself, she took in the slight, but muscular form, the friendly demeanor and the fast rising blush that did indeed confirm to her that the woman was caught ogling. Christine surprised herself when she found that she actually enjoyed the idea of this woman finding her attractive and warmly embraced the offered hand.
"Hello, Im Christine Xavier." The warm voice rolled over the petite blond like honey on a biscuit and the enthralled woman took a moment to find her voice.
There was absolutely no doubt upon seeing her face that Christine Xavier was Lucys mother. Her child clearly took after her in the looks department with the luscious dark hair, sharp angular facial features and startlingly blue eyes that were identical to her mothers. "Oh my God. Renees gonna have her hands full if she ever wants to date Lucy." This revelation shocked her back into the present and she quickly regained her composure after swimming lazily in the blue eyes for another moment.
"Noel Campbell," she managed to get out before adding, "Renees mom."
Recognition dawned in the sea of blue as a smile that surely was responsible for breaking thousands of hearts, graced the beautiful face. A slight blush covered the cheeks as the woman begged forgiveness. "I am so sorry for not getting back in touch with you after your calls. Ive been involved in a rather delicate merger and havent had much free time. I certainly hope my ignorance hasnt caused you any problems with Renee."
The teacher quickly realized that she would surely forgive any indiscretion this woman ever made to either her or her daughter. "Oh, no problem. Im beginning to realize that not a single day is going to go buy without me somehow being responsible for destroying my poor, dramatic daughters life," she said chuckling lightly to let the woman know she was just kidding.
Once again, Christine found herself cursing her overly busy lifestyle. The demands of her job had forced her to miss a daily opportunity to deposit her precious daughter into the care of this adorable woman. Intent on correcting this oversight, she found herself saying, "Well I would appreciate it if you would let me make it up to you both."
The sexual tension in the room was palpable, if to no one other than Ellen, and she jumped to her friends aide.
"Theyre free for Christmas dinner if you are," she blurted out, hastily catching the look of death coming her way from Noel.
Before Noel could offer the poor woman an out, two little squeals announced that both of their daughters had heard the exchange. Backing out now was clearly not an option for either party.
Christine took one look at Lucys sparkling eyes and the grin that threatened to stretch from ear to ear and made the offer official, "So? Can I tempt you with Christmas dinner?" she said to Noel.
"Mmmm, all I want for Christmas is you." Holy shit! Did I just say that out loud? The shocked expression on Ellens face and the laughing blue eyes across from her, confirmed that she did indeed just blurt out her private Christmas wish. "Um, I mean all I want for Christmas is for you to get to know us a little better," she stammered, ducking her head and feeling the rising heat of the blush that quickly covered her entire face.
Christine stepped forward, placed two fingers under her chin and gently but firmly drew the blonde womans head up until she was looking her in the eye. In a low, rumbling voice meant just for her, Christine said, "I cant think of any way I would rather spend the holiday than getting to know you and your daughter."
Noel had to restrain herself from just leaning forward and burrowing her face in the soft, warm caress of this woman. Her mind told her that they had just met, but her heart was clearly telling her that they were meant to be together forever.
Breaking the spell, Noel took a deep breath to regain her composure and smiled gratefully at Christine for the welcome save.
Kneeling down for a private conversation with Renee, she looked at her daughter and needlessly asked her opinion. "How bout it kiddo? Wanna have Christmas with Lucy and her mom?"
Renee threw her tiny little arms around her mothers neck and squeezed as hard as she possibly could to make sure her mom knew just how much this meant to her. "Yes Mama I do," she whispered excitedly. "This is gonna be the best Chwistmas evew!"
As Noel stood with Renee in her arms, she gazed into the deep blue pools of Christines eyes and unquestionably accepted the truth of that one simple statement. This was definitely going to be the best Christmas ever.
Happy Holidays to All!
Sleep Well Little Children (A. Bergman, L. Klatzkin)
Do You Hear What I Hear? (List #5)
The First Noel (List #6)
Deck the Halls (List #4)
Silent Night (List #20)
Home for the Holidays (List #8)
Over the River and Through the Woods (List #15)
Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer (List #7)
Jingle Bells (List #11)
Blue Christmas (List #2)
Little Drummer Boy (List #14)
All I Want for Christmas is You (List #1)