Daisy’s step-father, Gene, kept close tabs on her. He walked up to her as she hosted a tea party in the shade of the big tree at the back of the yard. Her guests were two dolls and a stuffed toy rabbit.
“Is that a bug on you?” Gene pointed at Daisy’s shirt.
“That’s a pin my Daddy gave me. He called them ‘grown up gifts’.”
“You don’t want a bug on your shirt. No matter what you call it. You want people thinking you’re infested?”
“No. I’m not infested. What’s infested?”
“It’s when bugs lay eggs in your hair. That’s why your mother has to give you a bath.”
Daisy looked at Gene like he might be crazy. She arranged the Morning Glories in the little vase on the table at which she and her friends enjoyed their tea.
Daisy loved Morning Glories more than any other flower in the garden. The dreamy blue flowers were perfect for elves to perch upon. Their entwining vines and leaves made the ideal cover from prying eyes. Daisy wished she could follow those elves into the shadowy depths whenever Gene approached.
Gene continued, “You’re not thinking of climbing up to the treehouse, are you?”
“Of course not,” she answered. “You pulled the steps off the tree. I couldn’t if I wanted to.”
“But you want to?”
“No, Gene. You told me it isn’t safe. I wouldn’t do that.”
“What did I say?”
“You said there’s spiders.”
“Why do you always sit under this tree?”
“For one thing, it’s cool. And the black bees don’t bother me. I don’t want to get infested.”
Come summer, giant black bees would swoop in on her like ominous, hovering, miniature drones. Their buzzing tormented her and sent her shrieking to the house.
Gene looked at Daisy intently. “Excuse me?”
“There’s no excuse for you.”
“Young lady, go into the house.”
“In a little while.”
“I said ‘now’.”
“Gabriel said I don’t have to.”
“My friend.” She glanced up at the tree house. Daisy had a secret. Gabriel lived in the tree house and watched over her. No one knew about him.
Gene looked at this little girl for a moment. “I don’t like your insolent attitude.”
She usually kept it disguised behind her little girl smile. Except in his case. She shared that attitude with him more than anyone.
Gene had to count to ten to avoid shouting. He found being a step-parent more difficult than anyone could know.
“Don’t be a brat, Daisy. You know the bees won’t hurt you.”
“They scare Mommy too.”
“Don’t we all know that?”
“She got so scared of them, she locked me out of the house.”
“I know. I’m sorry for that. But, Daisy, you need to remember you live in my house. As long as you do, you take orders from me. Not this Gabriel fellow. He’s nobody. I’ve never heard of him.”
“He’s heard of you.”
Daisy looked at Gene thoughtfully and returned to arranging her flowers. She poured some tea for Jenny ‘n’ Jill, her dolls, and Bennie, her stuffed rabbit. She adjusted Bennie who had drooped off his stool. She whispered into his long ear which draped over the back of his chair.
Gene grabbed the toy from Daisy. “Don’t be rude. I’m talking to you.”
Her mouth fell open in shock. She almost said something but paused and kept her fury in check. As if a secret voice reminded her to stay calm. Her dolls sat wide-eyed, taking in the whole scene.
She set the tea pot onto the table. “I just told him not to slouch. May I have my Bennie back, please?”
“No. Not until you start respecting me and following my orders…”
Daisy cocked her head as if listening to something and then she stifled a smile.
“Benny says he likes you. Do you want to keep him?”
Gene looked at the toy. He suddenly felt ridiculous holding a stuffed animal. He laid Benny onto the grass.
“How old is that tree house? Did you build it?”
“I don’t know. It was here when I bought the house.”
“I thought we’re supposed to share. Why don’t you fix it up so everyone can enjoy it?”
“It isn’t safe, Daisy. I should have it removed.”
“Don’t you like playing in it?”
Gene looked into the tree. Whoever built the treehouse did a pretty good job, as such things go. They secured it to strong lower branches. But it looked rickety and Gene felt sure a carpenter had no part in it. More likely, an ambitious boy built it.
“Actually, no, Daisy. I don’t think it would hold me.”
“Aren’t you curious, though? Does it have a nice view?”
“No, I can’t say that I am. I know what I won’t like. I don’t have to try every silly thing.” Gene stepped under the branch supporting the treehouse and craned his neck. “I think the branches obscure the view. I’m afraid I wouldn’t see much from up there.”
“So, you’re afraid?”
Gene chuckled at her question. “Knowing not to do something doesn’t always mean one is afraid, little girl. It might mean I’m smart.”
She mumbled, “Too smart, by half…”
“What did you say?”
Daisy looked up at him. She didn’t speak.
“Your little party is over. How dare you say such a thing to me?”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“Of course you did.”
“I just repeated what Gabriel said.”
Gene looked at her with a baffled expression. “Who is this Gabriel you keep talking about?”
Daisy glanced at the treehouse and then looked down. “He’s my friend. He’s nobody.”
“Tell me about him.”
Daisy tidied up the tea cups. She didn’t answer.
“This Gabriel fellow seems to have captured your imagination. How do you know him?”
Daisy began to hum a little song. Then she looked at Gene. “He’s my guardian angel.”
“And he talks to you?”
“All the time.”
Gene looked around for a moment. He pointed at the tree house. “Does he live up there?”
Daisy gathered her tea set and her toy friends. “I’m going in now. Like you told me.” She picked Bennie up.
She stopped but didn’t look at him.
“This Gabriel friend of yours. Is he that homeless kid I discovered living up there a few weeks back?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Back when you started having your tea parties here, under the tree.”
She didn’t move.
“Tell me, Daisy. Did this Gabriel touch you? Or hurt you?”
She looked at him. “I told you, Gene. He talks to me. He’s my friend.”
Gene didn’t know what to think.
“He’s my angel. Can I go now? The party is over.”
Daisy walked slowly into the house dragging Bennie behind her. Gene stood in the shade and looked at the tree house.
Gene shook his head. “Kids…” He walked into the house.