Rosie looked at her brother. “Is Daddy here yet?” she asked.
Darren shook his head. “Course he isn’t. He never is. It’ll be work or the traffic or some other excuse. When will you realise he just doesn’t care enough to be here?” he told her sharply.
“But he promised he’d be here,” Rosie said, her bottom lip trembling. “I get to be Mary and he promised he’d be here to see.”
Darren put his arms round his little sister. “Don’t cry Rosie,” he said. “I’m here. I’ll sit in the audience with Mum and watch you.”
“Want Daddy,” she said, pushing the white cloth off her head. She started to cry. “Don’t want do it if he’s not here.”
Her teacher, Mrs Edwards, looked at her and then went and found Lou. “I’m sorry Mrs Williams, but Rosie is rather upset. She’s refusing to do this. Perhaps if you had a word?”
Lou nodded and left her coat on the chair. She followed the teacher to the back of the stage.
Darren looked at her. “Mum… I tried but…”
Lou smiled, gathering her sobbing daughter into her arms. “It’s okay Darren. Thank you. You want to go sit out the front and I’ll be there in a few?”
Darren nodded and went out front of house.
Lou drew Rosie onto her lap and rocked her singing softly to her to calm her down. Then once she had, she convinced her to go out on stage and be the best Mary she could be because the baby Jesus needed the best mummy he could have.
Rosie looked at her. “But you’re the bestest Mummy,” she said, her face wet with tears.
Lou kissed her and wiped her face dry. “And you’re the bestest Rosie,” she said. She picked up the headdress and arranged it on Rosie’s head. Then she went back out to the front and sat with Darren. Her husband’s seat was still glaringly empty.
The lights went down and then the stage ones came up. The children stood there nervous and shifting slightly until the music began and they began to sing.
One of the problems of this line of work Jeff reminded himself as he flew up the path to the school hall is never being around. Duty shifts over ran or he got called to an emergency somewhere at a minutes notice. The hall was in darkness, the performance started. He made his way to his seat, apologising as he trod on toes.
Lou gripped his hand as he sat down. “You’re late,” she hissed. “The first song was wonderful.”
“Sorry, but I’m here now.”
A Christmas tree twinkled at the edge of the stage as the nativity play unfolded. Seven year old Rosie sat by the manger, the doll cradled in her arms. You could have heard a pin drop as she suddenly, totally unscripted decided that the baby was crying and started singing ‘Little Jesus sweetly sleep’ as she rocked it.