Madeline Ray hated tears. She considered them a sign of weakness and she was anything but weak. Instead of giving in to her feelings, Madeline would put on a straight face and muster through. It is why most people called her “the ice queen.”
The title was not something that bothered Madeline. In fact, she wore it as a kind of badge of courage. It meant her method was working. No one saw her as a weak-willed woman.
Only a couple of people understood Madeline’s stance on life and one of them would never speak of it. That was because he could not speak. He’d been born challenged in the senses of hearing and speech.
The other person who knew why Madeline Ray acted as she did was her father. He did not speak of it either, but for a much different reason. He was the cause of Madeline’s attitude.
Madeline Ray was not a happy person. She never had been. From birth, it seemed that all the forces conspired against her. Her mother died hours after Madeline entered the world. That left her alone with a father that never wanted a daughter.
Disappointed that his only child was not the son he craved, John Ray spent half of his life ignoring his daughter. The other half, he spent chastising her. There was nothing she could do right in his eyes. Eventually, Madeline stopped trying and cut herself off from everyone.
When she started school, the little girl found it difficult to make friends. She’d never had one before. Consequently, most of the kids in her class found her odd. That made her the object of their bullying. With that came additional problems.
At first, like anyone, Madeline cried with hurt feelings. When that only seemed to spur the children on, she took another approach. She acted as though she didn’t care. She steeled herself against them, returning their admonitions with quiet disdain. Eventually, when they discovered they could no longer get to her, they gave up and went away.
In high school, however, Madeline met a boy. His name was Michael. From the moment she saw him, she was enthralled. Strangely, he seemed to return her affection. Before long they became a couple and a new side of Madeline began to emerge. She finally made a few friends and enjoyed a semblance of a normal life until her father found out her secret.
John Ray immediately pulled Madeline out of public school and sent her away to an all-girls boarding school. Once there, the young woman returned to her former shyness and uncertainty. Like before, that made her classmates ill at ease. She once again became their favorite target.
Madeline made it through school and went to college. She graduated with honors but there was no one there to see her accomplishment. Immediately following school she went to work and that was, as they say, that.
Madeline made her way up in the company quickly because her entire focus was on excellence. She didn’t care who she used, abused or stepped on along the way. She was ruthless, which is exactly what her firm wanted.
By the time she was 30, Madeline was the youngest female CEO in the company’s history. She ruled it like a kingdom where she was always “the ice queen.”
Madeline’s life seemed set in stone and she pretended to be okay with that. She worked 12 to 16 hours a day. The rest of the time she slept, read or gardened. She made time for no one but herself.
Then one day, a new family moved next door. Madeline was dismayed to find they had a child; a girl, age six.
Bunny Watson was outgoing. She was actually more than that. She was a force of nature. She exuded warmth and happiness where ever she went. She didn’t believe in sadness. However, unlike Madeline, who simply avoided tears, Bunny sought to dispel them.
One day, Bunny’s ball crossed over Madeline’s fence while she was playing. Without thinking, she ran to the front door to ask the lady of the house to retrieve it for her.
“Hello,” the little girl grinned when Madeline opened the door. “I’m sorry but my ball went over your fence. Would you mind getting it for me?”
“I will not!” Madeline said with a frown on her icy face. “It will just have to stay there. That will teach you to be careless.”
“But if you got the ball, we could play catch together,” Bunny smiled. “I’d like that.”
“I don’t play catch,” Madeline said snidely.
“Well, you don’t know what you are missing,” remarked the little girl. “Are you sure you don’t want to play?”
“I’m sure,” Madeline retorted before closing the door.
The next day, when Madeline left for work, she found a small basket of wildflowers hanging on the door. Inside was a handwritten card. On it was a beautiful drawing of what appeared to be her playing with a ball. Despite herself, Madeline couldn’t help but drop a small chuckle. Not recognizing the sound at first, she looked up expecting to see someone else standing there. There was no one. It was only then that Madeline realized she made the strange sound.
Inside the card was a message. “I’m always here if you want to play ball. Have a wonderful day.” It was signed Bunny.
The next day when Madeline walked out of her home to water her flowers, she saw that Bunny was running a lemonade stand. The little girl smiled and waved at her. Madeline pretended not to notice. However, it was not long before Bunny walked toward her bearing a cup of lemonade in her small hand.
“I thought you might be thirsty doing all that work. It’s on the house.”
Madeline decided to be polite and take the drink. She thanked the child and went back to work.
“If you need any help just let me know,” Madeline said brightly. “I help my mother all of the time.”
Madeline didn’t know why but she handed the little girl the watering can and asked her to water the pansies. She watched as the child went carefully about the job.
“Pansies are my favorite,” Bunny remarked. “It looks like they have faces.”
Madeline found herself smiling. “I used to call them funny faces,” she sighed. “When I was a child.”
“Funny faces. I like that,” Bunny replied as she handed the watering can back to Madeline. “Thanks for letting me help,” she grinned. “It was nice talking to you.”
“I’ve been meaning to thank you for the flowers,” Madeline whispered. “No one has ever given me flowers before.”
Bunny ran forward to hug the older woman about the legs. “You should have flowers all of the time,” she declared emphatically. “I will pick them for you.”
True to her word, every few days, Bunny would hang a basket of wild flowers on Madeline’s door. It was always accompanied by a hand prepared card with a lovely message. Madeline found herself thoroughly charmed by the little girl. She began saving the messages so she could read them over and over again.
One day, Madeline walked out of her back yard carrying Bunny’s long lost ball. She carefully placed on the little girl’s porch with a note. It said, “I’ll play ball any time you like.”
Over time, Madeline and Bunny became fast friends. Through the child, Madeline became close to the Watson family. It wasn’t long before all of them were spending time together. It was the happiest time in Madeline’s life.
As Bunny grew up, Madeline took part in all of her birthdays, holidays, recitals and graduations. If Bunny had an important event, Madeline was there cheering her on. Because all her love and support, Bunny bestowed upon Madeline the honorary title of “Auntie”. The term meant the world to Madeline Ray.
Madeline didn’t fully understand how much Bunny changed her life until she got sight of her reflection one day in the park lake. The woman looking back through the clear blue water was smiling with utter joy. It was the way Madeline Ray remained for the rest of her life.
When Madeline passed away at the age of 74, Bunny was at her funeral. She placed the first rose on the old woman’s coffin. Then she touched her fingertips to her lips and touched the coffin again.
“Goodbye best friend,” Bunny cried as tears renewed themselves in her eyes. “I will always love you!”
Those were the last words Madeline Ray heard as she made her way to heaven. Three words erased all the pain of her early life. The old woman smiled as she reached to wipe tears from her own eyes. She was happy at last. The ice queen was dead. She’d been slain by love.