LOL, it was Thursday in my timezone too.

I was just being lazy

The First Of The Three Spirits.

When Scarlett awoke, her room was a cavern, completely bereft of light. Reaching out, she could scarcely see her own hand in front of her as she fumbled on the bedside table for the boxes of matches she'd seen there earlier. A slow, sweeping gesture located the candle and its holder. Peering desperately into the darkness with her feline eyes, she jumped a little when the chimes of a neighboring church began to play. Momentarily foregoing her search for matches, she waited patiently for the tune to finish so she could hear the bells chime the hour.

Slowly, it rang, its deep coppery tones ringing out across the silent town. Then, to her great astonishment the heavy bell went on from six to seven, and from seven to eight, and regularly up to twelve; then stopped. Twelve! It was past two when she went to bed. The clock was wrong.. Twelve O'clock again? Impossible!

Fumbling on the surface of the table, she knocked to the ground some odds and ends that she had deposited there but she ignored it, her mind focused on finding the candle and matches. Then, triumph, her hand brushed the box of matches and she struck one with a grim smile of satisfaction. The church bells were obviously wrong; the clock on the mantle would no doubt read three, perhaps even four. Five at the latest, but midnight? Not possible.

"It isn't possible," declared Scarlett vehemently, "how could I have slept through a whole day and far into another night? Someone would have come in and woken me up." Glancing toward the door, made just visible by the sickly pale wavering light of the single candle, she wondered. Perhaps with the door locked, no one was able to come in and wake her. What if they called the police, or Ashley and Uncle Henry, or if they sent word to Rhett…

The last idea being such an alarming one, she scrambled out of bed and groped her way to the window. She was obligated to rub the frost off with the sleeve of her dressing gown before she could see anything; and even then, she could see almost nothing save the darkness and a sliver of the distant crescent moon. All she could tell was that it was still very foggy and extremely cold. There was no noise of people in the streets but from a distance, came to her the sound of a wagon rolling over the cobbled street a few blocks away.

Scarlett went to bed again, but sleep eluded her. Working the events of earlier that evening over and over in her mind, she could make nothing of it all. The more she thought, the more perplexed she was; and, the more she endeavored not to think, the more she thought.

Her grandmother's ghost bothered her beyond reason. Every time she resolved to dismiss her appearance, to accept that it was all a dream, her mind revolted and presented the same problem to be worked all through, "Was it a dream or not?"

Scarlett lay in bed, miserable and greatly confused when she remembered that the Ghost had warned her of a visitation when the bell tolled one. She resolved to lie awake until the hour sighted by the ghost of her grandmother was passed. Considering that in her current conflicted state she could no more fall asleep than fly, it was no particular hardship.

The hour passed so slowly that she at last convinced she must have sunk into a doze nearer to unconsciousness than slumber and missed the chiming bells. Then, at length a sound most welcome broke upon her listening ear.

A single golden note rang out, it hung over Atlanta for what seemed an eternity and then faded gradually.

"One O'clock," laughed Scarlett triumphantly looking around the confines of her room, "and nothing. I knew it," she crowed to herself, rearranging the pillows. "I knew there could be no such things as ghosts." Maybe she would go out to Tara for New Year's after all and when Sue's back was turned, haul the portrait of grandmother out into the yard and set it on fire. That would serve her right for popping up in her dreams, she thought with a smirk.

Just as silence settled once more over the sleeping town, a soft glow began to wash over Scarlett's room.

The light penetrated Scarlett's closed eyelids and reluctantly, she forced them open, still hoping against evidence to the contrary that she was once again dreaming. There meeting her green eyes with his own hazel eyes, she found herself face to face with the first of the expected trio of unearthly visitors.

The spirit's was a familiar face even if it was no longer as young and soft as it had been when she'd known it in life. Charles Hamilton had died long before he could lose the last vestiges of adolescence. Yes, that's it, she thought, trying to rationalize the vision, the last time I saw him, he was still a boy riding off to dreams of glory. In her dreams, was it surprising that her mind conjured him up as a cross between the callow youth she'd married and a man who'd reached maturity?

He wore a tunic of the purest gray wool and round his waist was bound a lustrous yellow sash, the sheen of which was so rich that Scarlett was drawn to it, wanting to rub the fabric between her fingers to marvel at its luxurious feel. His dress uniform was trimmed with brass buttons that glowed with an inner fire. But the strangest thing, as if the appearance of her late husband in her room wasn't strange enough, was the sword in its scabbard at his side. The sword, complete with glittering gold hilt, at his side was the same sword that hung over Wade's bed in the nursery just down the hall. How could it be at the apparition's side and in nursery at the same time?

"Charlie? Is it really you? How is it that you're here? You can't really be here. I…are you the spirit, the one whose coming was foretold to me," said Scarlett, words tumbling from her mouth in a raging torrent.

"I am."

The voice was soft and gentle. Just as it had been the day he'd asked her to marry him, just as it had been when he had promised to love her for the rest of his life. A vow that sadly, had been very easy for him to keep since the rest of his life amounted to little more than a few months.

"What are you doing here?"

"I am the Ghost of Christmas Past."

Her already strained nerves broke. "Don't be ridiculous Charlie," she snapped, "how can you be the ghost of all the Christmas's that have passed?"

"Not the ghost of all Christmas's that have passed, I am the ghost from a singular past. Your past."

Scarlett could not have explained to anybody why, but perhaps she had a special desire to see Charles Hamilton once more and so it really did not surprised her that he was here now. "If you're really Charles Hamilton, then you've seen Melly? How is she? Is she happy? Is there truly a heaven?"

"Scarlett, Melanie is not your concern presently, you should be more concerned with your own state of being. I implore you, look toward your own welfare," said the Ghost softly.

Scarlett could not help thinking that a night of unbroken rest would have been more beneficial toward her personal welfare, but she resolved to keep that thought to herself. The Spirit must have somehow heard what she was thinking, for it said immediately:

"Were you like this as a girl? I think not, otherwise I would have never fallen so completely in love with you," he said, to himself.

He put out a hand as his spoke, and clasping her gently by the arm, he spoke to her, "Come Scarlett, come walk with me awhile."

It would have been in vain for Scarlett to plead that the weather and the hour were not suitable for a leisurely amble. Her bed was warm, and she longed to return to it so she could bury her head under the pillows and pray for daylight to come. She wanted to point out to him that she was wearing only her dressing gown and a night rail and that she could not go out into the world in such scanty attire. The grasp, though gentle, was not to be resisted. She reluctantly took a step forward: but finding that the ghost was moving towards the window, she jerked away, panic in her eyes.

"I can't, please Charlie, I'll fall and…please no," she shook her head wildly, "Am I dead already, is that why you want me to come away with you?"

Taking her hand in his own, he lifted it to his lips before laying it upon his heart, "I swear to you, that you will not be harmed while I am by your side. At the touch of my hand you will travel as I do and will be unable to fall."

"I'm afraid Charlie," she admitted reluctantly.

"Scarlett O'Hara afraid," he smiled lovingly, "I never thought I would live to see the day."

She smiled faintly at his joke. "You didn't."

His eyes twinkled merrily. "Come with me, believe in me. I want only to help you, to show you something that might help you."

Her green eyes never left his as she extended her hand and allowed him to take hold of her. Together, they passed through the window and then, before she had time to cry out or change her mind, she found that they stood upon an country lane, with grand oaks extending toward the sky on either side. The city had entirely vanished. Not a vestige of it was to be seen. The darkness and the mist had vanished with it, for it was a clear, cold, winter day, with crackling frost upon the ground.

"CHARLIE!" Cried Scarlett, clasping her hands together as she looked about her. "It's Twelve Oaks, the trees, they aren't burned. They aren't dead. Everything looks just as it was before the war." She turned toward him, and a sharp dart of pain flared in her heart. "Oh, Charlie, you wouldn't know but the Yankee's, they burned it to the ground. I think it's better that you never saw it, after."

The Spirit gazed upon her mildly before taking her arm. His gentle touch stirred what little conscience she possessed. He hadn't deserved to be married, to be accepted so he could be used as nothing more than a slap at Ashley. He was a kind, well meaning young man and death had seemingly done nothing to change that.

Her eyes drifted forward again toward the gracious white house up ahead. It was an old friend, a sight she never thought to see again and it kindled in her a thousand memories, and hopes, and joys, and yes even sadness' long, long, forgotten.

"You're trembling", said the Ghost. Lifting his hand to her face, he brushed away a drop of liquid "And what's this on your cheek?"

Scarlett muttered, with an unusual catching in her voice, that it was the cold; and begged the Ghost to lead her to the house, which must be their destination.

"You know the way," teased Charles, "Do you remember how to get to the house, the short way?"

"Remember," laughed Scarlett, "I could walk it blindfolded."

"How long has it been since you've thought about Twelve Oaks?" Asked the Ghost

"I don't know, a year, maybe more. I try not to look to the past anymore."

"Then it must be strange to be here now."

"Are we truly in the past," she asked, but he said nothing more, only smiling a little.

They walked along the road, Scarlett recognizing every gate, every post and tree; until they reached the little hill just before the drive curved toward the back of the house. Tara's chimneys appeared in the distance. Joy ignited in her soul, if she ran but a quarter of a mile, she would find the Flint with its rough hewn log bridge, and on the other side of that bridge, home. Her parents would be there if it was indeed the past.

She wrenched her arm from Charles grasp but he caught her before she could take a few steps. "Scarlett don't! I know what you want to do, but it won't turn out the way you want. These are memories, nothing more. There is nothing for you in this time and this place beyond what we are here to see."

Struggling in his grasp, she pushed at him frantically. "Turn me loose, I don't believe you. Please, let me go. I just want to see them, just one more time, please…"

The sounds of hooves began to echo through the chilly, crisp air. Some riders were now trotting towards them. The party was mostly made up of boys but among them were two girls, one with dark hair and the other with blond hair the color of whipped honey. Both girls traded looks of amusement at the antics of the boys who called to each other, making teasing comments. All the boys were in high spirits and shouted to each other, until one of the riders, the dark haired young woman shouted, "Oh hush, you are all being silly!"

"It's Cathleen!" She exclaimed joyfully, temporarily forgetting her desire to get to Tara at the sight of her old friend. Cupping her hands over her mouth, she cried out, "Cathleen! Over here."

"Scarlett, these are but shadows of the things that have been", said the Ghost. "They have no consciousness of us."

Scarlett knew all of them, every one. She felt her heart thudding in her chest as she listened to herself, a much younger self of no more than fifteen, laughingly tease Tony Fontaine. Cathleen Calvert, looking as pretty as a Christmas rose in her favorite pink and white fox trimmed habit was talking to her brother, Cade. Dear sweet Cade who had wasted away before her eyes, was bringing his horse next to hers, laughing at some little comment she must have made.

She was glad to see them all again, but did that explain the wild all encompassing joy that suffused her entire being at the sight of them? When she heard them wish one another a Merry Christmas as they parted to head home, she wanted nothing more than to be visible to them so that she could wish them all the most joyous of holidays. She wanted to tell them to treasure this holiday above all that had ever come before it because there would not be many more like it for any of them.

Her heart had temporarily ruled her head, but they reversed themselves once more and she frowned. What was a Merry Christmas to Scarlett Butler? Out with Christmas! What good had it ever done to her? Even the pretty, pert Scarlett on horseback, she would soon find out that Christmas was not always going to be a time of joy and the fulfillment of wishes.

"Let's follow them," she said to Charles.

"Not everyone has gone home just yet," pointed out the Ghost.

Scarlett said she knew it. And she felt the unpleasant burn of salty tears in her eyes. "Don't let's stay here Charlie, let's go to Tara, or Atlanta. We could see Melly and Aunt Pitty, please let's just go," she begged.

He shook his head sadly and taking her arm, together they moved toward the last of the two riders. They came forward, the Ghost and Scarlett until they stood next to the two stragglers. The young man was helping the girl down as they approached.

Scarlett watched the girl, wanting nothing more than to slap some sense into her pretty head. Knowing how the scene was about to play out, she nearly wept to see her poor, stupid naive self as she used to be.

The leafless boughs of one of the towering oaks were creaking overhead. For a time they looked up, admiring the idle swaying of the bare branches. In time, the light breeze that was picking up stained the young Scarlett's cheeks a becoming shade of pink. All of these things were so familiar to Scarlett and finally she gave way to tears.

The Spirit reached out and willingly, seeking comfort wherever she could find it, she allowed him to hold her. "Scarlett, you have to look. Watch this and you will see why we are here." Turning toward the couple, she watched her younger self, her sparkling green eyes intent upon the man next to her.

"Did you know, when you married me, about how I felt about Ashley," she asked.

"I knew you'd had feelings for him, but I suppose I believed what I wanted to believe." His own smile was wistful. "I died thinking that you loved me, if that's what you were wondering."

"I'm sorry," she told him, and even as she said it, she was surprised to find that she meant it. He had been kind and wanted nothing more than to love her. There was no excuse for what she'd done.

"Oh Ashley, I love Christmas, don't you," Scarlett exclaimed in ecstasy. "Yes, yes, I know that I sound like a child, but I can't help it!"

To hear Scarlett Butler expending all of her charm on such a subject, in a lilting high spirited voice somewhere between laughing and singing would have been a shock to her business acquaintances in the city, all of whom believed that Scarlett Butler was a hard, cold woman with no soft feelings for anyone or anything.

"You don't sound at all like a child," said Ashley, smiling that lazy smile of his as they led the horses down the lane. "I love how you welcome the season with open arms, its just one of your many merits." He looked toward the house; "You're coming to the party tonight, aren't you?"

"I wouldn't miss it for anything in the world, I have a new dress. I had it made especially for tonight."

"Is it green?"

Tilting her head, she lightly slapped his arm. "Of course it is, I look wonderful in green." She looked up at him coyly from under lowered lashes, "At least I've been told that, but sometimes people say things just to be kind. Do you like me in green Ashley?"

"You look wonderful in anything Scarlett." He stopped, taking her hands in his he smiled down at her. "Stay here a minute, stay here so that I can look at you."

She preened a little, secure in her good looks and pleased with his attention.

"I wish," the presently transplanted Scarlett muttered, looking at Ashley with something akin to hatred in her eyes, "I wish you could show him this. He tried to say he never misled me, but he did. I was just fifteen. He had to have known how I felt, how could he not. But, the way I…she feels, its already too late to change those feelings. Poor girl, I wish…" she shook her head, "it doesn't matter what I wish, it's too late now to change any of this, isn't it?"

"It is, this time, it's long passed. What you and I see before us, it's a shadow of the past," said the Spirit. "What's the matter Scarlett? You look as if you're thinking something."

"Nothing", said Scarlett. "Nothing in particular. We have a son, you and I, did you know that?"

"I did, he is a wonderful boy Scarlett."

"No thanks to me. He's at Tara with his sister and…I think I should have gone out there after all. Because right now, I would give anything to go over the hill and see my parents but, I can't imagine in similar circumstance he would feel the same about seeing me." She did not cry, but tears were thick in her voice. "I always tried to take care of him Charlie, you have to believe me, but I never found a way for care for him, not as a mother should."

The Ghost smiled thoughtfully, and waved his hand: saying as he did so, "Let us see more of this Christmas."

They were inside now, inside Twelve Oaks and it was Christmas Eve night. Looking around, Scarlett recognized the little ladies parlor used by Honey and India when they entertained. The windows had slim white tapers in each of them, a tradition carried to Georgia from Virginia and England before that by the Wilkes family. A fire burned brightly in the fireplace, an occasional pine knot popping loudly.

"Why are we here? I can't remember anything important happening at the party?" Scarlett looked at the Ghost, and with an impatient shrug of her shoulders, she waited to see what was to come. A noise at the door caught her attention, wracking her brain; she tried to remember the night, nearly thirteen years past.

It opened; and a girl clad in an emerald green velvet party dress adorned with huge tiers of hand crocheted Irish lace darted into the room. Behind her, in hot pursuit, was a young man, a year or two older than the girl. Catching her around the waist, he turned her around and grinned triumphantly. "Tell me that you'll come and visit with us in January?"

Pushing him away, she laughed lightly. "Willie Burr, you are too sweet, but I don't know if I will feel like visiting anyone in January. I mean, I would be no better than a murderess."

"I don't understand, a murderess?"

"Because if I left the County and showed you any special preference, I'd break the hearts of half the boys in the County."

Charles snorted a little.

"What," asked Scarlett defensively. "I was flirting, most girls who are flirting say things like that."

"You didn't say things like that to me."

"You asked me to marry you about four hours after I started paying attention to you. You didn't give me a chance to flirt with you properly."

"I was a bit over eager," admitted Charles.

"A bit?"

He laughed softly, "You were the most beautiful girl I'd ever known. When you singled me out at the barbeque, I couldn't help myself. The war was coming, and I thought this is my chance. You seemed sad that day, as if you were in pain. A little heartsick too maybe. I wanted to protect you, to treat you as you deserved to be treated."

"If you treated me as I deserved, you would have turned tail and run. I used you to make Ashley jealous, I wanted him to feel the same sort of hurt I did. I thought that he would stop me, that he really did love me. But, I was a fool."

"No, you were young. You were never denied anything in your entire life and the first time you were, you didn't know what to do."

He understood her and in spite of that understanding, was so compassionate that she felt as if she had lost something of unknown value when she lost him. "It's strange to talk to you like this, not because of the you being a ghost thing," she added quickly, "but strange because the Charles Hamilton I knew was a tongue tied boy. Is this the real you or who you would have eventually become? You look almost the same, but you're a man now." Turning away, she watched Willie Burr try to steal a kiss from her younger self. The other Scarlett giggled and let him before pushing him away with a pout and a few harsh words.

"Scarlett…"

"No, let me say this. Not that it matters, because maybe this is all a dream, but if it isn't you deserve at least this from me. When I found out that you would never come back, I was glad. I didn't want to be a wife, not to you, not to anyone except Ashley. We never spent a Christmas as man and wife you and I, and now; here we are together and I'm glad you're here. I think that maybe we would have been happy, that we truly could have been pleasant to each other, if you had lived and I had grown up."

"Do you really in your heart believe that?" When she did not speak, he smiled sadly. "Scarlett, we could only have been happy if you had never met Rhett Butler. Do you know, he never forgot you, the girl in the green sprigged muslin dress who threw a vase and swore. He thought of you often after the barbeque, and when he saw you again at the bazaar, there was very little he could do to stop from falling in love with you."

She was about to correct him when a terrible voice in the hall cried "William Horatio Burr, get away from that girl this instant!"

"Ugh, is there anything else to see here or can we go now? I barely listened to Mrs. Burr's lecture on morals the first time, I'd rather not have to ignore it a second time."

Charles nodded, "We have another past to visit, shall we go?" He offered her his arm and with a mock curtsy, she took it.

They were at Pitty's house. She knew what Christmas it was without seeing a soul. Whirling on Charles, she began to berate him angrily. "This isn't fair, it isn't even Christmas Day, it's nearly a week after. Why should I have to see this, what else can I learn from watching me make a fool of myself?"

"I didn't pick the Christmas's that you would see, that is ordained by a higher power."

The sound of Ashley's feet on the stairs drew their attention. He came down the steps slowly, his spurs clinking, and she could hear the slap-slap of his saber against his high boots. When he came past them into the parlor, his gray eyes were somber. At the time, she could not decipher the look in his eyes, but now she knew.

She knew he was going back to more pain and suffering and death. He was a man about to leave his beloved alone in an uncertain world. His beloved Melanie, Melanie who was just like him, she was the one who understood him. Melanie, who in her letters, who in her very existence, preserved the dream world in which Ashley lost himself to retain his sanity in a world gone mad.

He was trying to smile now but his face was white and drawn, as bloodless as a corpse. And now, in the parlor, was one more thing to cause him a moment's worry, the woman he desired but did not love.

"Ashley," she begged abruptly, "may I go to the train with you?"

He shook his golden head. "Please don't. Father and the girls will be there. And anyway, I'd rather remember you saying good-by to me here than shivering at the depot. There's so much to memories."

Charles smiled a little. "He isn't wrong, I always remembered how you looked the night of the Christmas Eve Party at Twelve Oaks. I carried that image with me. Every time I read a novel in which the heroine was beautiful and vibrant, she was you. I was more than half in love with you by the day of the barbeque. I know you think that you just smiled and let me get you a desert and I was yours, but I had built you up in my mind to be the epitome of womanhood."

Before she could form a reply, her own voice interrupted. "See, Ashley! I've another present for you."

Watching them, Scarlett laughed dryly. "I've learned one thing watching this, Ashley was right, you should never cut up something pretty just for a man."

Flinching, she listened to her other self say. "Oh, Ashley, I'd-" Her face colored lightly and she continued in a rush of words.

"What were you going to say," asked Charles.

She shrugged, "Something about cutting up my heart for him, if he wanted it. Which, he didn't." Looking at the two people in front of them, one desperately clinging to the idea of honor and the other clinging to the promise of love.

"Then, there's something you can do for me, Scarlett, something that will make my mind easier when I'm away," said Ashley.

Flinching, Scarlett looked away but Charles took her hand and squeezed it reassuringly. "Scarlett, if it hadn't been for you, my sister would have died."

"But I only looked after Melly because Ashley asked me. I did it because I loved him, not because I cared what happened to Melly."

"You would have left her here to die, had he not asked?"

Her forehead furrowed as she considered his question, "No, I suppose not."

"My sister was a delicate creature, whom a breath might have withered," said the Ghost. "But, in spite of her physical frailties, she had a large heart. She loved you deeply, have you never considered that she loved you not just because you were her sister in law, but because she saw in you a heart with a great capacity to love."

"Me, love like Melly? Not possible, she loved people with her whole heart."

"You love Rhett Butler with your whole heart, don't you?"

"I don't know. I think so, but I thought the same thing about Ashley, so maybe I'm not capable of judging."

"Maybe you are so use to others judging you and your feelings that you don't bother to look inside yourself." When she looked as if she might speak, he held his hand up to silence her. "You loved your parents, you love Wade and Ella. You love Bonnie and the child you lost. In the end, you realized what my sister meant to you and you love Rhett Butler. Just because the way you show your love doesn't resemble how someone else does, it does not depreciate it."

"How do you know what's in my heart when I don't even know how I really feel about anyone or anything any more? I think that maybe this is all a dream, that you aren't here and that maybe this is my mind…" Her voice trailed off as she tried to think of why her mind would spin such an elaborate fantasy.

"Why is your mind doing all of this, to what end?"

"I don't know." She watched herself kissing Ashley Wilkes and cringed as she stood beside Melanie's brother.

"I hope that your sister never knew, she was an angel."

"She was a woman Scarlett, despite that people thought her a saint," said the Ghost, "she understood Scarlett."

"I'd like to believe that," replied Scarlett.

"It's true," said the Ghost.

At that moment, they left Pitty's house and the embracing couple behind them. Walking through Atlanta, they were now in the busy thoroughfares of a city where shadowy passengers passed and carts and coaches battled for the right of way. They were in the heart of the city where all the strife and tumult of a real city were. It was made plain enough, by the dressing of the shops that here too it was Christmas time again; but it was a clear evening, and the streets were teeming with the citizenry of the town.

"What Christmas is this?"

"A fairly recent one."

"That doesn't answer my question."

The Ghost stopped at a certain store, and asked Scarlett if she knew it.

"Know it! I own it."

They went in. At sight of an older gentleman with ginger whiskers standing behind the counter, Scarlett cried out in surprised dismay.

"Why, it's Frank. It's Frank, alive again."

Frank laid down his pen, and looked up at the clock, which pointed to the hour of five. He rubbed his beard; and called out in a nervous voice:

"Scarlett, would you come out here?"

Scarlett's former self, now grown into a self assured young woman, came briskly in, her eyes narrowed at being disturbed while in the middle of balancing the ledgers.

"I don't want to see this, whatever it is, I don't care," said Scarlett to the Ghost. " There he is, alive and well. He was good to me, he truly was. Poor Frank, he saved Tara and how did I pay him back? I made him miserable, embarrassed him in front of his friends and then I killed him."

"No more work tonight. It's Christmas Eve, Scarlett." Before she could say a word, he called out, "George, would you pull the shades and lock the door."

"We agreed on six, or so I thought," said Scarlett frowning.

"Did we," he asked, avoiding her steely green gaze, "I must have forgotten. Surely an hour won't cost us that much."

She rolled her eyes, sniffing disdainfully. "I suppose not, I'll tidy up the office."

The instant she went into the office, George came to Frank. "Mister Kennedy, I can't thank you again for the loan. With Molly being sick and the doctor bills that mounted up, I was afraid the children wouldn't have a thing for Christmas. Not that the presents should be the most important part," he added hastily, "but…"

"Don't worry George."

"I'll start paying you back next week."

"No, you won't. Consider it a bonus, I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas George."

"Mr. Kennedy, I couldn't!"

"You can and will."

"But sir, if Mrs. Kennedy…"

"Would understand what it is to need money and not know where it's coming from. The money is from my pocket so if I want to spend it, that's my business."

"I don't feel right sir, I borrowed money from you, I didn't expect not to repay it. If there is anything I can ever do for you, please consider it done."

Looking back toward the office, Frank nodded a little. "There is something George. It's not to much to suppose that Scarlett may one day have to run the store without me. I'm not a young man," Frank sighed a little, "if anything should happen to me, stay on and look after things. Scarlett is an apt businesswoman, but I would be happier knowing that she'll have someone trustworthy to rely on."

"That's why George stayed on? I always thought he just stayed because of…actually, I never considered why he stayed on after Frank passed. I know he doesn't particularly like me, but I just assumed he stayed because he couldn't be bothered to find another position."

She watched them shaking hands and then George went into the back office, presumably to wish her former self a Merry Christmas. When he left, Scarlett came out to find Frank sitting quietly by the pot bellied stove in the front of the store. It was just the two of them, George being the only full time employee they currently retained.

It was not until now, while watching her former self talk with Frank, that she came to appreciate how kind he'd been to both herself and others.

"He never told me that he gave George money for Christmas, is that really why George stayed on, because of that?"

"A small matter," said the Ghost, "to fill that man so full of gratitude."

"Small? He gave George's children a Christmas, you heard what he said, without the money Frank gave him, they would have had nothing," she said hotly.

The Spirit shrugged, "He probably only spent a few dollars. Is that so much that he deserves such praise?"

"It isn't that," said Scarlett, heated by the remark, and speaking without considering her words, "he gave George's children joy. Even though he knew I would have been annoyed and would have taken him to task for throwing away money, he gave George a huge gift. Being able to give his children Christmas, George must have been overjoyed."

She felt the Spirit's eyes on her, and stopped.

"What is the matter," asked the spirit.

"Nothing," said Scarlett.

"Something, I think," the Ghost insisted.

"No," said Scarlett. "Had I known why George stayed on I could have been able to… never mind."

Her former self turned down the lamps as she gave utterance to the wish; and Scarlett and the Ghost again stood side by side in the open air.

"My time grows short," observed the Spirit. "Quick!"

This was not addressed to Scarlett, or to any one whom she could see, but it produced an immediate effect. For again Scarlett saw herself. She was older now, a woman in the prime of life. Her face didn't have the harsh and rigid lines of the last year but it had begun to wear the signs of age and avarice. There was an eager, greedy, restless motion in the eye, which showed the knowledge that life could change in the blink of an eye.

She was not alone; Rhett sat beside her, looking both amused an annoyed. In her eyes, there were tears that sparkled in the light of the candles above the mantle.

"You don't understand," she told Rhett bitterly. "To you, what does it matter? Your life in the time to come won't change a bit. You think this is a joke, that I have no just cause to be angry. But once again, I'm trapped."

"It's only for a few months and then you can go back to worshipping your golden idol."

"What do you mean? What idol? Stop speaking in riddles, you're making my head ache."

"Commerce is the golden idol to which I refer. Never fear, the business world will be waiting for you, it isn't going anywhere. You can manage everything from your office here, you'll see, the time will fly by."

"Fly by! Spoken like a man. The time will not fly by, it will drag on till I'll feel like the walls are closing in on me."

"I'm sorry, but you'll stay in this house until you have your baby. After that you can go right back to your precious mills and store."

"You promised me happiness when you proposed marriage to me, instead I am pregnant and miserable."

He seemed to weight her statement before shrugging lightly. "This will be over soon enough, even if it will seem like forever to you, after that, maybe we won't be blessed with any more children," he said blandly.

"I certainly hope we won't have any more children," she snapped, "I didn't even want this one."

"A fact you've reminded me of repeatedly."

"Charlie," cried Scarlett, tears pooling in her green eyes. "Show me no more! Take me home. Why do you want to torture me?"

"One shadow more," exclaimed the Ghost.

"No more," cried Scarlett. "No more. I don't wish to see it. Show me no more!"

But the Ghost pinioned her in both his arms, and forced her to observe what happened next. It was still the library, but it was a different Christmas, last year's in fact. Wade and Ella were next to the tree, surreptitiously shaking various boxes and speculating on the contents of the boxes with giggle and smiles.

And now Scarlett looked on more attentively than ever, when the master of the house, holding her late daughter, sat down next to her other self. "Scarlett," said her husband, turning to her with a twisty half smile, "I saw an old friend of yours their afternoon."

"Who was it?"

"Guess!"

"How can I?"

"Not even an attempt, very well it was Mr. Wilkes."

Her mouth pursed and she reached out lightly to tweak one of Bonnie's curls. "I think Ella has one of your presents, why don't you go see." The little girl gave her a quick kiss on the lips and then hurried as quickly as her stout little legs would carry her to join her half siblings under the enormous tree.

"He asked how you were, you'll be pleased to know he sounded very concerned about your welfare. I thought you might want to know that he apparently has not forsaken you. Perhaps one day if he finds himself all alone in the world, you can finally…"

"Hush, do you hear me, don't do this, not today."

"Why not, I thought I was bringing you a gift, letting you know your true love is still pining for you." He studied her from the corner of his eye. "I hope it was just what you wanted."

He got up, leaving her alone on the couch to watch him interact with the children.

"Charlie, please," said Scarlett in a broken voice. "Can't we leave this place?"

"Not until its time."

"No more!" Scarlett exclaimed. "I can't bear it!"

"I told you these were shadows of the things that have been," said the Ghost. "That they are what they are, do not blame me!"

Tears streamed down her face. She turned upon the Ghost, drumming her fists against his chest. " Take me back home, to my home! Haunt me no longer!"

His hands seized her wrists firmly, but still with great gentleness. "Remember what I have shown you," he admonished before releasing her. Scarlett suddenly felt as if the ground had been torn away from beneath her feet. Her stomach churned as she flung out her arms, searching blindly for anything to seize onto.

Opening her eyes, she found the candle next to her bed was burning brightly. There was only a small pool of wax slowly cooling on the tabletop. She surmised that if she'd truly left her room, it could have been for no more than a matter of minutes.

A dream, it must have all been just a nightmare. Her hand was throbbing; something was clenched in her hand. Opening her fist, she felt the breath catch in her throat. There, nestled in her palm was a gleaming brass button embossed with the letters C.S.A