A Christmas Carol
"You do realize that this will never work, right?"
Dan and Hamilton glanced at each other, before the latter raised a hand. "Actually, I'm not too convinced about it either, to tell the truth," he admitted, avoiding Dan's betrayed look.
Natalie sighed. When Dan and Hamilton had paid a visit to her, it would be an understatement to say that she was surprised. Of course it had been a shock to see the two men standing behind her secretary, Elise. They had been introduced with a look of disgust, and received by Natalie with the same. She wasn't sure how on earth Elise had gotten the nerve to bring them to her, although the excuse of being family must have been the majority of the story. They were wearing some of the most hideous clothes that she had ever seen, and that had just been their outer layer! When they had taken off their coats to accommodate themselves to the warm temperature of Natalie's large suite she called home, she had been hard pressed not to throw them out right then and there. Oh, and the melted snow they tracked in! She had nearly screamed, knowing that her carpets would never be the same.
Reluctantly, she had led her guests into a lush living room. There, Natalie had demanded why they were now invading her (nearly) perfect life. In a rush, Dan had explained what Natalie already knew about Ian and his foul feelings for Christmas. His short temper was no surprise, for she had worked with him enough to know that much before leaving to start her own life. Now she was the queen of all designers, her ultimate goal, and she even had a nice family started, too! Her world could become a little hectic at times, but she relished the challenges it brought.
But not this kind.
"Look, I know it sounds a little far-fetched," Dan sighed. "But with the right material, I think we can do it. I mean, just think of how you could benefit from it!"
Natalie already had thought and come to that same conclusion. Obviously she could benefit. All of them could. "When was the last time you saw 'A Christmas Carol'?" she asked.
"Um… I dunno', a couple years ago?" Dan shrugged.
"I saw it a few nights ago on TV," Hamilton offered.
"That book is one of Ian's favorites," Natalie said. "Well, he was rather disappointed when Scrooge turned soft at the end. But he knows it inside out. I know that you are both intent on changing his heart, but he will know that something is up." She shook her head. "He would recognize us in an instant, anyways. And then there are the technical issues. How do you plan to show him his own memories? We are not real ghosts. You cannot take him back in time. You cannot show him the future." Natalie smiled triumphantly. She knew that her argument was hard to beat. "He will not fall for it."
Dan sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Look, I know it won't be easy," he said. "Nothing with Ian ever is. But we'll figure something out." He gave her a pleading look. "We just need a bit of help. You're a Lucian! You can come up with a fantastic plan that would blow Ian away, one that he would never see coming!" Dan leaned forward, becoming more and more enthusiastic. "With your help, we could get him to do anything we want. I'm surprised you didn't do this before!"
"Excuse me, Madame?" Elise was back at Natalie's elbow. "You only have a short while before you must leave for the meeting."
Natalie nodded. "Yes, yes, of course. Is the limo ready?"
"Just about, I believe."
"Make sure it is." Natalie turned back to Dan and Hamilton as Elise strode off to obey. "I am sorry," she told them. They were surprised to realize that she actually meant it. "But as you have heard, I have to go."
"Let's just make a deal then," Hamilton said quickly. "You agree to help us make a plan. Provide costumes. I can whip up some technical stuff, and Dan can throw in a few ideas, too." He shrugged. "Just allow us to come up with something. Then, once we've got the best plan possible, you can decide if you want to move forward."
"Please?" Dan added anxiously.
Natalie looked back and forth between them. Finally, she made up her mind. "If I do, I need something more than the prospects of what could happen."
"You mean like a down payment?" Dan asked.
"Exactly. I need something beforehand."
"Well that's easy!" Dan grinned. Hamilton slumped back in the couch. Natalie cringed.
"No, it's not," he sighed. "Dan, what can we give her? Money's not gonna' sway her. We don't have nearly enough to offer."
"…Oh." Dan's back hit the couch as well, and Natalie just barely contained her tears. She would have to get another one imported…
Hamilton sighed. "Here, just give us a minute," he muttered to Natalie before turning to Dan. "What can we do?" he whispered.
"I don't know, man!" Dan bit his lip. "Can we offer her advertisement for her stores, or something?"
"She already does plenty of that. Have you seen any of them?"
"Are you kidding? I don't look for fashion stuff!"
"Obviously," Natalie muttered to herself. Despite their frantic whispers, she could make out every word they were saying.
Hamilton and Dan glanced at her and lowered their voices even more.
"You don't have to look for them," Hamilton hissed. "But the point is, that won't help."
"Natalie," Elise called, stepping into the room again. "Are you ready?"
"Just a moment," Natalie told her. She sighed as she turned back to the two arguing men. "Listen. Stop it, you two!" Dan and Hamilton pulled back from their whisperings, apprehensive. "I'll give you a proposition."
"But you're married!"
Hamilton whacked the back of Dan's head.
"As I was saying," Natalie emphasized, "I know what you can offer."
"Oh, that's good!" Dan grinned.
Natalie rolled her eyes. "Be here at 5:00 tomorrow."
"But I'll be at work," Dan protested. "Ian won't let me out."
"I'll be free," Hamilton put in. "How soon can you get out?"
"Maybe six," Dan decided after a bit of thought.
"Good." Natalie nodded. "You will be here until 8:00."
"Planning?" Hamilton asked, a little warily. What were they supposed to do for her beforehand, then? And would it really take that long?
But Natalie just smiled, and said, "You will see. But do not be late. Remember, 5:00, sharp!"
Dan and Hamilton shivered simultaneously.
"… And no matter what he says, do not let him convince you to play any video games, watch any movies, or do anything that would keep him up past his bed time. Understood?" Natalie shifted the weight of her son that she was carrying from one side to the other.
Hamilton stared blankly at her and the barely five year old boy. He was holding an assortment of kiddy books, toys, bottles, and a diaper. "Uh…"
Natalie sighed. "It is only for a few hours, Hamilton. You only have to do one hour alone."
"Tell me why you couldn't get a regular babysitter like you usually do?" he asked shakily.
"She… wasn't available." Natalie shook her head and glanced at her watch. "Can you remember all of my instructions?"
"That will have to," she muttered, striding past him. "I have to go to my meeting, Frederick! Now be a good little boy for Mommy, alright?" She touched her son's nose with her own and set him down on the white couch in her living room. Smiling, she gave him a little wave. "Bye-bye!"
"Bah-bah!" He whimpered, moving his fingers to imitate Natalie's.
"Bye," Hamilton murmured, hardly registering his surroundings as Natalie followed Elise out of her pent house to descend to the limo in the street. He walked slowly to the couch opposite from Frederick, who was clapping his hands softly and mumbling something that Hamilton couldn't understand. He lowered himself to the seat and stared at his charge.
I can't believe this, he thought. Natalie wanted him to babysit her kid. She wanted him to watch her five year old for three whole hours. He had to watch her stupid kid.
"…So," he croaked. "Can I call you Fred?"
"Boo!" Fred stuck out his tongue, and then promptly began to laugh.
Hamilton tried to laugh along, but he was still frightened by the whole situation. "I'll just take that as a yes."
Fred stopped laughing and stared at him. Fred's eyes were huge and penetrating, but Hamilton couldn't understand what he was doing. He had grown somber in an instant. "Weird kid," he muttered before talking directly to him. "I am Hamilton," he told the began slowly. "But you can call me Hammer. Say it with me: Ham-mer. Ham-mer."
"Hah-mar," the boy repeated.
"Hahmar!" Fred shrieked.
"Ow!" Hamilton clutched at his ears. "Keep it down, will you?"
Fred slid off the couch, gave a scream, and ran off.
"Oh no," Hamilton breathed.
Dan slid to a stop in front of Natalie's door. He rang the doorbell, and tried to catch his breath. When it swung open, Dan jumped back and nearly screamed.
Hamilton glared down at him. "You're. Late," he seethed.
"D-dude, what's the matter?" Dan quivered.
"Look at this." He pointed to the boy who was currently trying to rip his hair out. "And this." Hamilton gestured to the room behind him, which was a complete wreck.
"Wait." Dan blinked. "She wanted us to babysit her kid?"
"He is of the devil!" Hamilton pulled Dan inside and slammed the door.
"C'mon, Ham. He's Natalie's kid. Why would you expect anything better?"
"Natalie is going to be furious with us, Dan," Hamilton said. "Look, he ran all over the place dragging toilet paper everywhere!"
Dan smiled and patted Fred's head with praise. "I couldn't have done better myself. What's the little dude called?"
"Frederick. But I just call him Fred." He sighed. "This 'little dude' has been driving me up the wall! He threw his oatmeal at it, too! Some even got on the plasma screen…"
"I don't blame him," Dan shrugged. "I never liked it myself."
Hamilton groaned. "Well, if you don't seem to have a problem with him, you can watch over him for a while. I need a break." He thrust Fred into Dan's arms, and stumbled off to the least damaged couch.
"Hey!" Dan called. "I can't take care of a kid! Amy says I can barely take care of myself."
"Don't use your sister as an excuse!"
"But it's true…" Hamilton gave no reply, and Dan sighed. "Look, fine. I'll watch over him for a bit, play with him, blah, blah, blah, and you can start cleaning up. M'kay?" His friend merely grunted in reply and began to gather up broken crayons.
Dan carried Fred into another room, looking to see what the extent of the damage was. A vase had been broken, fruits and their bowls were strewn across the floor, and all of the pillows had been thrown into a corner. There was a stain on a wall that Dan hadn't seen before, and he wondered what else Hamilton might have tried to feed Fred. His question was answered when he saw bottles of milk nearby, but most of the milk was in a puddle. Dan wrinkled his nose and crossed over to the pillows.
"Let's have some fun," he told Fred, trying to imitate a cooing voice that he had once heard Amy use on Reagan's kid. "Why don't we make a fort, huh? Sound like fun." He set Fred down nearby, and started to rearrange the pillows. Soon after he had started, Dan heard a distorted crash and a yell from Hamilton.
Dan rushed over to his friend to see him prying Fred off a piano.
"I thought you were watching him!"
"I was! But then I was building a fort out of pillows for him," Dan explained. "I didn't realize that he'd just disappear."
"I told you," Hamilton sighed. "Of. The. Devil." He passed Fred back to him. "Be a little more careful next time. For all I know, he might have started painting the keys if we'd let him."
Dan thought of saying something, but decided to just nod and take Fred back to the pillows.
About one hour later, Dan had grown just as desperate as Hamilton. So, he had done the most practical thing he could think of.
"Ha!" he crowed with triumph. "Take that, little Freddie-o!" He laughed, throwing his hands up in the air.
"Dan?" Hamilton asked cautiously. He had done his best to clean up Natalie's place, but it was still a little untidy. Now he was staring at Dan, who had a crazed gleam in his eye. He seemed to be enjoying this moment a little too much, but Hamilton didn't blame him.. "Now why didn't I think of that before?" he cried, throwing his hands up in the air. Fred protested by screaming.
"Dang it. I need a gag," Dan muttered.
"Tying him up was enough," Hamilton reasoned, although he did throw a glare in the boy's direction. While a gag did seem appropriate, he was certain that there were cameras watching them. Yes, they had definitely done enough to detain him.
"Oh, c'mon, you're just as tired of him as I am," Dan protested.
"…Alright, so I want to do it too, but- Ah, I can't think with him yelling like that!" Hamilton covered his ears and backed up a few steps. "But I'm guessing that this is the result of your sister not answering her phone."
Dan nodded. "And I had to leave a message for Natalie, too. I don't think she would have come back any sooner, though, anyways."
"So what do we do?"
Sighing, Dan laid a hand on Hamilton's shoulder. "I don't know, Ham. I don't know…" They stood there for a moment, watching Fred. He was struggling against his bonds which Dan had fashioned out of bed sheets. The boy's face was nearly purple as a result of his screams. "Can we please get a gag?" Dan begged.
Hamilton's eyes lit up. "No. I've got something better…" He turned to the large plasma screen in the room slowly, and a grin lit up his face with the same crazed look that Dan had worn before.
Natalie set her purse down on the elegant counter top, then placed her hands on her hips. "I am surprised to see that you have kept this place so… nice," she said bluntly.
Dan shrugged. "Oh, we figured everything out." He narrowed his eyes. "That really wasn't fair, you know."
"No kidding," Hamilton muttered darkly.
"We made a deal." Natalie's lips curved up into a sinister smile. "Not many of the nannies that I have hired to much better then you two. I was expecting this place to be much more chaotic."
Hamilton blinked. "So why did you make us do this, then?"
Natalie waved a hand airily. "This is not my only home." She surveyed the area with a critical eye. "How long did it take you to clean up?"
They didn't answer.
She sighed and took off her coat, which Elise in turn took away. "Well. I suppose that is all, then. Goodnight."
"Wait!" Dan frowned. "You promised us a plan."
"I told you," Natalie sighed, "that it would not be easy. Ian knows the story inside and out! He will know what we are up to in an instant."
"It's worth it," Dan promised.
"We can figure something out," Hamilton shrugged. "Right?"
Natalie stared at them for a moment, frowning slightly. "I do not know what you want to do about it. If you still want your ghosts, Ian will not believe it."
"We could tell him it's a dream," Dan suggested.
"But it won't be," Natalie pointed out. "He will find the whole thing very sketchy. And as I have said before, there is no way to bring him into the past or the future."
Dan gave an exasperate sigh. "And as we have said, that's where your brilliant plotting mind comes into play!"
"Well my 'brilliant plotting mind' needs a bit of time to think!" Natalie turned back to the door and opened it. "Tomorrow we can talk."
"But that's the 21st!" Dan protested. "Hardly any time will be left to put the plan into action! The point is for me to get more vacation time!"
Natalie crossed her arms. "You will not get any without a proper plan. I will call you when I am ready." With that, she pushed them out the door. "Goodnight." She shut it sharply. "And good riddance…"
Give many wonderful thanks Joyce, please! She's so helpful. Catches my typos, fixes my phrasing, and tells me when I suck! (Nicely, of course, but it's still helpful.) She's the whole reason that this has gotten as far as it is. And I know, I wanted to have this finished before Christmas… But that's obviously not working out. So, I'll just update this when I can. A good story does take time to write, after all.
I also must thank those that have reviewed thus far, especially those who tried (and somehow failed…?) to look for something I could improve upon. I hope you are enjoying the story, and I would love to hear your opinions on it.