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Chapter 6: A Christmas Carol

Chapter 6:

The last spirit was different from the others and Sheridan was leery of him. For one thing, he was dressed all in black and then there was the fact that he looked like Julian. So much like Julian that if he'd held a brandy snifter in one hand she'd have sworn it was her brother. "You're the ghost of Christmas future, right?" The ghost gave a Julian like sniff and a tight smile. "Well, I prefer the term Christmas Yet To Come. Christmas future sounds so... promising." Sheridan let out an involuntary shudder. That statement alone didn't bode well for what she was about to see.

People who she cared for and who cared for her had shown her the past and present. What kind of message was it that her brother, who regularly showed her nothing but insincerity and contempt, was going to reveal her future? "Well?" The spirit said impatiently, "Come along, I have better things to do than stand around while you contemplate the meaning of life here..." Sheridan stepped toward him. "But... I thought that was the purpose of these visits?" "It is, but not on my time." The spirit reached out and the light enveloped them.

Future Sheridan was in a fancy apartment, one full of beautiful furniture and expensive art, much like the Crane mansion, only on a smaller scale. She was decorating a huge tree that filled the space in front of the patio doors. A tall, fair haired man entered the room and Sheridan smiled. "William. I'm glad you're home. You can help me with the tree." He smiled and kissed her cheek. "Hello Darling. You go ahead with the tree. I need to relax with a stiff drink and read the paper." Sheridan's smile faded a little. "I know you're tired Sweetie, but it's our first Christmas..."

"I know, and you're doing a fabulous job Darling. Everything will be perfect for the holiday, because I have the perfect wife to handle the preparations." He gave her another quick peck on the cheek and headed across the room to get a drink. Real Sheridan looked at the spirit, her face confused and a little distraught. "I married him? But... he's so... cool." "And so wealthy and influential. Your pairing was a huge coup for the Crane family." The spirit informed her. "But... but we DO love each other? Don't we?" The spirit didn't answer and the room faded away.

Sheridan sat in a gold brocade chair, flipping idly through a magazine, when two children, a boy and a girl, ran into the room. The apartment was gone... now they where in a very pristine home. Real Sheridan's breath caught in her throat as she saw the boy and girl. "My kids..." She whispered. "No," The spirit said. "Not yours. William's from a previous marriage. They live with you now..." Real Sheridan nodded. Stepchildren. That was fine. She loved children, whether they were hers or not was incidental. Future Sheridan had a strange look on her face as she watched the children shaking the presents under the tree. It was a look of painful longing. "Carl, Amy, come sit with me and I'll tell you a special Christmas story that was told to me a long time ago."

Carl ignored her, but Amy, a couple of years younger, maybe 7, came over to Sheridan. She didn't sit with Sheridan though, instead she scowled, hands on her hips and said rudely, "Don't call me Amy!" Her voice was haughty and she held her nose in the air. "My name is Amelia." "Amelia, do you want to hear the story?" Sheridan asked, encouraging the little girl to climb into her lap. "No!" Amelia shook her head and wandered away, leaving Sheridan looking frustrated. Over by the tree Carl dropped a present and there was a distinctive sound of glass breaking. Sheridan got up from the chair and went to the boy. "Carl, why don't you leave the presents alone and come over to the table. We'll play a game or something."

Carl sneered at her. "No! I don't have to listen to you! You aren't my mother and I don't like you!" He stomped away leaving Sheridan to morosely pick up the box he'd dropped. William walked into the room and looked at the crushed box. "What's that?" "Carl broke it. He was playing in the presents again." Sheridan said. "Oh, well, you can replace it." William moved to the bar and poured himself a scotch. "What was it?" "It's not likely I can replace it. It was a hand blown glass angel I had specially made for Amelia." William wasn't impressed. "Oh, well, she has enough angels already. She'll never miss it. look at how many gifts are under that tree, and there are more to come from Santa Claus."

Sheridan sighed deeply and put the box into the waste basket by William's desk. She moved to sit near her husband. "William, I still don't see why we can't have a child. I want a baby..." "Sheridan, we've been over this before. We have Carl and Amelia. I don't want any more children." "No, YOU have Carl and Amelia. They hate me William. No matter what I do they just won't accept me. Please William..." "No Sheridan. I don't want any more children. This discussion is closed! Is that clear?" Real Sheridan watched the scene with her mouth agape in amazement. "Why does she... I mean why do I put up with that? The children are monsters, William is cold and heartless..." The spirit shrugged. "You don't want to rock the boat I suppose. Everyone's happy... your father, Julian, William... well, come along. Time is money..." Sheridan wondered when she got to be happy.

The house was still the same, at least it was the same building. It felt different to real Sheridan this time though, as the light faded and the room became clearer. The warmth was gone. The tree in the corner was perfect... perfectly sterile, like the professionally done ones Ivy always had at the mansion. Gone from the room were the knickknacks and mementoes that her former self had lovingly placed around the room.

As they watched an older Sheridan, perhaps about 50, moved into the room. Real Sheridan noticed something about her right away. She looked... hard... cold. "Susan!" The older Sheridan snapped. "Susan! Where are you?" A young woman in a housekeepers uniform appeared instantly. "Right here Ma'am." "I don't like the way this tree looks. Take it apart and redo it right away. And be quick about it... the guests will be here soon." "But Ma'am..." Susan said hesitantly. "I'm finished my shift in about 5 minutes... it's Christmas eve... my kids are waiting."

"So, they will still be waiting when you are finished. They will get over it." Sheridan, her head held high, walked out, leaving no room for argument. An older woman, in a similar uniform, came from her position in the other doorway where she'd seen the exchange. "Come on dear," She said to Susan. "We'll get this tree in order and get you home to your kids." Susan looked gratefully at the woman. "Marge... how have you stood it all these years? Working for them I mean. Especially HER. She is truly an ice princess like people say." Marge nodded. "That she is... but it hasn't always been this way. Ms. Sheridan used to be a delight to all who knew her. She was a deviation to the Crane family in all ways. She had a heart of gold, she did."

Susan frowned. "Well, what happened?" "Mr William happened." Marge said with a touch of bitterness. "Each year that went by in their marriage his coldness rubbed off onto her. You see Susan, there is only so long that a caring, warm-hearted woman can live without love before her heart starts to freeze over. I watched it happen... slowly William and those thankless offspring of his drained her of her spirit... and her heart." Real Sheridan looked over at the spirit, tears burning her eyes. "I've turned into a Crane... a true Crane..." She whispered. "I'm a cold, heartless, miserable shell of a woman..." "Yes, you are." The spirit agreed readily, not really sounding as though he cared. "Well, come on then... it's going to be morning soon..."

Sheridan was back in her room, back in her bed actually. She was still crying, still thinking of herself, her future. What a bleak life she had ahead of her. She thought of her marriage to that cold man, William. Why would she have let herself be married off to a man like that when she could've had a man like... Luis? Because Luis didn't love her... he barely even liked her... that's why. Luis probably married someone else and she'd settled for William. Well, the future wasn't set! It could be changed and she would change it. She vowed she would never marry William, no matter who Luis married.

To Be Continued...