By Christy (Attalanta@aol.com)
Submitted November 11, 1997
Summary: It happens every Christmas, and this time it happens to Lois. Sometimes just taking a nap can give a person a whole new outlook on the holiday spirit.
This story begins with part of Twas the Night Before Mxymas's first scene (where Lois and Clark are going over their Christmas shopping list when Clark hears a call for help), but soon diverges. As usual, most the characters aren't mine, but the story is, sort of — I'm sure you'll recognize the general theme. :) The story that's quoted is "The Night Before Christmas," written by Clement C. Moore, and an explanation of how Jimmy and Joleen met is in an upcoming story. Also, I assumed (without reason) that Sam and Ellen were separated for about a year before being legally divorced-the Christmas right after their informal separation was the one Lois told Clark about in Season's Greedings, and their first legally divorced Christmas is the one used in this story. All comments are appreciated.
"Magic," Lois Lane muttered, shaking her head as she watched her husband dash off. Lois had always thought of Christmas as a bother, something that she had to brace herself for and live through before life as she knew it started up again in January. But Clark was definitely a Christmas person; he thought that, for some reason, one single day in December had the power to bring out the best in people. He should know better, Lois thought sullenly as she unlocked the door of her Jeep and stowed her parcels in the back seat. Superman was even busier over the holiday season than he was during the rest of the year. It was only their first Christmas as husband and wife and the second that Lois had known The Secret, but she could already see that Superman's life was more chaotic in December.
As Lois maneuvered through the streets of Metropolis on her way home, she thought of how ridiculous Clark's love of Christmas was. He was a grown man, thirty years old, but he somehow managed to remain the eternal optimist though he saw the worst in people every day. After parking her car and hauling their packages out, Lois started up the snow-covered steps of their brownstone. She cleared off a section of the top step with the toe of her boot and set the packages down, freeing a hand to open the outside door. Suddenly Lois felt something hard and fast hit her in the back. She turned around and dusted off the wet, snowy patch in the middle of her back.
"Merry Christmas!" she heard a child's voice laugh from across the street.
Narrowing her eyes, Lois bit her lip in restraint. "And the same to you," she muttered to herself. She slowly turned back around and opened the door, pulling her bags inside with her.
After warming up with a mug of hot chocolate, Lois spread the gifts she and Clark had bought that day on the floor for wrapping. In this season of unpleasantries, wrapping gifts was one of Lois's *most* hated activities. She always seemed to cut the paper to the wrong shape or size, or misplace the card she had bought for the top of a gift. Once, a few years back, she had even mixed up two gifts after wrapping them; they ended up tagged for and given to the wrong people. Slitting the plastic shrink wrap off a roll of wrapping paper, Lois heard the doorbell ring. Wrapping paper roll still in hand, she cleared a path through the boxes and ribbons and bags to the door.
In front of her stood a bundled-up little boy and a woman Lois presumed was his mother. "Go on, Joey," the mother urged, pulling her son's mittened hands away from his runny nose. "Read your paper to the lady," the woman drawled.
"Hello, Mr. or Mrs. Blank. My name is Blank, and I'm a student at," Joey began, pausing to sniffle loudly and run his knitted mitten again over his red nose. But he was interrupted by his mother, who tiredly swatted at her son's arm.
"Joey, I told you that you're supposed to *fill in* the blanks, not read 'blank,'" she impatiently reminded him. "Now keep going!"
"I'm a student at Eisenhower Elementary School. This year we're selling fruitcakes to benefit the Coates Orphanage, which will receive all profits. To reduce hassles for you, the customer, we're selling the fruitcakes on the spot, so you can receive your order immediately. How many would you like?" the boy asked in a monotone. "Remember, there is no need to take the customer's name or address since you're delivering the fruitcakes…"
"Joey," the woman reprimanded again, this time jerking her son's hood, causing his head to whip backwards. "I told you that you don't need to read that part. Just read the words in bold print," she ordered. Noticing the bothered look on Lois's face, the woman turned to her with an apologetic but hopeful smile. "You know kids," she said in a suddenly tolerant voice. "Never getting anything right. Do you have children?" she asked nosily.
"Uh, no, I don't," Lois responded. If there was something that annoyed her more than small children forced to sell things door-to-door, it was their pushy parents. "And my husband and I don't eat fruitcake, so…" she concluded, starting to close the door.
"Oh," the woman sneered judgmentally before further urging her. "Come on. No one *really* likes fruitcake, but everyone buys them. They're a part the holidays. And it's for a good cause," Joey's mother continued, but Lois had heard enough.
"Well, they're *not* a part of my holiday and I *really* don't want one," Lois insisted, closing the door for good this time and heading back to the mound of gifts. After several minutes of frustration when the ribbon she was trying to curl into a bow refused to twist, Lois flopped onto the couch, exhausted.
Reaching down, she picked the remote control up from the floor and flipped the television on. LNN was airing a cheery commercial for some popular plastic toy and Lois rolled her eyes in disgust. Maybe if everyone wasn't so stuck on the monetary aspects of the holidays she could find some reason to like Christmas. Lois surfed through the rest of the channels, finally stopping on the news. She had hoped to hear what was keeping Clark, but the channel wasn't featuring any breaking stories that could explain his absence. After the news bulletin ended, an out-of-date, black and white version of some Christmas movie came on. Lois sighed and tossed the remote to the side. Maybe toy commercials and Santa Claus weren't so bad after all. At least it was a break from the old, sappy movies that ran from the day after Thanksgiving well through New Year's. "I really hate these movies," Lois yawned to herself before her eyes slowly fluttered shut.
"Lois Lane," she heard a rough voice call from far off, awaking her from a deep sleep. The voice sounded familiar to Lois, yet far away. Blinking her eyes, she squinted at the lighted figure that was standing in front of her. "Lois Lane," the voice echoed, slightly more anxious this time. "Wake up, Lois," the voice repeated, this time barking. Lois sat up, surprised at the voice that she now recognized.
"What are you doing here, Perry? And what are you *wearing*?" she asked, rubbing her eyes in an only slightly successful attempt to focus on the shape looming over her. It was Perry, she reminded herself through the sleep-induced fog in her mind, but he was wearing something Lois could only describe as a cross between a Santa suit and an Elvis Presley costume.
"Isn't this costume a hoot?" Perry asked her, looking down to admire his attire. "I love the sideburns." He fingered the furry white pieces that were stuck on his face. "Kinda makes me feel like the King," he grinned. And, placing his hands on his hips, the editor of the Daily Planet gyrated his mid-section and hummed the words "ho, ho, ho" to the tune of an old Elvis song. "Oh, but I'm not Perry," he added lightly, continuing to dance.
"What do you mean, you're not Perry?" Lois rose from the couch and stood beside him. "Just who *are* you, then?"
"The Ghost of Christmas Past," he responded casually.
"You know, Chief, this really isn't funny. I don't know why you're dressed like that or how you got in here," she began.
"I told you, I'm the *Ghost of Christmas Past*, not Perry, and not some kind of chief," he repeated gently.
"Okay, sure, I'll play along with your little game, Perry. Oh, I'm sorry, it's not Perry," she corrected herself sardonically. "So why are you here, Mr. Whoever-You-Are?"
"I'm here to save you," he told her simply.
"Save me from what?"
"From your doom-and-gloom attitude, from your pessimism. Now, take my hand. I have something to show you," the Ghost told her, extending one brightly glowing, gloved hand towards Lois. Sighing and shaking her head slightly, she reached out for his hand.
"I can't believe I'm doing this," she commented as she felt herself fly through the air. "Wait a minute! Where are we going? We're flying! How are you doing this?" she asked him in shock.
"You ask too many questions, my dear," the Ghost told her. "But you should be quite used to flying," he said with a knowing half-grin and a raised eyebrow. Still confused, Lois was unusually quiet through the rest of the short flight. A few minutes later she began to recognize the streets below her.
"Hey, I know where we are!" she exclaimed. "This is the street where I grew up! There's my old elementary school, and the park where Lucy and I used to play! But how did we get here? The city tore that playground down years ago. And the elementary school was knocked down to make room for an apartment complex last summer!"
"I told you, Lois," the Ghost reminded her again, this time in an annoyed tone. "I'm the Ghost of Christmas Past. I'm here to remind you how wonderful Christmas used to be for you. You do remember happy Christmases, don't you?" the Spirit asked as they landed on the fire escape of an upscale apartment building. "Go ahead," he urged her, pointing towards the window. "Look inside. No one can see us."
With a sideways glance at the Ghost, Lois approached the window and peered through the space between the parted curtains.
"Mommy, can we open the presents tonight?" Lois pleaded with her mother. "Please, please, *pretty please*?" She jumped up and down excitedly, her eyes riveted to the large boxes under the real evergreen tree in the family room of the apartment. Lois hurled her energetic, eight-year-old body onto the couch next to her mother, who was sitting with Lucy and a much-loved hard-cover book on her lap.
"Lois, you know the rules," her mother reprimanded. "No opening presents until Christmas morning. And besides," she added. "Your father isn't even home from the hospital yet. You wouldn't want to open anything without him, would you?"
"I guess not," the little girl replied, dejected. She laid her head on her mother's shoulder and turned her attention to the brightly covered book. Ellen Lane put her arm around her oldest daughter and pulled her closer.
"I know what we'll do, Lois," she suggested a little too enthusiastically. "We can read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas' until Daddy comes home. How about that? And this year Lucy is old enough to listen in, too."
Lois rolled her eyes towards her younger sister, whose thumb was tucked firmly into her mouth. "Lucy's a baby," she said harshly. "She'll probably be *scared* of the part where Santa lands on the roof."
"Will not," Lucy responded, her thumb still in place.
"No fighting, girls," Ellen said lightly, checking her watch. "Remember, Santa will know if you're bad and won't leave you any presents."
"The presents are already under the tree," Lois challenged, jutting out her chin in defiance.
"You know that those presents are from Daddy and me. Santa fills your stockings," Ellen corrected her daughter. "And you don't see anything in those yet, do you?"
"Humph," Lois responded, opening the book to the first page. "Let's read the story, then."
Just as the narrator of the story "heard on the roof , the prancing and pawing of each little hoof," Lois heard the sound of keys in the door. It opened and her father, medical bag in hand, stepped into the family room.
"Daddy!" she shrieked, and jumped into his arms.
"Well, hello, there, Princess." Maneuvering around Lois, who still clung to his side, Sam Lane removed his hefty winter coat and hung it up in the closet. "One of my favorites," he commented, observing the title of the book his wife was holding. "Did you finish yet?"
"Not yet." Lois's mother slid herself and her sleeping youngest daughter over on the couch to make room for her husband. With Lois on his lap, Sam sat down next to his wife and read the remainder of the story, bellowing the final line, "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!" loudly as he closed the book. The smack of the pages caused Lucy to sit up with a start.
"Daddy," she said sleepily before replacing her head on her mother's lap.
"Okay, Lois, time for bed," her father suggested as he rose to return the book to its place on the bookshelf.
"But I'm not even tired," she protested. "Just cause *Lucy* fell asleep…"
"If you don't go to bed, Santa won't come," her mother warned as she carried Lucy off towards her bedroom.
"I know, I know." Lois headed towards her own bedroom. Half-way there she stopped and turned around. "I almost forgot! I have to leave cookies and milk for Santa," she exclaimed. Her pajama-footed feet pounding the wooden floor, Lois ran into the kitchen and set three over-decorated Christmas cookies and an un-peeled carrot out for Santa. As Sam poured milk into a glass, he noticed what his daughter had set on the plate.
"Why the carrot, Lois?"
"Mrs. Dickinson read us a story where the kids left carrots for Rudolph and the rest of Santa's reindeer. But we only have one carrot. Do you think that's enough, Daddy? I think they're each supposed to get one," Lois said, chewing on her lip pensively.
"I think they can share," her father told her as Lois grabbed a paper and pen and sat at the kitchen table.
"I'm gonna write a letter, too," she said, playing with the pen for a moment before beginning her note. "Here's what I wrote- 'Dear Santa, Here are some cookies and milk and a carrot for your reindeer. I'm sorry that we only have one, but my Daddy says that they can share. Merry Christmas and have a safe flight back to the North Pole! Love, Lois Lane.'"
"That's wonderful, Princess." Lois's father placed their offerings on a table near the Christmas tree. "But I'm afraid that it's bedtime now," he reminded his daughter, scooting her towards her bedroom where his wife was already waiting.
"Good night, Lois," her mother said as Lois climbed into her bed and cuddled a stuffed brown bear to her chest. Her father pulled Lois's thick quilt to her chin and kissed her good-night.
"I'm not going to be able to sleep at all," Lois confessed as her mother brushed her daughter's long hair away from her face and gave her a good-night kiss.
"Try to forget that tomorrow's Christmas," her father advised as he headed towards the hallway. "Then you'll sleep easier."
"Just don't wake us up too early," Lois's mother cautioned before flipping the light switch to the off position. "I love you, Lois. Have a good sleep."
"Love you, too, Mommy," Lois responded before turning onto her side and settling into her bed for the long night.
"Wow!" Lois exclaimed as she turned to face the Ghost. "I'd forgotten that Christmas," she commented, still in awe of what she had seen. She took a step forward and approached the window again, but the Ghost placed his hand on her shoulder and suddenly the once-familiar apartment disappeared from the window. "Hey, where'd they go? I wanted to see Christmas morning," she whined not unlike the younger self she had just seen.
"I'm sorry, but we're done here," the Ghost told her gently. "Are you ready to see some more?"
"Where are we going now?" Lois asked eagerly before correcting herself. "I mean, *when* are we going now?" she asked with a knowing smile.
"You'll see, Lois, you'll see." The Ghost took her hand and again they journeyed over the rooftops of Metropolis, slowing as they approached another familiar block.
"We used to live here, too," Lois commented less enthusiastically. "I remember this apartment. We moved here a few weeks before the first Christmas that my parents were truly and legally divorced. Lucy and I hated this place," she said quietly as they landed on yet another familiar fire escape. Without having to be prodded, Lois tentatively approached the window and was drawn into the apartment.
"Come on, girls," Ellen Lane yelled towards her daughters, who had once again barricaded themselves in their bedroom for the night. "Don't you want to help me decorate the tree?"
"NO!" came their voices in unison from their shared room.
"It's an ugly tree," Lois added. "Even if we decorate it, it'll still be aluminum and *pink*," she said with a disgusted note in her voice.
"Well I'm sorry it doesn't meet with your high standards, young lady," Ellen shot back harshly. "Your grandparents were kind enough to donate it when they bought a real tree this year, and we both know that with the money your father's paying for child support we can't afford to buy a tree."
"Mom, quit it!" Lois yelled back. "It's Christmas Eve. Is it too much to ask that you forget about Dad and money for just one night?"
"Don't you girls want to open a present early?" Ellen asked, still hoping to coax her daughters from their bedroom for any semblance of their usual Christmas rituals. This time Lois emerged from her bedroom to confront her mother face to face.
"We used to have to wait until Christmas morning," she said bitterly before heading into the kitchen, followed closely by her mother.
"Things have changed, Lois," Ellen Lane said with equal bitterness as her daughter returned the pitcher of juice to the refrigerator. "As you know, your father's oh-so-generous child support wasn't nearly enough to buy you girls the usual presents," she said, gesturing towards the few wrapped packages under the tree. "How about setting out cookies and milk for Santa?" she suggested in a fake, sing-song-y tone.
"Like you said, Mom, things have changed," Lois replied harshly as she took the two glasses of juice and a box of crackers and headed back into the bedroom she shared with Lucy, slamming the door behind her.
Just as Ellen settled on the couch with the tattered and now friendless copy of "The Night Before Christmas," she heard the doorbell buzz.
"Just a minute," she called out angrily as she rose to open the door. Checking out the peephole, she sighed loudly before unhooking the numerous locks and opening the door. "What are *you* doing here?"
"Don't worry, I didn't come to see you," her ex-husband said sharply as he walked into the sparsely furnished apartment and closed the door behind him. "Beautiful decor, Ellen," Sam Lane commented wryly before tossing his coat atop a pile of cardboard boxes stacked in the corner of the room.
"Spare me the wisecracks, Sam; you know we just moved in. Sorry it's not the Ritz, but with your alimony and child support…" she said, her voice trailing off with just the right amount of blame.
"Oh, grow up, Ellen. That's all it is with you, isn't it? 'Give me more money, Sam. You can afford it on that huge doctor's salary of yours.' 'Oh, Sam we don't have enough money to live on. We're practically *destitute*,'" he mocked her.
"Grow up? *Grow up*?!?" Ellen exclaimed with new ammunition. "You're the one that needs to grow up! *I'm* not the selfish one, leaving your wife and two daughters for some floozy half your age and double my chest size. At least I don't care so little for my children that I make them live in poverty just to spite their mother!" she exclaimed angrily. "Why are you here anyway, Sam? Did you just come to insult my home or is there some other reason?"
"I'm here for Lois and Lucy," he said slowly as if he were reminding her for the tenth time. "They're going to spend Christmas morning with me," he stated simply before calling out his daughters' names.
"What!?!" she screamed. "Oh, no, they're not! You don't have them for Christmas. You get them for every other holiday and this one so happens to be mine!" Ellen said possessively.
"Yea, and you had them for Thanksgiving, so that means Christmas is mine!" he shouted back at her.
"No it's not. We weren't officially divorced until *after* Thanksgiving," she reminded him smugly. "So that means the custody agreement doesn't go into effect until now, making Christmas the first holiday and therefore mine!" she exclaimed triumphantly.
"Let's just let the girls decide," Sam retorted before continuing to call out to his daughters. Finally Lois emerged.
"Where's your sister?" Sam demanded immediately. "You two are coming with me for Christmas."
"I told you that Christmas is *mine*!" Ellen shouted back.
"Shut up both of you! Lucy doesn't want to come out and I can't blame her. All either of you do is yell."
Hoping to sway his daughter, Sam lowered his voice. "Lois, don't you and Lucy want to come and spend Christmas with me? You're here with your mother every day. I've got some nice presents for you waiting in the car," he said smoothly. Lois strode towards the window and peered out, noticing her father's car, still running, parked in front of the building.
"Who's that?" she asked fairly innocently.
"You mean you brought *her* here?" Ellen demanded, as she rushed to the window, practically shoving her daughter out of the way for a good view of the too-young woman in the front seat of Sam's car. "How *dare* you?"
"Come on, Lois," her father continued to urge. He took her arm and gently pulled her away from the window. "Christmas in my new apartment. Doesn't that sound like fun?"
"Fun? You think it sounds like fun?" Ellen asked as she, too, turned away from the window. "Lois and Lucy are staying here. This is the first holiday after the divorce and it's mine!"
"Just quit it!" Lois interrupted again. "Lucy and I are staying here," she said and, after noticing the smug look on her mother's face, continued. "But *not* because we like Mom better or want to follow the custody agreement. We're already here and tomorrow night we're going skating with our friends, who all live near *here*." She stomped back to her bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
Back in the family room, Sam gathered his coat and headed towards the door, muttering "Money-grubbing wench," under his breath as he slammed the door.
"Selfish child!" Ellen screamed at the back of the door before heading back into the kitchen. A glass in her hand, she opened a frequently-visited cabinet and removed a heavy glass bottle filled with a mahogany-colored liquid. Uncapping the bottle and pouring a large portion into the glass, she settled easily onto the couch, the bottle still in one hand and her glass in the other.
Bowled over by emotions brought on by the last scene, Lois took several steps back from the window. "Are we finished here?" she said coolly to the Ghost, biting her lip and trying to blink away the tears that had glossed over her eyes.
"This scene was a little different from the last one, wasn't it?" the Ghost asked her.
"I'd rather not talk about it."
"That's your choice, Lois, but people usually can't get over something unless they share it with someone else. Did you talk about that Christmas with anyone? Lucy? Your parents?"
"Of course not," Lois responded quickly. "Lucy, well, Lucy and I didn't talk much in those days. I guess I just didn't know what to say to her. The only person I've mentioned it to is Clark but even he doesn't know everything. But I don't see why it matters now; that was years ago."
"Really, Lois? You don't see why it matters now? Scenes like those became part of you. Like it or not, your childhood made you what you are today. If your parents hadn't fought so much, hadn't divorced, you would be a very different person, for better or worse, than you are now. Lois, I showed you the first scene because I wanted you to remember how wonderful Christmas used to be for you. It still *can* be," the Ghost reminded her. "This last scene was to show you why Christmas seems like such a chore now. But, Lois, not every Christmas will be bad, just as not every one will be good. You have to hope for the best and be prepared for the worst, but don't *expect* the worst; chances are, you won't be disappointed." Looking around, Lois realized that she was back at home. Sitting up on the couch, she looked around sleepily, trying to determine whether she had imagined everything before drifting back to sleep.
"Lois." A youthful voice urged her from her sleep. Rubbing the remnants of sleep from her eyes, Lois found herself looking at another familiar figure. This time it was Jimmy, grinning from ear to ear and gently pushing at her shoulder in an attempt to awake her. Like "Perry," he was dressed in strange clothing; Jimmy wore a tight red and green elf suit with a tight cinch at the waist and bells adorning the curled ends of his felt slippers.
"What are you doing here, Jimmy?" Lois asked in confusion. "Did you come with Perry?"
"Perry who?" the figure asked her innocently, taking a seat beside her on the couch. "And I'm afraid, Lois Lane, that I'm not Jimmy, I'm…"
"The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, right?" Lois asked with a disbelieving sigh. "This has been the strangest night," she said, her mouth falling open in surprise-the Ghost, had been sitting next to her on the couch less than a second ago, was now standing near the window. "How did you do that?"
"You were just… How did you get over there so fast? I didn't even see you move!" she exclaimed.
"Cool, huh?" he said, widening his perpetual grin. "This Ghost thing's really awesome. I couldn't even move this quick when I was alive!" He stuck his chest out in pride, a strange near-imitation of Peter Pan.
"So where are we going this time?" Lois asked reluctantly, joining him at the window. "Another blast-from-the-past Christmas?" She wasn't particularly looking forward to visiting any other Christmases of her past-most she remembered resembled the dismal second scene more than the joyful first one.
"You're forgetting who I am, Lois," the Ghost corrected as he took her hand and the two whizzed into the air, traveling quickly past the tops of the buildings that lined the Metropolis skyline. "I'm the Ghost of Christmas Future, or, as you put it, 'Christmas Yet to Come,'" he said in a low, mock-serious tone. "Sounds like you've been reading too much Dickens," he joked. "Get with the 90s before we leave 'em, Lois-'future' is a much more hip term." The two of them landed back in front of Lois's home.
"Hey, where are we?" she asked with obvious disappointment. "I thought we were going to the Future. But we're just right back where we started!"
"We may be back *where* we started, but we're far from *when* we started," the Ghost corrected her again. "You keep forgetting the rules, Lois," the Ghost told her, chuckling happily. "You should know the drill by now." He gestured towards the windows of the old brownstone.
"But I won't be able to see in those windows," she protested even as she approached them. "They're too high to look in."
The Ghost giggled at her ignorance. "Anything's possible, Lois," he told her as Lois found herself hovering several feet above the ground, able to peak into the windows of the home of her own future self.
"Lois, is that you?" Clark Kent yelled from the kitchen as the front door slammed shut.
"Mommy's home, Mommy's home!" a small voice yelled as six year old Lara jumped down from the stool that made her tall enough to mix the cookie dough she and her father had been making into crisp Santas, angels, and Christmas trees. Within seconds, Clark used his x-ray vision to make sure it was, indeed, Lois. Seeing that her arms were overflowing with brightly decorated bags and boxes (he guessed that she had finished their Christmas shopping after handing their story in at the Planet), Clark caught Lara before she left the kitchen.
"Why don't you wash your hands before you go see Mommy?" he suggested before lifting two year old Josh from the floor where he had been playing with the plastic cut-out shapes his father and sister had been using to make the cookies.
With Josh on his hip, Clark walked into the family room to meet his wife. "Why don't you take Josh and I'll take your packages upstairs," he suggested, handing him to her as she dropped the bags at her feet. "Lara's getting a little suspicious," he explained as he dashed upstairs.
Clark returned downstairs seconds before Lara came out of the kitchen, proudly showing her clean hands to her father and greeting her mother in a hug.
"I'm glad you're home, Mommy," she said, attaching herself to her mother's leg before Lois was able to hand Josh back to her husband and take her coat off.
"So am I, Lara," Lois answered as she hung her coat up and collapsed onto the couch. "Where's Catie?"
"Upstairs sleeping," Clark told her. "She actually went down without much of a fuss," he said proudly. Their youngest child, Catie, was just seven months old and was always a struggle to put to bed.
"Goody for you," Lois marveled sarcastically before closing her eyes. Clark looked at her suspiciously but figured that work and shopping had been a little tiring.
"Daddy and I made Christmas cookies. Wanna taste one?" Lara offered, already springing towards the kitchen for a cookie. "Josh wanted to help, but he just sat on the floor and played with the cut-out shapes."
"Oh, Lois," Clark began as he remembered the phone calls they had received a few hours ago. "Your mother called. Turns out that she can't come over early to help like she had planned…"
"Oh, well, that's just great," Lois grumbled. "Why does she always do that? She *tells* me that she'll come early but she never does. And then when she does show up she always manages to ruin something when she decides to 'help out' in the kitchen."
"Yea," Clark agreed quietly. It was always he who ended up cooking meals for their family, whether there was company coming for a large holiday gathering or an everyday dinner for the five of them. "There's more. She said that Lucy and Dave *will* be here tomorrow, so that brings the final dinner count to ten adults and three children," he said, his voice trailing off at the end of the sentence.
"Wait a minute, *ten* adults? Where did we get *ten*?" Lois protested. "There're your parents, mine, Lucy, Dave, you, and me-eight. Who else is coming?"
"Oh, there's more," he told her with a grin. "Jimmy called. It seems that his and Joleen's flight was canceled. Everything else is booked. So, they *are* coming to dinner."
Just then Lara came back into the family room with a plate of hot Christmas cookies. "How come Jimmy's flight is canceled but Grandma and Grandpa's wasn't? They're both in Kansas," she asked, offering her mother a cookie in the form of a crooked Christmas tree.
"Uh," Clark began, not wanting to let it slip that his parents had flown Superman Express, not United Airlines, as Jimmy and Joleen had planned. He had zipped over to Smallville to pick his parents up before Lois left for the Daily Planet that morning. It was hard enough convincing Lara that she couldn't come along to meet her grandparents at the airport. Clark had argued that they all wouldn't fit in the car, especially with her grandparents' luggage, but Lara had reasoned that she wouldn't take up very much room-Josh and Catie could stay home with Lois. But, fortunately for Clark, the issue had been settled when Josh also wanted to come. Clark had concluded that he was going to pick them up alone if there was going to be fighting about it.
"Well," he began again. "Grandma and Grandpa are flying *from* Kansas and Jimmy and Joleen were flying *to* Kansas. They weren't even on the same airlines." He hoped this explanation would satisfy his inquisitive daughter; it did.
"You know what, I think it's time for bed!" Lois suggested dully as she put the uneaten cookie Lara had given her back on the plate.
"But Mommy, you didn't even try the cookie! It's really good. Take a bite," her daughter urged.
"Lara, please! I really don't want a cookie now," Lois said slowly, closing her eyes again.
"Please, Mommy. I gave you a Christmas tree- and they're my favorites."
"Lara, I *don't* want one, okay?" Lois said, raising her voice excessively. "Now it's time for bed. Let's get going."
"Come on, Mommy," Lara whined. "It's still early. And I have to finish helping Daddy with the Christmas cookies."
"Daddy can finish the cookies by himself," Lois said harshly.
"But if you take Josh upstairs and change into your pajamas we can read 'The Night Before Christmas' and leave cookies and milk for Santa before you go to bed," Clark quickly reasoned, calming both his daughter and son, who had begun to look at his mother worriedly.
"Okay," Lara responded quietly. "Come on, Josh," she said as she got up and dragged him upstairs behind her.
"Look for the book first, and then Mommy and I'll be up to help Josh change," Clark said to his daughter's back as she and Josh sprinted upstairs. "Lois," he began, turning towards his wife after their children were out of hearing distance. "I know the stores and traffic must have been murder, but…"
"I finished the shopping," she interrupted curtly. "Every year I promise myself that I'm not going to wait until the last minute, but, of course, each year, I do."
"Honey, you know I could've gone out after they were in bed and finished." Clark moved behind his wife and began to rub her back sympathetically.
"Yes, but what if there was an emergency? We both know that Superman is needed more often around Christmas. The stores would've been closed by then and I wouldn't have had time to wrap anything," she said wearily. "After they're in bed you can finish the cookies and whatever else of the cooking you can do tonight and I'll wrap everything and set it out under the tree," she said with exhaustion, as if she were writing out a list of chores.
"And we haven't even started cleaning the house yet and Christmas is tomorrow. I really don't have time for some silly story." But still she rose from the couch. "Did you two find the book?" she called as she started upstairs.
"Found it, Mommy," Lara yelled back. Lois found them in Lara's bedroom where she had unearthed the same old, hard-bound book that Lois's parents had read to Lucy and her when they were little.
"Okay, Josh, time to change," Lois said as she spun her son into her arms and started out of Lara's bedroom. "Call me if you need help, Lara."
"Mommy, I'm six years old," she said indignantly. "You know I can dress myself." Lois changed Josh and together they went to check on Catie, who, of course, had awakened.
"Well, my sweetie," Lois greeted Catie, who was pulling herself up on the bars of her crib. "Do you want to hear the story, too?" She lifted her daughter out of the crib and, with Catie in one arm and Josh in the other, headed downstairs. Lara, who had finished changing, was sitting on the couch, the book waiting on her lap.
"Daddy!" Lara called into the kitchen. "We're reading the story!"
After Clark returned to the family room the five of them snuggled tightly onto the couch and Clark read from the bound book. When the story was over he took Josh and Catie, both of whom had fallen asleep, upstairs to bed while Lois and Lara chose three cookies for Santa's plate. As Lois removed the carton of milk from the refrigerator, Lara unwittingly reminded her of a long-ago Christmas.
"Mommy, Miss Hart said that we should leave carrots for Santa's reindeer, too," Lois's daughter informed her, joining her at the door of the refrigerator. "Do we have carrots?"
"Lara, I really don't have time to look for carrots for Santa's reindeer right now. Why don't we just leave the cookies and milk?"
"But Mommy…" Lara began to whine in a small voice.
Lois reached into the back of the fridge and pulled out a long bag of carrots. "Looks like you're in luck," she told Lara brusquely, dumping the remaining carrots onto the plate. The two then headed upstairs where they were met by Clark, who was still holding Catie.
"She wake up?" Lois nearly gloated. He nodded and followed his wife and daughter to Lara's bedroom, where Lois held back the thick quilt so that Lara could climb into bed.
"Good night, sweetie," she said after kissing her daughter good-night. "Love you. Have a good sleep," she said quietly before retreating to the doorway with her tired shoulders slumped over. Holding Catie to the side, Clark bent down over Lara.
"Just try to get some sleep. Before you know it, it'll be morning," he told her knowingly as he brushed the thick, dark hair from her eyes. "Good night, Lara. I love you."
"I love you, too, Daddy," Lara told him, her heavy eyelids already struggling to stay open. "Love you, Mommy."
Lois closed the door to her daughter's bedroom and turned towards her own room. "Did you put the packages in our room?" she asked impatiently.
"They're on the bed," he told her before resuming pacing the hallway with Catie in his arms. Lois watched them for a minute before continuing towards her own bedroom-Clark was walking slowly up and down the hall, humming an old Christmas carol and gently rubbing his hand over Catie's back.
After several minutes of hurried wrapping, the door opened and Clark came in. "Lois, what's wrong?" he asked bluntly.
"What do you mean? Nothing's wrong."
"No, something's definitely wrong," he assured her. "You were practically *rude* Lara and Josh. And to me. What is it?"
"Just because I'm not ecstatic about Christmas like everyone else around here doesn't mean that something is wrong," she corrected him. "I don't know who invented this stupid holiday," she added loudly, hitting the bed in emphasis.
"Sshh or Catie'll never get to sleep," he warned. "Lois, Christmas is a wonderful, magical holiday, and this one should be even more exciting since it's Catie's first. Just think, this is the last time that one of our children will have a first Christmas. You should be enjoying it with them; try seeing Christmas through their eyes," he suggested with a smile. "Wrapping, shopping, cooking, cleaning, it'll all take care of itself. And don't forget," he reminded her with a twinkle in his eye. "If we don't finish everything, we can always super-cheat." After planting a light kiss on her forehead Clark went back downstairs to finish the cookies.
Lois backed up a few steps and turned to face the Ghost.
"So what did you think of your future?" he asked her, surprisingly seriously.
Lois narrowed her eyes and stared back in the window of her house, hoping the previous visions of the future would reappear. "I can't believe that I have three children!" she exclaimed. "I guess I sort of assumed Clark and I would have kids but I never thought much about it. And *three*…"
"That's not what I meant, Lois," the Ghost said gently, "and you know it. What I want to know is whether that's the kind of mother you want to be. Even with your admittedly short and unfortunate childhood, you did have a few magical Christmases before your parents divorced. That was your younger daughter's first Christmas, Lois. How did it feel to watch that scene?"
"Fine, fine. I *do* know what you mean," she admitted. "She, I mean *I*," Lois corrected herself, "seemed kind of mean. Not a bad parent exactly, but, well, she was *mean*." Lois thought for a few minutes. "But that was only one Christmas," she pointed out optimistically. "I mean maybe she was stressed out from work or something; having three little kids seems like a big job. Maybe next Christmas'll be better."
"Clark didn't seem stressed out," the Ghost pointed out antagonistically. "And you two have the same job."
Lois snorted quietly at that comment. "Clark's a better person than I am. He's always been more tolerant, more trusting, more optimistic. It doesn't surprise me that he'd be a better parent than me."
"Not better, Lois," the Ghost told her. "Just different. And now, if you'll turn back to the window, you'll see another Christmas, this one further in the future."
Again the door slammed shut as Lois came home from work. This time, though, Clark was with her and they both looked much older. Although the streets of Metropolis were adorned with a blanket of snow and Christmas lights, from the inside of the Kent house it was difficult to tell that the holiday season was approaching. There were no red and green decorations, no Christmas tree, no presents patiently waiting to be wrapped. The calendar on the desk hadn't yet been turned to December even though it was the twenty-second already.
"I'm exhausted," Clark said as he and Lois dropped their coats on a chair and their tired frames onto the couch.
"I thought Supermen didn't get exhausted," Lois commented with a wrinkled smile as she looked back at her husband.
"Well, two and a half weeks and five stake-outs for that federal corruption story would tire anyone out," he told her. "Thank God Christmas is coming-I could use a break. By the way, Lois, have you called to make sure everyone'll be here for Christmas?"
"Damn! I knew I forgot something. Silly holiday. I guess we can call now," she suggested as she pulled her tired body from the couch and sat at the desk. As she dialed Lara's number, Clark rose from the couch to hunt for the cordless phone.
"Lara?" Lois asked when a cheerful voice answered the phone.
"Hi, Mom. How are you?"
"Oh, I'm fine. How's my favorite grandchild?" Lois asked proudly.
"Your *only* grandchild," her daughter corrected.
"She doesn't have to be," Clark joked.
"Ha, ha," Lara answered. "I thought that 'we want to be grandparents before we die' speech was retired three months ago. Why don't you try that pitiful old line on Josh and…"
"We're calling them next," Lois interrupted her daughter with a wry smile. "So you three'll be here Christmas, right?"
"Actually, Mom," Lara started regretfully. "All seven of Jeff's brothers and sisters are meeting at his parents' house and, well, we were planning on going there…"
"Oh, Lara," Clark began.
"I'm sorry. But Mom, I know that Christmas isn't exactly your favorite holiday. I was hoping you wouldn't mind that much. Some of Jeff's brothers' and sisters' in-laws are going to be there and Jeff's parents told us that we could invite you guys, too, but since Josh and Beth and Catie are coming, we didn't think you'd want to," Lara half-fibbed. She and Jeff had decided not to invite her parents so her mother's Ebeneezer Scrooge attitude wouldn't ruin the family's holiday reunion.
"You could've told us, Lara," Clark said. "After all, this *is* Erin's first Christmas-we don't want to miss it. Josh and Catie are coming home, but we can all fly over for a few hours on Christmas Eve or something," he suggested.
"I'm sorry, Dad. I've just been so busy with everything that I forgot to tell you about Jeff's family coming. But, actually, it'd be great if you could come the day after Christmas-the twenty-sixth-unless you two have to work. Jeff's family is leaving that morning and I know he'd like to spend as much time as possible with them before that. And it'd be a little difficult to explain why you came all the way to Minneapolis for just part of one day."
"That's fine, Lara," Lois, who'd been strangely quiet until then, told her daughter. "We'll see you on the twenty-sixth then. Have a nice Christmas and tell Jeff and Erin we said hello."
"Bye, Mom. Bye, Dad," Lara said.
"Merry Christmas, Lara," Clark said before they all hung up the phone.
"Well, that went well," Lois said bitterly.
"Come on, Lois. It *would* be difficult to explain such a short stay to Jeff's family. And their family probably doesn't have much time together. I'm sure they don't want any strangers around, even if we are their in-laws. Let's try Josh," he suggested cheerily, already dialing his son's phone number.
"Hello?" Josh said on the other end of the line. Both of his parents answered at once.
"Mom and Dad! How are you?" he replied.
"We're fine," Lois said. "Or we will be if you tell us that we'll be seeing you and Beth for Christmas," she said hopefully. When Josh took his time in answering both Lois and Clark began to worry.
"Actually," he began hesitantly. "I won't even be home for Christmas. Beth has to be in Israel on business and I'm going, too," he said reluctantly. "I'm really sorry. I was sure I told you guys a few weeks ago."
"No, you did not!" Lois almost shouted into the phone. After a concerned and puzzled look from Clark, she continued. "First Lara and now you. And how come Beth's going away on business on Christmas?" she asked suspiciously. "I think there's something seriously wrong with that company your fiancée works for, Josh. Very wrong, indeed-she shouldn't have to celebrate Christmas away from her family and her home!"
"The company's based in Israel- they don't celebrate Christmas there, Lois," Clark reminded her.
"Still," Lois protested. "So, we're not going to see you two at all? How long are you going to be gone?"
"Well, Beth's there already. I'm flying to meet her tomorrow and we're coming back after New Year's. But we can fly over to Metropolis as soon as we're back," he promised.
Lois sighed loudly into the phone, causing both her husband and son to cringe. "Well, I suppose I'll let you go. Rest up, Josh-Israel is a long flight," she said curtly.
"Mom, please don't be mad," he urged. "I don't want to be away from Beth on Christmas and we couldn't help that she had to be out of town. And we'll see everyone a lot in the next few weeks anyway, since the wedding's on the fourteenth. Is she mad, Dad?" he asked his father.
"Your mom'll be fine, Josh," Clark assured his son. "It'll be a nice, cozy Christmas-just the two of us and Catie."
"You mean Lara won't be there either?" Josh asked guiltily.
"No," his mother responded angrily. "She, too, is too busy for her family. I hope you two have a nice Christmas in Israel, though I can't imagine there'll be many Christmas trees or Santa Clauses there," she said in a huff before hanging up.
"Lois, come on," Clark said after he and Josh said good-bye and hung up their phones. "What was he supposed to do, let his fiancée spend Christmas alone, half-way around world?"
"All I have to say is that Catie better be on her way home." Lois dialed their youngest child's phone number. After several rings one of Catie's roommates answered the phone and in a few minutes Lois and Clark were speaking to their daughter.
"So, Cate, what day are you coming home?" Lois asked almost immediately.
"Uh, Mom, Dad, I need to tell you something."
"I don't want to hear it," Lois answered curtly.
"What is it, Catie?" Clark said more patiently than his wife, who had switched phones with him; the cordless facilitated her angry pacing around the living room.
"Well, I won't be home on Christmas Day, exactly," she said quickly. "I was planning on spending Christmas Eve with Chris's family here-they don't live far from campus-and then Megan's having her wisdom teeth out on the 26th. I've gotta be here to drive her to the dentist and keep an eye on her for a couple of days. But I can come home after that."
"Cate, this couldn't have come at a worse time," her father warned her before Lois began her tirade, having been more than adequately fueled after two other such conversations.
"I don't see why you have to be the one to take care of Megan," she objected. "What about your other roommates? Or are *they* going home for Christmas?"
"Maggie already went home and Allison is running an important experiment so she'll be in the lab all day for a few days."
"Catie, I am *ordering* you to come home," Lois began. "First of all, you can quite easily fly here for Christmas and return to school to stay with Megan. I don't see why you have to pretend that your family lives so far away that you can't easily come home for Christmas. And why are you spending Christmas with this Chris's family anyway?" she asked suspiciously.
"We all are since his family lives the closest," Catie explained to her mother. "And Mom, you know that it'd be hard to explain flying home just for a day or two. Everyone else is staying here. What am I supposed to say-'Oh, Chris, I won't be spending Christmas with your family after all. Instead I'll be using my super-powers to fly myself home to Metropolis for the day?'" Catie asked sarcastically.
"It's okay, Catie," Clark told her. "Your mother and I understand. It's just that Lara and her family and Josh and Beth aren't coming home either. And we didn't find out about anyone's plans until tonight-we're just a little surprised, that's all, but we'll get over it. After all, you three *are* adults, even if your mom and I don't always realize that."
"Why is it that you three seem to be trying your hardest *not* to be home for Christmas?" Lois asked. "The holidays are a time for families to be together, not apart."
"Oh, get off it, Mom," Catie argued back. "You've never liked Christmas. And I'm not surprised that Lara and Josh won't be home either. Christmas with you is always so difficult-you're always complaining about everything- shopping, cleaning, cooking, decorating. And no matter how hard Dad tries to lighten the mood you still bah-humbug all the magic right out of Christmas!" Catie exclaimed. "I'm sorry, Mom, but you know that's what happens. If you're upset that no one's coming home for Christmas maybe you should change how you 'celebrate' it," she concluded before her mother slammed her hand on the "disconnect" button, hanging up her extension.
"I'm sorry, Cate," Clark continued. "Christmas isn't your mom's favorite holiday, but I'm sure you can understand why she's upset that none of you are coming home."
"I know, Dad, and I'm sorry, but sometimes she makes me so mad. Maybe if Christmas were a little more, I don't know, *happy,* I'd be home to spend it with you guys. But you can tell Mom that when Megan's feeling better I'll fly home and see you guys," she apologized.
Clark hung up the phone and turned to Lois, who stopped her angry pacing when she sat on the couch in a huff. "Lois, I don't understand what goes on with you during the holidays. Christmas is supposed to be a time to spend with people you love, a time to be happy. And Catie's right-you're always spoiling it. The holidays would be a lot more pleasant if you'd just change how you look at them-I'm sick of bending over backwards to keep everyone's spirits up when you're always so intent on lowering them," Clark told her, his anger reaching the level of Lois's.
"Oh, that's right, Clark, I'm just a grinch, aren't I?" Lois rose to the challenge. "Well, I have reason to be-it's always me who gets stuck doing all the work around the holidays, making sure everyone gets here, cooking, wrapping, and shopping for gifts. You always seem to choose the most opportune times to hear a call for help, and, whoosh, off you go. You're tired of trying to keep everyone in a good mood? Well, I'm tired of thinking up excuses for you, and for finishing what you can't because you're needed somewhere as Superman. And that's a 365-day-a-year job, pal, it doesn't just surface around the holidays." Lois turned and looked at Clark, the hurt she had inflicted on him apparent on his face. Without another word, he retrieved his coat from the chair where they'd discarded them earlier, stuffed his arms through the sleeves, and strode out the door.
"Lois," a voice called as a gentle hand stroked her shoulder. "Lois."
"Not again," she muttered before opening her eyes. "Who is it this time? Debby from accounting as the Ghost of Christmas Present?" she asked sarcastically. "You spirits really should learn to visit people in order, you know."
"Lois?" Lois opened her eyes to see Clark, thankfully dressed in regular clothing, not even his Superman suit, standing in front of her.
"Oh, Clark," she exclaimed, rising from her slumbering position on the couch and greeting her husband with an inviting kiss.
"Wow," he said when she finally pulled back from him. "What was that for? As I remember it, you weren't in the best mood when I flew off. I'm sorry, by the way," he added, returning her kiss with his own strong response.
"It's perfectly all right," she said cheerfully, drawing back only long enough to answer him.
He smiled back at her, the tips of his lips still touching hers. "Well, it seems like you're pretty energized. Did you have a nice nap?"
"Something like that," she told him. "I'm just feeling especially lucky right now, I guess. After all, Christmas is pretty…" She paused, searching for the right word and giving Clark another opportunity to cover her mouth with his. "…magical."