A Christmas Carol
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by Marilynn Mansfield
Description: A spin off of the Classic, this story brings Carol Christmas to terms with her life as she battles demons from the past in her dreams. Can Carol forget tormenting memories of the past to start her life anew or will she be trapped in her dismal life forever?
eBook Publisher: DiskUs Publishing,
eBookwise Release Date: December 2010
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [238 KB]
Reading time: 159-223 min.
"Happy Holidays, Ms. Christmas," the tall, blonde receptionist called out as Carol Christmas walked through the large foyer of the Christmas Advertising Agency on her way to the elevators.
The only response Carol gave was a nod of her head. If the girl hadn't been new, she would've known not to bring up the subject of Christmas.
Carol grimaced as she heard her employees murmuring, probably because the new receptionist had wished her Happy Holidays. Of course it was nothing new, she'd heard them do it before, but their pitying remarks made her want to scream. She didn't want or need anyone's sympathy.
Today was December first, and Chicago was wrapped in a blanket of crisp, white snow, making the beginning of December seem like the official start of the holiday season even though in reality it began several weeks earlier.
Being the acting CEO of the Christmas Advertising Agency, a title she unofficially shared with her ex-husband, Matt, because neither would relinquish it to the other, she'd learned to tolerate her employees whispering behind her back even though she still didn't like it.
Upon reaching the elevators she pressed the button with force and waited for the doors to open. She wanted to be safely in the seclusion of her office on the top floor, and away from the decorated lobby below. Away from all her employees who went out of their way to avoid hurting her by mentioning anything about Christmas.
She hated being the object of their pity, but aside from firing them all, she didn't see any way around it, besides, they were only being loyal. They knew how badly the holidays affected her, but it was still unnerving having people tiptoe around, treating her as if one wrong word would make her shatter.
When she finally sat down in her stark office, which also doubled as an apartment when she was too tired to make the trek home, she was finally able to relax for the first time that day.
Carol felt like hell as she looked around her glass and chrome office. She'd been at meetings all day, and not one of them had worked out like she'd wanted. She'd worked hard getting the material ready for those presentations and she hadn't even got one new client for her efforts.
Looking into the mirrored panels that made up one of the office walls, all she could do was frown at her image. "Welcome back, Ms. Scrooge," she said softly to the reflection in front of her.
She couldn't help being the classic Scrooge. She could tolerate the rest of the year, but she hated Christmas and all the trappings that came with it. It only held bad memories so why shouldn't she hate it?
She only had a few minutes reprieve from her exhausting day before, Joan, her personal assistant, buzzed her on the intercom.
"I'm sorry to bother you before you've had a chance to rest, Ms. Christmas, but Mr. Christmas is on line three. Do you want to take the call?"
Carol cringed at the amusing way her assistant used her name. Joan made it sound as though she and Matt were Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
Damn how she disliked that name, almost as much as the man who'd given it to her. She should've gone back to using her maiden name after the divorce. It would've made things so much easier, but she'd made the decision to keep her married name in haste, mainly because everyone she dealt with in business circles knew her as Carol Christmas. Now, however, one year after their divorce, she'd learned to regret that decision every day since. What a name for a person who hated Christmas as much as she hated it.
"Ms. Christmas, are you still there?" Joan asked, breaking into her jumbled thoughts.
Carol groaned, knowing she'd have to take the call or Matt would just keep calling back until she did.
"Go ahead and put him through to me, Joan. I'll talk to him."
Line three flashed and Carol took a deep breath as she pushed it. "What do you want, Matt?" she asked, weariness making her voice sound brittle.
"We need to talk about the Martin account. Have you made your travel reservations yet?" Matt's deep baritone voice was level as it came through the receiver.
"I'm sure my assistant has everything under control. I'm also sure that's not the real reason you called so why don't you get to the point."
"I wanted to see how you were doing. I figured today would be hard on you."
"Dammit Matt." Carol took another deep breath and gripped the receiver hard to keep her voice from breaking. "Why do you have to constantly remind me of everything I've lost? I did have a lousy day. Every meeting ended badly, and because I couldn't keep my mind on my work, I lost two important contracts, so you're right, today has been hard on me, but then I'm sure any mother would have a hard time dealing with the birth date of her dead children."
"It's been two years, Carol, and not one day of them has been easy on me, either. I loved the twins as much as you did.
Carol's silence was more accusing than words ever could be.
"You'll never forgive me, will you, Carol? I think you have to know in your heart that the accident wasn't my fault. Our kids died because a drunk got behind the wheel of his car and decided to drive. I had nothing to do with it, but there still isn't a day goes by I don't mourn them as much as you. It took me a long time to forgive myself for that accident, Carol, and although I don't blame myself anymore, I'd still give my life if it could've been me instead of the boys who died that day."
"But, if you just hadn't taken them..."
"Tell me, Carol? How could I have known the weather was going to turn bad or that a damned drunk driver was going to hit us?"
"Listen, Matt, I can't talk about this anymore tonight. I've had too rough of a day, but I'll get through the rest of the night the same way I've made it through the last two years, and that's one hour at a time. I'm too tired to go all the way home, so I think I'm just going to stay here tonight. I'll see you next week in London. Thanks for calling. Good-bye Matt."
Carol cut the line before he could respond. She needed time to be alone, and even though they really did need to talk about their London meetings, there would be enough time once they were there to talk over the details of the Martin electronics account.
Carol thought it ironic she and Matt still had a business partnership even though their personal relationship as husband and wife had been shot to hell two years ago with the death of their two small children.
Their marriage had lasted for a year before she'd actually decided to call it quits and file for divorce, but it had been in name only. Their relationship had gone from bad to worse and divorce had seemed the only option.
She'd tried not to blame Matt for the accident, but she couldn't stop the nagging nightmares that plagued her every night when she went to sleep. Vivid dreams of Matt taking her kids away from her. Although it was unfair, they were dreams she couldn't stop or control.
And as for the agency, it had never occurred to her during the divorce to sell out and start another business. She and Matt had started the establishment on a shoestring and she didn't want to go elsewhere. Her work was the only thing she had left. It was her life.
Sighing, Carol looked out the window into the desolate Chicago skyline.
If only Matt hadn't taken the boys out that day, but of course he was right. He couldn't possibly have known the weather was going to turn bad, or that a drunk driver was going to hit them. He'd just wanted to take the kids out on Christmas Eve to see Santa Claus one last time before Christmas, and the only reason she hadn't been with them was because she'd been sick with the flu.
They never made it to the mall. By some miracle, Matt survived with only a few broken ribs, some cuts and abrasions. The kids died instantly when the car had been pushed into the side of a utility pole, which snapped and crushed the back part of the car where they'd been riding in their safety seats. Carol stood up and once again looked into the mirrored wall of her office, abruptly leaving her memories in the past. She looked at herself critically and decided she looked old for her twenty-eight years.
Her once golden brown hair was now a drab mousy brown, and her vivid blue eyes had lost some of their luster. Carol knew it had been the last two years that had aged her so much. She'd been to hell and back and as far as the emptiness inside her, the future looked grim. How could anything change the way she felt inside?
Yeah, she reflected bleakly, she hated Christmas. She hated it with every fiber of her being, but then she felt she had every right to. Anyone who'd gone through what she had would most certainly feel the same.
Later, when all her employees had gone home for the evening, she lay on the foldout sofa bed in her office and thought about her trip to London.
If everything went as she'd planned, she and Matt would get the Martin contract, and it was worth millions to their company. It was the building block they needed to take the agency out of the small market and into the world of big business.
That's what everything boiled down to with her. Dollars, and how many of them she could earn. Since the death of her kids that's what drove her on. Money, prestige and power. Those were the only things in life that meant anything at all to her anymore.
That's where she and Matt differed the most. He'd always been content to keep the agency a small family run establishment. Carol had felt the same up until two years ago. Now she had bigger plans. She wanted the Christmas Advertising Agency to be among the top in the business. That's what she wanted most out of life now, to be at the top. Nothing else mattered, not anymore.
* * * *
As usual the wee hours of the morning were upon her before she was finally able to fall asleep. Although her body was exhausted, her soul remained tormented by tragic reminders of the past.
* * * *
It had been a long week for Carol. She wasn't due to leave for the airport until ten A.M. and that was still over an hour away.
Standing up she looked down at the outfit she'd chosen for traveling. Today she was dressed for comfort, even though she still maintained the look of a top-notch executive. Trans-Atlantic flights were hell on one's clothes as well as one's body; she knew that all too well from some of her past business trips, but her soft brown wool suit would be wonderful for the long hours of travel ahead of her.
Looking at her neatly cleaned desk she realized there was nothing left for her to do so she left for the airport early, in case there were any traffic problems. She needn't have worried though because she made it to the airport with time to spare.
After checking her luggage, she settled down in the lounge to await her flight.
Carol's heart started racing when a familiar figure walked into the lounge. A self-assured man with cool gray eyes, rich black hair, and enough confidence for every person in the room.
By some fluke of luck, she and Matt were on the same flight. When she'd talked to him earlier in the week she'd gained the impression he was taking an earlier flight, but as he walked over to where she sat, Carol knew she'd have to just grin and bear his presence as best she could.
"Isn't this my lucky day?" he said, grinning as he sat beside her.
"Oh definitely," she agreed, hoping her voice sounded more sarcastic than upset. "I can't think of anything luckier."
"Come on, Carol, don't be such a grouch. Fate put us together on the same flight. The least we can do is be civil to each other since we're going to be in close proximity."
"Go away, Matt." Carol forced the weariness out of her voice. This is a large flight and if there's a God in heaven we will be seated as far away from each other as humanly possible."
"Touche," he whispered in her ear. "But if that's the way you want it, sweetheart, then of course I'll be glad to leave."
Carol watched as Matt walked over to talk with a few flight attendants who were standing by a drinking fountain. They spoke animatedly. She had to turn her head away for a moment as the women flirted outrageously with him. Carol took a deep breath and then continued to watch them. Matt was eating it up.
What did she care if Matt fooled around with the women? It was nothing to her, but she still felt irritated beyond belief. She couldn't help but remember the times when Matt had played around like that with her, but that had been almost an eternity ago.
She opened a magazine, and although the words all ran together and blurred, she kept her face buried in it until her flight number was called. Looking back into the past could only cause pain, so she was determined to keep her thoughts in the present.
* * * *
Carol took her seat and tried to relax, but she had a horrible premonition of what was going to happen when Matt looked her way and smiled from the end of the aisle.
She clenched her teeth as he walked toward her. Fate hadn't played this cruel trick on her, she realized as Matt took the seat next to hers; Fate had nothing to do with it.
"You planned this, didn't you?" Carol asked, trying to keep her anger in check.
"Who, me?" he asked innocently. "Why would I want to do that?"
"Just to irritate me," she shot back.
"Think about what you're saying, Carol? I didn't make your reservations, you did."
Carol had to concede he was right. Actually, Joan had made her reservations, and he wouldn't have been privy to that information. Maybe this was simply a cruel twist of fate.
"Just leave me alone. I'm not in the mood to share small talk with you." Turning away, she put her headphones on, hoping he'd get the message and not bug her.
* * * *
Matt shrugged and picked up his briefcase. He had work to do anyway, and after they switched flights for their Trans-Atlantic one, she'd be rather bored if she didn't want to talk to him. No doubt in his mind it was going to be a very long flight indeed.
* * * *
They'd been airborne on the Trans-Atlantic flight to Heathrow for over three hours, and Matt grinned as he watched his ex-wife out of the corner of his eye. Carol was definitely watching him, but she was doing it in such a way that it didn't look like it.
He couldn't help himself as he grinned again at the pretty flight attendant. She was a sexy little thing and she knew it, and so did Carol.
Carol felt like hitting Matt over the head with her briefcase as the flight attendant flirted relentlessly with him, but when the girl tried to make a date with him, that was the last straw.
Of course they'd made it impossible not to overhear most of their conversation. Matt was talking loud enough for everyone on the plane to hear. The woman kept hinting to Matt she'd be in London for a three-day layover, and although she couldn't hear Matt's reply, she was sure he'd accepted her offer of the date, just by the way he was grinning.
She didn't know how he'd fixed their reservations so they were seated together on both flights, but when she got back to Chicago she was going to make damned sure she got some answers out of Joan.
She decided to just ignore Matt and the flirting flight attendants. Turning her head in the other direction so she wouldn't have to see them, she fell asleep.
As usual when she slept, her dreams were haunted by images of days gone by. Usually when she dreamed of her past, it was of her children. Sometimes it was of their wonderful family life and sometimes it was horrid nightmares of the accident. This time though, her dreams tormented her with images of Matt's lovemaking and how wonderful it had been. She felt every movement of his body as she came to a shattering climax.
Carol woke up gasping from the feelings she was experiencing, only to catch her breath when she realized that she'd been dreaming. Everything had felt so real that it had taken her a minute to realize it had been a dream.
Matt looked over at her curiously, and Carol had to turn her head away to get herself back under control before she could face him.
Her whole body had been touched by her dream, and she could feel the hard peaks of her nipples straining against the silky fabric of her blouse. Feeling the heat still traveling throughout her veins, she hoped her arousal wasn't as noticeable as it felt.
"Are you all right, Carol?" He was close enough for his breath to fan her cheek
"I'm fine," Carol whispered, her breathing still irregular. "I was just having a bad dream."
"Want to talk about it?"
Matt lifted his eyebrows at the sound of her voice.
"I'm sorry, Matt, I didn't mean to snap at you, but when I have bad dreams I don't like talking about them. I just like to forget them"
Matt nodded. "I just wanted to help if I could."
Carol stood up and took a short walk to the restroom. Looking down at her wrist she realized she'd left her watch in her briefcase and didn't know how long she'd been asleep or how long they'd been in the air. What she did know was that after the dream she'd just had, she was going to make a point of staying as far away from Matt as possible. She couldn't stand the man now, but it hadn't been too long ago since she'd lain in his arms, her body quivering from the expert touch of his hands.
No, she thought, running her hands under cool water to calm the racing of her pulse. My life is much too organized to let him come in and tear it apart again. I like it just the way it is.
She did feel better as she emerged from the restroom a few minutes later. One of the flight attendants was being chummy with Matt again, but she wasn't going to let it upset her. She really couldn't figure out why it bothered her in the first place, unless it was because Matt had started living again. He'd made a life for himself, whereas she just immersed herself in her work, totally neglecting the day-to-day friendships that made life more worthwhile.
* * * *
It had been a long flight, and Carol was glad it was finally behind her, as she sat alone in the taxi on the way to her hotel.
She smiled as she thought about the look of shock on Matt's face when she'd climbed into the taxi and left him standing on the sidewalk amid all of his luggage.
They'd decided to stay in the same hotel for the sake of convenience, and Matt probably thought they'd be sharing a taxi since they'd had the same flight.
Carol knew she should feel bad for leaving him stranded, but she didn't. Not after what Matt had put her through while they'd been in the air with his little flirtations. He'd set out to purposely make her jealous, so he deserved everything that he got.
She was still smiling after she paid for the taxi, then went in the hotel to get her key.
"I have a reservation, my name is, Carol Christmas." Carol told the desk clerk, trying without success to stifle a yawn.
The clerk smiled at her as she checked her monitor. "I have a reservation for a Mr. Matthew Christmas. Would that be it?"
"No," Carol said, tiredness making her edgy. "My reservation is under the name of Carol Christmas. Could you please check again?"
"I'm sorry, Ms. Christmas," the desk clerk said, checking the monitor of her computer again. "There is no reservation under that name."
"There has to be some kind of a mistake." Carol took a deep breath to calm herself. "My reservation was made well over a month ago."
"I'm sorry, Ms. Christmas, but there's no reservation under your name. As unusual as your surname is, I'm sure if a reservation was made it would still be here," she said, pointing to the monitor.
"It was made. I'm telling you that my assistant made it. I can't believe this. How could a hotel of this size lose my reservation? Okay," Carol said, taking another deep breath. "It doesn't really matter. Just give me another room and I'll be happy."
"I'm sorry, Ms. Christmas, but there probably aren't any rooms at all in this area. We're full up for the entire month of December because of the holidays."
"Wait a minute." Carol knew her voice was too loud, but she didn't care. "Are you trying to tell me that I've been traveling for what seems like an eternity, only to find out when I arrive that my reservation has been lost and you don't have any other rooms to give me?" Carol shook her head at the girl.
"Let me get my manager," the girl said, picking up the phone.
"That's a excellent idea," Carol agreed, her voice icy-calm as she stared at the girl.
"What's going on here?" asked a deep voice, and Carol spun around to see Matt calmly walking toward her, his face a mask of amused tolerance.
"The only room booked under the name of Christmas is yours. These people have lost my reservation and they don't have any other rooms available. She also assures me the closest hotel with a vacant room is quite a few miles away. Damn, what am I going to do?"
"Not to worry," Matt's grin was almost an accusation. "Unlike you who wouldn't even share her taxi with me, I'll gladly share my room with you."
Carol shook her head at him. "Not on your life. I'd rather sleep outside in the courtyard."
"Suit yourself, Carol," he said matter-of-factly. "But at this time of the year it might get just a little bit cold out there."
"There has to be a room somewhere in a hotel this large," Carol said to the clerk, ignoring Matt altogether.
"I really am sorry, Ms. Christmas, but there aren't even any singles left."
"Come on, Carol," Matt declared, humor getting the best of him. "Give it up. I have a suite, so there's plenty of room for you."
"I don't know how you did it, Matthew Christmas, but somehow you planned this, didn't you?"
"Carol, I'm crushed by your insinuation. How on earth could I have fixed this? I'm not the one who made your reservations."
"It just looks pretty suspicious that not only were we on the same flight, but we were also seated next to each other on both flights, then when we get to the hotel, you have a suite, but they've lost my reservation entirely. Something doesn't sound right, does it Matt?"
"Well, I didn't have anything to do with it, and I don't have the time to stay here and argue with you. If you want to stay in my suite then you're more than welcome. And if you happen to be worried that I'll jump your bones once we're alone, don't worry. I get your message loud and clear. Now excuse me. I'm going to get my key, go to my room and get dressed because I have some pretty important plans for tonight. This is probably the only night that I'll have free and I want to enjoy it while I can."
"Wait, Matt," Carol yelled after he'd retrieved his key and was walking toward the elevators. She hurried to catch up with him.
"I'm sorry about the incident with the taxi, and since I don't have much choice, I accept the offer to use one of the rooms in your suite."
"What a gracious apology," Matt said chuckling as he punched the correct button on the elevator.
When Matt opened the hotel room door, Carol thought she would choke. This room was a lot like the room they'd shared on their honeymoon.
A small sitting room sat off to the right, and a kitchenette to the left, but the in-room Jacuzzi disturbed Carol the most. Being heart-shaped it was made with lovemaking in mind, and it dominated the entire suite. She turned away quickly and faced Matt.
The Porter chose that moment to arrive with their luggage and after Matt paid him his tip and shut the door, Carol decided she just wanted to be alone.
"Since you have plans, I'm just going to have an early night. We have a big day ahead of us tomorrow and I want to make sure I've had plenty of rest."
Matt's grin was designed to be teasing. "Suit yourself, sweetheart, but, I have a big night ahead of me tonight, and I plan on having fun."
Carol was irritated by his attitude, and irritated with herself because of it. She'd hardly even spoken to Matt in the past two years, only when business had necessitated it, so she didn't have any reason to be upset because he was looking forward to a date.
She left the sitting room and went into one of the bedrooms. She could hear Matt moving around in the bathroom they were going to share, and as she heard the shower come on, all kinds of unwanted pictures flashed across her mind. Images of her and Matt taking a shower together, him washing her body, her washing his, and then their lovemaking.
As much as she disliked him now, there was a time when she'd been madly in love with him, and anxiously awaited his lovemaking, but that was such a long time ago. Almost a lifetime, she reflected. They'd been young, carefree and so much in love.
Walking over to the window Carol looked out at the London sky. It looked bleak. Almost as bleak as she felt.
Matt had now moved to the other bedroom and to make matters worse he was singing a song about getting lucky tonight.
Carol slipped off her shoes and eased herself down on the firm mattress. Damn you, Matt, she thought, giving the pillow a hard punch. I don't want to remember the good times with you, because it makes coming back to the present that much more painful.
She decided to try and get some sleep hoping that come tomorrow her world would start to feel normal again.
* * * *
Carol woke up disoriented. She could see a small sliver of light coming from under the door but that was all. It took her a few seconds to get her bearings and realize where she was. Sitting up in bed, she checked the clock. She'd been sleeping for several hours.
She got up and went toward the door. Her throat felt dry and she needed a drink of water.
When she walked past the jacuzzi she gasped. Matt was in the water with a drink in his hand. She was also pretty sure he was in the buff.
"Care to join me?" he asked, his gaze resting on her pajama-clad body as he blew her a kiss.
Carol had a hard time talking, and it wasn't due to her dry throat. "No, thank you, I just got up to get myself a drink of water. I'm sorry if I disturbed you."
"Oh you disturbed me all right, honey, in more ways than you can imagine, but if you joined me in the Jacuzzi you could take care of the problem."
Carol walked quickly to the kitchenette, and while there she heard Matt mumbling something about women being more trouble than they're worth.
She shook her head. Matt was something else. He actually had the nerve to come on to her after being on a date with the flight attendant from Hell.
The way the woman had acted, she was sure Matt had scored with her, so he had a lot of nerve thinking she'd finish where the flight attendant had left off.
What kind of man was he, and what kind of woman did he take her for?
She knew the answer to both questions without even having to think about them.
Grim-faced, Carol went back to bed. The last two years had paid its toll on both of them.
She was a first-class Scrooge all right, but sometime in the last two years, Matt had turned into a first-class heel.