"Okay. The church bus will be by here in thirty minutes to get the under 13s. That leaves you with four kids. Can you handle four kids until we get home?" River was fighting with her boots and was flushed and a bit breathless from the struggle. "It's not too late to call Mrs. O'Malley."
"River, it's four little girls. If I can blink, I can manage," he said sarcastically.
She continued trying to push her feet inside the boots to no avail. "Dammit!"
"Calm down. It is only a hiking shoe." The Doctor walked over to her, lifted the tongue of the boot and placed her foot on his thigh. He pushed and pulled at the shoe until he himself was a bit red in the cheeks. "Are you certain that these aren't Gus'?"
"Shit fire and save matches! I don't have time for this!" River yelled, throwing the boot across the room. She stood and marched into the hall, and he heard her stomp up the stairs.
The Doctor walked over to the front door and peeked through the curtains, mumbling, "Now, that sounds like a most unfortunate ailment. Doesn't really seem like an effective way to be resourceful. How wasteful are matches, actually?"
"Who are you talking to?"
He spun around and saw Janie staring back at him with suspicious eyes. "No one. Just myself. Sometimes I talk to myself. It's a thing I do."
"Do you answer back?"
"Usually. But in all fairness, I also ask other people questions and answer without giving them the opportunity to be right. Sometimes it's simply easier than waiting to correct those who are wrong."
"Mimi would say that you just like the sound of your own voice." Janie raised an eyebrow and dared him to one-up her.
"Well, I do quite like this voice. Especially when I laugh," he said with a smile.
"No offense, but you kinda laugh like a girl. And talking to oneself is a sign of dementia," Janie explained before turning to go up the stairs.
"Are you this unpleasant by nature or do you have to practice?" he called after her, receiving no response. "I do not laugh like a girl…"
Hurried footsteps on the stairs drew his attention, and River raced by him, having traded in her boots for trainers. Snatching her bag from the kitchen table, she yelled instructions to him from various rooms before stopping near him to put on her jacket.
"If something happens and you have to go to the hospital, just sign the kids in as their guardian. If you sign as a parent, it's hell to get the paperwork corrected with the State. The girls have all the necessary information and …" She spun in circles as she unsuccessfully chased down the other arm of her jacket.
"You are making me dizzy," he complained, grabbing the sleeve and holding it steady for her.
"…the keys to the truck are in the middle desk drawer in my office. Don't lose the children, don't show them anything cool, don't tell them any stories and don't fall for their tricks." She searched madly through her bag for her keys. "And don't use any of your tricks on them. Are we clear?"
The Doctor glared at her with eyebrows turned inward and remained silent. "What exactly can we do?"
"Umm…you can stay alive and out of jail." River hurried out of the door and rushed back, stopping in front of him abruptly. "I feel like I'm forgetting something…"
"Don't feed them after midnight, don't get them wet and no bright lights. I got it."
"What in the hell are you talking about?"
"Bright light! Bright light!" He screeched in his best Mogwai voice, seeing no light bulb of recognition flash in her eyes "River, come on! Gremlins?"
"The man whose life is a horror film in itself watches Gremlins?" She fought to hide the smile provoked by his damnable childish charm.
"I like Gizmo. I want a Mogwai. I just haven't found their planet yet. It's a perfectly reasonable goal."
River grinned at him and rolled her eyes playfully. "I don't have time for your nonsense. See you later."
River had the car in gear and was easing down the driveway when she saw him run down the steps, waving his arms like a madman. Rolling down her window, she waited for him to catch up to her.
"Hey! Wait! You forgot something!" He called as he ran towards the car.
Without another word, he leaned inside the car and grabbed the side of her face, pulling her into an unexpected kiss. His lips moved across hers with a passionate affection that she had grown to cherish over the years. If the universe were ever to have a last kiss, this would be the kiss to end it all. And almost as soon as it began, he pulled away with a one last soft caress, a quick taste of her bottom lip. "How silly and irresponsible of you to leave home without it…" And as quickly as he had appeared, he was gone.
River stared after him for several seconds, trying to reconcile her sometimes life with her actual life. Understanding the impossibility of such a task, she sped down the driveway, watching him get smaller and smaller in the mirror before turning the car onto the road and towards the city.
"I'm not going."
"Yes, you are."
"You can't make me go!"
"I can make you horridly miserable!"
"Not anymore than I already am!"
"Janie, get your coat!"
Five little girls watched the battle play out in the sitting room as they waited on the church bus, and not one of them figured the Doctor would be victorious. Janie stood uncompromising in front of the Doctor, who was nearly twice her height. Her arms gripped her sides with clenched fists, and she yelled through pursed lips. "I. Am. Not. Going!"
"Have it your way." The Doctor began flailing his arms over his head and danced in circles around her singing loudly, "Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Jingle, jingle, jingle, jingle, j-j-j-j-j-jingle b-b-b-bells. Jingling, jingling, jingling, jingling jingle bells…"
Janie stormed up the stairs, and he was on her heels continuing his song…the same few words in variation. She slammed her bedroom door, and the Doctor sat in front it, happily singing, "Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Jingle, jingle, jingle, jingle, j-j-j-j-j-jingle b-b-b-bells. Jingling, jingling, jingling, jingling jingle bells…
"Just hear those sleigh bells jingling…Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Jingle, jingle, jingle, jingle, j-j-j-j-j-jingle b-b-b-bells. Jingling, jingling, jingling, jingling jingle bells…"
The crowd of children had followed them up the stairs and snickered as the man fought childish behavior with even more childish behavior. Melody broke away from the group and joined the Doctor in his serenade, and soon all the girls backed him up in a choral performance that would have certainly raised the dead.
He stood and yelled over the girls' voices, "If you don't go, no one goes, and we all sit out here and sing, Janie! You can step over us, but we will follow you, Janie! Books are not your friends today, are they, Janie? Janie...can you concentrate? " A couple of the girls began shout singing an equally repetitive version of Frosty the Snowman. The Doctor was a bit ashamed to know that he was enjoying himself immensely. They had all joined together to fight the big bad.
It felt like home.
Janie scowled at him with vengeful eyes through the window of the bus as it left the yard, and he gave her a triumphant wave. He was a bit nervous for her return, but he had time to plan a counter-attack before night fell.
"That was rather impressive," Samantha said with a giggle.
"You just have to know your enemy, young one," the Doctor replied, adding in his best Yoda voice, "Much to learn, you still have…"
"You are a little bit creepy and a whole lotta weird." Samantha walked back into the house. "But we like you just the same, Doctor..."
"That will be humorous in a few years." He smiled and followed her into the kitchen. "Where are your cellmates?"
"In the twins' room, I think," she answered as she made herself a sandwich. "So, what's the plan?"
"Entertaining us. Don't you know some tricks or something?"
"Well, we have been left with a strict set of don't-you-dares. I can't lose you, tell you stories or try to trick you. Also, no jail and you must stay alive. She pretty much took the fun out of the day," he explained.
"Can you drive?"
"Quite possibly better than I can fly. Why?"
Samantha put her plate on counter and shoved her hands in her pockets. "Look, the girls are upstairs scheming up a way to convince you to take us to the Fort."
"The Fort? Sounds too much like jail. Out of the question."
"Fort Delaware in New Castle. Olivia is really into this guy who has a job as a sentry…"
"A pretend sentry, I hope…"
"Of course. Why are you so awkward?"
"Hell if I know," he said before turning his back to her to get a soda from the refrigerator.
"Anyway, there's a Christmas thing going on this weekend, and we'd really like to go. Did Mimi say we could go do something?"
"She didn't say we couldn't," the Doctor answered with a sly smile.
"So…I'll get the keys, you get the girls and let's book it, as you would say."
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the girl had darted across the kitchen and up the stairs. The Doctor followed her out of the kitchen and around the corner to River's office. He sat at the desk and opened the drawer for the key. Not seeing it, he rummaged gently through papers, hoping to draw it out of hiding. When the key was not to be found, he opened another drawer, thinking that he hadn't heard River correctly. After a fruitless search, he opened yet another and saw a set of keys atop a stack of papers. He grabbed them and was pushing the door back into the desk when something caught his eye…an envelope addressed to Mr. Amos Humphreys.
Against his better judgment, he opened the envelope and took out the folded letter inside. It was a deed. The Doctor recognized the address as belonging to the big blue house on the hill with the cornfield in the backyard…the house in which he'd been living for over two weeks. A house that apparently belonged to Amos Humphreys.
A sudden knot pulled tight in his belly. He put the letter back in the envelope and returned it the drawer. Amos owned the house? That made no sense. The Doctor was an intelligent man...brilliant, he didn't mind saying. But this new information made no sense. It was nonsensical. He closed the office door behind him and waited at the bottom of the stairs.
Eventually, four blurs of giddiness hurried past him and through the front door. After reaching for his coat, he grabbed a piece of paper from the hall table. In case River beat them back to the house, he left a note reassuring her that they had not be abducted or gone to war. Well, not an actual war. A pretend war with pretend pimply-faced sentries, perhaps...
His brain continued to be overpowered by the discovery. Suddenly, River's own words beat in his ears like drums. I actually own the house...
Had it actually said Mrs. Amos Humphreys?
In other words, Mrs. Humphreys, wife of Amos?
The Doctor evicted the thought before it even had the chance to make itself at home. That made even less sense. River did not kiss him as would a married woman.
Did she kiss him like an unhappily married woman? How did miserably married women kiss? He hadn't really kissed River often enough to be able to say that she kissed any certain way...except in way that it made him want to wrap himself around her and be embarrasingly naked and vile.
"Come on, Doctor!"
He was yanked from his panic by the pleadings of four bored teenage girls, at least one of whom was in a hurry to flirt with a pseudo-soldier. Pouncing down the steps, he slid into the seat of the truck. He had no choice but to put the puzzle aside and concentrate on the problem at hand.
"Okay. One question...which one is the gas and which is the brake. Hey...wait a minute...why are there three pedals...Is it a backup?"