The Ghost of Christmas Present: Part III
December 22, 7:00 pm CST
Sam tried to get comfortable on the couch, her laptop computer perched beside her on the sofa's arm—"laptop" being something of a misnomer in this case, since she no longer had a lap to set it on. She wasn't quite to the point where getting up and down was a struggle, and she could still see her feet when she was standing, but those days weren't far off, and getting comfortable wasn't exactly easy. It didn't help that the baby got more active in the evening, and the near-constant kicking, though reassuring, was distracting, especially given that the daunting amount of files she had to study were tedious under the best of circumstances. Only the jangle of Christmas music playing in the background helped keep her energized enough to sit through reading and re-reading court cases she knew almost by heart.
Her own case was scheduled to be heard in the U.S. District Court in Hammond on January 28, and there was still a lot of work to be done. She wasn't the lead counsel, of course—besides being the plaintiff, she was far too green for something this important. Even Rob Collins, the Human-Ecto Alliance's General Counsel, would be taking a backseat role now that the ACLU and Amnesty International were both involved. Despite her youth and relative inexperience, however, she still knew more about the Anti-Ecto Control Act and all the Anti-Ecto Codes than almost anyone alive. She'd had every word memorized by the time she was fifteen, and knew each amendment and codicil that had been added since then, so her input was vital. That, in addition to her position as head of the Human-Ecto alliance, her leadership role in the grass-roots efforts, and the fact that she'd become the face and voice of the entire movement, gave her mountains of work to do, and not much time in which to do it. Once the baby was born in March, she would be cutting back drastically on her workload.
Assuming she'd still be in the Human World to work at all.
At seven o'clock, she started thinking about dinner. Her appetite was nearly non-existent, and food in general held no appeal, so it was hard to motivate herself to go to the trouble of making dinner. She'd had to put herself on a fairly strict schedule—she ate when it was time to eat, whether she wanted to or not, because the baby needed her to.
Putting the laptop into hibernation mode, she heaved herself up off the couch and headed toward the kitchen, not looking forward to figuring out what she could cobble together from the fridge that was more substantial than the gingerbread cookies still left over from Patrick's last vegan baking binge. Before she got halfway there, however, the doorbell rang, and she turned around, grumbling in annoyance at the interruption. "Whoever you are, unless you have a large veggie pizza, go away."
But when she looked through the peephole and saw who was standing on the other side of the door, she knew she was in for a long night. Pulling the chain back and turning the several locks on the door, she opened it, the pasted-on smile automatically finding its way to her face. "Hi, Jack. What brings you here?"
Her mountain of a father-in-law held out a large casserole dish covered in foil. "Food! Maddie thought you might not have much time for cooking, so she made this veggie lasagna for you. You are eating for two, you know."
Considering that Jack generally ate for ten, the thought of what he might consider "eating for two" was a little alarming, but if Maddie made the lasagna, Sam knew it would be fabulous. She smiled, this one completely genuine, and backed away from the door to allow Jack entry. "You and Maddie are really too thoughtful. And your timing is perfect. I was just thinking about getting some dinner."
Jack handed her the casserole dish with one hand, making a face as he did so. His hair was almost completely gray now, but he still had the same square jaw, twinkling blue eyes, and childlike behavior that kept him from ever looking old. It was almost hard to believe he was a grandfather with another grandchild on the way, especially the way he was looking at that casserole dish like a two-year-old might look at a plate of Brussels sprouts. "Well, put this baby in the freezer. It's got nothing in it that makes lasagna lasagna. Just some eggplant and broccoli and junk, and some scary-looking plastic stuff on top that I think is supposed to be cheese. So I brought you some real food instead. Just don't tell Maddie."
Sam arched her eyebrow. "I think I'll stick with the lasagna. I'm pretty sure there's not a single thing on the planet that both you and I would consider 'real food.' You and Tucker, maybe…"
"That's where you'd be wrong, Sammy." With a wide smile, he brought his other hand around from behind his back, revealing a greasy bag and a drink holder with two sodas. "I stopped off at the Nasty Burger. A Double-Nasty with cheese and bacon for me, and a tofu soy melt for you. And for both of us…" He opened the bag and produced… "French fries! Cooked in one-hundred percent vegetable oil!" He then held up the drink holder. "And cherry cola!"
She chuckled. "I stand corrected." Taking the paper-wrapped sandwich that Jack dug out of the bag next, she sniffed it, letting nostalgia wash over her. "It's been months since I had a Nasty Burger tofu soy melt. And since I was just starting with the morning sickness at the time, I didn't really enjoy it."
"See? Everyone thinks I don't pay attention to anything but ghosts, but you've been family since you were twelve. I know what kind of weirdo, tree-hugger stuff you eat."
"Well, tree-hugger crack aside… thank you. Although, I can't promise I can eat the fries. Normally, I love them, but my appetite has been really funky lately, and they're a little greasy." She led Jack towards the kitchen, but he paused, noticing her muted TV, tuned to C-SPAN.
"Still going at it, eh?"
Sam grunted in annoyance. "They've been under quorum call since this morning. Supposedly they're trying to hash out a revision to the tax code before they close the session, but Tucker's convinced the anti-ghost crowd is looking to sneak something in under the wire before they lose their majority in January."
"He gonna make it home for Christmas? Maddie'll be disappointed if he doesn't come over Christmas Eve."
"He'll be here. They'll go all through the night tonight to make sure they finish tomorrow so everyone can be home for Christmas. I'm thinking of sending the Learjet to D.C. so he won't have to worry about trying to get on a commercial flight."
Sam didn't generally live like the obscenely wealthy heiress she was. Most of the money she did spend went towards funding the Human-Ecto Alliance, while she only allowed herself a modest stipend. But she'd let Danny talk her into buying a private jet after he'd gone public so that his celebrity status wouldn't be an issue when they traveled back and forth to Washington for the monthly check-ins he would have had with the Guys in White had everything gone as planned.
Ironic that he'd never gotten the chance to fly in it.
Still, she had to admit it had come in handy in the months since. Sitting on a commercial flight next to either a Danny Phantom fangirl or an ecto hater would've been a nightmare. And if she could use the jet to help Tucker, so much the better. "One way or another, we'll get 'em home for Christmas."
Turning away from the television, she went into the kitchen and set the lasagna on the counter so she'd remember to divide it up into plastic storage containers for freezing later. She and Jack then seated themselves across from each other at the small kitchen table in the corner. As she unwrapped her soy melt, she watched him tackle his heart-attack burger with gusto. "Are you sure you're not really Tucker's dad? You and he are, like, food soulmates."
Jack snorted, patting his enormous midsection. "You think if Tucker had these genes, he could eat like me and still be so skinny? Now Danny, on the other hand… it's no wonder he stayed so thin, living in a house with nothing but rabbit food."
"Danny ate what he wanted to eat. I never stopped him from having meat or anything else."
"That may be, but I know my son. He wouldn't bother with it if he had to cook it himself."
He was right on that count. Danny had grown to like several vegetarian dishes, mostly because it was easier to eat what she'd prepared than to cook his own food. She didn't mind him having meat, dairy, and eggs in the house, but she wasn't about to cook them for him, and when he was motivated enough to cook for himself, he had to use his own set of pans. Perpetually lazy, he often wouldn't bother and would just eat whatever she'd made instead, although he did draw the line at any sort of soy products. He kept his own cheese to add to whatever she made, and would sometimes broil a chicken breast or a steak to eat with it as well.
Around Thanksgiving, she'd cleaned out the fridge, finally tossing all of his cheese, which had gone moldy, and a carton of eggs that had probably shriveled to nothing inside the shells. There was still a package of sirloin in the freezer, however, and a bag full of individually frozen chicken breasts that she couldn't bring herself to throw away. Their presence in her freezer, like his clothes hanging in the closet and his aftershave and toothbrush on the bathroom counter, served as reminders that this was still their home.
Brushing away the melancholy that came with that thought, Sam smiled at Jack. "Yeah, you're right. But you should see how he ate when we went out. He'd order the greasiest, meatiest, cheesiest thing on the menu and wolf it down like I'd been starving him."
"Because you were starving him. "
She rolled her eyes as she took a bite of her soy melt, more amused than annoyed by the cracks about her diet. Whatever popped into the man's head came out his mouth, and she knew his needling was a sign of affection rather than malice. The same words from her own father's lips would come off disdainful and contemptuous, but from Jack, it was the verbal equivalent of ruffling her hair.
He took another bite of his mammoth burger, then washed it down with a swig of cola. "Maddie says your doctor's appointment went well. Jack the Second cooking along nicely, then?"
Sam sighed. "You know I can't name the baby 'Jack.' Everything you invent is already named after you. If the baby's name were Jack Fenton, too, he'd think he was just another ecto-weapon. Besides, the world couldn't handle two Jack Fentons. You are truly one of a kind."
"You gotta point there, Sammy. All the same, he is my first grandson…"
"I know he is. But Jazz wants to save 'Jack' for her first son's middle name, just like Charley's middle name is 'Madeline.'" It wasn't a complete lie—if Jazz ever did have a boy, she wanted his middle name to be "Jack," but that wasn't the reason Sam had never considered the name for her own son. From the moment she'd found out she was having a boy, she'd known exactly what she wanted to name him, although she hadn't shared that with anyone yet.
Maybe it was time.
Pressing her lips together, she looked across the table. "The thing is, Jack… there's an old Jewish tradition to name children after a deceased family member. Normally, I don't do traditional, but Danny always kinda liked that stuff, and it would've made my grandmother really happy, so I think I can make an exception."
"Oh. Right." Jack's exaggerated pout melted into a more somber expression. "That's a nice tradition." He took another bite of his cheeseburger to cover the awkward moment before speaking again. "The baby's doing good, though, right?"
"Yep. Right on target for twenty-eight weeks. He's a little under two-and-a-half pounds, and about fifteen inches long."
"Maddie said something about having trouble finding the heartbeat at first?"
Sam grunted. "Well, there was that. Apparently, the little bugger has his father's warped sense of humor. Right when Dr. Mihashi was trying to find his heartbeat, he decided it would be a good time to go intangible, leaving nothing for the Doppler sound waves to bounce back off of." Her tone was one of dry wit, but the fact that the baby could go intangible was easily one of her biggest fears about this pregnancy. There were times when she felt like her womb was suddenly empty. It only lasted seconds, and she was somewhat used to it by now, but it was still disconcerting.
Fortunately, her mother-in-law happened to be the world's foremost expert in ecto-physiology. Long before Sam was pregnant, back as early as when Danny had first revealed to his parents that he was half ghost, Maddie had begun mulling over all the implications her son's genetic mutation might have on any potential offspring. She'd long since anticipated the complications that could arise if Danny were to father a child with intangibility powers, so by the time Sam told her she was pregnant, Maddie had already developed, tested, and refined the serum that would turn Sam's body, including her uterus, into a living ghost shield. Numerous tests had shown it to be reliable, with little to no side effects for Sam and no danger to the baby. She was even impervious to overshadowing, a fact Maddie had exploited to receive a government grant for all the clinical trials, touting the serum's ghost-repelling properties. But a Specter Deflector could serve that purpose just as well without the weekly injections, so she'd not bothered marketing it to the general public for that application, and the government had lost interest when they'd discovered that, unlike the Specter Deflector, it wasn't harmful to the ghosts.
Still, no matter how good the serum or how reassuring Maddie's constant vigilance, Sam still had occasional nightmares about the baby phasing out of her.
Jack, on the other hand, seemed to have no concerns whatsoever about the baby's tendency to randomly go intangible. He beamed in pride, slapping his hand down on the table. "That's my grandson!"
Sam arched her eyebrow at the irony. This was the same man who used to regularly call Danny Phantom a "putrid protoplasm," or some such thing, and threaten to "take him apart, molecule by molecule." That was, of course, before he'd known that Amity Park's resident Ghost Boy was his own son. Since finding out, he'd become Danny's biggest cheerleader, and his fierce devotion to his son—and now, his grandson—never failed to warm Sam's heart. She gave him an affectionate smile. "Hey, Grandpa. Wanna feel him kick?"
His eyes widened and something like wonder crossed his features. "Really?"
"Sure. He's been doing the mambo in there all evening. Check it out."
Jack scooted his chair around closer to her, then reached a tentative hand toward her abdomen. She directed him to the area where she'd been feeling the most activity, and before long, she got a good jolt right under his palm.
"Hey, I felt that!" He was absolutely beaming. "Kid's gonna be a fighter, just like his old man."
Sam bit her lip. "Yeah. A fighter."
Oblivious to the wound into which he'd just poured salt, Jack slid back around to what was left of his meal. Stuffing the last of his fries into his mouth and taking a loud slurp from his cola, he got up from the table. "Okay, Sammy. I wanna take a look at the security system before I go. I have a few updates I wanna make."
Sam groaned. "Jack, no. Really, the security system is fine."
"What about the Fenton Porta-Portal?"
"I can't say it, but I can work it just fine. I keep the remote in my bag, which is always with me."
"And the Ghost Shield?"
"I don't need the Ghost Shield. Seriously, Jack. Everything is in perfect working order. Nick was just here yesterday—"
Jack's eyes narrowed, and Sam knew she'd made a huge tactical error. Jack's competitiveness with his son-in-law, like every other character trait he possessed, was excessive. "Nick's a great mechanic—"
"He's a mechanical engineer, Jack."
"Mechanic, engineer, whatever. The point is, the boy has no vision. Not like Danny. Now, there's a guy who knew how to think outside the box, even if he never really got bit by the science bug as much as his mom and me. Nicky, on the other hand... he's a great nuts-and-bolts guy, but he was never much of an idea man." Jack sighed. "We made a good team, the four of us. Guess I was pretty spoiled, having my wife, son, and son-in-law all in the family business with me. Without Danny, it's been…" He looked down, self-conscious. "Well, you know."
Sam swallowed. "Yeah. I know."
He blinked a few times, then shook it off. "Anyway, I've got just the thing to make sure this place is locked down tighter than Fort Knox during a gold thief's convention. Just let me get my tools out of the Fenton RV." And he darted out of the kitchen before Sam could get in another protest.