"There's a ghost in my classroom," Lily told her friends.
In the hubbub of McLaren's, no-one heard her.
"I can't believe that guy!" Barney was complaining, "I just about had that chick convinced I was a spy. We're talking minutes of hard work, and he just swoops in and claims to be James Bond. Grrr. No, quiet," Barney held up a hand, "I must plot my revenge."
Nobody was listening to Barney, because no-one ever really listened to Barney. Robin was saying: "… these stupid human interest pieces, this morning I had to interview…"
Lily missed who Robin had interviewed, because Ted was talking over her, enthusing wildly over the foyer or elevator or something of some building somewhere.
"There's a ghost in my classroom," Lily said louder.
"There's a GHOST in your CLASSROOM?" Marshall shouted, jumping up.
Robin laughed. "There's no such thing as ghosts, Lily."
Well, it was alright for Robin to say that. She hadn't felt the temperature of the room drop suddenly. She hadn't seen the door slam or the colouring pencils fly across the room and embed themselves in the wall. It was just lucky it had been after school and all the kids had gone home. Lily took a large gulp of wine.
"Robin's right, Lily. There's no such thing as ghosts," Ted contributed, sounding slightly unsure of himself. Then to Marshall: "Where are you going?"
"I must find my ghost-facing box. Come on, Lily, let's leave these non-believers behind."
"And then, after careful calculation of the probabilities, I'll find every girl in New York he could possibly have sex with and convince them he's an alien who will use them for his experiments if they go with him… and they'll be so grateful they'll all sleep with me…" Barney was saying, but Lily could see his heart wasn't really in it. Out of the corner of his eye, he was watching Robin.
Lily stormed out with Marshall on principle.
Back in the apartment, Marshall excitedly pulled a dented shoebox from under the bed and slammed it on the table. A piece of paper professionally printed in smoky green and grey and black was glued to the lid, declaring it to be a "Ghostfacing Kit". Underneath the words were a skull and crossbones logo and a website address. Marshall tore off the lid, removing a piece of paper from the box and handing it to Lily. "We need to check it's all here before we go to face to ghost. I'll tell you what's in here, you check it off. Flashlight. .. EMF meter… Salt – no, wait, what happened to the salt?"
"Maybe they didn't supply it?" Lily suggested, deciding not to tell her husband about the experimental art project she had embarked upon on the previous Saturday.
"Lighter…" Marshall continued, pulling things out of the box and placing them on the table.
When everything was out of the box and checked off, Lily sat down at the table to read the instructions for facing a ghost.
Step one: Always thoroughly research your ghost before facing it. Sometimes this can take up to several weeks. If you think the ghost is too dangerous for you, call the professionals (We can be contacted through the website. Fees apply.)
Well, that was disappointing. Lily had been hoping to deal with the ghost that night. The initial shock was wearing off and she was getting just as excited about it as Marshall was.
"It only threw pencils, right?" Marshall said. "I bet it's lonely. Maybe we should try to talk to it."
"Ooh, I know! Why don't you come pay us a visit tomorrow, the kids would love to see you."
"I can't," Marshall's face dropped, "I'm in meetings all day. It'll have to be Monday."
Lily went to bed feeling better. It was good to know someone believed her. But then, Marshall believed most things.
At four AM, Lily was torn from a slightly confusing dream involving Marshall, Robin, and an extremely large banana, by the shrill and grating ringing of the phone. She slapped Marshall sleepily.
"You get it."
"It's probably Ted."
There was a slight wrestling match. Lily won (Marshall might be a giant, but Lily had distracting girl-bits). Marshall groped for the phone on the bedside table.
"'Lo? Oh, hey Robin." He sat bolt upright. "She'll do it! Wait, we'll both do it! We'll be there in fifteen minutes!"
Marshall hung up the phone and leapt out of bed, flicking the light switch.
Lily blinked in the bright light. "What's going on?"
"We're going to be on TV! Robin's going to interview us about the ghost. Her human interest piece passed out on the couch and they need a replacement."
"Do I have time to get dressed?"
And that was how Lily came to be sitting opposite Robin in the cheap channel 12 studio, wearing her favourite flannel pyjamas and her best boots, talking about the ghost that was haunting her classroom. She kind of wished she'd had time to do her hair, but it wasn't like anyone watched Robin's show anyway.
On Monday morning, Lily arrived at work early. There was going to be a new arrival in her class, a sudden transfer that had been arranged over the weekend, and she always liked to give new kids a few minutes to find their way around before the class started back up. Also, she needed a few minutes to check the ghost hadn't done any damage over the weekend. It was a good thing she did, too. Flopsy's (Flopsy the third, if she was being honest) cage was wide open and empty, her plastic water bottle cracked on the floor. A small puddle had leaked out and was slowly spreading across the linoleum. She picked up the broken bottle and binned it before soaking up the water, then began her search for the missing animal.
Eventually she found Flopsy under the art station in the corner. The station was a mess, with piles of paper that had been put away tidily on Friday strewn and ripped, splashed with paint from knocked-over pots. A box of crayons had been violently thrown at the wall, leaving coloured trails down it to the pile on the floor. The quivering rabbit was huddled in the corner, where Lily would have to crawl all the way under the desk to get to her.
"It's okay, Flopsy," Lily said, hiking her skirt up slightly and getting down on her knees.
Due to the most unfortunate timing ever, Lily was still crawling under the art station, trying to coax the frightened animal into her arms, when she heard the new boy and his parents arriving at the classroom door.
"I fail to see the humour in the situation, Dean," the first voice was saying peevishly. It was surprisingly gravelly, but undeniably a child, "This is very inconvenient."
"Well, you shouldn't have let Jimmy get blown up again," said a second voice, this one a man, sounding amused and, well, yes, a bit sexy. "Now pretend to be a five-year-old."
"I do not have time for this," the child complained. Oh dear, this one sounded like he was going to be a handful. Well, he couldn't be worse than James. James was pure evil.
"Uh, hi," a third voice said, male again, and this time directed at her.
Lily tugged her skirt down to make sure her underwear weren't showing and wiggled backwards out from under the art station, floppy-eared grey rabbit in tow. She turned around and stopped, momentarily losing the ability to think appropriate kindergarten-classroom thoughts. Oh, what a pity they were together. She wouldn't mind having her way with the tall one, who was every bit as large as Marshall, and a lot more muscular. Or the other one (also large), who had the kind of face people wrote poems about which they never showed Barney ever again. Or both… her eyes glazed over slightly.
"So, do you have a big rabbit problem around here?" The bigger one recalled her to reality.
"Flopsy escaped," Lily told him unnecessarily. "I'm Miss Aldrin. This must be my new student." She smiled at the little boy, who ignored her in favour of continuing some kind of silent argument with his other father.
The big one smiled at her. "I'm Sam McCready. This is my br-husband Dean and our… uh… son, Cas. Sorry, Cas is a little shy around strangers."
Shy was okay. Lily liked the shy ones. She soon got then coming out of their shells, and they were often the nicest, most imaginative ones in the class, even if they started out resenting having to come to school. The blowing up Jimmy comment was a little more worrying, but she wasn't going to get too caught up in it. She had only heard it out of context, after all.
She leant down to speak to Cas. "Hi Cas," she said gently, "I'm your new teacher, Miss Aldrin. This is the class rabbit, Flopsy. Why don't you say hello to her?"
"Hello," said Cas, glancing curiously at the rabbit. Cas was small for his age, with fine bones and big, serious, blue eyes. His straight brown hair was wild, like it hadn't been combed when he got out of bed. Lily guessed that was Sam's job. Judging from Dean's own hair, combing wasn't something he forgot about.
"Why don't you pat the bunny, Cas," Dean suggested, green eyes dancing. His lips twitched like he was holding back a smile. Lily wasn't quite sure what was so funny, but his expression was kind of contagious.
Cas walked robotically over to her and stroked the rabbit twice, his serious expression morphing to wonder at the feel of the soft fur, and back again as he seemed to regain control of himself. "Dean wishes to stroke your rabbit," he informed her.
Lily turned the rabbit over into Dean's large, rough, and surprisingly gentle hands, and turned back to Sam to check if there was any information she needed to know about his son before they left.
"He's very imaginative," Sam replied to her enquiries, "And he had a, er, very unusual upbringing before we adopted him. He might behave a little oddly."
Lily glanced over to where Cas was standing with Dean, who was clearly his favourite Dad, closely examining the rabbit hutch. They were paying a lot of attention to the broken latch, and Dean was absentmindedly stroking Flopsy, who was curled up against his ribs, apparently asleep in the crook of his arm. "He seems like a very nice little boy. I'm sure he'll be playing with the other kids in no time."
"Hopefully. Do you mind if I ask what happened here?" Sam gestured to the trashed art station.
"Um. Escaped rabbit," Lily squeaked out. You couldn't really tell a parent who was already worried about leaving their child that there might be a ghost in the classroom.
"Wow," Sam raised his eyebrows, "Athletic rabbit."
They were interrupted by a strange, high pitched wailing. Lily turned to see Flopsy hopping agitatedly around her cage, now tied shut with string, and Dean shoving something into his pocket. He waved his hand apologetically. "Sorry, phone." He came back over, Cas following closely behind him.
The first of the students were beginning to arrive for the day, so Lily had to get moving. "Why don't you hang your bag up, Cas, and then you can say goodbye to your Dads, and I'll introduce you to some of the other kids. Who's this on your bag?"
"I believe his name is Thomas," Cas answered, sounding wholly uninterested in his Thomas the Tank Engine backpack, and looking at it like he wasn't quite sure what it was for. He watched her in seeming annoyance as she hung his bag up for him. It was starting to get a little unnerving, but she ignored the feeling.
After Cas had parted from his Dads with the unemotional words "I still think this is unnecessary, Dean," and gone to stand by the rabbit hutch, staring at Flopsy, Dean smiled at Lily. "We're new in town and don't really know our way around. You wouldn't know anyone who could show us around today, would you?"
Lily gave them Robin's number, because they were so nice and Robin was free all day. A momentary stab of guilt passed through her as she gave the two incredibly hot guys the number of the woman Barney was in love with. Then she remembered they were gay, and felt better.
She went back into the classroom to begin her class, and waited eagerly for the lunch break, when Marshall would come and they could investigate the ghost.