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(advent) Thursday, December 13

Molly? Do you have a minute?

“I always have time for you,” Molly said, turning from the dishwasher and smiling down at Schrodinger, who had come in to the kitchen quietly. Her smile faltered when she saw the droop of his ears and tail. “What’s wrong? Are you feeling okay?”

You and Drew would tell me if you didn’t want me to live with you anymore, wouldn’t you?

The tone of his voice broke her heart. Molly knelt down and hugged him to her. “We would, but that day will never come,” she said fiercely. “This is your home for as long as you want.”

He relaxed into her. Can I ask another question?

“Of course.”

What have you and Drew been talking about when you thought I wasn’t around?

Molly chuckled. “Trust you to sniff that out,” she said. “It’s a secret, but I trust you.” She whispered into his ear. “But you can’t tell anyone else,” she said at the end.

Schrodinger’s eyes were wide. Really?

“Really.” Molly nodded. “Are you ready for that?”

I can’t wait! Excitement had chased all the despair from his frame, and he put both his front paws on her shoulders. This is going to be the best!!!

“I hope so!” Molly said, hugging him again. “Feeling better now?”

Loads!

“Good, because I think I just heard Corrine’s jeep come into the yard,” Molly said, getting up. “I wonder if Zoey’s feeling better today?”

There was no Zoey or Aurora in the group that came into the kitchen, although Corrine said she should be out and about the next day. “Her fever is gone, but her mother wanted her to rest up,” Molly’s sister-in-law said. “You two ready to join us?”

“I just need my coat,” Molly said.

“Don’t forget the Advent calendar!” Kaylee said.

“It’s still at the bookstore, silly,” Molly said, tousling her blonde hair on the way. “We have to run an errand for Aunt Margie, so we’re going there first.”

“Grab your big boots,” Corrine said. “It’s snowing to beat the band on. I’m not sure how late we’re going to stay out tonight.”

Corrine hadn’t been lying. Small flakes fell with determination, making their lights all but useless. “I wonder if we should cancel,” Molly said softly, looking out the window.

“We’ll see,” Corrine said. “I know how much they want to do this.”

“Yes, but not if it’s dangerous.”

Aunt Margie said the same thing when they got into the bookstore. “I’m surprised you folks came out,” she said. “It looks like this snow is going to park itself over the Cove and not move for a few days.”

“We couldn’t not come!” Kaylee said. “We need to do the Advent calendar!” Schrodinger, Lily, Jack, and Gideon all nodded in agreement at that.

“Well, I’d do it quickly,” her great-aunt said. “Soon they’ll probably close the roads.”

Molly’s eyes widened. “Really? They don’t normally do that.”

“Hudson just announced it over WCOV,” Aunt Margie said. “So unless you’re planning on taking a magic sleigh, I’d hurry it up.”

Molly ushered them in to the kitchen. “Let’s go, let’s go!”

As if the kitten had sensed their urgency, he was already moving into the hall that connected the conservatory to something that looked something like a kitchen, except minus the stoves. There were two huge sinks, though, and a large cabinet that held china dishes and mug. It wasn’t a large room, but even here, where it looked like the household did nothing but wash dishes, there was a garland of greenery strung around the edge of the ceiling, and a candle with a little bunch of holly burned on the windowsill. The little cat jumped up on a stool and then peered into the sink.

“Don’t get wet! Or break the dishes!” Gideon said quickly.

Luckily, the kitten didn’t jump all the way in. Instead, he dipped a paw in, as if he were stirring whatever was in there. A huge soap bubble came up from the sink and popped as if it were poked.

“Be careful! You have an interesting trip ahead of you!” Then, the smoke words swirled together and shot out of the calendar, into the kitchen and then out the kitchen door.

“Follow it!” Lily shouted, and they did. It didn’t go very far, either. It stopped right at the counter where DC was standing with a large box, and burst into sparkles above her head.

What are you sending, DC? Schrodinger asked.

“Nothing,” DC said, grinning at them. “But you guys have volunteered to take these over to the library for their giving tree!”

“What’s a giving tree?” Kaylee asked.

“You’ll find out when you get there!” DC said, and hefted the box. “Let me bring this out to the car for you.”

Once they were back in the Jeep and buckled in, Corrine steered out into the road. The snow seemed to be annoyed that they were out, and Molly could barely see in front of them. She looked at her sister-in-law. “Maybe we should head home instead?”

Corrine bit her lip as they moved through the curtain of falling snow. “Well, we’re heading that way,” she said finally. “If we need to, we’ll stop at the house and you guys can…”

Look out!

Jack’s warning bark echoed in the jeep’s interior as another car loomed out of the storm and nearly hit them. Corrine wrenched on the wheel and the big vehicle ended up in a snow bank.

“Is everyone okay?” Molly asked, twisting around to see the kids and animals in the back seat.

We’re okay, Schrodinger assured her. We were all buckled in. Who was that?

“I don’t know, but they didn’t stop,” Corrine said grimly, putting her flashers on. “And I think we might be stuck.” She put the jeep in reverse, and sighed as the wheels spun. “Never mind think. We are stuck.”

“Oh no!” Molly said, pulling her phone out of her pocket. “Well, I guess we should call someone with a sleigh.” She looked out the window. They were about 3/4 of a mile from the store, but walking in the storm would be just as dangerous. “I wonder if Pavel will come get us.”

But no one picked up at Brynna and Paul’s. Molly was dialing the Station when all of a sudden Kaylee said, “I hear bells!”

“I bet it’s Old Man Winter!” Lily said excitedly. “He’s coming to save us!”

There was indeed bells coming, and moments later, two huge reindeer heads loomed out of the storm. But it wasn’t Old Man Winter driving the sleigh. Instead, Kris looked down at them and said, “Sure, and this is a mess. Would you like a lift?”

(advent) Wednesday, December 12

Nelson sat in a corner of the Harbormaster’s Hall, a cup of strong coffee cradled in his callused hands, and brooded. The large hall was light and airy most of the time, but the weather had turned grey and forbidding, and his corner in particular was gloomy. Not that he minded – to him, the entire world was gloomy, and had been for a very long time, and he had resisted any efforts to pull him out.

Not that the Cove wasn’t trying. His scowl was usually enough to keep anyone away, but apparently the people in this town didn’t know that a scowl meant leave him alone. Even here, there was a person coming towards the table, a cup in his hand.

“Mind if I join you?” the stranger asked.

“Yes,” Nelson said curtly. “I’m not interested in company.”

“You’re in the wrong town then, my friend,” the other man said, sitting down across from him. He was tall and slender, with long white hair that fell in drifts over his shoulders. His plaid shirt and blue jeans were plain cotton, and sat easily on his rangy frame. The very tips of his pointed ears poked through his hair. “Or maybe you’re in the right one, to change your mind.”

“My mind doesn’t need changing,” Nelson said shortly. “It’s fine.”

“You know how many people I’ve heard say that?” the stranger laughed.

“No, and I’ve no wish to.” Nelson lifted his cup and drank. “I wish to be left alone.”

“Do you? Then why are you here, instead of at home?”

“Hard to be at home when you don’t have one anymore.” Nelson scowled again.

The stranger’s face transformed, his good humor metamorphosing into concern. “You are homeless? Then you must join me at my home! This is not a season to be homeless!”

“I have a room to return to,” Nelson said, and wondered why he was talking this much. “I do not need your charity.”

“Hardly charity,” the stranger said. “Are you certain?”

In answer, Nelson downed the rest of his coffee and rose. “Yes,” he said, and strode away before the man could say anything else. He had no wish to continue the conversation.

<><>

Father Christopher raised his mug to his lips, his eyes wary. “I’m not sure about this, Molly.”

“Trust me, Father,” Molly said. “I think you’ll like it.”

“I always trust you,” he said, and sipped the tea she’d poured into his cup. His eyes widened. “What is this?”

“It’s a new spiced herbal tea that Yava sent me, and it’s supposed to help soothe the lungs,” Molly said. “I remember how much you coughed last year, and thought it might help us to get ahead of it this year. Pneumonia is not fun.”

“No,” he agreed.

She pushed a small tin over to him. “You’ll want to do one mug of this before bed, steeped for 10 minutes in hot water. If your throat is bothering you, add a bit of honey. NOT whiskey.”

“Perish the thought,” he said piously, then winked at her.

Molly was going to respond when Kaylee, Lily, and Gideon came in, followed by Jack and Schrodinger. “No Zoey and Aurora?” she said instead.

“She wasn’t in school,” Lily said. “Ms. Temple said she was sick.”

I can confirm, Schrodinger said. I went and checked – Aurora said she was running a fever and doing a lot of sleeping.

“Poor Zoey!” Molly said. “I’ll send over a care package for the family later today.” She looked at them. “Well, did you want to do the calendar now?”

“I’m fascinated by this,” Father Christopher said, joining them in front of the tapestry. “The Snow Queen and Jack have outdone themselves this year!”

“Kitten, who are we helping today?” Gideon asked.

The little cat, who had been frolicking in the snow in the back garden, now trotted into a glassed-in room that was full of tropical plants. He shook himself, shedding snowflakes that melted almost immediately in what was obviously warm air.

“What kind of room is that?” Kaylee asked, her eyes wide.

“The Victorians called it a conservatory,” Father Christopher told her. “Now, you would call it a sun room.”

“It looks like the Gate Room at the Station,” Lily said. “You know, with all the grass and plants, and the glass ceiling.”

It does! Schrodinger said. I love how it’s green all year round in there.

“Me too,” Molly agreed.

The conservatory was a riot of colors, as flowers bloomed all over the place. Molly saw orchids and poinsettias, lilies and iris, as well as plants she couldn’t name. The taller plants had white lights twined around them, and there was a wreath on one door, the one that led back into the house. As they watched, the little cat stopped at a basket that held gardening gloves, snips, and other paraphernalia. He tugged out the gloves, and flipped over a hat that they’d been hiding. The familiar smoke drifted up and turned into letters: “Brighten the world with color. It goes so well with the snow!”

Kaylee cocked her head to one side. “Are we coloring then, today, kitten?”

In answer, the smoke seeped from the calendar and began to whirl around them before dropping something into their hands.

“Gloves?” Kaylee said. “What does that have to do with coloring the world?” She looked at the others. Gideon had a hat, and both Jack and Schrodinger had scarves. Lily had a basket with a bright ribbon on the top of it.

“Well, well, well,” Father Christopher said, looking at their prizes. “Do you know, that looks exactly like the baskets I have back at the church for the poor. Would you like to help me put them together?”

“That will definitely brighten the world,” Lily said. “We’d love to help!”

<><>

“You know, it’s been too quiet.”

Jade looked up from the book she’d been reading when Jack spoke. They were seated in their private living room, which had a large fireplace and comfortable chairs, as well as several magical statues and devices scattered about the room. Jack had been leaning over their scrying pool, a golden bowl set in a tripod that came up to his waist. Now he straightened up, shaking his head.

“Quiet is not a bad thing,” Jade said, setting a velvet bookmark on her page.

“I think it might be, given the circumstances this year,” he replied. “Did you know Percy’s ship pulled into port yesterday?”

“Yes, the Harbormaster told me.” She closed the book and looked over at him. “But he’s not a threat.”

“No, but it’s one more thing,” Jack said, shaking his head. “I just wish I knew who had taken the Advent calendar. It’s bugging me.”

She stood up and went over to him, slipping an arm around his waist and looking into the shimmering silver magic in the bowl. “I know, my love. All will be revealed in good time, though. We have to trust the Eidolon.”

“Do we?” He put his chin on the top of her head.

“Well, do you have another idea?” she replied.

“Not yet,” Jack admitted. He sighed. “I just don’t like feeling that I’m not in control.”

“Trust the Eidolon,” Jade said again. “This Eidolon has never steered us wrong.”

“That we know of,” Jack said.

(advent) Tuesday, December 11

Tuesday, December 11

Come on, Molly! Schrodinger danced around the kitchen, anxious to be off. We’re going to be late!

Molly laughed at him as she pulled her coat on. “We can’t be late, silly,” she said. “They have to wait for us to get to anywhere else! Besides, we have everything they need to finish the surprise!”

That was true enough, Schrodinger had to admit. The special supplies they had picked up after picking out their trees yesterday were safely stowed in the back of Molly’s Jeep. But still! I can’t wait!

“Me either,” Molly agreed, following him out on to the porch. “They are going to be so surprised.”

It was a glorious bright afternoon, the kind of winter day with a sky so blue it stretched forever, and every snowflake sparkled in the bright light. A sharp wind, smelling of pine and snow and crisp cold, made the ribbons on the wreaths that Molly and Schrodinger had hung on the railings of the porch dance. He could taste the faintest bit of sea salt – even inland, you could smell the sea in Carter’s Cove. Schrodinger dashed across the yard and waited impatiently for her to reach him so she could open the front door.

Hudson was playing Christmas carols on WCOV, the radio station for Carter’s Cove, and Molly and Schrodinger sang along at the tops of their lungs as they drove into town to pick up the others. By the time they pulled into Molly’s traditional parking spot behind the bookstore, she was fully into the Christmas spirit.

Which was good, because waiting for them inside the bookstore was not what they had expected at all.

“You are not going to get away with this!”

The words hit Molly like a sledgehammer, and she very nearly reeled backwards away from the speaker: an angry man with a towering beard that bristled threateningly at Kris, who looked supremely unconcerned.

“Sure, Nelson, and what should I be getting away with?” Kris countered. “It’s not as if it affects you at all, you know.”

Nelson’s face went even redder, and he swung around, looking for another target. His gaze fell on Molly. “Do you know what this woman means to do here?” He asked, stabbing an accusing finger at Kris.

“Move into the Cove and open a shop?” Molly said, looking at Kris. “Making a living?”

“A living?” Nelson shouted. “More like a dying! And the one dying will be this town! He glared back at Kris. “I won’t let you do it! I won’t!” And then he pushed past Molly and stomped out of the store.

“What was his problem?” Molly asked Kris.

Kris shook her head, the long grey braid swinging with the movement. “He’s an unhappy man, is Nelson. His is a long, sad story, and I’ve no wish to go over it now. Not at Christmas. Some folks just can’t move on.”

Did he live in a town you lived in? Schrodinger asked, coming up to her. Is that why he doesn’t like you?

Kris leaned down and stroked Schrodinger’s ears. “We knew each other a long time ago, in a place that doesn’t exist except in our memories. And while I’ve learned to put those into the past, not everyone has. Some day, Nelson will have to own up to the fact that our village is gone, and then he will be forced to deal with the present, instead of obsessively going over the past.” She sighed. “I can only hope that it is sooner, rather than later. Perhaps this place will be good for him.”

If any place can be, it would be here! Schrodinger agreed. This is an amazing town to live in!

“Sure, and it is.” Kris smiled. “Molly, I realize it is your day off, but may I bother you for a bit about tea?”

“Of course!” Molly said, leading the way in to the kitchen. “We’re waiting for the others to get here anyways. How can I help?”

Kris followed her in, and took the seat that Molly offered. “I’m looking for a good tea to leave in a crock pot, for a party. Something that will appeal to a wide range of people, but will be okay to sit.”

Molly frowned thoughtfully. “Are you thinking of a black tea, or an herbal?”

“I don’t know.” Kris spread her hands. “I bow to your expertise.”

“Wait here.” Molly moved into the pantry, already running scenarios in her head. Not a black tea, she mused. An herbal is more forgiving to sitting, and that means that everyone can have some. Perhaps a mix on cider – there’s that spiced apple tea that would be lovely.

She chose a few tins from the shelf and brought them back into the kitchen to find her new friend examining the Advent calendar, Schrodinger at her side.

“And it brings you magical gifts?” Kris was saying.

Sometimes. Mostly it brings us things to do, and it’s loads of fun! Schrodinger said. I can’t wait to see what we’re doing today!

“You are lucky indeed to have such friends that give you such things,” Kris said admiringly. “Perhaps one day I too shall have that kind of friend.” She looked over at Molly. “What have you found for me?”

“I think this would be best, especially if you put it into an apple cider,” Molly said. “I’m going to mix a few of my herbal teas together for you, and then you can float it in the crock pot.” She pulled out a bowl, and then an empty tea tin, and got to work. It was a simple task, and soon she handed the tin to Kris. “Just use a quarter of a cup of the tea mixture to the crock pot,” she said. “It would be best if you put the herbs into a square of cheesecloth or muslin, and then tie it up. Easier than a tea ball, and you won’t get the weird metallic taste in the cider.”

“That’s perfect!” Kris beamed as she accepted the tin. “How much do I owe you?”

“Nothing,” Molly said. “Consider it a welcome to the Cove gift.”

“Then you must come to my party!” Kris said. “All of you!” She looked at the children who had just trooped in. “You will, won’t you?”

“A party? Of course!” Kaylee said. “When is it?”

“December 19 is the date I’m planning,” Kris said. “So I can open the store before Christmas.”

“Oooh,” Lily said. “That sounds awesome!” She looked at Molly. “We can go, can’t we?”

“As long as your parents say so, I don’t see why not,” Molly said. She looked at her regular calendar. “It’s a Wednesday, so I’ll be here, but I’m sure I can stop over at some point, and you guys will be out of school by then.”

“Yay!” Gideon said, and he grabbed Kaylee’s hands, the two of them whirling around in glee. “I love parties!”

“Guys, guys, come on, we need to see what the Advent calendar is having us do today!” Zoey said, giggling a little at the antics of the younger children. Then she turned to Kris. “Would you like to help us?”

“Absolutely!” Kris said. “What do we do?”

“We watch,” Lily said, and pointed to the little cat, who was sitting on the stairs, obviously waiting for them. “What are we doing today, kitten?”

He jumped to his feet and trotted down the stairs and then through the hall, stepping into a back garden that was coated with snow. There was a Christmas tree out here, decked with long strings of cranberries and popcorn. Suet balls shaped like bells and gingerbread men hung on it, along with apples, and the top of the tree had a nest, with a beautiful red cardinal perched on the edge, his beak close to the beak of his mate, who sat within the nest.

“Oh, what a pretty tree!” Zoey said. “I love how it’s for the birds and animals! Just like we planned for Indi!”

It’s like he knew! Schrodinger said. I wonder how the Snow Queen knew what we were going to do!

“She’s the Snow Queen,” Molly reminded him.

The little cat had sniffed the tree and then gone over to the big snowman that someone had built. The snowman had a jaunty red scarf tied around his neck, and a big black top hat, with a sprig of holly tucked into the hat band. A pipe was stuck into his smiling face, and his bright eyes were bricks of charcoal that sparkled with magic and mischief. As they watched, he leaned over to the cat and patted its head with one mittened hand, then looked up and out, and raised his hat politely to them. The expected smoke came out of the hat, and formed the words, “Remember that this is the season to help others. And have fun!”

“Sure, and isn’t that amazing,” Kris said, as the smoke came out of the calendar. It wrapped around each child, and as they watched, it dropped suet stars into their hands.

“Thank you, calendar!” the children chorused, and then turned to Molly.

“Do you think Indi will like it?” Lily asked.

“I do!” Molly said. “Did you guys bring your skates?”

“Mom said she’d meet us there with it,” Zoey said. “So let’s go!”

(advent) Monday, December 10

Monday, December 10

Hey, Molly, do you mind if I head out for a few hours? Schrodinger poked his head around the edge of the kitchen door.

“No, but don’t forget to be back by the time school gets out,” Molly said, looking at the clock on the wall. “You’ve got about four hours.”

That will be enough, Schrodinger said. I just need to talk to someone.

Molly left her task and went to kneel down next to him. “You know you can always talk to me, right?”

He leaned into her, feeling the warmth of her presence as she put her arms around him. I know, he said. But I need to talk to someone who isn’t you. It’s something… He trailed off, not sure how much to say.

“Something for Christmas?” Molly suggested.

Yes. Schrodinger looked up at her, glad of her help. You understand.

“Absolutely.” She gave him another hug and got back to her feet. “Have fun.”

Schrodinger nodded and went out the front door before he could see anyone else. He trotted jauntily along the road for a few minutes, until he sensed a Road coming near him. Then he jumped up into the air, and disappeared, landing back on the cool magical surface of the Road that led out of Carter’s Cove, and to a place he rarely visited any more.

The magical Roads that connected the Realms were like highways in the human world, allowing beings and items to move between the various planes that were inhabited. CrossCats were one of the few mortal races that could use the Roads instinctively, and they were highly prized as couriers and navigators. Once, Schrodinger himself had thought he might end up as a courier. Then he’d met Molly and Drew, and decided that contrary to many of his kin, he didn’t want to not have a home. They had made him welcome. They were his family.

Now, though, with all the changes coming through, he wasn’t as sure of his place as he had been. Neither Drew nor Molly had said anything to him, but that might only be because they weren’t sure what to say. And he didn’t want to be the one to broach it, not if they hadn’t thought about it. To be perfectly honest, Schrodinger realized that he was afraid they wouldn’t want him around any more.

Which is probably nonsense, the logical portion of his brain said. I mean, come on. You are as much a member of the family as Drew is, and Molly would have said something to me.

She wouldn’t let me worry about this. She loves me. She and Drew want me around. I just wish that I could talk to them about it, but what if they didn’t think it was an issue? What if they realize it would be easier if I wasn’t here?

No, Molly wouldn’t let me stew….

Well, but you are stewing, another voice in his head said. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be standing in the middle of a Road, talking to yourself, would you?

Schrodinger shook his head and looked around, shocked. He WAS standing there in the middle of the Road, but he was no longer along. A larger CrossCat sat next to him, watching him with sharp but kindly green eyes, an embroidered collar around her dark neck. I’m assuming you were coming to see me, the Librarian said, the tip of her ebony tail twitching in amusement. I could hear you thinking about it in the Lair.

Schrodinger hung his head. I’m sorry, he said.

Sorry for what?

For disturbing your studies, Schrodinger said. The Librarian was always studying something.

Darling kitten, studies can wait. The Librarian swatted him playfully with her paw. What are you so worried about? Tell me.

<><>

True to his word, Schrodinger trotted through the door about 5 minutes before the others, and Molly saw with pleasure that his eyes were brighter than they had been in the last few days. Wherever he had been, the news had cheered him up, which was good. She’d been worried enough that she was thinking of going to the Librarian for help, since the CrossCat had been Schrodinger’s teacher. Was still his teacher, as far as she knew. Now it looked like that wasn’t necessary.

The tea room had been quiet all day, since it was snowing off and on, which meant that only the die-hard regulars were in. Stephen and Lucille Dorr had claimed their normal table, and Molly had been out to freshen their tea once. Lucille was knitting a lovely shawl, and Stephen was reading out loud to her. Not loud enough to bother anyone, of course. They never did.

The quiet had given Molly time to think about what was going to happen after the holidays. Once Christmas and New Year’s were over, she and Drew really had to make a decision about what they were going to do. She hadn’t mentioned the job opportunity to anyone yet, not even Aunt Margie or Sue, because it would be such a big change. Would it be worth it? She and Drew were still discussing it, after all.

The downside of being a kitchen witch is that you can’t use the tasks of baking to stop the bad thoughts running through your head, she reflected ruefully.

Luckily, that quiet was shattered with the arrival of the children, who were exuberant about something. “Molly, Molly, Molly, there’s a new store getting built!” Gideon said, shedding snow like a miniature yeti.

“I know!” she said, smiling down at them. “It’s Kris’s store. Have they started the walls?”

“More than just the walls!” Kaylee said. “And there are dwarves making it!”

That was impressive. While the dwarves were friendly to the Cove, they didn’t always actually fabricate the buildings. Usually that was something that the humans couldn’t afford, to be honest. Apparently Kris had more credit that way than she’d imagined.

“Wow,” Molly said, smiling at them all. “Maybe she’ll let you guys come and watch for a while.”

“That would be AMAZING,” Gideon said. “Let’s go ask!”

Let’s do the Advent calendar first, Jack suggested. It might send us over there anyways, after all.

“Oh, good point!” Zoey agreed. “Let’s see where the kitten is!”

Molly joined them at the calendar, drying her hands on a tea towel. The little kitten was waiting for them, his eyes bright and his tail twitching. Once they were there, he ran down the stairs into the hall. This hall reminded Molly of the hall at CrossCat Farms, but only if they really decorated it. Swags of greenery were wound around each baluster, and wreaths surmounted each newel post. Bright red and gold ribbons contrasted with the dark green of the garlands, and brightly-colored birds peeked in and out of the branches. The wall sconces had swags as well, with brightly flaming candles of burgundy. On the bottom landing was a small table, topped with a tree that also had birds in its branches. There were some small presents under the tree, and a glowing silver snowflake danced on the very top.

As the kitten came down the stairs, each of the candles sank down to a glowing pinprick, until the only light in the room was from the glowing snowflake. They all watched as he rooted under the tree, and to everyone’s surprise, the birds flew up and swirled around him, then turned into the words “Time to get your tree!” Then they came out of the calendar and swirled around the kitchen before dropping little branches into the children’s hands. Attached to the evergreen branches was a golden ticket that said, “Come and find the perfect tree!”

“Are we going to the tree farm, then?” Lily asked, turning to Molly.

“We are!” Molly said, grabbing her coat and purse. “And we’ve got a special mission, too!”

“A special mission?” Kaylee’s eyes went wide. “What special mission?”

“I’ll tell you on the way!” Molly promised. “Shall we go?”

(advent) Sunday, December 9

“You mean you were actually IN the calendar?” Jade put down her cup of tea on the island and stared at her. “But that’s not possible!”

“That’s what I thought,” Molly agreed. She was arranging food on a plate, alternating slices of her rich fruitcake with slices of her frosted cranberry orange tea bread. “But that’s what happened. I was looking at the calendar and then all of a sudden, I was sitting in one of the chairs.” She looked up at her friend. “And it was definitely real. I felt everything.”

Jade chewed on the bottom of her lip. Turning on her stool to regard the Advent calendar, she didn’t say anything else for several minutes. Molly paused to regard the Snow Queen herself.

It still seemed odd to be friends with a being that was over 400 years old, if the legends were true, and Molly had no doubt that they were. Jade was wearing what she considered to be a dress-down outfit: her fitted dress was dark green, with silvery snowflakes dusted across the fabric, and she had shed her woolen cloak when she’d come in. That was trimmed with silver fur, of course, and Molly had no doubt it was enchanted to hang as lightly over the Snow Queen’s shoulders like a lace shawl. Her boots were black, polished enough that Schrodinger could see himself in them. Her long pale hair was neatly braided down her back, not in her normal coronet. Molly also noted that there was no tiara nestled among the curls. This wasn’t a public event like the ball; this was just Jade, coming in to hear some music at her favorite book store.

“So, are you excited for the concert?” Molly asked, after the silence had stretched for a while. “And is Jack coming?”

Jade shook herself out of her reverie and turned back to her friend. “Oh, I am! But Jack will not be here, sadly. He’s got some errands that he said needed to be run.” She picked her tea cup again. “I think he’s trying to avoid someone in town, to be honest.”

“Oh? Who?” Molly’s curiosity was immediately piqued. “Who is he trying to avoid? Not me, I hope!”

Or me, Schrodinger said, coming into the room. 

“Neither of you, of course,” Jade said, leaning down to give Schrodinger a loving stroke along the top of his head. “Don’t be silly. No, this is someone he knew in the past, and happens to be moving to town.”

“Kris?” Molly guessed, taking down another tray and starting to fill it with her lavender earl grey shortbread cookies.

Jade nodded.

But why? Schrodinger asked, jumping up on his normal stool. She seems so nice!

“Oh, she’s wonderful,” Jade agreed. “However, please remember that Jack has not always been, well…” She trailed off, her pale cheeks turning pink.

The best-behaved? Schrodinger suggested.

“That’s putting it mildly,” Jade said, laughing a little. “I think you’ll find him a bit scarce until he makes sure there will be no lasting issues.”

Molly eyed her. “Do I want to know what he did?”

“No.” Jade shook her head. “You definitely do not.” She grinned at Schrodinger. “And you certainly don’t!”

Do you know how hard it’s going to be not to ask? Schrodinger grumbled, his tail swishing. I wish I hadn’t heard about it.

“Do you want me to make you forget?” Jade offered.

Can you do that? His eyes went wide.

“Of course I can.” She leaned over and planted a kiss on the top of his fuzzy head. “The knowledge is gone. Why don’t you go check and see what else Molly needs to bring up to the concert for us?”

Schrodinger dropped down and trotted out.

“Did you really make him forget it?” Molly asked her, as soon as he was out of earshot. 

“Well, yes and no. I gave him something else to do so he wouldn’t think about it.” Jade winked at her as she sipped her tea. “It’s a helpful thing.”

Molly laughed. “You are slightly evil yourself, you know.”

“I learned from the best,” Jade admitted. “Now, let’s talk about this Basilissa again.”

“I don’t know what else to say. I’ve told you everything.” Molly finished up the tray and set it with the others. “I think I’m done here too. I’ll get the kids to help me bring them up.”

“I can help too,” Jade said, finishing her tea. “I’m not broken.” She had just gotten up when Schrodinger came back in, followed by Aurora, Jack, Kaylee, Lily, Zoey, and Gideon. 

“Jade! You came to the concert!” Lily threw her arms around the Snow Queen. “I’m so happy to see you!”

“I’m so happy to see all of you!” Jade said, hugging them all in turn. “Have you been enjoying the calendar?”

“Oh yes!” Kaylee nodded. “But you know, it seems…weird.”

Jade stilled and looked down at her (although with the way Kaylee was growing, it wouldn’t be much longer before she was taller than the Snow Queen, Molly noted privately). “What do you mean, weird?”

Kaylee frowned, obviously thinking very hard. “It feels like we’re being guided through something, or to something,” she said finally. “Like there’s something we’re supposed to find, or someone.”

Molly and Jade exchanged looks over the children’s heads, and Jade gave the briefest shake of her head before smiling down at Kaylee. “Well, in a way, you are,” she said. “You do know that you’re recharging the protections on the Cove, right?”

“Oh yeah, but that’s not it.” Kaylee shrugged. “There’s something else we need to do. I just don’t know what yet.” She turned to the calendar. “I’m sure I’ll figure it out, though. Let’s see what is there today!”

They all clustered around the calendar, where the little cat that so reminded Molly of Schrodinger had just popped out from under the bed in the bedroom. He waved his tail at them, and then trotted into the next room. There was no bed here, but two large bookcases were on either side of the fireplace. There was a heavy wooden wardrobe that had two holly wreaths on it, and a small table with an easy chair was in front of the fireplace. The window at the back had a holly-wreathed candle lit there, and a man’s bathrobe was folded over the back of the chair. There was no vanity, but a large mirror was on one wall, and there was a table with a washbasin and a shaving kit.

This must be the master’s dressing room, Jack said. Since it abuts the master bedroom, and Molly said the master and mistress would have separate rooms. 

“I think you’re right,” Gideon agreed. “I wonder what who lives in this house.”

“Maybe Santa?” Zoey guessed. “That’s why everything is decorated for Christmas!”

“Oooh, yeah!” Lily agreed. “They would have a house like this!”

The little cat had gone to the table and chair, and jumped up into it. For a moment, Molly wondered if he would try and put on the dark red bathrobe, but she soon saw that he was actually trying to get into the pocket. I should get Drew a new bathrobe, she mused, as she watched the fabric move under the cat’s paws. His is getting rather threadbare.

And why am I thinking of this now? She shook her head, amused at herself. I swear, I’ve had more random thoughts in the past few months than I have had in my life!

“Don’t rip it!” Kaylee said, a little alarmed, as the cat continued to paw at the bathrobe. “Santa wouldn’t be happy if you do that, kitten!”

Finally, he managed to get a paw into the pocket, and tugged out a small green fabric pouch that spilled snowflakes across the floor as it fell. “Oooh,” the children said, as the snowflakes shimmered and the familiar smoke rose into the air, forming the words “Time to sing for your supper!” Then the smoke floated out of the calendar and led the children out of the kitchen, nearly trampling DC as they rushed past her.

“Slow down!” she laughed, pressing herself against the side of the door. “The concert hasn’t even started yet!”

“But we don’t want to miss the smoke!” Lily called back.

Molly shook her head, and handed DC a tray. “Thanks.” Then she turned to Jade, who was still looking at the calendar. “Do you want…” and then her voice trailed off as she saw what the Snow Queen was looking at.

Basilissa was back in the upper attic room, sipping from a cup, their back to the people watching. Although all Molly could see was the cloaked figure, she knew that it had to be the spirit. “Who is it?” she whispered to Jade.

“I…don’t know,” the Snow Queen admitted. “I’ve never felt this presence before.”

Basilissa turned to them, and Molly saw again the lined face, the kind eyes. The creature nodded gently to them, raising a mug of tea, and then turned back to contemplate the fire.

<><>

The smoke led them up the stairs to the second floor of CrossWind Books, which was currently a lot more crowded than normal for a Sunday. That was because Father Christopher had brought his Christmas Choir to the bookstore to do a pre-Christmas concert, as he did every year. This wasn’t the big concert, of course – that was held at the church, where the songs could rise to the rafters and echo gloriously amid the flickering candles and stained glass windows. This concert was to give a taste of the songs that would be sung. That didn’t mean that it wasn’t popular, though, and the fact that Molly offered her goodies for free during it only added to the appeal.

“You know, I heard that this is going to be the last year the concert is happening here,” Lily said quietly to her best friend, as they followed Kaylee and Gideon through the crowd.

“What? Why? How did you hear that?” Zoey asked.

“Mom was talking to Auntie Margie and didn’t realize I was there,” Lily said. The smoke was leading them towards the back of the room, where Father Christopher was talking to Starsha, the elegant Mareesh singer who had moved to the Cove several years ago. She was one of the reasons the concert had gotten so popular, with her angelic voice that seemed to reach heights not possible from a mortal throat. “Auntie Margie said that she was trying to soak everything in this year, since it was all coming to an end.”

Zoey stopped and looked at her, horrified. “But why would it be ending?” she whispered. 

Lily shook her head. “I don’t know. Kaylee and Jack came in then, so they stopped talking. But I think something’s happening, Zoey. And I’m not sure that it’s a good thing.”

(advent) Saturday, December 8

“Good morning, Molly!”

“Good morning, Gideon!” Molly said, smiling down at him. “You’re here bright and early!”

“Mom said she had stuff to do,” he said seriously. “And I said I’d be happy to sit with Schrodinger and read while we waited for the others. Is that okay, Molly?”

Molly nodded, and Kiaya looked relieved. “You know you’re always welcome,” Molly continued. “Would you like something hot to drink?”

He considered it as he shed his coat, then shook his head. “Not yet,” Gideon said. “Maybe later.”

“Well, you know where I am,” Molly said, watching him go back out to the tea room. Then she turned to Kiaya. “Tea for the road?”

“Bless you,” Kiaya said. “I need to run some errands today, and I couldn’t very well shop for Gideon with him there. And Zeke’s busy all day.”

Molly had pulled out one of the travel mugs she kept for friends, and was filling it with hot water. “It’s no trouble at all,” she said, handing the cup to Kiaya. “I adore having him, and maybe he can help bring Schrodinger out of his funk.”

“Is he okay?” Kiaya asked, as Molly handed her one of the peppermint tea bags she liked.

“He says he’s just grumpy, but I think if he doesn’t snap out of it soon, I’m calling Dr. O’Malley,” Molly said. “He’s acting like he’s not feeling well, but he won’t tell me what’s wrong.”

Kiaya shook her head. “I hope he feels better.”

Molly looked out the kitchen door towards the large cat bed where Schrodinger and Gideon were already curled up together, with the boy reading something to the CrossCat. “Me too,” she said. “Me too.”

She kept an eye on him as the morning went on. Lily, Kaylee and Zoey had ballet class, so she wasn’t expecting them until after lunch. Aurora and Jack arrived about mid-morning, and curled up with the two of them. He seemed to cheer up a bit with the arrival of his friends, and his appetite was fine.

Maybe I’m over-reacting, she thought. He’s just tired. Lord knows we’ve been busy.

She sat back down on a stool in the kitchen, looking over at the calendar, a mug of tea in her hands. Her eyes wandered over the house, and Molly wondered idly what it would be like to live in a house like that. The upkeep alone made her shudder – they didn’t even use all the rooms they had in the farmhouse, after all. Although that’s changing…

Molly shook her head and looked down at the pages in front of her. Sue had kept the gingerbread house orders to thirty this year, something that Molly was grateful for. As much as I love doing the gingerbread, it’s getting to be a lot, especially while still running the tea room, she admitted to herself. But I can’t not do it…

Luckily this year, most of the orders were for the traditional cottage that she could do en mass. There were two orders of gingerbread men, which she would be able to do easily, and there was only two that really needed a lot of work.

One was Sarah’s, of course. Every year, the blind girl and her mother ordered a gingerbread piece for her father, one of the policemen in the Cove. This year, Sarah had requested a stone walled cottage, with a well in the front.

“Can you do that?” Sarah had asked.

“I think so,” Molly had replied. “I’m going to try!”

The other one was for the Station. Drew and his cohorts had requested a locomotive engine for Mal, the Stationmaster, who was a train aficionado. Molly was looking forward to doing that as well.

She started sketching out the houses and making a list of all her ingredients, keeping part of her attention on the tea room, in case someone needed something.

After her plans were sketched out, Molly stood up and pulled out a loaf of cranberry orange tea bread. The girls would be hungry once they got to the tea room, and Molly figured that a ham and cheese grilled sandwich on the cranberry bread would hit the spot.

“It smells so good in here!” Kaylee said as they came in. “Did you make us lunch, Molly?”

“Of course I did!” Molly said. “I remember ballet practice!”

The boys and Aurora had joined them in the kitchen as well, and now Gideon said, “Can we do the Advent calendar now, Molly?”

“Let’s eat first,” Molly said, glancing over at the calendar. “I have a feeling that you guys might be going out and about today, and you don’t want to be too hungry to have fun, do you?”

“No,” they agreed, and clustered around the island. Molly was happy to see that Schrodinger was just as engaged as the others.

I wonder if he’s lonely, she thought. He’s the only one of his kind around here, and the kids don’t always have time for him. A nibble of a thought was wending its way through her mind, but she kept it hidden. It wouldn’t do for him to catch a whiff of what she was planning.

But I bet the Librarian would be able to help me.

The hungry kids and animals made short work of the pile of sandwiches and hot beverages she had set out in front of them. Then, after thanking her, they went over to the calendar, which was once again hanging on the back of the kitchen door.

“What are we doing today, kitten?” Kaylee asked, and the little cat, who had been giving himself a lazy bath on the chaise lounge, jumped down and went into the next room. This was obviously the master bedroom, as a massive carved bed dominated the room. There were two matching carved nightstands, one on either side of the bed, with marble tops that held two small Christmas trees. The counterpane on the bed was a cheery red and white striped, and someone had placed round pillows at the head of the bed, looking for all the world like ornaments. There were two stockings on the mantel of the fireplace on the left side of the room, and garlands wound their way up the posts of the bed. The little cat went over to the right side of the bed, stood on his hind legs, and reached one paw up under the pillow. He pulled out a long stocking cap that billowed smoke out.

“Don’t be a Scrooge! It’s the Christmas parade!”

The smoke letters hung there for a full minute before they coalesced into a ball and floated out of the calendar. It wrapped around them and then went over to their coats. “Come on!” it formed. “Let’s go!”

“A parade?” Lily said. “We’ve never had a Christmas parade!”

“Well, maybe the calendar made one?” Gideon was already pulling his coat on. “Let’s go and find out!”

Before Molly could do more than blink, they were dressed and hurrying out the front door.

(advent) Friday, December 7

“Hurry, hurry, hurry, guys!” Kaylee was nearly running down the hall of Daughter of Stars Elementary School, rushing to get to the gymnasium.

“Why are we hurrying?” Gideon asked, as he ran beside her. Behind them were Lily and Zoey.

“Because Molly said she’d bring the calendar and I don’t want anyone else to see it!” Kaylee said. “It’s OUR calendar! If anyone else sees it, they will want one, and then it won’t be ours anymore?”

“Do you really think that the Snow Queen and Jack would make calendars for anyone else?” Lily said a little scornfully. “It’s not like she has the time to make them.”

“Yeah, she’s not a machine,” Zoey added. “She likes us, so that’s why they do it.”

“Well, and we help her,” Lily said. “Don’t forget that. Not everyone helps her.”

By the time she’d finished that sentence, they’d reached the gymnasium, and Kaylee threw open the door dramatically. The wall of sound that hit them was impressive, and the fair wasn’t even half-full yet.

Every year, the school hosted a Holiday Fair, inviting artisans from all the surrounding Realms together to sell their wares. The children wove their way through the crowd of people setting up tables to the corner where Molly and Sue were laying out the massive amount of cookies and other baked goods that she’d made over the past week. And the massive marzipan fireplace sat in the middle, taking pride of place.

“Wow,” Zoey breathed, looking at the sculpture. They hadn’t seen the finished project yet. “Molly, that’s beautiful!”

Molly beamed. “Thank you! I’m very proud of it!”

She had every right to be. The red brick fireplace was sprinkled with snow that glittered in the light, and there were seven stockings hanging from it. On the mantel was a layer of snow, with miniature houses set in a holiday scene. Underneath, there were no flames, but a holly-bedecked Yule log lay in the grate, ready to be lit. In front of the fireplace was a rug that looked fluffy and warm, and there was a small table, just like in the nursery room of the calendar. Molly had put actual gingerbread men cookies and a small glass of milk on the table-top, with a note for Santa accompanying it. There was a Christmas tree to one side, with lights and stars and snowflakes, even an angel on top. On the other side of the fireplace was a big overstuffed chair, with a perfect miniature of Schrodinger asleep in it.

“You are amazing,” Kaylee said, hugging her aunt. “I love it!” Then she looked up at Molly. “Can we do the calendar now?”

“Absolutely!”

“But what about Aurora and Jack?” Gideon said, looking around.

Schrodinger was there, of course, but the dogs were no where to be found.
They’ll be waiting for us to tell them later, Schrodinger said from his cushion on a chair behind the tables. It’s too crowded in here for them. It’s almost too crowded for me.

“That’s why you’re hanging out with us,” Sue said. “The last thing we need is for you to be stepped on accidentally.”

Truth, Schrodinger said. And I’m more agile than either Aurora or Jack.

Molly had been pulling the large tube that protected the magical calendar from the elements. She unrolled it and the children gathered around her.

“Good afternoon, kitty!” Kaylee said. “What are we doing today?”

The little cat had been waiting for them, it seemed. He had been sitting on the edge of one of the beds, and now he jumped down and trotted into the next room. There was no bed here, but a long, low couch with an odd back and only one arm. The fabric was red and velvety looking, and there were two soft pillows upon it, as well as a fluffy blanket. There was also a large armoire, bedecked with two holly wreathes, and a dress standing up on its own in one corner. The dress was a deep green color, with white and gold trim around the waist, cuffs, and neckline. Over its shoulders was flung a creamy furred cape, and the table nearby held a matching hat and fur muff. The rest of the room was taken up by a large vanity mirror and table, with a holly garland draped over the top.

“What a pretty room!” Zoey said. “I wonder why it’s there?”

“It’s called a dressing room,” Molly said. “In the era that this house was built in, the master and mistress of the house each had their own dressing room.” She pointed to another room farther down the picture. “They would sleep in the bedroom, but they got dressed in separate rooms.”

“Wow, that’s cool!” Zoey said. “I wish I had a dressing room.”

“I don’t,” Kaylee said frankly. “It’s just another room to keep clean.”

“That’s why you have a maid,” her sister said. “Do you think they actually cleaned themselves?”

“Mom won’t let us get a maid, though,” Kaylee replied. “So it’s kind of academic.”

Sue and Molly were obviously struggling not to laugh at the exchange. Schrodinger, who hadn’t moved from his cushion, now craned his head around.

What’s the cat doing?

“He’s in the big cupboard,” Gideon said.

“The armoire,” Molly clarified. The small cat had pawed open one of the doors and was rummaging through whatever was inside. All they could see was the tip of his tail, which was flicking back and forth.

“What is this?” a familiar voice said, and they turned to see Cookie, the cook from Pavel’s ship, standing behind them, a large basket over one arm.

“Cookie!” the children said excitedly, the calendar temporarily forgotten.

“Hello, my friends!” Cookie beamed at them. They had never discovered his true name, if it wasn’t Cookie, but it fit him well – he had a wide, easy smile and, truth be told, was shaped a bit like a gingerbread man. He wore striped linen pants tucked into worn boots, and something that looked like a cross between a pirate’s shirt and a chef’s jacket. On his head today he had a stocking cap, dusted with new snow. “So tell me, what are you looking at so intently?”

“This is our Advent calendar this year!” Gideon said. “And it’s about to show us what to do today!” He pointed. “Look!”

The tail had stiffened, and now the cat backed out of the armoire, dragging what looked like a Santa hat out in his mouth. Once it was on the floor of the dressing room, the cat jumped on it, and a great puff of the piney smoke popped out. It coalesced into the words: “Today is a great day to check up on your friends! Bring cookies!”

Then it flowed out of the calendar, to Cookie’s surprise and the children’s delight, and became sparkling dots that rained down upon them. As they held out their hands to catch some, the sparkles turned into trays covered with dancing gingerbread men and candy canes for Zoey and Kaylee, and clipboards for Gideon and Lily.

“Well, look at that!” Sue said. “Those will be perfect for you to walk around with samples and with order forms!”

Cookie winked at Molly. “You do know that it’s not fair to anyone else that you give away samples, right?”

“And if I didn’t, I’d have a rebellion on my hands.” Molly laughed as she got out the containers of cookie pieces. She filled each tray while Sue gave them the pre-printed forms and pens.

Then, as if it had been waiting for them to be ready, the buzzer rang, and the fair was on.

<><>

Once the initial rush had ended, Sue cocked her head at Molly. “Why don’t you go look around?” she said. “Schrodinger and I can hold down the fort.”

“Are you sure?” Molly looked around.

Yes, Schrodinger said. You wanted to see what jams were available, and this is a good time to do it.

Molly hesitated a bit longer, but Sue gave her a gentle shove. “Go,” she said firmly. “You aren’t baking anything here, and I know how to refill the stock. Trust me.”

“Fine,” Molly said, grinning. “I know when I’m not wanted.”

She edged her way out from behind the tables, careful not to knock anything over. Once she was in the aisle, she turned to Sue. “Anything you want me to look at?”

Sue frowned thoughtfully. “No, I don’t think so,” she said finally. “I haven’t really started shopping yet, so when you come back, I’ll look.”

“Sounds good.” Molly looked over at Schrodinger. “Do you want to come with me?”

No, I’ll stay here, the CrossCat said. I’m not in the mood today to have my tail stepped on. He set his head back on his front paws.

Molly cocked her head and asked him silently, Is everything okay?

Yes, he replied to her only. I’m just a bit tired.

I hope you aren’t sick.

CrossCats don’t get sick, he said. We just get grumpy. I’m fine, Molly. Enjoy yourself, and I’ll keep Sue company.

Molly heard the dismissal in his voice and went. She paused at Lisa’s stall to purchase a few jars of plum and strawberry jam, as well as a jar of cranberry jelly. Then she wandered, looking at the various wares that the vendors from the Cove and surrounding areas had brought in. There was a bit of everything, from food to clothing to delicate little glass ornaments.

She stopped and talked to Anne, the lady who had made the beaded glass balls that Drew had sent her their second Christmas together, for a few minutes, and Anne showed off pictures of her grandchildren.

Molly found herself pausing beside a booth that held all sorts of wonderful Christmas things: houses that glowed with lights, strings of lights in all sorts of shapes, nutcrackers and other figurines, and so many ornaments. Sitting in the midst of the glory was an older woman with a merry smile. The sign on the front of the table said “The Snowman’s Retreat.”

“Are you new in town?” Molly asked, her eyes wide.

“Sure and I am,” the woman confirmed. “My name is Kris, and I’m building my new store here.”

“You’re Kris!” Molly held out her hand. “I’ve heard about you from the children, and from my husband!”

“And you’d be Molly, the kitchen witch, then.” Kris shook her hand firmly. “I’ve been meaning to drop by your aunt’s store, but, well, time has gotten away from me.” She shrugged.

“What kind of store are you building?” Molly said.

“A Christmas store, of course,” Kris said, as if it was obvious. “Because that’s what this place needs, or so I was told.”

“By who?” Not that Molly disagreed with her.

Kris merely smiled. “By someone who knows.”

(advent) Thursday, December 6

When are they getting here? Schrodinger demanded, looking out the kitchen window again.


“They just got out of school ten minutes ago,” Molly said, chuckling a little at his impatience. “Kiaya said they’d be here by 4 pm. You can wait a bit longer.”


But I want to know what we’re doing with the calendar! He looked over his shoulder at her. I can’t believe you didn’t call out to me before you went into it!

Molly had told him and Drew what had happened to her the day before, and he’d been chagrined to realize that he’d napped through the whole thing.

“I didn’t have time,” she said. “It just sort of happened.”

Who do you think Basilissa is?

“I don’t know, but they’re powerful.”

Don’t you mean she?

“No,” Molly said, after a long moment’s thought. “I don’t think they have a gender. It doesn’t really seem to matter to them.”

Could it have been an Eidolon?

Molly had been wondering the same thing. “I don’t know,” she said honestly. “Maybe? I’ve never really met one before that wasn’t in someone else, after all.”

The more she considered it, the more she thought Schrodinger might be right. “Maybe I should talk to Jade,” she said finally, going back to the frosting she was scooping into decorating bags. “Although I’m not sure what she can do about an Eidolon.”

We don’t know that it’s a bad Eidolon, Schrodinger said. She’s always said there must be good Eidolons too.

“That’s true,” Molly said, laying the filled bag next to the others, and picking up the last bag. She looked at the filled bags. “Do you think we’ll have enough to cover the entire time frame for the bake sale tomorrow?”

No, Schrodinger said, finally getting down from the window frame and coming over to join her. I don’t think you ever will. We always sell out.

That was certainly true. Molly thought every year that it would be the year she’d come home with leftovers, that something wouldn’t sell, and it never happened. In fact, she usually came home with a clipboard full of custom orders, and if Sue and/or Drew weren’t with her, she’d take even more.

That reminds me, I have to confirm with Sue that she’s coming tomorrow, Molly thought, adding another thing to her mental checklist. Drew has to work, after all.

Her best friend Sue Elder ran the museum in town, a museum dedicated to the history of Carter’s Cove and the man who had founded it when he’d sailed into the harbor and discovered not one, but two Gates. Carter’s Cove not only had the Gate Station where Drew worked, but a Sea Gate that ships sailed in and out of on a daily basis. It was part of what made the Cove so unique. Sea Gates were a lot rarer than land Gates, because unlike the land Gates, there was no actual Gate structure. It was pure magic, and the ships that used it had a Gate navigator that aligned the Sea Gates for each ship.

I wonder if that’s why the Eidolons seem drawn here, she mused. Because we’re basically saturated in magic. It’s the logical place to live if you are a magical being that doesn’t want to set up your own Realm. Or maybe that’s it. Are we just too attractive, since we don’t technically have a ruler? She didn’t think the Snow Queen counted, since she didn’t really rule the Cove. And the president is not really a threat to anyone magical.

What are you thinking about? Schrodinger said, bringing her back to herself. Molly found that she was standing with the half-filled frosting bag in one hand, the spatula in the other, and the CrossCat staring curiously at her.

“I’m sorry,” she said, shaking her head. “I got distracted. What were you saying?”

He gave her a searching look. I said, talking to Jade about what happened was a good idea. When were you planning on seeing her?

“She mentioned she might come into the store on Sunday, to listen to the concert,” Molly said, finishing up the last frosting bag, and putting the dirty bowl in the dishwasher. Then she turned back to the table. “I think we’re ready for them!”

Just as she said it, they both heard the sounds of a car turning into the front yard. “And that would be everyone else!”

The house didn’t have a front entrance per se; the wide front porch opened into the kitchen, rather than a hall, which was something that both Molly and Drew had fallen in love with when they’d first seen the property. The family that had built it had obviously lived as much in the kitchen as Molly seemed to. Now, as she listened to her visitors come up the stairs to the porch, shouting greetings, Molly knew that this had been the right place for them.

“Molly, Molly, we brought you a present!” Kaylee shouted as she blew through the door, her eyes bright with anticipation.

“A present?” Molly said, grinning at her. “But it’s not Christmas yet!”

“It’s a pre-Christmas present,” Lily said, coming in behind her sister.

“A pre-Christmas present?” Molly said. “Really?”

“More of a they couldn’t wait to give it to you and decided that it had to be given as soon as it came in present,” Corrine Barrett said, coming in behind her daughters and their friends. Schrodinger had gone out to wrangle Aurora, who was rolling in the snow enthusiastically.

Corrine handed the box she was carrying to Molly, who looked curiously at it. It was on the small side, and fairly light. “Should I open it now?”

“Yes!” the children all chorused. “You need to open it now!”

They clustered around her as she opened the box and pulled out a travel tea mug. It was glass and held a tea diffuser within it.

“And the best part is that it’s magic!” Kaylee crowed. “Watch!”

“Kaylee, no!” Corrine said, but it was too late. She’d grabbed the mug from Molly’s hand and smashed it down on the wooden floor.

Molly gasped, but in surprise, as the mug, instead of shattering, bounced and then skittered around.

“It’s unbreakable!” Lily said excitedly. “We found someone to enchant it so you can’t break it!”

“That’s amazing!” Molly said, picking up the travel mug and examining it carefully. The glass was perfectly intact, and someone had hand-painted the words “Molly’s Travel Mug” in golden paint. Silver snowflakes were sprinkled all over the surface.

“You guys, this is awesome!” she said, hugging them all. “Thank you so much!”

“Drew said you didn’t like the taste of the metal travel mugs, or the plastic ones, but you didn’t want to get a glass one because it would break,” Gideon said. “He was looking for something to get you.”

“That’s right,” Zoey said. “So Pavel found this for us.”

“Of course he did!” Molly laughed. “Pavel can find just about anything!” She set the mug in the sink and turned to them. “You guys ready to help me decorate a ton of gingerbread soldiers and snowmen today?”

“Absolutely!” Lily said. “But we have to do the Advent calendar first!” She turned and called out the front door, “Come on, guys! We’re going to do the calendar!”

The two dogs and the CrossCat came bounding in, after considerately stopping on the front porch to shake the snow from their fur. We’re ready! Jack announced. Let’s do this!

Molly had hung the Advent calendar on the pantry door, and now they all stood around it. The little cat was curled up on the fluffy bath mat in front of the sink, sleeping soundly.

“Good afternoon, kitten!” Zoey said. “Are you ready to see what we’re doing today?”

The cat woke up, yawned, and stretched lazily. Then he trotted into the next room, which was obviously a nursery. The room was large, and held two small beds. One bed was draped with what looked like white lace, shot through with snowflakes and ribbons, like a bed a princess would sleep in. The other was also draped, but with solid panels, creating a medieval tent over the bed. A sword and shield leaned against both beds, and there were toys on the shelves around the entire room. Over by the fireplace, a small table held a plate of cookies and a glass of milk, with the words “For Santa” written in childish script on a white card propped against the glass. There was a small tree in one corner, decorated with small toys and bright glass balls. A garland was hung over the mantel, and there were two stockings hanging in front of the little fire, waiting for the gifts that were sure to be put in by a certain man in a red suit.

The cat went over to the plate of cookies and sniffed eagerly.

“No, kitten, that’s for Santa!” Kaylee said. “You shouldn’t take them!”

As if it had heard her, the cat hopped back down and went over to the tree in the corner. There were a few presents already underneath it, and he pulled one out. It was a long box, hastily wrapped, by someone who didn’t wrap presents very well.

“Wow, looks like Lily and Kaylee wrapped that,” Corrine murmured to Molly, who hastily stifled a laugh.

The cat worried off the bows (there were six of them, stuck randomly over the box), and then ripped off the paper. Smoke curled from the box as he pulled the lid off, and the words “Let’s decorate some cookies!” rose up. Then it drifted out of the calendar and solidified into aprons that dropped over the children’s heads.

“Wow, a new apron!” Zoey said admiringly. The aprons were white, with a fun jingle bell print all over and pockets big enough to put cookie cutters in.

“Yay!” Lily agreed. “And these will be good for crafts later with these big pockets!”

“I’m glad you’re excited,” Molly said, leading them over to the table. “Because we have a LOT of cookies to decorate today!”

(advent) Wednesday, December 5

Wednesday found Molly elbow deep in marzipan for a second day. She spent the morning meticulously painting every part of the fireplace and the Yule log that lay in the grate, then set it aside to dry as she boxed up cookies. Then she started making scones and tea breads.

While she worked, her mind went back over the previous day. Pavel had ended up taking them all to see the tree-lighting ceremony at the Harbour, and then they had spent nearly an hour riding around the Cove in his black sleigh, pulled by a black horse, looking at all the lights. Christmas lights were a matter of pride in the town: everyone tried to see what they could do to set the snow aglow with different colors, and Molly had enjoyed the trip just as much as the others. But even then, she’d wondered.

Who would want to steal an Advent calendar? The thought raced around her head as she mixed up cranberry orange tea bread batter and poured it into the small pans she had bought to sell them in. And why?

There had been threats to the Cove before, of course, most before she had been born. But she remembered Old Man Winter’s first year in the Cove, when he’d been bent on destroying it, thanks to the Eidolon that had taken over his soul. And Caliban, who had also been prey to an Eidolon. But Old Man Winter was a dear friend now, and Caliban had become Perry, and was currently off sailing somewhere, content to be just a sailor, not a prince.

Could the Eidolon have found someone else to try and sabotage the Cove?
That thought chilled her. Molly had no idea why this particular Eidolon hated Carter’s Cove, but it was because of it that the Snow Queen, Caliban, Jack Frost, and Herse had first set protections on the town. For a while, it had only needed to be charged by the Snow Queen’s Ball, held the last Saturday night before Christmas, but as the Cove had grown, so had the amount of magic needed to recharge the wards. The Advent calendar had seemed the perfect way to do that. But had it been hacked?

Molly looked over at the calendar. The little cat wasn’t actually asleep, which was odd; instead, he was sitting on the bed, taking a leisurely bath. And to her surprise, there was someone else in the calendar. She left the island and went over to the calendar, peering intently.

Seated in a chair in front of the fire in the third room of the attic, holding a steaming mug of something, was an older figure. Their back was towards Molly, so she wasn’t sure what sex they were, but the hands cupping the mug were lined and gnarled, with just a single golden band on the left hand.

Molly put her hand on the calendar. “Where did you come from?” she murmured.

The figure shifted slightly, and to her surprise, a voice said, “Why don’t you come and have a seat?”

The air around her blurred and shifted, wrapping her in the same pine and cinnamon-scented smoke that had become this calendar’s trademark. When it cleared, Molly found herself standing in the attic room, seated in another easy chair in front of the fire, a mug of her favorite Christmas tea in her hands.

“How did you do that?” she asked, looking over at the figure. Now that she could see facial features, she thought it might be a woman, but she wasn’t sure.

“It’s not hard,” the figure replied, their voice smooth and sexless. They wore a long robe of deep green velvet, edged with gold and silver leaves, and the face was as lined as the hands holding the mug. “Simple magic. I thought it might be time for a talk, Molly.”

Deep green eyes, nearly the same color as the robe, were turned in her direction. Strangely, Molly felt no fear, no worry. Whoever this person was, they weren’t a threat.

“No, I’m not a threat.” The person chuckled. “I can promise you that.”

“Who are you?” Molly asked. “Where did you come from?”

“Here and there,” the person answered.

“But who are you?” Molly said.

Another chuckle. “So many questions. You may call me Basilissa.”

“Is that your name?”

“One of them,” Basilissa said, sipping their tea. “It is the name I use today.” They looked over at Molly. “You are worried about the calendar, and what it may do to your town and friends.”

“You seem to know a lot about me,” Molly said cautiously. She still hadn’t sipped her tea, despite the appealing smell coming from the mug.

“I do,” Basilissa agreed. “The tea will not hurt you, Molly. I give you my word.” The gentle certainty in their tone set her mind at ease.

“Thank you.” Molly sipped the tea. “Why did you invite me here?”


“I wanted the chance to talk to you,” Basilissa said. “And this seemed the most expedient way.”

There was a sound of gentle footsteps coming up the stairs, and in a moment, the little cat that had been bathing below trotted into the room. He came over to Molly, who realized he was about the size of Schrodinger, and laid his head on her knee. His fur was soft and warm, and his purr vibrated through her.

“What did you want to talk about?” Molly asked, stroking the cat’s head. If it weren’t for the fact that she knew she was sitting in a room that didn’t actually exist, it would have been very comfortable.

“Tell me about the Cove.”

Molly blinked. “What do you mean?”

“Just what I said,” Basilissa said. “Tell me about the Cove.”

As if those words had released her, Molly began to talk about her home town: the characters that made the town up, the way magic seemed to live in the air, the farm and the bookstore and all the things that made Carter Cove home to her.

“You love your town very much,” Basilissa said when she’d finally run out of things to say. “That pleases me.”

“Why did you want to know that?” Molly asked. “And did you steal the Advent calendar from the Snow Queen?”

“I like learning things,” Basilissa said simply. “Knowledge is something everyone should try and get.” They stood up and stretched, then turned to Molly. “I did not steal the calendar, but I did add to it, Molly. For good reasons, I assure you.”

“What reasons?”

“That is for me to know for now,” the being said. “But let me say this: your town is in no danger from me.” They hesitated, as if considering further words, then looked down at her. “I thank you for your hospitality, Molly. It’s time to go back, though.”

Molly blinked, and she was back in her kitchen, a mug of tea in her hand, standing in front of the advent calendar. The little cat was sleeping in the bed that he had been on before, and there was no one in the attic room.

“Was it all a dream?” she said out loud, looking at the cup of tea in her hand. She didn’t remember the mug, or making it, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t.

The cat didn’t answer her.

<><>

“What do you think we’ll be doing today?” Kaylee said, as she and Gideon followed Lily and Zoey through the wintery streets. It wasn’t snowing today, but the sun wasn’t out; a grey cloud cover hung low over their heads, and the wind that blew in off the ocean smelled of salt.

“Something inside,” Gideon said decisively. “Because it’s a yucky day out.”

“It is,” Kaylee agreed. “But you know, it’s still prettier than anywhere else.”

“Oh yes,” Gideon said. “I don’t want to live anywhere else.”

“It’s a magical place, to be sure.”

That voice hadn’t been familiar, and Kaylee and Gideon stopped to look around to see who had spoken. They saw a large wagon, hitched to two massive reindeer, but instead of Old Man Winter, this person was a woman, her face half-hidden by the wool hat on her head. “Who are you?” Kaylee asked. “And are these your reindeer?”

“Sure, and they are,” the woman said, chuckling. “My name’s Kris, and I’ve just come to this lovely town. What are your names?”

Lily and Zoey had heard the new voice and come back, and now Lily said, “I’m Lily Barrett, and this is my sister Kaylee, and our friends Zoey Allen and Gideon Fable. And this is Jack and Aurora.”

Both dogs were sniffing at the reindeer, who lowered their heads to nuzzle them.

“Did you get your reindeer from Old Man Winter?” Gideon asked. “He has reindeer like this.”

Kris laughed. “Not hardly! His reindeer are magical indeed. Mine are regular reindeer who pull my poor cart.”

“Are you moving here?” Kaylee said, looking at the piles of belongings in the back of the cart.

“I am!” Kris beamed at them. “My old friend Brynna said it would be a good place to settle down, and she was right!”

“You know Brynna? Do you know Pavel?” Zoey asked excitedly. “We love both of them!”

“They’re very good people,” Kris said, nodding. “Perhaps we’ll see each other at their house, as I’m staying with them until my home is built.”

“Built?” Gideon blinked. “Is that what is going in on the empty lot past the sledding hill? A home?”

“Among other things,” Kris said. “And now, I’ve got to be moving on.” She clucked at the reindeer, who began to move forward. She waved at the children, who waved back. “Sure, and I’ll see you soon!”

“We need to tell Molly about her!” Zoey said, and the others nodded.

They burst into the kitchen at the bookstore, shouting, “Molly, Molly, we made a new friend!”

“Who?” she asked, grinning down at them. She’d been frosting snowmen cookies, and Kaylee saw that she had a smear of red on one side of her face. She must have absently rubbed her hand against her cheek.

“Her name’s Kris, and she has reindeer,” Gideon said. “Like Old Man Winter’s but she said they weren’t magical.”

“But they were HUGE!” Kaylee added. “And friendly!”

“And she’s friends with Brynna and Pavel,” Lily said.

“She said she was staying with them until her house was built,” Zoey said. “She’s building a house and something else in that empty lot that we found on the first day!”

“Wow, you guys had an adventure already!” Molly said, handing them each a cookie. “I wonder how the calendar will top that!”

“Let’s find out!” Gideon said, and they all clustered around the calendar.

The little cat woke up and stretched, then trotted into the next room.
This room was a bathroom, with a large old-fashioned claw-footed tub and a large sink. There was a curtain that probably hid the toilet. The cat jumped up and into the tub.

“I hope there’s no water in there!” Zoey giggled.

Why? I like baths, Schrodinger said.

But it wasn’t water droplets that splashed up from the tub, but smoke, rising up to form the words, “Let’s make this place festive!” As the smoke fell on the tub and sink, garlands seemed to wrap up and around, bringing holiday cheer even in to the smallest corner. Then the smoke came arrowing out of the calendar and zipped by them out of the kitchen.

They followed it out to the front of the store, where DC was waiting. Then the smoke formed into new letters: “Can you do the same?”

“We can!” Gideon said. “DC, are you decorating the windows?”

“I am!” the clerk said, grinning at them all. “Did you guys want to help me?”

“Oh yes!” They all nodded eagerly.

“Well, Ruth gave us all this stuff,” DC said. “Let’s see what we can do!”

(advent) Tuesday, December 4

Molly sipped her first cup of Christmas tea and contemplated her kitchen. The rest of the house was quiet; she was the first up, as usual, and CrossCat Farm was on the outskirts of the Cove, with their nearest neighbor over a mile away. Hardly anything broke the stillness, especially in the winter.

She’d left Drew and Schrodinger asleep in the bedroom, slipping from the warm flannel sheets to pad quietly down the long staircase to her sanctuary. Now she sat at the large table, her ceramic mug warming her hands, and tried to imagine how much different it would be if she did turn it into a commercial kitchen.

It wasn’t as big a leap for the farm kitchen as it would have been for her apartment. There, she’d been constrained by what additions or modifications she was able to make, as the apartment had been rented. And renting a store front had been out of her price range, even in the Cove. But now…

We had the water and sewer tested when we bought the farm, and it was only a few years ago, she mused, her gaze wandering over the gleaming steel of her large refrigerator and freezer. I’d have to call Bear to have him schedule the inspection, but that’s easy enough. And then I wouldn’t have to worry about days off or anything like that.

It was a very tempting thought. Over the last few months, given the changes that would be coming in the new year, she had been considering what she wanted to do with her life. While she loved running the cafe in her aunt’s bookstore, Molly had to admit that she was becoming bored with things.

Too much of a good thing, perhaps, she thought, taking another sip. Her favorite tea was flavored with marzipan, cloves, and cinnamon, a blend that she bought from a custom vendor. It had always said Christmas to her, bringing her back to when she was a child, and her great-aunt’s kitchen. Aunt Evelyn had been her grandmother’s cousin, actually, but Molly had always called her Aunt. It was Evelyn who had recognized her talents as a kitchen witch, and had taught her how to make homemade candy and chocolates.

I haven’t done anything with marzipan in a long time, Molly thought now. Perhaps I should change that.

She set her mug on the table and moved over to the large bookcase on the far wall. Drew had built it for her the past summer, surprising her for her birthday. Now it held the treasures of her kitchen: the various cook books inherited and found over her life. She ran one fingertip over the spines, enjoying the feeling of leather and paper, imagining that the recipes nestled inside were whispering to her. The book she was looking for was on the second shelf, a book thickened by years of use near a hot stove and hot water. Her Aunt Evelyn’s candy journal, the recipes tried and tested, written in black ink in a spidery hand. It had come to Molly after Evelyn’s death, along with her other cookbooks, but she hadn’t thought of it in years.

Now she went back to the table and began to leaf through, letting the scents of vanilla and cocoa and almond fill her nose. She still needed to come up with a centerpiece for the bake sale on Friday, after all.

By the time Schrodinger and Drew had staggered into the kitchen looking for tea and breakfast, Molly had drawn up her plans and was on her third cup of tea.

Drew dropped a kiss on the top of her hair. “Good morning, beautiful. What are you working on?”

“Bake sale stuff,” Molly replied, smiling up at him. “I think I know what the centerpiece will be.” She showed him the notes she’d been taking.

“Let me get tea before I try and make sense of that,” Drew said, and she laughed.

Tea, Schrodinger said. Earl Grey, hot. He had managed to jump up into his chair at the table, but his green eyes were still at half-mast. He was definitely not a morning person.

“Yes, captain,” Drew said, putting hot water in the large cappuccino mug the CrossCat preferred. He refilled Molly’s mug as well. “What were you thinking of for breakfast, light of my life?”

“I wasn’t, actually,” she admitted. “Do you have a preference?”

Instead of answering, Drew went and opened the refrigerator. “Well, we’ve got eggs and spinach,” he said. “Do we have any of that fresh mozzarella left?”

“I don’t remember,” Molly said. “If we do, it’s in the cheese drawer.”

He rummaged. “Yep, I found it. And you made pizza dough.”

“Yes, I did,” she said, frowning. “What does that have to do with breakfast?”

Drew gathered up his supplies and went over to the oven. “You can’t tell me you’ve never had breakfast pizza before.”

“Okay, I won’t tell you that, even though it’s true.”

Breakfast…pizza? Schrodinger’s eyes opened a bit more. He adored anything pizza-related.

“It’s how I got through the Gate Academy,” Drew said. “If it could go on a pizza crust, it did. We would go to my aunt’s house once a week and make enough pizza to last us through. Of course, we didn’t have the amazing crust that Molly makes, but I have to admit that I lived on them for three years.”

Thirty minutes later, Molly and Schrodinger looked admiringly at the bubbling masterpiece that Drew set in the middle of the table. He’d partially baked the crust, then laid out sliced tomatoes and shredded spinach instead of sauce. Over that, he’d layered fluffy soft scrambled eggs and slices of freshly-cooked ham, and then he’d put it in the oven to finish. Right before he took it out, he added the fresh mozzarella on top.

“Wow,” Molly said, inhaling the scents. “I would have never thought of this.”

Brilliant, Schrodinger said. Truly inspired.

Once she’d bit into her first piece, Molly had to agree. “I think we need to do this more often.”

After a leisurely breakfast, they cleaned up the kitchen together, and then Drew dropped Molly and Schrodinger off at the bookstore on his way to work. “You’re all set with a ride home, right?” he said, leaning out of the window to get a last kiss.

“Yes,” Molly assured him. “Aunt Margie said she’d take us home.” She kissed him. “Don’t work too hard today.”

“Hah, tell Mal that,” Drew said. “You either.”

“Tell Aunt Margie that,” Molly said, and then stepped back towards the store as he drove off. It was snowing lightly off and on, not really hard, but as if it couldn’t make up its mind. The snowflakes against her skin felt like faery kisses.

“Come on, Schrodinger,” she said. “We need to go get marzipan before we go into the kitchen.”

Marzipan? For what? He followed her down the street towards the Merchant’s Square. There was a specialty food store that had come into the Cove over the summer, and Molly knew they’d have what she needed.

Ryder’s Recipes was brightly lit and smelled like chocolate as they stepped into the building, and Molly inhaled happily. Before Ryder had come to the Cove, Molly had had to go to Portland for a lot of the things she couldn’t or didn’t want to make. This was so much more convenient.

Ryder himself, a very tall and thin man with the most luxuriant mustache Molly had ever seen, was behind the counter, chatting with one of her other favorite people.

Captain Brynna Stormsdottir had retired to Carter’s Cove three years earlier, when her father had passed away and she and her son Pavel reconnected. Now, Brynna and her husband Paul were the unofficial grandparents to most of the children in Carter’s Cove, and no small amount of the young adults.

Brynna! Schrodinger bounced up to her, his eyes alight. Is Pavel back yet?

She smiled indulgently down at him. “He is, in fact. Heart’s Desire came back in last night, and he should be alive soon.”

Yay!

“So tell me, do you have an Advent calendar this year?” Brynna asked.

Oh yes! But we’re not sure from who, Schrodinger said.

At Brynna’s look, Molly explained about the odd circumstances around the calendar.

“But who would steal an Advent calendar?” Brynna said, when the recital was done.

“That’s our question too,” Molly said, then turned to Ryder. “Do you have marzipan? In bulk?”

“How much bulk are we talking?” he asked her, raising one eyebrow.

Molly thought for a moment. “Twenty pounds?”

His jaw dropped. For that matter, so did Brynna’s and Schrodinger’s.

“Twenty…pounds?” Ryder said finally.

“Yes, that should be enough,” Molly said, grinning at his reaction. “I’m making a centerpiece for the bake sale on Friday.”

“Let me look,” Ryder said, disappearing into the back of the store. He came back out five minutes later with a bag.

“You’re in luck,” he said, handing it to her. “I just got in a shipment. Anything else?”

Molly had taken the time while he was looking to gather the rest of the supplies she’d need, and she piled them on the counter. Once she and Schrodinger had paid and said goodbye to Brynna and Ryder, they headed back out to the bookstore.

Normally, Tuesday was her day off, but she’d decided to come in today and let Rose, the young woman who covered her on Tuesdays and Thursdays, cover her on Friday instead. That way, she didn’t have to worry about coming back to the cafe after the bake sale, which was almost guaranteed to wear her out.

Once she’d made sure everyone was taken care of, she went back into the kitchen and began to work on her centerpiece.

By the time the children came in after school, Molly had split the marzipan into several chunks and sculpted the largest into a fireplace. It was drying on the side counter while she worked on other pieces.

“Wow, Molly, what’s that?” Zoey said, as they came in and took their coats off.

“It’s the centerpiece for the bake sale,” Molly said. “I decided to use marzipan this year, and make a Yule log in a fireplace.” She grinned at their looks. “Lily and Kaylee never knew their great-Aunt Evelyn, but I can remember making marzipan candies with her for Christmas when I was your age. And I thought it would be fun.”

“That’s so cool!” Gideon said. “What’s marzipan?”

“It’s almond paste,” Molly said. She broke off pieces of the block in front of her that she hadn’t started shaping yet, and handed it to them.

“It’s sweet!” Lily said.

“It’s like playdoh!” Kaylee said, rolling a bit in her fingers.

“Yes, it is,” Molly agreed. “That’s why I can use it to sculpt things. And everything in this centerpiece will be completely edible. I thought we’d have it Christmas Day for the table.” She looked at Zoey and Gideon. “Since you guys are joining us out at the farm, I thought that would be cool.”

“Oh yes!” they all agreed.

“Now, let’s see what the calendar has in store for you today,” Molly said, dusting the sugar off her hands. She followed the gaggle over to the calendar.

The little cat was waiting for them at the top of the stairs, and now he trotted down jauntily. The room underneath was a bedroom, with a small bed and dresser. It was a little less ornate than some of the other rooms, and Molly guessed it might have been for a servant, but it was still decorated. A little tree was in the corner, decorated with unlit candles and ribbons, and a few little packages were underneath it. One stocking hung from the little fireplace tucked into a corner, and there were a second set of stairs going down. The bed had more ribbons on the top headboard, and a bright patchwork quilt covered the bed.

Wiggling his butt, the cat wormed his way under the bed, and they watched as another present was pushed out the other side. He came out behind it, and proceeded to unwrap it. Smoke rose from the open box and formed the words, “Let there be light.” The candles on the tree began to sparkle, and glow as the smoke swirled around it.

“Wow,” Lily breathed. The smoke dissipated.

“Wait, what’s going on?” Gideon said, frowning. “Is it broken?”

“It didn’t give us anything!” Kaylee said. “What happened?”

They all turned and looked at Molly, who shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know, guys,” she said honestly. “Maybe the people who stole it didn’t finish that room?” Then she looked at the disappointed faces, and said, “Well, you guys will just have to help me today!”

That cheered them up a bit, but Molly felt a faint twinge of worry. Why had the calendar not worked? Or had it, and they just didn’t know? So many questions, and no answers, she thought. I should call Jade later. She might have an idea.

And then the front door opened, and a cheery voice said, “Hello the Bookstore!”

“PAVEL!”

The shout rose from the four children and three animals, and they rushed out the door to tackle the pirate captain, who went down under their enthusiastic greeting. Molly was about to follow when she saw the smoke re-form in the room.

“Don’t you trust me?” it said.