Archive for December, 2010

(advent) December 25 – Christmas Day

December 25

“Merry Christmas!”

The words echoed through the house, pulling Molly from a dream in which she, Schrodinger and Drew were walking down a Road that snaked between brightly lit Christmas trees and mounds of snow. The dream was shattered when nearly 250 lbs of cat, dog and niece landed on her and the bed.

“Aunt Molly, he came, he came!” Lily squealed, and Molly woke up fast.

“He did?”

Yes, Santa came! Schrodinger chimed in, and Jack barked eagerly. Molly’s heart sank, but she grinned nonetheless at the eager faces looking up at her.

“He did, huh? Shall we go see what he left?” She let them pull her from the bed, down the stairs and into the living room, where her parents, Nathan and Corrine, her sister-in-law, were already waiting. Aunt Marge and Uncle Art would be over later, as would her cousins, to share in the massive Christmas dinner Mrs. Barrett had been planning for the last two weeks. Nathan handed her a cup of tea and, when she raised an eyebrow at him, shook his head slightly. No Drew. Molly sighed.

“He’ll be here,” Nathan murmured. “It’s only 6 am, after all.”

“I know,” she said, and then turned to watch Lily and her comrades start to demolish the wall of presents. For the next hour, the air was filled with paper, ribbons and the squeals of delight as presents were opened and toys were played with. Molly got some lovely gifts of her own, but she couldn’t help drifting over to the window every so often and looking out at the falling snow. It was a picture-perfect Christmas Day, except for one thing.

“He’ll be here,” her mother said at one point, and Molly nodded.

“I know. I’m just a little worried.”

Mrs. Barrett refilled Molly’s tea cup and smiled at her. “Of course you are. But don’t worry too much. Drew is a man of his word.”

“That he is,” Molly agreed, and turned resolutely from the window.

But the day wore on, with no Drew. Aunt Marge and Uncle Art showed up, with more bags of presents. Her cousins Debbie and Alicia arrived soon after, bearing not only gifts but more food. And it continued to snow.

The Christmas feast was a miracle of goose, stuffing, mashed potatoes and broccoli. The sideboard groaned under the weight of cakes and cookies, pies and puddings. Molly wondered, as she did every year, whether or not they were feeding an army or just the family.

After dinner, she took a cup of tea, slipped on her coat, and went to sit on the porch and watch the snow fall. Schrodinger joined her, resplendent in his new coat, and together they sat in silence.

You don’t think he forgot, do you? Schrodinger asked softly.

“No, I don’t think so,” Molly said, stroking his head. “I think something happened to delay him. That happens sometimes, with the Gates. Maybe he’ll be back tomorrow.”

Maybe.

And then she heard it, very softly, through the falling snow. Her parents’ road was nearly deserted, and she frowned. “Do you hear that?”

Bells, Schrodinger said after a moment. I hear bells.

Bells they were, and they both watched as a glow appeared down at the end of the lane, cutting through the twilight snowfall. What was coming? A sleigh, Molly realized – and then her brain finally registered what her eyes were insisting she was seeing.

Not horses. Not even Lisa and Neil’s stags. No, pulling the sleigh coming through the snow…

Were reindeer.

“Lily, come quick!” she shouted. “Come and see! Santa is coming!”

Because that’s exactly who it was. And if he wasn’t the real Santa, well, it didn’t matter. He was, as the poem said, “chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,” and Molly, her tea forgotten, tore down the steps and into the lane. Sitting beside Santa was the one Christmas present she’d hoped for.

Drew leapt out of the sleigh before Santa could pull it to a halt and gathered her up in his arms, kissing her face. “I told you I’d be here,” he said between kisses. “It just took me a while.”

Schrodinger jumped into the sleigh and looked at the jolly man in red sitting on the seat. Thank you, Santa, he said. It’s just what I wanted.

Santa smiled at him. “You’ve been a very good boy, Schrodinger,” he said. “This is one present that I truly enjoyed giving.”

Molly, meanwhile, looked up at Drew. “Do you have an envelope for me today?” she said slyly, and he laughed.

“Of course! I promised you an advent calendar, didn’t I? Can’t forget the last day.” He handed her the envelope and she pulled the flap open eagerly.

“Dear Molly, we hope you enjoyed this as much as we did. Love, SA – Drew, Luke and Tom.”

She kissed him again. “This has been the best Christmas ever.” Then she grinned. “So, how are you going to top it next year?”

I hope you’ve enjoyed this story as much as I have. Now, Molly and Drew are united, and it’s Christmas Day. I’ll have some special treats for you all later – including the playlist that the guys gave Molly, which you’ll be able to get on iTunes. And I’ll post the list here too. Merry Christmas, everyone!

(advent) December 24 – Christmas Eve…

December 24

Don’t worry, Molly, he’ll be here.

Molly smiled down at Schrodinger, who was standing next to her as she looked out the window. He had one paw on her leg, and his whole body radiated concern. “I know,” she said, letting the curtain drop. “I was actually looking out for Zette – I wanted to make sure I caught her when she delivers the mail, so I can give her the cookies we baked for her.”

Oh. Good. I didn’t want you to worry. Schrodinger dropped back down and began to wash his paw.

“I’m not.” And she almost believed it. There was a little knot, in the center of her stomach, but she was determined to ignore it. The farmhouse her parents owned was bright and welcoming, warm with the scents of vanilla, cinnamon and pine, all mixed together with the smoke from the fire in the living room fireplace. There would be a buffet spread later, full of all sorts of goodies that she and her sister-in-law and mother had made over the last twenty-four hours, and bottles of her brother’s crisp hard cider. Lily and Jack and Schrodinger were already planning how early they were going to get up the next morning, and Molly looked forward to hearing her father say, as he’d said to her and Nathan every year when they were younger, “Go back to bed, it’s not 6 am yet!”

She looked outside again as she heard something scrape outside, and this time, she saw the mail carrier heading up the front walk. Molly took the brightly-wrapped package from the table next to her, shrugged into her coat, and opened the front door.

“Merry Christmas, Zette!” she said, when the mail carrier mounted the front steps. Her parents had a huge wraparound porch, and this year, it was decorated with snowmen and Christmas greenery.

“Merry Christmas, Molly!” Zette said, smiling up at her. “Have the kids driven you guys nuts yet?”

“They’re working on it,” Molly admitted, offering the package to her. “I don’t think we’ve put Lily and Schrodinger in this many timeouts in a long time.”

Zette’s smiled broadened into a grin as she accepted the package. “I think I know what Santa gets in our house tonight, and thank you! Here, this is for you guys.”

“Did the letter come?” Molly asked, flipping through the envelopes eagerly.

“Of course,” Zette said. “Did you think we would forget?”

Molly squealed as she found the envelope she was looking for. “Thanks, Zette, you’re the best! Have a good Christmas!” She gave the mail carrier a quick hug, and then ran inside. “Lily! Jack! Schrodinger! You have mail!”

The three came tumbling around a corner, all ribbons and ponytails and velvet. “What? Who sent us something?” Lily demanded.

“I don’t know! But it has your names on it!” Molly shed her coat. “Come on into the living room and we’ll read it.”

They ended up snuggled on the sectional, Lily in her lap and Jack and Schrodinger on either side. The large living room was dominated on one side by the large fieldstone fireplace, flanked by built-in bookcases. The other end held the large Christmas tree, surrounded by a literal wall of presents. The sectional hugged one edge of the wall and then curved around towards the fireplace. The tree, decorated with the ornaments Molly’s parents had collected over the years, glowed with multicolored lights. The angel that smiled down from the top of the tree had been made by Molly’s mother when Molly was only Lily’s age.

“Who sent them, Aunt Molly? Who sent us stuff?” Lily asked, looking at the envelopes in her hands.

“Open it and find out,” Molly said. Lily took the envelope and opened it carefully, the tip of her tongue peeking out of the corner of her mouth. She pulled out the letter and handed it to Molly.

“Dear Lily, Jack and Schrodinger,” Molly read. “Thank you so much for your letters! Mrs. Claus and I read them carefully, and then we looked to see how good you’ve been. You’ve been doing very well, but don’t forget to be good tonight too! I have to finish packing my sleigh soon, but I wanted to make sure that I responded to you. Be good, and don’t forget to leave me some of your Aunt Molly’s cookies – they’re so good! Oh, Rudolph asks that you leave him and the other reindeer some carrots too. Can you do that? Thank you, and Merry Christmas! Love, Santa”

Lily laughed and clapped her hands. “Santa did get our letters! He wrote us back! That’s so cool!” She hopped off Molly’s lap. “Come on, guys, we have to go find carrots!”

All three of them tore off towards the kitchen, while Molly laughed. They nearly ran over Nathan as he was coming into the room; he had to twist out of the way to avoid being crashed into. “I take it the letter was a success?” he said, coming in and handing her a glass.

“Completely,” Molly said, taking a sip. Cider bubbled on her tongue. “Oh, this is lovely.”

Nathan was about to answer when they both heard boots, heavy boots, on the porch. Molly’s heart leapt. Was it him? She held her breath as her brother went to answer the door, and when she heard Luke’s voice, she couldn’t help the brief spurt of disappointment that rushed through her. Not Drew.

“Come on in and have a cup,” Nathan was saying, and Molly got up to greet the Gate tech. “I’ve got a fresh batch of cider.”

“I can’t refuse that,” Luke said, giving his shy smile. “Hi, Molly.”

“Hi, Luke,” she said, and then couldn’t help herself. “Drew back yet?”

“Not yet,” he said, and then smiled at her again. “We’re not expecting him until late – he said there was a lot of snow on the Roads. Not surprising, really.”

“No, not really,” Molly agreed, kicking herself. Of course there was snow on the Roads. It was Christmas Eve, after all.

Luke handed her a red envelope. “I was asked to bring this to you, and since that meant I got to see you, well, it wasn’t a hard request.”

“Asked, huh?” Molly arched an eyebrow but accepted the envelope. “By Drew?”

“No, actually,” Luke said. “Tom was supposed to bring this one, but he asked me to do it instead.”

Molly’s other eyebrow rose. “Why? Afraid I might say something to him?”

“No, I think he’s just not ready to admit that he’s lost you.” Luke touched her cheek gently. “I can’t blame him. I’m just a better loser than he is.”

And then he and Nathan went off, leaving her there, holding her envelope and staring after them, her eyes wide.

SA sent her a very special carol. And tomorrow is Christmas Day! Will everything finally be revealed? Will Drew make it in time?

(advent) December 23 – Peace On Earth

It’s a short episode today, sorry – I’m wiped, and Molly’s too worried to do much. But tomorrow, we will have more! I promise!

December 23

Molly? Why are you still up?

Schrodinger came padding out into the living room. Molly was curled up on the sofa under a throw her aunt had crocheted, looking out at the snow falling softly outside. The only light came from the Christmas tree glowing in the corner.

She didn’t answer him, and he came further into the room. Molly?

“Have you ever been to Caledon?” The question was so quiet that he almost missed it.

No. He jumped up onto the couch and curled up in her lap. I haven’t actually traveled that far, but my sire has. Why?

“That’s where they sent Drew,” she said, stroking him almost absently. “I’ve never been there. Did your sire tell you anything about it?”

It was warm when he went, Schrodinger said, after thinking for a few moments. Very green. He said it smelled alive there.

“Drew said they were having issues there, with the Middenfolk.” Molly looked out at the snow again. “I’ve never been to the Midden, either, but I’ve met Middenfolk. They come in to the teashop once in a great while, with lovely tea. I can’t imagine them being trouble – they seem so gentle.”

It’s probably not everyone, Schrodinger said. It’s never a whole people that makes trouble, after all, just certain parts of the population. I’m sure he’s fine.

“I hope so.” They sat and watched the snow fall for a while. Schrodinger knew she’d received an envelope earlier in the day, but he hadn’t seen her open it. For all he knew, it still sat on the table in the dining room.

“No,” she said, responding to his unasked question. “The CD is already in the player.”

What did he send you?

In response, she lifted the remote to the CD player and pressed a button. As the song filled the room, Schrodinger listened to the words and wondered again at how prescient SA was. Then again, if she was right and it was Drew, of course he’d known.

He’ll be back, Schrodinger said, when the song ended. Just like he promised. And he’ll be fine. No one will hurt a Gate tech.

“I hope so.” And she went back to watching the falling snow.

Poor Molly. As you listen, think not only of Drew, but of all the men and women around the world now in dangerous situations. Hopefully, some day, we will all live in peace.

(advent) December 22 – Five golden rings…

December 22

“Schrodinger, hurry up! We want to start!” Sarah called from the tea room, and Molly laughed.

“Go!” she said, shooing the CrossCat off his stool. “I’ll finish these – it sounds like they’re just waiting for you. And you’ve been waiting for this.”

Schrodinger didn’t need much encouragement. He hopped down and shot out of the room like he’d been stung by something. Molly laughed again and turned her attention back to the tea cakes cooling on the rack behind her. She and Schrodinger had been trying to decide how to decorate them, and she still wasn’t sure.

She’d adapted her gingerbread recipe, making it into fluffy cupcake-sized tea cakes, a little spicier and less sweet than normal cupcakes. Now, she chewed on her lower lip as she pondered options. Frost them with a cream cheese frosting? Dust with powdered or cinnamon sugar? Stud with candied orange and lemon and cherries? Decisions, decisions….

“Are you expecting them to do something?” Drew said from behind her. “Like talk, or do tricks? Because if that’s the case, I’m not sure I want to eat them, and they look really tasty.”

“I hope not,” Molly said, turning around and grinning. “Because then I think I’d be violating a bunch of international laws. Isn’t there something about not selling sentient beings?”

“You’ve made sentient cupcakes?” he asked, coming around the island and pulling her into his arms. “I’ve fallen in love with a goddess!”

She laughed. “Hardly. Just a kitchen witch.” His words made her glow within. “I’m trying to decide how to decorate them.”

Drew dropped a light kiss on her upturned lips. “What flavor?”

“Gingerbread.” Molly wanted to just melt into his arms, but she knew she had work to do and, sighing, extricated herself. “I’m torn between dusting with cinnamon sugar and frosting with cream cheese.”

He frowned at the cupcakes. “I dunno, the cream cheese frosting sounds good, but a bit heavy.”

“That’s what I was thinking.”

“What about the icing that you did on the gingerbread men?” he suggested, and Molly blinked.

“I hadn’t even considered that,” she said, tilting her head to one side as she thought. “That could work.”

Moving almost on auto-pilot, she went into the pantry, leaving him to watch her. “Would you like some tea?” she called out, almost as an afterthought. “The kettle’s hot.”

“No, I don’t have much time today, sadly,” Drew said, and Molly stuck her head back out, raising an eyebrow at him. “I’m heading out for a few days – gotta go fix a Gate near Caledon.”

“But Friday’s Christmas Eve!” she said. “I was hoping…” And then she bit her lip and stopped.

“Hey, hey, hey, don’t look like that.” Drew came into the pantry and slipped his arms around her. “You spend Christmas Eve with your family, right? Do you think they’d mind me crashing there?”

Since she’d already checked with her mother, Molly could shake her head. “Of course not. They already invited you.”

“Good.” He kissed her on the top of her head. “Then I’ll head out now, and I’ll see you Christmas Eve.”

Molly gave him a sideways look. “Having left tomorrow’s SA gift with one of your co-conspirators?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Drew said innocently, but there was a sparkle in his eyes.

“Sure you don’t,” Molly said, her lips twitching into a smile against her will. Then she sighed. “Be careful?”

“I will. It should be a fast fix. Some idiot got it stuck in the open position, and they’ve been having issues with the Middenfolk, so it needs to be closed.” He kissed her gently again. “I promise, I’ll be back on Christmas Eve.”

“You’d better.” Molly gave in and hugged him fiercely. “We’ll both be looking for you. Be careful.”

“I will. And maybe I’ll find something for your Christmas present there.”

“You’re the only Christmas present I want,” she said, and hugged him again.

One more kiss, and he was gone. Molly stood in the pantry and watched him go, then noticed the package on the table. On top of it was the familiar red envelope.

“This is my favorite Christmas movie ever, Molly. I hope you and Schrodinger enjoy it. SA”

(advent) December 21 – Chestnuts roasting on an open fire….

December 21

Molly stepped outside and breathed in deeply. The icy scent of snow and evergreens and the sea flooded her lungs, giving her a blast of energy that she never tired of. In the Cove, the combination of Roads and the sea gave the air a fresh scent that she didn’t notice in other towns. Maybe it’s the magic, she thought once again. It was the only answer she could come up with. After all, the folks of the Cove had cars; not that many of them used them in town, true, but they were there.

Then again, in what other town would you see things like that on a regular basis? She watched as Lisa and Neil Jackson swept by in their sleigh, gliding over the icy paving stones, pulled by two of the stags from the herd they kept on their farm. The pale white deer looked like snow ghosts as they trotted down the lane, heading into the downtown area. Waving to Lisa, Molly made a mental note to package up some more of the gingerbread men and send them off to the farm; the kids would love them. And she’d include some of the doggie cookies too, for Tigger, yet another of Schrodinger’s friends.

“I love this town,” she said out loud, shifting her backpack to her left shoulder. “I don’t think I could live anywhere else.”

Schrodinger was upstairs, sleeping – she’d left without him, telling him that she couldn’t very well Christmas shop for him if he was right with her. Her plan had been to borrow her Aunt Marge’s car and drive into Portland, but Molly found herself loathe to drive on this perfect morning. Instead, she walked by the Bookstore and into the very center of town, where it looked like Christmas had exploded all over everything. She’d been so busy with the bookstore that this was her first trip into the center square, and she paused at the edge of it, fascinated.

Carter’s Cove had a few different “town squares” – the one with the Town Hall and the Courthouse was a few streets over, but the acknowledged center of town was called Captain’s Square, and was where the shops held sway. In the center, there was a large statue of a centaur, looking out over the buildings: a monument to Calypso, one of the first sea captains after Captain Carter to sail into the Cove. She and her crew had helped explore the Sea Road to one of the Eastern Kingdoms, bringing back tea and silk to the Cove. Spider silk, too – Molly’s mother had a beautiful spider silk tapestry from one of Calypso’s last voyages hanging in her office. Now, Calypso’s statue was wreathed in greenery, with small white lights twinkling in between the leaves. At her feet, eight small trees, lit with the same lights, marked off the cardinal points of the compass. Each tree, Molly knew, would be decorated in a different way, signifying the eight pagan holidays in the Wheel of the Year.

The stores themselves had gone all out too, in an effort to spread Christmas cheer. Instead of the canned Christmas music that most of the regular stores offered during the season (starting in October, which Molly detested), the stores in Captain’s Square didn’t decorate until the weekend after Thanksgiving, and many used the music of local Minstrels or bands, recorded and played via a simple cantrip. Some even had the players themselves in. Molly smiled and looked around, plotting her trip.

She needed more stuff for Schrodinger, and her parents, and her brother, who was due back Christmas Eve. And she wanted to get some special tins for the Gate techs who had made her Christmas so special already.

Thinking about that made her recall the conversation with Tom the other day, and she sighed. I hope we can still be friends, Molly thought, heading into the first store on her list.

Home for All was the Cove’s answer to the Blue Seal stores Molly had seen elsewhere, but Julia Kasey, who ran the store, had refused repeated offers to franchise, for the simple reason that Blue Seal couldn’t get all of the stuff she needed.

“They just don’t cater to the clients I have,” she’d said one time to Molly. “I mean, CrossCats are just the beginning. Have you seen what manticores eat?”

“Who has a manticore in the Cove?” Molly had asked. “I want to know to avoid their place.”

Julia had laughed. “It’s a special order – one of the dwarven enclaves along the Stone Road have two. Apparently they’re very good at sniffing out precious metals. They order twice a month.”

Home for All also carried the special treats that Schrodinger adored. Molly also had ordered, through Julia, a new coat for the CrossCat, since his old one had started to get a bit worn. She’d gotten the text that it was in the day before.

“Hello!” she called out, stepping into the store. The scents of apples and cloves hit her nostrils; Julia had a crockpot of mulled cider on a small table near the door, with cups and a sign inviting her to help herself. Molly did, then went into the back, where she found Julia packing up something that looked like grain feed.

“It is,” she said, when Molly asked her. “Sometimes I do sell the stuff for Earth animals, after all.” She stood up, dusted her hands off, and added, “You in for your order?”

“Yes,” Molly said, and followed her to the counter, where Julia pulled out a large parcel. Molly opened it eagerly, and then sighed. “Oh, it’s perfect.”

Julia grinned. “Awesome.” The super-soft material, like flannel but waterproof, was hand-woven in one of the smaller villages off the main Sea Road. This one was varied shades of blue and green, which would look stunning against Schrodinger’s mackerel-grey stripes. Molly packed it away in her backpack, along with the treats, and then headed out after a few more moments of chatting.

Her next stop was the Tin Shop – a lovely little store that specialized in boxes, tins and all sorts of containers. Here, she picked out some specialty tins for cookies, and then made her way up to the counter.

“Hi Molly!” Catherine Taylor came out of the back room. “Find everything you need?”

Molly nodded. “Just these today, but I need to talk to you about a mass order for Valentine’s Day. I have a feeling I’m going to have a run of orders for chocolate raspberry truffles and chocolate strawberries.”

“Oooh, put me down for a tin now!” Catherine said, laughing. “How many do you want?”

They firmed up the order, and then Molly went to pay for the tins. Catherine shook her head. “Nope, you’re all set.”

“Excuse me?” Molly said, confused.

“You’re all set,” Catherine repeated, bagging up the tins. And then she handed Molly the bag, and a small red envelope with a package attached to it. “Apparently, someone anticipated your need.”

Molly raised an eyebrow, but opened the envelope. “Dear Molly, I know you’ll need more tins, so these are on me. Now, go and make a special treat for yourself and Schrodinger. SA”

She then looked at the package, and laughed. “Chestnuts. Of course.”

I adore this version. Sadly, they didn’t have the Carol Burnett version that I have, but this one is good too.

(advent) December 20 – Starting to figure it out….

December 20

Molly looked out over the packed tea room and sighed. Not surprisingly, the bookstore had been rocking all day; it was only 5 days until Christmas, and no one was immune to the last minute Christmas panic. Molly herself still had a few things to buy, but figured she’d hit the stores on Tuesday. She needed to finish filling Schrodinger’s stocking, and she wanted to get something special for SA. Especially since she was pretty damn sure she now knew who he was.

Behind her, the oven timer dinged. Normally, Molly didn’t even bother with the timer, but her senses were a bit overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people surging in and out of her domain. Now, she turned to the oven and pulled out yet another tray of gingerbread men to add to the army marching around the kitchen. One more tray was waiting to go in; she put them in the oven, reset the timer, and then went into the pantry for icing supplies.

When she came out, Tom was waiting in the kitchen for her. Molly had heard the footsteps and her heart had swelled a bit; when she saw who it was, she couldn’t help but feel a little spurt of disappointment. Then reminded herself that Drew had to work, after all. She couldn’t expect him to dance attendance on her all the time.

“Hi,” she said, smiling. “How’s it going?”

“Good.” Tom looked a bit ill at ease, and Molly’s smile slipped. “Molly, can we talk?”

“We are talking,” she said, putting the supplies down on the island and moving to the sink. “What’s on your mind?”

He hesitated, watching her draw a glass of water, then said, “I want to talk to you about us. And about your secret admirer.”

“We’re friends,” Molly said, coming back over to the island and setting the water down. She poured powdered sugar and meringue powder into the bowl, then began adding water and beating it.

“I want us to be more than friends.”

She sighed, not stopping. “I’m not sure that’s possible anymore, Tom. You’re not going to change, and I can’t live with your weird silences. You lost your chance to let me in.” Molly didn’t look at him. “I’m happy with being friends. I like you. I even love you, but I’m realizing that it’s like a sister loves a brother. Not like a girlfriend.”

“And there’s nothing I can do to change that?” Tom’s voice was strained, a little desperate.

“No.” Molly finally looked up at him. “You had your chance, Tom. I’m sorry. I can’t go through that again.” She picked up the red food coloring and dripped six drops into the frosting. “Please don’t ask me to.”

“You know that Drew will be gone, just like I was.”

“Yes, I do.” She stopped and stared steadily at him. Not angry, she realized; there was no anger left in her. “But I don’t think Drew will vanish when he’s NOT being sent out to fix a Gate or find a traveler and think I won’t figure it out.”

Tom had the decency to flush at that. “It wasn’t what you were thinking.”

“How could I know that, Tom? You never told me anything. And then that girl called. And you wouldn’t talk about it. What was I supposed to think?” Molly took a second bowl and began again, making green icing. “But it doesn’t matter now, whoever she is. I don’t really care anymore. I’m just not going to let you into our lives like that.”

“I don’t know if I can be just friends, Molly.” Tom began walking up and down behind the island.

“I’m sorry, then. I’ll miss you.” She mixed up a third bowl of icing and left it white, then she pulled out three pastry bags from the drawer in the island.

“Molly, please, give me another chance.” Tom put his hand over hers. “Please.”

“No.” She pulled her hand away. “I’m sorry. I can’t.”

“I agreed to this scheme because I thought it would give me a chance to win you back, Molly. I was hoping for a Christmas miracle.” He stopped then, as she stared at him.

“Agreed to what scheme?” She had a sinking suspicion that she knew what he meant, and it gave an edge to her voice.

He shook his head, and stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Never mind. It was stupid. Forget I said anything.” Then, before she could say anything else, Tom fled the kitchen.

Molly watched him go, her mind whirling. It wasn’t too hard to guess what he’d meant by “scheme.” But if he’d been only a part…She shook her head and filled the pastry bags. She’d know everything by Friday.

Schrodinger came trotting in about thirty minutes later, carrying a red envelope in his mouth. He waited until she laid down the icing bag and then put his front paws on her leg, offering the envelope to her.

“Well, well, well. Let’s see what SA sent today.” Molly slipped her finger under the flap and opened the envelope. The CD and scrap of paper came out, along with another ornament. This one was delicate brass, and it shimmered in the light.

“Oh, how pretty,” Molly breathed, enchanted in spite of herself. It was a triskelion, and each arm was etched with fancy Celtic knotwork. She laid it down gently on the island and looked at the note.

“Dear Molly, I’m hoping this is a symbol of what we have before us. A love that lasts forever. But even if not, this Christmas season has been a magical one. Thank you. SA”

Fun stuff. And hmmm, what could Tom have meant?

(advent) December 19 – More Schrodinger!

December 19

Molly was singing in the kitchen. Schrodinger lay on his cat bed in the tea room, in front of the gas fire, and listened to her. When she was happy, he was happy. And she was most definitely happy today.

This had been the first Snow Queen’s Ball Schrodinger had attended, although he’d heard stories of them before. Everyone who traveled the Roads near Carter’s Cove had heard stories of the famous ball, and his uncle had actually lived in the Winter Palace for a few years. He thought about last night, especially how Molly had danced and danced, her face alight with enjoyment, and how beautiful the music had been. There had even been a few other CrossCats there, and he’d gotten to get some news from home. His sister had had another litter. Schrodinger wondered if he should try and get back to the Lair for a few days. Maybe after the new year. Once I’m sure Molly’s all set.

She and Drew had stayed up late, so the fact that she was singing in the kitchen was a bit amazing to him. He’d gone to bed when they’d come in from the dance, but they had stayed up, dancing and drinking tea in the kitchen, until the wee hours. In fact, he wasn’t sure she’d actually slept at all. She’d woken him up at 5:30 am and they’d done breakfast together, then come down to the store.

Now, Schrodinger wondered what would happen next. He liked Drew. But there was still the problem – was Drew SA? Or was SA someone else? If he was someone else, would Molly still choose Drew? Schrodinger heaved a sigh.

That’s an awfully heavy sigh, another voice said, and Schrodinger looked up as a large black dog, with an adorable four-year-old girl in tow, came ambling over to him. He willingly moved over to let Jack flop down with him on the bed – Aunt Marge had invested in the large sizes, so there was plenty of room for all three of them. Lily laid down between the two of them, snuggling in.

“What’s wrong, Schrodinger?” she asked, stroking his soft head. “You shouldn’t look this sad.”

Not sad, Schrodinger said. A little worried, though.

Why? Jack asked. It’s nearly Christmas.

I know, and I’ve been good, so I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about Molly. He told them about SA, and the cards with the Christmas carols, and the three Gate techs. So I’m worried that she won’t want to choose SA, or that somehow, we’ve messed it up, he finished, putting his head on his front paws. What if this isn’t something Santa wanted them or us to do? What if SA is someone else completely, and it’s not someone good for her?

“Then she won’t choose him,” Lily said, with complete confidence. “She’s good like that.”

Besides, do you really think Santa won’t have been keeping a close eye on this? Jack added. He’s SANTA. And he rules December. You know that.

Not really, Schrodinger said. This is my first Christmas here. CrossCats don’t celebrate Christmas.

“Really?” Lily looked at him. “What do they celebrate?”

Winter Solstice, he said. We light a fire in the morning, and keep it lit all through the day and night, so the sun will come back. There are presents given, at the end of the day, but not from Santa. From family and friends.

“Sounds like our home,” she said. “Mommy and Daddy have been very busy, getting the house ready. Grandma and Grandpa are coming up, and it’s very cool! Mommy’s in now, getting some last Christmas presents.” She leaned in and whispered, “I think she’s getting Grandpa another book. And some tea.”

Molly said she was ordering cookies too, Schrodinger said. Special ones, but she wouldn’t tell me what kind.

Lily squealed and clapped her hands together, while Jack thumped his tail. Molly’s cookies are the best!

Schrodinger was about to respond, when he saw Aunt Marge go into the kitchen. In her hands was a familiar red envelope, and he sighed again.

What? Jack said.

What if she’s not happy with who SA is? Schrodinger asked. What if he breaks her heart? What if…

Jack thumped his tail again, cutting Schrodinger off. You can play the what-if game all you want, and make yourself crazy, he advised. Or you can enjoy the season and trust that Santa has everything well in hand. I suggest the second alternative.

You are wise, Schrodinger agreed. I think—

An absolute squeal of glee cut through his thought, and all three of them looked to the kitchen. Schrodinger could just barely see Molly, who was spinning around, clutching something in her hands. Let’s go see what that is!

They all bounded into the kitchen, and arranged themselves around Molly. “What is it?” Lily asked, looking up. “Did you get a good present?”

“I did!” Molly said, laughing at the hopeful faces in front of her. “Would you guys like a cookie, and then I’ll share it?”

“Yes!” Three voices chorused, and Aunt Marge, who had moved to the side of the kitchen when they tumbled in, laughed as well. Molly turned and took three sugar cookies, sparkling with icing and colored sugar, from the rack behind her and presented it to the three. Once they were settled, she picked up the envelope she’d set down and opened it again.

“Look,” she said, pulling out the most glorious snowflake Schrodinger had ever seen. Obviously magic, it shimmered and glowed in her hand. “SA sent me one of the Snow Queen’s own snowflakes for our tree! Isn’t it amazing?”

It was. The Snow Queen very rarely gave away her snowflakes, and those who got them rightfully treasured them. This was very old magic, Schrodinger knew; to enlarge a single snowflake, then make it eternal. Molly had been given an amazing gift.

Jack nudged Schrodinger and said quietly, I don’t think you have anything to worry about. The Snow Queen and Santa are very close, and this proves that she, at least, approves. She always knows who gets her snowflakes.

True.

“What does the note say?” Aunt Marge asked.

“Dear Molly, thank you for the dance. It was as wonderful as I could have hoped. You were beautiful. Here’s something to remember the night by. SA.” Molly looked up, her eyes shining. “As if I could ever forget it.”

Here’s the song SA sent Molly today, along with the magical snowflake.

(advent) December 18 – the Snow Queen’s Ball!

Also, for those not on my Twitter or Facebook feed, I have decided to make the Advent Story available after Christmas as an ebook (once I do some editing, because I want to make the story even better). If there is enough interest, I might also make it available on Lulu.com for print editions.

That being said, let’s get on with the next episode!

December 18

Molly took a deep breath and looked down at her date. “Ready, Schrodinger?”

I was born ready. The CrossCat rubbed a paw on his black bow tie and then stretched. Let’s go astonish them with our elegance.

Elegant was not how Molly was feeling. Terrified was more like it. She reached up to touch her hair, hoping the intricate braiding hadn’t already started to fall, and the subtle scent of starflowers wafted over her. Once again, she looked at the corsage Drew had sent to her, and wondered just what she was getting into.

He hadn’t delivered it – Father Christopher had, explaining that the tech had been so busy at the station that he hadn’t been able to get away. “Besides,” the priest had said, smiling, “I had another present for you as well.”

That had been another red envelope, of course, containing a lovely version of the Christmas Waltz and the simple words, “I hope you’ll dance with me tonight.” Molly wondered, for the nth time, if she was right in thinking who her secret admirer was. He wouldn’t admit it, not even tonight – not until Christmas, she knew. But dammit, if it wasn’t who she thought….

“Enough,” she said out loud, smoothing the front of her dress. “It’s just my friends out there.”

Well, no, technically, it’s the entire town, plus whoever else the Snow Queen decided to invite, Schrodinger said helpfully. But most of them like you. At least, the ones that know you.

“You aren’t helping, Cat,” she said, picking up the edges of her skirts. She really had gone all out on her dress, and moving in it over the packed snow was interesting, to say the least. At least she’d gotten sensible flats to wear with it. Not that anyone would see her shoes, not with the floor-length skirts. Skirts that shimmered with the palest blue and silver beads she’d ever seen, which had drawn Molly to the dress in the first place. It was so far outside of what she normally wore that she felt like a different person, standing in the snow outside the glade where the Snow Queen held her annual ball.

Molly didn’t know the Snow Queen’s name – she had only ever met her at the ball, although her Aunt Marge sometimes sent books to the Winter Palace, along one of the more stable Roads up into the mountains of the Winter Kingdom. But every year, on the Saturday night before Christmas, the Snow Queen set up a magical circle in a large glade in the forest outside of the Cove proper, and threw a ball. The town’s oldest residents said it was to thank the Cove for keeping her Kingdom safe during the Second World War, but Renae, the librarian, had told her there had been a winter party like this since the beginning of the town. Perhaps Captain Carter had done a service to the Queen. Likely Molly would never know.

One more deep breath, and she moved forward, Schrodinger pacing her as she stepped through the trees and into an immense clearing that only appeared this one night. The floor was snowy marble, not slick but terribly pale, and tall pine trees ringed the room. Although the night sky ablaze with stars was the only ceiling, the ambient temperature in the room was pleasant, and Molly slipped off her wrap without a thought, handing it to one of the silent butlers that stood by the door. The room was lit enough that people were clearly visible, but nothing dimmed the stars above. The air was redolent with pine and the crisp, clear scent of snow.

“Holy shit. That is definitely NOT a Molly dress.”

Molly turned and grinned at the Terrible Trio, and then did a full spin. Carefully, so she didn’t end up stepping on the small train. “I told you I went all out.”

“It’s strapless. And has a train. And holy shit, Molly, where did you find it?” Lai circled her, looking amazing herself in a little black dress that shimmered in the light.

“You look like a faery princess,” Sue told her, glowing in her own dark crimson dress. “If SA doesn’t fall at your feet…”

“I think all three of them will be falling at her feet,” Noemi said, adjusting the sleeve of her blue bolero jacket and nodding over Molly’s left shoulder. “If they can move.”

Molly turned and saw what she was looking at. Drew, Tom and Luke were standing by themselves in a group, staring back at her with dropped jaws. She smiled sweetly and waved, then turned back to her friends before she started laughing at them. “I guess the dress worked,” she said, more than a little smugly.

“I think that’s a yes.” Lai linked arms with her and they went off, Schrodinger trailing behind them. The Terrible Trio had snagged one of the tables scattered around the edge of the room, but Molly barely had time to take a glass of champagne from one of the waiters before Luke showed up.

“Can I have this dance?” he asked, and before she could answer, he’d spun her out onto the floor.

The night passed in a blur for Molly. She went from partner to partner, swirled in a froth of white silk and music. Drew, Luke and Tom all paid close court, but it wasn’t until the next to last dance, which Father Christopher claimed her for, that she remembered SA’s note.

“I wonder who he is,” she said. “I’ve danced with so many tonight – I hope he got his dance.”

Father Christopher smiled. “I think he’s waiting for a special song.”

“Well, he doesn’t have too much time left,” Molly said. “The last dance is very soon.” She looked over where the Snow Queen sat on her icy throne, her pale eyes watching the circling dancers. “She’ll make the call soon.”

“Will you throw your shoe in?” Father Christopher asked her.

“I won’t have much of a choice,” she said, laughing a little. “Even if I claim exhaustion, no one will let me sit the Cinderella dance out.”

The final dance of the Snow Queen’s Ball was always the Cinderella dance. Every single female in the room put one of her shoes in a large pile in the middle of the dance floor, and then the men in the room each took one. Even the Snow Queen herself would put a shoe in. It was said that good luck was bestowed on the lucky man who danced the final dance with her. If she liked him, she would give him a kiss, which would turn into a shining silver coin if he didn’t wash his face until morning. If she really liked him, it was said, she would grant him a single favor for the next year. Molly had seen her kiss several men, but never whisper to any, in the years she’d been going to the ball. She wondered who would be lucky enough to dance with the Snow Queen tonight.

When the song ended, the Snow Queen lifted her hands. The music stopped, and she stood up. Everyone turned to see what she would say.

“My friends, thank you once again for helping me to grace the Yule season with music and dance,” the Queen said, her sweet voice carrying throughout the room. She looked maybe seventeen, although Molly knew she was older. Perhaps immortal, even; the Snow Queen was definitely not human, although whether she was truly the Spirit of Winter, like some said, was questionable. “As is custom, the final dance will be the Cinderella dance. Ladies?”

And she stepped down from her throne, glided to the middle of the floor like a swan on a glassy lake, and lifted her pale skirts to kick one delicate shoe off. Every woman followed suit, and Molly could only wonder who would pick up her white ballet flat. She retreated back to the table and sat down, looking out over the crowd.

Once the ladies had all retreated, there was a large pile of shoes waiting in the middle of the dance floor. Then the gentlemen all went in, each grabbing a shoe. For a few moments, there was a bit of milling about, as they tried to find out who had the mate to the shoe in their hands.

Molly watched Tom approach, but the white shoe in his hand had a kitten heel and she shook her head. Luke followed him, but the delicate crystal shoe in his hands was far too small to fit on Molly’s foot. She shook her head again and pointed to the throne. “I think you’re a lucky man, Luke.”

His shoulders actually sagged for a minute. “I’d rather it be you,” he said, then turned and walked up to the throne. The Snow Queen held out her foot, and he slipped the shoe on, smiling up at her.

“Lucky bastard,” Molly heard, and turned to see Drew standing beside her. He wasn’t looking at Luke, though – he was looking at her, and the white ballet flat peeking out from under her skirts. He held its mate in his hands, and knelt down, slipping his hand under her skirt to draw out her bare foot. His fingers skimmed along her calf as he did so, and Molly caught her breath at the sensations. Then, once the shoe was on, he stood up and offered her his hand.

Tonight, he’d traded in his normal blue jeans and simple teeshirts for a suit and jacket in dark blue. As they took their places on the floor, Drew set one hand on her waist, and took her hand with his other. She placed her hand on his shoulder. And, as always, the band started to play the Christmas Waltz.

“I’m glad you saved me a dance,” he murmured, and Molly’s lips quirked in a smile.

“I saved you several,” she said.

“I know.” They danced in silence for a few more measures, her head resting on his chest, his cheek against her curls. She’d lost most of the sparkling stars the hairdresser had put in, but, true to the woman’s claims, the elaborate braiding hadn’t moved all night.

For Molly, the rest of the dancers on the floor vanished. It was just her and Drew, moving in the ancient steps of the waltz as the musicians played their hearts out. And as they danced, she realized two things. One, how safe she felt, cradled in his embrace.

And two, just how far her heart had gone.

She didn’t hear the music stop. Neither did Drew, apparently, because they continued to dance until someone tapped him on the shoulder. Then they both jumped, because there stood the Snow Queen.

“I’m sorry, Your Majesty,” Drew began, but she smiled gently at them.

“Sorry? Why?” she said, shaking her head. “Do not apologize because you have fallen into the spell of the music, young Drew. I just wish we could allow you to dance here all night. But my allotted time is at an end, and I must return to my castle. You can continue to dance, but not here.”

He looked down at Molly, who smiled. “I’ve got a lovely kitchen we can dance in,” she said.

“Then let’s go dance.”

Do you think SA got his dance with Molly? I think so. Only 6 more days until we learn who SA is! Unless you know already….

(writing) Announcing the line up of Spells and Swashbucklers

I am pleased to announce the following line-up for the next pirate anthology from Dragon Moon Press, Spells and Swashbucklers!

In no particular order:

“By Silent Spell” – Danielle Ackley-McPhail
“Tarwell’s Last Day as a Pirate” – Stuart Jaffe
“Vapor Rogues Cycle – Cloud Pirates” – MJ Blehart
“The Vengeance Garden” – Laurel Anne Hill
“Window on the Soul” – Gail Martin
“Anne Bonny’s Child” – Tera Fulbright
“Death Tide” – Jesse L. Cairns
“Enemy of My Enemy” – Susan Isik
“Facing the Wind” – Bernie Mojzes
“Blood of the Hydra” – Chris A Jackson
“Goddess Clause” – ADR Forte
“William Did” – Erik Amundsen
“Running from the Storm” – Kathryn Scannell
“Pinkbeard” – Danny Birt
“The Sorrow Sea” – Robert Waters
“Masked Panama” – Erin Hartshorn

I am very pleased with this line up and hope you will be too!

(advent) December 17 – Finally, someone gets kissed!

December 17

“So, spill it. What time did he leave?”

Molly grinned at Sue, who was perched on one of the stools in the kitchen. “Are you going to be disappointed if I tell you he left around midnight, after helping me frost brownies?”

“Only if you tell me that he didn’t kiss you or anything like that,” Sue said, picking a ripe raspberry from the bowl and popping it in her mouth. “Actually, I won’t be disappointed in you – I’ll be disappointed in him.” She cocked her head at Molly. “So, did he?”

“Well…” Molly said, pretending to concentrate on the frosting she was mixing up. Then she laughed. “Feel free to be disappointed in both of us, because he didn’t. Not a real kiss, that is. I got a very nice kiss on the forehead when he left.”

“What? The forehead?” Sue grabbed another berry and crunched viciously into it. “Bastard.”

“Because he didn’t kiss me?” Molly’s laughter rang out again over the carols playing on the kitchen’s CD player. “Really, Sue, you should be happy he’s a gentleman.”

Sue muttered something that Molly didn’t catch, then sighed. “I suppose you’re right, but dammit, I heard about your performance at the pond. You can’t get more romantic than that. Why didn’t he capitalize on that?”

“Probably because he’s smart enough to know that if he pushes me too far too fast, I’ll shove him off the boat,” Molly said. “You know that. I hate to be pushed like that. Drew’s a gentleman.”

“And you think he’s your secret admirer?”

“I think it’s a very good possibility,” Molly admitted.

“So what if he’s not?” Sue said. “Would you still choose him?”

The question hung in the air between them; Molly didn’t answer, because she wasn’t honestly certain of what she would do if Drew wasn’t SA. What if it was Luke? Or Tom? Or someone else she hadn’t considered? The problem was, every time she started to think like that, her stomach gave an odd little flip. “I don’t know,” she said finally. “Maybe I’m not in love with any of them. Maybe I’m just in love with the idea of a secret admirer. Gods, that would suck, wouldn’t it?”

And then she heard a cough, and both she and Sue looked up to see Luke standing in the doorway. She looked into his eyes and her stomach gave that little flip again, although this time, she wasn’t sure if it was pleasure at seeing him or embarrassment that he’d obviously overheard her. “Hey,” she said, blushing a bit.

Luke chuckled. “Am I welcome here, or intruding?”

“Not intruding.” Molly surrendered to her embarrassment. “Come on in before I stick my foot any further in my mouth.”

“You didn’t, you were being honest,” Luke said, coming in and snagging the other stool. He winked at Sue. “Besides, you didn’t say you weren’t interested. Just that you weren’t sure. Still gives us hope.”

“Are you admitting to something?” Sue demanded.

“Sure. Thinking Molly’s a gorgeous sexy lady.” Luke grinned. “That’s no secret.” When Sue pouted, he laughed. “You aren’t getting me to admit to anything else yet. This little play isn’t done yet, and if I reveal anything too early, I’ll blow the entire story.”

“Are you here to visit or to tease?” Molly asked him, bringing a tray of cooled cupcakes over to the island. She then filled the icing bag and began to pipe little red stars on top of the first cupcake.

“A little of both,” Luke admitted. “I wanted to stop in and see you, and I brought you a present.” He reached down into the bag at his feet and brought out a smallish box. It was about the size of a box one might give a mug or a tea cup in, and Molly’s eyes widened. Her fondness for mugs and cups was well-known. His next words, however, confused her. “I know you have a wreath, and a tree, but I really think you needed this as well. To round out your Christmas decorations.”

Molly and Sue exchanged dubious glances, but Molly put down her icing bag and picked up the box. It was lighter than she’d expected. Curiouser and curiouser. She opened the flap and lifted out…

“A kissing ball!” Sue said, clapping her hands. “Oh, Molly, you have to hang it up!”

“Here?” Molly shot Sue an amused look. “Aunt Marge might not like me letting folks kiss in the kitchen. Never mind what the health department would say.”

“Considering the Health Inspector knows you personally and knows how clean you keep this kitchen, I doubt it’s a problem,” Sue said. “Besides, it’s not like kissing is a dirty habit.”

“No, kissing is definitely not a dirty habit.” Luke took the kissing ball from Molly’s fingers, got up from the stool, walked around the island to stand next to her and held it over her head. “Is it?”

Molly forgot about the cupcakes waiting to be frosted, forgot about Sue sitting on the other side of the island, forgot about everything except the taste of Luke’s mouth on hers as he leaned down and kissed her. Aunt Marge could have marched Carter High’s jazz quartet through the kitchen and she wouldn’t have noticed. Time slowed and then stop as Luke showed her exactly what a gentle, thorough kiss could do to her.

Then he stepped back, handed her the kissing ball and, tipping his cap to both girls, grabbed his bag and left. He nodded to Aunt Marge as he passed her in the doorway.

“Molly?” Aunt Marge looked at her niece closely. “Are you okay?”

Her knees were buckling. Nodding dumbly, Molly sank down onto the stool she’d pushed aside earlier.

Sue laughed. “She’s just been well and truly kissed, Aunt Marge. Give her some time to recover.”

“Ah, he’s a good kisser, then?” Aunt Marge nodded in satisfaction. “Good. That’s important.” She laid down the red envelope she’d carried in and nodded again. “Very important.”

SA is starting to get antsy, I think. And who knows? Maybe Molly will figure it out before he admits who he is.