â€śOh my.â€ť Aunt Janice took a look at the loaded tables in the backyard and blinked. â€śMolly really doesnâ€™t like sending people home less than stuffed, does she?â€ť
â€śSheâ€™s a kitchen witch,â€ť Drew said, laughing. â€śItâ€™s genetic.â€ť
â€śShe would have gotten along so well with Alice,â€ť Aunt Janice said, and Drew saw the shimmer of tears in her eyes at the mention of his mother. She took his arm and squeezed it, adding, â€śSheâ€™d be so proud of you, Drew. They both would be.â€ť
â€śI know.â€ť It seemed inadequate, but he had to say something. â€śI wish they were here.â€ť
â€śThey are,â€ť she said. â€śIn here.â€ť And she touched his chest, right above his heart.
He covered her hand with his own. â€śIâ€™m really glad you and Uncle Larry could come out, Aunt Janice. Iâ€™ve missed you.â€ť
â€śYou should come out and visit sometimes,â€ť she said. â€śBring Molly and Schrodinger. Itâ€™s not as if we donâ€™t have a Gate Station too, even if your uncle hates traveling that way.â€ť
â€śMaybe.â€ť He didnâ€™t want to commit anything yet. â€śWeâ€™ll have to see.â€ť
â€śYou have to face it at some point, Drew.â€ť Aunt Janiceâ€™s voice was gentle. â€śYou canâ€™t run forever. And there are still living people who would like to see you.â€ť
â€śI know,â€ť Drew said. â€śIâ€¦weâ€™ll see.â€ť Then he looked down at her. â€śSo, tell me all the news.â€ť
And she did. He was surprised to learn how many of his old classmates, who had loudly announced at graduation that they couldnâ€™t wait to leave their town, had moved back. Then again, look at the Cove, he thought. How many of them moved back as soon as they could? Maybe Mollyâ€™s right – those born in a CrossRoads town find it hard to leave.
â€śNow, tell me all about your town,â€ť Aunt Janice said, as they collected plates of food. Deprived of the right to cook her own wedding feast, Molly had gone all out on the rehearsal dinner. Theyâ€™d decided to go easy: burgers, hot dogs, BBQ chicken and all the fixings, and Molly had been cooking for the past week in between other things. The rolls were homemade, of course, and so were all the salads.
â€śWell, as you can see, itâ€™s a bit more on the weird side than home,â€ť Drew said, nodding to one side of the table, where Jade and Jack stood talking to Father Christopher, who was officiating the wedding. â€śAnd they arenâ€™t the most outlandish.â€ť
â€śAnd I thought that pirate friend of yours was odd,â€ť Aunt Janice said, fascinated. â€śThen, when Schrodinger came out the other night – heâ€™s amazing, Drew! And you see them every day?â€ť
â€śYes.â€ť They took seats under one of the large maple trees that took up the backyard behind the farmhouse. Molly already had plans to tap them next spring, and make her own maple syrup, and Drew couldnâ€™t wait. â€śThen again, Carterâ€™s Cove is a bit bigger on the Roads than Marionville, especially since we have the Sea Gates too.â€ť
â€śYour uncle wants to see the harbor before we leave,â€ť Aunt Janice said. â€śHeâ€™s really interested in that.â€ť
â€śIâ€™ll make sure that the Harbormaster knows youâ€™re coming,â€ť Drew told her. â€śHeâ€™ll give you a good tour.â€ť
â€śHeâ€™ll be thrilled.â€ť
They tucked into their plates, enjoying the meal then. As he was finishing his burger, Drew heard bells above the clamor of conversation and he grinned. â€śCome on, Aunt Janice, youâ€™ll want to see this,â€ť he said, putting aside his plate and grabbing her hand. â€śTrust me.â€ť
Collecting Doug and Tim as they went around the side of the house, Drew led them out to the driveway. A cool breeze, redolent with the smell of icy mountain sides, wrapped around them.
â€śDid it suddenly get cold? And whatâ€™s with the bells?â€ť Doug said.
â€śLook!â€ť Drew pointed to the end of the long driveway, where a patch of air shimmered like a mirage. Then the shimmering split down the middle, the two sides drawing back like a stage curtain, and a blast of cold air shot out, snowflakes dancing in the air.
â€śDrew!â€ť roared a familiar voice, and Old Man Winterâ€™s sledge, drawn by his large reindeer, crashed onto the gravel driveway.
â€śWelcome back, Old Man!â€ť Drew called out, grinning at his relatives.
The sledge careened up to the house, the reindeer shaking their furry coats as snowflakes danced around them. Considering how warm it was, Drew didnâ€™t blame Old Man Winter for taking the precaution of keeping them cool.
â€śDrew, where is your beautiful bride?â€ť Old Man Winter demanded, jumping out of the sledge almost before it stopped moving. Drew heard his aunt gasp as she saw who else was with him.
â€śSheâ€™s in the back, making sure everyone is stuffed to the gills, of course,â€ť Drew said, accepting the bone-crushing hug the Spirit gave him, and then gesturing to his relatives to come closer. â€śBut I heard the bells and wanted to come out and greet you, and introduce you to some of my family.â€ť He introduced them, and Old Man Winter shook hands with each of them.
â€śAnd this is Ember,â€ť Drew said, as the emerald-green dragon (in her smaller size, he was relieved to see). â€śI helped Old Man Winter rescue her from a trap a few years ago, and sheâ€™s decided to stay around.â€ť
Of course I have, the dragon said, amusement tinging her mental tone. You folks are far more interesting than anyone else Iâ€™ve met so far.
â€śA dragon,â€ť Doug said reverently. â€śA real dragon. You know a real dragon.â€ť
â€śAnd now so do you,â€ť Drew said, pleased that he could make one of his cousinâ€™s childhood dreams come true. â€śEmber, this is my cousin Doug, his husband Tim, and my Aunt Janice, who raised me.â€ť
I am pleased to meet all of you, Ember said, and then she dipped her head down towards Aunt Janice, who shrank back just a little bit. You did a wonderful job. Drew is one of the best men I have ever met, and I have met many good men.
â€śThank you, but I just put the polish on,â€ť Aunt Janice said, her voice only trembling a little. â€śHis mother and father raised him right, and I just took over when they were taken from us.â€ť She raised her hand and hesitantly touched the tip of the dragonâ€™s nose as Ember dipped her head towards her. â€śMy sister would have been amazed to see who her son was friends with.â€ť
I would have liked to meet them too, Ember said. They must have been very good people.
â€śThey were,â€ť Aunt Janice said. â€śThey were very good people indeed.â€ť
â€śNow, come and letâ€™s go see Molly, who is much prettier than you are, and for whom I have a special gift,â€ť Old Man Winter said, striding off towards the backyard. The moment broken, the others laughed and followed him.
â€śYou have a very interesting life, cousin,â€ť Doug said, as they watched Aunt Janice and Ember walk together, still talking.
â€śYou have no idea,â€ť Drew agreed. â€śJust wait until Ryan hits about two, then you might have some similar experiences.â€ť
â€śNot unless we move here,â€ť Tim said, and exchanged a look with Doug. â€śWhich might be in the cards.â€ť
â€śReally?â€ť Drew stopped, stunned. â€śThat would be awesome! But I thought you loved Marionville, Doug?â€ť
â€śI do,â€ť Doug said. â€śAnd I wonâ€™t lie, it will be hard to leave.â€ť He took Timâ€™s hand. â€śBut not everyone in Marionville is as happy as we are to have a family.â€ť
That, Drew could see. In many ways, Marionville was a typical small town in mid-town America, and it held many different points of view. Just not on every topic.
â€śItâ€™s not all sunshine and roses here either,â€ť he warned them. â€śBut I know Molly and I would be happy to have you here.â€ť And in truth, heâ€™d love to have some family that was his around. Not that he hated Mollyâ€™s family, but they could be a bit overwhelming at times.
â€śNo, but itâ€™s not going to be sunshine and roses anywhere,â€ť Tim said. â€śAnd Iâ€™d like to see a bit more of the country than just Missouri.â€ť
â€śAnd I can teach anywhere,â€ť Doug said.
â€śTeach?â€ť Drew blinked. â€śYou actually became a teacher?â€ť
â€śYep. High school history and baseball.â€ť Doug grinned. â€śThink I could find a spot here?â€ť
â€śSure.â€ť Drew stopped and looked around. â€śIn fact, come with me.â€ť
He led them over to a picnic table, where Steve and Tom were talking to Mark Rineholt. â€śMark, this is my cousin Doug and his husband Tim,â€ť Drew said, after apologizing for interrupting. â€śMark is the principal at the Carterâ€™s Cove High School. And Dougâ€™s a history teacher whoâ€™s thinking of moving to the Cove. He coaches baseball too.â€ť
As heâ€™d expected, Markâ€™s eyes lit up. Drew knew very well that there were a few openings in the high school teaching staff, and that the baseball coach had retired this past spring. He left them talking excitedly, pleased that he could help both his friend and his cousin.
He ended up snagging a bottle of beer and standing in the shade of the trees, watching everyone. The yard was full of his and Mollyâ€™s friends and relatives, all gathered to celebrate the rehearsal dinner. Tomorrow at this time, he and Molly would be married.
And Molly would have met Phoebe.
Drew sighed, knowing that he should probably just own up to Phoebe beforehand, but strangely loathe to go into it. He didnâ€™t know how Molly would react. Truth be told, he wasnâ€™t sure how he was going to react when he saw her again.
â€śThatâ€™s an awfully long face for someone whoâ€™s supposed to be happy,â€ť Molly said, coming up next to him and grinning. When he grinned back at her and hugged her to his side, she continued, â€śWho do I have to beat up for making you somber today?â€ť
â€śNo one,â€ť Drew reassured her, chuckling. â€śIn fact, itâ€™s a good day.â€ť
â€śThen why are you standing here by yourself, looking like your beer soured?â€ť she asked.
â€śJust wishing my folks could have been here,â€ť Drew said, and then looked down at her. â€śHey, come with me for a second.â€ť
â€śWhat?â€ť Molly blinked. â€śBut Drew, we have guests!â€ť
â€śThey can handle themselves for a bit, and I need to talk to you.â€ť He took her hand and led her away through the trees, away from the house and the backyard.
When they burst out of the trees to the small pond that Schrodinger loved to hunt frogs by, Molly said, â€śSo what is so important that no one can hear it?â€ť
Drew pulled her around so she was looking at him. â€śThereâ€™s another guest coming to the wedding tomorrow.â€ť
â€śOkay,â€ť Molly said, blinking. â€śThatâ€™s not a problem. We have room. Who is it?â€ť
The moment of truth. Drew said, â€śHer name is Phoebe.â€ť
â€śOkay.â€ť Molly waited while he paused. â€śAnd?â€ť
â€śAnd sheâ€™s my faery grandmother.â€ť
â€śMy faery grandmother,â€ť Drew repeated.
Molly, to her credit, didnâ€™t say anything for a few minutes. â€śWell, thatâ€™s interesting,â€ť she said finally. â€śWait a minute. Did you say grandmother? Isnâ€™t it supposed to be faery godmother?â€ť
And now the truth would come out. â€śUsually, yes. But my father was half-faery. Phoebe is my actual grandmother.â€ť
â€śSo youâ€™re 1/4 faery?â€ť Molly considered that, and Drewâ€™s heart sank. Would this be a dealbreaker?
â€śThen itâ€™s a good thing we have Schrodinger, if we have kids,â€ť Molly said. â€śIâ€™ve heard faery blood means interesting children.â€ť She grinned up at him. â€śAre you up for a challenge?â€ť
â€śAbsolutely,â€ť he said, relief washing through him, and kissed her.