Yes, it’s that time of year again! Pull up a chair in the tea room, accept a cuppa and enjoy!
“Okay, guys, dinner!”
Molly Barrett pulled the casserole dish from the oven and the kitchen filled with the smells of melted butter, mashed potatoes, and rich gravy. Once she’d placed the shepherd’s pie on the trivet in the middle of the big table, she went back to the oven, to find her husband had beaten her to it. He handed her the basket of fluffy biscuits, stealing a kiss along the way.
The biscuits joined the pie on the butcher block table that was the focus of that end of the kitchen. In honor of the season, Molly had placed a dark red runner, the color of ripe pomegranate seeds, down the center, and there were small white votive candles in frosted holders scattered among holly branches. She hadn’t really started her decorating yet, but there was time. It was only the first of December, after all.
“Molly, this smells amazing.” Doug Mathewson said, inhaling deeply. “Drew, how are you not six hundred pounds?”
“Lots of exercise,” his cousin responded, grinning as he brought a crock of deep yellow butter to the table. “This place takes a lot of work.”
“Even though it’s not a working farm?” Tim Mathewson asked, reaching for a biscuit.
Drew nodded. “There’s still upkeep. I don’t want any of the outbuildings to fall into disrepair, in case we need them at some point. And there’s still just things like mowing the grass.”
“And plowing the driveway,” Molly added, sitting down and wrinkling her nose at baby Ryan, who was seated in his high chair next to her. The baby wrinkled his nose back at her, giggling. “He’s such a happy baby – you guys are so lucky.”
“He’s happy because he’s here,” Tim said wryly, looking at his son. “You should see him when he’s overtired.”
Is he grumpy then? asked Schrodinger, hopping up onto his chair. I get grumpy when I’m overtired. So does Drew.
“I think everyone does, to be honest,” Tim told him. “But unfortunately for us, Ryan doesn’t have the words yet to tell us that, so he just screams.”
Whatever works, Schrodinger said, and Molly could almost see the CrossCat’s shrug. It gets the point across, right?
“That it does,” Doug agreed. Then everyone was quiet for a bit as they dug into the food.
“So, how are you guys enjoying the winter weather?” Molly asked after a few minutes. “Not quite what you’re used to, is it?”
“No,” Doug said. “The snowdrifts aren’t high enough yet.”
Molly and Schrodinger stared at him. Drew chuckled, while Tim shook his head.
“He’s pulling your leg,” he said, mock-glaring at his husband. “It’s not like we’re from Minnesota or anything. It’s colder here, though. That sea wind bites.”
Do you get snow? Schrodinger asked eagerly. The CrossCat adored hearing about places he’d never been. And do they decorate?
“We get a good amount of snow, but mostly in January and February, to be honest,” Tim said, reaching for another biscuit. “December is cold and white. The town does decorate, but I hear it’s nothing compared to the Cove.”
“Most places are nothing compared to the Cove,” Molly said. “We’re a little nuts about Christmas here. It’s pretty much everyone’s favorite holiday.”
“Why?” Doug asked. “I mean, it’s just another holiday, right?”
Drew and Molly shared an amused look, then Drew said to his cousin, “You’ve been here three months now, man, and you haven’t learned that nothing in the Cove is ‘just’ anything?”
“True,” Doug said, looking over at Schrodinger, who was washing gravy from his whiskers. “If you had told me that I’d be sharing a dinner table with a CrossCat, or working for a school that included a fair share of non-human children, six months ago, I’d’ve said you were nuts, and I grew up in a CrossRoads town. But honestly, the Cove really takes the cake.”
Tim, who hadn’t grown up in a CrossRoads town, nodded in agreement. “I thought Doug was joking when he said there were places like this, but Marionville seems like just a normal town compared to the Cove.”
“We’re pretty unique,” Molly said. “Most CrossRoads towns don’t have the level of…oddness we have.” She also looked at Schrodinger. “But I wouldn’t change any of it. I love this place.”
“I can see why,” Doug said. “Even without the Roads, the people are so nice here. I was a little worried about how we’d be received. I mean, you hear things about Yankees.” He reached over and laid his hand over Tim’s. “And then we came out here for your wedding, and no one really gave us a second look. It’s like we aren’t different here.”
“You aren’t,” Drew said firmly. “You’re just another couple with a baby.” He grinned. “The nice thing about the Cove is that until and unless you prove that you aren’t worth it, everyone will assume you’re a good person, and treat you accordingly. After all, who cares who you love? Family is family.”
Besides, if you are happy, who cares? This fascination humans have with who loves who is weird, Schrodinger said. Molly, may I have another cup of tea?
“Absolutely, although maybe not caffeinated,” she said, getting up and collecting his tea cup. “How about some of that decaf Earl Grey we found? Anyone else want tea?”
Decaf? Schrodinger wrinkled his nose. No thank you. Peppermint?
“Peppermint it is.” Molly looked around the table. “Drew?”
“I’ll take peppermint as well,” he said, getting up as well. “Why don’t we make a pot?”
“Sounds good to me,” Tim agreed, and then they all laughed as Ryan burbled. “I’ll change the podling into his pajamas, and then we can sit for a bit before we leave.”
“So soon?” Molly asked, dismayed. “It’s not even 7 pm?”
Doug nodded. “I have papers to grade, sadly.”
“Well, then, let’s get this cleaned up, and we can do tea and dessert.” Molly suited actions to words, setting her kettle to boil while Drew and Doug cleaned up the plates.
Schrodinger trailed after Tim and the baby, asking, Why do you call him a podling?
Molly missed the answer Tim gave her, but she could only imagine. Doug’s husband had an impish turn of mind, and he delighted in the CrossCat’s company. “I’m so glad you guys moved out here,” she said to Doug.
“Seconded,” Drew added. “It’s nice to have family out here.”
“Speaking of, did you hear Mom and Dad are talking about coming out for the week of Christmas?” Doug said, handing dishes to Drew to put them in the dishwasher. “Mom finally convinced him that they couldn’t miss their grandson’s first Christmas.”
“Two Road travels in one year? Really?” Drew grinned. “How will Uncle Larry survive?”
Molly laughed. She’d met Drew’s Aunt Janice and Uncle Larry when they’d come out for the wedding, and the man had confided that he hated traveling on the Roads. “Too bad there isn’t a SeaRoad near them,” she said. “He’d been fascinated by the ships coming in.”
Drew and Doug exchanged glances, then Drew came over and kissed her. “You are a genius.”
“I am?” Molly said, blinking. “How?”
“There’s a SeaRoad off the Great Lakes, which aren’t that far from Marionville by train. Uncle Larry loves trains. They can take the train to the SeaRoad, and come by boat.” Doug nodded. “That would work perfectly.”
“I can find out the schedule from the Harbormaster when I go into work tomorrow,” Drew said. “I’ll swing by the harbor first.”
“And once you let me know, I’ll call Mom,” Doug said, accepting a cup of tea from Molly.
“If they can, you should have them come up earlier,” she said, bringing the other cups to the table. “The Cove has some amazing events during December.”
Tim came back in, holding a pajamaed baby, and Molly held out her arms. “Let me hold him for a bit,” she said, settling Ryan in the crook of her arms. “Between him and Kaylee, I’m totally getting my baby fix right now.”
Can we have one? Schrodinger asked, climbing into the chair next to her. He was fascinated by the baby, who clearly adored him as well, as Ryan cooed and reached chubby fists to the CrossCat. Schrodinger reached out with a velveted paw and Ryan grabbed him.
“We’ll see,” she told him. “It’s not as easy as it sounds.”
No, I’m sure it’s not, but they’re adorable.
“Wait until he gets cranky, he’s not that adorable then,” Doug told him, chuckling. Then he looked at Molly. “So, tell me about the events in December. Maybe I can convince Mom and Dad to come out sooner.”
“Well, there’s the Snow Queen’s ball, of course,” Molly said, shifting Ryan so she could get access to her tea mug. “That’s the Saturday before Christmas, and it’s simply not to be missed.”
“She’s right – they have to come for that, if nothing else,” Drew agreed. “Remember where we got married? That’s the ballroom.”
Tim frowned. “Won’t it be cold? I mean, it was open to the sky.”
“It’s not,” Molly assured him. “The Snow Queen makes it perfectly warm, and it’s a magical night.” She smiled. “I can’t wait to see what she and Jack will do together.”
“Do you think she’ll still throw her shoe in for the final dance?” Drew said.
“Why not? She’s still going to want to continue the tradition.” Molly turned back to Doug and Tim. “The final dance is a Cinderella dance, where every woman throws one of her shoes into the middle of the floor. The men all choose a shoe, and the man who finds the Snow Queen’s shoe often gets a gift from her, especially if she favors him.”
“I’ll definitely tell them about that,” Doug said. “What else?”
Molly and Drew exchanged looks as they thought. “There’s the carol sing,” Molly said after a moment. “Father Christopher gathers a choir and comes to the Bookstore to sing.”
Santa Claus comes, Schrodinger said. So everyone can tell him what they want for Christmas.
“Right, he comes to the Store too,” Molly agreed.
And it’s the REAL Santa Claus, Schrodinger added. So you know he’s really listening.
“The REAL Santa?” Doug couldn’t quite keep the skepticism from his voice. “Really?”
“Well, he certainly acts like the real thing,” Molly said. “I don’t know any other Santa who can disappear up a chimney.”
Both Tim and Doug stared at her. “Seriously?” Tim said finally.
“After everything you saw at our wedding, you can’t accept that Santa comes here?” Drew said. “Where else would he come? After all, we’ve got the Snow Queen, Jack Frost, and Old Man Winter who are pretty much year-round residents.”
“And the dragon,” Doug reminded him, eyes going reverent. “So yeah, I guess it’s not out of the question that Santa Claus himself would come here.” He grinned. “I’d love to get a picture of Ryan with the actual Santa Claus.”
“I’m sure that could be arranged,” Drew told him.
“There’s the stuff that goes on all month, too – like the sleigh rides,” Molly said. “Doc Robbins takes folks out caroling, looking at all the lights around town. There’s skating down at the cove on the Elizabeth River. And most of the stores have musicians in and out all month.”
“There’s also the bake sale,” Drew said, and Molly sighed.
“Yes, the bake sale, which is coming up soon.”
Tim looked at Molly. “You don’t sound enthusiastic about that.”
She shrugged carefully, trying not to wake up Ryan, who had fallen asleep against her chest. “It’s a lot of work for me,” she said honestly. “I’ve still got a ton of cookies to bake and decorate, and figure out the table set-up. And I haven’t even really started the gingerbread.”
“Wow.” Tim leaned back, eyes wide. “That sounds intimidating.”
“She’s a kitchen witch – it will be amazing,” Drew said.
“Your faith in me is heartening,” she told him, smiling. “But magic only goes so far.”
“What do you need as help?” Tim asked, and when she looked over at him, he shrugged. “Well, I’m not a kitchen witch, but I used to work in a commercial kitchen. Not as a baker, but I take orders well. And I’m not really busy this time of year.”
“I’d love someone to come and help at the sale itself,” Molly said, after a moment’s thought. “Really, for me, that’s the worst part. I’d rather be baking than interacting with customers who want orders.”
“Then let me help with that,” Tim said. “Do you have your order forms in electronic form?”
“Sue does. I’ll ask her to email it to you.”
Doug finished his tea and stood up, looking at his husband. “You ready to go? Those papers aren’t going to grade themselves.”
Molly regretfully surrendered the sleeping baby to his father, and then stood up. “I made scones for dessert. Let me pack you up some to take with you, to take the edge off those papers.”
After they’d gone, Molly made another pot of tea and refreshed their cups, then brought the tray into their living room, settling in on the couch. Are you sure we can’t have a baby? Schrodinger asked, jumping up into her lap.
“Eventually,” she told him, stroking his soft head. “Aren’t you enjoying being our only child, though?”
I like having siblings, Schrodinger said. I have lots of siblings at the Lair, and I miss them.
“I can understand that,” Molly said. “I love having Nathan back.”
“Same here. Having Doug here is amazing,” Drew said, settling in next to her.
Molly leaned her head against him. He smelled of peppermint and a soft undercurrent of evergreen and snow. “I missed my family, although I didn’t realize it.”
You’re both my family, Schrodinger said, purring. In that moment, Molly couldn’t think of any better place to be in the world.
- (nano) And Advent #5 is DONE
- (Advent) December 2