(Advent) December 2

Wednesday, December 2

Molly was seated on one of the stools in her kitchen at CrossWinds Books, a cup of her special Christmas tea cooling in a simple clay mug that Drew had brought back for her from one of his trips beside her as she sketched designs for a gingerbread cottage. Her pencil flew across the paper, idly filling in decorations and snowflakes. She’d already decided to try and recreate the harbor for her big centerpiece, complete with a gingerbread replica of The Heart’s Desire, but she still had several other cottages to come up with for sale. While the general design for each cottage was the same, Molly liked to vary her decorations each year along a theme. With the harbor as her centerpiece, the decorations were naturally taking a nautical theme, something she hadn’t yet tried. This particular sketch included a widow’s walk on the roof of the cottage, complete with a small Christmas tree.

Taking a sip of her tea, Molly regarded the drawing with satisfaction before moving it to the completed pile. She’d already done several, and after one more, she could move to the ship, which was going to be the hardest part. Luckily, Drew had taken several pictures the last time it was in port, so she could make every detail accurate.

The big decision I have is do I do actual fabric for sails, or do I do gingerbread? she mused, tapping the pencil eraser against her bottom lip. If I do fabric, I’d have to find someone to make them. But the gingerbread might be too heavy…Decisions, decisions.

What are you deciding? Schrodinger asked, padding in from the tea room, yawning slightly.

“How to design my gingerbread version of Pavel’s lovely ship,” Molly told him, getting up to get him a cup of tea. He hopped up onto a stool and looked at the papers with curiosity. “And I’ll need one more cottage, I think.”

What are you doing for Sarah? he asked, as she set his cappuccino mug filled with Earl Grey in front of him.

“She hasn’t decided yet,” Molly said, retaking her seat. “It’s either going to be another sleigh, like we did a few years ago, or a police car, decorated for the season.”

You could combine the two, he suggested, after taking a sip of his tea. Do an old-time police sleigh. Did they have those?

“Hmm, I don’t know.” Molly pulled out her cell phone and tapped a few words into it. “Ooh, looks like they did horse-drawn wagons! So yes, we could do a police sleigh!”

Then you should do that, Schrodinger said. Sarah will love it.

Sarah was one of his favorite people in the Cove. The daughter of one of the two police detectives in Carter’s Cove, the little blind girl (not so little anymore, Molly reminded herself, as Sarah turned 16 this past fall) always commissioned a special gingerbread house for her father for Christmas.

“She’s coming in this afternoon after school to talk about it, so I have time to sketch it out now.” Molly sniffed the air, and judged that she had about ten minutes before she had to pull out the ham and cheese scones she was making for the late lunch crowd. “Then I just need to decide what to do on the last cottage. Also, we need to talk about what we want to do for the house.”

I thought you wanted a fantasy theme this year? Schrodinger said.

“I do, but I’m not really sure what I want it to look like,” Molly confessed, sinking back down on her stool. “I know I’m looking at red as a base color, but I’m not sure what else to do.”

Maybe gold? You could do a fire faery theme, like Phoebe.

Molly considered that. Drew’s faery grandmother had come to the wedding that summer, glowing like a flame captured in a glass jar. “That could work,” she said slowly, pulling a fresh piece of paper towards her and picking up her pencil. Schrodinger drank his tea and watched her draw.

By the time the scones had come out of the oven and were cooling, Molly had an idea of how she wanted the front yard of the farm set up. The best news was that she was fairly certain that everything she needed was mostly at the farm, although she’d have to look at the lights.

“Golden isn’t my usual color, but I think it will look lovely against the sleigh,” she told Schrodinger. “Now, time to make a batch of the snowflake cookies for the bake sale, and then I can finish sketching things out.” She sighed as she headed into the pantry and the extra freezer, where she had logs of sugar cookie dough chilling. “I can’t believe they decided to hold the bake sale Sunday. I feel like I’ll never be done in time.”

“If anyone can do it, Miss Molly, it will be you.”

Molly stuck her head back out into the kitchen, hazel eyes wide. “Pavel? I thought you weren’t going to be back for another week!”

Captain Pavel Chekhov leaned indolently in the doorway to the kitchen, a grin of pure mischief on his face. “I couldn’t live without you a minute longer, so I flogged the crew until they sped up,” he said, and then laughed as she and Schrodinger both launched themselves at him. Molly hugged him tightly, smelling the salt spray dried on his heavy wool coat, and Schrodinger wound himself around the pirate’s shiny black boots. Pavel looked like the stereotypical pirate, except for the kindness that lurked in his dark eyes, and the smile lines on his face.

“It’s good to have you back!” Molly said, stepping back and looking at him. “Tea?”

“I would love a cup,” he said, scooping Schrodinger up as if the CrossCat were no heavier than a kitten. In the large pirate’s arms, Schrodinger looked a lot smaller than he really was, as he curled up and purred. Pavel came into the kitchen and sat down on one of the stools, and after a moment, Schrodinger jumped out of his arms and onto his own stool. Pavel was all well and good, but one did not waste good tea.

“What kind?” Molly called from the pantry, where she’d pulled another large mug out. Pavel didn’t do tea cups.

“Surprise me,” he said, and she paused, hearing an odd undercurrent in his voice. Fatigue, which wasn’t surprising, but there was something else, something weird. Fear? What would Pavel fear? Her fingers reached into her tea cupboard and pulled out a box at random as she pondered that. She made the tea, trusting her gift to make it right, and brought out the cookie dough she’d come after with the mug.

“So, how did your voyage go?” Molly asked Pavel, setting the steaming mug in front of him, then getting a sharp knife so she could cut the log of dough into disks.

“Eh, was a voyage.” Pavel sniffed his mug, waiting for it to infuse. “Ah, I missed your tea.”

“And my food?” she teased him, putting one of the fresh scones on a plate. Then she added another one for Schrodinger and put it in front of them.

“I will kidnap you someday and make you my ship’s cook,” he said, after taking a bite and sighing happily. “My cook is horrible.”

Which wasn’t true at all, as Molly knew. Cook (she had no idea what the man’s name actually was, as she’d never heard it, and when she’d asked, he’d shrugged and said “Cook,”) had shared several of his recipes with her, and taken some of hers in return. His beef stew was once of Drew’s favorites. Still, it was heartening to hear it.

Where did you go? Schrodinger asked eagerly. Did you bring us back presents?

Molly shook her head. “You know, not everyone needs to bring you a present back when they go somewhere, Cat.”

They don’t? The CrossCat turned wide, innocent eyes to her. Then how else will I learn?

“Of course I brought presents,” Pavel told him, washing down his scone with some tea. Then he started digging in his pockets. Molly finished cutting the dough log into slices and laid them on her cookie sheets, then pressed snowflakes out of them with a cookie cutter. Then she went to the refrigerator and took out a small ball, the scraps from the other cookies she’d done earlier. After adding the new dough to the ball, Molly considered it, then re-wrapped it. She’d have enough for more cookies after the next batch, she judged. The ball went back into the refrigerator, and the cookie sheets went into the oven. Then she turned back to Pavel and Schrodinger.

Pavel had produced three packages from his coat pockets, which he laid on the island, then he stood and hung the coat up. “Finally warming up,” he explained. “The SeaRoads were very, very cold this time.”

Schrodinger’s ears were twitching, his eyes focused on the three packages, but he hadn’t touched them. Molly laughed at him.

“Better let him have his, or he’ll explode, Pavel.”

The big pirate picked up the biggest packet and put it down in front of Schrodinger, prudently moving the cappuccino mug and plate out of the CrossCat’s way. Schrodinger pounced, tearing the paper with wickedly sharp claws to find out what was underneath.

A new book! he shouted, glee laced through his mental voice. Oh Pavel, it’s a new book!

“Indeed, and not only a new book, but a new book about the SeaRoads,” Pavel said, taking the book up and showing him. “I found this in a bazaar in a small island port town, and thought of you, because you have always wanted to sail with me. This way, you can look at some options of where to go. Written by the famous navigator Kimiko Alexandre, whom I had the opportunity to visit with.” He opened the book to the cover page. “She was nice enough to sign it for me.”

SIGNED? You MET HER? Schrodinger squealed, and Molly winced a bit. Oh, Pavel, thank you! Thank you!

“You’re very welcome,” Pavel said, handing the book to him. Schrodinger took it very carefully in his mouth and ran out into the tea room to curl up in his bed by the wood stove to read. Molly knew they wouldn’t see him until Sarah showed up.

“You always know what to bring him,” she said, smiling at the pirate. “He’s going to be lost in that book for at least a day.”

“Good.” Pavel sat back down, picking up his tea mug. “Books are safer for him to get lost in than the sea.” Something dark stirred in his eyes for a moment, rushing in and out before Molly could be sure she’d actually seen it. “And this is for you, Miss Molly!” he continued, picking up another package. “I think you’ll enjoy it.”

She unwrapped it carefully to expose a lovely little teapot. It was hand-painted with a little scene: a small cottage, nestled among fall trees, brilliant in their red and gold. “Pavel, this is beautiful,” she breathed, turning it over in her hands, looking at all the details.

The pirate beamed. “I thought you would like it. We discovered an artist who creates them, and I described the scene I wanted on it. They make the teapots too. He said that it was not for use directly on the fire, but the stone would keep water warm for quite some time.” He reached over and took the top off, showing her another, smaller package. An aroma of sweet fruit that she was unfamiliar with filled her nostrils.

“It’s a local tea,” Pavel told her. “I’m not sure what we would call the fruit, but it’s a little like a pineapple. The tea needs to steep for 5 minutes, as it’s a black tea that they infuse with the dried fruit.”

“I can’t wait to try it.” Molly took both the teapot and the tea into the pantry. When she came out, she took her seat across from him, picked up her mug, and gave him a steady look. “Now, what’s wrong?”

“What do you mean?” Pavel asked, returning her look with one of his own, politely puzzled but giving away nothing.

“You aren’t fooling me,” she said. “Something’s bothering you.”

Pavel smiled and reached out to take her hand. “Nothing big, Miss Molly. I’m just tired, that’s all. I’ll get some sleep tonight, now that we’re in port.”

Molly didn’t believe him for a second, but she let it drop and instead teased, “What kind of pirate sleeps better in port than on the open ocean?”

“One who misses his friends who live in port,” he said, chuckling a little. He drained his cup, and pushed back from the table. Indicating the third package, he said, “That’s for Drew. Would you mind giving it to him for me?”

She checked the clock on the wall. “He’ll be here himself in about thirty minutes, if you want to wait.”

Pavel shook his head. “I’ve got to get back to the Desire. We’ll be in port for a while, though, so I’m sure I’ll see him.” He collected his coat, then gave her a hug. “Don’t worry about me, Molly,” he murmured into her hair. “I’m fine.”

“I don’t believe you,” she mumbled, but either he didn’t hear her, or he didn’t want to answer.

“He’s probably not wanting to offend your delicate sensibilities,” Drew told her later, when he stopped by to pick her and Schrodinger up on his way home. His gift had been a book as well, about Gate technology that made his eyes light up and Molly’s head spin.

Molly snorted. “Delicate sensibilities? Surely he knows me better than that.”

But maybe he just doesn’t want to share, Schrodinger said, bringing his book into the kitchen and dropping it in Molly’s bag. After all, not everything needs to be shared, right?

“True, but troubles spread around are lighter, as my grandfather used to say,” Molly said, flipping off the lights after checking everything one more time. “I’m just worried about him, that’s all.”

“I know, but Pavel’s a private guy.” Drew hugged her. “I’ll go and talk to him tomorrow, how’s that?”

“Would you? It would make me feel better.”

I thought we were decorating tomorrow? Schrodinger said.

“It won’t take me that long – I’ll go while you guys make lunch, and maybe I’ll bring him back with me,” Drew said. “We’ll see if we can’t cheer him up.”

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