Thursday, December 3
“Do you need anything else, before I go?”
Drew waited patiently while Molly frowned, first at him, then at the front yard. It had snowed the night before, and everything was made new, covered in fluffy white flakes. He’d already run the small plow that they’d bought the year before, so the driveway was clear, but everything else was covered in snow. Molly stood on the porch, a broom in her hand.
“Cranberries,” she said finally. “I think I need cranberries.”
Muffins? Schrodinger said hopefully from where he was digging snow out of the sleigh in the front yard. I like cranberry muffins!
“Well, I was actually thinking stuffing, but if you buy two bags, and an orange, I can make muffins too,” Molly agreed, chuckling. “And I think we’re almost out of milk, so if you could stop by Lisa’s, I’d appreciate it.”
“And eggs, since I’m going there?”
She considered for a moment, and Drew looked at her, standing amid the cream-colored pillars of the front steps, snow in her dark curls and on her eyelashes, her cheeks pink from the cold, and knew he was the luckiest man in the world. Once again, he wondered how he’d been able to catch her, and keep her. Then again, he mused, she’s keeping me. Let’s be realistic.
You keep her as much as she keeps you, Schrodinger said. And I get both of you! I’m the luckiest.
Drew and Molly both laughed at that. “Get a dozen eggs, and I’ll make a quiche,” she said finally. “That way, you’ll have dinner tomorrow night while we’re at the bookstore.”
“Sounds good.” Drew ran back up the steps and kissed her, managing not to drop the basket he was carrying or knock the broom from her hands. Her lips were cold and tasted of the blackberry sage tea she’d had for breakfast.
“Go,” Molly said finally, rubbing her nose against his before she pushed him gently away. “Or I’ll haul you back upstairs instead.”
“Is that a promise or a threat?” he teased.
Get a room! Schrodinger said, sounding exactly like a petulant teenager, and they turned to see him sitting on the seat of the sleigh, butt in the air, paws over his eyes in mock-disgust. Seriously, I’m working out here!
They laughed again, knowing it was an act, and Drew gave Molly one last kiss before heading back down the stairs and out to his truck.
After stopping in at the Station to make sure everything was okay, Drew drove down to the harbor. Carter’s Cove was fairly unique among CrossRoads towns, as there was not only a land-based Gate, but a SeaGate as well. Growing up in landlocked Marionville, Drew never tired of the sight of the massive arch at the end of the bay, nestled up by the edge of the cliffs.
The bay itself was deep, deeper than most people realized, and protected by tall headlands. The Gate only took up half of the bay’s opening onto the ocean, so fishing boats and occasionally a larger ship could come in as well. The docks were lined with all sorts of different ships, from sleek modern yachts to battered fishing trawlers, small sailboats and at least two schooners. And then there was the Heart’s Desire.
Pavel’s ship was out on the end of one of the docks, her masts rising proudly into the pale blue winter sky. As they were in port, the sails themselves were furled, but even now, men swarmed up and down the rigging, cleaning and repairing things. Drew knew the vessel had engines, but Pavel preferred to use the sails when possible.
As he got closer to the ship after parking the truck, though, Drew frowned. Normally, the Heart’s Desire had an air of cheerful mischief about it, crewed as it was by a bunch of shameless reprobates (although Drew knew most of them had hearts of gold. Pavel drew men of like disposition to himself, and he was one of the most generous men Drew knew). Today, however, there was a hush around it, as of everyone was tiptoeing through their duties. And that was definitely not normal.
“Ahoy the ship!” he called, as he came up to the gangway. “Permission to come aboard to see the captain?”
Instead of shouting a reply, the man on watch came hurrying down to meet him. “Begging your pardon, Mr. Drew, but now is not really a good time to be calling on the captain,” he said quietly, and Drew’s eyebrows went up.
“I’ve come bearing gifts. Surely that will pique Pavel’s interest.”
“I doubt it, sir. Can I get Mr. Strange for you instead?”
Drew looked at him, and then nodded. “That will be fine.”
The man almost ran back up the gangway, leaving Drew to wonder what the hell was going on. Was someone sick? Was Pavel sick? But if that was the case, then why wasn’t the ship under quarantine? Pavel wouldn’t have come out to the bookstore yesterday if he or his ship was carrying something contagious. But the silence that gripped the Desire, broken only by whispers and the sounds of the waves lapping against her hull, made Drew very nervous.
The feeling didn’t diminish when he saw the lanky figure of Thomas Strange, Pavel’s long-time first mate, making his way towards him. Strange didn’t hurry – he never hurried – but his normally cheerful grin was gone, replaced by a carefully neutral expression that was all the more worrying. His eyes lit up when he saw Drew, but the smile that usually accompanied his greeting never came.
“Welcome to the Desire, Drew,” he said quietly, offering his hand. “I wish I could invite you aboard, but it’s not a good time for visitors right now.”
“I can see that,” Drew said, shaking his hand. “What’s wrong?”
Strange sighed. “Let’s just say the captain’s feeling a bit…delicate today. He was out rather late last night.”
“Pavel’s been hung over more times than I can remember,” Drew said. “This, however, is the first time I’ve seen you lot creeping around like someone just died.”
“He really went all out last night. I don’t think I’ve seen him this roaring drunk in years,” Strange said. “He nearly fell off the gangway this morning.” He shook his head. “This is going to be one hell of a hangover, when he wakes up.”
Drew looked hard at the first mate for a long minute, then shook his own head. “Must have been one hell of a mission, if he was trying that hard to forget it.”
“To be honest? It was boring. Really.” Strange seemed about to say something more, so Drew waiting, but the first mate simply said, “I’ll tell him you were asking about him, Drew. Tomorrow may be a better day to see him.”
“Tomorrow I’ll be up at the Station, but he’s welcome to come and chat.” Drew handed over the basket. “Molly sent these for you all – she said to make sure that Cook knows the bake sale is Sunday.”
“I’ll tell him,” Strange said, nodding. “Tell Molly thank you from all of us.”
“Thomas,” Drew said. “You’d tell me if there was a problem with Pavel, wouldn’t you?”
The question hung in the air between them for a long minute. “I’d tell you what I could,” Strange said finally. “And right now, all I can say is that the captain considers you a friend. He might need a friend soon.”
“You know where to find me.”
Strange nodded, and clasped Drew’s hand again before heading back up into the ship. Drew watched him go, then headed back to his car.
Oh Pavel, what have you gotten yourself into?
Variations of that thought occupied him throughout his errands, making a normally pleasant afternoon a gloomy one. It didn’t help that clouds started to build in: when he came out of the grocery store, the blue sky had turned a dingy grey, and the wind whispered the promise of snow, a dusty scent that overlaid the normal tang of sea salt. By the time he’d gotten the milk Molly had requested from Lisa (and a special container of homemade egg nog, which he’d cheerfully accepted), small white flakes were drifting down, adding another layer of snow to the winter landscape.
“Bleah,” Drew said, squinting up at the clouds, trying to see if he could figure out how long it would last. “This is going to make tomorrow suck if it keeps up.”
The small flakes continued to fall, unimpressed with his disgust.
When he turned down the driveway, Drew’s eyes widened. Even from the road (and the house was set pretty far back) and through the falling snow, he could see the warm glow of red and gold lights. Molly hadn’t told him what she’d decided to do for the decorations, preferring a mysterious smile. Now he knew why.
The sleigh was piled high with packages, just like it had last year, but this year, instead of normal Christmas lights, Molly and Schrodinger had draped several strands of faerie lights they’d received from his grandmother Phoebe. The faeries’ wings fluttered gently, glowing with pale gold and crimson lights, and Drew smiled. His mother had had lights like that, from the same source.
More of the faeries twined around the pillars of the porch, nestled in among holly garlands and gold ribbon. It was gorgeous, and magical, and for the moment, he forgot about Pavel.
He was home. And home was good.