(Advent) December 4

Friday, December 4

“I knew it. I knew this snow would screw everything up.”

Mal laughed, somehow managing not to drop the ever-present cigarette from his mouth in the process. “Welcome to winter in Maine,” he said, deliberately exaggerating the Yankee accent. “What did you think was going to happen, flatlander? Rain?”

“It’s happened before,” Drew said, sighing, as he looked at his computer screen. “And before, I wasn’t the engineer in charge.”

“That’s why you get the big bucks,” the Station Manager told him unhelpfully. “When you have that situation straightened out, by the way, I’ve got two more Roads that need to be re-routed.”

“Why?”

“Because the wagons can’t get through the snow, so they need to go to other places, of course,” Mal said. “One to Miami now, and one to San Diego.”

San Diego sounded lovely at the moment. “How long do I have?”

Mal looked at his watch. “First wagon’s supposed to come through at noon, so we need to have the Road re-routed by 11:45 am at the latest.”

Drew gritted his teeth. “Then get out, so I can fix this first.”

Mal laughed again and left, closing the door behind him. Drew took a drink from the mug of hot chocolate beside him, flexed his fingers, and started typing.

The Roads were magical constructs, but the magic that bound them was able to be transcribed by mathematical equations. As Drew rewrote what was basically computer code, changing the route of two Roads that had accidentally collided when another engineer had incorrectly entered coordinates, his magical talent reached out, shaping the energies of the Roads themselves. It was exacting work, and the world fell away from him as he immersed himself in the Gate energies.

By the time he’d finished re-routing the final Road, and leaned back in his chair, it was nearly 3 pm, and he couldn’t remember when he’d last eaten. His stomach growled, telling him that it had been a while.

“Busy day, eh?”

Drew looked up at that, surprised. Pavel stood in the doorway, holding a plate of something that looked like sandwiches. His stomach growled again, and Pavel chuckled.

“When was the last time you ate?” the pirate asked, coming into the office and handing the plate to him before taking off his coat and sitting in the other chair in the office. The plate did contain sandwiches, piled high with roast beef, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes, made on some of Molly’s fresh rolls. Drew grabbed one, bit down and chewed while he thought.

“Breakfast? No, wait, I had a muffin around noon, I think.” Drew shook his head. “This storm has thrown everything off today, worse than normal. You’d think we’d never seen snow before.”

“Heidi mentioned that you were all flat out. That’s why I stopped by the kitchen before I came in,” Pavel told him. “I was afraid I wouldn’t make it to your office alive if I didn’t have food with me.”

“You’re probably right.” The edge of his hunger gone, Drew looked keenly at his old friend. “So, you want to talk about it?”

“About what?” Pavel shrugged. “I’m not as hung over today, if that’s what you mean.”

“Bad trip?”

Pavel shrugged again. “Just long. I didn’t expect us to be gone all fall.”

“We missed you.” Drew gave him a sly grin. “The Cove was actually pretty quiet.”

“I’ll bet.” Pavel laughed softly. “I’ll have to see what I can do about that.”

“Sounds like you did that before,” Drew said. “If it wasn’t a bad mission, then why did you try and drink yourself into oblivion?”

“I didn’t set out to,” Pavel said. “It just sort of happened that way. I wanted to see everything again, and everyone wanted to have a drink with me.” He sighed. “Homecoming. It’s good, but hell on my liver. I’m not getting any younger, you know.”

There was an odd note in his voice, one that Drew couldn’t really categorize. “Molly and Schrodinger are worried about you,” he said after a moment. “She said you seemed sad when you came in to the store.”

“I missed them,” Pavel admitted. “More than I realized. I’m thinking that maybe it’s time to hang up my wandering boots, and settle down here.”

Drew blinked. “Really? You? The man who swore he would rather drown than ever tie himself to a shore?”

“People change,” Pavel said a little defensively. “I believe I was young and drunk when I said that, so you can’t hold it against me. Besides, I’m not talking about retiring. Not yet. But I’m thinking of buying a house here.”

“Why?”

“Because the people I care about, my family, is here,” Pavel said. “You, Molly, Schrodinger. I want to see Lily and Zoey grow up. I’m getting tired of being alone.”

“What about your real family?” Drew asked, leaning back in his chair. “You must have one somewhere.”

Pavel sighed and rather than respond right away, he picked up one of the sandwiches and bit into it. Tomato and mayonnaise dribbled out the sides of his mouth, trailing down into his beard, and his tongue snaked out, trying to catch everything. “I can’t get this kind of food when I’m not here,” he said finally. “Not unless I kidnap Molly and take her with me, and I like you too much to do that.”

“Thanks, I think,” Drew said. “Stop avoiding my question, Pavel. What about your real family? I don’t even think you’ve told me where you’re originally from.” He gave Pavel a look. “And don’t think about telling me you sprang from the ocean. Aphrodite you aren’t.”

“Well, technically, I suppose I could say I did,” Pavel said, chewing thoughtfully. “Rumor has it that one of my grandfathers on my father’s side was an ocean spirit, but I can’t confirm, seeing as I’ve never actually met my father.”

“So how do you know the rumor?” Drew asked.

“My grandfather made sure I knew just how much of a bastard mutt I was,” Pavel said bitterly, after he finished the sandwich. “He was forever harping on the various things that supposedly made up my ancestry.”

“Sounds like a great guy,” Drew said.

“He was a jackass,” Pavel said. “A mean, stingy, cruel jackass of a man, and he made my life and my mother’s life a living hell.” He paused, and sighed. “He died recently. Not soon enough, but I guess now I can’t be mad at him anymore. I’m finally out from under his thumb.”

“I’m sorry, though.” Drew didn’t know what else to say.

“Don’t be.” Pavel heaved himself out of the chair and shrugged back into his coat. “I’m just glad he’s gone to his just reward. Now my mother can maybe get out and do something for herself for once.” He smiled. “Maybe I’ll ask her to move out here.”

“Are you seriously thinking about buying a house here?” Drew asked, standing up as well. He needed to get away from the computer for a bit, stretch his legs.

“Why not?” Pavel said, as they walked down the hall towards the front door. “I can buy the Desire a permanent slip here, and then I can have a bed that doesn’t rock every once in a while.”

“I won’t say I’m disappointed,” Drew said. “It would be good to have you here full time, even if you do keep sailing.”

“The sea’s in my blood, my friend. I could never stop sailing.” Pavel stopped to scratch Porter, Heidi’s fat grey cat. Heidi, the Station’s receptionist, waved to them as she continued to talk into her phone. “But I think it’s time to settle down a bit.”

“Let me know if I can help,” Drew told him, offering him a hand before the pirate walked out the front door.

“Of course!”

Pavel’s carriage was waiting out front for him, black wood glowing dully through the still-falling snow. One of the black horses stamped its hoof, sending up a fine rain of powder. Pavel himself turned up the collar of his coat against the weather. “Try not to work too hard,” he advised, as he swung himself into the carriage.

“I’ll do my best,” Drew said, closing the carriage’s door. Then he leaned in the window. “Come to dinner tomorrow night? Molly’s stressing over the bake sale, and Schrodinger and I could use some help in distracting her.”

“I shall be there with wine,” Pavel promised. “What time?”

“How about seven? She’ll be out by then, and I’m cooking dinner.” The cell phone at his waist buzzed. Drew pulled it out of its holder, looked at the text message and groaned. “That is, if I ever get out of here.”

Pavel laughed. “Let me take care of dinner, then, my friend. Cook is bored already. I will bring it.”

The cell phone buzzed again. “Sounds good,” Drew said, and all but ran back to his office.

<><>

Do you think it’s going to snow until Christmas?

I doubt it, Schrodinger said, his nose pressed to the front window of CrossWinds Books. He and Jack, his best canine friend in the world, were busy watching the Christmas lights come on in the street outside as night fell. It feels like it will be gone soon.

I wish I could tell that, Jack said a little enviously. What does it feel like?

Schrodinger considered that question for a moment. It’s hard to explain, he said finally, his tail twitching. Do you remember when we went down the Road this past fall, and we went through the windstorm?

Oh yes! That felt all tingly!

It’s kind of like that, but more of a pressure, the CrossCat said. It feels like the tingles on my whiskers, but it’s moving away from me. The snow will be over by tomorrow morning, I think.

They sat in silence for a bit as the snow fell and the Christmas lights glowed in the gathering darkness. Then Schrodinger said, Hey Jack, look. Isn’t that Pavel?

The hound looked in the direction the CrossCat indicated. I think so, he said finally. I can’t smell him through the glass. So what?

He looks sad, Schrodinger said after a moment. Look, his shoulders are all slumped. And why is he walking? Why doesn’t he have his carriage?

Maybe he just decided to walk? Jack said. Who knows why people do things? And I’ll bet his shoulders are slumped just because he doesn’t want to get snow in his coat.

That’s the other thing. Where’s his hat?

That I don’t know, Jack admitted. I’ve hardly ever seen Pavel without his hat. Should we go and check?

Schrodinger watched Pavel walk slowly through the snow. The pirate’s head was indeed bare, his long hair tousled and laced with snow, his beard sunk into his chest, his hands stuffed in his coat pockets. He was walking away from the bookstore, into the darkness, his entire attitude one of contemplation. No, Schrodinger said finally. I think he wants to be alone now.
But he wondered, as they watched Pavel disappear into the falling snow, just why the pirate didn’t seem to want to be found.

When they could no longer see him, Schrodinger and Jack went back to the wood stove in the tea room to warm up. Lily and Zoey were there, working on their homework and sipping on cups of hot chocolate. Molly stuck her head out as she heard them come in.

“Are the lights safely on?” she asked merrily.

Yes, Schrodinger told her.

“Thank goodness,” she teased. “I was worried!”

Jack lolled his tongue at her. You never know! They might not one day! And then what would we do?

Not have Christmas lights, Schrodinger told him, and Molly laughed.

“Luckily, that’s not the case today,” she said, then looked at her charges. “Do you guys need a refill?”

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