(Advent) December 5

Saturday, December 5

Molly surveyed the tea room and turned to Aunt Margie. “You know, we might just finish all this today. Thank you for letting me close the room early.”

Aunt Margie patted her on the shoulder. “You needed the space, and it’s not like it’s every day. I know you’ll get everything done.” She winked at her niece. “I think you might be hitting the limits of your output, though.”

“I think you might be right,” Molly said, sighing. “But I hate the idea that I can’t get everyone what they want.”

“You can’t bake for the entire world, Molly,” Aunt Margie said. She turned to Sue, who had just come in. “Maybe you can talk some sense into her. Remind her that she’s only human?”

“We’ll try, but I doubt it will stick,” Sue said, laughing a little.

“It hasn’t yet,” Lai added, as she and Noemi brought up the rear. “Hey, Molly, before we start, do you want me to check the carafes upstairs?”

“Oh, that’s a good idea,” Molly said. Since Aunt Margie had let them close the tea room for the afternoon, Molly had set up one of the large tables upstairs as a tea station, with two large carafes of hot water, a smaller carafe of hot cider, and a platter of scones, cookies, and muffins. She figured they would refill them as needed, and Lai headed out with Aunt Margie to do the first check.

After they had left, Molly hung the decorative chain across the doorway and turned back to her troops. Lily, Zoey, Schrodinger, Jack, Noemi, Sue, and Tim were all waiting for her expectantly, wearing aprons and holding what Tim had called the various “implements of frosting destruction.”

“Okay, so here’s the plan,” she said, after taking a deep breath. “Lily, Zoey, Schrodinger, and Jack, you guys are in charge of decorating the snowflake lollipops. Come with me.” She took them to one table, where she’d set up a station for them. “You guys did the sparkles yesterday, remember?” They nodded. “Good. Now, today, you need to take these bags of icing, put dots on each corner and in the center, then put the candy jewels on.”

Lily and Zoey watched intently as she demonstrated on the first snowflake.

“Schrodinger and Jack, you’re supervising,” Molly said, putting the finished snowflake onto another cookie sheet nearby. Then she looked at her young helpers. “Got it?”

“Got it!” Lily said, and Zoey added, “We can do this!”

“You guys are awesome!” Molly said, reaching over to hug them. “Once you’re done with these, we have gingerbread men to do.”

Well, then we’d best get started! Schrodinger said, jumping up into a chair, and Jack followed him.

Molly watched for a couple of moments, to make sure they didn’t have any issues, then she went back to her other helpers. Lai had come back down, stepping easily over the chain, and now she and Tim were cutting out tags.

“Oh Tim, those are gorgeous!” Molly said, picking one up. “I had no idea!”

He flushed. “It’s a hobby of mine,” he said. “I love doing art like this.” The little square tag had a shimmery snowflake on one side, and the list of ingredients on the back. He’d made them with slits for the lollipop sticks to slide through. For the gingerbread men, the tags were stickers for the back of the bags the men were in.

“What about us?” Noemi asked, pulling her attention away from the tags.

“You guys get to help me start building gingerbread houses,” Molly said. She led them over to the other side of the tea room, where they’d put four tables together. Molly had cut out all the pieces the night before, and now she gave one set of drawings to Noemi and one to Sue. “Here’s the royal icing to hold it together,” she said, indicating the frosting bags. “I’ve got a ton more in the kitchen, so don’t worry about running out.”

“We’ve got this,” Noemi assured her, reaching for one of the bags. “How many years have we done this now?”

“Too many.” Molly laughed. “I’d never get anything done without you guys!”

“And what are you working on?” Sue asked, as she laid down a line of royal icing on the edge of a cottage base.

“Decorating the centerpiece, and the ones that are already put together,”

Molly told her. She looked once more around the room. “Tim, you can come over and help these guys when you finish. Lai, did you want to start the gingerbread men?”

“Sounds good!” Lai said, nodding.

“Then I think we’re good,” Molly said, and hurried back into the kitchen.

There, spread out on the side counter, was the large gingerbread ship that she’d been working on. Although she’d originally thought to do the full harbor, once she’d started working on the ship itself, she’d realized that she’d never have time to do it. Not and make everything else. So instead of trying to do it all, Molly just built the Heart’s Desire.

The ship stood on the island, nearly three feet tall from the top of the mast to the base it stood on. Molly had carefully constructed it earlier in the day, and now she began to decorate it.

First came the black icing that was the base of everything. Molly had created a matte black frosting that she’d spread carefully over the entire piece with a very small, delicate spatula. Now, she put down a sheet of wax paper on a cookie sheet, and began to make the decorations that she was going to hang over the ship.

Wreaths of delicate green leaves, interspersed with tiny red berries and tied with golden ribbon bows. Once those had dried, Molly put a thin line of royal icing on the back of each and attached them to each porthole on the ship.

Then she took the golden icing bag and drew ribbons connecting the wreaths all the way around.

After that, Molly took a smaller bag of white icing and wrote The Heart’s Desire on the bow on either side. The white icing also outlined the edges of the portholes, and a chain leading to where she was going to attach the anchor. That was another piece of gingerbread, frosted silver, which she attached carefully.

“Wow,” Sue said, as Molly set the icing bag down. “You don’t go halfway, do you?”

“I try not to,” Molly said, picking up the first of the three sails. She’d gotten Aunt Margie to make her the sails, which was good, as Molly had no idea how to sew. “Come help me with this?”

Together, they carefully slid the starched sails over the masts, where they rested as if the ship were running before a full wind. “Aunt Margie is a genius,” Sue said, touching the edge of the smallest sail with a fingertip.

“Agreed,” Molly said, stepping back and looking at the gingerbread model with a calculating eye. “Now, the final touches.” She picked up the small crow’s nest, also built of gingerbread, and had Sue hold it on the tallest mast while she piped the royal icing underneath to seal it in place. Then she picked up two small strands of Christmas lights, and hung them on from the crow’s nest down to the deck, one in front and one in back. She hid the battery packs in the nest itself, and then turned them on with a fingertip.

“Oh, that’s perfect!” Sue said, clapping her hands together. “You’re a genius!”

Everyone else, attracted by the noise, crowded in the kitchen to see.

“You do this every year?” Tim asked Molly, his eyes wide as he looked at the Heart’s Desire.

“I try to do something big, yes,” she said. “It’s good to have a centerpiece.”

“This is the best yet!” Lily said. “Pavel will love it!” She turned and looked at her aunt. “You ARE giving it to him, right?”

Molly laughed. “I was planning on it, yes,” she assured her.

“Good,” Zoey said. “I hope it makes him happy.”

I’m sure it will, Schrodinger said. How can you not be happy when someone gives you this kind of beautiful thing?

Molly didn’t say anything to that, and the CrossCat turned to look at her. You’re still worried about Pavel, aren’t you?

“Why are you worried about Pavel?” Lai asked, and the rest looked at her. “Is something wrong?”

“I don’t know,” Molly admitted, moving to pick the ship up carefully from the island and putting it into the box that she had ready for it, so it wouldn’t be knocked over accidentally. Then she brought out the wagon that she needed to decorate for Sarah. “Drew said he didn’t quite look right when he saw him yesterday at the Station. And he was really drunk the day before.” She looked at the kids. “Are you guys done with the snowflakes yet?”

“Not yet,” Lily said, but looked at her aunt. “Are you sure Pavel’s okay?”

Molly leaned over and hugged her. “I think he’s just missing his family right now,” she said. “That’s all. He’ll be okay. He’s Pavel.”

“True,” Lily said, looking cheered up. “Come on, guys, let’s go finish the snowflakes!”

The others left as well, except for Sue, who took a seat and said quietly, “Okay, Molly, spill.”

“I don’t really know much,” Molly said, also quietly. She took the white icing bag again and started to add details to the wagon, which she’d already frosted a dark blue earlier. “Drew said that Pavel mentioned his grandfather had died, but he seemed more upset that the old man had taken so long to do so. It sounds like his grandfather wasn’t a very nice person.”

“Sometimes that happens, you know. Not everyone has a family as amazing as you and Drew.”

“I know.” Molly sighed. “I just wish I could make it easier for Pavel.”

“I didn’t realize he had a family, you know,” Sue said.

“Where did you think he came from, then?” Molly asked, raising an eyebrow. “Hatched from an egg?”

“I was thinking poured from a wine bottle, personally, but that works too,” Sue said, giggling a little. “I just have no concept of him as a child. My brain doesn’t want to wrap around it.”

“Yeah, me neither,” Molly admitted. “I wonder if he came with the beard.”

The image of a child with the beard that Pavel currently sported made both of them burst into laughter, and Molly had to step away from the gingerbread so she didn’t smear icing everywhere. After they’d calmed down and she started the decorations again, she said, “So, have you and Luke finally agreed on a date yet?”

“Not yet,” Sue said. She looked at the sparkling ring on her hand. “It still doesn’t really seem real yet.”

“It takes a month or so to sink in,” Molly said. “And you have plenty of time.”

“Yes. You’re still going to be my matron of honor, though, right?”

“Absolutely.” Molly stepped back and looked at her. “Want to finish this for me, and I’ll start on the horses?”

“Sure. What am I doing?”

Molly gave her the drawing and then pulled out the two horses that she’d made to pull the wagon. She and Sue worked in silence for a while, then Tim called her out to inspect their work.

Corrine showed up around six to pick up the girls, and Molly sent them home with a basket of cookies and her thanks. “We’ll see you tomorrow for the bake sale!” Zoey said, and Lily nodded.

Then she and the others finished packing everything up, pausing only to eat the Chinese takeout that Drew and Luke brought over. By the time everything was done and packed away, it was nearly ten.

“Next year, we either start sooner, or we cut down on the product,” Molly said, rubbing a hand across her face. “This is insane.”

“But amazing,” Tim said, yawning. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Molly?”

“Tomorrow.” She nodded. “Ten a.m. I’ll have tea and breakfast with me.”

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