(Advent) December 6

Sunday, December 6

“This is going to be a disaster.”

Molly laughed at the gloom in Tim’s voice, and he raised an eyebrow at her, then surveyed the room again. “How many people are going to be here?” he asked.

“Probably most of the Cove,” Sue told him, bringing another box in from the car. “And a ton of people from the surrounding area. The bake sale is kind of notorious at this point.”

That is an understatement, Schrodinger said, from his perch on a chair. To keep him from getting stepped on, Molly had designated him as the official table-watcher, and he was happy to do so, since the main auditorium of the Daughter of Stars Elementary School was absolutely swarming with people. Molly’s tables this year were in a corner, which was a blessing, because it meant her tables were less likely to get bumped. Considering the amount of work that had gone into the gingerbread alone, that was a saving grace. She spared one glance around the crowded room, and then turned back to her own set-up.

“Okay, let’s do this,” she said, opening the big tote that they had brought in, and pulling out the dark blue tablecloth. “Grab the other end?”

Tim did so, and as they started setting up, Drew and Sue continued to bring in the boxes and boxes of cookies, scones, gingerbread and other goodies that Molly had been baking. Schrodinger kept baby Ryan amused by tickling him with his long whiskers, causing the baby to shriek with laughter.

Finally, everything was in, and most of the gingerbread cottages were arranged on the four tables. Drew brought in the big box that contained the Heart’s Desire, and Molly had him hold the box while she and Sue carefully lifted the ship out. The entire room went silent as they settled the big gingerbread sculpture in to place atop the box in the center of the display. Then, as they stepped back to look at it, everyone burst into spontaneous applause. Molly blushed.

“It’s completely deserved,” Drew told her, pulling her into his arms after he’d stowed the box under the table. “You’ve outdone yourself.”

“It’s just gingerbread, though,” Molly said.

“Not in your hands,” he said. “It’s magic.” He nodded to the various houses that were arranged on the tables. “This is the stuff of dreams, and you made it happen. Don’t sell yourself short.” Then he kissed her gently. “I’ll see you tonight, okay?”

“See you tonight.”

Drew grabbed Tim’s arm before he left. “Thanks for helping on this, cousin,” he said. “Bring Doug and Ryan tonight? I’m making pizza.”

“Sounds good!” Tim agreed, grinning. As Drew left, he said to Molly, “You know, that’s one of the best things about coming here.”

“What?” Molly asked him, as they continued to unpack and put out the vases of snowflake lollipops and boxes of gingerbread men.

“That my new family actually accepts me,” Tim said, laying a tray of scones on the table. “Rather than shunning me.”

Molly shook her head. “I just can’t understand that.”

“That’s because you’re a good person, Molly,” he said. “Not everyone is.” He looked like he was going to say something else, but then the warning bell rang.

“That means we’ve got ten minutes,” Molly told him. “Let’s get behind the tables before we get run over.” She turned to Lily and Zoey, who had just shown up. “You guys ready?”

The two little girls nodded eagerly, and Molly handed them trays that she’d had made over the summer. They were based on the classic trays that cigarette girls had used, and had straps that went around their necks. Once they were settled in place, Molly put scones, gingerbread men, and sugar cookie snowflakes in the little boxes set within the trays, and showed them where to put the money they collected.

“This is cool!” Lily said excitedly.

“Just be careful,” Molly cautioned. “There’s going to be a lot of people in here, so don’t bump them.”

“We’ll be careful!” Zoey said, and looked over at Schrodinger. “I think you should stay here, though.”

I’m the babysitter this year, he told her. I get to keep Ryan amused.

“And that’s a huge help,” Tim told him. “I really appreciate it.”

I’m practicing for when we have one, Schrodinger said, and Molly almost choked on laughter. I really can’t wait.

“I can,” she told him, skirting around the table and reaching for the mug of tea she’d set down. “Babies are a lot of work, you know.”

But they’re adorable! Schrodinger said, and then his eyes widened as Ryan grabbed one of his whiskers in a chubby fist and tugged. Okay, maybe we can wait.

Tim hurried to remove the whiskers from his son’s fingers. “I’m so sorry!”

Why? He’s a baby. Schrodinger leaned back and patted the baby with a velveted paw. I shouldn’t have leaned so close.

And then the opening bell rang, and Molly, Tim, and Sue were immediately swamped. Molly barely had time to turn on the Christmas lights on the Heart’s Desire and put a small sign that said “Not for Sale” on it before the first customers caught her attention.

The morning passed in a blur of happy people. At one point, Molly saw Sarah and called out to her.

“Sarah! Over here!”

The blind girl’s head turned to her, and she unerringly wound her way through the crowd to the table, her white stick clearing a path. “Molly! What did you make this year?”

“Thank Schrodinger for the inspiration,” Molly said, taking her hand and placing it lightly on the wagon. “We made an old-fashioned police wagon.”

“Oooh,” Sarah said, running her fingertips over the entire sculpture. “That’s amazing! He’s going to love it!”

“Good.” Molly beamed. “Of course, I have no idea how to top it next year, but well, I’ve got a year, right?”

“Right,” Sarah said. “Can you deliver later?”

“Absolutely,” Molly said, replacing the wagon into its box. “Is he going to be home later tonight?”

Sarah shook her head. “He’s working until ten tonight, so if you don’t mind bringing it over after this, I can hide it.”

“Done,” Molly promised.

“I hear that you did a ship too,” Sarah said. “Can I touch it?”

“Of course.” Molly brought her over to where the ship was, and Sarah ran gentle fingertips over it.

“This is wonderful, Molly,” the girl told her. “How do you do things like this?”

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s not really difficult,” Molly said. “Just fiddly, really.”

“Liar,” Sue said, coming over. “You’re an artistic genius that doesn’t want to admit it.”

“I think she’s right,” Sarah said, grinning. “What are you going to do with this?”

“Give it to Pavel,” Molly said. “Cook should be here soon, to pick up the scones he commissioned, and I thought he could take it back with him.”

“That’s perfect,” Sarah said. She hugged Molly. “I have to go get the rest of my stuff. I’ll see you later?”

“See you later.”

Cook didn’t appear until almost the end of the bake sale, weaving his way through the thinning crowds. “Molly! Am I too late?”

She put on a sad face. “Oh, Cook, I don’t know if I have any scones left!”

As his face fell, Molly couldn’t keep the facade up, and started to giggle. “Do you really think I wouldn’t save any scones for you, when you specifically ordered them?” she said, reaching under the table for the package she’d set aside. “I wouldn’t do that to you.”

“You’re an evil woman,” Cook said, and then he stopped as he was reaching out, his gaze caught by the massive gingerbread ship. “Who is that for?” he breathed.

“Your captain,” Molly said, exchanging a grin with Schrodinger. “I thought it might cheer him up.”

“I think he’ll be over the moon,” Cook said, shaking himself out of his reverie. “Might be just what he needs.” He took the package of scones. “How am I going to take it, though?”

“It’s got a box,” Molly assured him. “And if you need, I can deliver it later.”

“Nah, Captain loaned me a couple of men to help me bring supplies back, so they can take it.” Cook turned to the crowd and put two fingers in his mouth, whistling sharply. The sound cut across the noise, and two men in heavy canvas overcoats and big boots came hurrying over.

Molly and Tim put the ship carefully in its box, and sealed it up. “Take this back to the ship, and put it in Captain’s cabin,” Cook said to the men. “And be careful, dammit. I don’t want anything to spoil it.”

“Yessir,” they said, and carried it out of the room. Cook then turned back to Molly.

“Thank you,” he said, clasping her hand. “This might be just what he needs.”

“If there’s anything else I can do, let me know,” she said, and Cook nodded, then hurried after the men.

Molly sighed and sank back down into her chair behind the table. Tim sat next to her. “Penny?” he said after a moment.

“I’m worried about Pavel,” she said. “I know everyone says not to be, but I can’t understand how he’s not upset that his grandfather died.”

“I can, sadly,” Tim said. “Be lucky you don’t understand.” He shook his head. “I don’t know that I’ll be that upset when my parents die.”

“How can you say that, though?” Molly asked, genuinely curious. It was so far outside her experience that she was having real issues wrapping her brain around the concept.

“Because they don’t care if I live or die,” he said frankly. “They tossed me out when I was fifteen. Told me to straighten out, literally, or die.”

Molly stared at him in horror. “What did you do?”

“Moved in with my best friend.” Tim shrugged, and started to tidy the table, consolidating trays and vases. “Luckily, his parents were cool with my sexuality, and willing to let me sleep in their spare bedroom while I finished high school. Then I got a scholarship to college, got out of my hometown and never went back.”

“Do they know about Doug and Ryan?” Molly asked him.

“They know about Doug. I sent them a letter after we got married, letting them know about everything.” Tim sighed. “I got a brief note back telling me that they didn’t have a son.”

“Oh Tim, I’m so sorry.” Molly shook her head. “That’s horrible.”

“Yes, it is.” He shook his head. “I think it’s a crime that they can’t see outside their own narrow faith, but I can’t live their lives for them. But I can understand Pavel not being unhappy that his grandfather is dead, if that’s the kind of family relationship they had.”

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