(advent) December 9

Wednesday, December 9

“Peppermint? Are you making candy canes again?”

Aunt Margie wandered into the kitchen, smelling the air appreciatively.

“No, but I could, if you wanted me to,” Molly said, getting a mug of tea for her aunt and gesturing to one of the stools.

“Then what am I smelling?”

“Peppermint tea cakes for Jade,” Molly told her, handing her the mug.

“Darjeeling?”

“No, something decaf, please,” Aunt Margie said, sinking onto the stool. “I’ve had too much caffeine lately.”

Molly went into the pantry and brought out a small tea ball of a sweet peppermint and chamomile tea that she knew would appeal to her aunt. She also brought out a jar of peppermint starlite mints that she set down next to the tea cakes.

“So, tell me all the news,” Aunt Margie said, letting the tea steep, and watching Molly pull a bowl of frosting from the refrigerator. “I hear Pavel’s talking about settling down finally.”

“Yes,” Molly said, and filled her aunt in.

“Poor Pavel,” Aunt Margie said, when the story was done. “What a horrible childhood that must have been.” She shook her head. “I shouldn’t be surprised at how terrible people can be, but I am.”

“I think we’re spoiled here, really. The Cove seems so sheltered.”

“Being sheltered isn’t a bad thing,” Aunt Margie said.

“No, I guess not.” Molly finished swirling the buttercream on the last tea cake, and set the spatula she’d been using aside. Then she picked up the jar of candy and shook out some into a plastic bag. “Hang on for a second.”

A few swift, sure blows from her wooden rolling pin, and the candies were shards of peppermint-flavored sugar, ready to be sprinkled on to the cakes. “But I’m afraid that I don’t know what to say to him about it,” she continued, picking up the thread of the conversation. “It’s so far outside of my experience.”

“Just be a friend,” Aunt Margie advised. “That’s what he needs.”

“What who needs?” a new voice said, and Molly turned to see Jade enter the kitchen, snowflakes dusting the dark green wool of her overcloak. The Snow Queen’s cheeks were pink with cold, and her eyes bright.

“What Pavel needs,” Molly said, after hugging her friend. “Tea?”

“Of course.” Jade nodded to Aunt Margie and settled on another stool. “It’s cold out today.”

“If you’re saying it’s cold, I’ll need another sweater,” Molly teased gently, and Jade laughed.

“I’ll leave you two ladies to catch up,” Aunt Margie said, rising and taking her mug with her. “I’ve got paperwork to do.”

Once they were alone, Jade looked at Molly. “So, I hear it’s been a bad week for our friend Pavel?”

“News travels fast,” Molly said, settling across from her with a fresh mug of tea. “His grandfather died.”

Jade nodded. “I’d heard. The funeral was several weeks ago. Is that what kicked off his tantrum the other day?” When Molly looked at her, Jade said, “Jack told me Pavel had managed to scare his entire ship, according to Schrodinger.”

“And why was Schrodinger out with Jack?” Molly asked.

“That I’m not supposed to say,” Jade said, winking. “I believe they’re working on a Christmas present together, but that’s just speculation on my part. I haven’t been told the details.”

“Then I won’t pry,” Molly said, grinning. “I know how important it is for Schrodinger to surprise me for Christmas.” Then her grin faded. “It was part of it. His grandmother sent him a letter.”

“Ah. Now that I understand.” Jade set down her mug and sighed. “They’re very much alike, Brynna and Pavel.”

“You know her?” Molly blinked, surprised.

“Yes, although I’ve never mentioned it to Pavel, knowing how much of a sore spot it was,” Jade said. “But Captain Brynna Stromsdottir is fairly well-known in my circles, especially if you needed something ‘acquired’ for you, if you catch my meaning. She’s not much in the business anymore, but I’m sure for the right price, she’d bring her ship back out to sea.”

“What’s she like?” Molly asked.

Jade thought for a moment. “She’s feisty,” she started. “Not too tall, but sturdy, if you can picture it. When I last saw her, she’d let her hair grow again, and she was wearing it in a plaited crown under her knit cap. She’s not loud and brash, like Pavel is, but she’s strong like he is, and she’s got the same sense of getting things done on her own terms, if that makes sense.”

“It does, yes.” Molly could almost see the woman as Jade described her. “Do you know why she left her daughter?”

“No, but I can imagine,” Jade said. “Wilhelm wasn’t an easy man, even when he was younger, and Brynna was simply the better sailor. It was probably something stupid, like she took command of her ship before he took command of his. Or maybe she finally got tired of listening to him complain, and found someone new.”

Molly studied Jade for a long minute. “It sounds like you know more than you’re saying.”

“Let’s just say it’s not my story to tell,” Jade said carefully. “But I do think it would be good for Pavel and Brynna to meet.”

“I do too.” Molly sighed. “Now we just have to convince Pavel of that.” She shook her head, and then said, “Are you and Jack going to let me know what you’re going to do for the Ball yet?”

“Absolutely not.” Jade grinned at her. “I want you to be as surprised as everyone else.”

“I can fake it!” Molly said. “Really!”

They shared a laugh, since Molly knew that Jade wouldn’t spill any information on the changes to the Ball. The fact that it was being co-hosted with Jack Frost had had everyone whispering about their own suspicions. Molly herself had some ideas, of course, but wasn’t about to pry too hard.
They chatted then for a bit about all sorts of things, and then Jade rose with a sigh. “I guess I should get back,” she said regretfully. “Do you have the tea cakes?”

“Of course.” Molly boxed the cakes up quickly and handed them to her.

“Thank you.” Jade hugged her quickly. “Dinner on Tuesday?”

Molly frowned, trying to remember her schedule. “Tentative yes? I need to check with Drew.”

“Let me know,” Jade said, and let herself out in a swirl of vanilla-scented mint air.

Molly wandered out into the tea room after her friend had left, checking to make sure everyone had what they needed and thinking about what she’d learned. Tim was sitting next to the wood stove, reading a book and watching Ryan, who was sitting in the large cat bed with Schrodinger, very intently trying to put his toes in his mouth. The sight reminded Molly of Tim’s own story.

What kind of person doesn’t want to know their own grandson? she thought sadly, watching the baby. Schrodinger was curled around him, keeping him from wandering off and giving him a solid surface to lean against. Molly couldn’t even fathom what Tim must have gone through, and how hard it must be for him to see not only her family, but Doug’s as well.

Schrodinger looked over at her. Family isn’t always blood, he said quietly, picking up on her thoughts. Family is who we choose to share our lives with. And we’re lucky that we get to share our lives with people like Pavel and Tim.

Yes, yes, we are, she agreed. We definitely are.

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