(advent) December 12

Saturday, December 12

“You know, pacing around my office is not going to make time go any faster,” Drew said, as Pavel made yet another circuit around the small room. “And you’re driving me nuts.”

“I’m sorry.” Pavel flopped gracelessly into the chair opposite Drew’s desk. “I just…I haven’t really seen her in years, except for the funeral, and that wasn’t really a social occasion.” He sighed. “And I’m wondering if this was a good idea.”

Drew keyed in the last set of equations that he needed to enter, then ran the coordinates and closed down the screen. “Come on,” he said, getting up. “Let’s get out of here for a while.”

“But–”

“Her Gate isn’t going to open for another 30 minutes,” Drew interrupted, reaching out a hand to pull Pavel up from the chair. “And if anything, the Gates are running slow today, because of the weather in Isenthorpe. That damn hurricane is screwing Gates all over the eastern coast. We know she made it to the Gate on Holland’s Island, and that she’s on the Road here. So come on, before you drive me up a wall.”

He led Pavel out into the Gate room itself. The main room that housed Carter’s Cove’s land Gate looked like an indoor greenhouse to the uninitiated: a lush green lawn carpeted the ground, and there were plants everywhere, all thriving in the heat the Gate produced. Drew loved being in the Gate room. The air itself smelled of life, water, and dirt, not machinery. Next to the smells that came out of Molly’s kitchen, it was what he pictured Heaven would smell like.

Today, however, he wanted to go to a specific corner of the Gate room. “Come on,” he said, leading Pavel to one of the corners. This one faced south, getting light all day, and Drew had built a small raised bed.

“What is this?” Pavel asked, squatting down to look at the plants that raised tender leaves to the sky.

“Everyone who works at the Station has the option to claim a plot of the Gate room for a bed,” Drew told him. “This one is mine.” He reached down and pulled out a small weed. “I’ve been growing herbs for Molly, among other things.”

“I didn’t realize you were a farmer,” Pavel said, running his fingers along a fragrant basil plant.

“I wasn’t, for a long time,” Drew admitted. “My grandfather, not the one that Phoebe married, but my mother’s father, he had a large farm, and we used to spend summers there when I was a kid.” He smiled, remembering. “He taught me how to drive the tractor the year I was eight. I felt like such a grown-up.”

“What did he grow?”

“Corn, and wheat,” Drew said. “And he had a garden as well, to feed his family. I spent my summer days fishing and pulling weeds.” He let some of the rich soil trickle through his fingers, testing the dampness. “It taught me a lot about life.”

“I’m surprised there aren’t more beds here,” Pavel said, standing up and looking around. “Are you the only one?”

“For the moment,” Drew said. “Heidi planted fig trees on her spot, and Steve planted lemons. Most folks went for trees, honestly.” He grinned and stood up as well. “I happen to have married a kitchen witch with a black thumb, though, so I decided to grow things she could use.”

“Makes sense,” Pavel agreed. “Show me a bit more?”

Drew was happy to. As they ambled through the Gate room, Drew pointed out the various plants and trees, all the while keeping a mental note on the Gate. It was a special gift that Gate engineers had, a way of feeling when the Roads had someone on them, and when the Gates were about to fire up.

They ended up near the stone arch that was the Gate itself just as the stones began to vibrate, a low hum that he could feel in his bones. Pavel looked up sharply, and pulled nervously on his shirt.

“Will you cut that out?” Drew said, rolling his eyes. “It’s your mother, not the Queen of England.”

“I’d rather deal with the Queen of England. I could seduce her,” Pavel retorted, and Drew chuckled.

The Gate lit up, and Luke, who was manning the boards, called out, “Road from Holland’s Island incoming. Clear the path, folks!”

The last was aimed at the other two techs, who were still doing something with the Gate arch, and Drew shook his head. Both techs were new, coming in to help with the holiday rush that was coming, and both were green as the basil in his little raised bed. “Was I ever that clueless?” he whispered to Pavel.

“Yes, but we fished you out of the ocean anyways,” Pavel whispered back, and Drew snickered. “I knew we were saving you for someone.”

The Gate burst into life, and the grass in front of it transformed, hardened into something akin to stone as the Road connected in. Hooves clattered along the hard surface, and Drew blinked at what came through.

A cart, which he’d been expecting, but not drawn by horses. Instead, two immense woolly rams trudged into the Gate room, their heads surmounted by two massively curled horns. The driver was an average man, dressed in a heavy canvas coat, with a knit hat crammed low over his eyes. He pulled the reins, stopping the two rams, who bleated a bit. Pavel was already moving to the back of the cart, reaching up to help the lone passenger step down.

“Hei, Pavel!” she said, in a surprisingly rich contralto voice that contrasted with her weathered skin and serviceable coat, a canvas one much like the driver wore. “You look tired!”

“I’m always tired, Mother,” Pavel told her, kissing her cheek as he helped her step on to the grass. “It comes from being in charge.”

“You should let your first mate take some of the stress,” she said, her dark eyes looking over him critically. “That’s what first mates are for.” When he started to say something, she said, “Don’t, Pavel. I may not be made for the sea, but I come from a long line of captains. I know how they work.” She turned then and looked at Drew, who was still standing to one side. “Are you the customs man?”

“No, Mother, this is the Gate engineer,” Pavel said, as she dug in her bag for her passport. “You don’t need that yet. This is my friend Drew. Drew, this is my mother, Ella Chekhov.”

“It’s good to finally meet you, Mrs. Chekhov,” Drew said, taking her hand and smiling.

“Ah, you are the Drew he was telling me about at the funeral!” Ella Chekhov smiled up at him, her thin fingers gripping his hand in a surprisingly warm grasp. “It is good to meet you!”

“I have so many people I want you to meet here,” Pavel said, as he picked up her suitcase, and paid the driver, who clucked at the rams and began to pull away in a large circle, preparing to go back through the Gate. “This is a good place, you will see.”

Ella looked around her with wonder. “This is amazing,” she murmured. “So much green, in the middle of winter. I haven’t seen this much green ever, except in the fields during the summer. And even then, not this much.” She looked up at Pavel. “You aren’t bringing me to the ship, are you?”

“No, I promise you.” Pavel tucked her arm under his and picked up her suitcase with his free hand. “I have rented a house.”

“How will you survive without the waves beneath your feet?” she asked shrewdly, and Drew tried to hide his smile. Pavel had said his mother was a quiet woman, but now that her father was no longer there to inhibit her, it was apparent where the pirate captain had gotten his spirit from.

“We must all make sacrifices,” Pavel said, winking over her head at Drew. “And Drew and his lovely wife Molly have invited us to dinner on Tuesday.”

“Molly! I cannot wait to meet her!” Ella smiled up at Drew. “Pavel was full of tales of her wizardry in the kitchen, and I cannot wait to try her food.”

“You won’t have to wait,” Drew told her. “She’s left you dinner in the house that Pavel rented.”

“So you won’t have to experience my cooking,” Pavel added.

“As if you would cook,” Ella said.

“As if you would let me,” Pavel replied. “And anyways, you’ll meet Molly tomorrow. We’re going to a concert at the bookstore where she works.”

Drew followed them out as Pavel continued to explain what the plans were, grinning as Ella interjected every chance she got. This was definitely going to be an interesting couple of weeks.

He hoped Pavel would survive it.

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