(advent) December 19

Saturday, December 19

“Molly, are you ready? Tim and Doug are here!”

“I’m almost done!” she called back, putting in the silver snowflake earrings that matched the silver snowflake pendant that hung on a delicate chain around her neck. Her long hair was braided in an intricate French braid, held in a crown with more silver snowflakes set on bobby pins. She checked her lipstick one last time, then turned to get her evening bag from the bed.

As she descended the staircase, Molly saw Drew, Doug, Schrodinger, and Tim waiting for her in the entryway. The humans were all in fitted tuxes with vests and bow ties, and the CrossCat was resplendent in a vest and tie as well. He and Drew were in the sapphire colors they had worn for the wedding, while Tim and Doug had chosen a seasonal dark green that went with both their coloring. Molly watched Drew’s eyes widen and smiled.

Her dress was similar to the dresses her bridesmaids had worn at the summer wedding, in the same rich sapphire fabric. But where their dresses had come to their knees, Molly’s gown hugged her curves all the way down to her ankles. There was a gathering of fabric at the top of her right shoulder, and a train cascaded down her back to slither down the stairs behind her, whispering secrets as it did. The front of the dress had silver shot through the bodice, and the long silver strands spiraled around her several times before hitting the hem. “Do you like it?” she asked shyly.

“You look exquisite,” Drew told her, meeting her at the bottom of the stairs and offering her his arm. He leaned in close to her and whispered, “I half-want to cancel, so I don’t have to share you with anyone else.”

“We could,” she murmured up to him, leaning in as well. “Send Schrodinger with Doug and Tim, go back upstairs…” Molly let her voice trail off suggestively.

“You’re an evil woman,” he said. “You know that we can’t.”

She chuckled and kissed him. “Soon enough, my love. Soon enough.”

Once she had her coat on, they all piled into the Jeep and headed out. “Pavel and Ella are meeting us there,” Drew said. He looked over at his cousins. “This is going to blow your mind.”

“We’ve seen it, at the wedding, remember?” Doug said from the back seat.

It’s still going to blow your mind, Schrodinger said. Trust us.

The line of cars heading towards the Snow Queen’s Ball was the first indication to Tim and Doug just how big an event this was. They made it up to the drop-off point, and piled out.

Come on! Schrodinger said, shaking with excitement. Come on!

They all laughed and followed him down the path towards the large doors which indicated the ballroom. “It’s still cold,” Tim pointed out to Molly quietly. “I thought you said it wouldn’t be cold?”

“You aren’t inside yet,” she said, laughing a little. “Give it a moment.”

As soon as they approached the white marble columns that framed the entrance, the heavy oak doors opened on their own, noiseless as they passed over snow as soft as a plush carpet. Molly and Schrodinger let the way into the entry, where snow gave way to white marble floors covered with an soft white carpet.

“See?” she said, pulling off her coat and handing it to the coat check girl. “It’s not cold in here, is it?”

In fact, it was pleasantly warm, even though the night sky glittered overhead where the ceiling should have been. Tim and Doug craned their heads up, bemused.

“So what holds up the columns?” Tim asked.

Molly grinned. “Magic, of course.”

“Of course,” he echoed, shaking his head. “I’ll remember eventually, I promise.”

“She’s forgetting again that not everyone has grown up with magic,” Drew said, taking Molly’s arm. “Come on. I want to see what the theme is this year.”

They went down the short hallway and stepped into the ball room. Molly drew in a breath, amazed.

For her wedding, they had done a fall color theme. She’d expected some version of snowflakes and fall leaves, a nod to Jack Frost and the Snow Queen, but not the way she saw it now.

The floor was white, with leaves strewn artfully around. Rather than the marble columns that Molly remembered from before, now there were live trees rising all around the edge of the room, their branches heavy with snow. Long garlands of holly and ivy were interspersed with garlands of nuts and brilliant red and gold leaves, twining around the tree trunks and being draped from limb to limb. Interspersed with these were old-fashioned lamps that had candles burning in them. They looked like wrought iron, though Molly was willing to bet they weren’t. They might have even been illusions, but they looked real enough. The band sat to one side of the raised dais, on another dais, behind a fence that was composed of delicately filagreed snowflakes, tuning up their instruments. And then there were the thrones.

Two this year, of course. One was the beautiful crystal throne of the Snow Queen, looking as if it were carved of living ice, flickering like a faceted diamond in the light of the candles that lit the room. Beside it was a heavy throne of oak, as solid as hers was ethereal, covered in carved leaves and nuts. Molly had wondered what Jack’s throne would look like.

Off to the side of the Snow Queen’s throne was a third chair, not quite a throne, but very close. This one was made of stone, not crystal, and had a fur thrown across it. Doug nudged her and asked quietly, “Who is that one for?”

“Old Man Winter, I’d imagine,” she murmured back. “Look, there’s room for Ember next to it.” Indeed, there was something that looked like a supersized version of Schrodinger’s bed at the tea room. “That’s probably where Schrodinger will spend the evening.”

I’ll wait until they get here, though, the CrossCat said. It’s not polite to sleep in someone’s bed before they get to the party. He ran a large paw across his whiskers and looked around. When do you think that will be?

“Not long now,” Molly said, looking at the delicate watch on her wrist. “It’s just about time to start.”

As she said that, the band began to play a swing version of “We Need A Little Christmas” and the crowd applauded. A door opened behind the thrones, and the Snow Queen and Jack Frost came out into the room.

“Wow,” Doug said softly, and Molly smiled.

“Yeah, they have that effect on people.”

Jade, the Snow Queen, was dressed in a dress of the palest purple silk, a color that was very nearly white, but with the faintest blush of lilac in it, a long gown that swirled around her like snow clouds. Her long silver hair was loose, flowing over her shoulders, and her coronet held it back from her face. Long ribbons floated off the back of the silver coronet of snowflakes, and as they ascended the dais, Molly could almost smell the scent of peppermints and snow dancing on the air.

Her consort was dressed in a dashing coat and tails of dark green, which suited him perfectly, and brought out the purple in Jade’s dress. He had a snowflake pinned to his lapel, rather than a flower, and a coronet of snowflakes that matched the Snow Queen’s. Molly thought he looked more dashing than he had in a long time.

“Welcome, my friends,” Jade said, her clear voice cutting across the music and the murmurings of the crowd. “I’m so happy that once again you are here to celebrate the season with us.” She smiled at Jack, reaching for his hand, as she continued, “Please, dance, make merry, and enjoy yourselves. Let the party begin!”

“Come on,” Molly said, tugging Drew over to the dais as the band started a new song. “I want to say hi to Old Man Winter and Ember before we dance.”

And I want to snuggle, Schrodinger said, leading them around the edge of the room. Besides, I think they’ll have the best vantage point to watch from anyways.

“I think you’re right,” Molly agreed. Once they got closer, however, she realized that they’d lost Tim and Doug.

“They decided to dance,” Drew said, pointing with his chin at the two men, dancing slowly on the dance floor.

“And Doug was worried that he couldn’t dance,” Molly scoffed. Then she smiled. “They look so happy together.”

“Yes,” Drew agreed, pulling her closer. They watched Tim and Doug for a moment longer, then let Schrodinger pull them towards the stone chair, where Old Man Winter had taken his seat.

“Wondered when you three would get over here,” Old Man Winter said gruffly, but Molly saw the twinkling in his blue eyes.

“As if we’d miss seeing you,” she said, hugging him and feeling the icy chill that always surrounded the Spirit of Winter. “You old fraud.”

“I have a reputation to maintain, you know,” he huffed, but he hugged her back.

“Yes, but that reputation includes being wrapped around the fingers of some little girls,” Drew pointed out, shaking the hand Old Man Winter offered him. “And being able to be bribed with orange scones. Pardon us if we’re not scared of you any more.”

“Speaking of,” Old Man Winter said, looking around. “Where are Lily and Zoey?”

Babysitting, Schrodinger told him, rubbing up against his legs before heading over to the bed, where a large green dragon had settled herself. Hi Ember! Can I join you?

Of course, Ember replied, making room for the CrossCat, who clambered up and snuggled in among her coils. We can watch together. But I’m bummed that Jack isn’t here.

He stayed to help Lily and Zoey, Schrodinger said.

Old Man Winter looked disappointed. “But then who is going to swipe shrimp from the buffet for me?” he said plaintively, and Molly laughed.

“I think you’ll manage,” she said, laying a hand on his arm. “Besides, you don’t have to stay here. You could always go over to Peter and Corrine’s and watch movies with them.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Old Man Winter said, considering. “Are they making pizza?”

“I believe they might be,” Molly said.

“Maybe I’ll just slip out for a bit,” the Spirit said, casting an eye towards his daughter and her consort, who were laughing at something. “Think they’d miss me?”

“We’ll cover for you,” Molly assured him.

He winked at her and then turned to Ember. “Are you okay?”

Go,the dragon said dryly. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself here.

Old Man Winter grinned and hurried back out of the room. Molly and Drew laughed, then went over to the thrones.

“Where is my father going?” Jade asked shrewdly, looking at him.

“To get pizza, I believe,” Molly said, chuckling. “He said he’d be back later.”

Jade rolled her eyes, and Jack looked interested. “Pizza, huh? Where’s he going for that?” Then he saw the look on Jade’s face and added hastily, “I’m just curious, of course. I wouldn’t dream of going anywhere.”

“He went over to check on Lily and Zoey, who are babysitting this evening,” Molly said.

“Of course he is,” Jade said. She shook her head. “You know, he’s really going to destroy his reputation as a wild Spirit if he doesn’t watch out.”

“Too late,” Drew said. “Everyone in the Cove knows his secret.”

As they chatted, Pavel and his mother came up to them. Ever the fashion plate, Pavel had gone all out this time: his tuxedo was black as night, and his tie and vest were a matching black. Beside him, Ella was radiant in a champagne dress, a shawl over her shoulders, and she had a lovely corsage of champagne roses on her wrist.

“Your Majesties,” Pavel said extravagantly, bowing low before them. “May I present to you my mother, Ella Chekhov?”

“I think we’ve been upgraded,” Jack murmured to Jade, who laughed.

“Pavel, you irrepressible scamp,” she scolded, coming down off the dais and embracing him. “I didn’t know you were bringing your mother!” She turned in a flurry of ribbons and silk to Ella. “Welcome to the Ball!”

Ella looked a bit surprised at the embrace, but she recovered quickly. Then again, it was hard to resist the Snow Queen’s charm. “Thank you!” she said. “I’m having a wonderful time in the Cove – I can see why Pavel is setting down roots here.”

“Setting down roots?” Jade looked closely at Pavel. “Is this true?”

“It’s true,” he confirmed. “I think I’m buying the house I’m renting right now.” He winked at Molly. “Now, I just need to convince Molly to leave the tea shop and be my personal chef.”

“Not going to happen, sorry,” she said, grinning. “I’m not built to be a personal chef. Besides, Cook would knife me in the back.”

“Hardly,” Pavel said.

Ella turned to Molly and Drew. “What a wonderful place you live in,” she said. “Did you know, I went downtown with Pavel today, and had the most amazing time. We walked all over, and met so many people!” She shook her head. “And they were all friendly! My village, not so much.”

“It’s the Christmas season,” Molly said.

“No, it’s the Cove,” Jack said, coming down as well. “Trust me, Molly. The Cove is unlike anywhere else in the world.”

“I think so, but I’m biased,” she said.

“Molly, dance with me?” Pavel asked her, holding out his hand.

She accepted, and he swirled her out on to the floor. “I wanted a chance to talk to you alone,” he explained.

“Without my husband? You cad,” Molly teased him.

He laughed, and it was an unforced, Pavel laugh that thrilled through her. “No, without my mother, actually,” he said. “I wanted to ask you a favor.”

“Of course,” Molly said. “I’ll do it.”

“You don’t even know what it is,” Pavel said.

“Doesn’t matter. You asked a favor, and I’ll do it.” She cocked her head. “Now, what did I just agree to?”

“To have us to lunch tomorrow,” Pavel said. “Because I have a proposal.”

“That you can’t give me now?” Molly eyed him. “What are you up to, Pavel?”

“You’ll see,” he promised, and gave her a wicked grin. “You’ll see.”

And he refused to say anything else, all night. Molly danced with all her friends, the evening passing in a blur of music, champagne and magic. All too soon, the Snow Queen clapped her hands together, calling for the last dance.

Doug found her shoe and led her out onto the dance floor. “Did you have a good time?” she asked, as the band played “The Christmas Waltz.”

“I had an amazing time,” he said, holding her gently as they moved through the motions of the dance. “I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but it wasn’t this.”

“Now do you understand why Drew stayed?” she said.

“Oh, I knew why he stayed, as soon as I met you,” Doug said, chuckling a little. “I could tell how in love he was.” He looked over at his cousin, who was dancing with Lai. “But now I understand why you wouldn’t leave.”

“Look over there,” Molly said, nodding over his shoulder. He spun her around and then gasped.

Tim was dancing in the middle of the floor, the Snow Queen in his arms. She was talking to him, her eyes bright and happy.

“That’s a good thing,” Molly told him. “She likes him, and you. It’s a great honor to share the final dance with the Snow Queen.”

“What does it mean?” Doug asked her.

“It means you’re home,” Molly said, and hugged him. “It means you’re home.”

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