(advent) December 20

Sunday, December 20

“Schrodinger, can you go and get the door, please?” Molly said, as she flipped over the French toast over on the griddle. “I think Drew’s still in the shower, and I can’t leave these.”

Of course! The CrossCat hopped down from his chair and headed to the door. She heard the door open and then he said, Pavel! Ella! Come in – Molly’s making her famous French toast!  

“Famous French toast?” Ella asked, as they followed Schrodinger back into the kitchen. “For us?”

“Well, I’m not sure how famous it is, but I think it’s pretty good,” Molly said, flashing them a grin. “Pardon my pajamas. Sunday after the Snow Queen’s ball tends to be a quiet day around here, and I just didn’t feel like getting dressed.”

That’s how you know you’re really family, Schrodinger said, climbing back into his chair. He dunked his pink tongue into his tea. Because Molly’s comfortable enough to let you see that she’s in love with flannel pajamas.

“Darn right,” Molly said, not embarrassed at all. “Flannel pajamas are amazing.” And she was quite fond of the pair she was currently wearing: they were red and green plaid, with golden swans all over them. Drew had given them to her for her birthday, and Schrodinger had given her the green socks to match.

“They look very comfortable,” Ella said, taking the seat that Pavel held out for her. “I don’t blame you at all, Molly.”

Molly flashed her and Pavel a smile. “Thank you. Tea?”

“I would love some,” Ella said. “If it’s not too much trouble.”

“I keep a kettle on in the morning, so it’s no trouble at all.” Once she was sure the French toast was set for a few moments, Molly took the copper kettle off the back burner and brought it over to the table. She and Schrodinger had set the table before they’d gone to the ball the night before with her favorite holiday china set: bone white china, covered with wreaths and holly berries. She filled the cups with hot water and asked, “What kind of tea would you like?”

“Whatever you would like to serve,” Ella said, then looked at her son as he laughed. “What?”

“Do you see that cupboard on the wall there?” Pavel said, pointing to a large wooden cabinet on the wall. “That’s full of Molly’s tea collection.”

“Really?” Ella’s eyes went wide. “All tea?”

“All tea,” Molly confirmed. She set the kettle back on the rear burner, then opened up the cabinet, showing off all the neat boxes of tea. “What do you like?”

I recommend the Earl Grey, Schrodinger said. It’s the best.

“Well, then I shall have Earl Grey,” Ella said, smiling over at the CrossCat. “I must have the best!”

“I’ll take my usual,” Pavel said, getting up to get the black tea he preferred. “Let me get everything.”

Molly turned back to the French toast, which was almost ready. “So I didn’t use my normal Texas toast for this,” she said, transferring the slices to a plate, then pulling the last set of slices from the custard next to the stove and put them on the griddle. “But I think you’ll like this just as well, Pavel.”

“What did you use?” he asked, as he brought the filled tea balls over to the table.

“Blueberry bread,” Molly said, and chuckled as she heard him suck in his breath. “And we’ve got real maple syrup from our own trees out back that Schrodinger and Drew tapped this past spring.”

“Is there anything you guys can’t do?” Pavel said, shaking his head. “I swear, you could be on a deserted island and be fine.”

That’s because Molly’s a kitchen witch. They never starve, Schrodinger said wisely. So neither will we. Unless you make her mad, of course.

“Who’s making Molly mad? And why?” Drew asked, coming downstairs.

No one, I don’t think, Schrodinger said. But I was warning Pavel not to.

“That’s a lesson I think he knows pretty well,” Drew said, winking at Pavel on his way to kiss Molly. He’d changed into jeans and a sweater that Mrs. Barrett had made him. “He’s not likely to get on her bad side.”

“Hardly,” Pavel agreed. “I have seen her mad. I would rather face sea serpents in heat in the middle of the ocean, during a raging storm, in a rowboat.”

“That’s an image,” Molly said, after returning Drew’s kiss. She handed her handsome husband the plate of French toast, and then piled the last few slices on the top of the plate. “Take that to the table, please, and I’ll follow with this.” She then opened the oven and pulled out a tray of bacon and sausage.

“This is amazing,” Ella said, looking at the food, then she smiled at her son. “I see now why you want to live here, Pavel.”

As they settled in around the table, Molly looked around her bright kitchen and sighed happily. The sun was shining in through the windows, making the wooden walls glow warmly. The big table gathered them in together over the fragrant tea and French toast, filling her heart.

“This is how I always pictured my home,” she said, putting together a plate for Schrodinger. “Full of happiness and good food.”

And it’s the best home, Schrodinger said, watching her cut up the French toast for him. I don’t ever want to leave.

“No?” Pavel said, sounding surprised. “So you won’t be traveling anymore, my friend?”

Traveling, yes, but not living elsewhere, I don’t think. Schrodinger drank a bit more tea, and then sucked a piece of sausage into his mouth. I don’t even think I’d return to the den. I’ve put down my roots here.

“What about later? Don’t you want a family of your own?” Molly asked him.

Sure. I’ll bring them back here.

That statement, in Schrodinger’s typical factual style, caught her as she was taking a drink from her tea mug, and Molly almost choked. Drew had to rescue her cup as she coughed, and Pavel pounded her on the back. Schrodinger and Ella watched in faint alarm.

Are you okay? The CrossCat asked nervously.

“I’m fine,” Molly said hoarsely, shaking her head. “I just wasn’t expecting that, that’s all.” She smiled down at Schrodinger. “I think it would be lovely for you to have a family here too.”

Not for a while, though. I haven’t met the right girl.

Molly didn’t want to ask how he planned to meet that right girl, as there weren’t that many CrossCats that came through the Cove. Then again, I have no idea how old Schrodinger actually is, and at what age they breed, she thought privately. And I have to admit, the thought of little CrossCat kittens is adorable.

They ate in silence for a while, each wrapped in their own thoughts. Then Molly said, “So, Ella, what did you think of the ball last night?”

“It was amazing!” Ella said, her blue eyes lighting up. “I had no idea that anything like that could even be possible. The woods, the room, the Snow Queen.” She sighed happily. “It is a memory I will treasure. I even learned to dance!”

“Well, Mother, if you decide to take me up on my offer, you can go every year,” Pavel said.

“I know.” Ella smiled at him, the light fading from her eyes. “But I’m just not sure, dear heart. The Cove is much bigger than I’m used to. And I do love my home.”

“But why?” Pavel asked her, setting his fork down. “Why would you want to return to that place, with all its memories?”

“Because they are my memories, my son,” Ella said gently. “And not all of them are bad.” She looked down at her plate. “You were born there. I met your father there.”

“My father, who abandoned us,” he reminded her.

“Your father, who gave me you,” she said.

Pavel sighed. “I know, I know,” he said. “But my grandfather was there.”

“Pavel, it’s not always easy to leave your home,” Molly said, reaching over to lay her hand on his. “It’s a big decision.”

“I know,” he repeated. “And I will respect your decision, Mother. But I am buying the house here.”

Yay! Schrodinger said, bouncing in his chair, and Molly grabbed his plate before his paws landed in it. We’ll have a full-time Pavel!

“Well, when I’m not at sea, yes,” Pavel told him, chuckling. “As you said, this is where I want to set my roots down. Although I think there will not be a wife in my future.”

“You never know,” Molly teased. “I’m sure if nothing else, Lily would love to marry you.”

“Her father might not like that, though,” Drew said thoughtfully.

“True,” Molly said. She laughed at the look on Pavel’s face.

“Some day, you will meet a good girl,” Ella said placidly, picking up a piece of bacon. “I know.”

“We’ll see, Mother, we’ll see.” Pavel looked at Molly and Drew. “Considering the example Molly and Drew have set, she’ll have to meet a high standard.” He pushed his plate back and said, “And she’ll have to be able to cook.”

“That’s good, considering what you consider cooking,” his mother said tartly. She winked at Molly. “Maybe I should move here just to make sure you aren’t living in this kitchen.”

“He’ll just have to do chores to pay for his keep,” Molly said, grinning. “I can find all sorts of things for him to do, especially this week.”

“Why, are you especially busy this week?” Ella asked her.

“Well, it’s the week before Christmas,” Molly said. “The bookstore will be busy, and I usually make a bunch of stuff for our Christmas dinner as well. But honestly, no busier than usual.”

Ella looked at Pavel. “Then maybe this isn’t a good idea.”

“What?” Drew asked, looking at the two of them. “What idea?”

Pavel said, “Mother and I talked last night on our way home from the Ball, and,” he paused, toying with his fork as he apparently collected his thoughts, “we’ve decided to go to my grandmother’s this week.”

Molly, Drew, and Schrodinger all gaped at him. After everything they’d heard in the past month, the quiet admission was stunning.

“And we were hoping that you would come with us,” Ella said, looking at them. “As moral support.”

Of course we will! Schrodinger recovered first, and he looked at Molly and Drew. At least for some of it, right? We have to be home for Christmas Day, because we’re hosting it here. But we could go for some of it.

“It’s not usually too busy after the Snow Queen’s Ball, and I’m sure I could convince Mal to let me have some time off,” Drew said, after thinking about it for a few minutes. He looked at his wife. “We could have Nathan and Corrine come Christmas Eve, and set everything up…”

Molly looked from Drew to Schrodinger, and then over to Pavel and Ella. All four of them were looking hopefully at her.

“Let me talk to Aunt Margie,” she said slowly. “I think we can do it, but I don’t want to promise anything without talking to her, and to Corrine.” She looked at Pavel. “Do you think we could be back for Christmas Day?”

“I was thinking Christmas Eve, actually,” he said. “I know how important your family is to you, Molly, and what I’m asking.”

“What we’re asking,” his mother corrected. “It’s a lot, Molly, and if you feel you can’t…”

“I don’t want to say that,” Molly said, getting up. “But I can’t make a decision yet, without talking to them. Let me make some phone calls.”

It took some time, and a little bit of wrangling (Mal was more disappointed than either Aunt Margie or Corinne, and Molly had to promise him a full basket of her turkey cranberry scones), but eventually, everything was set. Molly threw them all out of the house, telling them that if they wanted to leave tomorrow, she had to cook.

Before he left, Pavel gave Molly a hug. “Thank you,” he murmured. “It’s time for my biological family to meet my chosen family. It wouldn’t be right to go to see my grandmother without you, Drew, and Schrodinger.”

“Oh Pavel,” she said, hugging him back. “I’m so glad we’re able to do this with you.”

He winked at her on the way out. “And just think of the fun we’ll have.”

Molly shook her head. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

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