(advent) December 1


It’s December 1, and you guys know what that means! A new Advent story! Enjoy! – Val

 

What do you think this year will bring?

“I don’t know,” Molly McIntyre admitted, stirring a cup of walnut pieces in to the cranberry bread batter in her bowl. Her kitchen at CrossWinds Books was warm and bright, fragrant with the scent of hot tea and hot apple cider. Schrodinger, the CrossCat who lived with her, was perched on his customary stool, a large cappuccino mug full of Earl Grey tea steaming in front of him. “It will be fun, though,” she continued, considering the bowl thoughtfully. “It’s always fun, isn’t it?”

Especially since both Zoey and Gideon are here, the CrossCat agreed, his emerald eyes bright. I wonder if the Snow Queen will send us something.

                “I doubt it,” Molly said, putting a large pinch of orange zest into the batter. “She and Jack are super busy this year with the Ball. Rumor has it that she’s hosting a large delegation of dignitaries this season.”

Dignitaries? Schrodinger’s large tufted ears perked up. From where?

                “All over the Realms,” Molly said. “There’s something big going on, from what Pavel was saying the other night after you went to sleep. Someone is trying to get a big treaty signed, but there’s a lot of moving parts, and Jade is trying to bring all the sides together. She asked me to cater a dinner the week before the Ball, so that she can convince some of them who are on the fence to sign.”

Wow. Schrodinger looked impressed. What are you doing?

                “I’m not sure yet. Jade is coming over next week to plan with me. She’ll know by then who exactly will be there, and what allergies, etc, I need to worry about. Then I’ll be able to do a feast.” Molly finished with the batter and frowned at the bowl. “What do you think, Schrodinger? Should I do tea breads, or muffins? I’m indecisive.”

The CrossCat drank his tea while he considered the question. If you do tea breads, you can use them in sandwiches, he pointed out. But muffins are good too. It’s too bad you can’t make cranberry-walnut rolls. That would be perfect.

Molly’s hazel eyes went misty. “It would be, wouldn’t it?” she said, setting the bowl down and going to into her pantry.

But how would they keep their shape? Schrodinger asked her.

She came back out with several large pans that she’d almost forgotten she owned. “With these.”

What are they?

“Mini bun pans,” Molly said, reaching for the spray grease she used on all her pans. “I bought them on a whim a year ago, but then I decided bread was easier to make than buns. But now I’m glad I did!”

The batter went into the greased pans and then into her oven. “We’ll see how these come out,” Molly said, picking up her mug of tea and taking a sip. Her cup was full of the fragrant Christmas blend that she preferred, redolent with cinnamon, cloves, almond, and orange. “You might be on to something here, Schrodinger.”

She glanced at the clock. “And your compatriots will be here in time to taste them with you. Why don’t you go out and make sure everything’s set for them?”

I’m done with my tea, so I will! Schrodinger hopped down and headed out into the warm tea room, which was almost empty.

Molly watched him go with a fond smile. Schrodinger adored her two nieces and their best friends as much as he adored her and Drew. It was customary for CrossCats to go on a voyage of discovery when they became adults, but Schrodinger had only made it as far as Carter’s Cove, on the coast of Maine, before deciding to settle down. That had been six years ago.

And what a six years it’s been, Molly thought, looking around at the bright kitchen. The room itself hadn’t changed, but she had: from a single young woman unsure about her future to happily married, with a farm and part of a larger family than she’d expected. Complete with a faery grandmother, who was due to spend the last week of Christmas with them. She hadn’t told Schrodinger that yet. He would be over the moon. He loved it when Phoebe came.

The scent of warming cranberries, laced with sugar and the tang of orange, reached her nose, drawing her out of the past and back to the present.

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                Out in the tea room, Schrodinger had paused to look around to see who was still there. DC, the senior clerk at CrossWinds Books, was at the counter at the front of the store, busy pricing a small display of homemade bookmarks for stocking stuffers. Over her shoulder, he could see the snowflakes falling outside: a white curtain of soft cotton that blurred everything into mist.

In the tea room, there were six tables, but only one was occupied, by Stephen and Lucille Dorr. They came in every day for afternoon tea: Stephen would read aloud to Lucille as she knit, and they would both enjoy a plate of whatever Molly happened to be baking that day. Today, it was apple cinnamon bread, spread with butter and a warm fig jam. A pot of herbal tea was set in between them.

Are you all set? Schrodinger asked politely, as he came up to their table. I can ask Molly for more tea, if you need.

Lucille smiled at him, her needles flashing in the light. “No, we’re fine, thank you, Schrodinger. How are you doing today?”

Good! Excited because it’s finally Christmas!

“Me too,” Stephen said, grinning. “I’m hoping for both my sons to be home this year for Christmas.”

Bob too? Schrodinger’s ears perked up again. They were easily his most expressive feature, although his tail was a close second. We haven’t met Bob yet!

Lucille and Stephen’s son Jeff worked at one of the hotels in Portland, keeping the books for them. But their other son Bob lived further away, and was an artist. He didn’t travel much, so Schrodinger had only heard about him, and seen pictures of the exquisite work he did.

“We’ll see,” Lucille said. “But we hope so.” She paused her knitting for a moment to sip her tea. “What about you? Are you doing another Advent adventure?”

I don’t know, Schrodinger admitted. Molly wouldn’t say if she knew, but the Snow Queen has been very busy, so maybe not.

“Maybe you’ll just have to make the adventure yourself,” Stephen said. “Sometimes, that can be more fun than having it delivered to you.”

Schrodinger considered that as he curled up in one of the cat beds next to the woodstove that gave the room a warm, inviting glow. For the last couple of years, the Snow Queen and Old Man Winter, the spirits that lived in a nearby Realm, had given them a magical item that counted down the days to Christmas. It had made them new friends, and helped them explore the Cove that was his home now. But perhaps this year would be different. He put his chin on his front paws and watched the front door for his friends to get out of school.

About ten minutes later, the door burst open, and they came tumbling in, shedding snowflakes and laughter in equal measure. Lily and Kaylee Barrett were sisters, and you could see it in their faces: Lily, the elder, with her long hair pulled back in neat braids; Kaylee’s short blonde hair tousled around her glowing cheeks. Their dog Jack, who was Schrodinger’s best friend, came in behind them and went for his bed.

Getting old, he said ruefully, sinking down and stretching his paws towards the wood stove. My joints ache.

                And they run a lot, Schrodinger agreed.

That was all he got to say, as Aurora, the young Husky that belonged to Zoey Allard, jumped in next to him and snuggled up. It’s snowing! She said excitedly. And it’s so lovely out!

                Agreed! Schrodinger said, giving her some room.

Zoey, with a single dark braid that went down to the middle of her back, shed her backpack with a sigh. “It’s cold out,” she said, her dark eyes sparkling. “I wonder if that means that Old Man Winter is coming to see us!”

“It could be, but maybe not,” Gideon Gable, the final member of the group, said doubtfully. “It’s time for it to snow anyways.”

Kaylee shook her head. “I think Gideon’s right. I don’t feel like I do when Old Man Winter comes around.”

Molly said they were very busy this year, Schrodinger said, as they all settled down. Kaylee and Gideon snuggled down in the pet beds and pulled out books, since they didn’t have any homework. Zoey and Lily weren’t so lucky, so they sat at the nearby table. We might not get anything this year.

“Well, we’ve been lucky so far,” Lily said. “They might need a year off too.”

Stephen’s words came back to Schrodinger then. What if we made our own adventure?

                They all stopped and looked at him. “What do you mean?” Gideon said finally.

Well, think about it, Schrodinger said. What did the Advent calendar and the castle do for us?

                “Gave us stuff to do,” Lily said. “We followed the magical snowflake from the calendar.”

“And the castle showed us rooms that gave us another thing to do,” Kaylee added.

All things that we can do, Jack said. We could do our own calendar and explore the Cove!

                Yes! Aurora agreed, thumping her tail. And think of how much fun we could have!

Lily and Zoey looked at each other. “And we could help people,” Zoey said softly. “That was the point of the Advent calendar, remember? To help us remember the point of the season.”

“There are a lot of things we can do,” Lily agreed. “Helping Father Christopher.”

“Going to the vet’s and helping with the animals,” Zoey said.

“Singing at the retirement home, and helping them decorate!” Kaylee said.

“Helping Molly with the bake sale!” Gideon added.

They all looked at each other, and then Lily pulled out a clean sheet of paper. “Let’s brainstorm,” she said. “Then we can present Molly and our parents with a plan. They can’t really argue with us if we have a coherent schedule. And this way, we know what we want to do.”

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                The room was too quiet, Molly realized, when she stuck her head out into the tea room an hour later. To her surprise, the kids were all there, huddled together, murmuring among themselves. She’d brought out cider and cookies before, but they hadn’t come asking for refills. Now she wondered what they were up to.

“Are you guys okay?” she said. Lucille and Stephen had gone home, and DC wasn’t around either. The entire tea room was still.

“Yes,” Lily assured her, looking up and grinning. “We’re making up our plans for December.”

“Your plans, huh? Would you like some more cider or cookies while you plan?” Molly said.

They looked at each other, and, to her surprise, shook their heads. “Not right now, thank you,” Kaylee said politely.

Molly retreated to her kitchen, wondering what they were up to. And if she really wanted to know.

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I wonder what this year will bring!

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