(advent) Tuesday, December 4

Molly sipped her first cup of Christmas tea and contemplated her kitchen. The rest of the house was quiet; she was the first up, as usual, and CrossCat Farm was on the outskirts of the Cove, with their nearest neighbor over a mile away. Hardly anything broke the stillness, especially in the winter.

She’d left Drew and Schrodinger asleep in the bedroom, slipping from the warm flannel sheets to pad quietly down the long staircase to her sanctuary. Now she sat at the large table, her ceramic mug warming her hands, and tried to imagine how much different it would be if she did turn it into a commercial kitchen.

It wasn’t as big a leap for the farm kitchen as it would have been for her apartment. There, she’d been constrained by what additions or modifications she was able to make, as the apartment had been rented. And renting a store front had been out of her price range, even in the Cove. But now…

We had the water and sewer tested when we bought the farm, and it was only a few years ago, she mused, her gaze wandering over the gleaming steel of her large refrigerator and freezer. I’d have to call Bear to have him schedule the inspection, but that’s easy enough. And then I wouldn’t have to worry about days off or anything like that.

It was a very tempting thought. Over the last few months, given the changes that would be coming in the new year, she had been considering what she wanted to do with her life. While she loved running the cafe in her aunt’s bookstore, Molly had to admit that she was becoming bored with things.

Too much of a good thing, perhaps, she thought, taking another sip. Her favorite tea was flavored with marzipan, cloves, and cinnamon, a blend that she bought from a custom vendor. It had always said Christmas to her, bringing her back to when she was a child, and her great-aunt’s kitchen. Aunt Evelyn had been her grandmother’s cousin, actually, but Molly had always called her Aunt. It was Evelyn who had recognized her talents as a kitchen witch, and had taught her how to make homemade candy and chocolates.

I haven’t done anything with marzipan in a long time, Molly thought now. Perhaps I should change that.

She set her mug on the table and moved over to the large bookcase on the far wall. Drew had built it for her the past summer, surprising her for her birthday. Now it held the treasures of her kitchen: the various cook books inherited and found over her life. She ran one fingertip over the spines, enjoying the feeling of leather and paper, imagining that the recipes nestled inside were whispering to her. The book she was looking for was on the second shelf, a book thickened by years of use near a hot stove and hot water. Her Aunt Evelyn’s candy journal, the recipes tried and tested, written in black ink in a spidery hand. It had come to Molly after Evelyn’s death, along with her other cookbooks, but she hadn’t thought of it in years.

Now she went back to the table and began to leaf through, letting the scents of vanilla and cocoa and almond fill her nose. She still needed to come up with a centerpiece for the bake sale on Friday, after all.

By the time Schrodinger and Drew had staggered into the kitchen looking for tea and breakfast, Molly had drawn up her plans and was on her third cup of tea.

Drew dropped a kiss on the top of her hair. “Good morning, beautiful. What are you working on?”

“Bake sale stuff,” Molly replied, smiling up at him. “I think I know what the centerpiece will be.” She showed him the notes she’d been taking.

“Let me get tea before I try and make sense of that,” Drew said, and she laughed.

Tea, Schrodinger said. Earl Grey, hot. He had managed to jump up into his chair at the table, but his green eyes were still at half-mast. He was definitely not a morning person.

“Yes, captain,” Drew said, putting hot water in the large cappuccino mug the CrossCat preferred. He refilled Molly’s mug as well. “What were you thinking of for breakfast, light of my life?”

“I wasn’t, actually,” she admitted. “Do you have a preference?”

Instead of answering, Drew went and opened the refrigerator. “Well, we’ve got eggs and spinach,” he said. “Do we have any of that fresh mozzarella left?”

“I don’t remember,” Molly said. “If we do, it’s in the cheese drawer.”

He rummaged. “Yep, I found it. And you made pizza dough.”

“Yes, I did,” she said, frowning. “What does that have to do with breakfast?”

Drew gathered up his supplies and went over to the oven. “You can’t tell me you’ve never had breakfast pizza before.”

“Okay, I won’t tell you that, even though it’s true.”

Breakfast…pizza? Schrodinger’s eyes opened a bit more. He adored anything pizza-related.

“It’s how I got through the Gate Academy,” Drew said. “If it could go on a pizza crust, it did. We would go to my aunt’s house once a week and make enough pizza to last us through. Of course, we didn’t have the amazing crust that Molly makes, but I have to admit that I lived on them for three years.”

Thirty minutes later, Molly and Schrodinger looked admiringly at the bubbling masterpiece that Drew set in the middle of the table. He’d partially baked the crust, then laid out sliced tomatoes and shredded spinach instead of sauce. Over that, he’d layered fluffy soft scrambled eggs and slices of freshly-cooked ham, and then he’d put it in the oven to finish. Right before he took it out, he added the fresh mozzarella on top.

“Wow,” Molly said, inhaling the scents. “I would have never thought of this.”

Brilliant, Schrodinger said. Truly inspired.

Once she’d bit into her first piece, Molly had to agree. “I think we need to do this more often.”

After a leisurely breakfast, they cleaned up the kitchen together, and then Drew dropped Molly and Schrodinger off at the bookstore on his way to work. “You’re all set with a ride home, right?” he said, leaning out of the window to get a last kiss.

“Yes,” Molly assured him. “Aunt Margie said she’d take us home.” She kissed him. “Don’t work too hard today.”

“Hah, tell Mal that,” Drew said. “You either.”

“Tell Aunt Margie that,” Molly said, and then stepped back towards the store as he drove off. It was snowing lightly off and on, not really hard, but as if it couldn’t make up its mind. The snowflakes against her skin felt like faery kisses.

“Come on, Schrodinger,” she said. “We need to go get marzipan before we go into the kitchen.”

Marzipan? For what? He followed her down the street towards the Merchant’s Square. There was a specialty food store that had come into the Cove over the summer, and Molly knew they’d have what she needed.

Ryder’s Recipes was brightly lit and smelled like chocolate as they stepped into the building, and Molly inhaled happily. Before Ryder had come to the Cove, Molly had had to go to Portland for a lot of the things she couldn’t or didn’t want to make. This was so much more convenient.

Ryder himself, a very tall and thin man with the most luxuriant mustache Molly had ever seen, was behind the counter, chatting with one of her other favorite people.

Captain Brynna Stormsdottir had retired to Carter’s Cove three years earlier, when her father had passed away and she and her son Pavel reconnected. Now, Brynna and her husband Paul were the unofficial grandparents to most of the children in Carter’s Cove, and no small amount of the young adults.

Brynna! Schrodinger bounced up to her, his eyes alight. Is Pavel back yet?

She smiled indulgently down at him. “He is, in fact. Heart’s Desire came back in last night, and he should be alive soon.”

Yay!

“So tell me, do you have an Advent calendar this year?” Brynna asked.

Oh yes! But we’re not sure from who, Schrodinger said.

At Brynna’s look, Molly explained about the odd circumstances around the calendar.

“But who would steal an Advent calendar?” Brynna said, when the recital was done.

“That’s our question too,” Molly said, then turned to Ryder. “Do you have marzipan? In bulk?”

“How much bulk are we talking?” he asked her, raising one eyebrow.

Molly thought for a moment. “Twenty pounds?”

His jaw dropped. For that matter, so did Brynna’s and Schrodinger’s.

“Twenty…pounds?” Ryder said finally.

“Yes, that should be enough,” Molly said, grinning at his reaction. “I’m making a centerpiece for the bake sale on Friday.”

“Let me look,” Ryder said, disappearing into the back of the store. He came back out five minutes later with a bag.

“You’re in luck,” he said, handing it to her. “I just got in a shipment. Anything else?”

Molly had taken the time while he was looking to gather the rest of the supplies she’d need, and she piled them on the counter. Once she and Schrodinger had paid and said goodbye to Brynna and Ryder, they headed back out to the bookstore.

Normally, Tuesday was her day off, but she’d decided to come in today and let Rose, the young woman who covered her on Tuesdays and Thursdays, cover her on Friday instead. That way, she didn’t have to worry about coming back to the cafe after the bake sale, which was almost guaranteed to wear her out.

Once she’d made sure everyone was taken care of, she went back into the kitchen and began to work on her centerpiece.

By the time the children came in after school, Molly had split the marzipan into several chunks and sculpted the largest into a fireplace. It was drying on the side counter while she worked on other pieces.

“Wow, Molly, what’s that?” Zoey said, as they came in and took their coats off.

“It’s the centerpiece for the bake sale,” Molly said. “I decided to use marzipan this year, and make a Yule log in a fireplace.” She grinned at their looks. “Lily and Kaylee never knew their great-Aunt Evelyn, but I can remember making marzipan candies with her for Christmas when I was your age. And I thought it would be fun.”

“That’s so cool!” Gideon said. “What’s marzipan?”

“It’s almond paste,” Molly said. She broke off pieces of the block in front of her that she hadn’t started shaping yet, and handed it to them.

“It’s sweet!” Lily said.

“It’s like playdoh!” Kaylee said, rolling a bit in her fingers.

“Yes, it is,” Molly agreed. “That’s why I can use it to sculpt things. And everything in this centerpiece will be completely edible. I thought we’d have it Christmas Day for the table.” She looked at Zoey and Gideon. “Since you guys are joining us out at the farm, I thought that would be cool.”

“Oh yes!” they all agreed.

“Now, let’s see what the calendar has in store for you today,” Molly said, dusting the sugar off her hands. She followed the gaggle over to the calendar.

The little cat was waiting for them at the top of the stairs, and now he trotted down jauntily. The room underneath was a bedroom, with a small bed and dresser. It was a little less ornate than some of the other rooms, and Molly guessed it might have been for a servant, but it was still decorated. A little tree was in the corner, decorated with unlit candles and ribbons, and a few little packages were underneath it. One stocking hung from the little fireplace tucked into a corner, and there were a second set of stairs going down. The bed had more ribbons on the top headboard, and a bright patchwork quilt covered the bed.

Wiggling his butt, the cat wormed his way under the bed, and they watched as another present was pushed out the other side. He came out behind it, and proceeded to unwrap it. Smoke rose from the open box and formed the words, “Let there be light.” The candles on the tree began to sparkle, and glow as the smoke swirled around it.

“Wow,” Lily breathed. The smoke dissipated.

“Wait, what’s going on?” Gideon said, frowning. “Is it broken?”

“It didn’t give us anything!” Kaylee said. “What happened?”

They all turned and looked at Molly, who shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know, guys,” she said honestly. “Maybe the people who stole it didn’t finish that room?” Then she looked at the disappointed faces, and said, “Well, you guys will just have to help me today!”

That cheered them up a bit, but Molly felt a faint twinge of worry. Why had the calendar not worked? Or had it, and they just didn’t know? So many questions, and no answers, she thought. I should call Jade later. She might have an idea.

And then the front door opened, and a cheery voice said, “Hello the Bookstore!”

“PAVEL!”

The shout rose from the four children and three animals, and they rushed out the door to tackle the pirate captain, who went down under their enthusiastic greeting. Molly was about to follow when she saw the smoke re-form in the room.

“Don’t you trust me?” it said.

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