(advent) Friday, December 7

“Hurry, hurry, hurry, guys!” Kaylee was nearly running down the hall of Daughter of Stars Elementary School, rushing to get to the gymnasium.

“Why are we hurrying?” Gideon asked, as he ran beside her. Behind them were Lily and Zoey.

“Because Molly said she’d bring the calendar and I don’t want anyone else to see it!” Kaylee said. “It’s OUR calendar! If anyone else sees it, they will want one, and then it won’t be ours anymore?”

“Do you really think that the Snow Queen and Jack would make calendars for anyone else?” Lily said a little scornfully. “It’s not like she has the time to make them.”

“Yeah, she’s not a machine,” Zoey added. “She likes us, so that’s why they do it.”

“Well, and we help her,” Lily said. “Don’t forget that. Not everyone helps her.”

By the time she’d finished that sentence, they’d reached the gymnasium, and Kaylee threw open the door dramatically. The wall of sound that hit them was impressive, and the fair wasn’t even half-full yet.

Every year, the school hosted a Holiday Fair, inviting artisans from all the surrounding Realms together to sell their wares. The children wove their way through the crowd of people setting up tables to the corner where Molly and Sue were laying out the massive amount of cookies and other baked goods that she’d made over the past week. And the massive marzipan fireplace sat in the middle, taking pride of place.

“Wow,” Zoey breathed, looking at the sculpture. They hadn’t seen the finished project yet. “Molly, that’s beautiful!”

Molly beamed. “Thank you! I’m very proud of it!”

She had every right to be. The red brick fireplace was sprinkled with snow that glittered in the light, and there were seven stockings hanging from it. On the mantel was a layer of snow, with miniature houses set in a holiday scene. Underneath, there were no flames, but a holly-bedecked Yule log lay in the grate, ready to be lit. In front of the fireplace was a rug that looked fluffy and warm, and there was a small table, just like in the nursery room of the calendar. Molly had put actual gingerbread men cookies and a small glass of milk on the table-top, with a note for Santa accompanying it. There was a Christmas tree to one side, with lights and stars and snowflakes, even an angel on top. On the other side of the fireplace was a big overstuffed chair, with a perfect miniature of Schrodinger asleep in it.

“You are amazing,” Kaylee said, hugging her aunt. “I love it!” Then she looked up at Molly. “Can we do the calendar now?”

“Absolutely!”

“But what about Aurora and Jack?” Gideon said, looking around.

Schrodinger was there, of course, but the dogs were no where to be found.
They’ll be waiting for us to tell them later, Schrodinger said from his cushion on a chair behind the tables. It’s too crowded in here for them. It’s almost too crowded for me.

“That’s why you’re hanging out with us,” Sue said. “The last thing we need is for you to be stepped on accidentally.”

Truth, Schrodinger said. And I’m more agile than either Aurora or Jack.

Molly had been pulling the large tube that protected the magical calendar from the elements. She unrolled it and the children gathered around her.

“Good afternoon, kitty!” Kaylee said. “What are we doing today?”

The little cat had been waiting for them, it seemed. He had been sitting on the edge of one of the beds, and now he jumped down and trotted into the next room. There was no bed here, but a long, low couch with an odd back and only one arm. The fabric was red and velvety looking, and there were two soft pillows upon it, as well as a fluffy blanket. There was also a large armoire, bedecked with two holly wreathes, and a dress standing up on its own in one corner. The dress was a deep green color, with white and gold trim around the waist, cuffs, and neckline. Over its shoulders was flung a creamy furred cape, and the table nearby held a matching hat and fur muff. The rest of the room was taken up by a large vanity mirror and table, with a holly garland draped over the top.

“What a pretty room!” Zoey said. “I wonder why it’s there?”

“It’s called a dressing room,” Molly said. “In the era that this house was built in, the master and mistress of the house each had their own dressing room.” She pointed to another room farther down the picture. “They would sleep in the bedroom, but they got dressed in separate rooms.”

“Wow, that’s cool!” Zoey said. “I wish I had a dressing room.”

“I don’t,” Kaylee said frankly. “It’s just another room to keep clean.”

“That’s why you have a maid,” her sister said. “Do you think they actually cleaned themselves?”

“Mom won’t let us get a maid, though,” Kaylee replied. “So it’s kind of academic.”

Sue and Molly were obviously struggling not to laugh at the exchange. Schrodinger, who hadn’t moved from his cushion, now craned his head around.

What’s the cat doing?

“He’s in the big cupboard,” Gideon said.

“The armoire,” Molly clarified. The small cat had pawed open one of the doors and was rummaging through whatever was inside. All they could see was the tip of his tail, which was flicking back and forth.

“What is this?” a familiar voice said, and they turned to see Cookie, the cook from Pavel’s ship, standing behind them, a large basket over one arm.

“Cookie!” the children said excitedly, the calendar temporarily forgotten.

“Hello, my friends!” Cookie beamed at them. They had never discovered his true name, if it wasn’t Cookie, but it fit him well – he had a wide, easy smile and, truth be told, was shaped a bit like a gingerbread man. He wore striped linen pants tucked into worn boots, and something that looked like a cross between a pirate’s shirt and a chef’s jacket. On his head today he had a stocking cap, dusted with new snow. “So tell me, what are you looking at so intently?”

“This is our Advent calendar this year!” Gideon said. “And it’s about to show us what to do today!” He pointed. “Look!”

The tail had stiffened, and now the cat backed out of the armoire, dragging what looked like a Santa hat out in his mouth. Once it was on the floor of the dressing room, the cat jumped on it, and a great puff of the piney smoke popped out. It coalesced into the words: “Today is a great day to check up on your friends! Bring cookies!”

Then it flowed out of the calendar, to Cookie’s surprise and the children’s delight, and became sparkling dots that rained down upon them. As they held out their hands to catch some, the sparkles turned into trays covered with dancing gingerbread men and candy canes for Zoey and Kaylee, and clipboards for Gideon and Lily.

“Well, look at that!” Sue said. “Those will be perfect for you to walk around with samples and with order forms!”

Cookie winked at Molly. “You do know that it’s not fair to anyone else that you give away samples, right?”

“And if I didn’t, I’d have a rebellion on my hands.” Molly laughed as she got out the containers of cookie pieces. She filled each tray while Sue gave them the pre-printed forms and pens.

Then, as if it had been waiting for them to be ready, the buzzer rang, and the fair was on.

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Once the initial rush had ended, Sue cocked her head at Molly. “Why don’t you go look around?” she said. “Schrodinger and I can hold down the fort.”

“Are you sure?” Molly looked around.

Yes, Schrodinger said. You wanted to see what jams were available, and this is a good time to do it.

Molly hesitated a bit longer, but Sue gave her a gentle shove. “Go,” she said firmly. “You aren’t baking anything here, and I know how to refill the stock. Trust me.”

“Fine,” Molly said, grinning. “I know when I’m not wanted.”

She edged her way out from behind the tables, careful not to knock anything over. Once she was in the aisle, she turned to Sue. “Anything you want me to look at?”

Sue frowned thoughtfully. “No, I don’t think so,” she said finally. “I haven’t really started shopping yet, so when you come back, I’ll look.”

“Sounds good.” Molly looked over at Schrodinger. “Do you want to come with me?”

No, I’ll stay here, the CrossCat said. I’m not in the mood today to have my tail stepped on. He set his head back on his front paws.

Molly cocked her head and asked him silently, Is everything okay?

Yes, he replied to her only. I’m just a bit tired.

I hope you aren’t sick.

CrossCats don’t get sick, he said. We just get grumpy. I’m fine, Molly. Enjoy yourself, and I’ll keep Sue company.

Molly heard the dismissal in his voice and went. She paused at Lisa’s stall to purchase a few jars of plum and strawberry jam, as well as a jar of cranberry jelly. Then she wandered, looking at the various wares that the vendors from the Cove and surrounding areas had brought in. There was a bit of everything, from food to clothing to delicate little glass ornaments.

She stopped and talked to Anne, the lady who had made the beaded glass balls that Drew had sent her their second Christmas together, for a few minutes, and Anne showed off pictures of her grandchildren.

Molly found herself pausing beside a booth that held all sorts of wonderful Christmas things: houses that glowed with lights, strings of lights in all sorts of shapes, nutcrackers and other figurines, and so many ornaments. Sitting in the midst of the glory was an older woman with a merry smile. The sign on the front of the table said “The Snowman’s Retreat.”

“Are you new in town?” Molly asked, her eyes wide.

“Sure and I am,” the woman confirmed. “My name is Kris, and I’m building my new store here.”

“You’re Kris!” Molly held out her hand. “I’ve heard about you from the children, and from my husband!”

“And you’d be Molly, the kitchen witch, then.” Kris shook her hand firmly. “I’ve been meaning to drop by your aunt’s store, but, well, time has gotten away from me.” She shrugged.

“What kind of store are you building?” Molly said.

“A Christmas store, of course,” Kris said, as if it was obvious. “Because that’s what this place needs, or so I was told.”

“By who?” Not that Molly disagreed with her.

Kris merely smiled. “By someone who knows.”

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