(advent) Sunday, December 9

“You mean you were actually IN the calendar?” Jade put down her cup of tea on the island and stared at her. “But that’s not possible!”

“That’s what I thought,” Molly agreed. She was arranging food on a plate, alternating slices of her rich fruitcake with slices of her frosted cranberry orange tea bread. “But that’s what happened. I was looking at the calendar and then all of a sudden, I was sitting in one of the chairs.” She looked up at her friend. “And it was definitely real. I felt everything.”

Jade chewed on the bottom of her lip. Turning on her stool to regard the Advent calendar, she didn’t say anything else for several minutes. Molly paused to regard the Snow Queen herself.

It still seemed odd to be friends with a being that was over 400 years old, if the legends were true, and Molly had no doubt that they were. Jade was wearing what she considered to be a dress-down outfit: her fitted dress was dark green, with silvery snowflakes dusted across the fabric, and she had shed her woolen cloak when she’d come in. That was trimmed with silver fur, of course, and Molly had no doubt it was enchanted to hang as lightly over the Snow Queen’s shoulders like a lace shawl. Her boots were black, polished enough that Schrodinger could see himself in them. Her long pale hair was neatly braided down her back, not in her normal coronet. Molly also noted that there was no tiara nestled among the curls. This wasn’t a public event like the ball; this was just Jade, coming in to hear some music at her favorite book store.

“So, are you excited for the concert?” Molly asked, after the silence had stretched for a while. “And is Jack coming?”

Jade shook herself out of her reverie and turned back to her friend. “Oh, I am! But Jack will not be here, sadly. He’s got some errands that he said needed to be run.” She picked her tea cup again. “I think he’s trying to avoid someone in town, to be honest.”

“Oh? Who?” Molly’s curiosity was immediately piqued. “Who is he trying to avoid? Not me, I hope!”

Or me, Schrodinger said, coming into the room. 

“Neither of you, of course,” Jade said, leaning down to give Schrodinger a loving stroke along the top of his head. “Don’t be silly. No, this is someone he knew in the past, and happens to be moving to town.”

“Kris?” Molly guessed, taking down another tray and starting to fill it with her lavender earl grey shortbread cookies.

Jade nodded.

But why? Schrodinger asked, jumping up on his normal stool. She seems so nice!

“Oh, she’s wonderful,” Jade agreed. “However, please remember that Jack has not always been, well…” She trailed off, her pale cheeks turning pink.

The best-behaved? Schrodinger suggested.

“That’s putting it mildly,” Jade said, laughing a little. “I think you’ll find him a bit scarce until he makes sure there will be no lasting issues.”

Molly eyed her. “Do I want to know what he did?”

“No.” Jade shook her head. “You definitely do not.” She grinned at Schrodinger. “And you certainly don’t!”

Do you know how hard it’s going to be not to ask? Schrodinger grumbled, his tail swishing. I wish I hadn’t heard about it.

“Do you want me to make you forget?” Jade offered.

Can you do that? His eyes went wide.

“Of course I can.” She leaned over and planted a kiss on the top of his fuzzy head. “The knowledge is gone. Why don’t you go check and see what else Molly needs to bring up to the concert for us?”

Schrodinger dropped down and trotted out.

“Did you really make him forget it?” Molly asked her, as soon as he was out of earshot. 

“Well, yes and no. I gave him something else to do so he wouldn’t think about it.” Jade winked at her as she sipped her tea. “It’s a helpful thing.”

Molly laughed. “You are slightly evil yourself, you know.”

“I learned from the best,” Jade admitted. “Now, let’s talk about this Basilissa again.”

“I don’t know what else to say. I’ve told you everything.” Molly finished up the tray and set it with the others. “I think I’m done here too. I’ll get the kids to help me bring them up.”

“I can help too,” Jade said, finishing her tea. “I’m not broken.” She had just gotten up when Schrodinger came back in, followed by Aurora, Jack, Kaylee, Lily, Zoey, and Gideon. 

“Jade! You came to the concert!” Lily threw her arms around the Snow Queen. “I’m so happy to see you!”

“I’m so happy to see all of you!” Jade said, hugging them all in turn. “Have you been enjoying the calendar?”

“Oh yes!” Kaylee nodded. “But you know, it seems…weird.”

Jade stilled and looked down at her (although with the way Kaylee was growing, it wouldn’t be much longer before she was taller than the Snow Queen, Molly noted privately). “What do you mean, weird?”

Kaylee frowned, obviously thinking very hard. “It feels like we’re being guided through something, or to something,” she said finally. “Like there’s something we’re supposed to find, or someone.”

Molly and Jade exchanged looks over the children’s heads, and Jade gave the briefest shake of her head before smiling down at Kaylee. “Well, in a way, you are,” she said. “You do know that you’re recharging the protections on the Cove, right?”

“Oh yeah, but that’s not it.” Kaylee shrugged. “There’s something else we need to do. I just don’t know what yet.” She turned to the calendar. “I’m sure I’ll figure it out, though. Let’s see what is there today!”

They all clustered around the calendar, where the little cat that so reminded Molly of Schrodinger had just popped out from under the bed in the bedroom. He waved his tail at them, and then trotted into the next room. There was no bed here, but two large bookcases were on either side of the fireplace. There was a heavy wooden wardrobe that had two holly wreaths on it, and a small table with an easy chair was in front of the fireplace. The window at the back had a holly-wreathed candle lit there, and a man’s bathrobe was folded over the back of the chair. There was no vanity, but a large mirror was on one wall, and there was a table with a washbasin and a shaving kit.

This must be the master’s dressing room, Jack said. Since it abuts the master bedroom, and Molly said the master and mistress would have separate rooms. 

“I think you’re right,” Gideon agreed. “I wonder what who lives in this house.”

“Maybe Santa?” Zoey guessed. “That’s why everything is decorated for Christmas!”

“Oooh, yeah!” Lily agreed. “They would have a house like this!”

The little cat had gone to the table and chair, and jumped up into it. For a moment, Molly wondered if he would try and put on the dark red bathrobe, but she soon saw that he was actually trying to get into the pocket. I should get Drew a new bathrobe, she mused, as she watched the fabric move under the cat’s paws. His is getting rather threadbare.

And why am I thinking of this now? She shook her head, amused at herself. I swear, I’ve had more random thoughts in the past few months than I have had in my life!

“Don’t rip it!” Kaylee said, a little alarmed, as the cat continued to paw at the bathrobe. “Santa wouldn’t be happy if you do that, kitten!”

Finally, he managed to get a paw into the pocket, and tugged out a small green fabric pouch that spilled snowflakes across the floor as it fell. “Oooh,” the children said, as the snowflakes shimmered and the familiar smoke rose into the air, forming the words “Time to sing for your supper!” Then the smoke floated out of the calendar and led the children out of the kitchen, nearly trampling DC as they rushed past her.

“Slow down!” she laughed, pressing herself against the side of the door. “The concert hasn’t even started yet!”

“But we don’t want to miss the smoke!” Lily called back.

Molly shook her head, and handed DC a tray. “Thanks.” Then she turned to Jade, who was still looking at the calendar. “Do you want…” and then her voice trailed off as she saw what the Snow Queen was looking at.

Basilissa was back in the upper attic room, sipping from a cup, their back to the people watching. Although all Molly could see was the cloaked figure, she knew that it had to be the spirit. “Who is it?” she whispered to Jade.

“I…don’t know,” the Snow Queen admitted. “I’ve never felt this presence before.”

Basilissa turned to them, and Molly saw again the lined face, the kind eyes. The creature nodded gently to them, raising a mug of tea, and then turned back to contemplate the fire.

<><>

The smoke led them up the stairs to the second floor of CrossWind Books, which was currently a lot more crowded than normal for a Sunday. That was because Father Christopher had brought his Christmas Choir to the bookstore to do a pre-Christmas concert, as he did every year. This wasn’t the big concert, of course – that was held at the church, where the songs could rise to the rafters and echo gloriously amid the flickering candles and stained glass windows. This concert was to give a taste of the songs that would be sung. That didn’t mean that it wasn’t popular, though, and the fact that Molly offered her goodies for free during it only added to the appeal.

“You know, I heard that this is going to be the last year the concert is happening here,” Lily said quietly to her best friend, as they followed Kaylee and Gideon through the crowd.

“What? Why? How did you hear that?” Zoey asked.

“Mom was talking to Auntie Margie and didn’t realize I was there,” Lily said. The smoke was leading them towards the back of the room, where Father Christopher was talking to Starsha, the elegant Mareesh singer who had moved to the Cove several years ago. She was one of the reasons the concert had gotten so popular, with her angelic voice that seemed to reach heights not possible from a mortal throat. “Auntie Margie said that she was trying to soak everything in this year, since it was all coming to an end.”

Zoey stopped and looked at her, horrified. “But why would it be ending?” she whispered. 

Lily shook her head. “I don’t know. Kaylee and Jack came in then, so they stopped talking. But I think something’s happening, Zoey. And I’m not sure that it’s a good thing.”

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