The snow had finally ended around noon on Friday, and to Kaylee and Gideon’s delight, Old Man Winter himself had brought his massive sledge to bring them back to their car, then to the library to drop off the box (which turned out to be full of books wrapped in brown paper, mysterious packages of delight that the librarian, Mr. Staphert, took with effusive thanks), and then back to the bookstore. The calendar had been waiting for them, the kitten looking very concerned, his tail lashing back and forth. He’d been in a room that looked an awful lot like Molly’s pantry back home, if her pantry had been decorated, and the package he’d opened had given a puff of smoke that said “Good things happen when you have friends to help!” and then had dropped pieces of gingerbread into their hands. Gingerbread studded with candied fruits, like rich jewels, that melted in their mouths, and which they shared with everyone else.
Now, Schrodinger was curled up on his bed beside the wood stove with Aurora and Zoey, who was looking MUCH better but was grumpy at missing the sleepover.
“Man, I always seem to miss the fun stuff!” she complained. “Did Brynna cook for you?”
She and Molly put their heads together and made gingerbread pancakes and maple bacon, Schrodinger admitted. It was yummy. Then he laid a soft paw on her lap. But don’t worry – Brynna said she had so much fun that we need to do it again! So you can come the next time!
That cheered Zoey up, as did the eruption of sound as Lily, Kaylee, and Jack came through the front door. The next few minutes were spent in bringing Zoey up to speed, and waiting impatiently for Gideon to come in.
“You’re late!” Kaylee said to him, as he and Kiaya came through the door.
Gideon looked at his watch and frowned. “No, we’re not,” he said. “We said 10 am, and it’s 9:55. We’re early.”
“You came last,” Kaylee said. “That means you’re late.”
“No, it means we’re later than you,” Gideon corrected her, as Kiaya tried and failed to hide a smile. “Are you feeling better, Zoey?”
“Loads! And I hope whatever the calendar gives us to do today is outside. I’m sick of being inside!”
“Well, let’s go see,” Kiaya said, leading the way to the kitchen, where Molly was cutting out gingerbread walls for the houses she was constructing.
“That smells like breakfast from yesterday!” Lily said, inhaling deeply. “I love gingerbread.”
“Me too,” Molly said, putting her knife down. “I think one of the new teas I get will be gingerbread flavored.”
That caught all their attention. “How are you going to do that, Molly?” Kiaya asked.
“Yava and I are working on some new teas together,” Molly admitted. “I’m not ready to sell them yet, but by mid-January, they should be available.”
“Ooh, that’s so cool!” Lily said excitedly. “What other flavors are you doing?”
“The Christmas tea, of course,” Molly said. “And a decaf version that I’m testing now.” She indicated the steaming mug by her elbow. “And we’re working on an Earl Grey for Schrodinger.”
Really? That’s awesome! The CrossCat bounced. I love Earl Grey!
Molly smiled down at him. “I know.” Then she stretched, trying to get the kinks out of her back. “So if you can think of any other flavors you’d like to see, I’ll be happy to talk to Yava about it. But now, let’s see what your calendar has in store for you today.”
They all clustered around the calendar. “Good morning, kitten!” Zoey said. “What is up today?”
The little cat had been sitting in the pantry’s doorway, obviously ready to get things underway. As he trotted into the next room, his tail caught the ribbons from the package from the other day, giving him a long trail of red ribbon that had all of them giggling.
The next room was the grand dining room, and to Schrodinger, it looked very much like the table at Molly’s parents’ house, especially since it was set for the Christmas dinner. In the center of the table was a small tree, covered in what looked like beaded ornaments in all different colors. The plates were white with gold edging, and each setting had a red linen napkin, intricately folded to resemble trees. The feast wasn’t on the table yet, but Schrodinger could imagine what would be there: turkey and stuffing, Molly’s fluffy rolls, green beans and mushrooms and squash and so much more, they’d be eating leftovers for days. And that didn’t even start to count the desserts…
The kitten didn’t go straight to a chair, but ducked his head under the dark green tablecloth, obviously looking for something. To their surprise, he pulled out a picnic basket, edged with green and red ribbon. He nosed up one side, and the expected smoke rose. “Time to make sure others are happy too!” it said, and then came out of the calendar, formed an arrow, and went out towards the front door.
“Wait for us!” Gideon said, and they all ran out, shouting goodbyes over their shoulders.
The arrow led them down the freshly-plowed sidewalks towards Merchant Square, which was one of the hearts of Carter’s Cove. It was an area they knew well, and Schrodinger wondered what was up now. As they followed it along, they called out greetings to the shopkeepers they knew. The square was alive with music, not from radios, but from performers who were set up outside of the shops.
“I love Christmas in the Cove,” Lily said, as they entered The Chocolate Bean, the coffee shop run by Katarina and Mick. “It always sounds so nice.”
“It smells nice too,” Zoey said, inhaling deeply. Katarina, who was frosting a chocolate cake, smiled at them from the counter.
“Good morning!” she said in her musical Austrian accent. “Are you here to help us then?”
The smoke arrow turned into the words “Yes we are!” and then burst into sparkles and faded out.
“I guess so!” Gideon said. “What are we doing?”
Katarina lifted the counter-top to allow them to go into the back room, where her husband Mick was busy. “Go see him,” she said. “He’s got everything for you!”
Mick did have everything: two large thermoses full of hot cocoa and cider, and wrapped packages of butcher’s paper that were warm to the touch, and contained meat hand pies. “You have an important mission today,” he told them, his Scottish brogue a deep counterpoint to Katarina’s lighter voice. “All those musicians out there need to be fed for lunch. Think you can handle it?”
“We can!” Lily said. “But we should have borrowed Molly’s little wagon. Those will be heavy to carry.”
“That’s not a problem,” Mick said, and opened the back door. “Think you can handle this?”
“This” was a little sleigh, although the back was covered with a lid, rather than having seats. It was painted in blue and green with silver accents. Mick picked up the lid, and showed them what he’d built inside: a warming box, well insulated, which would keep the hand pies warm. The two thermoses went on the back of the sleigh.
“And we can pull it!” Gideon said.
Not you, me! Aurora bounced into the area between the traces, and she was right. It fit her perfectly, and there was even a harness that Mick put on her.
“I made this for the goats,” he admitted. “Well, are you guys set?”
Let’s go! Schrodinger said, and they headed out into the square.