(advent) A gift, just for all of you…

When I was a child, we had a huge Advent calendar on our wall that went up about 2 days before December 1st. It was a house, and every day in December, we got to move Santa closer and closer to the Christmas tree in the living room. I love Christmas. So this year, I wanted to do a very special Advent calendar for all of you.

I’m going to give you an Advent story.

I hope you enjoy it – I’m enjoying writing it. Every day, you’ll get a bit more of the story. It may be longer or shorter, depending on what happens in the story, but it will all wrap up on Christmas Day. This is my gift to you, and I hope you all enjoy it.

December 1

Merry Christmas!

Molly Barret opened her eyes a crack, just enough to see the furry face grinning a satisfied feline grin at her in the twilight of her bedroom. She turned her head and squinted at the clock: 5 am. “Are you seriously planning on doing this every morning this month?” she asked.

Lily and Jack say this is the way to do it, Schrodinger said, butting her cheek gently with his head.

“Lily is four and Jack is a half bluetick hound, half German Shepard mix,” Molly said, heaving the 28 lbs of CrossCat off her chest with both hands. She stretched and then continued, “You’re sure you want to take their advice on this?”

Schrodinger looked up at her from the end of the bed as she got up. Wouldn’t you? I want Santa to come this year, and they say this is the way to do it!

“By jumping on me at 5 am? Yeah, not so much.”

By wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, the CrossCat said, following her into the small kitchen. Molly’s apartment was on the second floor of an older brownstone in the heart of Carter’s Cove; it contained two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom – all she and Schrodinger needed. Occasionally her mother suggested buying a house, but Molly didn’t see the need. She liked her apartment. And houses were expensive to maintain. Even here.

She hit the start button on the coffeemaker and inhaled the fragrant scent as tea began to bubble down into the large pot, once again blessing the forethought that had her setting everything up before she went to bed. “Why are you so obsessed with Santa Claus this year, cat? It’s not like you don’t get spoiled rotten anyways.”

I don’t want him to come for me, Schrodinger said, waiting patiently by his water bowl while she put together his breakfast. CrossCats had some interesting dietary needs, but she loved the companionship he gave, and so mixing beef kidneys, grape jelly and grass in a bowl wasn’t as much of a hardship as she’d once thought it might be.

“Oh?” Molly put the bowl in front of him and then made her own breakfast. “Then for who? Lily?”

No, silly. I want him to bring you someone special.

Molly paused, her hand resting on the handle of the coffeepot, and blinked. “What?”

Schrodinger didn’t answer immediately, but when he paused for a dainty drink of water, he repeated, I want him to bring someone special for you. Lily said if I was good all year, and I have been, and I’m extra-good this month, Santa will bring the best present ever. For me, that would be someone who makes you happy.

Abandoning her mug, Molly knelt down by the ocelot-sized CrossCat and hugged him, heedless of the mess in his bowl. “You are my best friend,” she said, emotion tightening her throat. “What would I do without you? You’re the only Christmas present I need.”

He purred. No, you need someone to love. And I need someone else to keep the bed warm.

“Ah-ha! The truth comes out!” Molly squeezed him again and then got up to collect her mug of tea. “So tell me, Schrodinger, did you have someone picked out? Or were you leaving it up to Santa?”

Up to Santa. His breakfast finished, Schrodinger began a lengthy bath. It’s his area of expertise, after all. I’m just a cat.

Molly laughed. Later, after breakfast and a shower, she and Schrodinger walked out into the crisp morning air, Molly carrying a large cooler full of cookie dough. She’d spent most of the evening making sweetly-peppermint cookie dough; once she got to work, the ovens would go on and Crosswinds Books would smell amazing. As always.

She loved her job. Most people wondered why, with a degree in culinary studies from Johnson and Wales college, Molly had chosen to come back home and open the tea shop within the bookstore her aunt Margie had owned for years, but to Molly, it had seemed the logical choice. She loved Carter’s Cove, with the scents of magic and the sea in the air, and loved the bookstore. By running the tea shop, she got to cook and feed people, without the headaches of running a restaurant. The tea shop offered pots of tea, cookies, whatever else she felt like baking that day, and little sandwiches on homemade bread. It was open five days a week, closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Molly got to bring Schrodinger with her. What more could I ask for?

Snow crunched under her boots as they walked briskly down Center Street, towards Main Street. Carter’s Cove was huddled under a new white cover; the snowflakes had come down thick and fast the night before, and Molly could taste it on the air that more was on the way. “It’s going to be a long winter,” she said, and Schrodinger rumbled.

Only as long as the last one.

She sighed. CrossCats were amazingly literal when they wanted to be.

When will the lights go on? Schrodinger asked her, as they turned the corner onto Main Street. It was still early; the faintest pink of sunrise was staining the eastern sky, but stars still twinkled above them.

“Tonight, when we walk home,” Molly told him. “They shut them off at 4 am, I think.”

At this hour, the traffic consisted of herself, Schrodinger, and Jamie on his way into the police station. He waved to them and slowed the cruiser down. “Morning, Molly, Schrodinger!” he called out, as the window rolled down. “What’s the special cookie today?”

“Peppermint candy canes,” Molly said, and grinned when he gave her a thumbs-up. “I’ll put some aside for you.”

“My heroine! I’ll be in later with Sarah. We’ll see you then!” Jamie waved again and drove off slowly.

Schrodinger’s ears perked up. Sarah? The little blind ten-year-old was one of his favorites.

“That’s what he said.” Molly picked her way carefully up the stairs to Crosswinds Books, fumbling with her keys. She finally got the right one, looked up at the door to insert it in the lock, and frowned.

Margie had already put up the festive holly wreath that had adorned the oak and glass door of the bookshop for as long as Molly could remember. This morning, stuck in the glossy dark green leaves, was a small red envelope, with the name “Molly” written on it in elaborate calligraphy.

What’s that? Schrodinger put his front paws on her leg and stood up, trying to see what she was doing. Molly set the cooler down on the top step and plucked the envelope from the wreath. It was heavier than she expected, as if there was something in there.

“I don’t know,” she said, unlocking and opening the door. Schrodinger bounded in ahead of her as she carried the cooler in and relocked the door. Then she shut off the alarm and went into the back, where her spotless kitchen waited for her.

Margie had redesigned the whole store when Molly came back to the Cove and laid her plans out to her aunt. Now, instead of a large room on both floors, the bottom back half of the store was Molly’s kitchen and a small tea area: only six tables, but they were usually full, and there were overstuffed chairs scattered around as well. Technically, she only had to worry about the café itself, but Molly loved to wander the store, and would give a mug of tea to anyone who requested it. The only rule was if you spilled it on the books, you’d just bought them. No one had complained yet.

She set the cooler on the island in the kitchen and laid the envelope next to it. Her fingers itched to open it, but Molly had a routine, and she didn’t like to disrupt it for anything. First, she flipped on the gas fireplace in the tea room and smiled as it flickered to life. Then she started a pot of tea for herself, turned the small stereo in the kitchen on to the local station, now playing Christmas carols, of course, and started the ovens preheating. She’d laid out her cookie sheets before she’d left the night before: now, she laid silicone mats on them and pulled out the first bundle of dough.

Losing herself in the familiar rhythms of baking, Molly hummed along with Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, plaiting the red and white dough into twists and shaping them into candy canes. Only when the first batch of cookies was in the ovens and she had a steaming mug of chocolate spice tea in her hand did she look at the envelope again.

“Schrodinger? Want to come and see what I got?” she called, and the CrossCat stuck his mackerel-striped face around the corner of the kitchen. “I know, I know, silly question. Come on, I’m opening it.”

He slipped in the doorway and jumped lightly onto one of the stools. She sat in the other, set her mug down, and picked up the envelope. What slid out into her hands was a mini CD and a scrap of what she was pretty sure was parchment. On it was more of the lovely calligraphy.

What does it say? Schrodinger asked, leaning over to look. Who’s it from?

“I don’t know,” Molly said, and then read out loud, “To Molly. You need a little Christmas joy. Love, SA”

SA? Santa! It must be! Schrodinger bounced like a child, his ears flattening back in excitement.

“SA, not Santa.” Still, Molly grinned at him as she pulled the CD out of its case. “Let’s see what he sent.”

The lilting strains of Angela Lansbury filled the kitchen, and Molly laughed. “We need a little Christmas, indeed.”

“What are you listening to?”

The question cut across the music and Molly turned. “Morning, Auntie Margie!”

Margie Barrett stood in the doorway to the kitchen, a delighted smile on her face as she listened to the music. “I haven’t heard this version in years,” she said, coming in and accepting the cup of tea Molly poured for her. “Where did you get it?”

“SA left it for me.” Molly filled her in on the envelope with its mysterious present while she pulled cookies from the oven and put another batch in. “Schrodinger thinks it’s Santa Claus,” she finished, starting to twist another batch of candy canes together.

“When I was younger, SA meant Secret Admirer,” Margie said, her eyes twinkling. “Your uncle Art spent a whole summer leaving me messages signed SA.”

“A secret admirer?” Molly laughed. “Well, it’s as good a theory as any.”

Margie got up, taking her tea with her. “Let me know if you get anymore!”

Would you like to listen to the carol SA left Molly?

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