Yes, I know, it’s after 2 pm, but it’s still the 1st! I woke up with a lovely gluten hangover, and had to go right out and go to my nutritionist’s appointment. I came home and crashed again, but I have too much to do today to sleep all day (with the snow falling, it’s tempting!). BUT!
I decided to do a new Advent Story this year.
So yes, Molly, Schrodinger and Drew are all back. It’s a slightly different story – a slightly different feel. I have a plan, you see, for Carter’s Cove and its Roads, and this is a first step down to that plan.
I hope you enjoy it.
“Merry Christmas, Aunt Margie!”
Margie Barrett smiled up at the tall young man who had just swept through the door. “And a very Merry Christmas to you, Drew!” she replied, then lowered her voice. “I’m happy you thought of this, to be honest. She’s been moping around for the last week.”
Drew McIntyre was well aware of his girlfriend’s current moodiness. Molly Barrett was normally one of the calmest, sunniest people he knew – everyone who knew her loved her temperament. But life had reminded her how fleeting it could be in the last two months, and her mood had darkened, mirroring the dark, dank nights of late November in Carter’s Cove, Maine. It was part of the reason he’d come up with the scheme in the first place.
“I’ll do my best,” he promised Margie.
“If anyone can make her smile again, you can,” Margie said. “Oh, while you’re going back there, you can give her this.” She handed him a large box. “This might cheer her up a bit too.”
“Tea always does.” Drew wandered back towards the kitchen, through the small restaurant area that graced the bottom floor of Crosswinds Books. Bookcases reached up to the ceiling, making a semi-circle around the six round tables. Today, they were only half-filled: Mr. and Mrs. Dorr shared one table and a pot of tea: she knitting, he reading to her in a low voice; while at another table, one of the high school students was studying for some sort of exam, a plate of Molly’s signature sugar cookies half-hidden under a pile of papers. Schrodinger, the resident CrossCat, was dozing in his bed by the wood stove, but lifted his head as Drew crossed over to the door to the kitchen.
Drew! In a flash, the large Cat bounded over to him, nearly knocking him over. Did you do it? Did you do it?
“Whoa, whoa!” Drew laughed, trying to not drop Molly’s package or fall over the enthusiastic Cat who had barreled into him. Schrodinger was about the size of a Jack Russell terrier, and weighed about 30 lbs; he danced around Drew as the young man tried to keep his balance. “Calm down, Schrodinger! We’re going to—”
Drew landed hard, twisting around as he fell through the kitchen door so that he didn’t flatten either the Cat or the box of tea he was carrying, and managing to smack his head against the door to the kitchen. Schrodinger was smart enough to not get stepped on, but the tea box didn’t fare quite as well: it slipped out of Drew’s hands as he went down, flying through the air and slamming into one of the oven doors.
“What was that?”
Molly’s voice floated out from the pantry; Drew shook the cotton from his head as she came out of the small closet, her hands full of cups, trays and tea. Her hazel eyes widened and she shoved everything onto the island, then ran over to him. “Good lord, Drew, what happened?” she demanded, laying a cool hand on his forehead.
“Schrodinger,” he replied, and then laughed, forestalling her from turning on the CrossCat, who was crouched down, his tail lashing and his ears flattened in shame. “No, no, it’s okay. He just got excited.”
“What else is new?” Molly said, but her tone was resignedly amused, and she extended him a hand to help get up. Drew took the hand and pressed it to his lips before he clambered to his feet, loving the slight flush the gesture brought to her pale cheeks. Even after a year, she still blushed every time he kissed her hand. It was charming.
Once he was back on his feet, Drew kept a hold of her hand, drawing her in close for a real kiss. Molly melted against him, her lips warm and tasting faintly of peppermint and sugar.
“You’re baking candy canes,” he murmured as they came up for air, and then grinned at her when she blinked at him.
“How did you know?”
“You taste like them.”
She blushed again and licked her lips self-consciously. “I was crushing them earlier for the dough.”
Drew laughed and snagged one more quick kiss before letting her go. He went over to the oven and picked up the tea box, then held it out to her. “It looks okay.”
“I was afraid it was something breakable,” Molly said, accepting the box. Other than one crushed corner where it had hit the oven, the box was undamaged. She pulled open the box and then turned to look at Schrodinger, who had hopped up on one of the bar stools. “You are lucky,” she said mock-severely. “This just happens to contain the Earl Grey I ordered for you. As well as my Christmas tea. If it had been damaged….” And she left the words hanging.
Schrodinger dipped his head. I didn’t mean to, he said, his mental voice soft. Please don’t tell Santa!
“It was an accident,” Drew assured him. “Santa understands accidents.”
“Of course he does,” Molly agreed, giving the Cat a rub of his ears. “Don’t worry – you haven’t gotten on his bad list yet.”
The CrossCat perked back up, and he leaned over, looking into the box. What else did you get?
Molly pulled the tea out: little boxes, painted bright colors. “All sorts of tea – the cold season has had people going through them at a frightening rate,” she said. “I was afraid I was going to run out!”
“You could go to the grocery store and get tea, you know,” Drew said, winking at Schrodinger as Molly turned to put the tea in the pantry.
“You could drink dishwater too, but why would you want to?” she retorted over her shoulder, and he laughed.
While Molly was in the pantry putting the tea away, Drew leaned over to Schrodinger and whispered, “It’s all set.”
Really? The CrossCat’s voice was equally quiet.
Drew nodded. “When you guys get home, you have to promise me that you’ll remember her face. Since I won’t be there.”
I wish you didn’t have to leave.
“Me too, buddy.” Drew stroked Schrodinger’s velvety back, enjoying the rumble of his purr. “Me too. But it’s only for a couple of days.”
Molly came out of the pantry, carrying the bag of crushed candy canes, and gave them a suspicious look. “I heard whispering,” she said. “What are you two hooligans up to?”
“Hooligans?” Drew said, as Schrodinger pulled himself upright, both of them blinking innocently. He turned to the CrossCat. “Are we hooligans?”
Only when you watch soccer, Schrodinger replied.
“Well, okay, yes, then we are hooligans,” Drew agreed. “But not normally.”
Molly shook her head. “I know you two are up to something,” she said, setting the bag down with the other ingredients on the counter. “But right now, I don’t have time to figure it out.” She waved her hand at the pile of cookie-making materials. “I have cookies to make.”
Drew heaved a sigh. “And I have a Gate to repair.” He eyed her. “A kiss and a travel cup of tea for the road?”
He walked out of the shop five minutes later with more than that – a package of Molly’s sweet cranberry scones in his pocket, the taste of candy canes on his lips and the image of the scene he’d left in her apartment in his mind. It was too bad he wouldn’t be there to see her reaction.
“Are you sure you don’t want a ride?” Margie asked Molly, as they closed up the shop that night.
Molly shook her head, strands of her dark hair escaping from under her woolen cap. “It’s not that cold tonight, and the walk lets me decompress,” she said. “Besides, Schrodinger likes to walk.”
Indeed, the Cat said, sitting next to her and looking very jaunty in his black scarf, the black tips of his pointed ears swiveling to catch every sound. And I’ll protect her.
“From every single snowflake,” Molly agreed, chuckling. “Go home, Aunt Margie. Tell Uncle Art I said hi.”
Molly and Schrodinger waited until Margie climbed into her little green car, festively adorned with a wreath on its grill that matched the one on the door of CrossWinds Books, and drove off. Then the two of them set off through the semi-darkness towards their own home.
The night was crisp, cold, but not too cold – the kind of night that seemed to have glass shard edges, a snap in the air that made breathing a bracing exercise. Snow had fallen the night before, and it crunched under her boots. Schrodinger, of course, glided along as silent as a ghost. The town hadn’t quite shut down – it was Saturday night, after all. But Molly’s street was quiet, lit by the street lamps and the Christmas lights hung in various windows, and the world seemed to have settled into a winter sleep. She and Schrodinger stopped to grab their mail and then trudged inside and up the steps to the second floor landing and their own apartment.
A smaller wreath was hanging on their door, adorned with small red apples and a brilliant silver bow, and despite herself, Molly smiled. Drew must have hung it after we left for work this morning, she thought, and then sighed as the thought brought back the knowledge she’d been trying to forget all day: the fact that Drew wouldn’t be back for at least three days.
Schrodinger butted his head into her calf, and then stretched up, putting his damp paws on her thigh. Maybe he’ll be back sooner, he said. It could be faster.
“It could be,” she agreed, trying to force a smile out. “We’ll hope so.”
Unlocking the front door, Molly dropped her keys in the small basket on the shelf she’d installed on the left-hand wall and then walked in, looking at the mail in her hand. A card from a friend in Boston, flyers and catalogs, mostly junk mail. She was almost into the kitchen when she finally looked at the small table tucked under her front window.
Do you like it? Schrodinger asked, as she stood rooted to the ground in shock. Please tell me you like it. Drew said you would like it.
Molly walked slowly towards the table, almost unable to believe what she was seeing. Instead of the family of snowmen she had set up that morning, there was a 3 foot evergreen Christmas, twinkling with multicolored lights. In front of the tree, which rested on top of a red velvet tree skirt, was a familiar red envelope and a little green and silver beaded ornament.
The card said, “I’m sorry I can’t be here to see your face when you find this, but Schrodinger has promised me he’ll tell me everything. I know things have been rough for you these past few months, and I wanted to bring some sunlight back into your life. I didn’t want to do the same thing I did last year. I hope you like this, and I’ll see you in a few days. Love, Drew.”
She put down the card and picked up the ornament. It was tiny, with an intricate netting of green and silver beads, obviously hand-made.
Molly? Schrodinger put one paw on her leg. Are you okay? Drew said you’d be okay. Are you okay?
“Yes.” Molly knelt down and hugged him. “Yes, I’m okay.”
Then why are you crying?
She didn’t answer, but just hugged him again and dried her tears on his soft fur.
I hope you like it! Tell me what you think!
- Christmas cards!
- (advent) – December 2nd, a little late in the day