(advent) December 14th story

I couldn’t write yesterday.  I’m sorry for the delay.

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“Hello?” Pavel’s voice rang through the courtyard. “Drew?”

Drew stuck his head out of the stables. “I’m in here,” he said. “Come on in.”

The pirate sauntered through the stable doors. “Are you hiding?” he asked jokingly, and then stopped as he saw Ember. His eyes widened.

“Pavel, this is Ember,” Drew said, grinning at his friend’s discomfort. “Ember, this is Captain Pavel Chekov, of the Heart’s Desire, a very good friend of mine.”

Hello, Captain Chekov, Ember said, dipping her head towards him.

Pavel, to his credit, recovered very quickly. He swept his hat off his head and gave her a sweeping bow. “Hello, my lady dragon. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am.” He looked at Drew. “I never knew you knew a dragon.”

“I didn’t, until about a week ago,” Drew said, and told Pavel about the trap that Old Man Winter had found her trapped in. Pavel’s face went dark.

“Well, I agree with Old Man Winter on one thing,” Pavel said, after Drew finished. “Anyone who uses an iron trap in the Snow Queen’s woods deserve to be drawn and quartered, then fed to the wolves.” He looked at Ember’s scarred thigh. “You’ll bear those marks until the end of your days.”

At least I have more days before the end, Ember reminded him. I’ll take that, and the scars, as a reminder that not all mortals are evil. She reached out and laid her delicate head on Drew’s shoulder fondly.

He reached up and scratched gently over her eye ridges, something he’d discovered she loved, and she blew out a smoke-scented breath. Ember’s smoke wasn’t heavy, the way cigarette smoke or cigar smoke was; it was light, and held the faintest hint of hardwoods. Like a fireplace, or a Yule log. Or his father’s pipe tobacco.

“So, why are you hiding out here?” Pavel asked, leaning back against one of the stalls. “Or are you just bored?”

“Oh no. Definitely hiding.” Drew shuddered. “I don’t know what happened yesterday, but the Old Man is in a foul mood.”

“That doesn’t bode well,” Pavel said.

“No.” Drew shook his head. “And no one seems to know why. Father Christopher just said that Old Man Winter came in with Molly and Schrodinger, and then left in a huff. Molly wouldn’t tell him why.”

Pavel frowned. “That definitely doesn’t bode well. What could she have said?”

“I have a feeling I know,” Drew said. “And it would be something she would do.”

“Oh?”

“We’re supposed to go to a wedding on Saturday.” Drew sank onto the stool he’d been sitting on before. “Two of her high school friends are finally getting married, and she’s been looking forward to the party for a long time. I’ll bet she asked Old Man Winter if I could take her.”

That sounds reasonable, Ember said. And it sounds like something that would irritate him.

“Why?” Drew asked her, turning slightly so he could look at her. “Why would that irritate him?”

Because it reminds him of feelings that he buried a long time ago, the dragon said. Did you think you were the only one who loved? He is a man, for all his power, and he has a heart. It’s buried, deeply, and a request like that would bring that back to the surface. He would have to deal with it.

“And Molly would push it,” Drew said. “She wants to believe the best of people, and she wouldn’t believe that he wouldn’t want to find that. She wants everyone to be happy.”

It is a noble pursuit, Ember said. And one that will put her at odds with the man Old Man Winter has become.

Pavel was scratching his short beard thoughtfully. “Well, I see her point.”

“What, that everyone should be happy?”

“No, that would be impossible.” Pavel waved that suggestion away. “But making Molly happy? That I think we can do.” He looked over at Ember. “If you don’t mind helping, that is.”

The dragon looked at him, her head cocked to one side in a way that reminded Drew of Schrodinger. I am listening….

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Molly was baking, again. Her dress was ready for the wedding the next day, and Aunt Margie had given her the night and the next day off. She and Drew had planned to spend the night wrapping presents and watching Christmas movies on the TV. Now, Schrodinger was watching “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” in fascination and Molly was listening as she mixed cranberry orange bread to give to friends as part of the gift baskets she usually gave. It should have been a relaxing night.

Instead, Molly’s thoughts were of Drew, and Old Man Winter. Pavel had told her that Drew wasn’t being held against his will, and he’d described the house to her, but her mind kept conjuring images of cells and cold stone walls. Maybe it was the chill in Old Man Winter’s eyes. That was enough to shiver any soul.

But he was kind to Lily. And he seemed to enjoy the ballet. Her thoughts whirled in time to the strokes of her wooden spoon in the batter. Could I have been wrong? Is his soul so frozen that we won’t be able to stop him from destroying the Gate?

A sharp staccato knock on the door broke into her thoughts. As she wiped her hands quickly on the kitchen towel near her, Schrodinger came out of the living room. Are we expecting anyone?

“No,” Molly said, crossing to the door. “We’re not.”

She peeked through the spyhole in the door, then frowned and opened it. “Pavel? What are you doing here?”

As she opened the door wider, a delicious odor spread through the apartment. “I bring dinner!” he said, showing her the three large bags in his hands. “May I come in?”

I smell coconut shrimp! Schrodinger said, dancing around him excitedly. And crab rangoon!

“And fried rice, and beef and broccoli, and if you don’t watch out, you’ll make me drop it!” Pavel told him, trying to maneuver his way to the island to put the bags down. Molly hurried to shut the door and help him by grabbing Schrodinger before he could leap up.

“Schrodinger, seriously! You’d think you hadn’t been fed in years!”

But it’s coconut shrimp!

Pavel deposited the food safely on the island and Molly let the CrossCat go. “Drew gave me a list,” the pirate said. “And I have orders to make sure I see you eat.”

“Oh, trust me, I can’t turn Chinese food down,” Molly assured him. She set Schrodinger down and went to get plates. “You’ll help us eat it, I hope?”

“Of course!”

She brought back plates, chop sticks and napkins, then went back for glasses and a bottle of wine, while Pavel unpacked the feast he’d brought. The smell was amazing.

They took their plates (and one for Schrodinger, who was nearly vibrating, he was so excited) into the living room, where the Grinch had been frozen mid-snarl on the TV. Pavel stared at it. “What is that?”

“The Grinch.” Molly hit the play button and the sounds of “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch” filled the room. They ate and watched, Pavel as fascinated as Schrodinger. Molly, who had watched the cartoon every year as she wrapped presents, found herself enjoying their watching it for the first time. After the Grinch had carved the Roast Beast, she shut it off and said to them, “So, what did you think?”

I liked it! Schrodinger said, his voice sleepy now that he was full of Chinese food. I knew he could be redeemed, though.

“Oh?” Molly said, grinning. “How?”

“Yes, how?” Pavel said.

It was easy. Max stayed with him. Schrodinger yawned. Max would have left for Whoville a long time ago if the Grinch was all bad.

“Good point.” Molly yawned too. It had been a long day, and there were still cranberry orange bread dough to put in the fridge away.

“You look tired,” Pavel said. He took the plates into the kitchen, and then came back and handed Molly a small box. “Drew asked me to make sure you got this, and to tell you that he’s thinking of you.”

She accepted the box and opened it. The cranberry red beads glowed in the light of the Christmas tree as she pulled the ball out, with dark green beads interspersed. The curl of note paper tucked into the box said simply, “Don’t give up hope. I’ll see you soon.”

“Soon?” Molly looked up at Pavel hopefully. “Really?”

He smiled at her. “Really.”

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