I need to make some gingerbread….
“There, we’re all set!”
Molly tucked the last box of gingerbread into the large picnic baskets and looked around the kitchen. “Is there anything else we need?”
“You’re procrastinating,” Sue said. She picked up one of the baskets. “Come on!”
“Okay, okay!” Molly grabbed her coat from the rack and shrugged into it. “Wait for me!”
Sue and Noemi were going to watch the tea room while Molly and Schrodinger delivered the last of the Christmas gingerbread orders in Sue’s car. The CrossCat was already waiting out front, watching the car.
Or he was supposed to be. However, when Molly and Sue got outside, he wasn’t near the car. In fact, he wasn’t anywhere they could see.
“Schrodinger?” Molly called, setting the basket she was carrying down on the cold sidewalk. “Schrodinger? Where are you?”
I’ll be right there.
The CrossCat’s voice was…odd. Thin, as if he was very far away. Molly frowned. How could he be far away? He’d just come outside not three minutes before them. What’s going on?
Don’t worry, Schrodinger said, and this time, the voice was stronger. I’ll explain when we get there.
“We?” Molly said, exchanging a look with Sue, who was staring at her.
“What about we?” Sue said, and Molly realized she hadn’t heard Schrodinger.
“Schrodinger said he was coming back, but he said when WE get there,” Molly said. She bit her lip. “Who would he have gone off with?”
“In this town?” Sue laughed. “I don’t have time to list the names!”
“Yes, but you’d think he’d tell me who he was with,” Molly said. “It’s just weird.”
“I think you’re getting paranoid,” Sue said, and then shivered. “I’m heading back inside.”
“Thanks again for watching the tea room,” Molly said, and Sue waved as she dashed back into the store and warmth.
I don’t remember a winter this cold in a while, Molly realized, as she waited for Schrodinger to reappear with whomever he was with. There hasn’t been a ton of snow, but it’s been cold.
She looked at the picnic baskets on the ground next to Sue’s car. I should load those in with the others. But something nudged at her, so instead, she clasped her arms around her and looked around.
Sorry! Schrodinger’s voice was abruptly a lot louder in her head and Molly winced. We’re almost there!
“Who’s we?” she asked, but her question was pulled away by a rush of wind that raced past her. Her eyes watered and by the time she’d blinked them clear, there was a huge sledge coming down the street, pulled by…reindeer?
“You have got to be kidding me,” Molly said, shaking her head as Old Man Winter, dressed in what could only be described as a Father Christmas outfit (complete with holly twined around his head, she noted), pulled to a stop in front of her. Two massive reindeer, with holly wrapped around their antlers, stomped their feet and shook their heads, making the jingle bells on their trappings sound loudly in the suddenly quiet street. Schrodinger sat next to Old Man Winter, nearly vibrating with excitement.
Won’t this be awesome? He said to Molly. What better way to deliver the gingerbread? Especially to Sarah! Sarah will love this!
“Schrodinger said you needed help,” Old Man Winter said, and Molly saw the sly smile on his face. “And, well, I wasn’t doing anything today…”
“And just happened to have a sledge and a couple of reindeer hanging around?” she said, trying not to smile herself.
“They needed the exercise,” Old Man Winter said. “Fat reindeer are just not good things.”
“Of course.” Molly gave up and laughed. “You look amazing.”
“Do you think so?” The old man actually preened. “Thank you. Now, I think we have a lot of gingerbread to deliver, and I can’t stay too long. Let’s get things loaded.”
They loaded the baskets from the sidewalk and the car onto the sledge, and then Molly ran in quickly to give Sue her car keys. “But how will you deliver them?” Sue asked, confused.
“Old Man Winter,” Molly said, and ran back outside before Sue could ask anything else.
“Let’s go!” she said, hopping onto the sledge and grabbing a handhold.
Old Man Winter shook the reins. “Where to?”
It was amazing, traveling on the sledge. The wind whipped past them, and people all through the small town stopped and stared. Schrodinger was perched up front, right next to Old Man Winter, who actually laughed out loud as children pointed to him excitedly. Molly, watching him, wondered if this was actually still the same grumpy man who had come into her tea room only ten days before.
At the first house on her list, she pulled the box containing a full dozen gingerbread soldiers out of the basket and motioned to Old Man Winter to follow her and Schrodinger. He took the box without her prompting and knocked on the door.
Little Aiden Miller opened the door, and his eyes widened. “Santa?” he whispered, awestruck.
“Merry Christmas,” Old Man Winter said, handing him the ribbon-wrapped box. The little boy took it, never taking his eyes off the figure in front of him. In the background, Molly saw Aiden’s mother with her hand over her mouth.
“Momma, come see! It’s Santa!” Aiden said, turning around. “Santa!”
“Yes, yes it is,” Mrs. Miller said, coming forward to take the box from him. “But he and Molly and Schrodinger have a lot of boxes to deliver today.”
“Schrodinger?” Aiden’s attention was diverted, instantly. Santa was cool, but Schrodinger was his favorite. “Can I go too?”
Not today, Schrodinger said, rubbing his head on the boy’s torso. Maybe another time.
Aiden followed them out on the porch and gaped at the sledge and the reindeer. “Wow.”
“Would you like to pet them?” Old Man Winter asked, and the boy nodded. “Then get your coat, quickly!”
Molly had never seen a three-year-old move that fast. Aiden and his sister Alyssa came out into the yard and Old Man Winter lifted them up one at a time to pet the velvety noses of the reindeer. All the while, their mother was snapping pictures.
It was the same at every house they stopped at during the afternoon. Molly fretted a bit about how long Sue and Noemi could stay to cover the tea room, but there was no way to hurry up. Old Man Winter seemed to be enjoying it, and so did Schrodinger, so she surrendered and concentrated on making sure they hit everyone they were supposed to.
The last house on their list was Sarah’s, and Schrodinger was vibrating with excitement as they turned down the driveway. Jamie, his wife Carolyn and Sarah lived on a small farm on the outskirts of town; Molly had made certain that Jamie was on duty before she’d gone out, so he wouldn’t know about the gingerbread. As the sledge drew up to the house, Schrodinger jumped out and ran towards the door, shouting Sarah’s name.
Come and see! He jumped up onto the porch and stretched up, ringing the doorbell. Come and see!
Sarah opened the door. “What, Schrodinger? What am I seeing?” Then she raised her face. “I feel wind. Did you bring Father Christmas, Schrodinger?”
I did! Come outside and see!
Molly came up onto the porch and handed the first box to Carolyn, who was staring at the sledge in the yard with her mouth open. “Merry Christmas,” she said, grinning.
“I didn’t believe the rumors,” Carolyn said. “You really are delivering with Santa Claus.” When Molly looked at her curiously, she added, “It’s all over Twitter and Facebook.”
“I should have known,” Molly said. “No wonder Sue and Noemi haven’t called me.”
She brought the other box up to the house as Sarah and Schrodinger rushed down the steps, then watched with Carolyn as Old Man Winter lifted Sarah up to touch the reindeer. She ran her sensitive fingers over their soft muzzles, over their decorated antlers and their riggings, building a picture of them in her head. It was hard to remember sometimes that Sarah was blind.
“Thank you,” Carolyn said, as Old Man Winter set Sarah down. “She’ll never forget this.”
“Thank Schrodinger,” Molly said. “I was as surprised as you when they showed up. We were supposed to use Sue’s car.”
“This is much better,” Carolyn said.
Sarah came up to Molly, her face shining. “You brought it! And Father Christmas!”
“I brought the gingerbread, but Schrodinger brought Father Christmas,” Molly said, grinning as Sarah hugged her. “I’m glad you liked it!”
“I did! That was awesome!” Sarah pulled back and then stuck her hand in her pocket. “And I have something for you!”
She pulled an ornament from her jacket pocket and handed it to Molly. “Drew asked me to give you this.”
Molly smiled. Today’s ornament was a caramel brown in color, with bright red and green beads at the junctions.
“What color is it?” Sarah asked.
“It’s a gingerbread color,” Molly said. “Just like the houses I made.”
“That’s so cool,” Sarah said, and grinned. “Thank you for making the gingerbread for us!”
“You’re very welcome!” Molly said, and she and Schrodinger headed back to the sledge, where Old Man Winter was waiting for them.
He called out, “Merry Christmas!” to Sarah and her mother, and then shook the reins. The reindeer leapt forward, and they were off again.
When they pulled up in front of the bookstore, Molly told Old Man Winter, “Wait here, just a minute!” She ran into the store, grabbed the box she’d left on the island in the kitchen and ran back out again.
He looked surprised. “What is this?”
Molly smiled. “Merry Christmas,” she said. “And thank you.”
Old Man Winter opened the box. Inside was a gingerbread cottage, iced and decorated to look like an old New England home in a snowy setting. Along the edges were gingerbread men, iced as well. He closed the box and stowed it underneath the front of the sledge, then turned to her. To Molly’s surprise, there were tears in his eyes.
“Thank you,” he said, and then, before she could say anything, he shook the reins again. She stepped back as the sledge took off down the street.
At the end of the block, it vanished.
- (advent) December 18 – Tuesday
- (advent) December 20 – only 5 days left!