Slowly, surely, I’m getting caught up! Slowly!
Molly looked around the kitchen one last time. “I think everything’s all set.”
It’s not like you haven’t written everything down for them anyways, Schrodinger observed from his stool. You’d think you were leaving for a week or more, not just one day.
“Well, I wanted to make sure I’d covered every possibility,” Molly said. “They’re being wonderful in covering for me tonight. Especially tonight. I don’t know how they swung it, since it’s the night before the Ball.”
The Snow Queen’s Annual Christmas Ball was potentially the most important event of the Christmas season in Carter’s Cove. For one night, the entire Cove shut down, and everyone donned their best clothes to dance on a magical ballroom floor in the middle of the Snow Queen’s clearing. The fact that Mal had agreed to let Luke and Steve leave the Gate Station to cover the tea shop for three hours before Aunt Margie closed the store for the night was nothing short of amazing. Especially since they were already short-handed without Drew.
It’s because they asked, Schrodinger said. And because it’s for you.
“You make me sound like someone important,” Molly told him, pulling out the box of spare mugs from the pantry and putting it on the island. “I’m just me.”
You’re the one who makes sure everyone is happy, Schrodinger told her. You’re the one who goes out with cookies and baked goods when someone isn’t feeling well. You’re the one who is always able to help out with cookies or cupcakes or something at the last minute.
“Now you’re making me sound like a saint,” Molly said, laughing a little because she was blushing. “I’m most definitely not. I’m just Molly.”
“Never just Molly,” Luke said, coming into the kitchen. There was snow in his dark hair and covering his jacket. Steve, coming in behind him, looked frozen and miserable.
“Just Molly,” she said firmly. “Let me get you guys some tea to warm up.”
“Bless you,” Steve said, shedding his jacket. “I’ve never been so cold in my life. I don’t know how you guys handle it.”
“It’s been really cold this month,” Molly said, pouring hot water into two of her bigger mugs. She set the large tea box in front of them. “Colder than usual.”
“That’s what most folks have been saying,” Steve said. “I thought they were just pulling my leg.”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t remember it being this cold in a long time.”
You really don’t know why it’s been so cold? Schrodinger said, and all three of them turned to look at him. Really? When they shook their heads, he sighed. Old Man Winter has been in and out of the Cove for the last ten days. Did you think he was just called that for no reason?
“Point,” Luke said. “So he really IS Old Man Winter? I thought he was a myth.”
How many myths walk into this store every day? Schrodinger said. How many come through the Gate?
“I guess I never really thought of it that way,” Molly said. “Well, at least we’ll have a white Christmas.” She didn’t finish the sentence out loud, not wanting to worry Luke or Steve, but in her head, she wondered if it would be the last Christmas the Cove would celebrate.
“Molly?” Luke was looking at her, and for one minute, she thought she’d voiced her fears out loud. Then he held up her note, and she smiled. “You’re not expecting us to bake, are you?”
“No.” Molly chuckled, and took the recipe she’d left on top of the note from him. “I need to take that home. There’s plenty in the tins behind you. Here’s the tea.” And she tapped the box in front of them. “Aunt Margie says she’s closing at 6 tonight, so you should be all set to run back to the Station.” She patted another box on the counter. “Take this back with you. It should salve some of Mal’s annoyance.”
Both Luke and Steve’s eyes lit up at that. “Is that…?”
She nodded. “Homemade sugar cookies and almond brittle.”
“We’ll make sure he gets…some,” Steve said, and Luke grinned.
“He knows it’s coming, so make sure they don’t all get eaten,” Molly said, and laughed as their faces fell. “There’s plenty, I promise!” She shrugged into her coat, and picked up her backpack and her gloves. “I’m going to be home, so feel free to call me if you need anything.”
“Just one thing before you go,” Luke said, dipping his hand into his pocket. He pulled out a small white box and handed it to her. “I promised I would get you this.”
Molly frowned. The box was too small to be an ornament. “What is it?”
“Look,” he said.
She opened the box and gasped. Inside, nestled on black velvet, were a glistening crystal snowflake necklace with matching earrings.
“He said he didn’t know what color dress you were wearing this year, but figured this would be something that would go with everything,” Luke said.
“It would,” Molly agreed, drawing one finger along the slick surface of a snowflake. “It definitely would.”
Drew pulled the scarf up around his mouth to keep the icy wind from sucking the very air from his lungs and plunged out into the snowstorm that had blown up overnight. He could barely see in front of him, but he had to make sure the horses and Ember were holding up okay. Luckily, the courtyard wasn’t that big, and he could see the vague outline of the stables.
After several minutes of straining against the wind, he stumbled into the stable doors and managed to get himself inside. The wind howled outside, but the stable was still warm.
You didn’t have to come out, Ember said to him, as he shook off the snow. This stable is very solid.
“True, but you can’t get the food for the horses,” he said, stomping his feet to get warm. “They don’t mind you staying on your side of the stable, but I think they’d go insane and hurt themselves if you tried to fill their grain buckets.”
You’re a good man, Drew, Ember said, watching him fill the grain buckets and water buckets for the horses. They would have been okay, though.
“Depends on how long the storm lasts,” Drew said. “I’d rather not have to go out more than once.”
“Storm will blow over before morning.”
Drew turned as Old Man Winter stepped into view, smoke from his long pipe hanging lazily in the still air. It was amazing, really – how the air in the stable was so peaceful, in contrast to the howling outside the walls. “That’s good to know,” he said, and finished filling the grain buckets.
“Thought you might like to know, since you’ll be leaving.” Old Man Winter turned to go.
“Wait, what?” Drew stepped towards him. “What did you just say?”
“You’re leaving tomorrow,” Old Man Winter repeated, puffing on his pipe. “You might want to pack.”
“I thought I had to stay here until you made a decision about the Gate,” Drew said. “Have you made a decision?”
“Nope,” Old Man Winter said.
“No what?” Drew watched as Old Man Winter walked out into the back part of the stables. “No what?”
There was no answer. Drew ran back there, and then cursed.
Old Man Winter was gone.
Molly and Schrodinger walked home through the cold air and the softly falling snowflakes. It was a quiet afternoon, and not too many people were out. Even her footfalls sounded muffled.
You’re very quiet, Schrodinger said.
“There’s not much to say,” she replied. The box with the crystal necklace and earrings weighed heavily in her pocket. “And it’s too nice to talk.”
He’ll come home. He promised you that he’d be at the Ball.
“I know.” She was getting tired of saying that, but what else could she say?
They turned the corner and walked down the block towards their own home. Molly opened the mail box, pulled out the letters and a small box addressed to her, and then went up the stairs.
Inside her apartment, she put the mail on the table near the small tree with its hand-beaded ornaments, and hung up her coat. Schrodinger went into the living room while she sorted through the mail.
The box was wrapped in brown paper, with her name and address printed on it in black ink. There was no postmark, no return address. Molly frowned and opened it.
Inside, a little black and silver ornament lay cushioned on packing peanuts. No notes, no nothing. Just the ornament.
Molly sat and looked at the falling snow in silence for a long, long time.
- (advent) December 20 – only 5 days left!
- (advent) December 22 – The Snow Queen’s Ball!