(advent) December 23 – The day after the Ball

Yep, it’s counting down to the final stretch!

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Molly yawned and considered snuggling back into sleep for a bit.  Aunt Margie was opening late, considering everything that had happened the night before, so she didn’t have to get up.  All in all, spending the morning in bed with her two favorite boys sounded like a perfectly splendid way to start her day.

She rolled over to see if Drew was awake.  Schrodinger was still sleeping, a warm lump by her feet, but the other half of the bed, which she’d been sure was occupied last night…was empty.

Did I dream it?  Molly thought, stretching out a hand.   The sheets were cool to the touch.  Was it all just a dream?

And then the smell of frying bacon wafted through the room, and she sighed.  Not a dream after all.

Schrodinger’s eyes opened sleepily as the bacon smell hit his nostrils.  Breakfast?

“It certainly smells like it, but we can save you some if you want.”

His eyes closed again, and he snuggled back down in the nest he’d made in the blankets at the foot of the bed.  Molly laughed and slid from the bed, shivering a little as her feet hit the floor.   Once again, she put “getting a rug for the bedroom” on her mental list.

Drew looked up when she came into the kitchen.  “Morning, beautiful,” he said, as if he hadn’t been gone nearly a month.  “Tea’s ready.”

“There is nothing sexier than a guy cooking bacon in a tee-shirt and pajama pants,” Molly said, coming up behind him and giving him a hug before she made a beeline for the coffee pot.  He’d loaded the top with her favorite Christmas tea, and she poured cups for both of them as he transferred the crisp bacon to a pan that he slipped into the warm oven.

“It feels odd to sit here and watch you cook,” Molly said, perching on one of the stools at the breakfast bar.  “Nice, but odd.”

Drew laughed as he broke eggs into the bacon grease.  “I’ve been a little worried about this, to be honest.  Not sure how my plebian efforts will stand up to your magic.”

“Bacon and eggs sounds heavenly,” Molly said.  “And there are muffins in the fridge, if you want.”

“Already warming in the oven.”

“And you were worried,” Molly said, laughing a little.  “You have everything under control.”

Drew looked around.  “No Schrodinger?”

“I told him we’d save him some.  He’s still sleeping.”

Schrodinger had danced the night away at the ball, thrilled beyond belief at Drew’s reappearance and the fact that there had been three other CrossCats there, not the least of which being the Librarian.  Molly and Drew had barely seen him most of the night, catching random glimpses of him on the dance floor.  He’d been so tired that he’d fallen asleep on the ride home, and hadn’t really stirred, even when Molly took his bow tie off and put him onto the bed.

“He was very excited last night about those other Cats,” Drew said.  “Especially the big black one.”

“That’s the Librarian, his teacher.”  Molly sipped her tea.  “He worships her.”

“Ah.”

The kitchen grew silent as Drew concentrated on his eggs and Molly sipped her tea, enjoying the homey feel of the morning.  It was still snowing out, she realized after taking a peek out the dining room window; a light, fluffy snow that muffled everything and left the world enveloped in peace and cold.

“What are your plans today?” she asked, as he slid a plate of fried eggs, crispy bacon and cranberry-orange muffins dripping butter towards her.

“I’ve got shopping to do,” he said, putting his own plate down across from her.  “And I might see if Schrodinger wants to come with me.”

“He might.”

Might what?

Both Molly and Drew turned to see Schrodinger stumble into the kitchen, his eyes still half-closed.  “You could have slept more,” Molly said, getting up to get him his normal morning cup of Earl Grey.  “We don’t have to be into work until noon, and it’s barely 9 o’clock.”

Hungry.  Schrodinger didn’t even try for the stool; he just stood beside it, leaning against it for stability.  Molly tried to suppress a giggle.

“Well, here, eat this and then you can go back to bed,” she said, putting his tea and the plate that Drew handed her in front of him.  “You can spend time with Drew today.  He needs help shopping.”

‘Kay.  Schrodinger made it through about half the plate and all his tea before he turned and shambled back to bed.

“Think he made it on to the bed?” Drew asked Molly, as they finished their breakfast together.

“I’ll be surprised if he made it out of the living room,” she said. 

They found him snuggled under the Christmas tree in the living room, fast asleep with one of his stuffed toys with him.  Molly ran for her camera – it was too cute a picture to pass up.  Then she and Drew curled up on the couch together for a bit and enjoyed a second cup of tea while he told her everything that had happened while he was gone.

“Do you think he’ll really do it?” Molly asked, leaning her head back against his chest.  “Do you really think he’ll destroy the Gate?”

“I don’t know,” Drew said.  “He’s a very complex man.  I would have said you managed to convince him, but Ember seems to think that he’s happy because he’s made a decision, and that the last time she saw him like this, he destroyed the town in question.”

Molly sighed.  “Well, at least he let you come home before he cut us off from the rest of the world.”

“Maybe he won’t do it.”

“Maybe.”

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Drew and Schrodinger walked with her as far as CrossWinds Books, then turned to walk into the downtown area.  Molly, unsure as to what she would find in her kitchen, had come in at 11, just to give herself time to clean up anything the boys might have left behind.  The store was quiet and still, just the way she liked it.

She needn’t have worried.  The kitchen was spotless, as was the tea room, and there was a fire ready to be kindled in the wood stove.  She dropped her stuff in its corner of the kitchen, then went out to start the fire.  When it was burning merrily, she went back into the kitchen…

And froze.  Sitting on one of the stools was Old Man Winter.

“Good morning,” Molly said after a few moments.  “I wasn’t expecting you this early.”

He grunted.  “Wanted to see you before anyone else came in.”

“Okay.”  Molly went over to the stove and turned on tea water.  “Can I get you a cup of tea?”

“Nope.  Not staying that long.”  Old Man Winter hesitated.  “But a cookie wouldn’t be a bad thing.”

“I’m not sure what I have, but let me look and I’ll get a box together for you,” Molly said, heading into the pantry to see what was left.  Her luck held: there was nearly a full box of peppermint snowflakes, and several of the orange scones he’d complimented her on.  She put together the box and brought it out to him.  “You’re in luck.”

He actually smiled as he looked inside.  “Thank you, Molly.  Your cookies have brightened this winter for me.”

“I’m glad,” she said.  “Are you sure you wouldn’t like a cup of tea?  I can have this water hot fast.”

“Maybe one cup.” 

Molly poured both of them a cup of water, then laid her hands on top of the mugs and concentrated.  This wasn’t a part of her gift she used often, but it was handy.  When she pulled her hands up, steam drifted up from the now-hot water.  “What kind of tea would you like?”

“The Christmas blend, please.”

“Good choice,” Molly said, putting one of her favorite tea-bags in each mug.  While the tea was steeping, she looked over at him.  “What did you want to tell me?  That you’ve made a decision?”

“No,” Old Man Winter said.  “I haven’t made a decision yet.”

“What can I do to influence you?”  Might as well go for the punch, after all.  What could it hurt?

Old Man Winter actually laughed gently.  “Ah, Molly, I will miss you.”

“You don’t have to,” she said.  “You are welcome any time.”

He shook his head.  “No, I don’t want to influence the weather too badly.  Once I leave, you probably won’t see me for at least ten years.”  When she cocked her head, he said, “Old Man Winter isn’t just my name, Molly.  I carry the cold with me – unless you want to see the Cove locked in snow for a long time, I’ll have to avoid the area for a while.”

“I’ll miss you,” Molly said, and found she meant it.

Old Man Winter smiled.  “I’ll miss you too.”  Then his eyes took on a teasing light.  “Or at least your cooking.”

“I’ll have to find a forwarding address to send care packages.”

He laughed and drained his tea, then got up to leave.

“Wait.”  Molly put a hand on his arm.  “When will you decide?”

“Christmas Day,” Old Man Winter said, picking up the box of cookies.  “I’ll let you know on Christmas Day.”

And then he was gone.

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