Posts Tagged ‘advent’

(advent) Day 24 – getting closer!

Saturday, December 24

 

“Where is everyone?” Molly asked, sticking her head out into the tea room. She had expected to see the children, Jack, and Schrodinger curled up in the beds next to the wood stove, but the tea room was empty except for Kiaya, who was writing, and Lucille and Stephen Dorr, who were reading to each other while she knit something.

 

Kiaya looked up and blinked. “Oh, the kids?” she said after a moment. “I don’t know, actually. They were here, and then…” She frowned. “Then they weren’t.”

 

“I’m sure they’re fine,” Molly said, trying to ignore the little thrill of fear that went down her spine. “Goldie’s not here either, so he must be with them.” She closed her eyes and thought, Schrodinger? Where are you?

 

Upstairs. His voice came back, louder than she was expecting. Why? What’s wrong?

 

Is everyone else with you?

 

Yes. His mental voice sounded confused. Do you need us to come down? Everyone was concentrating, and we didn’t want to be distracting. Goldie is with us.

 

Molly heaved a sigh of relief. “No,” she said out loud, so Kiaya could hear. “We just didn’t know where you all had gone.” Then she said to Kiaya, “They’re upstairs. I’ll go check on them now.”

 

She took a carafe of hot water with her, knowing that there were several people upstairs that might want refills on their tea. Her most popular tea bags she carried in the pocket of her sweater, but her gifts meant that if someone asked for something else, she could pull it magically to her from the pantry below.

 

Rounding the final corner into the main room, she saw that the children were all clustered around a chair in front of the fireplace. Seated in the chair was Pavel’s mother Ella, her dark hair wrapped in braids around her head, pale yarn in her lap that was rapidly becoming something lovely.

 

“Hello, Molly!” Ella said, as Molly came over to them. “Are you going to join us? The children are reading me stories.”

 

She had Schrodinger in her lap, along with the knitting, and Jack was lying on the hearthstone next to her chair. Lily was sitting in the chair next to her, with Gideon and Kaylee snuggled up on either side of Jack. It was a charming picture.

 

“I’d love to,” Molly said, sitting down next to Kaylee, who snuggled up to her. “What are we reading?”

 

After listening to “Twas the Night before Christmas,” Molly said, “Do you guys want to do the Advent castle now? It’s going to be time to close soon.”

 

As if her words had summoned her, Aunt Margie’s voice came over the loudspeakers. “Just a reminder, folks, we’re closing at noon today, which is in twenty minutes! DC and I are ready to check you out downstairs!”

 

“Let’s go. Come on, Grandma Ella!” Kaylee said, getting up and heading to the stairs, Gideon and Jack in hot pursuit.

 

Molly had left the castle out again, and so they gathered around the table, each looking for the number 24.

 

It’s on the smaller tower! Schrodinger said suddenly. Here!

 

He touched the side of the castle with one claw, where the 24 had twined around the corners of a window. The window opened to show a place that looked very much like the bookstore upstairs, except it went on forever, and in the center, with her paw holding open a large tome, was the Librarian.

 

She looked up at them, her green eyes calm and wise, and said Merry Christmas, children. I hope you have a wonderful night. Ella has your gifts for you. And then the window closed.

 

They all turned to Ella, who laughed. “I’m so happy to be part of this!” she said, opening her large knitting bag and pulling out wrapped gifts. “And this is my favorite part!”

 

Wrapping paper went everywhere as they tore into the gifts. It was, as Molly knew it would be, books.

 

Ella and Brynna had introduced them to the custom of giving books on Christmas Eve last year, and Molly had loved including it in their family traditions. Now, as she watched them exclaim over the new books, Molly realized how happy she was that the next generation clearly loved books as much as she and Aunt Margie did.

 

“Thank you!” Kaylee said, throwing her arms around Ella. “I love it!” Her book had ponies and rainbows on it, and Molly realized it was one of her favorite things: a coloring book.

 

Gideon also had a coloring book, filled with all sorts of odd creatures. Lily’s book was a leather-bound story book that she was already reading the beginning of.

 

Schrodinger’s book was one of maps, and he was thrilled beyond words. Jack’s book was detective stories, and he was settled in beside Lily, already reading.

 

>Activity: Exchange books! This is an Icelandic tradition that I love. Take this chance to give someone a copy of YOUR favorite book, and spread the love!

 

(advent) Day 23 – The nutcracker dances…

Friday, December 23

 

“You,” Molly said, brandishing a wooden spoon at her husband, “are up to something.”

 

Drew gave her an innocent look. “What do you mean?”

 

She leveled a stern gaze at him. “I can just tell,” she said, taking the spoon to the quick bread batter she was mixing up. “You and Schrodinger both.”

 

You know, it could just be that we’re trying to be good for Santa, Schrodinger said. It could be.

 

“I don’t believe it,” Molly said. “You two are up to something.”

 

Drew looked over at Schrodinger and winked. “Well, you know, Christmas is coming up,” he said. “It’s the time to be up to something, if we were, which we definitely aren’t, by the way.”

 

“Uh-huh.” Her tone of voice conveyed just how much she didn’t believe him.

 

Drew decided to change the subject while he was still on safe ground. “So, what time is Aunt Margie closing tomorrow?”

 

“Noon, so we can do the Advent castle before we go home, and before Zeke and Kiaya have to leave,” Molly said.

 

Leave? Schrodinger said, dismayed. But that means Gideon won’t get to do the final day on the calendar!

 

“Why not? They’re coming over to the farmhouse for Christmas dinner,” Molly said. “Zeke couldn’t get the time off to go back to his parents’ for Christmas, so I invited them to join us, but they’re going to do their own thing Christmas Eve.”

 

Oh good! Schrodinger said. It wouldn’t be fun without him!

 

“I agree,” Drew said. “I hope they’ve had fun with it.”

 

As if on cue, Gideon himself came running into the kitchen, followed closely by Lily, Kaylee, Jack, and, to Drew’s surprise, Pavel. “Molly! Schrodinger! We have a surprise for you!” Gideon shouted.

 

Really? Schrodinger came to his feet. What kind of surprise?

 

Pavel winked at him. “A special surprise, but it has to wait,” he said. “Until we do the Advent Calendar.”

 

“Then let’s do it!” Kaylee said eagerly. “I want to share the surprise!”

 

Their enthusiasm was contagious, and Molly finished her quick bread while Drew went and got the calendar. She slipped the finished batter into the refrigerator with a layer of plastic wrap over the top, then joined the rest of them in looking for the 23.

 

Pavel found it, nestled almost in the snow on the ground of one of the outbuildings. The window opened into a darkened room, and for a moment, Drew wondered if something had gone wrong. Then candles began to glow, softly, and the darkness lifted, showing a single girl sitting at the feet of a giant nutcracker doll.

 

He heard Molly gasp as the nutcracker’s hand came up, and a silver ball of light rose from the darkness and landed in Pavel’s hand as a piece of parchment. “I hope you will join us,” he read, and looked up at Molly. “You will, won’t you?”

 

Drew turned and looked at Molly, whose eyes were wide. The Nutcracker was her favorite ballet, and even knowing what was coming, he was pleased to see the shocked look on her face. Then, as he’d known she would, she turned on him. “You knew!” she accused. “You knew! And you didn’t tell me!”

 

“All I knew was that there was something planned,” Drew said honestly, glad that she hadn’t guessed his other secret. “They didn’t actually tell me what they were doing.”

 

“They?” Molly turned and looked at Pavel. “Is that the surprise?”

 

“Come on, Molly!” Gideon said, running over and tugging on her arm. “Come on!” And he began to drag her towards the door. “Come on!”

 

They all followed him outside after pulling on their coats, where Drew was expecting to see Pavel’s sleigh.

 

Instead of the sleigh, however, there was a large carriage, and inside, the Snow Queen, dressed in shimmering white fur, was waiting, Jack Frost at her side. “Come on,” she called out. “We’re going to miss the show!”

 

It took only a few minutes for them to pile into the carriage, which was pulled by four white horses with holly braided into their manes and tails. Drew and Molly ended up next to Jade, who was grinning excitedly.

 

“Are you surprised?” she asked Molly. “Did we surprise you?”

 

“Of course!” Molly said, giving her a hug. “I had no idea!”

 

>Activity: Pop some popcorn and watch Molly’s favorite ballet, The Nutcracker! Or your own favorite Christmas movie!

(advent) Day 22 – Something in the air…

Thursday, December 22

 

Molly had decided to move the castle to the tea room early, so she would have some room to work in the kitchen. But also, she decided that it was too pretty to hang out in the pantry all the time. So she pulled one of the tea tables to the side of the room, and placed the castle on top of it. Schrodinger promised that he would keep an eye on it, so no one would accidentally bump it.

 

He was lying in his bed, one eye closed and the other on the castle, when a tall, slightly older man walked into the tea room. He was a stranger; not that surprising, considering how many travelers came through the Cove, especially around Christmas, but there was something about him that made Schrodinger come fully awake. Nothing threatening, but something…odd.

 

His long, greying hair was neatly combed back under a knit woolen cap, and his plain clothes marked him as a sailor, or at least someone from the dock area. His big boots were worn and old, and his jacket had seen some heavy use.

 

He paused next to the castle, looking at it with a strange mix of pleasure and pain. Schrodinger, now fully awake and intensely curious, slipped from his bed and went up to the man.

 

It’s a gift, he said quietly, when the man noticed him and looked down. From the Snow Queen and Jack Frost.

 

“It’s lovely,” the man said. “Is it her castle?”

 

Yes, Schrodinger said. Have you been there?

 

“Not in a very long time,” the man said, and then gave him a sad smile. “I’m not sure I could remember it all, but this seems very familiar.”

 

I’m Schrodinger, the CrossCat said, tilting his head as he looked up at the man. I don’t recognize you.

 

“My name is Perry, and this is my first time in the Cove,” the man said, offering him a weathered hand. “I’m doing some traveling around, seeing where my heart takes me.”

 

That sounds like what CrossCats do, Schrodinger said. But normally we are younger than you.

 

“Everyone must make that journey in their own time,” Perry said, looking back at the castle. “Some of us realize it later than others, that’s all.”

 

Very true, Schrodinger said. Would you like some tea?

 

Perry shook himself, as if the question had startled him. “I…yes, that would be nice,” he said. “If it’s not an imposition…”

 

“It’s not,” Molly said from the doorway of the kitchen and Schrodinger wondered how long she had been standing there. “Do you have a preference?”

 

“I don’t know,” Perry admitted. “I’m not very versed in tea.” He gave her a wan smile. “I’ve not had many occasions to try more than simple black tea.”

 

“There’s nothing wrong with simple black tea,” Molly told him, and smiled back at him. “I certainly have that, and if you decide you want to try something else, I can do that too.”

 

“What is your favorite tea?” he asked her.

 

“I have a black spiced tea that I enjoy,” she said. “It’s a Christmas blend. Have a seat, and I’ll bring you out a mug.” She looked at Schrodinger. “Would you like a cup of your usual?”

 

Yes, please, he said politely, and then switched to their private mental channel. I think he should have some food, too, although I don’t think he’ll ask.

 

I agree, Molly said, and then told Perry, “Please, take a seat anywhere you would like. I’ll bring some tea out to you.”

 

Schrodinger waited until Perry selected a chair, and then he said, You don’t mind if I join you, do you?

 

“No, of course not,” the man said.

 

Molly came back with a tray containing not only the two mugs of tea, but a plate of orange-cranberry scones and sugar cookies dusted with green and red sugar crystals. “Let me know if you need anything else,” she said, setting them all down.

 

Perry looked at the tray, and then looked after Molly as she went back into the kitchen. “She really does treat everyone the same, doesn’t she?” he said quietly, almost to himself, as if he’d forgotten Schrodinger was there.

 

Yes, unless they give her a reason not to, Schrodinger said, cocking his head to look at Perry closely. You’ve heard of her?

 

“Very few people can come to Carter’s Cove and not hear of the kitchen witch at the tea shop in CrossWinds Books,” Perry said, taking a sip of his tea.

 

Oh. Schrodinger hadn’t thought of that. Well, yes, I guess not.

 

Perry didn’t say much more, but he and Schrodinger shared a companionable tea and silence. Then, as he got up, Perry looked once more at the castle, and then down at the CrossCat.

 

“If you do see the Snow Queen, please tell her that Perry the Wanderer hopes her Christmas is good.”

 

Of course, Schrodinger said. I’d be happy to.

 

“What a strange man,” Lily said later, when Schrodinger was telling them what happened. “I wonder who he was.”

 

-Maybe he was someone who started the Cove with them?- Jack suggested. He looked at Schrodinger. Maybe?

 

He didn’t look that old, Schrodinger said. And I remember what he smelled like. Perry smelled – well, not like fire and anger. He shook his head. Maybe he was just a traveler who knew her from before. She’s been around a long time.

 

Gideon and Kaylee had already lost interest in the conversation and were over at the castle, looking for the next number. The other three joined them just as Gideon said, “Oh, here it is!”

 

The 22 was perched on the top of one of the towers, and the window opened to show row upon row of gleaming ice skates, hanging next to a glassy surface where a single skater was spinning. Her skate edges kicked up icy shards that flew around her, and one of them came through the window, landing in Gideon’s hands as a curl of paper.

 

“Skating is flying over ice,” he read, and looked at the others. “Are we going skating? I’ve never been skating before!”

 

“Then you’re in for a treat,” Lily said. “Indi’s is amazing!”

 

>Activity: Go skating!

(advent) Day 21 – Shopping!

Wednesday, December 21

“So, what do you think the Advent castle will have us today, Mom?” Gideon asked, as they walked through downtown Carter’s Cove to CrossWinds Books. It was a clear, sunny day – not too cold, but the fresh breeze coming in from the harbor smelled of salt and promises, he thought.

Carter’s Cove had been the most magical place he’d ever lived in, he had decided. He still missed his friends and cousins but he couldn’t imagine living somewhere that didn’t have Schrodinger, and Jack, and the others he’d met.

“Gideon, look at that!” Kiaya had stopped and now tugged on his hand. “Over there!”

He followed her pointing finger to a small man who was walking a dog that towered over him. The dog had a dark coat, and his eyes were dead black, except for red flames that danced in place of his pupils.

“What is that?” Gideon asked her, as they watched the man and dog walk towards them.

That’s Mr. Grey! And Spot! Let’s go say hi!

Gideon jumped and let out a little cry of surprise at Schrodinger’s voice. He hadn’t even noticed the CrossCat coming up beside them, he’d been so focused on the man. Now, he watched Schrodinger hurry over to the odd couple.

“Do you want to go?” Kiaya said quietly, as Gideon considered his options. The great dog could probably eat him with little to no effort, but Schrodinger (who looked tiny next to him) was apparently talking animatedly to him. And if Schrodinger said it was a friend, it couldn’t be that bad.

“Yes,” he said, walking over slowly.

And this is my new friend Gideon! Schrodinger said, as they came up to the others. And his mom Kiaya, who’s a writer too, Mr. Grey! They’re helping us with the Advent castle this year! He turned to Gideon. This is Mr. Grey, and his puppy, Spot.

“It’s very nice to meet friends of Schrodinger’s, especially a fellow writer,” Mr. Grey said, offering a hand to first Gideon, and then Kiaya. “Are you enjoying Christmas in the Cove?”

Gideon nodded, but he couldn’t take his eyes off Spot. This close to the great dog, he could smell a faint aroma of something smoky, and there was a palpable heat coming off him. “What kind of dog are you?” he whispered.

Spot turned and looked down at him, his flaming eyes kind. I am a hell hound, young master, he said, and his voice was deep and pleasant. And I am very pleased to meet you.

“A hell hound?” Gideon said, and then remembered his manners. “Pleased to meet you.”

“A hell hound is a magical dog,” Mr. Grey explained. “Spot can do some interesting things, and as you can see, he’s pretty big.” He laughed softly. “He’s my protector.”

“I can imagine,” Kiaya said, holding out her hand to Spot, who sniffed it politely and then angled his head down.

He likes his ears scratched, Schrodinger told them.

Kiaya and Gideon complied, and Gideon found the dog’s skin warm and soft to the touch. Spot’s eyes half-closed in pleasure, and the dog rumbled happily.

“Come on, Spot, we’ve still got shopping to do,” Mr. Grey said finally, chuckling a little. “Maybe we’ll stop by the tea shop on the way home, so you can get some more attention. Not that you need it.”

I always need attention, Spot said, but obediently raised his head (after giving Gideon a playful nudge with his warm nose against his cheek, which made the boy giggle) and they started off down the street.

Aren’t they cool? Schrodinger said, watching them go. I adore Spot.

“I wonder how he got a hell hound,” Kiaya said. “That must be a story in and of itself.”

No one knows, and Mr. Grey hasn’t said, Schrodinger said, falling in beside them as they started walking again. He just showed up with him one day. That’s the way of the Cove, you know. People just show up.

Gideon thought about that on the rest of the walk to CrossWinds Books. If people just showed up here, did that mean that they were needed here? Or was it just coincidence that they ended up here?

He nearly walked into the door, he was thinking so hard, but he hadn’t come to a conclusion by the time they entered the tea room, and then Kaylee was shouting his name, and the thoughts flew from his head.

“We met Spot!” he told her eagerly. “He let me skritch him!”

“I love Spot!” she said. “He’s adorable! But Mom says I can’t have a hell hound.”

They’re a lot of work, Jack said, ambling over. Trust me, Kaylee, you don’t want one right now.

And Jack would know, Schrodinger added.

Lily was writing in her journal, but as Kiaya settled in with her computer, she shut her book and joined the others as they went into the kitchen to see Molly and do the Advent castle.

<><>

Molly watched them look for the number 21, enjoying the momentary calm of the tea room as they did. It was now, in the last few days before Christmas, that she valued these moments of peace more and more, since they were fewer and fewer.

Even though her part in the Christmas holiday was done, now that all the gingerbread houses were delivered, there would still be frantic people calling her and asking for last minute cookies, pastries, or tea. There was already one such box in the pantry, filled with vanilla shortbread and waiting for Lisa Cohen to pick up on her way home, and Molly knew there were going to be more.

Which was why she was planning on working in the tea shop until Christmas Eve. Her shopping was done, and everything was wrapped and ready to be put in stockings and under the proper trees, so she had let Aunt Margie know that she’d be there. Aunt Margie had been thrilled, to say the least, since the store was busier than ever.

“Oh, here it is!” Lily said, pointing to the 21 that was marching along the side of one of the towers. She touched the golden letters, and the window next to it opened onto a flurry of activity.

“Is that Santa’s workshop?” Kaylee asked, as the scene showed them a virtual army of people wrapping and tying bows and writing tags. A large bag in the center of the room was being filled, and Molly had to admit it certainly LOOKED like it could be in the North Pole.

Well, it wouldn’t be that surprising if Santa had a room at the Snow Queen’s, would it? Schrodinger said, as one of the tags slipped out the window and floated towards Lily.

“No, I guess not,” Molly said. “What does it say, Lily?”

“Are you done shopping? Are you sure? Perhaps you should go and check,” Lily read, and then looked up at Molly. “But I know I’m done!”

“Me too!” Kaylee said, and Gideon nodded.

“Then you guys can help me, because I am very, very behind,” Pavel said, coming in with Drew and Goldie. The pirate was dressed in a green coat with lacy cuffs, and his big black hat had holly pinned to the brim. “Do you think you can do that?”

“Who do you have to buy for, Pavel?” Molly teased. “Don’t you just give money to your mother and have her do it?”

“Usually, yes,” Pavel said, without a trace of embarrassment. “But this year, she told me that since I was in port, I was perfectly capable of buying my own presents. Although she did promise to wrap any that weren’t for her.”

Molly laughed, knowing full well who would wrap those gifts. “So you’re going to bribe me to do that, huh?”

“Bribe is such an ugly word,” he chided her, grinning. “I prefer to think of it as trading services.”

“Uh-huh,” Molly said, chuckling. Then she looked at Drew. “And you? I thought you were done.”

“I plead the Fifth,” Drew said, winking at her. “Also, I have been tasked to make sure this reprobate buys something nice for his mother. Apparently she didn’t like the wool socks he bought her for her birthday, and he was threatening a vacuum cleaner or something.”

Since Molly knew Pavel would do no such thing, she immediately suspected something, but she let it slide. “Just make sure you don’t end up taking these children into somewhere you shouldn’t,” she said, picking up the castle.

“That’s why I’m here,” Goldie assured her. “Capt’n won’t take them anywhere they shouldn’t be with me.”

“At least I can trust one of you,” Molly said, and put the castle back into the pantry.

When she came out, they were gone, and the tea room was quiet again. She went out to find that Kiaya had decided to stay. “I’m trying to get Zeke’s present done,” she explained. “It’s almost done. I write him a Christmas story every year, and I’m almost done.”

<><>

Are we going to get it today? Schrodinger asked, as they walked back downtown. The CrossCat was full of excitement. Did you get notice that it’s coming in?

“I did,” Drew said, chuckling. “And Pavel has agreed to hide it for us until Christmas day.”

“What are you getting Molly?” Lily said. “What did you order her?”

“You’ll see.” Drew refused to say any more, but led them down to a carriage that had been waiting around the corner from the bookstore, out of view of the tea shop.

They all piled in, and the carriage whisked them off to the Gate Station. “Now, you have to promise me that you can keep a secret,” Drew said, and they all swore.

“Come on in, then,” he said, and led them inside.

>Activity: Christmas is about doing something nice for others. Why don’t you see what you can do that’s nice for someone else today?

(advent) Day 20 – Brr! It’s cold out!

Tuesday, December 20

 

Molly and Schrodinger had been up since 6 am, and had been at the bookstore since 7. Tuesday was normally their day off, but today they were going to be delivering all the gingerbread houses that had been decorated, and that meant being very organized. The night before, Molly had made sure everything was packaged correctly, and labeled, so they wouldn’t have any issues.

 

Now, all thirty-five houses and the massive gingerbread train that was going to the Station were ready to go, and she and Schrodinger were enjoying a cup of tea while they waited for everyone else to get there. School was out this week, but it was bitterly cold, and Kiaya had decided that she was going to wait for Corrine, rather than walking to the bookstore. Molly didn’t blame her at all.

 

“I wonder if we should rethink our plans for today,” she said to Schrodinger, holding the warm mug between her hands. “It might be too cold for us to take the sled to make deliveries.”

 

But think of all the kids who are hoping for a glimpse of Old Man Winter’s reindeer, Schrodinger said. And he loves it.

 

“I know.” Molly sighed. “But is it worth getting everyone sick?”

 

Schrodinger considered that. There must be some way to keep us warm and still be able to go into the sledge, he said. Maybe Old Man Winter will have some ideas.

 

“Maybe.”

 

He did, as it turned out. By the time Corrine and Kiaya came in with the kids, he had turned up, and was enjoying his own cup of tea and a plate of Molly’s peppermint candy cane cookies.

 

“Old Man Winter, you look fabulous!” Kaylee said, running in to the kitchen to give him a hug, her cheeks bright pink from the cold. “Are you going to help us deliver the gingerbread?”

 

“Of course!” he said, beaming as he hugged her back. “Why else would I be here?”

 

“Because you like Molly’s baking?” Gideon said.

 

Old Man Winter threw back his head and laughed. “Well, okay, yes, there is that. But would I be dressed like this to just visit Molly?” And he gestured to his outfit.

 

He was dressed in a dark red coat with gold and silver snowflake designs woven into the wool, trimmed in white fur. The coat fell to mid-calf, and he had tall black boots that were similar to Pavel’s, although they weren’t quite as flashy or tight. A golden sash tied the coat shut, and his matching crimson hat (also trimmed with white fur) sat on the island.

 

“If I had a warm coat like that, I’d be wearing it today,” Kiaya confessed. “It’s bitter out!” Her cheeks were pink too. “How are we going to deliver the houses? Not the sledge, I hope!” She flushed then, and looked guiltily at Old Man Winter. “No offense, but it’s way too cold to be traveling in that.”

 

He winked at her. “Don’t you trust me?”

 

“Of course!” Lily said immediately. “Are you going to use magic to keep us warm?”

 

“Well, let’s just say it’s going to be fine,” Old Man Winter told her. “The gingerbread is all loaded and ready to go once you guys warm up.”

 

And once we do the Advent castle, Jack said. We can’t forget that!

 

“No, of course not!” Old Man Winter said. “Are you enjoying it?”

 

It’s amazing! Schrodinger said. You guys did an amazing job!

 

Old Man Winter preened a bit. “We did, didn’t we?”

 

Once everyone was warmed up, Molly brought the castle out and they all started looking, including Old Man Winter.

 

“Don’t you know where they all are?” Kaylee asked him.

 

“No, actually,” he said. “I built the castle, but Jade and Jack did the actual enchanting. So this is my first chance to see it in person.”

 

“Look, here it is!” Gideon said, his finger reaching out to touch the tiny “20” on the side of the stables. The stable window opened, and showed them a manger, with reindeer munching on hay and grain. A groom was brushing one of them, while in the background, two other grooms were working on some of the tack. One of them was affixing jingle bells to a bridle; he looked up, and tossed a bell out to them.

 

When Gideon caught it, it had a note attached. “Spreading cheer is the best present one can give,” he read out.

 

“Well, let’s go spread some cheer, then!” Old Man Winter said, taking his hat and putting it at a jaunty angle on his head.

 

When they went outside and piled into the sledge, they all exclaimed aloud. There was a perceptible bubble of warm air around the edge of the great vehicle, and instead of bitter cold, it was merely chilly.

 

“How did you do this?” Kiaya asked, as they settled in.

 

“I’m Old Man Winter!” he laughed and then flicked the reins and the reindeer took off, bells ringing.

 

>Activity: Well, I can’t give you Old Man Winter’s magical sledge, but it’s a great day to go sledding!

 

(advent) Day 19 – oh fudge…

Monday, December 19

“We’re sure there is a 19, right?” Lily asked doubtfully, as everyone continued to look for the number. The Advent castle was being stubborn today; they had been looking for nearly ten minutes with no luck.

It has to be there, Jack said. Why would the Snow Queen send us a calendar missing the 19th?

“Because she made a mistake, maybe?” Gideon said.

Maybe if it had been made by someone else, Schrodinger said, but there was no censure in his voice. The Snow Queen doesn’t make mistakes like that. It has to be here somewhere.

Just as they were all about to give up, Kaylee spotted the 19, creeping up the back of the main hall. She pressed it, and the window opened up to show a familiar figure sitting on a throne.

“Is that Old Man Winter?” Gideon asked, squinting.

“It looks like him, but I don’t know,” Lily said. “Why would he be sitting on a throne in the Snow Queen’s palace?”

The man was in a long dark red coat, trimmed with grey and white fur, and the hat on his head was also trimmed with fur. His long beard flowed over his chest, and there were holly leaves peeking out from within the strands. He had a kindly face, and all around him were great sacks of something. They couldn’t tell what. He waved to them, and then tossed a handful of candy canes at them.

As they landed in their hands, Kaylee found that hers had a note attached. “Good things come to those who wait,” she read.

That sounds like a fortune cookie, Schrodinger said. What does it mean?

Then his ears perked up, and he looked at Jack. Do you hear that?

The hound lifted his ears. Someone’s moving furniture upstairs.

There’s only one piece of furniture that gets moved around this time of year, Schrodinger said.

The music from WCOV stopped, and the DJ said cheerfully, “Well, folks, it’s a little later than normal, but I’m happy to report that Aunt Margie just called me from CrossWinds Books. It wouldn’t be Christmas in the Cove without a visit from Santa, and he’s going to be there this afternoon! The line opens at 3 pm!” Then another carol started.

“Santa! Woohoo!” Kaylee and Gideon whooped, and Lily pumped her fist. “That must have been what the calendar meant!”

They went tearing up the stairs to find DC and Steve moving the great wooden chair that Santa always sat in when he came to CrossWinds Books. Molly had told them that the chair had been there when she was a child, and it certainly looked that old. It was dark wood, scarred by years of use, and there were elaborate carvings on it. As always, it sat in front of the great fireplace, and the trees on either side of the fireplace framed it.

“So is it REALLY Santa, or just one of his clones?” Gideon asked. “Because you know he usually sends someone to stand in for him.”

“Maybe other places he does, but this one is really Santa,” Lily said. “He’s always come. I think he and Aunt Margie are friends.”

And everyone shows up, Jack said. He stays as long as needed, and EVERYONE gets on his lap.

“Everyone?” Gideon said skeptically. “You mean all the kids.”

“No, we mean everyone,” Kaylee said. “You’ll see.”

And he did. The line, as the others knew, stretched out the door that afternoon, and there were just as many grownups as kids. Santa saw them all, and took the time he needed. By the time Gideon got up to him, he was firmly convinced.

“Hello, Gideon,” Santa said, as he hopped up on the old man’s lap. “How are you enjoying your first Christmas in Carter’s Cove?”

“It’s awesome!” Gideon said, his eyes shining. Then he leaned in. “You’re really Santa, right?” he said quietly. “Like, really?”

Santa leaned his head down. “Really,” he assured him. “I don’t do many personal appearances any more, but I never miss a chance to come here.”

Gideon looked at him, considering, then nodded. “Schrodinger says it’s really you, and he doesn’t lie. So it’s you.”

“Schrodinger’s a smart cat,” Santa said. “Now, to the important things. What would you like for Christmas?”

“I want lots of stuff, but that’s not what I wanted to tell you,” Gideon said, and Santa looked at him. “My folks can do that. Can you make sure that no one is forgotten this Christmas? That would be too sad if they were.”

“I’ll do my best,” Santa said, smiling. “But I can always use help. So you keep your eyes open too, okay?”

Gideon nodded happily, and hopped down. Before he ran off, he turned back and said, “I’m so glad I got to see you, Santa!” Then he ran back to Kiaya and Zeke.

<><>

“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this,” Caliban said, as he and Monk stood in line.

“What? How often do you get the chance to talk to Santa?” Monk said. “It’s tradition.” He looked at his friend. “Or do they not have Santa where you come from?”

They didn’t, really, but Caliban knew who he was. He’d even seen him, at least from a distance, at least once. “No, we don’t really celebrate more than the Solistice in my home,” he said, which was true. “But I’ve heard of him.”

“Then this is your first time telling Santa what you want for Christmas! That’s awesome!” Monk’s face shone with his excitement. “Your first time is always special. This is my third.”

“And do you actually get what you ask for?” Caliban asked, and he couldn’t quite keep the skepticism from his voice.

“Not always, no,” Monk admitted. “But I always get what I wish for. They’re not the same thing, you know.”

Caliban pondered that as the line slowly moved forward. It was warm, and very crowded, but no one seemed in a bad mood. It was just another way the Cove was so very different from most places he’d been in before.

And what DID he want? It was a question he was still wrestling with. Jade and Jack hadn’t recognized him, he was fairly certain of that, and the Librarian hadn’t said anything to blow his cover. But did he want to keep tempting fate by staying here?

But if I leave, where will I go? Is there any where I really WANT to go?

The thoughts circled in his head until he found himself confronted with the old man in the chair.

“It’s his first time, Santa,” Monk said, as he came down. “Percy said his people don’t celebrate Christmas. So he’s never talked to you.”

Santa looked kindly down at him. “Come on up, Percy,” he said, gesturing. “Tell me what you would like for Christmas.”

Caliban climbed up on Santa’s lap awkwardly and said, “I’m sorry, Santa. I’m not really sure what I want.”

“It’s okay,” Santa told him, and then leaned forward and said quietly, “Are you sure there is nothing you want, Caliban?”

Caliban froze and looked at him.

“Don’t worry,” Santa continued, so quietly that only Caliban himself could hear him. “I’m not going to tell anyone. But are you sure there’s nothing you want? A fresh start, perhaps?”

A fresh start. “Is that even possible?” Caliban whispered, his lips dry.

“Anything is possible, if your heart is in it,” Santa said, and then smiled at him. “Anything.”

<><>

After Santa left, and the crowd of people had dissipated, Lily went and found Molly in the kitchen.

“What’s up, peanut?” Molly asked her, as she stirred something in a pot over the stove.

“Why didn’t we make something today?” Lily asked her. “We just talked to Santa.”

“Well, yes, but you also raised energy,” Molly said, lifting up her spoon to check the texture of the chocolate she was melting. “The Snow Queen will be gathering that, to use to charge the wards.”

“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that,” Lily said, watching her. “What are you making?”

“Brynna gave me a recipe for fudge that she got from a friend,” Molly said. “I thought I’d try it. Want to help?”

“Sure!”

Molly gestured with her chin to the pantry. “Go and get the bowl of frosting from in there, please.”

“Frosting?” Lily said, but went to get them.

“I know, I didn’t believe it either,” Molly said, when she came back. “But this is what she said.”

Lily watched as her aunt poured the molten chocolate over the frosting, and then she mixed the entire bowl together. “Oh, it looks like fudge!” she said, clapping her hands together. “It’s magic!”

“A miracle,” Molly said, laughing. “Brynna’s miracle fudge. Let’s put it into a pan, and in 20 minutes, you can try it.”

>Activity: want to make Brynna’s Miracle Fudge? (My friend Onyx gave me the recipe, and said I could change the name) It’s super easy:

-Melt a bag of chocolate chips (I use a microwave, because I’m not a kitchen witch)

-Mix in a can of frosting until smooth

-Press it into a wax-paper lined pan and put it into the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Fudge!

(advent) Day 18 – Gingerbread!

Sunday, December 18

“Did you guys have a good time last night?” Molly asked, as she brought the Advent castle into the tea room.

“It was the BEST,” Gideon said solemnly, nodding his head. “I can’t wait until next year!”

“Me either,” Lily said. “I hung my mask above my bed when I got home, so I can see it all year! And the Snow Queen gave me an extra one for Zoey!”

“Oh cool!” Molly said. “Jade is a good friend.”

And Caliban didn’t ruin it, Schrodinger said over their private channel. I’m glad of that.

Me too, she said quietly. Do you think he was there?

I didn’t sense him, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t. The CrossCat said. The Librarian said he’s been very quiet lately. Which isn’t really like him.

Molly shook her head, and then put thoughts of Caliban out of her head as Gideon said, “Oh, look! There it is!”

The 18 was half-obscured by a length of ivy on the left-hand side of the main hall, and if they hadn’t already found the 8, Molly would have wondered if this was that instead. The window opened, and the sweetly-spicy scent of gingerbread filled the room.

Inside, the room was dominated by a huge house, made entirely of gingerbread. Chefs in white aprons and hats swarmed around the structure, adding icing and all sorts of decorations. Candy canes sprouted from the front yard, surrounding gumdrop trees and snowmen made of marshmallows, pretzel arms outstretched. One chef was even up on the roof, gluing down bits of “snow” around the chimney.

“Wow,” Kaylee said softly. “Look at that.”

Then she gasped in delight as one of the snowmen actually turned to look at her, bright black gumdrop eyes winking. It picked up a handful of what looked like snow and tossed it at them.

“Powdered sugar!” Lily said, as it showered around them. “They’re using powdered sugar!”

Some of the sugar crystals shimmered and turned into chef’s hats, falling on their heads with a soft “plop.” A piece of paper fell into Gideon’s hand, and he read out loud, “It’s time to decorate! Are you ready?”

“I know what this means!” Lily said excitedly. “We get to decorate the houses today, right, Molly?”

“Right! So let’s get the castle put away, and then we can start working!”

Molly put the castle back in the pantry, and then she and Kiaya (who was taking the week off from writing) got everyone set up on three of the tables in the tea room.

Three tables, because what she brought out made them all exclaim excitedly.

“It’s a gingerbread TRAIN!” Gideon shouted. “You’re making a TRAIN!”

It was. There were ten cars in total, everything from the locomotive to a shiny red caboose at the end.

“Are you sure you want us to decorate it?” Lily said dubiously, looking at her aunt.

“Absolutely,” Molly said. “I trust you. And really, you guys are going to do awesome. Here’s what I want you to do.”

She’d already laid down the royal icing and put the train together. Now, she brought out all the various candies to decorate it, and explained what she wanted.

“Gideon, you and Kaylee are in charge of the gumdrops,” she said, handing them the bowls of little sugared jellies. “I’ve put marks everywhere I want one. Take this icing,” and she handed them each a small tube of royal icing, “and put a dot like this.” She put a small blob of frosting on the flat bottom of a gumdrop. “Then, stick it on.”

She put it on the side of the locomotive, where she’d put a small red “X” before.

“We got it,” Gideon said, and Kaylee nodded.

“Good! Schrodinger, you and Jack are in charge of making sure they don’t miss an X, okay?”

We got it, Schrodinger said, and he jumped up next to Gideon, as Jack joined Kaylee at the other end.

“What about me?” Lily said.

“You get to help me in the kitchen, since Kiaya’s going to watch these guys,” Molly said, leading her older niece back with her. “We’ve got other houses to decorate, and I know you have a pretty steady hand.”

The afternoon flew by as they decorated, and by the time Corrine came to pick Lily, Jack, and Kaylee up, they had made amazing headway. There were more that Molly had to do, but she knew she’d be fine finishing it.

>Activity: Make a gingerbread house, of course!

(advent) Day 17 – The Snow Queen’s Ball

Saturday, December 17

 

“You look nervous.”

 

Jade looked at herself in the mirror again, and her eyes met Jack’s as he came up behind her. “Hopefully only you notice,” she said, smoothing back one shining silver strand of hair. “Do you really think he’ll show up?”

 

“If he’s in the Cove, it will be odd if he doesn’t,” Jack said. He laid a hand on her shoulder and she leaned into his arm, loving the cool warmth of his love, like an autumn sun glowing through early morning fog. “Unless he’s pretending to be ill, or something.”

 

“And we’re sure he’s in the Cove?” Another strand of her hair was escaping her elaborate braid, a sign that she was distracted. She smoothed it back with an impatient hand.

 

“Ember is,” Jack said, squeezing her shoulder gently. “He won’t spoil the day, Jade. I promise you.”

 

“I hope now.”

 

But there was nothing she could do now. The wards had come down, and although they were being rebuilt, if Caliban was going to do anything tonight, there was little that she and Jack could do.

 

Well, that wasn’t exactly true. Between herself, Jack, Old Man Winter, Ember, and the Librarian, they could probably take care of Caliban. But it would require all the energy the Ball would raise, and that would mean they’d have to do something else to power the wards on Christmas Eve.

 

Taking a deep breath, Jade raised her chin and placed her coronet on top of the piled braids. “Let’s do this,” she said, getting up.

 

“That’s the spirit,” Jack said, as she turned to him. “Besides, this will be fun.”

 

<><>

 

“Is everyone ready?” Molly looked around at all the eager faces. Everyone looked amazing, which given how much they all loved to play was a miracle. Gideon and his father had matching dark grey suits with green vests and bow ties, and Kiaya had traded in the purple streaks in her hair for green, to match her green flapper dress. Corrine was in dark blue, with a fur stole wrapped around her shoulders, and Nathan’s vest matched her dress, although his suit was a light grey wool that looked very stylish on him, especially with the trilby on his head.

 

Lily had a dress in purple that reminded Molly how much her niece was growing up – she looked more like a teenager than a child now, and her long hair had been twisted up into a sophisticated chignon. There were purple snowflake earrings in her ears, and a matching snowflake necklace glittered around her neck.

 

Kaylee had similar earrings and a necklace in pink, but in typical Kaylee style, her dress was short and she had pink leggings that were covered in snowflakes as well. There was pink glitter in her hair, and as Molly looked over, she realized that Jack was covered in it as well. The hound looked dapper in his pink and purple bow tie, an homage to both his favorite girls.

 

Schrodinger had picked out a new vest and bow tie for this year, rather than going for his normal black tie. His vest was dark blue, with silver and white snowflakes all over it, and the bow tie matched. In addition, the middle of the bow tie was a shining silver snowflake. He had found the outfit in a catalog and had begged until Molly had bought it for him. She had to admit he looked amazing in it.

 

Drew had decided to go classic: a black tuxedo with black bow tie, and Molly thought he looked like an old Hollywood movie star at a premiere. He made her feel glamorous just standing next to him.

 

Her own dress was reminiscent of a Hollywood starlet’s, now that she thought about it. It was a classical evening gown in a dark golden satin that clung to every curve and slunk its way down to the floor. Her shoulders were bare, and earlier in the day, her hairdresser had added dark golden lowlights to her hair, then twisted it into an elegant updo. Her mother had donated topaz drops for her ears and throat, and Drew’s grandmother Phoebe had sent her a golden wrap imbued with summer warmth. She felt like a princess.

 

“Yes!” Lily said, shifting from foot to foot eagerly. “Let’s find the next window, before Pavel gets here with the sleigh!”

 

As the children looked for the number 17 on the castle, Kiaya leaned over and murmured to Molly, “How is Pavel going to find a sleigh big enough for all of us?”

 

“He’s got help,” Molly murmured back. “But I wanted to surprise the children.”

 

Kiaya looked at her, and Molly winked.

 

“Here it is!” Lily shouted. “Over the gate!”

 

She pressed her finger to the golden 17 that floated above the carved gate, and the gates opened, showing them the interior, not of the castle, but of the ballroom that the Snow Queen held her ball in every year. Molly wasn’t surprised.

 

Snowflakes danced in the air, and the ancient oak trees that had replaced the icy pillars were wrapped in lights. On one end of the room, on a slightly raised dais, was the familiar string quartet that the Snow Queen engage to provide the music every year. There were buffet tables full of food, and tables scattered around the edge of the room, waiting for the guests that were even now on their way.

 

A tall butler in black turned to them, winked, and said, “You’re in for a surprise when you get here, children.” And then the gates closed.

 

“That’s it?” Lily said, dismayed. They all turned to Molly with questions in their eyes.

 

“Not exactly,” Molly said. “I have it on very good authority that there’s a surprise waiting for you at the ball itself.”

 

That perked them up, and she added, “Now, get your coats! I hear Pavel’s sleigh!”

 

That’s not his sleigh bells, Jack said, his ears perking up.  Those are…

 

“Old Man Winter!” Kaylee shrieked in joy, running out the door with her coat in her hand, despite her father’s attempt to grab her. At least she had her shoes on still, Molly realized, as Jack and Schrodinger hurried out after her.

 

The rest of them dressed quickly and joined her outside, where Old Man Winter’s massive sledge had just pulled up to the bookstore. Molly locked the door behind her, and then let Drew help her into the sledge. Kaylee (her jacket finally on), stood next to Old Man Winter, with Gideon on his other side, each of them holding a rein. Since the reindeer that pulled the sledge were guided by the Old Man’s voice alone, there was no harm in it.

 

“Everyone in and warm?” Old Man Winter said. When he received an assent, he said, “Then let’s go!”

 

Traveling by the sledge had turned into one of Molly’s favorite ways to get around the Cove in the winter. The reindeer didn’t really worry about other vehicles, or roads – they just went, and the world passed them by. It was soothing, especially since she was nestled in Drew’s arms, with Schrodinger on her lap.

 

And then they were at the clearing where the Snow Queen’s Ball was held every year. There was a line of cars, but the sledge simply went around them, bringing them directly to the front door. There were perks to being friends with the people throwing the party.

 

“Look at that!” Lily said, as they walked down the path to the main ballroom. “It’s him!”

 

It was. The same butler that had been in the hall in the Advent calendar was waiting for them at the door, and as they approached, he bowed and handed each of them a bag with the words, “From the Snow Queen and Jack. Enjoy the ball!”

 

“This is new,” Molly said, accepting her bag. “They’ve never given out favors before.” She peeked in the bag. “I wonder what it is.”

 

The butler winked at her. “You’ll see when you go in!”

 

Molly had no time to respond, as the children ran ahead of them, and she had to catch up. And then, as she stepped into the ballroom, she understood.

 

They weren’t the first ones there, but it was hard to tell who was who.

 

“Look, Molly! We got masks! It’s a masked ball!” Lily said, holding up the stylized snowflake mask from her bag. “How cool!”

 

Not all the masks were snowflakes. Some were feathered, some beaded – all were different. She slipped hers on (golden feathers and beads – how had the Snow Queen known?), and looked over at Drew. His was dark green, and looked a little like pictures of the Green Man that she’d seen in books.

 

Jade and Jack were up on their thrones, wearing matching masks of ice-encrusted leaves, and nearby, lounging on her customary throne of pillows, was Ember.

 

“Gideon, look! Ember! Come on, you have to meet her!” Kaylee grabbed Gideon’s hand and nearly dragged him over to the ice dragon, who was watching the festivities with an amused look.

 

“Oh, this might not be good,” Kiaya said, hurrying after them. “Gideon’s not really big on dragons.”

 

“He’s not?” Molly said, following her. “Why not?”

 

“He’s worried that they might cause destruction. It’s kind of weird.”

 

Ember, however, had already put the young man to ease by the time they got over there. She wore no mask, but there was a collar of snowflakes around her neck, and she invited them to join her on her pillows.

 

Kiaya, her fears assuaged, took the time to look around the room. “This is amazing,” she said. “And it happens every year?”

 

“Yes,” Molly said, and nudged her. “Want to meet the Snow Queen?”

 

“Want to? Yes. Feel I should? I don’t know.”

 

Molly chuckled and took her hand, dragging her over to the thrones. “Jade, Jack, this is Kiaya, and her husband, Zeke,” she said, since Zeke and Drew had joined them. “Gideon is their son.”

 

Jade got up and, to Kiaya’s surprise, came down and gave her a warm hug. “It is good to meet you!” she said. “Thank you for letting your son help us!”

 

“It’s my pleasure,” Kiaya stammered out. “Your Majesty.”

 

Jade laughed. “Please, don’t. It’s just Jade to my friends, and any friend of Molly’s is a friend of mine.” She then embraced Molly. “You look amazing.”

 

“So do you, as always,” Molly said. She leaned in and murmured, “Do you think he’s here?”

 

“I don’t know,” Jade whispered back. “I hope if he is, he doesn’t disrupt anything.”

 

<><>

 

“But you have to go!”

 

Monk’s face was crestfallen as he looked at Caliban.

 

“I’m not a member of the Cove, though,” Caliban said, shifting uncomfortably. “I’m not really sure I’m welcome.”

 

“Everyone is welcome,” Monk said. “Even travelers. Please, Percy, please. You should come.”

 

“I don’t have anything to wear,” Caliban hedged. “I’m just a simple traveler.”

 

“That’s easy enough,” Mrs. Hoskins said from her chair in the corner, where she was knitting. Her everyday clothing had been exchanged for an elegant dress of cranberry red, which brought out the pink of her cheeks. “You’re about the same size as my son, and he’s left a few suits. Please come with us, Percy. We’d feel terrible if you were here alone while we were out at a party. That’s not right at Christmas.”

 

And how could he argue with that? So he had acquiesced, and was now standing in the ballroom, dressed in a soft wool suit that was oddly comfortable, a snowflake mask on his face, looking around at the swirling mass of humanity. Monk stood next to him, a solid reassuring presence.

 

“Do you dance?” Monk asked him.

 

“I know how,” Caliban said. “I’m not sure anyone will want to dance with me, though.” He looked around, marveling at the masks. It was the perfect way for him to feel more comfortable, and he blessed Jade for thinking of it.

 

She was gorgeous as she sat on her throne, with Jack at her side. Caliban looked up at her, not worrying that she would recognize him, although he made himself a silent promise not to go near her. He found himself not wanting to disrupt the party.

 

That could have been you up there,  his father’s voice whispered in his mind, as he watched Jack lean over and murmur something in Jade’s ear. Whatever it had been made her laugh, a light-hearted peal of sound that rivaled the musicians in the corner. But you screwed it up. Now you have nothing.

 

But that wasn’t true either. He looked up as Monk came back, carrying two plates of food from the buffet, and handed one to him. When he had been Caliban, he’d had all sorts of hangers-on, and toadies, and no one he could really trust.

 

Now, as Percy, he had actual friends. He and Monk had forged the beginning of a friendship over games of chess at night in the boarding house, and Mrs. Hoskins was more of a mother than his mother had ever been. As Percy, Caliban realized he was actually enjoying life.

 

So it that it, then? he thought, letting chilled apple cider slide down his throat. He’d refused the champagne, not wanting to lose his grip on himself by getting even a little drunk. Have I really given up being Caliban?

 

Do I have to decide now, though?

 

“Percy?”

 

He looked up, realizing that he hadn’t heard his name being called at first. Mrs. Hoskins was looking at him.

 

“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I was a little overwhelmed.”

 

She smiled at him. “That’s understandable,” she said. “I asked if you would like to dance. I love to waltz, but the Captain’s leg doesn’t always like it.”

 

“I would be honored,” Caliban said, getting up and leading her out onto the dance floor.

 

One dance turned into several – Mrs. Hoskins was an accomplished dancer, and Caliban found himself enjoying both the exercise, and her running commentary on the people around her. And then others came up, and he found that he couldn’t refuse.

 

And then, suddenly, it was the last dance. Caliban returned to his table, and watched as every woman took off a single shoe and put it in the center of the dance floor.

 

“You all know the tradition,” Jade said, adding her crystalline slipper to the pile. “Gentlemen, come and choose a lady’s shoe. When you find her, you can take your mask off. I hope you all enjoyed this change!”

 

Caliban ended up with a dark green slipper, and he eventually found the young woman who had the other shoe. To his amusement, she had streaks of green in her hair. “Hello,” he said, as he removed his mask. “My name is Percy.”

 

“Kiaya,” she said, accepting his hand as she removed her mask as well. “And I’m new to the Cove, so I’m sorry that I don’t know you.”

 

“I’m new as well,” he said, leading her out on to the floor. “So don’t feel bad.”

 

As they danced, Caliban found her easy to talk to. They discussed writing, and he admitted that he was an avid reader, but not much of a writer, and the fun of the Advent season, especially in the Cove. He found he was rather disappointed when the dance ended.

 

“Thank you,” he said, bowing over her hand. “I enjoyed this.”

 

Kiaya dimpled. “I did too! If you want to talk books again, I’m usually at CrossWinds Books, writing. I’d love to continue our conversation.”

 

“I would like that too,” Caliban said, and realized he meant it.

 

“Mom! Look what Dad got!” Her son rushed up, interrupting them, and as she turned to him, Caliban gracefully faded into the crowd.

 

<><>

 

“What?” Kiaya asked, turning to Gideon.

 

“He danced with the Snow Queen! And she gave him a star! For a tree!” Gideon was so excited he could barely get the words out, and she looked in awe at the glistening silver star in Zeke’s hands.

 

“Wow,” she said. “That’s beautiful.”

 

“It’s MAGIC,” Gideon said, his eyes wide. “Isn’t that COOL?”

 

“It is,” Kiaya agreed, and then looked around for Percy, to show him. But he had gone, swallowed up by the people around them.

 

“Who did you dance with?” Gideon asked, reclaiming her attention.

 

“A traveler,” she said. “His name was Percy, and this was his first time in the Cove. It was neat.”

 

>Activity: Have your own masked ball! Make a mask, and dress up, and put on music!

(advent) Day 16 – Do adventures have bedtimes?

Friday, December 16

 

“Just a hint?” Drew teased, and Molly laughed at him.

 

“No,” she said, starting to roll small balls of dough and setting them out on the baking sheet in front of her. “You know the rules. You don’t get to know about my dress, except for the fact that it’s gold this year. That’s it.”

 

“Which is a change,” he noted, stealing a bit of dough from the bowl. Molly slapped at his hand. “You don’t usually do gold.”

 

“No, but I’m in love with Phoebe’s lights, and this reminded of them,” she said, and then mock-glared at him. “Stop trying to find out more about it!”

 

He chuckled. They both knew that if he’d been really serious about trying to figure out what she was wearing, he’d have simply looked in her closet. But they’d been playing this game since the first year he’d been in the Cove, and they both still enjoyed it. She told him the color, so he could buy her a corsage that would match it, and that was it.

 

“Of course, I could just recycle one,” she said, considering. “I guess I really don’t HAVE to buy a new dress every year.”

 

“Why not? It’s not like you buy very many anyways,” Drew said.

 

Molly shrugged. “I don’t know. It just seems…wasteful?” She paused. “I’ve been thinking lately about things like that.”

 

“What kind of things?”

 

She was quiet while she rolled several more balls of dough out. The sweet rolls were studded with bits of candied orange peel, and there was cinnamon and cardamon in the dough. “I’m realizing how lucky we are,” she said finally. “And how maybe we don’t really appreciate that. Think of how different any of us could have turned out if we didn’t have the supportive friends and family we have. It’s not even the money. It’s just the people.”

 

“You’re thinking about Caliban,” Drew said, looking at her shrewdly. “And wondering what could have been done to help him.”

 

Molly nodded. “I keep thinking back to when I was talking to him, the last time,” she said, finishing the last of the dough balls. “And the more I remember, the more I realize how incredibly lonely he must have been.”

 

“You can only help those that are willing to be helped, Molly,” Drew said. “And at that point, the only help Caliban wanted was to take over the Snow Queen and her realm. You know that.”

 

“Do I?” She sighed. “Maybe. But maybe not.” Then Molly shook her head. “It’s in the past now. But I’m still going to wonder.”

 

“Just don’t let it get you down,” he said. Then he looked at his watch. “Time to head back. Save me some of those rolls?”

 

“Considering I made six dozen? I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.” Molly kissed him and sent him back to the Gate Station with a basket full of ham and cheese scones, fudge brownies, and shortbread cookies. With the Snow Queen’s ball the following night, the Gate Station was busy as ever, and all the techs and engineers were on standby. There were replacements coming in from Boston to cover for them tomorrow night, but tonight, it was all hands on deck. Molly didn’t envy them at all.

 

Then, as she saw him out the front door, she looked over at the pile of children and animals next to the wood stove. Kaylee, Gideon, Jack, and Schrodinger were asleep after playing in the park across the street earlier in the day, but Lily was sitting at one of the tables, writing in her notebook, while Goldie sat with her and read another one of his books. Kiaya sat at the table next to them, busily typing on her keyboard, a contemplative look on her face. Molly had always considered him more of a scholar than a pirate, and wondered again how or why he’d come to sail with Pavel.

 

Then again, Pavel’s not really your typical pirate captain, come to think about it, she reminded herself. Not that you have that much experience with pirates, Molly.

 

Pavel had offered to take them out with him one time. Molly wondered what it would be like.

 

As if her thoughts had conjured him, Pavel himself came into the bookstore. “Hello, CrossWinds Books!” he said heartily, waking up the kids, who blinked sleepily.

 

“Pavel!” Lily said eagerly, putting down her pen and running over to him while her sister and Gideon were still rubbing the sleep from their eyes. “You’re back!”

 

“I haven’t been gone,” he said, laughing a little as she launched herself at him. “Have I?”

 

“Well, I haven’t seen you,” she said.

 

“Very good point. You’ve been at school, and I doubt your teachers would appreciate me coming in to disrupt their classes,” Pavel told her, smiling down. Goldie had stood up when his captain came in, and Pavel waved him back to his chair and his book.

 

We saw him earlier this week, Schrodinger said, yawning and stretching elegantly.

 

“Pavel, did you come to take us on an adventure?” Gideon asked. “We haven’t had an adventure yet today.”

 

“Every day should have an adventure,” Pavel agreed. “But are you sure you haven’t had one yet? I hear you went and built a snow village.”

 

“That’s not an adventure,” Gideon said dismissively.

 

“Says you,” Molly heard Kiaya say quietly, and the kitchen witch hid a smile behind her hand. Having helped herd the children through the snow earlier, Molly had to admit that she agreed with her.

 

“Besides, it’s getting rather late for an adventure,” Pavel continued. “Don’t you know that adventures have a bedtime on the night before the Snow Queen’s Ball?”

 

“They do?” Kaylee gave him a skeptical look. “Really?”

 

“Really,” he said, nodding. “But let’s go see what the Advent calendar says. Perhaps I’ll be proven wrong.”

 

“I’ll go get it,” Molly said, and went back to the pantry where the Advent castle lived.

 

Kiaya was the one who managed to find the 16 where it floated above the main entrance. The doors opened with a flourish and, to their surprise, the Snow Queen herself was seated on her throne.

 

She smiled up at them from the expanded room. “Hello, my lovelies! I hope you’re enjoying the Advent calendar from Jack, Old Man Winter, and myself. We’ve had so much fun putting this together for you!” She paused, and then continued, “It’s hard, though, looking into the future. Harder than you might think. And you’ve been so good, I thought I should give you another present.”

 

The Snow Queen held out her hand and blew gently across her palm. Glittery snow flew up and out into the kitchen, turning into white envelopes.

 

“Invitations!” Lily squealed, as one landed in her hands. She tore it open and gasped. “To the Snow Queen’s Ball!”

 

“I hope I’ll see you all there,” the Snow Queen said. “Now, tonight you’ll probably want to go to bed early. I’ve got something very special planned for tomorrow night.”

 

>Activity: Tonight, it’s a good night to stay in. Molly’s got some special hot chocolate for the kids, and maybe you should make some too. You want to be fresh for the Snow Queen’s Ball!

(advent) Day 15 – Donations

Thursday, December 15

 

Can you believe that it’s Christmas in only ten days? Schrodinger asked, as he and Molly walked down the street towards St. Michael’s Church. It’s really snuck up on me this year!

 

“Really? How?” Molly teased him. She was moving slowly to avoid any icy patches, as she was carrying the precious Advent calendar in her arms. The snow from the day before had finally stopped, but the temperatures had plunged, and the last thing she wanted to do was fall on the Snow Queen’s castle.

 

I don’t know, but it feels like it has, Schrodinger said, and Molly was struck again by how literal he could be when he felt like it. Even with the Advent calendar. I don’t even have my shopping done yet!

 

“You and me both,” she said, as they stepped onto the walkway. Molly relaxed a little – Father Christopher was very good at making sure the walks were shoveled and de-iced, which was comforting.

 

The good father himself answered the door to the rectory once Schrodinger had rung the bell, holding it open so they could come inside. “You’re the first ones here!” he said, as they went into his big kitchen. “Although Kiaya called to say she and Gideon were on their way.”

 

“Corrine said she was picking up Lily at school and then coming over,” Molly said. “She left the bookstore when we did.”

 

“So they’ll be here soon too. Excellent.” Father Christopher rubbed his hands together, pleased. “With so many hands, this should go quickly.”

 

Are we doing the baskets for the needy again, Father? Schrodinger asked, looking around. The kitchen table was empty except for a cup of tea and the castle, and the CrossCat tilted his ears at the priest.

 

“Not exactly,” Father Christopher said, going over to his stove, where a large pot of fresh tomato sauce was bubbling gently. “Once everyone is here, I’ll explain.” He looked at Molly. “Did you bring bread?”

 

She nodded, pulling off her backpack. “Do you think two loaves will be enough? I made big ones.”

 

“It will be plenty.” Father Christopher took the two big loaves of Italian bread Molly had made earlier in the day and laid them on the counter beside the stove. “We’ll make the garlic bread in a bit, before we eat.”

 

Molly had time to take off her coat and they all had a cup of tea before the doorbell rang again. When Lily, Kaylee, Jack, Gideon, Corrine, and Kiaya had all come in and shed their coats, Father Christmas filled tea cups (and hot chocolate cups for Kaylee and Gideon, who had requested it) and then explained what they were going to do.

 

“I was going to do the baskets for the poor again this year, and I have,” he said, taking a sip of his own tea. “But then I was talking to Mrs. Hoskins, who has the boarding house down at the harbor.”

 

“The one for the visiting sailors?” Molly said. “She’s a sweetheart.”

 

“Indeed, she is,” Father Christopher agreed. “She stopped in a few days ago with some more presents for the orphanage in Portland, and was talking about how she had some new folks in the boarding house now. Folks who don’t seem to have anywhere to go, and she was looking for some ideas for Christmas presents for them. And that got me thinking.”

 

That maybe we should be making some baskets for them, too? Schrodinger asked.

 

“Yes, exactly,” Father Christopher said. “These folks aren’t homeless, but they’re far from home, and Christmas can be very lonely if you’re spending it alone.”

 

“That’s a wonderful idea!” Kiaya said. She smiled. “I’m so glad we moved here. This is a town that takes care of everyone, doesn’t it?”

 

“We certainly try,” Father Christopher agreed. He looked at the castle in the middle of the kitchen table. “So, how does this magical creation work?”

 

“We have to find the day’s number,” Lily said. “It’s hidden somewhere on the castle itself.”

 

“And when we find it, we press it, with our fingers,” Kaylee added, not to be outdone.

 

“And a window opens!” Gideon finished. “And it shows us a scene from the Snow Queen’s house, and then we get to do something!”

 

It’s pretty amazing, Jack said. They did a great job with it.

 

“So let’s look.”

 

Molly moved the castle so they could all look at it, and for a few minutes, there was silence as the ten of them looked.

 

There it is, Kaylee! Jack said suddenly. On the bottom right side of the main hall!

 

Her little finger touched the small “15” that hovered near a window that had a little window box attached to it, with some flowering plants in it. The window opened, and for a moment, the smell of tomato sauce was overwhelmed by the smell of fresh bread and roasting meats. The room inside was obviously a kitchen (and Molly had to wonder how many kitchens the Snow Queen had in her palace, really), and there were people busily making what looked to be a huge feast. There was an intricate dance of cooks and servers and helpers all moving at once, under the watchful eye of a tall woman in a stained apron, who didn’t let anything out of the kitchen without touching it at least once. She looked up at them, and tossed a napkin towards them.

 

It fell in Kaylee’s hand, and she read slowly, “Christmas is a time for sharing. Especially with those who have very little of their own.”

 

“Good sentiments,” Father Christopher said. “Are we ready to start our preparations?”

 

They were, and so they followed him into the large dining room in the rectory. For most of the time, the dining room was used as a secondary office for Father Christopher, who preferred to entertain guests in either the kitchen or the large living room. But right now, it was covered with an array of items to be put into the gift bags that were piled at one end.

 

“Mrs. Hoskins was nice enough to give me the names of all her guests, and I called the Seaman’s Hostel as well,” Father Christopher said. “Then I went around to the various shops around here, and tried to get things I thought they would like.”

 

Molly looked over the supplies. There were practical things, like warm woolen socks and handkerchiefs, and a pile of the plaid lumberjack shirts many of the sailors seemed to prefer. But there were other things too – gift certificates to the bookstore and other shops, blank books, chocolates and other goodies that would brighten anyone’s day.

 

“This is a great idea,” she said, moving to the end with the gift bags. “When do we start?”

 

>Activity: Donate something today. It can be something as small as 15 minutes to help someone with chores, or buying a gift for someone who might not have one.