Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

(advent) December 19

Saturday, December 19

“Molly, are you ready? Tim and Doug are here!”

“I’m almost done!” she called back, putting in the silver snowflake earrings that matched the silver snowflake pendant that hung on a delicate chain around her neck. Her long hair was braided in an intricate French braid, held in a crown with more silver snowflakes set on bobby pins. She checked her lipstick one last time, then turned to get her evening bag from the bed.

As she descended the staircase, Molly saw Drew, Doug, Schrodinger, and Tim waiting for her in the entryway. The humans were all in fitted tuxes with vests and bow ties, and the CrossCat was resplendent in a vest and tie as well. He and Drew were in the sapphire colors they had worn for the wedding, while Tim and Doug had chosen a seasonal dark green that went with both their coloring. Molly watched Drew’s eyes widen and smiled.

Her dress was similar to the dresses her bridesmaids had worn at the summer wedding, in the same rich sapphire fabric. But where their dresses had come to their knees, Molly’s gown hugged her curves all the way down to her ankles. There was a gathering of fabric at the top of her right shoulder, and a train cascaded down her back to slither down the stairs behind her, whispering secrets as it did. The front of the dress had silver shot through the bodice, and the long silver strands spiraled around her several times before hitting the hem. “Do you like it?” she asked shyly.

“You look exquisite,” Drew told her, meeting her at the bottom of the stairs and offering her his arm. He leaned in close to her and whispered, “I half-want to cancel, so I don’t have to share you with anyone else.”

“We could,” she murmured up to him, leaning in as well. “Send Schrodinger with Doug and Tim, go back upstairs…” Molly let her voice trail off suggestively.

“You’re an evil woman,” he said. “You know that we can’t.”

She chuckled and kissed him. “Soon enough, my love. Soon enough.”

Once she had her coat on, they all piled into the Jeep and headed out. “Pavel and Ella are meeting us there,” Drew said. He looked over at his cousins. “This is going to blow your mind.”

“We’ve seen it, at the wedding, remember?” Doug said from the back seat.

It’s still going to blow your mind, Schrodinger said. Trust us.

The line of cars heading towards the Snow Queen’s Ball was the first indication to Tim and Doug just how big an event this was. They made it up to the drop-off point, and piled out.

Come on! Schrodinger said, shaking with excitement. Come on!

They all laughed and followed him down the path towards the large doors which indicated the ballroom. “It’s still cold,” Tim pointed out to Molly quietly. “I thought you said it wouldn’t be cold?”

“You aren’t inside yet,” she said, laughing a little. “Give it a moment.”

As soon as they approached the white marble columns that framed the entrance, the heavy oak doors opened on their own, noiseless as they passed over snow as soft as a plush carpet. Molly and Schrodinger let the way into the entry, where snow gave way to white marble floors covered with an soft white carpet.

“See?” she said, pulling off her coat and handing it to the coat check girl. “It’s not cold in here, is it?”

In fact, it was pleasantly warm, even though the night sky glittered overhead where the ceiling should have been. Tim and Doug craned their heads up, bemused.

“So what holds up the columns?” Tim asked.

Molly grinned. “Magic, of course.”

“Of course,” he echoed, shaking his head. “I’ll remember eventually, I promise.”

“She’s forgetting again that not everyone has grown up with magic,” Drew said, taking Molly’s arm. “Come on. I want to see what the theme is this year.”

They went down the short hallway and stepped into the ball room. Molly drew in a breath, amazed.

For her wedding, they had done a fall color theme. She’d expected some version of snowflakes and fall leaves, a nod to Jack Frost and the Snow Queen, but not the way she saw it now.

The floor was white, with leaves strewn artfully around. Rather than the marble columns that Molly remembered from before, now there were live trees rising all around the edge of the room, their branches heavy with snow. Long garlands of holly and ivy were interspersed with garlands of nuts and brilliant red and gold leaves, twining around the tree trunks and being draped from limb to limb. Interspersed with these were old-fashioned lamps that had candles burning in them. They looked like wrought iron, though Molly was willing to bet they weren’t. They might have even been illusions, but they looked real enough. The band sat to one side of the raised dais, on another dais, behind a fence that was composed of delicately filagreed snowflakes, tuning up their instruments. And then there were the thrones.

Two this year, of course. One was the beautiful crystal throne of the Snow Queen, looking as if it were carved of living ice, flickering like a faceted diamond in the light of the candles that lit the room. Beside it was a heavy throne of oak, as solid as hers was ethereal, covered in carved leaves and nuts. Molly had wondered what Jack’s throne would look like.

Off to the side of the Snow Queen’s throne was a third chair, not quite a throne, but very close. This one was made of stone, not crystal, and had a fur thrown across it. Doug nudged her and asked quietly, “Who is that one for?”

“Old Man Winter, I’d imagine,” she murmured back. “Look, there’s room for Ember next to it.” Indeed, there was something that looked like a supersized version of Schrodinger’s bed at the tea room. “That’s probably where Schrodinger will spend the evening.”

I’ll wait until they get here, though, the CrossCat said. It’s not polite to sleep in someone’s bed before they get to the party. He ran a large paw across his whiskers and looked around. When do you think that will be?

“Not long now,” Molly said, looking at the delicate watch on her wrist. “It’s just about time to start.”

As she said that, the band began to play a swing version of “We Need A Little Christmas” and the crowd applauded. A door opened behind the thrones, and the Snow Queen and Jack Frost came out into the room.

“Wow,” Doug said softly, and Molly smiled.

“Yeah, they have that effect on people.”

Jade, the Snow Queen, was dressed in a dress of the palest purple silk, a color that was very nearly white, but with the faintest blush of lilac in it, a long gown that swirled around her like snow clouds. Her long silver hair was loose, flowing over her shoulders, and her coronet held it back from her face. Long ribbons floated off the back of the silver coronet of snowflakes, and as they ascended the dais, Molly could almost smell the scent of peppermints and snow dancing on the air.

Her consort was dressed in a dashing coat and tails of dark green, which suited him perfectly, and brought out the purple in Jade’s dress. He had a snowflake pinned to his lapel, rather than a flower, and a coronet of snowflakes that matched the Snow Queen’s. Molly thought he looked more dashing than he had in a long time.

“Welcome, my friends,” Jade said, her clear voice cutting across the music and the murmurings of the crowd. “I’m so happy that once again you are here to celebrate the season with us.” She smiled at Jack, reaching for his hand, as she continued, “Please, dance, make merry, and enjoy yourselves. Let the party begin!”

“Come on,” Molly said, tugging Drew over to the dais as the band started a new song. “I want to say hi to Old Man Winter and Ember before we dance.”

And I want to snuggle, Schrodinger said, leading them around the edge of the room. Besides, I think they’ll have the best vantage point to watch from anyways.

“I think you’re right,” Molly agreed. Once they got closer, however, she realized that they’d lost Tim and Doug.

“They decided to dance,” Drew said, pointing with his chin at the two men, dancing slowly on the dance floor.

“And Doug was worried that he couldn’t dance,” Molly scoffed. Then she smiled. “They look so happy together.”

“Yes,” Drew agreed, pulling her closer. They watched Tim and Doug for a moment longer, then let Schrodinger pull them towards the stone chair, where Old Man Winter had taken his seat.

“Wondered when you three would get over here,” Old Man Winter said gruffly, but Molly saw the twinkling in his blue eyes.

“As if we’d miss seeing you,” she said, hugging him and feeling the icy chill that always surrounded the Spirit of Winter. “You old fraud.”

“I have a reputation to maintain, you know,” he huffed, but he hugged her back.

“Yes, but that reputation includes being wrapped around the fingers of some little girls,” Drew pointed out, shaking the hand Old Man Winter offered him. “And being able to be bribed with orange scones. Pardon us if we’re not scared of you any more.”

“Speaking of,” Old Man Winter said, looking around. “Where are Lily and Zoey?”

Babysitting, Schrodinger told him, rubbing up against his legs before heading over to the bed, where a large green dragon had settled herself. Hi Ember! Can I join you?

Of course, Ember replied, making room for the CrossCat, who clambered up and snuggled in among her coils. We can watch together. But I’m bummed that Jack isn’t here.

He stayed to help Lily and Zoey, Schrodinger said.

Old Man Winter looked disappointed. “But then who is going to swipe shrimp from the buffet for me?” he said plaintively, and Molly laughed.

“I think you’ll manage,” she said, laying a hand on his arm. “Besides, you don’t have to stay here. You could always go over to Peter and Corrine’s and watch movies with them.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Old Man Winter said, considering. “Are they making pizza?”

“I believe they might be,” Molly said.

“Maybe I’ll just slip out for a bit,” the Spirit said, casting an eye towards his daughter and her consort, who were laughing at something. “Think they’d miss me?”

“We’ll cover for you,” Molly assured him.

He winked at her and then turned to Ember. “Are you okay?”

Go,the dragon said dryly. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself here.

Old Man Winter grinned and hurried back out of the room. Molly and Drew laughed, then went over to the thrones.

“Where is my father going?” Jade asked shrewdly, looking at him.

“To get pizza, I believe,” Molly said, chuckling. “He said he’d be back later.”

Jade rolled her eyes, and Jack looked interested. “Pizza, huh? Where’s he going for that?” Then he saw the look on Jade’s face and added hastily, “I’m just curious, of course. I wouldn’t dream of going anywhere.”

“He went over to check on Lily and Zoey, who are babysitting this evening,” Molly said.

“Of course he is,” Jade said. She shook her head. “You know, he’s really going to destroy his reputation as a wild Spirit if he doesn’t watch out.”

“Too late,” Drew said. “Everyone in the Cove knows his secret.”

As they chatted, Pavel and his mother came up to them. Ever the fashion plate, Pavel had gone all out this time: his tuxedo was black as night, and his tie and vest were a matching black. Beside him, Ella was radiant in a champagne dress, a shawl over her shoulders, and she had a lovely corsage of champagne roses on her wrist.

“Your Majesties,” Pavel said extravagantly, bowing low before them. “May I present to you my mother, Ella Chekhov?”

“I think we’ve been upgraded,” Jack murmured to Jade, who laughed.

“Pavel, you irrepressible scamp,” she scolded, coming down off the dais and embracing him. “I didn’t know you were bringing your mother!” She turned in a flurry of ribbons and silk to Ella. “Welcome to the Ball!”

Ella looked a bit surprised at the embrace, but she recovered quickly. Then again, it was hard to resist the Snow Queen’s charm. “Thank you!” she said. “I’m having a wonderful time in the Cove – I can see why Pavel is setting down roots here.”

“Setting down roots?” Jade looked closely at Pavel. “Is this true?”

“It’s true,” he confirmed. “I think I’m buying the house I’m renting right now.” He winked at Molly. “Now, I just need to convince Molly to leave the tea shop and be my personal chef.”

“Not going to happen, sorry,” she said, grinning. “I’m not built to be a personal chef. Besides, Cook would knife me in the back.”

“Hardly,” Pavel said.

Ella turned to Molly and Drew. “What a wonderful place you live in,” she said. “Did you know, I went downtown with Pavel today, and had the most amazing time. We walked all over, and met so many people!” She shook her head. “And they were all friendly! My village, not so much.”

“It’s the Christmas season,” Molly said.

“No, it’s the Cove,” Jack said, coming down as well. “Trust me, Molly. The Cove is unlike anywhere else in the world.”

“I think so, but I’m biased,” she said.

“Molly, dance with me?” Pavel asked her, holding out his hand.

She accepted, and he swirled her out on to the floor. “I wanted a chance to talk to you alone,” he explained.

“Without my husband? You cad,” Molly teased him.

He laughed, and it was an unforced, Pavel laugh that thrilled through her. “No, without my mother, actually,” he said. “I wanted to ask you a favor.”

“Of course,” Molly said. “I’ll do it.”

“You don’t even know what it is,” Pavel said.

“Doesn’t matter. You asked a favor, and I’ll do it.” She cocked her head. “Now, what did I just agree to?”

“To have us to lunch tomorrow,” Pavel said. “Because I have a proposal.”

“That you can’t give me now?” Molly eyed him. “What are you up to, Pavel?”

“You’ll see,” he promised, and gave her a wicked grin. “You’ll see.”

And he refused to say anything else, all night. Molly danced with all her friends, the evening passing in a blur of music, champagne and magic. All too soon, the Snow Queen clapped her hands together, calling for the last dance.

Doug found her shoe and led her out onto the dance floor. “Did you have a good time?” she asked, as the band played “The Christmas Waltz.”

“I had an amazing time,” he said, holding her gently as they moved through the motions of the dance. “I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but it wasn’t this.”

“Now do you understand why Drew stayed?” she said.

“Oh, I knew why he stayed, as soon as I met you,” Doug said, chuckling a little. “I could tell how in love he was.” He looked over at his cousin, who was dancing with Lai. “But now I understand why you wouldn’t leave.”

“Look over there,” Molly said, nodding over his shoulder. He spun her around and then gasped.

Tim was dancing in the middle of the floor, the Snow Queen in his arms. She was talking to him, her eyes bright and happy.

“That’s a good thing,” Molly told him. “She likes him, and you. It’s a great honor to share the final dance with the Snow Queen.”

“What does it mean?” Doug asked her.

“It means you’re home,” Molly said, and hugged him. “It means you’re home.”

(advent) December 18

Friday, December 18

“So let me get this straight,” Doug said, looking faintly skeptical. He, Tim, and Molly were at one of the small tables in the tea room at CrossWinds Books, enjoying the warmth of the wood stove as the afternoon inched on. It was a drowsy sort of day, with softly-falling snow shushing against the windows, and only a few people had ventured out. In fact, Molly realized, looking around, other than her family, the only other people in the tea room were the Dorrs, seated at their customary table. Mr. Dorr was reading quietly to his wife, who was knitting something purple.

Probably an afghan for Lee-Ann, she thought, watching the silver needles flicker. That’s definitely Lee-Ann’s color.

Mrs. Dorr, apparently feeling eyes upon her, looked up and smiled at Molly, who smiled back.

Or it’s for the kittens, Schrodinger said sleepily. He was curled up on his large cat bed with Ryan, who was fast asleep, one chubby hand curled under his cheek, the other holding on to the CrossCat’s leg. The entire picture was too cute for Molly, who smiled to see her friend doubling as a pillow.

Doug touched her on the arm and Molly jumped a bit. “Did you hear me?” he asked.

“No, sorry, I got distracted by how stinking cute your kid is right now,” Molly admitted. “What did you ask again?”

“Entirely okay, he’s adorable,” Doug agreed. “We already sent a picture to Mom, who probably has plastered it all over Facebook. But I asked if the entire town shuts down for the ball?”

“Pretty much,” Molly said, nodding. “Even the restaurants close. Everyone’s going to be at the ballroom, with the exception of the emergency services folks, and even they rotate in and out.”

It’s THE event of the social season, Schrodinger added. Especially since everyone wants to see what Jade and Jack have been planning for this year.

“And Old Man Winter,” Molly added. “He stopped by Wednesday and said that he was going to be there, because he was bummed that Lily and Zoey weren’t coming this year.”

They aren’t? Schrodinger said, raising his head and blinking. Why not?

“They’re babysitting for Kaylee and Ryan, remember?” Molly said. “They asked if you wanted to stay with them.”

Oh, right. Schrodinger sighed. I would, but I really, really love the ball.

“They’ll babysit again, and you can help then,” Molly assured him.

“Are you sure that your brother and sister-in-law are okay taking Ryan?” Tim asked. “I’d hate to put them out.”

“They wouldn’t have offered if they weren’t okay with it,” Molly said. “They’re looking forward to the night. And it means you guys can go.”

“For a ball in the middle of the forest.” Doug shook his head, still skeptical. “I can’t wrap my head around it.”

“I’m more impressed by the fact that she’s on a first-name basis with the spirits of winter and fall, personally,” his husband said, chuckling. “This is such a weird town.”

“It’s the same place that Drew and I got married in,” Molly said. “Which, yeah, is in the middle of the forest, but it’s magic. Doug, you grew up with Phoebe around – how can you not be that used to magic?”

“True,” he said. “But I dunno – Phoebe was just Phoebe. She was so much a part of our lives that we didn’t really question it.”

Because you met her as a child. Children accept magic easier, especially if you get them when they’re small. Schrodinger shifted just a bit under Ryan. Your son will never know anything other than magic. Think of what he will take in stride.

“Which is why I’m so happy to be here,” Tim said. “I wonder what my childhood might have been like if I’d grown up in a CrossRoads town.”

“It still depends on the town,” Doug said. “Marionville is not as saturated as Carter’s Cove is.”

“Probably because we’re more of a trade town, especially with the harbor,” Molly said.

“It’s more than that, actually, dear,” Mrs. Dorr said. “I’m sorry to interrupt.”

“Not at all!” Molly said, smiling. “You know more about the town than almost anyone else here.” She turned back to Doug and Tim. “Mrs. Dorr and her husband have been all over, even more than most.”

“That’s because we’re retired, my dear. It gives us something to do and keeps us young.” Mrs. Dorr smiled at all of them. “But the big reason that the Cove is more magical is because of who borders the town.”

“What do you mean?” Doug asked, leaning forward.

“You know how every CrossRoads town has metaphysical borders with several other Realms, right?” Mrs. Dorr said, setting her knitting down for a moment. They nodded. “Well, not all of those Realms are necessarily magical. In the case of Carter’s Cove, however, almost every other Realm that touches upon it is at least partially magically active. So all those different magical energies flow and eddy here in the Cove, and make this place more magically active than most. That’s why so many children born here have magical gifts.”

“We need to have another child,” Tim said, looking at his husband. “I want to see what we can come up with.”

Doug laughed. “You say that now,” he said. “Let’s at least get through the terrible twos with the one we have before we have another.” He winked at Molly. “Beside, I want to see how Molly and Drew’s family turns out first.”

“Do you know something I don’t?” Molly asked him, raising an eyebrow.

“Not yet,” he grinned. “But I’m pretty certain you guys will have a baby before we do another one.”

Mrs. Dorr smiled at Ryan. “He’s young enough to soak up the magical energy. You might get him developing gifts, you know.”

Both Tim and Doug looked surprised. “Really?” Doug asked.

“Yes.” She nodded. “I’ve seen it happen before.” She looked over at her husband, who had put a bookmark into his book, and was getting up to get his coat on. “Is it that time already?”

Mr. Dorr smiled. “Only if you want to stop and see Lee-Ann and Jeff before we go home,” he reminded her. “And we need to stop at the grocery store.”

“Right.” Mrs. Dorr gathered up her things as well. “We’ll see you all tomorrow night,” she said, and they headed out into the snow.

“So everyone really does go to this ball,” Doug said, watching them go. “I wouldn’t believe it.”

“Marionville didn’t have anything like that?” Molly asked him. “Really?”

“Not really,” he said. “I guess the closest thing would have been the Homecoming game and party, but it’s not a fancy ball.”

“They weren’t really into fancy anything in Marionville,” Tim added, chuckling a little. “I don’t think you would find anyone who wanted to dress up that much.”

“True,” Doug admitted. “We’re kind of informal.”

“Well, tomorrow night will not be informal,” Molly said, reaching over and warming up the tea pot with a bit of her magic. She didn’t normally do that, but she was disinclined to get up. “It’s a black tie affair.” She eyed them both. “And no, I won’t tell you what I’m wearing, even though I know Drew asked you.”

“So instead, tell us what to expect tomorrow night,” Doug said. He offered his cup as she poured more tea into her mug. “Because I’m a little worried, to be honest.”

“Why?” Molly shrugged. “Everyone gets dressed up in their prettiest clothes, and goes to dance.”

“Somehow, I doubt it’s the Top 40, though,” Tim said. “Is it?”

“No,” Molly said, giggling at the thought of a DJ at the Snow Queen’s Ball. “There’s live music. Last year, she had a string quartet, but I don’t know what they have planned this year. It changes.” She leaned back in her chair, cradling the warm mug of tea in her hands. “The dancing is all over the place, though. There are slow dances, and fast dances – all different kinds of music, although I will admit that there are more slow couples’ dances.”

Don’t forget the last dance, Schrodinger said. That’s always the best.

“The last dance is a Cinderella dance,” Molly agreed.

“What, we all take off one shoe and dance like that?” Doug asked.

“No, silly.” Molly laughed at him. “The women all take off a shoe, and we put them in a large pile in the middle of the room. Then the guys go and choose a shoe at random.”

Everyone does it, even the Snow Queen, Schrodinger added. And if something special is going to happen, it’s usually then.

“Yes,” Molly said. “Even Jade puts her shoe in. And it’s always danced to the Christmas Waltz.”

“What do you mean, if something special is going to happen?” Doug said.

“Well, there’s been engagements,” Molly said, thinking back. “And we’ve saved the Cove a couple of times.” She laughed at the look on her cousins’ faces. “Seriously!”

“How?” Doug asked.

“Well, last year, we got the Snow Queen and Jack Frost together,” Molly said. “That saved her life, and the life of the Cove.”

And three years ago, Molly stopped Old Man Winter from destroying the Cove by blowing up the Gates, Schrodinger said. That was the year Drew was kidnapped.

“Yes, but I had help,” Molly said. “Oh, and two years ago, Lily and Zoey went to the Ball! And had a wonderful time.” She didn’t want to remember the fire that had destroyed Zoey’s home while they were all dancing. After all, Santa had fixed that too.

Tim and Doug were staring at her, slightly open-mouthed.

“What?” she asked, startled.

“You’re serious,” Doug said, and it wasn’t a question. “You’re really serious.”

“Yes,” she said. “It all happened.”

Doug turned to his husband. “And she says it so casually,” he said, shaking his head. “She’s managed to save her town at least twice, and she just dismisses it.”

That’s part of her charm, Schrodinger said. She’s modest.

“I had help,” Molly felt required to point out. “It wasn’t just me. Lily helped win over Old Man Winter, and Jack really made changes to show Jade that he could be the partner she needed him to be.”

But you started it all, Molly. They wouldn’t have been able to do it without you.

She blushed and hastily changed the subject. “So yeah, now you see why it’s such a big deal,” she said. “And honestly, the more people who go, the better.”

“Why?” Tim asked her.

“Because there are protections on the Cove, and the Ball helps keep them charged,” Molly told him. “Jack and Jade started it back with the founding of the Cove.”

“Wow.” Doug leaned back in his chair, pondering that. “Amazing.”

“I am so glad we moved here,” Tim said. “I just wish…” His voice trailed off, and Molly reached out for his hand comfortingly.

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “Have you heard anything?”

He shook his head. “Not that I expected to, but I’d hoped.” He sighed and squared his shoulders. “Oh well.”

(advent) December 17

Thursday, December 17

“Are you sure?” Pavel asked his mother, who threw her arms up in exasperation.

“I am not six!” Ella told him, and to both Molly and Drew’s amusement, she stood up and shoved her son gently towards the door. “I am a grown woman, and I do not need you hovering around me. Molly and I will be fine baking, and you can go and do whatever you have planned.”

“Come on, man,” Drew said, kissing Molly quickly. “Schrodinger, you coming?”

No, I think I’ll stay here. I heard there would cookies. The CrossCat stretched. And I have a nap that I need to take.

“I think we’ve been thrown over in favor of naps and cookies,” Drew said to Pavel.

The pirate shrugged. “I can’t argue with that. Naps and cookies are pretty awesome.”

“True, but there are Christmas presents to buy.” Drew led the way out to his truck. It wasn’t snowing yet, but Pavel could taste the coming storm on the wind. The grey clouds were a solid mass in the sky, and there was a cold wind that touched everything with fingers of ice.

“So, what is the plan?” Pavel asked him, as they trundled out of the driveway and towards the Cove.

“Molly asked me to stop in and get Schrodinger’s new cape from Home For All, and I have some things I want to pick up for her,” Drew said. “I still haven’t finished filling her stocking.”

“So we’re going to wander around Market Square until you’re inspired?” Pavel said.

“Pretty much.”

Pavel nodded. “Sounds good to me.” He leaned back and sighed. “I should pick up some things as well.”

Drew gave him a sideways look. “For your mother?”

“And other people.”

When Pavel didn’t expand on that, Drew prodded him a bit. “Molly?”

“Maybe.”

“Am I going to have to pry it out of you with a crowbar?” Drew said, a bit exasperated. “Spit it out, man!”

Pavel shifted a bit. “I’m thinking I might take my mother home for Christmas.”

“You mean—”

“To my grandmother’s house.”

Drew looked at him again, slightly stunned. “Why?” The question just sort of slipped out before he stop it, but the quiet admission had seriously startled him.

“Because it’s odd.” Pavel stopped, as if picking his words carefully. “But I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since my grandfather died. And especially since Mother came here with me.”

“Remembering things?” Drew prompted him, when the silence stretched between them.

“Yes.” Pavel looked out the window at the snowy landscape going by. “And realizing that I don’t just have bad memories. I mean, most of the good times happened after the old man passed out, but there were times when Mother and I had a good Christmas.” He smiled, almost to himself. “She always had a book and cookies for me when I got home on Christmas Eve, no matter how late it was, or how tired she was. Or how old I was, for that matter.”

“Age is kind of irrelevant around Christmas,” Drew agreed.

“True.” Pavel looked at him. “But part of it is you.”

“Me?”

“You, and Molly. And what happened this summer at your wedding.”

Drew didn’t say anything for a bit about that. His faery grandmother Phoebe had come to his and Molly’s wedding, and it had been the first time that Drew had admitted to anyone that he had nonhuman blood. He’d been afraid that Molly would break off the wedding, but she’d simply nodded, smiled and the wedding had gone on.

“You mean Molly not freaking out about my faery blood?”

“No, actually. That didn’t surprise me at all.” When Drew blinked, Pavel chuckled. “She’s lived with a CrossCat for four years. Faery blood is nothing to her. Besides, she loves you. Love conquers all.”

“So what was it?”

“Your cousin.”

“Doug?” Now Drew was really confused. “What does Doug have to do with it?”

“He showed up, with his husband and baby, and you accepted him. You accepted all of them, and didn’t let the fact that they were not what you were expecting, not what you remembered, bother you. In fact, I know how painful seeing them must have been.”

Drew pondered that. “You know, it never occurred to me that seeing them would be painful,” he said. “It was, a little, but really, I was more concerned about Molly meeting Phoebe. Seeing my cousin was actually pretty awesome. And seeing him happy? That was even better.”

“Even though he’s happy with a man,” Pavel said.

“Who cares?” Drew said. “They’re happy, Ryan has two great dads, and I get a great new cousin out of it. How can that be bad?”

“Ask Tim’s family,” Pavel said. “But that’s besides the point. You welcomed them in, and I would be a lesser man if I couldn’t do the same.”

“And you’re wondering if your mother might be right, and your grandfather wrong?” Drew guessed.

“I don’t want to be him,” Pavel said. “I don’t want to go through life being bitter and hating a construct in my own mind. Especially since now I know that there are extenuating circumstances.” He leaned his head back. “That’s a difference too. I’ve stopped seeing the world in black and white.”

“Shades of grey?”

“Well, I suppose.” Pavel smiled. “Shades of tea, maybe. I’ve drunk a lot of tea over the past few years here, and I’m not sure Molly doesn’t mix something into it.”

“She does,” Drew said, grinning, as he pulled the truck into the Home For All’s parking lot. “It’s called love and kindness. Molly doesn’t have a mean bone in her body.”

“Very true.”

Inside the store, Drew rang the bell and watched Pavel prowl up and down the aisles. “Schrodinger loves the toy aisle here,” he called. “And he’s due for another set of feathered wands.”

“Such a cat,” Pavel called back, heading towards the aisle.

“And you’re surprised?” Drew turned back to the counter as Julie came out of the back room, carrying a large package.

“Molly called,” she told him, handing him the package. “Said she forgot to tell you that it’s already been paid for, and by the way, could you pick up more cream on your way home? She said they were going to make fudge as well.”

“For fudge? Absolutely.” Drew accepted the box and opened it, admiring the dark blue velveteen coat Molly had picked out. “She’s so good at this.”

“She is,” Julie agreed. “And this one has the matching hat she asked for as well.”

“No booties, though?”

“No booties,” Julie said, and they shared a laugh over that. Schrodinger had categorically refused to ever wear the booties that Molly had gotten him again, and they had mysteriously been shredded when she went to unpack the winter stuff this past year, rendering the point moot. “Also, let her know that the treats she asked for will be in the day before Christmas. My supplier won’t be here before then, I’m sorry.”

“No worries,” Drew said, as Pavel came up, several feathered wands in his hands. “Schrodinger will have plenty of treats in his stocking, I’m sure.”

Julie agreed, reaching for the wands. “Do you want these wrapped?”

“If you could, that would be great,” Pavel said, looking a little surprised. “That way, he won’t know what they are.”

“That was my idea,” Julie said, pulling out a sheet of wrapping paper and some tape from under the counter. “He’s too smart by half, and this at least preserves some of the mystery.” She wrapped the wands quickly and neatly, then added them to the large bag that she’d slid Drew’s box into. “Anything else I can get you guys today?”

“That’s it,” Drew said, and Pavel nodded. “Do you mind if we leave the truck here and walk for a bit?”

“Not at all,” Julie said, handing Pavel his change. “As long as you aren’t blocking the loading dock, I don’t care.”

They locked the gifts in the truck, then wandered off down towards Market Square. It wasn’t hard to find – there were lights everywhere, on all the shop windows and eaves, and the statues in the middle of the green were decorated as well. Once again, Drew relished the fact that Carter’s Cove was so heavily in to the Christmas season.

Bits and pieces of music drifted out of the various stores as people went in and out – not canned music, like in many malls, but actual musicians, playing or singing or both. Drew inhaled deeply and turned towards the smell of deep, rich roasted coffee beans. “Let’s go visit Katarina and Mick,” he suggested.

“And feed your secret addiction?” Pavel teased.

“It’s not secret,” Drew said, as they went into the Vienna Cafe. “She knows I’m addicted to Katarina’s Linzer tort.”

“And luckily for you, I’ve just finished one today,” Katarina said from behind the glass display case. Her lovely accent never failed to thrill Drew – Katarina and her husband Mick had come from Europe, bringing with them their own specialties and exotic foods. Rather than compete with CrossWinds Books, the Vienna Cafe and the tea shop swapped recipes back and forth, but the Linzer tort was one thing that Molly refused to make, preferring Katarina’s version to anything she could make.

“Can we eat have a piece?” he asked, and she nodded, dimpling. “And hot chocolate for me.”

Pavel, to his surprise, requested a hot chocolate as well, and they took seats at one of the tables in front of the window. Mick brought over their desserts and beverages, with a smile and a “Welcome” in his Scottish brogue. Once again, Drew wondered how the two, so very dissimilar, had managed to meet, and once again, thoughts fled as soon as the first bite of tort hit his tongue. Katarina was as much a magician in the kitchen as Molly was.

“So, when are you thinking of going to your grandmother’s?” Drew asked, as they lingered over their chocolate cups.

“After the ball, most likely, if we go.” Pavel shrugged. “Depends on what Mother wants.” He looked at Drew. “What about you? What are you guys doing for Christmas?”

“We’re hosting everyone at our house Christmas Day.” Drew felt a thrill of excitement at saying that, even though it was the same as last year. Having his own house, with his own family, was everything he’d dreamed it was, and more. “It’s the only place with enough room for everyone.”

“Ah.” Pavel said, and Drew shook his head.

“You know you and your mother are part of the family,” he said. “That means you’re invited too.”

“I thank you,” Pavel said, smiling at his friend. “I’ll have to see what Mother wants to do.”

Katarina came by and set two small boxes down next to Drew, who looked at them and then at her questioningly. “For Molly,” the Austrian woman said, smiling. “One of my friends sent me a tin of her Christmas tea, which is a bit different from the one Molly serves at the shop. I thought she’d like some. And butter cookies, of course.”

“Thank you,” Drew said, slipping the boxes into his coat pockets. “She’ll adore them.”

“Merry Christmas!” Katarina said, flashing her dimples again.
“This is an amazing place,” Pavel said, as they stepped out into the cold air again. “I am convinced again that this is where I should live.”

“I can’t disagree with you,” Drew admitted. He looked around the bustling square. “Well, where next?”

(advent) December 16

Wednesday, December 16

“Hey, Molly, got a minute?”

Tim ducked his head through the open kitchen door, a quizzical look on his face.

“Absolutely!” Molly said, waving him in. “Come on in!”

He came in and shed his coat, along with a large amount of snow. “Sorry about that,” he said. “I thought I’d brushed it all off.”

“No worries,” Molly told him. “It’s December in Maine. We’re used to snow.” She grinned. “Take a seat and have some tea with me. Did you eat lunch?”

“I grabbed some crackers and peanut butter while I was finishing up a project,” Tim admitted, flushing a little. “Does that count?”

“No,” Molly said. She went to the pantry and got a mug, calling out, “What kind of tea would you like?”

“Something black and fruity,” he said, and she reached for the black spiced pear that she’d gotten earlier in the month from one of her favorite vendors. It would go perfectly with a grilled cheese sandwich, especially if she pulled out some of the apple-walnut-raisin compote that her mother had made to put in said sandwich.

“Try this,” she said when she came back out, handing him the mug (after filling it with hot water, of course). Then Molly went to the bread box and pulled out a loaf of soft rye bread she’d made that morning, and cut six slices off.

“I’m flattered, but do you think I’m that in need of fattening?” Tim said, looking at the stack of bread.

“Schrodinger and I haven’t had lunch either,” she admitted. “We just finished the lunch rush, so I was about to make us sandwiches.”

“Gotcha.” He watched as she pulled out the jar of compote, a package of fontina cheese, and some of the soft butter from one of the farms on the outskirts of town. “So what are we having?”

“Just grilled cheese,” Molly said.

“I have yet to have anything that’s come out of your kitchen that I would describe as ‘just’ anything,” Tim said a little skeptically. “And since when do you put jam on a grilled cheese?”

“Since it’s my mother’s famous compote,” Molly said, and then called out, “Schrodinger, you hungry?”

Yes, the CrossCat said, coming into the kitchen and hopping up on another one of the stools. And I smell a new tea!

“It’s the pear tea that Jay brought on her way through at the end of November,” Molly said. “When she stopped in to bring Aunt Margie the new books.”

Interesting. Can I smell it closer?

Tim pushed the mug towards Schrodinger, who sniffed it delicately. “It’s got a good flavor, if you like spice,” he said.

I’m not sure. I think I’ll take my usual. But thank you!

Molly had already put a large mug of Earl Grey in front of him, then turned back to the sandwiches that were on her griddle. “I thought you might say that,” she said. “You’re not usually a fruity-tea sort of person.”

No, but sometimes I like to walk on the wild side.

“Fruit tea is the wild side?” Tim said.
I lead a quiet life, Schrodinger allowed, and both Molly and Tim stifled laughs. What? I do! Cats prefer a quiet life.

“I hate to break it to you, Schrodinger, but Carter’s Cove does not qualify as quiet,” Tim said. “Quiet does not include telepathic animals, Spirits of any season, or Gates that go to other worlds, believe it or not.” He cupped the warm mug of tea in his hands. “I can’t think of another place I’d like to be, though. This is a special town.”

On that, we can agree, Schrodinger told him. Then the CrossCat tilted his head. You didn’t grow up in a CrossRoads town.

“No. I’d never even heard of a Gate before I met Doug,” Tim said.

How is that possible that you never even heard of them?

“My hometown is a little place, smaller even than some of the communities around here,” Tim said. “It’s very insular, and very religious, and not in a good way. Anything that is ‘different’ is anathema.”

“Which is why you left, I’m guessing,” Molly said, bringing over plates of sandwiches.

“Which is why I left,” Tim agreed. He set down his mug and picked up one of the halves of sandwiches, taking a bite and groaning in pleasure. “And this is why I’ll never leave.”

Molly laughed. “Doug probably won’t be happy if you throw him over for a grilled cheese sandwich, you know,” she teased.

“He’ll understand when he has one of these,” Tim said. “He’ll totally understand.”

After they finished the sandwiches, Molly refreshed their tea mugs and said, “I’ll bet you’re here to pick up that gingerbread house you asked me to make.”

“Are you a mind reader too?” Tim teased her, grinning.

“Well, since I’m assuming it’s for Doug, and he’s still at the school, and you’re here…” She let the end of her sentence trail off.

“Actually, I’m sending it to my parents,” Tim said, and Molly blinked.

“I thought you didn’t speak to them?”

“I don’t, but I’m thinking that it’s time someone dragged them into the 21st century.” Tim shook his head. “I know it’s probably a long shot, but I don’t want to go through life knowing that I could have reached out, and didn’t. And who knows? Maybe they’ll actually try and change.”

“It’s definitely worth a shot,” Molly said, touching his arm gently. “Let me get the house.”

She brought out the little cottage she’d made for him. It was a twin of the Cape that he and Doug had bought when they moved out to the Cove: a small red house, with lights hung around the edges of the roof and a little red mailbox outside that said “The Mathewsons” in script. There was a snowman that waved from near the front door, and Molly had even put a wreath exactly like the one they had given the couple over Thanksgiving.

“Oh, Molly, it’s perfect,” Tim said, drinking in the sight of the sculpture. “Look, you even put the hat and scarf we found at the Goodwill on the snowman!”

“Of course!” Molly said, remembering helping him and Doug make the snowman, while Ryan played in the snow. “And if you look, the snowman’s nose has a bite taken out of it.”

Because that’s what Ryan had done – and they’d decided to use the carrot anyways. Tim’s eyes went misty with tears.

“Thank you,” he said. “Even if they hate it, I love it.”

Molly put her hand lightly on the cottage roof and closed her eyes. Invoking her special gift, she made sure that the house would arrive at its destination perfect as it was now. “If you tell Marilyn at the post office that it’s traveling far, she’ll package it safely.” Molly put it in a cardboard box and handed it to him as he put his coat back on.

“Thank you again,” Tim said. “I’ll go now.” And he went out of the kitchen, cradling the precious box in his arms.

Why do people get so upset at who someone loves? Schrodinger asked her.

“I don’t know,” Molly said. “I really don’t know.”

They finished their tea in silence, and then he went out for a nap next to the wood stove. Molly took advantage of the quiet to do some planning for the January menus, which was how Pavel found her when he poked his head in.

“Tea?” she offered, and he shook his head.

“I’m only in for a minute or two,” Pavel said. “Mother sent me into town to get her a few things, and I stopped by the Station, so I’m running late.”

“Then why are you still here?” Molly asked. “Shouldn’t you be heading home?”

“I will, once I ask if you had plans for tomorrow,” Pavel said, grinning. “Or can I steal your husband from you?”

“I didn’t have any plans,” Molly said, after thinking for a few minutes. “Just doing some holiday baking, probably. Why don’t you bring your mother over when you pick Drew up, and then you two can go do the Christmas shopping that I know he hasn’t done yet?”

“This would be why I don’t want a wife,” Pavel said. “How did you know that’s what we were planning?”

“Because I know my husband.” Molly winked at him. “Did he also ask you to find out what color dress I was wearing to the Snow Queen’s ball?”

Pavel flushed, and Molly laughed. “I knew he was desperate, but that’s pretty low,” she said, when she was able to stop her giggles. “Tell him I’m wearing our wedding colors. That’s the only clue he gets. And no, Schrodinger won’t tell you, or him.”

“You can’t blame me for trying, and I never admitted to anything,” Pavel said, trying to salvage his dignity. “But I’ll pass along the information.”

“You and your mother are coming, right?” Molly said.

“Of course. I wouldn’t want to miss it. Although I think dress shopping with her scarred me for life.” Pavel shook his head. “I can’t imagine how you women do that.”

“It’s the price we pay to look good for you guys,” Molly said.

“Point.” Pavel looked as if he was about to say something else, but decided not to. “I’ll see you guys tomorrow then, and I promise to tell Drew that he needs to ask his own questions from now on.” Then something seemed to occur to him. “Why didn’t he just look in your closet?”

“Because the dress isn’t there.” Molly looked a bit smug. “It’s at Lai’s.”

Pavel laughed. “You two are hysterical, you know that, right?”

“Hey, we need something to spice up our lives.”

(advent) December 15

Tuesday, December 15

“This,” Molly said, sipping her cup of tea as she gazed at the magnificent Christmas tree, now fully decorated, that they had been working on all afternoon, “is pretty much the perfect day.”

And it’s hardly over, Schrodinger agreed. He’d dragged his cat bed under the branches of the tree and was snuggled there, looking up at the lights. We still have tonight to get through!

“Indeed,” Drew said, coming in and settling next to Molly on the couch. She touched his damp hair – he’d decided he needed a shower after setting up the tree. He yawned. “I hope I can stay awake.”

“Nap now?” Molly suggested. “I have to go and make the pies still, and the rolls. You have time.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Molly got up and handed him a blanket. He was asleep before she hit the hallway.

I’ll nap too, Schrodinger decided, putting his head back down and closing his eyes. That sounds like a good thing.

Molly shook her head and went down to the kitchen, pausing only to refill her tea mug before she pulled out her mixer. The rolls first, I think, she thought, going into the pantry and pulling out the necessary ingredients. The rolls needed to proof before she could bake them, and she already had pie dough chilling in the refrigerator, so that was good.

The rolls came together quickly, and she set the bowl aside to rise. Then she collected another two bowls from the pantry and got to work on the pie fillings.

Drew had requested a pecan pie, but Molly knew that Lily’s favorite pie was chocolate cream, so she’d decided to make several pies. She mixed up the chocolate cream, and then the pecan filling. Rolling out the pie dough, she transferred the dough to pie pans and then blind-baked the shells.

By the time the pies were done, Molly had the rolls ready to go as well. The goose was in the other oven, finishing up, and she had the rest of the dinner ready to go.

Nathan and Corrine showed up first, carrying baby Kaylee as Lily and Jack ran in before them. “Molly! Schrodinger! Drew!” Lily shouted. “Merry Christmas!”

Merry Christmas! Schrodinger replied, running out from the living room. What did you think of the decorations outside?

“They’re lovely!” Lily assured him, stripping off her coat and gloves. “I love the faery lights!”

Wait until you see the tree! The CrossCat led them back to the living room, still chattering. Molly and Corrine exchanged grins.

“I’ll take this lovely,” Molly said, reaching for her niece. Kaylee burbled up at her, and Molly laughed. “I missed you too!”

“Watch out, she’s a handful,” Nathan warned, as he put several bottles into the refrigerator. “I have a feeling she’s going to have two speeds when she starts walking: fast and faster.”

“She’ll keep us on our toes,” Corrine agreed, sitting down at the kitchen table. “Where’s Drew?”

“Well, he was napping in the living room,” Molly said. “I doubt he’s still napping.”

“Let me go and rescue him,” Nathan offered, grabbing a pair of the bottles. “I want him to try this anyways.”

“He’s just uncorked a new cider,” Corrine said. “This one has been resting for a year, so we’ll see.”

Molly was about to answer when there was another knock on the door. “Come in!” she called, and Tim and Doug came in, carrying Ryan. In a few moments, they took fresh bottles of cider and joined the others in the living room.

“I’ve got to hand you back to Mom,” Molly told Kaylee regretfully. “I need to finish the rolls.”

“What needs to be done?” Corrine asked, getting up. “If you want to just tell me, I can do it, and you can keep snuggling the baby.”

“Take the rolls out,” Molly said. “Then, in the fridge, grab the two covered casserole dishes. Take the covers off, and slide them in to the oven.”

Corrine pulled the three sheets of rolls out. “Are we really going to eat that many?” she asked, raising her eyebrows.

“Schrodinger wants cream puff casserole for breakfast tomorrow, so I made extra,” Molly explained, moving her head slightly as Kaylee made a grab for her hair. “That’s what the third sheet is for.”

“Gotcha.” Corrine pulled out the two casserole pans from the fridge. When she pulled off the covers, she exposed the roasted brussel sprouts and the green beans with mushrooms and almonds that Molly had made earlier. “Do I need to change the temperature on the oven?”

“No, but after you put those in, we’ll need to pull the geese out of the other oven,” Molly said, glancing at the clock. “It needs to come out and rest.”

“Will do.” Corrine pulled the three geese out of the second oven, and the smell floated throughout the house. “When’s dinner again?”

“Not soon enough,” Molly agreed. “We’re just waiting for Pavel and his mother to show up.”

“What’s she like?” Corrine asked, pouring Molly a cup of cider and taking one for herself.

“She’s interesting,” Molly said, shifting Kaylee so she could take a sip of the drink. “Not what I expected, given what Pavel had said, but everything I would think Pavel’s mother would be.”

Another knock on the door pre-empted whatever Corrine was going to say, and they both laughed as Lily, Jack, and Schrodinger thundered down the hall to greet Pavel.

“You have to let us in!” Pavel boomed, and from the squeals of laughter, Molly surmised that he’d scooped up at least Lily. When he came into the kitchen, she saw he had both Lily and Schrodinger in his arms, and Jack barking and dancing around his feet. Behind him, Ella was laughing.

“Jack, get down!” Corrine said, but the hound ignored her. “Jack!”

“Pavel, take them out of the kitchen!” Ella said, and her son nodded.

“Everyone else is in the living room,” Molly told him. “Take them there.”

“Maybe I should dump them in a snowbank?” Pavel teased Lily, wagging his beard in her face, and she shrieked with joy. “What do you think?”

“I think I might go deaf in a moment,” Molly said, laughing. “Take them out of here!”

Pavel dragged his followers out of the room as Molly, Corrine and Ella laughed.
“I have never seen him like that,” Ella said, taking a chair after she took her coat off. “Now I know what he would be like as a father.”

“If you could keep him in one place, he’d be an amazing father,” Molly agreed, handing Kaylee (who had started to cry at all the noise) back to her mother. “It’s the keeping him in one place that I’d be worried about.”

“That, and finding him a good partner,” Corrine said.

“True.” Molly got up and looked around. “Ella, would you like something to drink? My brother made a sparkling cider, and there’s tea.”

“Cider sounds lovely,” Ella said, standing up. “But please, let me get it. I haven’t been waited on this much in my life, and if I don’t get to do something for myself, I’ll die.” She wrinkled her nose. “Pavel is a good son, but he hovers. I’m not an invalid!”

Molly pointed to where the glasses were, and then pulled out platters for the goose. “Drew!” she called. “Come and carve!”

However, it was his cousin Doug who came out. “He’s a bit busy at the moment,” he explained, taking the carving knife and fork from Molly. “He and Pavel have been buried under the kids. Including Ryan, who is laughing for all he’s worth. It’s adorable.”

“I can imagine,” Molly said, and Corrine got up to go and see.

Ella shook her head, taking her chair again. “This is a good house,” she told Molly, sipping at the cider. “Full of laughter and love.” She sighed. “I wish our house had been like this.”

“We have good friends, and good family,” Molly agreed. “And Pavel is a big part of that.”

“Well, what can I do to help?” Ella asked, getting up again. “I need to do something.”

With Ella’s help (and Corrine’s, once she came back, having left Kaylee with Nathan), they got the dinner on the large dining room table. Molly and Schrodinger had decorated the seldom-used room earlier in the day with more of the faery lights, holly branches from the holly trees out in the back, and red glass balls. A long red runner ran the length of the center of the table, and Molly had set small white votive candles in clear glass tumblers along it, with long strands of silk ivy leaves. As they all sat around the table, Molly sighed with happiness.

“Oh man, this looks amazing, Molly,” Tim said, gazing at the food. “I can’t wait.”

“Then don’t,” she suggested, handing him the rolls basket. “Everyone, please, help yourself.”

For the first part of dinner, there was only the sounds happy people make when given good food. After everyone had dealt with the edge of hunger, they started to talk, and naturally, the subject went to family meals of renown.

“Oh man, Molly, do you remember the Thanksgiving that Dad came home with a ‘medium-sized turkey’ from the Lewis’ farm?” Nathan asked her, gazing at the remains of one of the geese.

“Absolutely,” Molly said, laughing.

What happened? Schrodinger asked, eyes bright. I haven’t heard this one!

“So Dad comes home and puts the turkey on the back porch, like normal,” Molly said. “And then he comes in, and goes down cellar. Still normal – he wanted the big turkey pan, so that was fine. But then he comes in again, with nothing in his hands, and goes back downstairs.”

“And this is the day before Thanksgiving, mind,” Nathan chimed in. “So Mom’s freaking out a little, because Dad hasn’t SAID anything to anyone. We don’t know what’s going on.”

“So he comes back up with his hacksaw,” Molly finished. “Because the ‘medium-sized turkey’ turned out to be thirty-five pounds, and it wouldn’t fit, even in the biggest pan we could find. We had half for Thanksgiving, and half for Easter, if I remember correctly.”

“Thirty-five pounds?” Doug’s eyes widened. “How big was the large turkey?”

“We didn’t want to know,” Nathan said. “We didn’t ask. Probably big enough to stuff Kaylee into, to be honest.”

They all laughed, and Doug looked over at Drew. “Remember the Christmas that your mom decided we were having duck?”

Drew nearly choked on the roll he’d just bitten, and Molly had to whack his back to stop him coughing. When he recovered, he threw the rest of the roll at his cousin. “Damn, I had successfully forgotten that!”

“Do tell,” Corrine said, then glanced at her daughter. “Unless it’s not—”

“Oh, it’s fine,” Drew said. “My mother went out and bought ducks for Christmas dinner, and had them all ready to go, when she got called away to the phone. I decided to go in and help her stuff them, but she didn’t realize it.”

“He put matchbox cars in each of them,” Doug said, grinning. “And by the time she came back from the phone, he was playing elsewhere, so she had no idea.”

“Oh no,” Molly said, covering her mouth with her hand. “And she put them in the oven?”

“Oh yes,” Drew said. “Didn’t realize it for about 20 minutes, and by then, it was too late.” He shook his head. “I was lucky that she didn’t tan my hide.”

So what did you have for dinner? Schrodinger asked.

“Lasagna,” Drew said. “Which made me very happy, because that was my favorite. I wasn’t sure I was going to like duck anyways.”

Ella looked over at Pavel, who winced. Molly saw and teased, “Come on, Pavel. What sort of trouble did you get into over Christmas dinner? I can’t believe you don’t have a good story!”

He started to respond, but Ella cut in. “My favorite Pavel story he probably doesn’t remember,” she said. “He was a very little boy at the time.”

“Pavel was a little boy?” Lily looked incredulously at him. “Really?”

“Really,” Ella told her, nodded. “And when he was about two, he managed to very nearly get himself cooked into our Christmas pudding.”

“You’re right,” Pavel said. “I have no memory of this.”

“Mother and I were making dinner,” Ella said. “Father was out getting the cart ready for the next day, when he was going to play Father Christmas for the children in the town.” She smiled. “You really, really wanted to help, so I stood you up on a chair and let you help me with the pudding. You were supposed to be dropping the raisins in. You very nearly went in yourself.”

Molly could picture it, but Pavel was staring at his mother. When he could finally speak, he said, “Grandfather as FATHER CHRISTMAS?”

“Oh yes,” Ella said. “When he was younger, before the accident that forced him to retire, he was a jolly man.” She smiled. “That’s why I always loved Christmas. Even when he was bad, I could remember him as he was before, and that helped.”

“I didn’t realize the old man had it in him,” Pavel said quietly.

“We had some good Christmases,” she said, and then smiled at everyone around her. “And it makes me happy to see what a good family you have found here. This is what Christmas should be.”

Agreed, Schrodinger said.

Molly raised her glass, and everyone else did the same. “To family, both born and chosen,” she said.

“To family,” everyone echoed.

After dinner, when they were all settled in the living room, Ella looked over at Pavel again.

“Can you get my bag?” she asked him.

“Of course.” Pavel went out to the hallway and came back with a knit bag that he handed to her.

“Lily, Jack, Schrodinger, I have a gift for you,” Ella said, and the three clustered around her eagerly. From the bag, she pulled three wrapped packages. “In our village, we have a tradition that I wanted to pass along to you.” She handed each one of them a package. “On Christmas Eve, everyone is given a new book. Every year, I have given Pavel a book, no matter where he was. Someday, I’d hoped to do this with my grandchildren,” and she winked at them, “but I don’t see that happening yet, so I want to do it with you.”

“Wow.” Lily looked down at the wrapped book, then at her mother. “Can we open it now?”

“Go ahead,” Ella said, before Corrine could answer. “Please.”

That was all they needed. Paper flew, and then there were squeals of delight. The books weren’t the mass-produced books that CrossWinds Books sold – these were one of a kind books, and Molly wondered if Ella had brought them with her.

“Christmas cookies!” Lily said, opening her book and looking at the lovely illustrations. “Molly, will you help me bake them?”

“All of them?” Molly laughed at her niece. “I’m sure we can work our way through the book.”

“These are Christmas cookies from our area of the world,” Ella told Lily, smiling. “And there are legends along with the cookies, so you know which ones to give to the brownies, and which ones to give to your family.”

“Does it have the right ones to give Father Christmas?” Lily asked.

“Of course!” Ella told her.

Jack’s book was one of sea stories, which Lily promised to read him, and Schrodinger’s was one of legends of the far north. They all thanked Ella effusively and then went to curl up on Schrodinger’s oversized bed under the tree to read.

“I like this tradition,” Molly said, leaning against Drew. “We should adopt it.”

“What, the big family dinner?” he said.

“Well, that too, but I meant the books. I really like that.”

“Me too.” Drew hugged her to him and let his gaze wander over the packed living room. “Me too.”

***

Just so you all know, the story about the Thanksgiving turkey? Absolutely true. We still laugh about it in our family.

(advent) December 14

Monday, December 14

Molly, it’s really snowing! Schrodinger danced in the softly-falling flakes, the bells on his Christmas collar jingling in the night air. Molly laughed as she turned from locking the front door of CrossWinds Books.

“Well, Pavel did say he had a very good tip that it was going to be a lovely night for a sleigh ride, remember?” she said, turning up the collar of her coat. She lifted her face to the sky, enjoying the feather-light kiss of the fluffy snowflakes as they fell around her. “And this is perfect. I hope Ella loves her sleigh ride.”

I wish WE were going on a sleigh ride, Schrodinger said mournfully. He opened his mouth wide, snapping snowflakes out of the air.

She winked at him. “Who says we aren’t?”

At that, the sound of sleigh bells filled the air, and Schrodinger’s eyes widened as a sleigh with two large reindeer came around the corner. Lisa Cohen and her husband Neil were in the driver’s seat, and as they pulled up to the bookstore, Lisa said, “Hey, Molly! Hi, Schrodinger! Want to go for a ride with us?”

Absolutely! Schrodinger said, jumping up into the sleigh. Drew!

“Hi, Schrodinger!” Drew said, opening up the blankets he was snuggled under so that Molly and Schrodinger could join him. “Ready to go look at the lights?”

This is awesome! Schrodinger said, maneuvering himself so that he could stay warm but still see everything. That meant that he was half-in and half-out of Drew’s lap. Molly grinned at her husband, who winced a bit until he managed to move the CrossCat to a more comfortable position.

“Everyone settled?” Neil asked. Upon gaining an assent from everyone, he chirruped to the reindeer, shook the reins, and they were off.

“How was your day?” Molly asked Drew, as the smell of snow and salt water rushed past them.

“Not bad. The Harbormaster came up to talk to Mal, so I got a chance to talk to him, which is always interesting.” Drew put an arm around Molly, pulling her closer to him, and she happily snuggled up next to him.

Look, it’s Pavel’s sleigh! Schrodinger said, wiggling excitedly. With Pavel and Ella!

Indeed, the reindeer, which were moving at a good clip in the snow, soon overtook the black horses that were pulling Pavel’s sleigh. Inside the other sleigh, Pavel and his mother were also snuggled under a massive pile of furs. Ella waved to them, her face alight with happiness, and Molly’s heart warmed. Then Pavel’s driver turned down another road, diverging from the main road, and they were gone.

“I’m so glad he was able to reconnect with her,” Molly said to Drew, who nodded. “I just wish he could do the same with his grandmother.”

He sounds so unhappy when his mother brought up visiting her, though, Schrodinger said, turning to look at her. Why would you wish him more unhappiness?

“Because I think he would be happier once he realized what kind of person she really is,” Molly said. “Remember, he’s never actually met her. He just knows about her from his grandfather.”

“And interestingly enough, I got a chance to talk to the Harbormaster about Pavel’s grandmother,” Drew said. “Did you know she actually came to the Cove a few times?”

Really? Schrodinger’s ears perked up.

“Do tell,” Molly added, intrigued. “What did the Harbormaster say?”

The current Harbormaster for Carter’s Cove was an old, wizened man of indeterminate heritage and race. He’d been Harbormaster for generations, and Molly had often wondered if he was a spirit himself, although he’d never said, and she’d never ask. He was gentle and kind, but did not speak about himself, ever. She wasn’t even sure if he had a name of his own; if he did, she’d never heard it, and didn’t know anyone else who had. He was just the Harbormaster.

“Well, apparently Captain Brynna Stromsdottir is quite the woman,” Drew said. “The Harbormaster said she’d come through every so often, with her ship. He’d met Pavel’s grandfather too, and gave me some information on him too.” Drew grimaced. “He wasn’t as complementary about him as he was about Brynna.”

Why not? Schrodinger asked.

“Because apparently he wasn’t a very good man,” Drew said. “The Harbormaster called him a competent sailor, but a lousy captain, and very jealous of his wife. But he said that it was clear Pavel was Brynna’s grandson – her crew was devoted to her, and she to them.”

“Interesting,” Molly said.

“It gets better,” Drew said. “There was an accident in the harbor one day – Pavel’s grandfather’s ship was hit by another ship. Several of the crew died, and Wilhelm, Pavel’s grandfather, was injured so badly that he couldn’t go back to sea ever again. He blamed Brynna for it, although from what the Harbormaster said, she had nothing to do with it.”

Was it her ship? Schrodinger suggested.

“No, apparently she wasn’t even in port at the time,” Drew said.

“Maybe that was why,” Molly said thoughtfully. “He sounds like the type of person who wanted his family near him, and if she wasn’t even there–”

Then maybe he blamed her because she left him, and he thought she should have been there for him? Schrodinger finished. That doesn’t make him sound as evil as the other stories do. That makes me feel better.

“Because there’s a reason he was unhappy?” Molly asked him.

Because evil is a horrible thing to be, Schrodinger said. It’s soulless, and to think that someone related to a good person like Pavel could just be evil is awful. If he was angry because he thought he’d been abandoned, then I can understand that.

“Doesn’t make his actions any better, though, just because we understand them,” Drew said somberly. “And from what the Harbormaster said, the accident might have been Wilhelm’s fault, although since it didn’t happen here, he didn’t know all the details.”

“And it grounded him,” Molly said. “So not only was he not able to go to the sea again, but he was possibly responsible for the accident. And the death of some of his sailors.” She shook her head. “I think, given that set of circumstances, that I might become bitter and angry too.”

“I can’t imagine you bitter,” Drew said. “Angry, yes, but not bitter.”

“We haven’t had a chance to be bitter,” she said, laying her head against his shoulder again. “Not yet.”

“I hope we never do,” Drew agreed, hugging her.

They passed the rest of the ride in silence, looking at the beautiful lights that decorated Carter’s Cove. Christmas in the Cove was a big deal, and many people decided to go all out in their decorating. The Gate Station had chosen to do an international theme for their decorating, and the techs had set up large snow sculptures that were lit with magical lights. There was a Nativity scene, with the Wise Men offering their presents to the baby Jesus, but there was also a scene of Santas dancing with bells that actually moved (Molly had no idea how they’d done it, and Drew refused to tell them), as well as wooden shoes left at a flickering fireplace. Children in all different outfits stood around a large Christmas tree, and Molly could hear the strains of carols as they went by.

Can we go by Zoey’s house? Schrodinger called up to Lisa.

“Of course!” Lisa replied, and Neil obligingly turned up the road.
Since they had first set up the lights for Zoey and her family two years ago, the display had grown even more. This year, Schrodinger squealed in happiness as he saw the new addition: somehow, the family had found someone to make them a CrossCat in lights, and it was perched in the sleigh with the presents. Molly made a mental note to ask Donna, Zoey’s mother, where they had gotten it, so she could get one.

Finally, Lisa and Neil brought them back to the Bookstore and dropped them off. “Thank you so much!” Molly said, waving to them as the couple drove off, the reindeer’s bells jingling through the falling snow. Lisa waved back, grinning.

“Want to drop me at the Station?” Drew said. “I left my truck there, and I need to be at work soon.”

“I suppose.” Molly hugged him. “I wish you could come home with us instead.”

“Soon,” Drew promised her. “It’s a short shift tonight.”

After they dropped Drew off, Molly and Schrodinger drove home, listening to the Christmas carols that WCOV was playing. Molly noticed how quiet the CrossCat was.

“What’s wrong, Schrodinger?”

I’m still thinking about Pavel’s grandparents, Schrodinger admitted, putting his head on his paws. How sad the family must have been, and how there was really nothing that anyone could do to make it better.

“Well, that’s true,” Molly said. “But now, with his grandfather gone, and hopefully not in pain any more, I think maybe his family can begin to move on.” She glanced over at him as they sat at a stop sign. “And he’ll always have us.”

Yes, Schrodinger agreed, brightening. And his mother is ready to be happy.

“Yes, she is.” Molly remembered the smile on Ella’s face. “I think she really is.”

(advent) December 13

Sunday, December 13

Molly paused at the top of the stairs and let the music wash over her. Once again, Father Christopher had brought his choir to CrossWinds Books for the annual Christmas Concert, and once again, the lovely Mareesh girl Starsha was the centerpiece. As Molly stepped into the room (moving carefully, since the room was packed and she was carrying a full carafe of hot water), Starsha’s clear voice floated up over the choir. People moved aside as Molly made her way to the table she and Aunt Margie had set up against the wall, where it was filled with all sorts of handheld goodies. She replaced the large carafe that was almost empty with her full one, and then went back downstairs to refill it.

When she came back up, she took a few moments to look around. It seemed like most of the Cove was crowded into the top floor of the bookstore. She finally spotted Pavel, standing behind one of the armchairs. Seated in the armchair was the woman that she assumed was his mother.

Ella Chekhov was small, as Drew had said, and she was knitting steadily as she listened to the choir. Her silver hair was wound around her head in an elaborate braided crown, strands of darker brown threading through the braids, and her dark eyes were relaxed, calm, not at all what Molly had expected. Schrodinger was lying at her feet on one of his big cat beds, and Molly wondered who he’d bribed to bring it up the stairs for him. And what he had promised them.

Pavel offered, Schrodinger told her, sounding slightly offended. Well, after his mother asked me if I needed anything.

I knew there was more to it, Molly told him silently, smiling. What do you think of her?

Schrodinger’s voice changed to thoughtful. I like her, he said after a moment. She’s very much like Pavel, and yet she’s softer, kinder. There’s steel in her, though. I would not want to cross her. You can feel it in her.

Molly didn’t doubt it. Drew had told her how Ella had handled her son at the Gate station, and from the competent way she held her knitting, she was clearly someone who knew what she wanted, and how to get it. That didn’t quite follow with what Pavel had told them about how his grandfather had dominated her, but perhaps she’d simply learned there was more than one way to get things done.

The song ended, with Starsha’s voice throbbing on the last note, and everyone applauded.

Father Christopher stepped to the front, and said, “Intermission, folks. I need to make sure these voices get some lubrication, and I noticed Molly just refilled the tea carafe.” He cleared his throat. “I’m a little parched too. Directing these amazing singers is thirsty business.” Everyone laughed at that.

Molly took advantage of the lull to slip over to Pavel’s side. He gave her a hug and leaned down. “Mother, this is Molly Barrett, Drew’s wife.”

“The amazing Molly! Who cooked that lovely dinner that Pavel served me last night!” Ella put down her knitting (after finishing the row, of course), and reached up to take Molly’s hand. “I have been looking forward to meeting you, my dear. I’ve heard such amazing things about you!”

Molly blushed. “I’m sure Pavel’s been exaggerating,” she said, pressing the older woman’s hands in her own. “But I’ve wanted to meet you as well.”

“I never exaggerate about you,” Pavel protested. “You’re amazing and wonderful, and make the most magical things ever in your kitchen.”

I’m afraid I agree with Pavel, Schrodinger chimed in. You’re amazing, Molly.

“You guys are going to give me an oversized ego, and then I’ll never get back into my kitchen,” Molly told them, blushing even harder. “I’m just a kitchen witch.”

“There’s no just about it, Molly,” Ella said firmly. “The kitchen is the heart of a house, and you, my dear, are the heart of your kitchen. Without a heart, the body dies. Don’t sell yourself short.” She grimaced. “Too many others are willing to do it for you, trust me.”

Pavel nudged Molly, and she turned to find him holding another one of the armchairs. “Sit,” he told her. “You can take a load off for a bit, and visit.”

She took the chair gratefully, and thanked him, then turned back to his mother. “So you liked the casserole?” she asked. “I know it was simple, but I thought—”

“It was lovely,” Ella interrupted her. “Sometimes, the simplest food is the best.” Then she leaned forward and said conspiratorially, “But I would love the recipe. I would be willing to trade for it.”

“Absolutely!” Molly said, eyes bright. “I’d love to talk recipes with you!”

“Ask her for her braided bread recipe,” Pavel said, and Ella smiled.

“That was always your favorite, wasn’t it? We made it every Christmas, and Pavel would beg for just one more piece.” Her eyes went misty, back to another time. “Your grandmother taught me to make that when I was just a girl.”

Pavel looked uncomfortable. “I didn’t know it was her recipe.”

“It’s been passed down in our family for a long time.” Ella gave him a sharp sideways look under her eyelashes. “I’ll have to pass it along to Molly, since it’s highly unlikely you’ll bring a wife home before I’m gone.”

Both Molly and Schrodinger chuckled as Pavel’s face went even more uncomfortable.

“It’s a good recipe,” Ella continued, ignoring his discomfort. “Full of raisins, which are a luxury on our little island, and orange rind. My mother used to bring the oranges home with her on her last voyage of the year, before we celebrated.” She sighed. “It was harder to get them after she left, but I always managed. It’s not Christmas without the braided bread.”

“It sounds lovely,” Molly told her. “You’re welcome to come into the kitchen at any time, and we can trade recipes. I’m always looking for new ones.”

Ella smiled at her, then turned to Pavel. “Can you get me a cup of tea, Pavel? I’m a little thirsty.”

“Of course!” Pavel hurried over to the table.

“And a scone!” Ella called after him. Then she turned to Molly. “Thank goodness. I was afraid all he was going to do was hover over me.”

“He missed you,” Molly said quietly. “He doesn’t always talk about his family, but I could tell that he missed you terribly.”

“I just wish…” Ella’s voice trailed off, and she sighed. “I wish there wasn’t as much of his grandfather in him as there is.”

“You want him to meet his grandmother,” Molly said. It wasn’t a question.

“Yes. More than that, she wants to meet him.” Ella looked over at her tall son, who had been stopped by Mr. Gray, and was now talking animatedly to the man. “The last time she saw him, he was barely two. She’d come by to get some of her things, and to drop off Christmas presents. My father was out at sea, so she dared to come. He was so mad when he found out, but what could he do? Other than ban her from the island.” She shook her head. “And not even I could change his mind. Pavel never knew how much she missed him. How much she still does.”

Molly’s heart ached. “You want me to help persuade him to go?”

Ella swallowed. “I don’t want to drag you into our family mess,” she said.

“Pavel is family to us,” Molly told her, reaching out again to take the older woman’s hand. “That means you’re family too. And I don’t want to see either of you unhappy.”

Ella squeezed her hand gratefully.

“You’re coming to dinner on Tuesday, yes?” Molly asked her, as Pavel rejoined them.

“I cannot wait,” Ella said, accepting the delicate tea cup that her son handed her. “Pavel said we are bringing wine?”

“Yes, for goose.” Molly looked at Pavel. “You haven’t forgotten, have you?”

“Um, no, of course not!” Pavel said, grinning.

“Which means he told that nice Mr. Strange,” Ella said tartly. “And he will take care of it.”

“That’s what first mates do. Isn’t that what you were telling me yesterday?” Pavel said.

“And you listened? Well, that’s a first,” Ella said, and Molly grinned.

Before she could say anything, Father Christopher clapped his hands, drawing the attention back to himself, and the second half of the concert started. Schrodinger managed to climb up into Molly’s lap, and curled up, snuggling with her. The music washed over them, and Molly forgot her worries for a bit, enjoying herself. This was what Christmas should be, she thought contentedly: good music, good friends, and a warm CrossCat in her lap.

Agreed, Schrodinger said.

“Your grandmother would love to hear that,” Ella said afterwards, as Pavel helped her put her coat on.

He winced, but Molly said, “Oh? Does she like music?”

“She sings like an angel,” Ella said. “And she used to sing while I would do my schoolwork.” She looked up at her son sadly. “I wish you would change your mind, Pavel.”

“You ask a lot, Mother,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t know if I can do what you ask.”

Schrodinger asked, looking at him. I can’t imagine not wanting to know about her.

“I’m not a CrossCat,” Pavel said, but not unkindly. “And I know about her.”

“No, you know what your grandfather wanted you to know,” Ella said. “And he was hardly an impartial person.” She held up a hand to forestall Pavel’s objection. “No, no more. I don’t want to fight with you. I will not ask you again.” She smiled at Molly. “Thank you, Molly. Thank you for all your hospitality.”

“You haven’t seen the half of it,” Molly said, impulsively kissing the older woman on the cheek. Ella’s skin was weathered under her soft lips. “Just wait until you come out to the farm.”

“I cannot wait,” Ella said. “And Pavel said the entire town lights up!”

It does! Schrodinger assured her. Make him take you in the sleigh!

“I had planned on it,” Pavel told him. “Tomorrow night, when it snows.”

“Will it snow tomorrow night?” Molly said. “I haven’t had a chance to check the forecast.”

Pavel winked at her. “I’ve been assured it will, by a very reliable source,” he said. “Just enough to be atmospheric, and give the sleigh a good base.”

“Convenient to be friends with Old Man Winter and the Snow Queen, isn’t it?” Molly teased him.

“Sometimes,” he agreed.

Molly turned back to Ella. “You’ll stay through Christmas?”

“I don’t know,” Ella said, not really looking at her son. “I might go on to my mother’s for Christmas eve.”

“I think you should,” Molly said. “But at least stay through the Snow Queen’s ball. You won’t want to miss that.”

“We’ll see.” Ella hugged Molly, and then reached down to hug Schrodinger as well, then turned to Pavel. “Come on, these old bones want to get back to that lovely chair you bought. And perhaps have something a bit stronger than tea.” She winked at Molly. “Sometimes, you need something a bit more to warm up, eh?”

I definitely like her, Schrodinger said later, as Molly washed dishes in the kitchen. Now, how to get Pavel to agree to visit his grandmother?

“I don’t know,” Molly said. “But we’ll think of something. We always do.”

(advent) December 12

Saturday, December 12

“You know, pacing around my office is not going to make time go any faster,” Drew said, as Pavel made yet another circuit around the small room. “And you’re driving me nuts.”

“I’m sorry.” Pavel flopped gracelessly into the chair opposite Drew’s desk. “I just…I haven’t really seen her in years, except for the funeral, and that wasn’t really a social occasion.” He sighed. “And I’m wondering if this was a good idea.”

Drew keyed in the last set of equations that he needed to enter, then ran the coordinates and closed down the screen. “Come on,” he said, getting up. “Let’s get out of here for a while.”

“But–”

“Her Gate isn’t going to open for another 30 minutes,” Drew interrupted, reaching out a hand to pull Pavel up from the chair. “And if anything, the Gates are running slow today, because of the weather in Isenthorpe. That damn hurricane is screwing Gates all over the eastern coast. We know she made it to the Gate on Holland’s Island, and that she’s on the Road here. So come on, before you drive me up a wall.”

He led Pavel out into the Gate room itself. The main room that housed Carter’s Cove’s land Gate looked like an indoor greenhouse to the uninitiated: a lush green lawn carpeted the ground, and there were plants everywhere, all thriving in the heat the Gate produced. Drew loved being in the Gate room. The air itself smelled of life, water, and dirt, not machinery. Next to the smells that came out of Molly’s kitchen, it was what he pictured Heaven would smell like.

Today, however, he wanted to go to a specific corner of the Gate room. “Come on,” he said, leading Pavel to one of the corners. This one faced south, getting light all day, and Drew had built a small raised bed.

“What is this?” Pavel asked, squatting down to look at the plants that raised tender leaves to the sky.

“Everyone who works at the Station has the option to claim a plot of the Gate room for a bed,” Drew told him. “This one is mine.” He reached down and pulled out a small weed. “I’ve been growing herbs for Molly, among other things.”

“I didn’t realize you were a farmer,” Pavel said, running his fingers along a fragrant basil plant.

“I wasn’t, for a long time,” Drew admitted. “My grandfather, not the one that Phoebe married, but my mother’s father, he had a large farm, and we used to spend summers there when I was a kid.” He smiled, remembering. “He taught me how to drive the tractor the year I was eight. I felt like such a grown-up.”

“What did he grow?”

“Corn, and wheat,” Drew said. “And he had a garden as well, to feed his family. I spent my summer days fishing and pulling weeds.” He let some of the rich soil trickle through his fingers, testing the dampness. “It taught me a lot about life.”

“I’m surprised there aren’t more beds here,” Pavel said, standing up and looking around. “Are you the only one?”

“For the moment,” Drew said. “Heidi planted fig trees on her spot, and Steve planted lemons. Most folks went for trees, honestly.” He grinned and stood up as well. “I happen to have married a kitchen witch with a black thumb, though, so I decided to grow things she could use.”

“Makes sense,” Pavel agreed. “Show me a bit more?”

Drew was happy to. As they ambled through the Gate room, Drew pointed out the various plants and trees, all the while keeping a mental note on the Gate. It was a special gift that Gate engineers had, a way of feeling when the Roads had someone on them, and when the Gates were about to fire up.

They ended up near the stone arch that was the Gate itself just as the stones began to vibrate, a low hum that he could feel in his bones. Pavel looked up sharply, and pulled nervously on his shirt.

“Will you cut that out?” Drew said, rolling his eyes. “It’s your mother, not the Queen of England.”

“I’d rather deal with the Queen of England. I could seduce her,” Pavel retorted, and Drew chuckled.

The Gate lit up, and Luke, who was manning the boards, called out, “Road from Holland’s Island incoming. Clear the path, folks!”

The last was aimed at the other two techs, who were still doing something with the Gate arch, and Drew shook his head. Both techs were new, coming in to help with the holiday rush that was coming, and both were green as the basil in his little raised bed. “Was I ever that clueless?” he whispered to Pavel.

“Yes, but we fished you out of the ocean anyways,” Pavel whispered back, and Drew snickered. “I knew we were saving you for someone.”

The Gate burst into life, and the grass in front of it transformed, hardened into something akin to stone as the Road connected in. Hooves clattered along the hard surface, and Drew blinked at what came through.

A cart, which he’d been expecting, but not drawn by horses. Instead, two immense woolly rams trudged into the Gate room, their heads surmounted by two massively curled horns. The driver was an average man, dressed in a heavy canvas coat, with a knit hat crammed low over his eyes. He pulled the reins, stopping the two rams, who bleated a bit. Pavel was already moving to the back of the cart, reaching up to help the lone passenger step down.

“Hei, Pavel!” she said, in a surprisingly rich contralto voice that contrasted with her weathered skin and serviceable coat, a canvas one much like the driver wore. “You look tired!”

“I’m always tired, Mother,” Pavel told her, kissing her cheek as he helped her step on to the grass. “It comes from being in charge.”

“You should let your first mate take some of the stress,” she said, her dark eyes looking over him critically. “That’s what first mates are for.” When he started to say something, she said, “Don’t, Pavel. I may not be made for the sea, but I come from a long line of captains. I know how they work.” She turned then and looked at Drew, who was still standing to one side. “Are you the customs man?”

“No, Mother, this is the Gate engineer,” Pavel said, as she dug in her bag for her passport. “You don’t need that yet. This is my friend Drew. Drew, this is my mother, Ella Chekhov.”

“It’s good to finally meet you, Mrs. Chekhov,” Drew said, taking her hand and smiling.

“Ah, you are the Drew he was telling me about at the funeral!” Ella Chekhov smiled up at him, her thin fingers gripping his hand in a surprisingly warm grasp. “It is good to meet you!”

“I have so many people I want you to meet here,” Pavel said, as he picked up her suitcase, and paid the driver, who clucked at the rams and began to pull away in a large circle, preparing to go back through the Gate. “This is a good place, you will see.”

Ella looked around her with wonder. “This is amazing,” she murmured. “So much green, in the middle of winter. I haven’t seen this much green ever, except in the fields during the summer. And even then, not this much.” She looked up at Pavel. “You aren’t bringing me to the ship, are you?”

“No, I promise you.” Pavel tucked her arm under his and picked up her suitcase with his free hand. “I have rented a house.”

“How will you survive without the waves beneath your feet?” she asked shrewdly, and Drew tried to hide his smile. Pavel had said his mother was a quiet woman, but now that her father was no longer there to inhibit her, it was apparent where the pirate captain had gotten his spirit from.

“We must all make sacrifices,” Pavel said, winking over her head at Drew. “And Drew and his lovely wife Molly have invited us to dinner on Tuesday.”

“Molly! I cannot wait to meet her!” Ella smiled up at Drew. “Pavel was full of tales of her wizardry in the kitchen, and I cannot wait to try her food.”

“You won’t have to wait,” Drew told her. “She’s left you dinner in the house that Pavel rented.”

“So you won’t have to experience my cooking,” Pavel added.

“As if you would cook,” Ella said.

“As if you would let me,” Pavel replied. “And anyways, you’ll meet Molly tomorrow. We’re going to a concert at the bookstore where she works.”

Drew followed them out as Pavel continued to explain what the plans were, grinning as Ella interjected every chance she got. This was definitely going to be an interesting couple of weeks.

He hoped Pavel would survive it.

(advent) December 11

Friday, December 11

“Oh no!”

Both Aunt Margie and Father Christopher, who had been discussing the set up for the carol sing on Sunday, turned to Molly, who was staring at the message that had just popped up on her phone, dismay written large on her face.

“What’s wrong?” Aunt Margie asked, hurrying to her side. “Is it the girls? Is everyone okay?”

Molly shook her head and flushed. “No, it’s nothing like that, Aunt Margie, I’m sorry. My meat supplier just let me know that he couldn’t increase my lamb order, and I don’t have enough for Tuesday’s dinner.” She looked up at them. “So my plans are shot.”

“It’s only Friday, though,” Aunt Margie told her. “You have plenty of time to come up with an alternate menu, right?”

“I suppose,” Molly said, putting her phone back in her pocket after typing out a reply. “I just want it to be extra-special, since Pavel’s bringing his mother, and I’m not sure what I can do for eleven people on short notice that’s special.”

We could do turkey? Schrodinger said, perking his ears up. With stuffing and cranberry sauce and gravy!

“We just had that a week ago for Thanksgiving!” Molly said, grinning in spite of herself. “And that’s what we’ll have for Christmas dinner. Don’t you want something else?”

No, not really, he said. I like turkey. So does Drew.

“What about goose?” Father Christopher said. “There’s the Stone farm on the outskirts of town who has wonderful geese. I just got one the other day, and Carol said they had plenty left.”

Molly’s grin turned thoughtful. “I’ve never done goose,” she admitted. “I’ve always been a bit intimidated by the thought.”

“It’s actually pretty easy,” Father Christopher said. “Not that you could make anything bad, Molly.”

Oh, she can, Schrodinger assured him. Just make her mad.

She leveled a look at him, and he hastened to add, But making her mad is a bad idea. Especially now. He looked at back at her. You aren’t mad, are you?

“No.” Molly sighed. “Just a little stressed. I’ll be fine once I have a plan.”

“Wait a minute here,” Father Christopher said, and went of the kitchen. Molly and Aunt Margie exchanged a puzzled look. When he came back in, he had a piece of paper in his hand, which he gave to Molly.

“What’s this?” she asked, looking at it.

“Something that I don’t often give out,” he told her. “This is my grandmother’s secret recipe for chestnut stuffing and roast goose. She used to make it every year for Christmas.”

“Wow,” Molly said, looking over the recipe with interest. “Are you sure you want to give this to me?”

“Absolutely,” Father Christopher said. “If that doesn’t make a special dinner, I don’t know what will.” He winked. “I put Carol’s phone number on the bottom. I’d suggest at least two geese, but she can help you with that.”

Molly pulled her phone back out and dialed the number at the bottom of the recipe.

“Hello, Stone Poultry Farm!” a cheerful voice boomed through the phone line. “Carol speaking, how can I help you?”

“Hi Carol, this is Molly Barrett, over at the bookstore,” Molly said. “Father Christopher said you might be able to help me. I’m hosting a dinner party for 12 on Tuesday.”

“Hmm, you’ll want three medium geese then,” Carol told her. “We can do that. Do you want to come pick them out?”

“No, I don’t really know anything about geese,” Molly admitted. “This will be a first for me. Can you pick me three good ones?”

“Absolutely!” Carol paused, then asked, “You’ll be doing Father Christopher’s grandmother’s chestnut stuffing, then?”

“Yes,” Molly said.

Carol sighed. “Oh, you are in for a treat! I can include a couple pounds of chestnuts if you want. We’ve got a few trees out back, and I always collect them.”

“Done!”

They chatted a bit longer, and Molly ended up not only getting an order for her orange cranberry tea bread, but for some soft butter rolls as well.

So what else are we going to do? Schrodinger asked her after she hung up.

“Well, the stuffing, obviously.” Molly pulled out a notebook and her pen, wrote up Carol’s order and stuck it to the refrigerator, then started a new page. “I was planning on doing the roasted brussel sprouts with bacon and almonds, so I can do that still. Rolls, of course.”

The soft white ones? he asked, and she nodded. Oh good, those are the best! And we can make extra, so we can have cream puff casserole for breakfast.

“And what is cream puff casserole?” Father Christopher asked him. Aunt Margie had headed out while Molly was on the phone.

Molly laughed. “It’s like baked French toast, but instead of toast, I use the soft rolls,” she said. “And there’s vanilla custard, and I top it with whipped cream and chocolate. Needless to say, I don’t make it very often.”

But Lily and Jack are sleeping over, so you’ll make it, right? Right? Schrodinger pleaded, looking over at her with big eyes. We’ll have the rolls!

“I’ll make a double batch, just so we have enough,” she promised him, and added that to her list. “Cranberry relish, I think. And green beans.”

Maple carrots, Schrodinger requested. We haven’t had those in a while.

“That will work,” Molly agreed. “Mashed potatoes?”

“If you put the potatoes in with the geese, you’ll get lovely caramelized potatoes that are amazing,” Father Christopher told her. “And it’s easy.”

“Is that what Gram did?” Molly said.

“Absolutely,” he replied. “When you’re feeding six kids, you do everything as easy as possible.”

Molly wrote down “roasted potatoes in with geese” and looked at her list. “I think that’s it,” she said, then looked at Schrodinger. “Run a quick errand for me?”

Of course! Where?

“Down to Pavel’s,” she said. “Can you let him know that we’re having goose, not lamb, so to change his wine selection accordingly?”

Absolutely! Schrodinger jumped down and ran out the door.

Molly smiled at Father Christopher, who was finishing his mug of tea. “Thank you,” she said, and meant it. “You’ve saved my bacon.”

“Sounds like it will be a lovely dinner,” he told her. “What are you serving for dessert?”

“Drew requested pie, so I think I’ll make a pecan pie,” Molly said. “I haven’t done that in a while, and it will round out the meal nicely.”

“I think you’re right,” he said. “And the charge for the recipe is small.”

Molly raised her eyebrows at him. “Let me guess,” she said. “The recipe for the cream puff casserole?”

He grinned at her.

(advent) December 10

Thursday, December 10

What are you doing? Schrodinger asked, coming into the kitchen.

“Writing out the Christmas cards I bought last month.” Molly got up and shook her head. “Or I would be, if I could remember where I put them.” She sighed. “I swear, I’m losing my mind.”

I can help look, Schrodinger told her, switching his tail back and forth. Do you remember what else you bought?

She closed her eyes and thought for a moment. “We bought them at that craft fair in Portland,” she said finally. “The same one we found those adorable aprons for Lily and Zoey at.”

I remember that one! He bounced a little. We got the wreaths there too!

“That’s right! And I put the wreaths in that room that might one day be a guest room, but just has crap in it now.” She grinned at him. “Which is probably where the aprons and cards are. Shall we go look?”

Let’s! He suited actions to words and bounded out of the kitchen ahead of her. Come on!

“I’m coming!” Molly laughed as she followed him up the winding staircase. It was a gorgeous centerpiece of the hallway, and one of the things that had sold her and Drew on the house. That, and the fact that there were enough bedrooms for any and all children they may have.

Schrodinger darted ahead of her, leading her to the room they had unofficially christened the junk room. It was piled with random boxes, bags, furniture that they hadn’t found a home for, and other things, some of which Molly didn’t recognize still. But she saw the pile that she’d hidden Christmas presents in and hurried over to it.

“You stay there,” she said, and Schrodinger paused. “There might be something for you in here.”

Might be? His ears twitched. Don’t you know?

“I don’t remember,” Molly admitted, as she peeked in bags. “You know I buy stuff all year long. I’ve forgotten some of it, I’m sure.”

Then I won’t look, Schrodinger promised, turning around in the doorway and sitting down, washing his paw resolutely. And I promise I won’t come back later and look.

“Good!” Molly found the bag that she was looking for, finally, and sighed with relief. “Okay, I found the cards. Let’s go and get working on them.”

They went back down to the kitchen, Molly pausing at her bedroom to snag her address book. After putting the kettle on to boil, she put the box of cards and the address book on the table, then asked Schrodinger, “Do you want some tea?”

He cocked his head to the side, considering the request gravely. No, I think I need to go outside for a bit, he said finally. There are some things I need to do today.

“Okay,” Molly said, trying hard to hide her smile. She was fairly certain that those things included whatever he was working on for her Christmas present with Jack. “Will you be home for dinner? I’ve got a Mexican casserole that I’m going to put in later.”

Absolutely! I should actually be home soon, he said. I’m not planning on going far. And he snuggled up to her for a quick hug, then let himself out of the kitchen door.

Molly hummed as she made herself a cup of tea, and then sat down at the table, attacking the Christmas cards. It wasn’t something she managed to do every year, but the task was soothing. Drew was still sleeping upstairs, after being called out the night before to help corral a wandering Road, and it was quiet in the farmhouse. That was probably why she heard the sleigh bells long before the sleigh itself pulled into the yard.

“Ho, Molly! How goes the season?” Old Man Winter shouted, as she stepped out on to the porch. His sledge was decorated, as always, with holly wreaths and large copper bells, and the two reindeer that pulled it shook their heads. He’d brought a snow flurry with him, and it dusted around everything as he came up the steps.

“It goes, Old Man,” Molly said, embracing him and tasting the cold around him. “Come in for a cup of tea?”

“Do you have cookies?” he asked eagerly, and she grinned.

“I think there are some in my cookie jar. Want to come and see?”

“Absolutely!” Old Man Winter said, and followed her in to the warm kitchen, shedding his heavy coat on the way.

“Tea? Or something else?” she offered, heading over to where her cottage cookie jar sat. Currently it was full of orange and vanilla shortbread cookies, and she put a generous helping on a plate that she brought over to the table.

“Tea is good,” Old Man Winter said. “Where are your boys?”

“Drew’s asleep upstairs,” Molly said, pouring him a cup of hot water and making her way over to the tea cabinet. “Schrodinger’s out and about, although he said he wouldn’t be long. Black?”

“Yes, please.” He accepted the cup from her and sighed. “Your kitchen is one of my favorite places, Molly.”

“You know, I couldn’t imagine you saying that a few years ago.”

“True,” Old Man Winter admitted. “I’m glad you showed me the wisdom of my ways.” He looked at her keenly. “Want to talk?”

“About?”

“Whatever’s bothering you,” he said, and when she blinked, he shrugged. “It’s pretty obvious. Spill.”

So she told him about Pavel, and about Tim, and about her own frustration in not being able to fix things.

“That’s one of the things I love about you, Molly,” Old Man Winter said when she’d finished, and put a hand on hers where it sat on the table. “You want to fix everything. But you can’t. The world’s not fair, and not everyone can be salvaged. You’re just going to break your own heart if you try.”

“I know,” she said, and then sighed. “But I don’t know how not to.” Then she shook herself. “So, to what do I owe this visit?”

He shrugged. “I was in the area.”

Molly gave him a disbelieving look, and Old Man Winter laughed. “It’s the truth!” he said, holding up a hand. “I promise! I was in the area, and saw the smoke from the chimney, and thought I’d stop by.”

“Just out randomly causing trouble, then?” she teased, and he grinned.

“Something like that.” He looked at the cards that she’d addressed. “Actually getting them out this year?”

Old Man Winter! I did see the sled! Schrodinger burst into the kitchen, all but vibrating in excitement. Can I have a ride in the sled?

“Of course!” Old Man Winter told him. “Now?”

After I say hi to Pavel, who’s coming up the drive, Schrodinger said. He’s got his sleigh too!

“Let me refill the cookies and put the kettle back on,” Molly said, getting up. “I wasn’t expecting this many guests today.” She pulled two mugs out of the dishwasher, paused, and grabbed a third one, just as Drew came shambling into the kitchen. “Did we wake you, love?”

“No, I’m hungry,” he said, scratching his head and blinking. “Hey, Old Man Winter.”

“Good morning, Drew.” The winter spirit nodded to his former captive. “Long night?”

“Insanely.” Drew yawned widely. “I need caffeine.”

Molly handed him a mug and steered him gently towards a chair. “Sit down, and I’ll start lunch.” She looked at Schrodinger. “Can you get the door for Pavel?”

“Pavel?” Drew said. “Why is Pavel here?” He looked back over at Old Man Winter. “And why are you here?”

“I have no idea, but Schrodinger said his sleigh is coming,” Molly said.

“I was in the neighborhood,” Old Man Winter said at the same time.

I’ll get the door, Schrodinger said, and nosed it open, just as Pavel came up onto the porch. Come in and have lunch!

“I will never say no to lunch,” Pavel said, coming in and doffing his hat. “Especially not at Molly’s.” He nodded to Old Man Winter and Drew. “Looks like you have a full house.”

“It’s just sandwiches, guys. I hope that’s okay,” Molly said, cutting slices of homemade bread and piling them high with roast beef and cheddar cheese.

“Just sandwiches, she says,” Pavel said, taking a seat. “Do you know how many people would kill for some of your homemade bread, never mind a sandwich on it?”

“You flatter me,” Molly told him, setting the plate full of sandwiches in the middle of the table, and then getting the other tea mugs. She refreshed her own, and Old Man Winter’s, then took her own chair. “Don’t wait,” she said. “Dig in.”

For a while, the only sound was people eating. Then, as everyone settled back with fresh cups of tea, Molly looked at Pavel. “To what do we owe this visit?”

“I was hoping you’d help me out,” he said. “I’ve finally convinced my mother to come to the Cove, by way of a land Gate that’s two islands over from her home. But I’m not sure how to show off this lovely town to convince her to stay.” He shook his head. “She’s not wanting to leave the hovel my grandfather left her.”

You lived in a hovel? Did it have a dirt floor? Schrodinger asked, his eyes wide.

Pavel looked at him, and then admitted, “All right, it’s not exactly a hovel, but it’s not a good house. I don’t understand why she doesn’t want to leave it.”

“There must be some good memories there,” Molly said. “It wasn’t all bad, was it?”

“It was for me,” Pavel said. “But no, maybe it wasn’t for her. Not that it matters. Molly, can you suggest some things she may want to do? I’m sure hitting the dock taverns are not part of her interests.”

“Not with you, that’s for sure,” Drew said, chuckling wryly, and Pavel flashed him a wink.

Molly gave them both an exasperated look, and then turned to Old Man Winter. “What do you think? Besides the Carol Sing, of course. That’s Sunday at the bookstore, Pavel. When is she coming in?”

“Saturday,” the pirate replied. “So that would work.”

Old Man Winter stroked his beard. “Lily doesn’t have a dance recital this year, does she?”

“No, sadly. That would have been fun.” Molly thought for a bit. “What does your mother like to do, Pavel? I mean, what interests does she have?”

“I don’t know,” Pavel admitted, after a few minutes. “She knits. And she reads. I think she likes music.” He looked down at his mug sadly. “My grandfather didn’t really give her a lot of time to pursue her own hobbies.”

You could take her around town and show her the lights in your sleigh or carriage, Schrodinger suggested. And maybe take her down to Indi’s cove, so she could see the skaters?

“Those are good ideas,” Molly agreed. “And of course, there’s always walking around the downtown area.” She looked at Pavel. “Why don’t you bring her to dinner on Tuesday? We’re having Nathan and Corrine, and Doug and Tim. That way, she can meet some of your friends, see you aren’t alone here. And that she wouldn’t be alone.”

“That sounds like a family dinner,” Pavel said. “I wouldn’t want to intrude…” His voice trailed off as Molly glared at him.

“You ARE family,” Molly told him, in no uncertain terms. “Don’t you ever forget it.”

“Yes’m,” Pavel said meekly. “What time should we be here? And what can I bring?”

“I’m doing lamb, so why don’t you bring a nice wine,” Molly said, softening a little.

“I can do that.” Pavel drained his mug and stood up. “Thank you, Molly. For lunch, and for everything. I’ve got to get back and finalize on a house.”

“Did you find one?” Drew asked, surprised. “That was fast.”

“Well, I can’t have my mother live on the ship,” Pavel said. “I’m just renting one now, although I have the option to buy. It’s going to depend on if she likes it.” He bowed to them all and headed out.

Molly looked over at Drew. “You don’t mind, do you?”

“Of course not. Pavel’s family.” He shrugged. “Like you said.” Then he looked over at Old Man Winter and grinned. “Of course, if you’d invited this old reprobate…”

“I’ve got plans with my own daughter on Tuesday, as you well know, since you were invited, but had this other thing,” Old Man Winter said loftily, then spoiled it by adding, “But I never turn down lamb.”

“Another time,” Molly told him, grinning. “I don’t want to overwhelm Pavel’s mother, and we’ll have Lily, Kaylee AND Ryan with us.”

“You’ll bury her in cuteness,” Old Man Winter said, and sighed. “I should get going too. It’s time for me to meet a man about a snowstorm.”

Once he had gone, Molly picked up her pen and a scrap of paper.

What are you doing? Schrodinger asked her, craning his neck to see.

“Making plans,” she said absently. “I want to make Pavel’s mother’s stay here the best ever, and I’m sure he hasn’t thought far enough in advance to put things in his kitchen.” She paused, and looked at Schrodinger. “Mind running an errand for me?”

Sure! Where?

“To the ship. I want to talk to Cook before I do much more.” She smiled. “Pavel may not be thinking about logistics, but Cook will.”