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Advent 2021 – December 17

December 17 – The Fables

The sun had tipped the zenith, and the golden rays brought the memory of warmer days to the crowd as they moved along, each person or family going up in turn. And then one family stepped up and Molly smiled.

Kiaya, Zeke, and Gideon Fable had moved the Cove a few years ago, and the boy had fallen naturally into Lily and Kaylee and Zoey’s circle. Molly remembered his first year when there was an Advent calendar full of magic from the Snow Queen.

Now, he was carrying a rather large bag as his parents followed him up the steps. “Hi Jade!” Gideon said cheerfully. “Are you doing an Advent calendar too?”

Jade winked at him. “We’ll see,” she said. “What do you have there? It looks like a very large ornament! Will we have enough room on the tree for it?”

“Well, it’s not quite an ornament. I mean, I guess you could use magic to make it smaller and hang it on the tree, but that’s not what I was thinking. Because there will be lots of ornaments on the branches, but there won’t be any presents, and so the trunk might be lonely and that’s not really a good thing, and who knows who might come by, and maybe steal things, so…” He ran out of breath.

“You’re right,” Jade said thoughtfully. “We didn’t consider that. What did you think to fix it?”

“Dad, can you help me?” Gideon turned to his father, who helped by holding the bag open.

“This is Steward,” Gideon told Jade, as he pulled the large gnome from the bag. Steward wore a green cap trimmed with white fur that matched his long white beard, and his clothing was a green tunic, green leggings, and black boots. “He’s a protector. A steward, you know, so I thought he’d like to keep these ornaments safe. And this is his friend, Lantern-Keeper.”

Lantern-Keeper was also dressed in green, but while Steward’s hands were cupped together in front of him, Lantern-Keeper held up a bright silver lantern.

“Hello, Steward, hello, Lantern-Keeper,” Jade said, bowing her head to the garden gnomes. Molly half-expected the statues to return the gesture.

Then the fog wrapped around her, and when it cleared, they were at the Fables house, in the living room, where Gideon had lined up an amazing number of garden gnomes in neat rows. He was walking up and down the rows like a general inspecting his troops.

“So I’m looking for a few volunteers,” he was saying. “We need to make sure the Christmas tree is protected, because there are going to be lots of precious ornaments on there. At the same time, the tree will need some company, especially at night, which is why I’m thinking you all are the best folks for the job. Any objections?”

There were none. 

“Excellent. So, who wants to volunteer?”

To Molly’s utter surprise and Schrodinger’s delight, two of the statues moved out of line. “Steward, reporting for day duty, Gideon,” said the first one, doffing his green cap.

“Lantern-Keeper, reporting for night duty, Gideon,” said his companion, who did not remove his cap but gestured with his lantern.

“You’re sure? You won’t be able to see your families until after Christmas, you know.” Gideon was very serious.

“It will be an honor to protect the Cove’s ornaments,” the two gnomes said in unison. “And then we can have Christmas when we return.”

“They talk. And move.” Molly blinked and when she did, she was back at the tree, where Gideon was placing Steward and Lantern-Keeper in front of the tree.
This is Carter’s Cove, Molly, Schrodinger reminded her. Did you really think they’d be just ordinary gnomes?

Advent 2021 – December 16

December 16 – Starsha

As the Bard stepped back, his student stepped forward. Starsha had come to the Cove the same year Drew had, looking to study with Damien. She was tall, her dark skin marked all over with the white tattoos of her people. Her dark curly hair was haloed around her, and Molly saw that she had sprinkled silver and gold stars within the curls, so she sparkled. “My people do not celebrate Christmas either,” Starsha said, turning her beautiful face to the crowd. Her dark eyes with the star-shaped pupils were bright. “But we do celebrate the Winter Solstice, and we decorate trees, although ours are not cut down, so the animals that are our brothers and sisters in nature can share in our bounty.” She held out her hands to the Snow Queen. “As such, there is very little that is passed on year to year, other than the concepts, as we take each other. So I have brought this.”

The clouds wrapped around Molly and when she could see, she was in a cool forest clearing. A younger Starsha, dressed in the tooled leather vest and soft dress that she’d worn the first time Molly and Schrodinger had seen her, was sitting with several other young people dressed similarly. They were stringing what looked to be cranberries and small balls of something coated with seeds onto thread. Nearby, others were using more thread to make silvery fish and chunks of meat into garlands. The trees that ringed the clearing were already sporting several other garlands, and there was an older man and woman chanting something that neither Molly nor Schrodinger understood. Everyone in the clearing was laughing and smiling. Then the clearing blurred again, and they were outside of Damien’s house in the Cove.

This must be the first year after she came to the Cove, Schrodinger said.

The Starsha before them was standing on the porch, dressed in jeans and a sweater, with leather boots on her feet, and she was cradling a steaming mug of tea in her hands. “It will be the Solstice soon,” she said to Damien, who was sitting in a rocking chair to the left of her. “And I am not ready.”

“Not ready?” he said. “To go back, you mean?”

“Not exactly,” Starsha said. She turned to him, and Molly caught a glimpse of the uncertainty on her face. “I won’t be going back this year.”

“Not even for the Solstice? Well, that’s your decision, but may I ask why?”

“I don’t belong there anymore,” Starsha admitted sadly. “I don’t know that I should participate in the ceremonies that I haven’t contributed to.”

“Because you haven’t been there?” Damien got up from his rocker and came to join her at the porch railing. 

“That’s part of it.” Starsha looked down. “I…I don’t feel like a Mareesh anymore.”

“What do you feel like?” Damien asked her.

“I don’t know.” A tear dripped from her eyes. “I just don’t know.”

He took the mug from her, set it down on the railing, and held her why she cried. When the tears had slowed, he said, “May I tell you what I think you are?”

She mumbled yes into his shoulder.

“I think you are an explorer, an ambassador for the Mareesh, and that even though you didn’t gather the fruits of the forest and the sea, you have carried your people in everything you do. No, your Solstice may not be the one that you remember, but isn’t that part of growing? To learn who and what we are?”

Starsha said softly, “I…I did not think of it that way.” She stepped back from him. “And while it won’t be the same, I can still do the Solstice ceremony on my own.”

When Molly’s eyes cleared, she watched Starsha hand the wreath of cranberries to Jade, who sent in floating up to the top of the tree, where it settled like a necklace. Then Jade turned back to Starsha. “Thank you for bringing your customs to our tree. This is one of the ways we strengthen our bond as a town.”

Advent 2021 – December 15

December 15 – Damien

The next person to step up was someone Molly loved seeing around the town all year. Damien was a Bard, an elven entertainer who had chosen to semi-retire to the Cove after traveling the Realms had begun to pale. He never seemed to age, as most elves didn’t, but even with the blue jeans and flannel shirts he wore, it was easy to see the magic that flowed around him like a pet. If he was in town, he was usually in Molly’s tea-shop or Katarina’s coffee shop, often accompanied by his only student, Starsha. She stood several steps behind him, waiting to offer the ornament she carried as well.

“One of the most wonderful things about moving to a human realm is Christmas, in my opinion.” Damien’s deep, fluid baritone floated around them. “We don’t celebrate Christmas where I come from, but from the first time I stepped into Carter’s Cove, I realized what a wonderful season it is. You’re very lucky to live here, all of you.” He turned and smiled at the crowd. “And I am lucky to live here now as well. So while I don’t have a lot of Christmas memories to place on my tree yet, I’m hoping to have many, many more years here to gather them. So I chose to bring this.”

He unwrapped a cloth bundle and blew across it. “My apologies for the dust,” he said. “It’s been hidden away so I didn’t break it.”

When her eyes cleared, Molly was standing, not in the Cove, but in a lovely green meadow, edged on one side by a rushing brook, and by the other three sides by gently rolling hills. Trees covered one such hill, and Molly could almost smell the sweet green of new grass and icy water.

In front of them was a simple arch of stone and wood that she and Schrodinger recognized instantly. The Gate was in ready mode, although she couldn’t see where the control panel was. 

There isn’t a physical control panel here, Schrodinger told her. It’s one of the Old Gates, and is completely magical. There aren’t many in the Realms you’ve probably visited. Wherever we are, it’s one of the Old Places.

“The Old Places?” Molly asked him, as she watched a small crowd of elves in long robes of leaf green and sky blue come out of the copse of trees down towards the Gate.

That’s what the Librarian calls them, he said. Places that have been alive for many, many millennia before humans found them. Places where Old Magic hides. It’s like the Snow Queen’s realm, that’s an Old Place.

“Gotcha.”

The elves marched slowly down the hill and separated into two lines, one on either side of the Gate. They carried different flowering branches in their hands, and held them, not like swords, but like pennants. Once they were in place, they raised their branches and began to sing.

It was no song Molly had ever heard in her life, and there weren’t exactly words, as far as she could tell. It was a song of the world around her, with various voices conjuring the sound of the river, the smell of the grass, the taste of an apple, the chill of a breeze, and so much more that Molly felt herself almost carried away by it. 

The Song of Remembrance, Schrodinger said reverently. To remind a traveler of the home they carry with them wherever they go.

“How do you know this?” Molly said, as Damien appeared at the edge of the hill, carrying his harp and a backpack. This Damien looked exactly the same age as the Damien she knew, but instead of jeans and flannel shirts, he was wearing soft pants of dark brown, tucked into boots that came up to his knees. His tunic was the same material, and there was a wide belt of leather around his waist, adorned with several pouches.

He reached the edge of the party and paused, obviously waiting for someone. The song grew quieter, not dying out, but moving into the background, and the Gate shimmered into life. Out of the Gate came two people. One of them was an elf dressed in the same outfit as Damien, although his showed more wear and tear than Damien’s did.

The other was someone who made Molly think immediately for Phoebe, Drew’s godmother. This woman shown with an inner light, as if magic rather than blood ran through her veins. 

The Troubadour, Schrodinger said. The Spirit of Music, patron of all Bards.

She was tall, almost more fluid light than flesh, her voice encompassing all the singers as she said, “Are you ready, Damien?”

“I am.” He knelt before her, bowing his head. “May I take your blessing with me?”

“Always.” The Troubadour laid her glowing hands on the top of his head, and sang something. It spoke of traveling and safely and home and adventure and things Molly didn’t understand. As she sang, the others lifted their branches again, and joined in her song. Various pieces of flowers and leaves detached themselves and swirled together above the Troubadour’s head. The air itself hardened around the bits and pieces, and then floated down into Damien’s outstretched hand.

“Take this, and remember where you come from,” the Troubadour said. “We shall always be with you.”

The scene ended, and Molly and Schrodinger were back. “Christmas is memories,” Damien was saying. “And connection with your family.” And he handed the ball to Jade. “This is my family now.”

Advent 2021 – December 14

December 14 – Luke

After the Station Master retreated, another one of Molly and Drew’s friends stepped up. Luke Travers worked at the Gate Station with Drew and Mal, and they were waiting for he and Sue to finally set a date to tie the knot. Now, Molly wondered what he would bring to put on the tree.

Do you have any thoughts about WHY the Snow Queen is doing this? Besides the fact that it’s cool? Schrodinger asked her.

“I’m starting to possibly understand,” Molly said, and the others looked at her. “You all know how the Ball fuels the protections around the Cove every year, right?”

Drew and Schrodinger nodded, while Tim and Doug looked puzzled. “What protections?” Doug asked. “And why?”

“Because we have two Gates here,” Molly said. “And because there’s something about the Cove that’s different from any other Gate town I’ve been in. You said it yourself – Carter’s Cove is unique.”

“So maybe the wards need an extra boost this coming year?” Drew scratched his chin. “If that’s the case, I wonder what’s coming down the pike.”

Maybe it’s something that can be deflected by something like this. Schrodinger said. So this is just a precaution. The world hasn’t been as happy as it should be lately.

As if that isn’t the understatement of the year. Molly made sure to keep that thought very private. Out loud, she said, “What do you think Luke has?”

“A snowmobile,” Drew said, and Molly laughed. Luke adored his snowmobile only slightly less than he adored Sue, and Molly had taken many a ride through the snow on the back of the machine.

“Probably,” she agreed.

What Luke pulled out, though, was a guitar, with what looked like holly berries and ivy leaves wrapped around the neck of the instrument. As he handed it to Jade, the scene went grey.

When the clouds cleared, Molly and Schrodinger were in a house that she remembered from years ago. Past-Molly and the Terrible Trio sat in a circle around a woman strumming a guitar, along with Past-Luke and Past-Tom, another gate tech that had been part of their group. There was a Christmas tree decorated with brilliantly blinking colored lights illuminating the room.

“Please, Mom, play Silent Night!” Past-Luke said, clasping his hands together. “It’s my favorite!”

Mrs. Travers smiled and her fingers danced along the strings. Her voice wasn’t professional, but it was warm, and it wrapped around them as the children sang with her.

“I’d almost forgotten this,” Molly said. “Luke lived two streets over from us when we were all little, and we’d go over every year to have Mrs. Travers sing carols with us. Sometimes, we’d go over the nursing home where she worked to sing for them.”

Like we did last year?  Schrodinger said.

“Yes, like last year.” Molly smiled. “You guys were much more in tune than we were. But I see why this ornament would mean so much.”

She blinked and they were back in time for Luke to say, “I can’t imagine a tree without one of Mom’s instrument ornaments on it. This one always reminds me of her, because her guitar was similar.” He handed it to Jade. “She shared so much with the Cove, I couldn’t choose any other ornament.”

“Thank you,” Jade said. “We will take good care of it.”

Advent 2021 – December 13

December 13 – Mal

As Doug, Ryan, and Tim made their way back to them, Molly noticed there were tear tracks down Doug’s face as well. She reached out and pulled her cousin-in-law into her arms, squeezing him tight. “I’m so glad you moved out here,” she murmured.

“Same,” he mumbled into her shoulder. “It was one of the best decisions we made, outside of getting married and having Ryan.”

As they stepped apart, Drew grabbed him and nearly crushed him in a hug, while Molly embraced Tim and Ryan.

“Family. Love family.” Ryan announced, and planted a wet kiss on Molly’s cheek.

I feel left out! Schrodinger cried in mock-anger. No one loves me!

“Down.” Ryan demanded, and when Tim set him on his feet, he put both his chubby arms around the CrossCat and gave him a kiss. “Family,” he said firmly. “Family.” Then he turned back to his fathers. “Up, please.”

Once he was settled back on Tim’s shoulders, they all turned their attention towards the tree, where a very familiar figure was making his way up the steps. Mal, his ever-present cigarette dangling from his mouth, his flannel jacket dusted with snow and ash, stumped up the stairs and smiled down at the Snow Queen, who barely came up to his chin.

“You know, Mal, I don’t think I’ve seen you outside of the Gate Station in years,” she teased him gently.

“Not true, Your Highness. I come to the Ball every year,” he said, and she laughed.

Isn’t she a Queen? Schrodinger asked. Shouldn’t that be Your Majesty?

“For anyone else, yes,” Drew said. “However, he’s always called her Your Highness and she’s never corrected him. I wonder if we’re ever going to find out why.”

Mal unwrapped the small package in his hands, and Molly saw the glint of golden glass. Jade apparently recognized it, as her eyes went wide and one hand came up to her mouth. “Are you sure?” she said, looking up at the Station Master in surprise.

“Couldn’t think of anything better,” he said, and to Molly and Drew’s shock, there was a glimmer of tears in his eyes as well. “She always loved to celebrate Christmas.” He held up a glass hard candy, swirled with gold and green, that flashed in the sun.

When Molly’s eyes cleared, the crowd around her was moving, and the Christmas tree in the center of the square had its traditional decorations on it. It was snowing lightly, and all the windows in the shops had brilliant window displays. 

Is that MAL? Schrodinger brought her attention to a tall young man, still in the same flannel jacket that the Station Master always wore in winter, a cigarette in his mouth. But he was walking with someone Molly vaguely remembered: a slender older woman, her hair perfectly white and coiffed, carrying two bags. Mal was carrying several more, and Molly half-wondered how he was going to deal with the cigarette when it was done without dropping anything.

“One last stop, Malcolm, and we can go home,” she said. “I just need the last gift.”

“Why do you even bother, Mother? We both know he doesn’t give a damn if you give him a gift.” Mal’s eyes were angry. “He’ll just smash it like he does every year.”

“One year he won’t,” she said. “Stay here. I’ll just run across the square and then we’ll head out.”

“Fine, I’ll wait here.” Mal watched her dash across the square, shaking his head. “Damn fool. One of these days, she won’t be here anymore, and he’ll have no one to bully.”

Who is he talking about? Schrodinger asked.

“Probably his father. They never really got along.”

So that’s his mother?

“Yes, I think so.”

The woman was as good as her word, and before they knew it, she was hurrying back to Mal. “All done! Now we can go home.”

“What did you get him?” Mal asked, more out of habit than out of any need to know.

She smiled up at him. “An empty box.”

“What?” That shook him up a bit.

“Okay, maybe not empty. There’s a piece of paper in it.” Her smile got even larger.

A fast stream of emotion ran across Mal’s face, starting with surprise and ending with wary hope. “Will he like it?”

She laughed. “He’ll hate it. Shall we go?”

As they walked off, the scene dissolved, and Molly and Schrodinger were back, watching Mal hang the golden candy ornament on the tree. “Mom would have loved this, you know,” he said to Jade. “After the divorce, she was able to truly celebrate Christmas the way my father never let her. It’s only fitting that the last ornament she made go on this tree.”

Advent 2021 – December 12

December 12 – Doug, Tim, and Ryan

“Look who’s here!” Drew and Molly turned as a familiar voice came from behind them. “I can’t believe we actually found you here!”

Drew’s cousin Doug, who was a teacher at the Daughter of Stars Middle School, was carrying his three-year-old son Ryan on his broad shoulders. Standing beside him was his husband Tim. All three of them were grinning.

“Did you think we would miss it?” Drew asked. “I think the only thing bigger this year will be the Snow Queen’s Ball.”

“True.” Tim looked over the crowd. “It’s funny, but you never realize how many people live in the  Cove until you see them at something like this.”

“Who’s next?” Jade’s voice floated out over the crowd. Doug looked at his husband.

“Sure,” Tim said, and the three of them went up to the front. Doug put Ryan on the ground in front of them and then knelt down and whispered in his ear.

Jade smiled at them, and Ryan smiled shyly back at her. “Do you have an ornament for us?” she asked kindly.

He nodded. “Star,” he said. “Christmas star.”

The ornament he held out to her in his chubby mittened hands was all white, and Molly realized it was crocheted thread in the shape of an intricate star.  “Christmas star,” Ryan repeated firmly. “For the tree. Like at home.”

When the grey cleared, Molly and Schrodinger didn’t immediately recognize where they were. It definitely wasn’t the Cove. They were in a small living room, with dark curtains on the windows, and the only light came from the Christmas tree that was in the corner. 

Where do you think we are? Schrodinger asked her.

“No idea,” Molly said, and then the door that they’d barely seen in the gloom opened, and a much younger Doug came through. “Drew? You in here? Mom says dinner’s almost ready.”

That’s when she spotted the boy sitting in a recliner, covered by a knitted blanket, holding something in his hands that he was looking down at. It was hard to see what in the gloom. He was only ten or twelve, she thought. This must be the first Christmas after his parents were killed.

Oh, how sad, Schrodinger said, his ears going back. 

“Drew?” Past-Doug said again, coming further into the room. “Are you hungry?”

Past-Drew shook his head, and his cousin went over to him. 

“Want to talk about it?”

Past-Drew shook his head again. 

“How about if I just sit here with you?”

The other boy shrugged, and Past-Doug sat down on the couch. For a few minutes, they sat in silence. Then Molly saw what Past-Drew had been holding: a crocheted star, all in white.

“Hey, you found the star!” Past-Doug smiled happily. “That’s good luck, you know.”

“Hardly.” The bitterness in Past-Drew’s voice struck Molly. “There’s no such thing as good luck. There’s just the world, and it doesn’t like you, or me, or anyone.”

“I know it seems like that now,” Past-Doug said. 

“Do you? Really? Because last time I checked, your parents were still around.” Past-Drew ran his fingers on the star. “All I have left of them is this. A few stars.”

“You have us,” Past-Doug said quietly. “You have the memories of all the days before they were killed. You have the stars that your mom made for all of us. And you know that they’re still watching over you.” He laid his hand on his cousin’s shoulder. “I’m glad you’re here, Drew. I’m glad you weren’t with them, and some day, these stars will be something we’ll pass on to our kids. They’ll be the symbol of the love of our family.”

Molly’s face was wet with tears as she watched Past-Doug take the star from Past-Drew’s hands and then take his cousin into his arms. “I can’t imagine how hard Christmas must have been to him that year,” Molly said. “I can’t imagine Christmas without my mom.”

You’ll have to, someday, Schrodinger said. It’s the way of things. Nothing lasts forever.

She wiped away the tears and when she looked up again, she was back in the Cove, watching Jade place the star on the tree. Beside her, Drew’s eyes were wet, and she knew he must be remembering those long-ago Christmases. She squeezed his hand, and he smiled sadly at her. 

“I never knew your mom made those,” she said. “I’m glad you put them on our tree.”

“Me too,” Drew said. “It’s as if she and Dad are watching us when we decorate the tree.” He shook his head. “I wish you’d gotten the chance to meet them. They would have adored you.”

“Me too,” Molly said. “Me too.”

Advent 2021 – December 11

December 11 – Indi

Neil’s words echoed in Molly’s head as she watched the next person come up. “Sometimes, it’s something you just stumble across that’s what you need.”

That could be the motto for Carter’s Cove, Schrodinger said. I mean, just look around you. How many of us just managed to find our way here when we needed it? Even those of you who were born here.

“I can’t deny that,” Molly said out loud, and Drew looked over at her, puzzled. Schrodinger and she had a deeper bond than he and Drew had, and sometimes she forgot that he couldn’t read her mind as the CrossCat could. “Talking about the motto of Carter’s Cove,” she said, and explained the conversation to him. She didn’t mention the seeing of the visions. That felt like it was something only she and Schrodinger were privy to. 

“He’s not wrong,” Drew admitted, and pulled her close to his side. “After all, I had no idea I needed to be here until I came.”

“I’m glad you did, and that you didn’t leave like you intended to,” Molly said, grinning up at him. “I’d still be in my brownstone apartment.”

“And I’d be eating my own cooking, which while not terrible, is not as good as yours,” he replied, grinning back at her.

Get a room, Schrodinger grumbled good-naturedly, including Drew in the mental conversation. Some of us are trying to listen to the stories.

Drew and Molly shared another smile, and then she put her head on his shoulder as they watched their friend Indi come up.

Indi and her family ran the skating rink that formed every year in a sheltered inlet of the Elizabeth River. In the summer, it was a good swimming hole: the faster current curved around the edge of the two spits of land that cradled the cove, leaving the water smooth and perfect for swimming in. But in the winter, it came alive in a wonderfully magical way. The calm waters became a glassy ice rink. Indi had strung white Christmas lights in the trees around the beach, and there were old sofas and chairs that had been donated over the years for tired skaters to rest and eat some of the burgers and other fair food that came from the small kitchen trailer.

“My family has lived on our land for seven generations now,” Indi said proudly. “We’re old Carter Cove stock – one of my ancestors came over with Captain Carter. And we’ve always loved hosting people in our little cove.” She held up her ornament.

When the grey cleared, Molly and Schrodinger were standing in the skating cove, but it was far different than they were used to. Instead of all the lights, the only light source was the full moon that hung overhead, giving a silver gleam to the ice and the snow drifts. There was a small fire in the rocky island in the middle of the cove, where in the present, there was a large bonfire that warmed all the skaters. There were no speakers, no Christmas music, and only one person was skating around the ice.

She was young, her long hair held back from her face in a single plait that fell to mid-back. The mittens on her hands matched both her scarf and the earwarmer that framed her face. She had on a short skirt over tights, and an oversized sweater, and it was apparent that she was in her own world.

Is that Indi? Schrodinger asked, as the girl skated in graceful circles around the island, switching feet and direction as if she had been born skating. 

“I think so,” Molly said. This Indi’s hair wasn’t shot with silvery strands, and the laugh lines on her face weren’t there yet, but it was definitely the skating owner. “I’d heard that she competed as a child, but that she quit. I never knew why.”

She’s so good.

The sound of clapping from the beach shattered the quiet, and Past-Indi glided over to the man who had been watching her. “You’re spying on me, Daniel.” she chided him.

“Guilty as charged,” Daniel said to her. “Are you surprised?”

“No, I guess not.”

“You’re throwing away a career, you know,” he said. “You could be on the national team. Don’t you want that?”

Past-Indi shook her head. “No,” she said. “I want to stay here and enjoy my skating. I don’t want it to be a job. Besides, it costs too much. Even with you donating your coaching time. There’s costumes, and travel…”

“You could get sponsors. You’re good enough.” Daniel stepped onto the ice and put his hands on her shoulders. “You’re too good to moulder here.”

She pushed away from him, skating backwards as she shook her head. “My heart’s here, Daniel. I’m sorry. But I don’t want it as much as you do.” She spread her hands. “I hope you find someone who does.”

The scene faded and Molly watched Indi hang the gleaming white skate on the tree as the woman said, “The thing that I like best about this town is that they understand, on some deep level, that not everyone has to be a bright star in the middle of the solar system. Sometimes, stars need to remain in the darker part of the galaxy to share the light with the shadows.”

Advent 2021 – December 10

December 10 – Lisa and Neil

Several ornaments were then presented, along with the stories of when they received or made them, and Molly noticed that as each was placed on the tree, the evergreen seemed to shine a bit brighter. It could just be nothing, but she doubted it. Something was happening. She just couldn’t put her finger on it yet.

You could be overthinking this too, she told herself ruefully. Sometimes a tree decorating is just that. It doesn’t have to be anything else.

Except look at the people who started it,  Schrodinger said dryly. There’s always a deeper motive for at least one of them, and probably all three.

As if he’d heard, Old Man Winter looked over at them and winked.

Truth, Molly conceded.

The next people to step up were neighbors of Molly and Schrodinger. Lisa and Neil Jackson owned the farm next door to CrossCat Farm, and they had, among other things, a herd of reindeer. In the winter, they (like many other residents of Carter’s Cove) preferred to hitch one of the reindeer to a sleigh and travel that way. It was easier, especially on the outskirts of town, where the snow tended to drift high. Molly, Drew and Schrodinger had their own sleigh and often borrowed one of the reindeer to pull it.

“We came to the Cove late in life,” Lisa said, looking at her husband. “It’s our retirement home, and Starfield Farm has been good to us. We’d both been physicians, you see, and lived and worked in a big city. Now, well, it’s good to take care of ourselves and the people around us.”

Neil nodded. “The Farm, and the Cove, taught us how to slow back down. Smell the roses, or the evergreens, as the case may be. It’s something that the rest of the world seems to have forgotten.”

“And we found it by accident.” Lisa laughed. “We took a wrong turn and got lost. The realtor was not happy with us.”

The grey descended, and when it cleared, Molly and Schrodinger found themselves out in the summer woods of Maine. In front of them sprawled a large farmhouse with the roof of a barn peeking over one of the ells. As they watched, a small car drove up the dirt road that disappeared into the trees. It was definitely a city car – small, energy-efficient, and easy to park on crowded streets. In front of the big house, it looked like a toy a child had abandoned by a dollhouse.

Neil and Lisa got out, and looked around. “It’s perfect,” Lisa said happily. 

“I don’t think this is where we were supposed to be, though,” Neil said, looking around. “I don’t see a for sale sign anywhere, and wasn’t the realtor supposed to meet us?”

“Maybe she’s running late?” Lisa suggested. “I mean, it’s possible.”

“Maybe.” Neil sounded dubious.

As they stood there, the woodland silence enveloped them. Starfield Farm, like CrossCat Farm, was isolated from the main road into town, and so the muted noises of cars and trucks on the highway to Portland or Augusta rarely intruded. 

“Let’s just look around while we wait for her,” Lisa said, setting off to the farmhouse. “I’m sure she’ll be along.”

She climbed the wide steps to the front door, and then stopped in shock. An older woman had stepped out of the front door, a puzzled frown on her face. “We don’t get much visitors here,” the older woman said finally. “You lost?”

“We’re..ah, we’re here to look at the farm for sale?” Lisa said, faltering a little. “We’re the Jacksons.”

The woman continued to frown, and Molly found herself holding her breath. “Where you from, then?” the woman said finally.

“Boston,” Neil said, coming up beside his wife. “We’re retiring. Looking to get away from the bustle.”

“Do some writing,” Lisa added. “And maybe pottery. Grow vegetables and flowers.”

“Farm’s a lot of work,” the woman said. “Not a toy.”

“No, it’s not,” Neil agreed. “But it’s a different kind of work, and one we’re both looking forward to.” He looked down at his wife and smiled. “Getting some animals. Splitting wood. Getting to know the woods.”

The woman looked around. “This is a long way from Boston.”

“Which is why it’s perfect,” Lisa said.

“You’ll get lonely?” It was an odd question.

“We’ve got each other,” Neil said. “A couple of dogs. And we have two boys that will bring their friends over.”

“Writing retreats,” Lisa said. “Pottery friends. And lovely time away from everything the rest of the year.”

Another long silence. Then the woman said, “Well, why don’t you come in for a cup of tea and some scones? We can talk. I wasn’t planning on selling, but…”

Lisa looked aghast. “Are we in the wrong place? I’m so sorry!”

The woman waved her hand. “I’m Laurel. Come in and we’ll talk.” The frown dissolved into a smile. “I made the scones this morning.”

As they mounted the steps, the scene faded, bringing Molly and Schrodinger back to the present. Lisa held up the reindeer ornament. “If it wasn’t for a map-reading mistake, and our own enthusiasm, we might have never known the wonderful people we know. I’ve never forgotten that, and we still get Christmas cards and postcards from Laurel. She loves to know how the farm is going.” She looked at the ornament. “She gave us our first chickens, and the beginning of our reindeer herd. I can’t imagine life any other way.” 

“It’s taught us that what you’re looking for isn’t always what you think it is,” Neil said. “Sometimes it’s something you just stumble across that’s what you need.”

Advent 2021 – December 9

December 9 – Noemi

Molly wasn’t surprised to see the final member of the Terrible Trio, Noemi Miller, take Sue’s place once the cardinal was installed on the tree. Noemi was the quietest of the four of them, but her serene countenance hid a wicked sense of humor. She was a computer specialist and helped, among other things, keep the computers at the Gate Station running. 

“When I got the invite for this, I too knew instinctively which ornament I wanted to give,” Noemi said. “I wasn’t born here, but I might as well have been, since we moved here when I was two. My earliest memories are of this town, and the amazing people who make it up. There’s just something about Carter’s Cove that calls you back, even if you leave for a bit.”

What does she mean? Schrodinger asked. Where did she go?

“College, in New York City,” Molly said. “She got a full scholarship to Barnard, and it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. I’m glad she came back, though.”

Me too! Otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten to meet her!

Noemi held up her ornament, and Molly nodded to herself. The grey clouds wrapped around them.

Is this NYC? Schrodinger asked her, when the clouds cleared. 

“Yes. This is where the college is located.” Molly looked around the bustling crowds and colorful decorations. “It’s called Morningside Heights, near Harlem. There’s an amazing pastry shop, and we went there when we visited her. Among other places.” 

It’s busy. But I like it! Schrodinger sounded as if he were surprised.

“It’s busy,” Molly agreed. “But it’s fun for short visits.”

She watched as Past-Molly and her three friends walked down the street, arm-in-arm, as snowflakes drifted down from the sky. “I’m so glad you were able to come!” Past-Noemi said. “Now I can show you what I love about this city.”

“Love enough to stay after college?” Past-Lai teased gently.

Past-Noemi laughed. “No. For all the wonderful things about New York, I miss home.” She looked around. “There’s not enough snow, and while seeing the Macy’s parade in person was neat, it would have been more fun watching on the tv with you guys, eating Molly’s cookies and danish and drinking hot chocolate.”

“You only have 3 more years!” Past-Molly said. “And then you’ll be back! Besides, I sent you cookies!”

“You did, and they have been a good link to the Cove,” Past-Noemi said.

They stopped, and Past-Sue looked at Past-Molly and Past-Lai. “Should we show her now?”

“Show me what?” Past-Noemi looked at the three of them.

“This.” Past-Lai pulled a present out of her leather bag and handed it to Past-Noemi. “Something to help with the home-sickness.”

Past-Noemi opened the present and gasped. “Oh, you guys! This is awesome!”

“We thought you might like it,” Past-Sue said, and the other two nodded, grinning.

But what is it??? Schrodinger half-stood on his back paws, putting one of his front paws on Molly’s leg to see better.

Past-Noemi pulled a small evergreen wreath from the box. It was about the size of two hands cupped together, and in the center was a gingerbread man holding a small wooden sign that said, “Welcome to Carter’s Cove South” on it. 

“Sue made the wreath,” Past-Molly said. “I made the gingerbread man, and Lai painted the sign.”

“And then Molly worked her magic on it,” Past-Lai said. “So it won’t ever fade.”

“Ever?” Past-Noemi asked.

“Ever,” Past-Molly said. “Or at least until we aren’t friends anymore, which will never happen.”

The grey surrounded them and brought them back to the Cove just as Noemi handed over the wreath. “I know it’s usually meant to go on a door, but I couldn’t resist bringing it,” Noemi said. 

“It’s perfect as it is,” Jade said, smiling at her. “We’ll find a place for it. Thank you for bringing it.”

And it’s still as fresh as it was in the vision, Schrodinger said, watching as Jade hung the wreath on a branch. On the giant tree, it fit perfectly.

“Of course it is,” Molly said, smiling. “We’re still friends, after all.”

Advent 2021 – December 8

December 8 – Sue

“I like the idea of celebrating friendship too.”

The next person to step up was another member of the Terrible Trio. Sue Elder ran the museum in town, and had been one of Molly’s friends since before she could remember when. Her mother and Molly’s mother were thick as thieves, so it probably wasn’t surprising that their daughters were too.

Sue’s dark hair was cut in a sleek bob, and Molly strained to see what ornament she’d brought. Not the tea cup, she was pretty sure, probably for the same reason why Molly hadn’t chosen that one. The cups were very delicate, and although now she knew that Jade wouldn’t let any of the ornaments break, she hadn’t known that beforehand.

“I’ve lived in this town all my life, and I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else,” Sue said, cupping her ornament in her hand. “One of the things I like about Carter’s Cove is how everything is treasured, no matter how big or small. I don’t know if that’s just us, or if the town encourages it, but I appreciate it more than anyone can imagine.”

When the grey clouds drew away from her, Molly and Schrodinger were back at the Daughter of Stars Middle School, although this time, they were outside. It was a cold, snowy day, and judging by the age of her former self, Molly figured they were about 12 or 13. Past-Molly, Past-Sue, and Past-Lai were seated on swings, but they weren’t swinging. Rather, they were watching a pair of cardinals flutter around a tall bush with dark berries.

“That’s a black chokecherry,” Past-Sue said. “They are good for the birds because their berries last all winter.”

“Can they really survive on just berries all winter?” Past-Molly asked.

“They can, but they eat other things too,” Past-Sue said. “Mom says they like seeds and suet too. And they will eat things like peanuts and popcorn.”

The three looked at the birds for a while in silence. Then Past-Lai said, “We still need to figure out what kind of project we’re going to do for the Winter Solstice.”

Past-Sue sighed. “I wish Noemi was here this Christmas. She always has good ideas.”

“Yeah. It just doesn’t seem like Christmas without her,” Past-Lai agreed, and Past-Molly nodded.

Where’s Noemi? Schrodinger asked. Why isn’t she with you?

“If I remember correctly, her family went to her grandmother’s that Christmas,” Molly said. “She didn’t want to go, but her mother insisted.”

Well, I guess that’s okay. Family is important.

“Yes.”

Molly watched her younger self and two of her three best friends as they tossed ideas around, none of them really happy with any of them. In the meantime, the bright red cardinal male and his brown and red mate continued to pick at the berries, both of them chirping occasionally, as if asking the other a question.

Then Past-Sue’s eyes widened. “I know! Let’s do a present for the cardinals and the other birds!”

“How?” Past-Molly said, frowning. “I mean, what do you get for birds?”

“And how is that a project for Winter Solstice?” Past-Lai asked practically.

“Because it’s a decorated tree!” Past-Sue said, bouncing excitedly on her swing. “What if we do strings of popcorn and cranberries, and make ornaments out of suet and seeds? I bet my mom would help us, and then we can take pictures and make a whole presentation!”

Past-Molly and Past-Lai looked at each other, and then at Past-Sue. “You know, I really do like that,” Past-Molly said. Past-Lai nodded, and Past-Molly continued, “I bet my mom would help too.”

“Let’s go find out!”

As the three ran out of the playground, the scene faded, and Molly was back as Sue held out a bright red cardinal ornament to Jade. “This town taught me that the best way to be a friend was to offer friendship to others,” Sue said, looking at the cardinal. “And that everyone, no matter how small, deserves friends.”