Archive for July, 2015

(advent) Day 5 – The Wedding

It was raining when Drew woke up – just a light rain, almost a mist, really, but enough that everything was soft and faintly glowing. Molly had spent the night at her brother’s house with her part of the wedding party, although Schrodinger had opted to stay with Drew.

I’m standing with you, he’d told Drew, when asked. And all the other guys are with you here, so that’s where I should be.

Now, Drew turned his head to the side, where Molly normally slept. Schrodinger had claimed her portion of the bed, and he was curled up with her pillow between his paws, his nose buried in the fabric, still asleep. Drew chuckled softly and slipped out of bed, padding down to the kitchen to start a pot of tea brewing.

To his surprise, Pavel was down there, and there was a pot of tea on the stove, steam coming from the spout. “You’re up early,” Drew said, getting a mug out of the cupboard and pouring himself hot water. “And you made tea. You’re almost domesticated, Pavel. We’ll have to find you a wife soon.”

Pavel shuddered. “Perish the thought. I’ll leave that to you, my friend.” He watched Drew make a cup of tea, and then pull out a loaf of freshly baked bread. “You are better this morning.”

“Yes.” Drew started slicing thick pieces of toast. “I told Molly about Phoebe yesterday.”

“Is that what’s been bothering you?” Pavel asked. “Phoebe?”

“She’s coming to the wedding today,” Drew said. “And I never told Molly about my ancestry.”

“And you thought Molly might leave you, because you are part faery?” Pavel guessed, and snorted when Drew shrugged. “You, my friend, are a moron. Of all of us, Molly would not care.”

“Molly is the one who’s going to have to raise a part faery child, and she might not have realized yet what that means,” Drew said.

She still won’t care, said Schrodinger sleepily, coming into the kitchen. That’s just Molly.

“Even Molly has her limits,” Drew said. “And it wasn’t fair not to tell her before.”

“Would you have told her if Phoebe wasn’t coming?” Pavel asked.

“I would hope so,” Drew said. “But I don’t know.”

Who’s Phoebe?

“My grandmother,” Drew said. “My faery grandmother.”

Schrodinger considered that as he sat in his chair opposite Pavel. You will have interesting children, then, he said finally. I’m glad I’ll be able to help. Between her genes and yours, who knows what you’ll get.

“A faery kitchen witch,” Pavel said. “The best of both worlds.”

By the time the carriage showed up to collect them all, the rain had subsided to a silvery-grey mist that softened the edges of the world. Drew could smell the sea and the aromas of flowers twining together in the gentle breeze that touched his cheek, so different from the smells of corn fields and farms that he had grown up with. Sometimes he missed those other smells – the dry dustiness of the wind over the fields in late summer, for example – but he couldn’t imagine not smelling the sea anymore.

“I can’t wait to see how this looks in the summer,” Luke said, as they clambered into Pavel’s carriage.

“Probably very similar to winter,” Tom said. “After all, it’s still the Snow Queen’s ball room.”

“I think you’re in for a surprise, if you think that,” Jack said, but refused to say more.

The ride to the clearing where the Snow Queen’s ball was held every December was full of good-natured ribbing and laughter. Drew had given out his groomsmen gifts the night before – hand-tooled flasks with his and Molly’s initials on them, and full of a smooth whiskey that Pavel would only tell them was something to be sipped and enjoyed. Drew had reminded them that if they showed up to the wedding with hangovers, Molly had threatened to have Jack howl the entire way into the wedding, just for them. It had been enough to keep the drinking to a minimum.

Once the carriage came to a stop, Pavel pulled out a different flask and passed it to Drew. “This is your last drink as a single man, my friend,” he said. “In my hometown, it was the duty of the best man to make sure that the groom was well-hydrated before he walked into the ceremony. So here’s to you, Drew.”

Drew accepted the flask and sipped. The liquid exploded on his tongue, dancing in fiery drops of ice and heat down his throat, spreading warmth edged with a sharp chill through his body. He shuddered and handed the flask back to Pavel. “What was that?” he wheezed.

“Mom’s homebrew,” Pavel told him. “Is mild, no? She sends her regards.”

“If that’s what your mother considers mild, remind me never to try anything she thinks is robust.” Drew’s eyes were watering. “I might need help getting down.”

“No worries,” Jack said, taking his arm. “Let’s get you inside.”

Drew was fine by the time they stepped into the main room. The Snow Queen’s ballroom had some small rooms off on the sides, something Drew had never really realized. The smaller room held chairs and a small table, just enough for them to straighten their tuxedos and make sure they were all together. Jack joined them after a few minutes, which told Drew that Molly and her attendants had arrived.

“Now, you two, these are for you,” he said, kneeling down in front of Jack and Schrodinger. Both had bow ties that matched the groomsmen – sapphire, of course. He held out baskets for each of them. In the center of each basket was a sapphire pillow, with a silver ring tied onto it: Molly’s a delicate filigreed circle and his more substantial but still interlaced, both having tiny sapphires on them. They’d commissioned the rings specially. The two ringbearers accepted their charges with gravity.

We won’t lose them, Jack assured Drew.

Not at all! Schrodinger agreed.

“I know you won’t. You two will escort Lily and Zoey down – just like we practiced yesterday.” Drew stood back up and squared his shoulders. “Everyone ready?”

“I’m supposed to ask that,” Father Christopher said, chuckling, as he stuck his head in the door. “We’re ready for you.”

When they entered the main ballroom, they all stopped short in awe. The ballroom was normally all in white, with icy white flowers and vines twining up the pillars, and the ceiling was full of stars. But today, the vines held sapphire flowers, the white ice floors had transformed into a grassy lawn, and the sky above was silvery-grey. Birds sang from hidden alcoves, and there were chairs set out.

Father Christopher waited for them at a small dais that normally held the Snow Queen’s throne. Today, it held a small table, covered in a white tablecloth sprinkled with sapphire snowflakes, on top of which was the unity candle that Molly and Drew had picked out. In the center of the dais was a large crystal vase.

Drew took his place next to Father Christopher, and Pavel stood behind him. Jack and Schrodinger had gone off with their baskets to the room where Molly was, and the groomsmen were escorting guests to their chairs. It was happening. Finally.

And then he saw her. She glided into the room, one hand lightly on Jack’s arm (probably a good thing, since Jack would be immune to her touch), laughing at something he said. His grandmother was dressed in a long, flowing dress of warm gold, as if she were sheathed in sunshine, and Drew could smell her perfume reaching out to envelop him. He looked at Father Christopher, who nodded, then hurried over to her.

“Drew, darling boy,” Phoebe said, letting go of Jack and enfolding Drew in a warm hug. “I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you too, Grandmother,” he said, returning her hug. For a moment, he was a child again, looking for her comfort in the dark night. She had been his sun for so long, and it felt right to step back into her light.

“Are you happy here, Drew?” she asked him, stepping back and looking at him. “Truly happy?”

“I am, Phoebe,” he said, and knew it was true. “This is where I need to be.”

“Even though it’s far from your roots?” she pressed. “Far from me?”

“Yes,” Drew said. “It’s not that far, via the Roads. And it’s time for me to put down new roots, Grandmother. Marionville isn’t home anymore.” He looked around the room, at all the people filling in, and felt his heart overflow. “This is my home now. With Molly. With the Cove.”

Phoebe searched his face, her golden eyes intent, and then she smiled and hugged him again. “Yes, I see that. I’m so happy for you, Drew. May you and Molly have the same kind of love that your mother and father shared.”

“Thank you, Grandmother.” He kissed her cheek and then went back to stand behind Pavel.

The instant the last guests were seated and the groomsmen joined Drew and Pavel, the birds stopped singing. Then, a single flute began at the back of the room, and the large doors opened. As the music continued to grow, Lai and Noemi stepped through the doors, wearing sapphire blue dresses that left one shoulder bare and carrying a single white rose in their hands. They walked slowly up to the dais, put their roses in the vase, and stepped to their places opposite Drew and his attendants.

Once they were in place, Corrine and Jade came down and placed their roses as well. As they passed by him, Drew realized the dresses had silver snowflakes all over them, and he grinned. Jade winked at him.

The music changed, and Sue came down the aisle, carrying a single white rose as well. Luke sighed as she walked past him, and Drew wondered how much longer it would be before there was another wedding.

Then a chorus of “aawwww” filled the room. Lily and Zoey, each wearing sapphire dresses and the coronets that Molly had given them, carrying baskets full of white rose petals, flanked Jack and Schrodinger, who were carrying their own baskets. Rose petals floated down through the air as they danced down to the dais, where Schrodinger and Jack set their baskets down in front of the vase, and went to flank Drew.

The music changed one last time, and Molly appeared on her father’s arm. Drew nearly forgot to breathe as he watched her come down the aisle.

Her gown was white, a pale silvery white like moonlight, and it too left one shoulder bare. The other one held a waterfall of crystal snowflake beads that fell from her shoulder across the front of the dress to her opposite hip and continued down to the train that swept out behind her. Her coronet was silvery snowflakes and held her veil in place across her face, resting on top of her hair, which was pulled up in an intricate braid. In her left hand, Molly held a single white rose, just like her attendants.

Mr. Barrett escorted her to the dais, and then lifted her veil. He turned to Drew and said, “Welcome to the family, son.” Then he stepped back and sat down next to Mrs. Barrett, who was already crying.

Molly put her flower in the vase, and looked up at Drew, smiling. “Are you ready?” she asked quietly.

“I’ve been ready for this forever,” he said, taking her hand. They turned to Father Christopher, who smiled down at them.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…”

THE END

Day 5 – The Rehearsal Dinner

“Oh my.” Aunt Janice took a look at the loaded tables in the backyard and blinked. “Molly really doesn’t like sending people home less than stuffed, does she?”

“She’s a kitchen witch,” Drew said, laughing. “It’s genetic.”

“She would have gotten along so well with Alice,” Aunt Janice said, and Drew saw the shimmer of tears in her eyes at the mention of his mother. She took his arm and squeezed it, adding, “She’d be so proud of you, Drew. They both would be.”

“I know.” It seemed inadequate, but he had to say something. “I wish they were here.”

“They are,” she said. “In here.” And she touched his chest, right above his heart.

He covered her hand with his own. “I’m really glad you and Uncle Larry could come out, Aunt Janice. I’ve missed you.”

“You should come out and visit sometimes,” she said. “Bring Molly and Schrodinger. It’s not as if we don’t have a Gate Station too, even if your uncle hates traveling that way.”

“Maybe.” He didn’t want to commit anything yet. “We’ll have to see.”

“You have to face it at some point, Drew.” Aunt Janice’s voice was gentle. “You can’t run forever. And there are still living people who would like to see you.”

“I know,” Drew said. “I…we’ll see.” Then he looked down at her. “So, tell me all the news.”

And she did. He was surprised to learn how many of his old classmates, who had loudly announced at graduation that they couldn’t wait to leave their town, had moved back. Then again, look at the Cove, he thought. How many of them moved back as soon as they could? Maybe Molly’s right – those born in a CrossRoads town find it hard to leave.

“Now, tell me all about your town,” Aunt Janice said, as they collected plates of food. Deprived of the right to cook her own wedding feast, Molly had gone all out on the rehearsal dinner. They’d decided to go easy: burgers, hot dogs, BBQ chicken and all the fixings, and Molly had been cooking for the past week in between other things. The rolls were homemade, of course, and so were all the salads.

“Well, as you can see, it’s a bit more on the weird side than home,” Drew said, nodding to one side of the table, where Jade and Jack stood talking to Father Christopher, who was officiating the wedding. “And they aren’t the most outlandish.”

“And I thought that pirate friend of yours was odd,” Aunt Janice said, fascinated. “Then, when Schrodinger came out the other night – he’s amazing, Drew! And you see them every day?”

“Yes.” They took seats under one of the large maple trees that took up the backyard behind the farmhouse. Molly already had plans to tap them next spring, and make her own maple syrup, and Drew couldn’t wait. “Then again, Carter’s Cove is a bit bigger on the Roads than Marionville, especially since we have the Sea Gates too.”

“Your uncle wants to see the harbor before we leave,” Aunt Janice said. “He’s really interested in that.”

“I’ll make sure that the Harbormaster knows you’re coming,” Drew told her. “He’ll give you a good tour.”

“He’ll be thrilled.”

They tucked into their plates, enjoying the meal then. As he was finishing his burger, Drew heard bells above the clamor of conversation and he grinned. “Come on, Aunt Janice, you’ll want to see this,” he said, putting aside his plate and grabbing her hand. “Trust me.”

Collecting Doug and Tim as they went around the side of the house, Drew led them out to the driveway. A cool breeze, redolent with the smell of icy mountain sides, wrapped around them.

“Did it suddenly get cold? And what’s with the bells?” Doug said.

“Look!” Drew pointed to the end of the long driveway, where a patch of air shimmered like a mirage. Then the shimmering split down the middle, the two sides drawing back like a stage curtain, and a blast of cold air shot out, snowflakes dancing in the air.

“Drew!” roared a familiar voice, and Old Man Winter’s sledge, drawn by his large reindeer, crashed onto the gravel driveway.

“Welcome back, Old Man!” Drew called out, grinning at his relatives.

The sledge careened up to the house, the reindeer shaking their furry coats as snowflakes danced around them. Considering how warm it was, Drew didn’t blame Old Man Winter for taking the precaution of keeping them cool.

“Drew, where is your beautiful bride?” Old Man Winter demanded, jumping out of the sledge almost before it stopped moving. Drew heard his aunt gasp as she saw who else was with him.

“She’s in the back, making sure everyone is stuffed to the gills, of course,” Drew said, accepting the bone-crushing hug the Spirit gave him, and then gesturing to his relatives to come closer. “But I heard the bells and wanted to come out and greet you, and introduce you to some of my family.” He introduced them, and Old Man Winter shook hands with each of them.

“And this is Ember,” Drew said, as the emerald-green dragon (in her smaller size, he was relieved to see). “I helped Old Man Winter rescue her from a trap a few years ago, and she’s decided to stay around.”

Of course I have, the dragon said, amusement tinging her mental tone. You folks are far more interesting than anyone else I’ve met so far.

“A dragon,” Doug said reverently. “A real dragon. You know a real dragon.”

“And now so do you,” Drew said, pleased that he could make one of his cousin’s childhood dreams come true. “Ember, this is my cousin Doug, his husband Tim, and my Aunt Janice, who raised me.”

I am pleased to meet all of you, Ember said, and then she dipped her head down towards Aunt Janice, who shrank back just a little bit. You did a wonderful job. Drew is one of the best men I have ever met, and I have met many good men.

“Thank you, but I just put the polish on,” Aunt Janice said, her voice only trembling a little. “His mother and father raised him right, and I just took over when they were taken from us.” She raised her hand and hesitantly touched the tip of the dragon’s nose as Ember dipped her head towards her. “My sister would have been amazed to see who her son was friends with.”

I would have liked to meet them too, Ember said. They must have been very good people.

“They were,” Aunt Janice said. “They were very good people indeed.”

“Now, come and let’s go see Molly, who is much prettier than you are, and for whom I have a special gift,” Old Man Winter said, striding off towards the backyard. The moment broken, the others laughed and followed him.

“You have a very interesting life, cousin,” Doug said, as they watched Aunt Janice and Ember walk together, still talking.

“You have no idea,” Drew agreed. “Just wait until Ryan hits about two, then you might have some similar experiences.”

“Not unless we move here,” Tim said, and exchanged a look with Doug. “Which might be in the cards.”

“Really?” Drew stopped, stunned. “That would be awesome! But I thought you loved Marionville, Doug?”

“I do,” Doug said. “And I won’t lie, it will be hard to leave.” He took Tim’s hand. “But not everyone in Marionville is as happy as we are to have a family.”

That, Drew could see. In many ways, Marionville was a typical small town in mid-town America, and it held many different points of view. Just not on every topic.

“It’s not all sunshine and roses here either,” he warned them. “But I know Molly and I would be happy to have you here.” And in truth, he’d love to have some family that was his around. Not that he hated Molly’s family, but they could be a bit overwhelming at times.

“No, but it’s not going to be sunshine and roses anywhere,” Tim said. “And I’d like to see a bit more of the country than just Missouri.”

“And I can teach anywhere,” Doug said.

“Teach?” Drew blinked. “You actually became a teacher?”

“Yep. High school history and baseball.” Doug grinned. “Think I could find a spot here?”

“Sure.” Drew stopped and looked around. “In fact, come with me.”

He led them over to a picnic table, where Steve and Tom were talking to Mark Rineholt. “Mark, this is my cousin Doug and his husband Tim,” Drew said, after apologizing for interrupting. “Mark is the principal at the Carter’s Cove High School. And Doug’s a history teacher who’s thinking of moving to the Cove. He coaches baseball too.”

As he’d expected, Mark’s eyes lit up. Drew knew very well that there were a few openings in the high school teaching staff, and that the baseball coach had retired this past spring. He left them talking excitedly, pleased that he could help both his friend and his cousin.

He ended up snagging a bottle of beer and standing in the shade of the trees, watching everyone. The yard was full of his and Molly’s friends and relatives, all gathered to celebrate the rehearsal dinner. Tomorrow at this time, he and Molly would be married.

And Molly would have met Phoebe.

Drew sighed, knowing that he should probably just own up to Phoebe beforehand, but strangely loathe to go into it. He didn’t know how Molly would react. Truth be told, he wasn’t sure how he was going to react when he saw her again.

“That’s an awfully long face for someone who’s supposed to be happy,” Molly said, coming up next to him and grinning. When he grinned back at her and hugged her to his side, she continued, “Who do I have to beat up for making you somber today?”

“No one,” Drew reassured her, chuckling. “In fact, it’s a good day.”

“Then why are you standing here by yourself, looking like your beer soured?” she asked.

“Just wishing my folks could have been here,” Drew said, and then looked down at her. “Hey, come with me for a second.”

“What?” Molly blinked. “But Drew, we have guests!”

“They can handle themselves for a bit, and I need to talk to you.” He took her hand and led her away through the trees, away from the house and the backyard.

When they burst out of the trees to the small pond that Schrodinger loved to hunt frogs by, Molly said, “So what is so important that no one can hear it?”

Drew pulled her around so she was looking at him. “There’s another guest coming to the wedding tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Molly said, blinking. “That’s not a problem. We have room. Who is it?”

The moment of truth. Drew said, “Her name is Phoebe.”

“Okay.” Molly waited while he paused. “And?”

“And she’s my faery grandmother.”

“Your what?”

“My faery grandmother,” Drew repeated.

Molly, to her credit, didn’t say anything for a few minutes. “Well, that’s interesting,” she said finally. “Wait a minute. Did you say grandmother? Isn’t it supposed to be faery godmother?”

And now the truth would come out. “Usually, yes. But my father was half-faery. Phoebe is my actual grandmother.”

“So you’re 1/4 faery?” Molly considered that, and Drew’s heart sank. Would this be a dealbreaker?

“Yes.”

“Then it’s a good thing we have Schrodinger, if we have kids,” Molly said. “I’ve heard faery blood means interesting children.” She grinned up at him. “Are you up for a challenge?”

“Absolutely,” he said, relief washing through him, and kissed her.

Day 4 – The Wedding Shower

“Drew, my friend, what is wrong?”

Drew turned around to find Pavel standing in the doorway, a dark bottle in his hand and a concerned look on his face. “Nothing,” he lied, forcing a smile to his lips. “Why?”

“Because this is a party for you and Molly, your family is due any minute, and rather than being out in the backyard with your guests, you are hiding in the living room of your soon-to-be brother-in-law’s house, in the dark,” Pavel said, leaning against the door frame. “So pardon me if I don’t believe nothing is wrong.”

He couldn’t deny that, so Drew shrugged. “It’s nothing, really,” he said. “I’m just tired. It was a long day yesterday.”

Pavel looked keenly at him. “I don’t believe it,” he said finally. “You look worried, not tired. You have been worried all week.” He paused and said, “Are you have second thoughts about the wedding?”

“What? No!” Drew stared at him, appalled. “How could you think that?”

“Then what is it?” Pavel said. “What is so bad that you would rather brood than share it?”

Drew hesitated, then shook his head. “It’s not the wedding, but there’s a small issue with one of the guests,” he said finally.

“Problem with a guest?” Pavel eyed him. “You point them out, I take care of them. No problem.”

“It’s not that easy,” Drew said, chuckling ruefully.

“Who is the guest?” Pavel finally came into the living room and sank down into Nathan’s recliner. “Tell Uncle Pavel everything.”

Drew was about to reply when Schrodinger came into the room. Drew, Drew! Molly sent me to find you! Your family is here!

“It’s too late,” Drew told Pavel. “It’s just too late.” He sighed. “Let’s go.”

Schrodinger looked from Drew to Pavel, puzzled. What’s wrong?

“Nothing.” Drew squared his shoulders and went out of the room.

Pavel looked at Schrodinger. “We should follow him. This could go badly.”

But why?

“Because family is complicated,” Pavel said, and Schrodinger had no answer to that.

Molly met Drew as he came out of the house. “They just pulled in,” she said, smiling up at him. “At least, I think it’s them. I’m not sure who else it could be.” She glanced around the yard. “After all, I think half the Cove is here.”

“It’s just because you’re loved,” Drew told her.

“Because WE’RE loved,” she corrected him, and grinned, hugging him. “Come on. I’m dying to meet your family.”

He let her lead him from the backyard to the driveway, wondering if she’d be as thrilled once she saw who was here.

The rental car had just parked when they came out, Schrodinger and Pavel trailing behind them. A large car, more suitable for a family rather than his aunt and uncle, and Drew smiled despite himself.

“Did they really need that big a car?” Molly asked him quietly.

“That’s Uncle Larry,” Drew said. “He’d drive a tank if he could.” He stepped out and waved his hand.

His Aunt Janice was out of the car almost before the engine had shut off, and Drew felt guilty as he saw the grey in her formerly dark hair. But her voice was the same: warm, very nearly the same as her sister’s, his mother’s, had been. “Drew!” she said, hugging him tightly, and he smelled cinnamon and nutmeg. Aunt Janice always smelled like she’d been baking. “You look so good!” She stepped back and looked over at Molly. “And you must be Molly!”

“Molly, this is my Aunt Janice,” Drew said, and Molly got her own hug. “Aunt Janice and Uncle Larry raised me after my parents died.”

“It’s good to meet you, dear,” Aunt Janice said. “I’ve heard so much about you from Drew!” Then she looked back up at him and winked. “You know, I hope it doesn’t put you out, but we brought someone extra with us, Drew. Someone who can’t wait to see you.”

He braced himself. “Oh?”

She nodded and turned back to the car, gesturing to someone Drew couldn’t see. And then, as the person got out of the car, his jaw dropped.

“Doug? Really?”

His cousin grinned and held out his arms, and Drew ran into them, thumping his back. “Did you really think I wouldn’t come back for your wedding?” Doug demanded, chuckling. “Come on!”

“Well, I was hopeful, but you never responded to the invite, so we weren’t sure you’d gotten it,” Drew said, his grin matching his cousin’s. “Damn, it’s good to see you!”

“And you. Besides, it gives me a chance to introduce you to some new members of the family.”

Drew’s eyebrows went up as he watched Doug open the car door and help someone out. “You got married?”

“He ran away and did it,” Aunt Janice said dourly, but she grinned. “But he brought me back a grandson, so I forgave him.”

“A grandson?” Drew said.

“Meet your cousin Ryan,” Doug said, showing him a sleeping infant in a carrier. “And this is his other father, Tim.” He put his arm around a tall man with an easy smile.

“Congrats, man!” Drew reached out for Tim’s hand, shaking it enthusiastically. “Welcome to the family!”

“Thanks.” Tim had a surprisingly deep baritone, and his smile was warm. “I’m a lucky man.”

“We’re lucky men,” Doug corrected him.

“And this is Molly,” Drew said, drawing her closer to him. “Molly, my cousin Doug, his husband Tim, and their new baby Ryan.”

Molly gave them both smiles. “Welcome to the Cove!”

Yes, welcome!

Both Doug and Tim’s eyes went wide as Schrodinger came up.

“And this is Schrodinger, the CrossCat that lives with us,” Drew said, exchanging a grin with Molly. “Welcome to the Cove, as they said.”

“A CrossCat?” Tim asked. “What is that?”

“Has Doug told you what I do for a living?” Drew asked.

“Not really,” Tim admitted. “He said it was something to do with gate maintenance or something, but I couldn’t follow it all.” He was still staring at Schrodinger. “He talks.”

Doesn’t everyone? Schrodinger said, tilting his head sideways.

“You aren’t from a CrossRoads town, are you, Tim?” Molly said gently.

“A what?” Tim said.

“No, he’s not,” Doug said, chuckling. “This is going to be quite the trip for him.”

“You’re mean, not telling him,” Drew said. “Especially coming here.”

“Why?” Doug said.

“Because Carter’s Cove is a bit more…colorful than most CrossRoads towns,” Drew said, chuckling. “Schrodinger is only the beginning.”

True, the CrossCat said. I’m much less interesting than the Snow Queen or Old Man Winter.

Tim choked a little at that, and Molly laughed. “Come on, Tim,” she said, taking his arm and then taking Doug’s. “Let me introduce you to the family.”

Drew watched them go, admiring how she put both men at their ease. Then he turned to greet his uncle, who had finally come around the other side of the car.

“Hello, sir,” he said, shaking the older man’s hand. “I’m glad you could come.”

“As if we’d miss your wedding,” Uncle Larry said. “Even I would travel for that, and you know how I hate to fly.”

“You could have come via Gate,” Drew reminded him.

Uncle Larry shuddered. “No, thanks. That’s even worse.”

Drew peeked down into the car. “No Phoebe?” he said, knowing he couldn’t not ask.

“Not today, no – she had certain things that needed to be done,” Aunt Janice said. “She’s coming to the ceremony, though.” She looked at him closely. “She missed you. Just like we all did.”

“I missed you too,” Drew said, and hugged her again. “I’m glad you came out.”

But as he walked them to the backyard, he had to admit to himself that he was just as glad that Phoebe wasn’t going to be there before Saturday. It gave him some more time to decide just how to let Molly know about her.

Day 3 – The Bachelorette Party

“Big Papi? Really? He pitched to BIG PAPI?”

Molly laughed at Noemi’s open-mouthed expression, which was half surprise and half envy. Okay, probably more than half envy. “So Schrodinger says,” she assured her. “And that was apparently only the beginning.”

“How many arrest warrants did they acquire?” Jade asked, dropping down into the beach chair next to Molly. Her swimsuit was a deep blue, covered with snowflakes; her silver hair fell in an intricate braid down her back, and she sported large sunglasses, which hid her dancing green eyes.

“None that I know of,” Molly said, marveling again at the sight of the Snow Queen lounging on the sand, the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean nibbling on her dainty toes. “Well,” she corrected herself, “none that Drew or Schrodinger would admit to.”

Sworn to secrecy, the CrossCat said from his blanket. What happens at the bachelor party stays at the bachelor party. That’s what we were told.

“You have to ask Pavel,” Jade told her. “He doesn’t consider it a successful evening unless he collects at least one, and he’s always willing to boast, provided you get him drunk enough.”

I wouldn’t count on it this time, Schrodinger told her.

“Well, Drew and Schrodinger came dragging in at dawn, and I can only imagine the hangovers at the Station this morning, so it was apparently a very good night,” Molly said. “He wouldn’t tell me where they went after the ball game, though.”

“Luke wouldn’t say anything either, but he’s got a lovely bruise he tried to hide in the shower this morning,” Sue said, giggling. “So I’m betting there was at least one bar fight.”

“Molly! Molly!”

Molly, Jade, Sue and Noemi turned as Lily, Jack and Zoey came running up the beach, with Corrine and Lai behind them. Lai was dragging a large wagon, and Corrine pushed a baby carriage. The other four jumped up to help them, as Lily and Zoey went whooping into the water.

“Don’t go too far!” Corrine shouted at them, and then shook her head ruefully. “Oh well, hopefully they heard me.”

Jack paused at the edge of the water and turned back to them. I’m on it, he assured her. Coming, Schrodinger?

In the water? The CrossCat looked dubiously at him. Are you sure you want to get wet?

Yes! The dog barked enthusiastically. It’s fun!

“Go on,” Molly said to Schrodinger. “We’ve got plenty of towels if you don’t like it.” Then she turned back to the carriage and cooed, “How are you, beautiful?”

Her newest niece Kaylee blew bubbles at her and waved chubby fists in the air.

“Let’s get her under the pop-up, and then you can play with her to your heart’s content,” Corrine said, pushing the carriage under the brightly-colored shade that Molly and Sue had erected when they’d arrived. The sand was covered with a rug and then blankets, and pillows were scattered around to lounge on. There were large coolers at the back of it, and Lai had dragged her wagon over to that area, where she was now unloading a portable grill.

In short order, everything was unpacked, and Kaylee was lying on the blankets, being adored by everyone. Lily and Zoey had convinced Schrodinger into the water, and the foursome were body-surfing on the waves that rolled in.

“Okay, ladies, let’s get this party started,” Lai said, handing around champagne flutes. “Peach bellinis, with a virgin one for the new mom,” she added, handing one to Corrine. “And while there may be some new holes in the wall at the Hanging Scorpion, I am pleased to report that there are no new outstanding warrants for anyone in the wedding party.”

“Good lord, they went to the Scorpion? No wonder Luke had bruises,” Sue said, laughing. “What convinced them to go there?”

“Not what, who,” Jade said. “Pavel loves the Scorpion, and I’d not be surprised if he set it up.”

The Hanging Scorpion was one of the most notorious bars in the nearby realms, and Molly was not surprised to hear the bachelor party had ended up there. Nor did it surprise her to learn Pavel was a regular there. He probably had a permanent tab there.

“How did you find out?” she asked Lai, who winked at her.

“I have my sources,” Lai said mysteriously.

“Will we meet this source at the wedding?” Noemi teased her.

“Maybe,” Lai said, and forestalled any other questions by turning back to the grill. “Did you bring the burgers, Molly?”

“Of course, they’re in the cooler next to you, along with everything else.”

“You know, it seems a bit much to have the bride bring the food for her own bachelorette party,” Sue said.

“Yeah, but who else was going to do it justice?” Corrine said. “And did you really want to hear her complain all night about it?”

“I would not!” Molly said.

“Yes, you would, especially after a few more of those bellinis,” Noemi said, and they all laughed.

“Hey, at least you let me take care of the catering for the actual wedding,” Jade said, leaning back against a pillow and dangling her fingers in front of the baby’s face. “I think Drew about fell over when he heard that.”

Molly didn’t mention how hard it had been to do that, smiling instead at Jade. “It was a very thoughtful gift, and we all appreciate it.”

Especially Drew, who didn’t want to deal with Molly trying to cook enough for 125 people and the cafe at the same time, Schrodinger said, padding up to them, water streaming from his fur.

“Don’t you dare shake yourself off here,” Molly warned him, and he backed up obligingly, then shook himself vigorously.

“Well, she’s a kitchen witch,” Jade said. “It’s a hazard of the job. And luckily, Aunt Margie gave you the week off.”

“True,” Molly said. “But that just means I’m at home, making stuff for the next two weeks while we’re gone.” She drained her bellini and held it out to Noemi. “Since you’re up.”

“There’s a pitcher of mix,” Lai told her. “And the champagne is next to it.”

The afternoon passed in a haze of sun and champagne, watching the waves and the girls swimming. Lai handled the grill and Noemi opted to bartend. Molly thought it was the best bachelorette party she could have asked for.

As the sun was starting to fade towards the trees at the back of the cove, they dug a pit in the sand and built a bonfire, then dragged the chairs around it and settled in with marshmallow sticks.

“So this is a s’more,” Jade said, looking suspiciously at the graham cracker sandwich Lily handed her. “Is it good?”

“It’s the best part of summer after swimming,” Lily told her, and the Snow Queen took a small bite. Her eyes widened in surprise. Lily clapped in delight. “See, I told you!”

“We totally need a picture of this,” Sue said, grabbing her camera. “The Snow Queen, in a swimsuit, on a beach, eating a s’more. The world will never believe it actually happened otherwise.”

Molly laughed, agreeing. “You’ll have to get Jack to put a fire pit in at the cottage,” she told Jade. “That way, you can have s’mores any time you want.”

The Snow Queen sniffed. “I can put one in myself, you know.”

“Sure, but why expend the effort when you can have him do it?” Lai said, waving her marshmallow stick in the air. “Besides, it keeps him out of trouble for a bit.”

“Only for a bit,” Jade said. “Remember, he and Pavel are friends.”

They all laughed at that. Then Corrine sighed regretfully and looked at her watch. “Okay, girls, it’s time to go. We’ve got to get Kaylee home.”

Lily and Zoey pouted a bit, and Molly hugged them. “Hang on a minute. I’ve got something for all of you, and this is as good a time as any to give them to you.” She went over to the pop-up, now softly lit by thousands of tiny sparkling snowflakes that Jade had conjured up, and came back carrying a soft grocery sack.

“These are for you,” Molly said, handing Lily and Zoey wrapped boxes. “I hope you’ll wear them Saturday.”

The two girls ripped off the paper and opened them, then gasped. “Oh, Molly, really?”

“Really,” Molly assured them, as they lifted out coronets that sparkled in the firelight. Jade raised her hand, and a globe of softly-glowing light drifted up, illuminating the group.

The coronets were covered with crystals that reflected both the light and the fire interspersed with sapphire roses, with ribbons trailing off the back that fluttered in the slight breeze.

“We’ll be the prettiest flower girls ever!” Zoey breathed, and Lily nodded.

“I hope so!” Molly said, and then she handed out small bags to the others. “This is just a small thing, but thank you so much for being a part of this with me.”

The bags contained a small clutch purse in various shades of blue, Molly’s color. Noemi was the first to open hers, and she squealed in delight. “Really?”

“Yeah, I had fun with these,” Molly admitted, as the others opened theirs to discover, not an empty purse, but a portable drink kit, complete with monogrammed flask, a rocks glass, and, tucked into the glass itself, a silver chain with a sapphire rose in the middle of it, with emerald leaves. “And I’m sure you could all use them.”

Then she turned to Sue. “And for you.” She held out a small bag. “I hope you like it.”

“It” was a similar clutch purse, but instead of a flask, inside Sue’s was an envelope. Molly held her breath as she opened it, and even in the dim light, she could see the blood drain from Sue’s face.

“You aren’t serious.”

“I am.” Molly hoped this was a good thing.

“How…how did you get this?” Sue whispered, looking up at her.

“I know a few people.”

“What is it?” Lai demanded. “You’re killing us with the suspense!”

Sue swallowed, and looked back down at the envelope in her hand. “It’s tickets,” she said finally. “To the Undercity.”

“The Undercity?” Noemi said. “The REAL Undercity?”

Sue nodded. “To their museum,” she clarified. “A season pass.” She looked back up at Molly. “This is…amazing. Thank you so much!”

Relief flooded through Molly, and she grinned. “You’re welcome! I know you’ve wanted to go there forever, and, well, Pavel helped me…” The rest of her words were lost as Sue hugged her tightly. “Just take lots of pictures!”

“I will, oh, I will!”

The Undercity was a realm usually closed to outsiders, which meant the rumors of what was there ran rampant. The dwarves who supplied CrossRoads towns with the generators that ran the Gates lived there, creating all sorts of magical mechanical miracles. The museum there was the only place that they allowed non-citizens, and those passes were hard to get. But the look on Sue’s face had been worth everything Molly had done to get them.

“Now, before they go, we have a gift for you,” Lai said, and Corrine nodded. “Did you girls bring it?”

Zoey and Lily handed their coronets to Corrine, and then ran over to Kaylee’s stroller. From underneath, they pulled out something that looked suspiciously like a flower box.

“It’s tradition for the bridesmaids and maid of honor to make sure you have something special for your wedding night,” Sue said, recovering herself.

“Can I open this in front of these two?” Molly asked, as the girls handed her the box with great ceremony.

“Yes,” Corrine said. “And Drew will adore it.”

Molly eyed them all skeptically but pulled the ribbon off the box and opened it. Then she burst into laughter.

“Pull it out!” Noemi said, so Molly pulled out what she’d found.

Far from the slinky lingerie she’d been expecting, there was a Red Sox jersey and a pair of baseball shorts, with “Molly” on the back and “2015” instead of a number. She showed it off, still laughing, and then realized a second, smaller package was still in the box.

“That one you can open later,” Corrine said hastily. “Come on, girls, it’s time to go home.”

Zoey and Lily pouted a little, but then went with Corrine after Molly said, “We’ll see you guys tomorrow – it’s the shower, remember? Besides, we’re just going to bed soon too.”

“Well, sort of,” Noemi murmured. “For loose interpretations of the word bed.”

“Hush,” Jade told her.

After the girls had left, Molly opened the smaller package, which contained lingerie, as she’d suspected. Then the others started to clean up, after shoving her and Jade over to the fire.

“This was a great idea,” Jade said, settling down into her chair. “I had no idea the beach was so much fun.” She glanced over at Molly. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Molly said, shaking her head. “Probably nothing, anyways.”

“If it’s worrying you, it’s not nothing,” Jade said. “Tell me.”

“It’s Drew. He’s been acting weird the last two days.”

“He’s getting married in three days,” Jade reminded her. “Nerves, for both of you, are not unexpected.”

“No, it’s more than that. He looks…” Molly broke off, not sure how to continue. “He’s distant.”

Schrodinger had come to join them, and now he said, I think he’s not looking forward to seeing his family again.

“I think you’re right,” Molly said. “But he won’t say why.”

“There has to be a reason,” Jade told her, reaching out and taking her hand. “And when he’s ready to tell you, he will.”

“I hope so,” Molly said, looking at the remains of the bonfire. “I hope so.”

(advent) Day 2 – The Bachelor Party

So we’re really going to Portland?

“Yes, we’re really going to Portland!” Drew laughed as Schrodinger bounced excitedly around his feet. “In a limo, no less!”

I’ve never ridden in a limo! The CrossCat jumped up on to one of the chairs on the porch, his tail swishing. Have you?

The innocent question caught Drew by surprise, and he blinked. “Yes, a few times,” he said after a moment, and Schrodinger turned to look at him. “We took one to my prom, for one.”

The last time he’d sat in a limo, though, he had been dressed in a somber dark suit, bracketed by his aunt and uncle, saying goodbye to the rest of his family. Once again, he smelled Phoebe’s perfume, felt her hand on his knee as she leaned towards him from the other seat, her soft voice promising him that she’d always be there for him, that he was safe with her…

Drew? Schrodinger’s soft paw tapped on his leg, and he looked down at the CrossCat. Are you okay?

“Yeah, just some old memories.” Drew swallowed once, then smiled. “Not all limo rides are good things.”

Do you want to talk about it? I’m a good listener. Schrodinger sat down next to him, still looking up with worried green eyes.

“Not today,” Drew said, leaning down to stroke the CrossCat’s soft head. “It was a long time ago, and today is a day for fun.”

I wish Jack could go with us, Schrodinger said, still looking sad. He’s a ring bearer too!

“Yes, but the stadium is already bending the rules for you,” Drew said, chuckling. “Believe it or not, there are still some places in this world that don’t really believe in magic. Remember how Zoey reacted when she first came here? Most of the world is like that.”

How sad, Schrodinger said. How very sad for them.

“I agree,” Molly said, coming out onto the porch. “But think about it, Schrodinger. Would you want to stay here in Carter’s Cove if the entire world was like it?”

The CrossCat wrinkled his nose at her. Of course I would. Because there is no way the entire world could be like the Cove.

“Why not?” she asked him, slipping an arm around Drew.

Because you guys aren’t there, Schrodinger said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. And you guys are part of what makes the Cove special.

“I can’t disagree with that,” Drew said. “I know that all CrossRoads Towns are unique, but Carter’s Cove is special. It’s very different from where I grew up.” He looked down at Schrodinger. “For one thing, we didn’t have very many magical creatures stay in town. Most of them were just passing through.” He chuckled wryly. “My parents would have loved the Cove.”

“I’m sorry I never got a chance to meet them, but I can’t wait to meet your aunt and uncle Thursday,” Molly said. She was looking down the driveway at the limo that had just pulled in, so she didn’t see the grimace that crossed quickly over Drew’s face. He managed to get himself under control as she turned back, and kissed her gently.

“You’ll love them,” he said. “And they’ll love you too.” Then he hugged her and grabbed his old leather baseball glove. “Come on, Schrodinger!”

The CrossCat paused to rub his head against Molly’s hand quickly, and then ran down the steps to the waiting limo. A tall man in a very crisp black suit was waiting with the door open, and they both slid in to the cool interior, where not only Steve, Luke, Tom and Nathan were waiting for them, but to Drew’s surprise, both Jacks were there.

Jack! You got to come after all! Schrodinger hopped up next to the big black hound/shepherd mix, who gave him a big kiss. Drew ended up next to Jack Frost, who offered him a beer with a grin.

“That’s a different look,” Drew said, accepting the beer and looking at the Spirit of Frost, who winked at him. Jack was outfitted, as all the guys were, with Portland Sea Dogs jerseys and ball caps, and blue jeans. The ball cap hid some but not all of his long blond hair, and he looked remarkably comfortable.

“We just have one more stop,” Luke said, handing Drew a jersey.

“You convinced Pavel to come?” Drew shook his head, and pulled the jersey on. “This ought to be amazing.”

Luke winked at him. “You have NO idea.”

“Just remember, Molly said if we get arrested, she’s not coming to bail us out,” Drew warned him.

“We’re not going to get arrested!” Tom assured him. “Scout’s honor.”

“Well, that’s disappointing,” Jack said, and then shrugged when the others looked at him. “What?”

“You’ve never been out with Pavel, have you?” Drew said, chuckling. “He considers it a light night if he only gets arrested once.”

The big, burly pirate was waiting out on the pier near where his ship, the Heart’s Desire, was berthed, and Drew shook his head. Rather than forgo his normal attire, Pavel had paired his jersey and blue jeans with his customary knee-high polished boots, and instead of a baseball cap, he had his large black hat on his head. “Ahoy!” he shouted, as he clambered in. “Are we ready for a good time?”

Drew looked around the interior of the limo and shook his head. “I have a feeling this is going to be an epic afternoon.”

The limo ride to the stadium was uneventful, and they piled out in front of it. While Tom gave instructions to the driver, Luke herded the rest of them, not towards the gate, but towards a side gate, where a single guard watched them warily.

“Can you call Mike for me? He’s expecting his cousin,” Luke said, and the guard nodded, picking up his walkie-talkie.

“That’s how you managed this?” Drew said, and Luke winked at him. “I didn’t know your cousin worked here!”

Cousin Mike, it turned out, was the head of security for the ball park. When he came down the stairs to meet them, Drew could tell he and Luke were related – they looked like twins, not cousins. “Nice to meet all of you!” he said, shaking hands. “Who’s the lucky guy?”

“I am,” Drew said, and Mike gave him a once-over, then grinned.

“Nice to meet you! Glad to see Molly found someone,” he said, and Drew tried not to wince at the heartiness of his handshake. Then Mike turned to Luke. “Did you bring it?”

“Of course,” Luke said, handing over a paper bag. “As promised.”

I smell Molly’s cookies! Jack said, wagging his tail.

Me too! Schrodinger chimed in.

“That was the price,” Mike said. “Molly’s cookies are hard to come by out of the Cove, and I don’t get back often enough.” He passed the bag to the guard in the gate with a quiet word, then knelt down in front of the CrossCat and the dog. “We don’t normally allow animals in the stadium, but you guys are special,” he said, and pulled out two bandannas, printed with the Sea Dogs logo. “As long as you have these on, you’ll be fine.”

Thank you! Schrodinger said, putting a paw on the man’s hand. We appreciate it!

Yes! Jack agreed, giving Mike a kiss on the cheek. We do!

The man laughed and said, “All right, folks, follow me. We’ve got a special suite for you, and of course, as the groom, you get to throw out the first pitch.”

Drew blinked. “Really?”

“Oh yes,” Mike said, as he led them up the stairs and out along a walkway. Below them, the field stretched green and lush, with various people busy raking the infield dirt or drawing chalk lines along the edges. There were players tossing baseballs to each other and Tom had to lunge to grab Jack before he jumped over the rail.

I promise, I just want to play catch too! Jack howled mournfully, and the entire Sea Dogs team turned to look at them.

“Is that…?” Drew’s voice trailed off as one of the players began to walk over towards them.

“Yeah, he’s on a rehab assignment,” Mike said, as one of the biggest stars of the Red Sox, Big Papi himself, came over to meet them. Drew wasn’t the only one in awe. In fact, only Jack Frost and Pavel seemed unaffected.

“Welcome to the field!” Big Papi said, shaking everyone’s hand. Then he bent down to see Jack and Schrodinger. “What have we here?”

I’m Schrodinger, and this is Jack, the CrossCat said excitedly, standing up on his hind legs to put a paw on Big Papi’s knee. We’re huge fans!

“Are you now?” The big man laughed, apparently delighted to be talking to the CrossCat. “And what, if you don’t mind my asking, are you?”

I’m a CrossCat, Schrodinger said. I live in Carter’s Cove now with Molly and Drew, but I was born along the Roads.

Big Papi shook his head, a look of wonder on his face. “You know, I’ve heard rumors of things like that, but I didn’t know it was real,” he said. “I think, once this season is over, maybe I should come up to Carter’s Cove and see.”

Molly can make you cookies! Jack told him, wagging his tail. Molly makes the best cookies ever!

Indeed! You should come up for Christmas – that’s the best time in the world to be in the Cove, Schrodinger told him.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Big Papi said. “So you guys here to enjoy the game?”

“It’s Drew’s bachelor party,” Mike said, indicating the groom, who flushed a bit.

“Bachelor party?” Papi said, grinning. “Who you want to pitch to, then?”

“You,” Drew said instantly. “If you don’t mind, of course.”

“Mind? Nah, it will be fun! You got a picture of the lucky lady?”

Drew pulled out his phone, and showed a picture of Molly in her element: a cup of tea in her hand, sitting on the porch outside the kitchen, looking at a cookbook.

“Pretty lady,” Big Papi agreed. “Now, I gotta get back to practice now, but I’ll see you guys in a bit, okay? And I’ll hit you a home run.” With a final stroke of Schrodinger’s head and a skritch behind Jack’s ears, the designated hitter went back over to his teammates.

You and Molly should invite him to the wedding, Schrodinger told Drew, who laughed.

“As if the Sox would let him drop everything to come to a wedding,” he said. “It’s the middle of the season!”

I bet they’d let him! Schrodinger turned back to the field, watching everything going on.

Mike led them up to the luxury boxes, showed them where everything was, and then said to Drew, “So, you ready for this?”

“Oh yes,” Drew said. “Absolutely.” He looked down at Schrodinger and Jack. “You two going to come help me?”

Yes! Schrodinger said.

Of course! Jack agreed.

“And no chasing the ball,” Drew said sternly to the dog, who wagged his tail enthusiastically. “We’ll get a ball you can chase at home, okay?”

In the meantime, the field had emptied, even as the stands filled. The fact that Big Papi was playing had shot attendance through the roof, of course, and Drew couldn’t blame any of them. Mike led the three of them back down the steps and out onto the edge of the field, where he stopped next to a young man in a Sea Dogs jacket, holding a microphone.

“This is Drew,” Mike said, introducing him. “He’s our groom-to-be, so he gets to throw out the first pitch. Papi’s offered to catch him.”

“Lucky man,” the announcer said, not really looking at Drew. He was staring at his clipboard. “We’ll call your name as soon as they finish…” He looked up and trailed off. “What are those?”

“This is Schrodinger and Jack,” Mike said, winking at Drew and handing the announcer a piece of paper. “We have special dispensation for them to be on the field.”

“Am I introducing all of them?” the announcer said doubtfully.

Why wouldn’t you? Schrodinger asked curiously, and the announcer blinked.

“You get used to it,” Drew assured him. “Trust me.”

“Okay.” The announcer shook his head, and then shrugged. “Anyways, we’ll call you as soon as they finish the national anthem.” As if waiting for his words, the first strains of “The Star-Spangled Banner” began to play through the speakers, and they all turned to the scoreboard.

The last notes faded away, and the announcer brought the microphone up to his mouth. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the ball park!” He walked out on to the green grass, and the crowd cheered. “This is a special occasion today – we have a groom here, celebrating his upcoming wedding! And who else would he throw the first pitch to but Big Papi!”

Big Papi bounded out of the dugout, waving to the crowd and grinning widely. He settled in behind home plate, punching his mitt to show he was ready.

“Let’s bring your hands together to welcome Drew and his friends Schrodinger and Jack, who are going to throw out the first pitch! Come on out, Drew!”

Drew ran on to the field, flanked by the CrossCat and the hound, feeling like he was ten years old again. The field shrank, becoming the one that he’d pitched on all through grade school. If he turned his head, he could see where his parents, grandparents, sister and other relatives had sat, cheering them on as they’d won the State Championship. They hadn’t made it past that, but it had been a sweet win.

He stepped onto the rubber and accepted the ball from the announcer, who then backed away. Big Papi nodded at him, and shouted, “Come on, Drew! Throw a strike!”

The ball went true, streaking into the glove as if it were magnetically attracted, and the crowd went wild. Big Papi met them halfway to home plate and handed Drew back the ball. “You should be playing with us, you got an arm like that!” the slugger said, chuckling. “You think of a career change?”

“I couldn’t leave the Cove,” Drew said, accepting the ball. “But thanks!”

“Good luck, man,” Big Papi said. “I hope you have a great time tonight, and a wonderful wedding.” He knelt down and stroked both Schrodinger and Jack. “You give me good luck too, eh?”

Definitely! Schrodinger said, and Big Papi laughed again.

It was a good game – Big Papi was as good as his word, and shot not one, but two homeruns in the win. Mike delivered one of them to Drew as they headed down the stairs after the game – it was signed by every player, and Drew thanked him effusively.

“Happy wedding, man,” Mike said, shaking his hand. “Molly’s a great catch.”

“And now,” Pavel added, clapping Drew on the shoulder, “the night really begins.”

(advent) Day 1 – Wedding Prep!

“I think this is the last one,” Drew said, putting the large cardboard box on the table in front of Molly, where it joined the six others. “I’d forgotten how many of these she had.”

“Are you sure you’re okay with us using them?” Molly asked him, letting one finger trail along the edge of a box. “You don’t want to just keep them?”

“No, I don’t want to keep them.” Drew shook his head. “They don’t belong in a box. Mom would have wanted us to use them like this.” He opened the box, and pulled out a bubble-wrapped package. Molly watched him unwrap it slowly, his strong fingers gently cradling the delicate china tea cup that he revealed. After putting it on the table, he reached back in to the box and pulled out the matching saucer. “Aunt Janice did a good job wrapping these.”

Molly reached out and picked up the tea cup. It was a pale green, with a hand-painted ivy vine wrapping around this. “Where did she get them?”

“Everywhere,” Drew said. “She was like you in that – any time we went anywhere, she would look for these. And she used them every day until she died. I never saw her use a mug for tea. It was always a tea cup.”

“I think I would have liked her,” Molly said.

“I think you would have as well. She would have adored you.” Drew looked at the boxes fondly. “I always wondered what happened to them after the accident. I’m glad Aunt Janice found them.” He kissed Molly on the top of her head, and then said, “I’ll see you later?”

“We’ll be here,” she agreed, and watched him head out to his truck. As he pulled out of the driveway, he passed Lai’s Jeep coming in, and Molly waved to her friends.

“I thought we were working on favors today!” Sue said in greeting as they climbed the stairs. “Did you decide not to?”

“Did you really think I would have anything but tea cups for favors?” Molly said, hands on her hips as she mock-glared at them. “Really?”

“Good point,” Sue said, laughing. “What’s Drew’s contribution?”

“Well, the cups used to be his mom’s.” Molly picked up the pale green cup again and offered it to Sue. “His aunt packed up his mother’s collection and sent it out to us.” She indicated a smaller box that was almost hidden on the table. “And he picked out the tea balls.”

“Oh?” Lai arched a slender black eyebrow and opened the box. “Oh my lord, where did you find these?”

“Show me, show me!” Noemi and Sue crowded around her as she pulled out a small tea ball: a tiny bat, with a baseball-shaped ball attached to it by a slender chain.

“Yes, where did you find BASEBALL Tea balls?” Noemi demanded. “I’ve been looking for those forever!”

“We had to have them specially made,” Molly admitted. “Luckily, I was able to trade for some special scones.”

“So what’s the plan?” Sue asked, putting the cup back down.

“Cup, tea ball, tea,” Molly said, demonstrating with small packets of tea from yet another box on the table. “Tea and tea ball go in the cup, and then the cup and saucer go on the wrapping, and then you get the ribbon.” She pulled the clear silvery film up, gathered it together, and tied it with a long white ribbon. “Like so.”

“And how many of these do we have to do?” Noemi said, picking up a length of ribbon. There were tiny snowflakes in sapphire sprinkled over it.

“One hundred and twenty five,” Molly said, sighing. “I think we can get through it, though.”

“Good thing we brought a couple bottles of wine,” Lai said, winking at Sue. “This is going to be a long day.”

“Where’s Schrodinger?” Noemi asked, looking around. “How come he isn’t helping?”

“He’s working on something for the wedding, and no, I have no idea what,” Molly said. “He won’t tell me, and if he’s told Drew, he’s sworn him to secrecy. All I know is that he said it was for the wedding.”

“Which means it could be anything,” Sue agreed, pulling out a chair. “All right, ladies, let’s get moving.” She peeked in the tea box. “Three different envelopes in the saucer, right?”

Molly nodded. “One for each of us.” She pulled out the envelopes and showed them. “Christmas tea for me, of course. Peppermint for Drew. Earl Grey for Schrodinger.” The envelopes were white, with more sapphire snowflakes sprinkled over them, and each had Drew’s beautiful calligraphy with the name of the tea on it.

“You guys really went all out for these,” Lai said, fingering one of the tea bags gently.

“We’re only getting married once,” Molly said. “Why not go all out?”

“True.” Noemi reached in for another gently-wrapped tea cup. “Let’s get started.”

<><>

Drew pulled into the staff parking lot at the Gate Station, turned off his truck, and then sat for a few moments, lost in thought. The lawns of Carter’s Cove Gate Station rolled out around him in all directions, and in the distance, he could hear the sea. The wind through his open window carried salt, so familiar now and yet so different from where he’d grown up. At one point in his life, he’d never believed he’d end up on the Maine coast.

No, I thought I’d take over Dad’s spot in the Marionville Station, and settle down in my hometown. Isn’t that the normal way?

But after the car accident that had taken his parents and older sister from him, Drew had known he couldn’t stay in the town he’d grown up in. There were too many reminders there, looking at him from every tree and window. He hadn’t even been back since he’d come to the Cove. Not that he’d really had to try hard to avoid it – there had been enough going on here, after all.

Now, though, he couldn’t avoid it any more. Aunt Janice had included a letter with the cups, a letter that Molly hadn’t seen. A letter that Drew still carried with him.

He pulled it from his wallet, and read it again. It wasn’t very long.

Dearest Drew, I was so happy to hear of your upcoming marriage. Your Aunt Janice has kept me apprised of how you have been doing, and your Molly sounds like a lovely girl. I can’t wait to meet her.

Love always, Phoebe