(advent) December 4

Monday, December 4

Schrodinger had decided not to mention the conversation he’d had with Pavel to Molly or Drew. The Christmas season was a busy time for them, and there was the added excitement this year of Phoebe, Drew’s faery grandmother, who was coming to visit for the holiday. Molly and Drew both adored her, but it was yet another thing for Molly to juggle. And if she knew what was going on with the Parliament of Realms, she’d feel it was her duty as Jade’s friend to help.

But as they walked down the street to the bookstore from school, he told his companions. Not everything, of course, but the important part – that the Cove needed to make sure that if Jade’s visitors did come to see the area that they had a good time.

So maybe that could be part of our month too? he suggested at the end. To help Jade, without getting in her way?

The others considered that. “It doesn’t sound too hard,” Gideon said. “I mean, that’s what Christmas is about anyways, right? Making people feel included and happy. We can do that.”

“Yes,” Kaylee said. “And who knows? Maybe we’ll make some new friends!” She looked at her sister. “Did Aunt Margie say what we were doing today?”

“More decorating,” Lily said. “She said Lai was going to help us too.”

She had just come in when I left, Schrodinger said. I wonder what she’s up to. She’s been around a lot lately, and she’s usually closeted in with either Molly or Aunt Margie.

“Maybe she’s going to get a job there,” Zoey said. “She was saying the last time that she was getting tired of her current job.”

Lai Zhao was one of Molly’s oldest friends, and one the children adored. She was always up for an adventure, when she wasn’t out surveying the surrounding Realms for companies that paid her a lot of money to investigate things for them. She had a wicked sense of human, and Schrodinger privately thought she was as pretty as Molly. He’d enjoyed having her around the store more recently.

But he also knew there were some problems, too. Lai and her parents did not always see eye to eye, and there had been more worry in her dark eyes lately. He hoped that it would pass.

“I like Lai,” Kaylee announced, and Gideon nodded agreement. “She’s a lot of fun.”

She and Aunt Margie were waiting for them when they came into the bookstore, seated at one of the tables in the tea room and talking quietly while they sipped from steaming mugs of tea. Today, Lai was wearing her customary blue jeans, tall black boots, and a crimson sweater that made her dark hair and eyes glow. Aunt Margie, wearing a dark hunter green cardigan and a white blouse, had chosen to wear jeans as well, which meant that they were probably going to be doing something active.

“Are you guys ready to work?” Aunt Margie asked, grinning at them. “We’re going to change some things up this year.”

THAT was a surprise, and all seven of them gaped at her. “What do you mean?” Lily asked finally. “You’re keeping Santa’s chair, right? And the tree?”

“And you already had the mailbox delivered!” Zoey said. “How can you do things differently?”

Aunt Margie laughed. “Don’t look so worried,” she said. “I promise, the main things are the same. But Lai and I were talking, and I think it might be time to stir some of the other things up. Go and hang up your coats in the kitchen. Molly has some cider and cookies for you, and then we can start.”

After they had eaten and warmed up, the group followed Aunt Margie and Lai up to the second floor. True to her word, the main elements were still in place: the great wooden chair that Santa would sit in; the Christmas tree beside the fireplace, with white lights glowing among its branches; the stockings on the mantel; and the magical mailbox that delivered letters directly to the North Pole. Aunt Margie never admitted to how she knew Santa, but it was generally accepted that the Santa who came to CrossWinds Books every year was the real one.

“What are we going to do?” Lily asked her great aunt. “It looks the same.”

“Well, we haven’t started yet,” Lai said, grinning. “Come here.”

She led them over to the crafts table, and Schrodinger noticed there were some boxes of clear ornaments.

“The ornaments on the Christmas tree haven’t changed in over ten years,” Aunt Margie said. “It’s time for new ornaments. Do you think you guys can do that for me?”

“I think so!” Lily said, and the others nodded. “Did you have a theme you wanted us to do?”

“Nope,” Aunt Margie said. She looked at Lai. “Did you?”

Lai pursed her lips and thought about it for a minute. “Well, it’s been white ornaments for a long time,” she said finally. “It might be nice to have a bit of color.”

“I liked the trees we did for the nursing home,” Zoey said, looking at the table. “It had color, but not brilliant color.” She started to rummage amid the supplies. “Oh, and look! I thought I remembered these!” She pulled out a package of nests. “We could do a woodland theme!”

“Sounds lovely! We’ll leave you to it!” Aunt Margie said. “Lai, if you want to join me.”

The kids barely noticed them leave. All of them were digging through the supplies, and plotting.

Do you think we could color some of the smaller clear ornaments and put them in the nests? Like candy? Schrodinger said. That way, we don’t have to worry about them getting taken or going stale.

“Good idea!” Gideon agreed. “And we can fill some of them too! Maybe with paint, or glitter!”

“Look, birds!” Kaylee said, holding up a bag that was full of richly plumed ornaments. Their bodies were covered with real feathers, and their legs were wire, so they could perch on the branches.

“And here, I found beads!” Her sister added, pulling a large coil of dark crimson beads. “They kind of look like cranberries, don’t they?”

I wonder if Molly would pop popcorn for us? Jack said. Then we could do a woodland tree inside!

Let’s go and ask! Aurora said.

Schrodinger went with them. Molly was happy to pop the corn for them, and said she’d bring them up a bag full in a bit.

“Do you guys have everything you need otherwise?” she asked. “And how big a bag of popcorn do you need?”

Schrodinger looked at Aurora and Jack. If we have extra, we can take it with us to either the vet’s or the nursing home, the hound said, shrugging. As much as you have time to make for us, Molly? If you aren’t too busy?

Molly laughed. “I’m always busy,” she teased. “But popcorn is easy. I’ll get right on it!”

She was as good as her word. Within 20 minutes, she had brought up a big paper bag full of fluffy kernels, which Lily and Zoey promptly started to string. They’d found string and good needles among the bags.

“Ruth must be a witch too,” Lily said to Zoey. “I mean, look. Everything we need is here, even if we don’t know we need it yet! Maybe she’s a craft witch!”

“That would be cool to be,” Zoey said. “Imagine never running out of paint or anything like that. It would be great!”

“I think I’d rather be a kitchen witch like Molly,” Lily said after a few minutes of thought. “We’d never go hungry!”

“Unless you got mad and burned things,” Kaylee said helpfully, and when Lily glared at her, the younger girl shrugged. “Even Molly does that sometimes.”

Well, everyone has a temper sometimes, Schrodinger said, stepping in quickly to avoid a squabble. Even Molly. What did you find, Kaylee?

She and Gideon had gone looking for things to put in the clear glass ornaments. In front of them, they had a pile of glitter, paint, beads, and other things to put in.

“Feathers!” she said now, showing him the massive boa of multi-colored feathers they’d just uncovered. “We were thinking of disassembling this and putting them in.”

“And I found holly! And berries!” Gideon added. “So it can be a real woodland tree!”


“It’s awfully quiet in here,” Drew said, sticking his head around the doorway. “I would have thought there would be children.”

“They’re upstairs, decorating the tree,” Molly said, smiling over at her handsome husband. “The floors are thick, so I can’t hear if they’re fighting or not.”

Drew chuckled. “It’s Christmas,” he reminded her. “They don’t fight during Christmas, do they?”

“Didn’t you?” Molly said. “Tormenting Nathan was my favorite part of the season.”

“True,” Drew said. “I can remember teasing Tim to see how far I could get him to go before Mom or Aunt Louise separated us.” He put his arms around her. “And what are you doing?”

“What do I usually do the week before the bake sale? I’m decorating cookies.”

And she was. Today it was snowmen, since they were a perennial favorite of the Carter’s Cove children. She’d baked the sugar cookies that morning, and had glazed them with her special icing. Now they were lined up on every single clear space she had, awaiting their black hats, buttons, smiles, and eyes; carrot noses; corn-cob pipes, and striped scarves. Molly worked in batches, piping in the features then putting them aside to let the decorations harden before she would package them into single cellophane bags.

“Can I help?” Drew offered. “I’m done at the Station today.”

“If you want to,” Molly said, looking over at him. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather go home and sleep?” She knew how busy the Gate Station was around Christmas, and the fact that there were more guests than ever coming in this year meant the entire Gate staff was on more overtime than usual.

“I can sleep later. I don’t get to help you in the kitchen often.”

His words filled her with warmth, and she again thanked whatever benevolent power had brought him from the small town in the Midwest where he’d grown up to the snowy coast of Maine and into her life. Drew was the partner she had always hoped for, but wondered if she deserved. Between him and Schrodinger, her life was pretty much perfect.

“So what’s the news?” she asked, as he picked up the black icing bag and began making buttons on the front of a snowman on the pan in front of him. She was doing scarves herself on her tray, so it was a good move.

“Well, one rumor has been confirmed,” he said. “The first of the delegates to the Snow Queen’s conference came through, and I overheard some of the talk.”

“Oh? Do tell.”

Drew sighed. “Apparently there are some in the Parliament of Realms who want to renegotiate the Roads Treaty, and want to keep certain folks out of the negotiations.”

Molly looked over at him sharply. “Which folks?”

“Depends on who you talk to,” Drew said, still making buttons. He had an intense look of concentration on his face, making him appear years younger. Molly realized that must have been what he looked like when he was Lily’s age. “We had the Consulate of Amana come through earlier today, and apparently they would be happier if the ‘so-called Free People of Yavis’ were no longer voting members in the Parliament.” His voice changed, become high and nasally. “I fail to see the advantages of allowing uncultured savages to help make decisions that they cannot even begin to understand.”

“Oh boy.” Molly shook her head, but couldn’t help giggling at his impersonation. “Jade will have her hands full. I wonder how many people she’s hosting.”

“Judging from the list we were sent, she’s got ten of the most agitated members coming. I guess she’s trying to show them how to actually behave or something.” Drew straightened up and stretched before going back to his task. “She’s got her work cut out for her, if the Consulate is typical.”

“Jade can do it.” Molly just wished she felt as confident as she sounded. “I wonder if I can help somehow.”

“Aren’t you going to see her on Thursday?” Drew asked. “Ask her then. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s anticipated you.”

“What do you mean?” Molly finished the last scarf on her tray, and put the tray with the other finished ones.

“Aren’t you catering a dinner for her?” Drew finished the buttons and slid his tray to her, so she could do noses. “I can’t believe that she doesn’t want you to use your special gifts to influence her guests.”

“I think you’re overestimating what I can do,” Molly said, flushing a little. She picked up the orange piping bag. “I just cook. It’s not anything else.”

“And that would be yet another reason I love you,” Drew said, starting another tray of buttons, mouths, and eyes. “Because you never realize the effect you have on people. You’re not just a cook, Molly. You’re magic.”

Molly couldn’t think of anything to say to that, so she bent over her own tray, and they worked in companionable silence for a while.

“Have you heard from Doug yet?” she asked presently. “Are they coming to the farm for Christmas Eve?” Drew’s cousin Doug Mathewson and his husband Tim had moved to the Cove a few years ago, and they were frequent guests at their farm with their 3-year-old son Ryan.

“Not Christmas Eve – they want to do that at their house, since Ryan’s finally old enough to enjoy it,” Drew said. “But he promised they’d be there Christmas Day for dinner. They can’t wait to see Pheobe either. Apparently that’s all that Ryan’s been talking about since they told him. She’s even edged out Santa Claus!”

“Well, Pheobe is pretty awesome,” Molly agreed. “How many kids have faery great-grandmothers, after all?”

“Truth. And she comes to see him more than once a year. Are we still on for tomorrow night?”

She nodded. “I’m going to be here for most of the day, but Corrinne is going to meet us at Indi’s after she takes the kids for pizza.”

“You mean, if I can spirit you away early enough for this, I can have a quiet dinner alone with my wife?” Drew got a thoughtful look on his face. “I think I must explore this option. I’m sure Steve or Tom or Luke owes me some time…”

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