(advent) Sunday, December 16

“Wow, look at all the people here!” Zoey paused in the doorway to the second floor of CrossWinds Books. “It’s packed!”

“Why are you surprised?” Lily said from behind her. “Santa’s coming today! Of course it’s busy!” She nudged her friend forward. “We need to get moving. The others are right behind us, and these trays are heavy.”

“Well, they won’t be when we carry them back down later,” Zoey said, moving into the crowded room. “Excuse me, folks!”

The two girls took their trays loaded with Molly’s Christmas shortbread and chocolate chip cookies over to the table on the far side of the room, almost immediately across from the large wooden chair that Nathan and Drew had pulled up earlier in the day. Molly had told them that the chair was specially set up for this every year, and had been since she could remember. There were pictures in Mrs. Barrett’s house of Molly and Nathan back when they were Lily and Kaylee’s age, sitting on Santa’s lap. Other towns claimed to have Santa visit them, but Lily knew that the real Santa came to Carter’s Cove. He was on very good terms with Aunt Margie.

They set the trays down with the others they had already brought up and then settled themselves behind the table. Gideon and Kaylee were soon with them, with Molly’s precious box of teas and her box of mismatched mugs. The large carafes of hot water, hot cider, and the one labeled “Mulled Wine,” watched over by DC, were already there.

“This is going to be cool,” Gideon said, looking out at the crowd.

“What is?” Kaylee asked him.

“Helping Molly like this,” he answered. “I like to help, and this means that she doesn’t have to do it all herself.”

“Yeah, I guess.”
He looked at her. “What’s wrong?”

“I just hope Santa doesn’t leave before we get to talk to him,” Kaylee said.

“We will,” Gideon reassured her. “Molly promised.”

And Santa was told you would be helping, Schrodinger said, coming over to them. He put his front paws on the table so he could see everything. Wow, this is amazing, even for Molly!

In addition to the trays of shortbread and chocolate chip cookies, there were slices of dark, fragrant fruitcake, the candied fruits in it glowing like rare jewels; sugar cookies frosted to look like snowflakes; rows of gingerbread soldiers; and cranberry orange tea bread slices. If anyone was going to go home unsatisfied, it wouldn’t be because there wasn’t enough food.

“And after Santa is gone, we can do the Advent calendar,” Zoey said, as the room continued to fill. There wasn’t just kids and parents either. Everyone in Carter’s Cove wanted to talk to Santa. “I wonder when he’ll arrive?”

As if he’d been waiting for those words, the air in the room changed, becoming almost electrified as whispers spread in ever-expanding ripples. “Santa’s here! Santa’s here!”

Indeed, he was. Every year he dressed a little differently, but always the blue eyes and long snowy white beard were the same. This year, his long coat was bright red, like a cardinal, and trimmed in fur so white and soft that it seemed made of snowflakes. A large, wide black leather belt wrapped around his midsection, and his boots gleamed in the light of the lamps. “Good afternoon, Carter’s Cove!” he boomed, as the crowd parted before him, opening up a path to the great wooden chair. Two elves, dressed in miniature versions of his outfit, followed him, and took up positions to either side.

The queue formed quickly, and for the next three hours, people waited to sit on Santa’s knee, even the adults. And then they thronged around the refreshment table. Lily and Zoey kept busy running up and down the stairs to get refills for the cookies, cake, and bread. Molly’s gift of kitchen witchery meant that she could keep the carafes full, for which Lily was grateful. Carrying the trays were hard enough!

On one of her trips, she paused to catch her breath and glanced over at the Advent calendar. The little cat was still in the dining room, but he was prowling around the table, looking anxiously out at the room every so often.

“Don’t worry,” Lily said. “We’re just busy right now. Once Santa is gone, we’ll be back down. We haven’t forgotten you.”

That perked him up. He jumped up onto one of the dining room chairs, curled up, and went to sleep.

I wonder how they managed to put him in there, she thought, as she carried her tray back up the stairs. Is he actually a real cat? Or is he just magic?

Did they tell him what they were doing? She hoped so. It would be cruel to think of a creature trapped in the spell, and sternly shook her head. Jade and Jack wouldn’t do that, silly. But still, I wonder what will happen to him at the end of Advent.

Finally, the line thinned out, and the happy talking died down. Molly sent the four children and three animals over to see Santa, who was talking to the elf on his right.

“You have been very busy!” Santa boomed, smiling at them. “Do you want to tell me what you would like for Christmas?”

Lily gestured to the others. “You guys go first,” she said. “I need a bit to think.”

As she waited her turn, her thoughts again turned back to the cat in the calendar. When Schrodinger had jumped down, she climbed up onto Santa’s lap.

“And have you been good this year, Lily?” he asked her, his deep voice full of jollity.

“Pretty good,” Lily said honestly. “I did fight with Kaylee a bit.” There was no use lying to Santa, after all.

“That’s good,” Santa agreed. “What would you like for Christmas?”

Lily leaned over and whispered into his ear. His face became still as he listened.

“That’s a very specific wish,” he said at last. “Are you sure that’s all you want?”

Lily nodded. “It’s the only thing that is important.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Santa said. “But it may be beyond even me.”

“Really?” Her eyes widened. “But you’re SANTA CLAUS.”

“Everyone has a limit, even me,” Santa told her. “But in this case, perhaps I can help.” He smiled at her. “Merry Christmas, Lily.”

“Thank you, Santa!” Lily jumped down from his lap and ran to help the others carry things down stairs. If Santa could grant this wish, she decided, she would be even better next year than she had been this year.

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