November 30 – Advent Day 0

“But what if we really are too old?” Zoey Allard blurted suddenly, stopping and looking at her best friend.

“Too old for what?” Lily Barrett asked, also stopping. Zoey had been acting weird for the past few days, ever since she’d come back from her grandparents’ house from Thanksgiving. Now, Lily waited for her to say more.

It was snowing ever so slightly, the tiny flakes dancing around them in the still air, reminding Lily watching her aunt Molly dusting powdered sugar over one of her custom gingerbread houses. To be honest, half of her hometown of Carter’s Cove looked like a gingerbread house, especially during the Christmas season. Some people thought it was corny, old-fashioned, and or just boring.

Lily couldn’t imagine Christmas anywhere else.

“Too old for Christmas magic,” Zoey said, looking down and scuffing the toe of her winter boot through the fallen snow.

Lily stared at her, puzzled. “Explain, please,” she said. 

Zoey took a deep breath, obviously uncomfortable, and Lily was suddenly very glad it was just the two of them. Molly had sent them off to the Tin Shop to pick up some cookie box prototypes, but that could wait. This was way more important.

“I know it sounds weird,” Zoey said finally, still not looking at her best friend. “I mean, look at where we live.” She gestured vaguely at the town around them. “But we’re 16 now, Lil.”

“And?” Lily was rather honestly confused. “Molly and Drew are way older than us, and they believe.”

“Do they still get presents from Santa, though? Do they believe in him?” Zoey asked.

“Of course. Everyone in the Cove gets presents from Santa. Even Grandma and Grandpa.” Lily frowned. “I mean, come on, Zoey. You’ve MET Santa. He gave you a house. What does your age have to do with anything?” She looked closely at her friend. “What happened over Thanksgiving?”

“My cousin was a jerk. He said we were too old to believe in Santa, and that we need to grow up, and when I started to argue, my aunt got involved and told me I was too old for nonsense, and well, what if they broke the magic?” This all came out in one breath, and when Zoey finally looked at Lily, there were tears in her eyes.

“What??? Where were your parents? Never mind. They can’t break the magic.” Lily pulled Zoey into her arms, hugging her tightly. 

“They were with Grandma and didn’t find out until later, and then they yelled at my aunt,” Zoey mumbled. “But I’m so scared now.”

“Because they made you doubt?”

Zoey nodded, sniffing a bit.

Lily hugged her tighter. “Look, I can assure you, they didn’t break the magic. Do you remember when you moved here? I was totally sure that Santa wasn’t real after you told me he didn’t exist. And did that stop him from coming and giving gifts?”

“No,” Zoey mumbled.

“Then trust me. This is Carter’s Cove. Christmas is real here.” Lily grinned. “I just wish I could get your cousin here and show him the truth.”

Zoey heaved a sigh. “They’re coming the week before Christmas, and staying until New Year’s,” she said glumly. “So you’ll get your chance.”

“Oh good,” Lily said. She looked at her friend’s face. “You okay to continue?”

“Yeah, let’s go get boxes.” Zoey scrubbed a gloved hand across her face and then lifted her chin. “Do you think we’ll get an Advent calendar this year?”

“I hope so,” Lily said, as they started walking down towards Merchant’s Square. “Wouldn’t that be cool for your cousin to see?”

“I guess.” Zoey didn’t sound enthusiastic, but then she said, “Well, actually, I hope so. Maybe it would help him not be such a jerk.”

“How old is he?”

“Seventeen, and he’s been terrible since he got sick. So freaking mean to everyone.”

“What did he get?” Lily asked. “I mean, getting sick sucks, so I get it.”

“I’m not really sure, since they don’t talk much about it, but he’s had stomach problems since he was a kid, and he’s always been skinny, but now he’s gained a ton of weight, and he’s just nasty about everything.” Zoey shook her head. “Let’s talk about something else, because I don’t want to depress both of us. We’ll just have to deal with him when he gets here.”

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When the two girls turned the corner and entered the Merchant’s Square, a shadow that had been following them at a discreet distance detached itself from a doorway and paused before turning away. That had been a very interesting conversation, and he wanted to make sure that certain people were aware of it.

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