December 1

Are you kidding? Schrodinger Barrett raised his head, looking at his friend Jack with horrified eyes. The third member of their group, Aurora the husky, was out at daycare, as she was still young enough to want spend her days romping and playing, rather than settling next to the woodstove in the tea room at Crosswind Books with the older hound and the Crosscat.

Aurora said this cousin has always been a bit of a jerk, but yeah. She and Lily were talking about it last night after they thought Kaylee and I were asleep, Jack said, resting his greying muzzle on his paws. Apparently he spent the rest of the day making snide comments about Santa, and now she’s worried that the magic is broken somehow.

Well, I can kind of understand, Schrodinger said. If you haven’t grown up with the magic, maybe it does fade away.

Look at Caliban, or Jack Frost, before Molly got to him, Jack said. You can grow up with it and have it sour. The hound looked at the door to the kitchen, where Molly McIntyre was busy baking. They’d both been banished, as Molly was trying to catch up on her cookies for the town craft fair that was happening in two days. Both she and Drew had been sick over Thanksgiving, and it had set her back farther than she’d wished.

True, Schrodinger said. Then, to change the subject, he said, What do you think our calendar will be this year?

I have no idea, Jack admitted. There have been so many different ones!

Which was true. Schrodinger was undecided himself on which one he liked best, although having been a part of the one that Drew had given Molly the first year they were together was high on his list. I’ve been trying to think, he said. We’ve had a castle, and a painting, and —

He was interrupted by the front door to Crosswinds Books, which blew open with a crash, sending snowflakes and cold, sweet air roaring in. “Hello the bookstore!” shouted the giant of a man who stood there, black beard flecked with snow, his pirate hat (festively adorned with holly and a silver feather) tilted rakishly on his head, and his boots stained with salt. “Can a poor sailor get a cup of something hot to warm cold bones?”

Pavel! Both Schrodinger and Jack sprang up shouting the pirate captain’s name joyously. The noise, coupled with the wind, brought Molly out from her kitchen.

“You certainly know how to make an entrance,” she said wryly, as she looked pointedly at the open door behind him. “It’s too bad there was only us here to see it. School isn’t out for another hour.”

“Well, damn.” Pavel looked properly abashed as he closed the front door. “I must have gotten my times mixed up.”

“Must have,” Molly said, and then relented and laughed, enfolding him in a hug. “Come on back, you old rascal, and I’ll make you a cup of tea.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be off today?” Pavel asked, as the four of them went back into the kitchen and Molly pulled out mugs of hot water to set on the island. Schrodinger loved to watch her in her kitchen as she moved gracefully, choosing the right tea for everyone and then setting out a plate of tea bread slices. Jack declined tea, and chose to settle in the pet bed Molly kept in the corner in case anyone needed a quiet spot away from the hustle and bustle. Schrodinger looked over to see if he needed help, but Jack shook his head, so the Crosscat jumped up onto his favorite stool and let the steam from the mug of Earl Grey wreath around him.

“Normally, yes, but since the craft fair is Saturday, I’m working today instead, and Sarah will be in to take care of the tea room Saturday,” Molly said. “How were the southern seas?”

Pavel grimaced. “Wet. Rainy. Grumpy. I was half-tempted to come kidnap you to bring some joy to them. I think the crew was happier than I was to pull back in here.”

You would have taken me too, right? Schrodinger demanded.

“Of course! And Drew, if I could have managed it! You’re a package deal, aren’t you?” Pavel said, and mollified, Schrodinger settled back down.

He knew that somewhere inside the pirate captain’s voluminous coat was a present for them, waiting for the rest of their group to get there. He also knew that no amount of coaxing or teasing would get Pavel to give he and Jack any clues. So he sat, sipped his tea, and listened to Molly and Pavel talk about the pirate’s latest trip, and what he’d seen.

It didn’t seem long before the front door opened again and more voices filled the air. Lily, her little sister Kaylee, Zoey, and Kaylee’s best friend Gideon Fable, along with Aurora, piled into the kitchen, their faces bright with cold and excitement.

“We saw the sleigh outside, and knew you’d be here!” Kaylee shouted happily, throwing herself at Pavel. “Did you miss us?”

“Always!” he replied, laughing and sweeping all four of the children into his arms. “When are you shipping out with me?”

“As soon as Mom and Dad let me!” she said, and Molly chuckled at that.

“You have to finish school first, Kaylee-bug,” Molly said, and Kaylee stuck her tongue out at her.

Zoey looked hopefully up at Pavel. “Did you bring it?” she asked quietly, and Schrodinger caught the slight edge of fear in her voice. “Did you bring us an Advent calendar?”

Pavel settled down and looked shrewdly at her. “What day is it, Miss Allard?”

Schrodinger was surprised at the change in his voice. Looking around, he wasn’t the only one, but then he looked closer at Pavel, and saw the twinkle deep in the pirate’s eyes.

“December first,” Zoey said, after swallowing deeply.

“And, in your years here in the Cove, have I ever shown up on December first without an Advent calendar?” Pavel continued, setting his hands on his hips.

“No-oo,” she admitted, dropping her head.

“Indeed. And this year will continue that unbroken condition, no matter what you may have heard otherwise.” Pavel stood up and reached into a deep inner pocket. “You shouldn’t believe everything you hear, Zoey. The magic will always work here.” When she looked up at him, he smiled gently at her. “I promise you.”

And he pulled a wrapped box about the size of an old-styled cash box from his coat, handing it to her. The others clustered around, looking at the words written on top of the brown paper.

“Merry Christmas to you all!” it read. “We hope you enjoy this! Jade and Jack” Two silver-tipped gold leaves were stamped below the names.

“So, open it!” Lily urged, and Zoey ripped the first shred of paper off. With everyone helping, the new Advent calendar was soon revealed.

“It’s a chest!” Gideon said, his eyes wide.

It was, a beautifully carved wooden chest with an intricate lock holding the lid shut. Zoey set it down on the floor and they all pored over it, looking for the first number that they were sure was hidden within it.

Oh, I see it! Down here! Aurora’s sharp eyes had found the little number, and she carefully nosed the spot. The carved number glowed, and with a sharp click, a small silver key fell to the ground.

Zoey picked up the key, and put it in the lock. It slid in and she turned it. Another click, and the lock opened. She pushed up the lid carefully.

Within the chest were new aprons, covered in snowflakes and autumn leaves, for each of them, and a small bag for each as well, with their names on them. Inside were all sorts of decorations for cookies.

“We’re helping Molly today!” Kaylee said, pulling her apron over her head. “Which means we get cookies for dinner!”

Once they were all attired, Zoey shut the lid of the chest. To their amazement, the lock clicked securely back in place, and a small number they hadn’t noticed on the dial slid to “2.”

“Are you ready to decorate?” Molly said, grinning at them. “I’ve got a lot of cookies to get ready for Saturday!”

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