Posts Tagged ‘advent’

(advent) December 21 – snow

Slowly, surely, I’m getting caught up!  Slowly!

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Molly looked around the kitchen one last time. “I think everything’s all set.”

It’s not like you haven’t written everything down for them anyways, Schrodinger observed from his stool. You’d think you were leaving for a week or more, not just one day.

“Well, I wanted to make sure I’d covered every possibility,” Molly said. “They’re being wonderful in covering for me tonight. Especially tonight. I don’t know how they swung it, since it’s the night before the Ball.”

The Snow Queen’s Annual Christmas Ball was potentially the most important event of the Christmas season in Carter’s Cove. For one night, the entire Cove shut down, and everyone donned their best clothes to dance on a magical ballroom floor in the middle of the Snow Queen’s clearing. The fact that Mal had agreed to let Luke and Steve leave the Gate Station to cover the tea shop for three hours before Aunt Margie closed the store for the night was nothing short of amazing. Especially since they were already short-handed without Drew.

It’s because they asked, Schrodinger said. And because it’s for you.

“You make me sound like someone important,” Molly told him, pulling out the box of spare mugs from the pantry and putting it on the island. “I’m just me.”

You’re the one who makes sure everyone is happy, Schrodinger told her. You’re the one who goes out with cookies and baked goods when someone isn’t feeling well. You’re the one who is always able to help out with cookies or cupcakes or something at the last minute.

“Now you’re making me sound like a saint,” Molly said, laughing a little because she was blushing. “I’m most definitely not. I’m just Molly.”

“Never just Molly,” Luke said, coming into the kitchen. There was snow in his dark hair and covering his jacket. Steve, coming in behind him, looked frozen and miserable.

“Just Molly,” she said firmly. “Let me get you guys some tea to warm up.”

“Bless you,” Steve said, shedding his jacket. “I’ve never been so cold in my life. I don’t know how you guys handle it.”

“It’s been really cold this month,” Molly said, pouring hot water into two of her bigger mugs. She set the large tea box in front of them. “Colder than usual.”

“That’s what most folks have been saying,” Steve said. “I thought they were just pulling my leg.”

She shook her head. “No, I don’t remember it being this cold in a long time.”

You really don’t know why it’s been so cold? Schrodinger said, and all three of them turned to look at him. Really? When they shook their heads, he sighed. Old Man Winter has been in and out of the Cove for the last ten days. Did you think he was just called that for no reason?

“Point,” Luke said. “So he really IS Old Man Winter? I thought he was a myth.”

How many myths walk into this store every day? Schrodinger said. How many come through the Gate?

“I guess I never really thought of it that way,” Molly said. “Well, at least we’ll have a white Christmas.” She didn’t finish the sentence out loud, not wanting to worry Luke or Steve, but in her head, she wondered if it would be the last Christmas the Cove would celebrate.

“Molly?” Luke was looking at her, and for one minute, she thought she’d voiced her fears out loud. Then he held up her note, and she smiled. “You’re not expecting us to bake, are you?”

“No.” Molly chuckled, and took the recipe she’d left on top of the note from him. “I need to take that home. There’s plenty in the tins behind you. Here’s the tea.” And she tapped the box in front of them. “Aunt Margie says she’s closing at 6 tonight, so you should be all set to run back to the Station.” She patted another box on the counter. “Take this back with you. It should salve some of Mal’s annoyance.”

Both Luke and Steve’s eyes lit up at that. “Is that…?”

She nodded. “Homemade sugar cookies and almond brittle.”

“We’ll make sure he gets…some,” Steve said, and Luke grinned.

“He knows it’s coming, so make sure they don’t all get eaten,” Molly said, and laughed as their faces fell. “There’s plenty, I promise!” She shrugged into her coat, and picked up her backpack and her gloves. “I’m going to be home, so feel free to call me if you need anything.”

“Just one thing before you go,” Luke said, dipping his hand into his pocket. He pulled out a small white box and handed it to her. “I promised I would get you this.”

Molly frowned. The box was too small to be an ornament. “What is it?”

“Look,” he said.

She opened the box and gasped. Inside, nestled on black velvet, were a glistening crystal snowflake necklace with matching earrings.

“He said he didn’t know what color dress you were wearing this year, but figured this would be something that would go with everything,” Luke said.

“It would,” Molly agreed, drawing one finger along the slick surface of a snowflake. “It definitely would.”

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Drew pulled the scarf up around his mouth to keep the icy wind from sucking the very air from his lungs and plunged out into the snowstorm that had blown up overnight. He could barely see in front of him, but he had to make sure the horses and Ember were holding up okay. Luckily, the courtyard wasn’t that big, and he could see the vague outline of the stables.

After several minutes of straining against the wind, he stumbled into the stable doors and managed to get himself inside. The wind howled outside, but the stable was still warm.

You didn’t have to come out, Ember said to him, as he shook off the snow. This stable is very solid.

“True, but you can’t get the food for the horses,” he said, stomping his feet to get warm. “They don’t mind you staying on your side of the stable, but I think they’d go insane and hurt themselves if you tried to fill their grain buckets.”

You’re a good man, Drew, Ember said, watching him fill the grain buckets and water buckets for the horses. They would have been okay, though.

“Depends on how long the storm lasts,” Drew said. “I’d rather not have to go out more than once.”

“Storm will blow over before morning.”

Drew turned as Old Man Winter stepped into view, smoke from his long pipe hanging lazily in the still air. It was amazing, really – how the air in the stable was so peaceful, in contrast to the howling outside the walls. “That’s good to know,” he said, and finished filling the grain buckets.

“Thought you might like to know, since you’ll be leaving.” Old Man Winter turned to go.

“Wait, what?” Drew stepped towards him. “What did you just say?”

“You’re leaving tomorrow,” Old Man Winter repeated, puffing on his pipe. “You might want to pack.”

“I thought I had to stay here until you made a decision about the Gate,” Drew said. “Have you made a decision?”

“Nope,” Old Man Winter said.

“No what?” Drew watched as Old Man Winter walked out into the back part of the stables. “No what?”

There was no answer. Drew ran back there, and then cursed.

Old Man Winter was gone.

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Molly and Schrodinger walked home through the cold air and the softly falling snowflakes. It was a quiet afternoon, and not too many people were out. Even her footfalls sounded muffled.

You’re very quiet, Schrodinger said.

“There’s not much to say,” she replied. The box with the crystal necklace and earrings weighed heavily in her pocket. “And it’s too nice to talk.”

He’ll come home. He promised you that he’d be at the Ball.

“I know.” She was getting tired of saying that, but what else could she say?

They turned the corner and walked down the block towards their own home. Molly opened the mail box, pulled out the letters and a small box addressed to her, and then went up the stairs.

Inside her apartment, she put the mail on the table near the small tree with its hand-beaded ornaments, and hung up her coat. Schrodinger went into the living room while she sorted through the mail.

The box was wrapped in brown paper, with her name and address printed on it in black ink. There was no postmark, no return address. Molly frowned and opened it.

Inside, a little black and silver ornament lay cushioned on packing peanuts. No notes, no nothing. Just the ornament.

Molly sat and looked at the falling snow in silence for a long, long time.

(advent) December 20 – only 5 days left!

Whatever shall we do when it’s over??? 😉

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Drew? Do you have a moment?

“Sure,” Drew said, blinking. He’d never heard Ember actually sound so…concerned. “Let me just throw a coat on.”

He’d been sitting at the computer in the library, going over his Facebook and looking at the pictures from yesterday. There were a ton of pictures, each with the same elements: Old Man Winter, dressed as Father Christmas, holding various small children up to pet two enormous reindeer. Now, as he shrugged into his coat, Drew wondered just what kind of magic Molly had been weaving into the cookies and scones she’d fed the old man.

Ember wasn’t in the stable – she was in the yard, stretching her wings out in the brisk air. Drew stopped and watched the sunlight bounce off her delicate membranes and bright scales. She was truly a beautiful creature.

Thank you, she said, and he started. But I didn’t ask you out here to admire me. I’m worried.

“Worried?” Drew asked, coming over to her. “About what? Your leg?”

No, the leg is fine. She stretched up onto her hind legs to show him. I’m worried about Old Man Winter.

“Why?”

He’s acting oddly, the dragon said, furling and unfurling her wings nervously. I don’t know what he’s planning, but I haven’t seen him like this in a long time. And I’ve known him a very long time.

Drew leaned against the wall, considering. Ember was right – Old Man Winter had torn out of the house yesterday, dressed in what could only be called a Father Christmas outfit. He’d come home with one of Molly’s gingerbread houses, which he’d set out on the dining room table, and then he’d gone out again, without any conversation with Drew. But, and this had been the really odd part, he’d been smiling.

And laughing.

“What do you think?” he asked her. “Has he ever acted like this before?”

The dragon didn’t answer for a long time, and when she did, a chill rushed through Drew.

Once, long ago. He was like this right before he destroyed a town. Almost as if he were enjoying the last minutes of a doomed civilization…

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It was flurrying again outside – short bursts of tiny snowflakes that lasted maybe 15 minutes, then gave way to sunshine for a bit before coming back to fill the air with little white flakes again. Molly and Schrodinger hurried along the street, heading for the downtown area to finish their shopping.

“Okay, so we still need to get Mom’s gift, and something for the Yankee swap at the store,” Molly said, trying to look at her list and avoid other people at the same time. The sidewalks were full of holiday shoppers and people looking at all the displays. It was hard to believe there were only five days left until Christmas. Where had the month gone?

We also need to pick up the last part of Drew’s gift, Schrodinger said. It was supposed to be in today.

“Right.” Molly added another note to her list. “And we need to stop at the grocery store and get the dried cherries for the scones Mom asked me to make for Christmas morning.” She sighed. “It’s a good thing the kids are done already – we won’t be able to carry much more!”

We can make two trips, if we need, Schrodinger said. We have all day.

“Yes, we do.”

They hit the grocery store first, since it was on the way, and the cherries wouldn’t be hurt by walking around all day. Also, Molly didn’t want to have anything like chocolate sneaking into her bag – she had too much at home already.

After the grocery store, they ducked into the Hammered Dulcimer, to pick up the music box that her mother had been lusting over since September. It was a little Irish cottage, and when you wound it up, it played a lovely little Irish lullaby. They’d seen it when shopping back in the fall, and Molly had arranged with Russ, the owner, to put it aside for her. The bottom of the music box was a jewelry box, and she knew her father had a special something ready to go in there.

“Thanks, Russ!” she called as they went back out into the snow. He waved to her and then turned back to his next customer.

Where now? Schrodinger asked, as they stood on the sidewalk, next to the Dulcimer’s window. Molly stared down at her list, trying to decide which store to go into.

“Let’s go see Catherine first,” she said finally. “I need to put in my order for more boxes, and I want to see what she has for Christmas ornaments.”

You mean we don’t have enough?

“Not for us, silly cat,” Molly laughed, weaving her way through the crowds. “For gifts! I want to get some little ones to tie on the presents for the Trio and the techs. I think they’d like that.”

Instead of the edible tags?

“No, with them.” Molly had started a tradition about five years ago of putting edible tags made with her special sugar cookie dough and royal icing on all her friends’ packages. “If I stopped doing the tags, I think I’d be lynched!”

Probably.

They threaded their way up the street to the Tin Shop, which was one of Molly’s favorite stores. Catherine Taylor not only gathered the best little boxes and bags to put all sorts of things in, but she collected local artists and interesting pieces from every realm she could get a finger in. The stock changed almost every day, it seemed, and there was always something new to find.

Today, Catherine had eschewed regular lights in the store. When Molly pushed open the door, she and Schrodinger entered into a world of intertwined Christmas lights. Not flickering, but twined in such a way that they spread pools of colored light over the inventory.

It was like walking into a rainbow.

“Oh wow,” Molly breathed, as she and Schrodinger made their way through the store, passing from color to color. The lights sparkled off beads, glass, silver and gold, casting amazing shadows on everything. “This is awesome.”

Yeah.

They found Catherine at the back, talking to an older woman who had a tray full of beads spread out in front of her. She had a small Ott lamp attached to the edge of the tray table, and a wine bottle half sheathed in a shining beaded net glowed in the light from the lamp.

“Molly! Schrodinger!” Catherine grinned at them. “Merry Christmas! I’ve been waiting for you!”

“Merry Christmas,” Molly said, but her attention was riveted on the bottle. The old woman smiled at her, motioning her closer. Then Catherine’s words sunk in. “Waiting for me? Why?”

“Well, for one thing, you haven’t ordered any boxes in nearly a month,” Catherine said. “I’d assume you’d be running low.” There was a twinkle in her eyes, however, that made Molly wonder.

“And for another thing?” Molly said, and Schrodinger cocked his head to one side, waiting for Catherine’s answer.

But it wasn’t Catherine who spoke. Rather, the older woman next to her chuckled and reached into something hidden at her feet. “So, you’re Molly. I’ve looked forward to meeting you.” And she pulled out a small ornament, wrapped with a sparkling net of pale pink beads, and handed it to Molly.

“You do lovely work,” Molly said, looking at both the ornament and the wine bottle. “How did you start doing it?”

“I’ve been doing this for years,” the older woman said, and held out her hand. “I’m Laura.” Then she looked down at Schrodinger. “And you must be Schrodinger. I’ve heard a lot about you. How is the Librarian doing?”

You…you know the Librarian? Schrodinger’s eyes went wide. Really?

“We’ve been friends for a long time,” Laura told him. “But I haven’t seen her lately. I’ll have to remedy that after the New Year.”

Schrodinger looked stunned.

Molly, however, was still looking at Laura’s ornament and the bottle. “And Drew commissioned you to make these for me.”

“Yes.” Laura smiled faintly. “He saw one of my bottles, and asked me if I would do ornaments. He said there was someone who needed them.”

“Someone who needed them,” Molly repeated. “Yes, he was right.”

(advent) December 19 – Gingerbread!

I need to make some gingerbread….

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“There, we’re all set!”

Molly tucked the last box of gingerbread into the large picnic baskets and looked around the kitchen. “Is there anything else we need?”

“You’re procrastinating,” Sue said. She picked up one of the baskets. “Come on!”

“Okay, okay!” Molly grabbed her coat from the rack and shrugged into it. “Wait for me!”

Sue and Noemi were going to watch the tea room while Molly and Schrodinger delivered the last of the Christmas gingerbread orders in Sue’s car. The CrossCat was already waiting out front, watching the car.

Or he was supposed to be. However, when Molly and Sue got outside, he wasn’t near the car. In fact, he wasn’t anywhere they could see.

“Schrodinger?” Molly called, setting the basket she was carrying down on the cold sidewalk. “Schrodinger? Where are you?”

I’ll be right there.

The CrossCat’s voice was…odd. Thin, as if he was very far away. Molly frowned. How could he be far away? He’d just come outside not three minutes before them. What’s going on?

Don’t worry, Schrodinger said, and this time, the voice was stronger. I’ll explain when we get there.

“We?” Molly said, exchanging a look with Sue, who was staring at her.

“What about we?” Sue said, and Molly realized she hadn’t heard Schrodinger.

“Schrodinger said he was coming back, but he said when WE get there,” Molly said. She bit her lip. “Who would he have gone off with?”

“In this town?” Sue laughed. “I don’t have time to list the names!”

“Yes, but you’d think he’d tell me who he was with,” Molly said. “It’s just weird.”

“I think you’re getting paranoid,” Sue said, and then shivered. “I’m heading back inside.”

“Thanks again for watching the tea room,” Molly said, and Sue waved as she dashed back into the store and warmth.

I don’t remember a winter this cold in a while, Molly realized, as she waited for Schrodinger to reappear with whomever he was with. There hasn’t been a ton of snow, but it’s been cold.

She looked at the picnic baskets on the ground next to Sue’s car. I should load those in with the others. But something nudged at her, so instead, she clasped her arms around her and looked around.

Sorry! Schrodinger’s voice was abruptly a lot louder in her head and Molly winced. We’re almost there!

“Who’s we?” she asked, but her question was pulled away by a rush of wind that raced past her. Her eyes watered and by the time she’d blinked them clear, there was a huge sledge coming down the street, pulled by…reindeer?

“You have got to be kidding me,” Molly said, shaking her head as Old Man Winter, dressed in what could only be described as a Father Christmas outfit (complete with holly twined around his head, she noted), pulled to a stop in front of her. Two massive reindeer, with holly wrapped around their antlers, stomped their feet and shook their heads, making the jingle bells on their trappings sound loudly in the suddenly quiet street. Schrodinger sat next to Old Man Winter, nearly vibrating with excitement.

Won’t this be awesome? He said to Molly. What better way to deliver the gingerbread? Especially to Sarah! Sarah will love this!

“Schrodinger said you needed help,” Old Man Winter said, and Molly saw the sly smile on his face. “And, well, I wasn’t doing anything today…”

“And just happened to have a sledge and a couple of reindeer hanging around?” she said, trying not to smile herself.

“They needed the exercise,” Old Man Winter said. “Fat reindeer are just not good things.”

“Of course.” Molly gave up and laughed. “You look amazing.”

“Do you think so?” The old man actually preened. “Thank you. Now, I think we have a lot of gingerbread to deliver, and I can’t stay too long. Let’s get things loaded.”

They loaded the baskets from the sidewalk and the car onto the sledge, and then Molly ran in quickly to give Sue her car keys. “But how will you deliver them?” Sue asked, confused.

“Old Man Winter,” Molly said, and ran back outside before Sue could ask anything else.

“Let’s go!” she said, hopping onto the sledge and grabbing a handhold.

Old Man Winter shook the reins. “Where to?”

It was amazing, traveling on the sledge. The wind whipped past them, and people all through the small town stopped and stared. Schrodinger was perched up front, right next to Old Man Winter, who actually laughed out loud as children pointed to him excitedly. Molly, watching him, wondered if this was actually still the same grumpy man who had come into her tea room only ten days before.

At the first house on her list, she pulled the box containing a full dozen gingerbread soldiers out of the basket and motioned to Old Man Winter to follow her and Schrodinger. He took the box without her prompting and knocked on the door.

Little Aiden Miller opened the door, and his eyes widened. “Santa?” he whispered, awestruck.

“Merry Christmas,” Old Man Winter said, handing him the ribbon-wrapped box. The little boy took it, never taking his eyes off the figure in front of him. In the background, Molly saw Aiden’s mother with her hand over her mouth.

“Momma, come see! It’s Santa!” Aiden said, turning around. “Santa!”

“Yes, yes it is,” Mrs. Miller said, coming forward to take the box from him. “But he and Molly and Schrodinger have a lot of boxes to deliver today.”

“Schrodinger?” Aiden’s attention was diverted, instantly. Santa was cool, but Schrodinger was his favorite. “Can I go too?”

Not today, Schrodinger said, rubbing his head on the boy’s torso. Maybe another time.

Aiden followed them out on the porch and gaped at the sledge and the reindeer. “Wow.”

“Would you like to pet them?” Old Man Winter asked, and the boy nodded. “Then get your coat, quickly!”

Molly had never seen a three-year-old move that fast. Aiden and his sister Alyssa came out into the yard and Old Man Winter lifted them up one at a time to pet the velvety noses of the reindeer. All the while, their mother was snapping pictures.

It was the same at every house they stopped at during the afternoon. Molly fretted a bit about how long Sue and Noemi could stay to cover the tea room, but there was no way to hurry up. Old Man Winter seemed to be enjoying it, and so did Schrodinger, so she surrendered and concentrated on making sure they hit everyone they were supposed to.

The last house on their list was Sarah’s, and Schrodinger was vibrating with excitement as they turned down the driveway. Jamie, his wife Carolyn and Sarah lived on a small farm on the outskirts of town; Molly had made certain that Jamie was on duty before she’d gone out, so he wouldn’t know about the gingerbread. As the sledge drew up to the house, Schrodinger jumped out and ran towards the door, shouting Sarah’s name.

Come and see! He jumped up onto the porch and stretched up, ringing the doorbell. Come and see!

Sarah opened the door. “What, Schrodinger? What am I seeing?” Then she raised her face. “I feel wind. Did you bring Father Christmas, Schrodinger?”

I did! Come outside and see!

Molly came up onto the porch and handed the first box to Carolyn, who was staring at the sledge in the yard with her mouth open. “Merry Christmas,” she said, grinning.

“I didn’t believe the rumors,” Carolyn said. “You really are delivering with Santa Claus.” When Molly looked at her curiously, she added, “It’s all over Twitter and Facebook.”

“I should have known,” Molly said. “No wonder Sue and Noemi haven’t called me.”

She brought the other box up to the house as Sarah and Schrodinger rushed down the steps, then watched with Carolyn as Old Man Winter lifted Sarah up to touch the reindeer. She ran her sensitive fingers over their soft muzzles, over their decorated antlers and their riggings, building a picture of them in her head. It was hard to remember sometimes that Sarah was blind.

“Thank you,” Carolyn said, as Old Man Winter set Sarah down. “She’ll never forget this.”

“Thank Schrodinger,” Molly said. “I was as surprised as you when they showed up. We were supposed to use Sue’s car.”

“This is much better,” Carolyn said.

Sarah came up to Molly, her face shining. “You brought it! And Father Christmas!”

“I brought the gingerbread, but Schrodinger brought Father Christmas,” Molly said, grinning as Sarah hugged her. “I’m glad you liked it!”

“I did! That was awesome!” Sarah pulled back and then stuck her hand in her pocket. “And I have something for you!”

She pulled an ornament from her jacket pocket and handed it to Molly. “Drew asked me to give you this.”

Molly smiled. Today’s ornament was a caramel brown in color, with bright red and green beads at the junctions.

“What color is it?” Sarah asked.

“It’s a gingerbread color,” Molly said. “Just like the houses I made.”

“That’s so cool,” Sarah said, and grinned. “Thank you for making the gingerbread for us!”

“You’re very welcome!” Molly said, and she and Schrodinger headed back to the sledge, where Old Man Winter was waiting for them.

He called out, “Merry Christmas!” to Sarah and her mother, and then shook the reins. The reindeer leapt forward, and they were off again.

When they pulled up in front of the bookstore, Molly told Old Man Winter, “Wait here, just a minute!” She ran into the store, grabbed the box she’d left on the island in the kitchen and ran back out again.

He looked surprised. “What is this?”

Molly smiled. “Merry Christmas,” she said. “And thank you.”

Old Man Winter opened the box. Inside was a gingerbread cottage, iced and decorated to look like an old New England home in a snowy setting. Along the edges were gingerbread men, iced as well. He closed the box and stowed it underneath the front of the sledge, then turned to her. To Molly’s surprise, there were tears in his eyes.

“Thank you,” he said, and then, before she could say anything, he shook the reins again. She stepped back as the sledge took off down the street.

At the end of the block, it vanished.

(advent) December 18 – Tuesday

Don’t be surprised if there are several entries tonight.  I’m trying to catch up.

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“At least it’s good and cold today,” Molly said, as she helped Schrodinger put his coat on. “And it has been for the last week, so we don’t have to worry about falling through the ice.”

As if Indi would even open the skating cove if the ice wasn’t safe, Schrodinger said. Then he saw what else Molly had in her hands and started to back away. No! Absolutely not!

“It’s cold out!” Molly said. “Do you want frostbite on your pads?”

I’ve never had a problem, and I’ve been outside for all winter in the past, he retorted, still backing away. I’m not wearing booties!

“Jack has a set now,” Molly coaxed.

Jack is a dog! I am not, and I will not wear them!

Molly tried for the next five minutes to convince the CrossCat to put the woolen boots on, but he categorically refused, and she finally gave up, after warning him, “I don’t want to hear that your feet are cold!”

If my feet are cold, I’ll go sit beside the bonfire! Schrodinger shot back, and despite herself, Molly laughed.

“Fine, fine.” She tucked the woolen booties back into the mitten basket next to the front door, and grabbed the mittens her mother had knit her for the winter. “Are you ready to go?”

I’ve been ready.

She laughed again and they went out the front door. Pavel had stopped by earlier in the day as she and Schrodinger were assembling gingerbread houses for delivery, and invited them out to skate later that night. Given that she hadn’t skated yet this season, Molly had readily agreed.

Now, she and Schrodinger stepped out into a crystalline wonderland: one of those brilliant winter evenings when the air itself seemed to sparkle with ice, and the clouds hung low. The promise of snow danced on the stiff breeze as it swirled past them, hurrying down the sidewalk towards the sea.

As they stepped out into the cold, bells rang through the quiet street, announcing Pavel’s arrival. Molly took one look at the sleigh and laughed again. This time, Pavel had outdone himself.

The sleigh this time was black, and drawn by a black horse that tossed his head as the driver pulled him to a stop in front of them. He stamped one foot, obviously ready to run forever. The driver was in a black peacoat with a long red and green scarf wrapped tightly around his face. Pavel himself wore a black furred coat, belted in black and gold, with a black furred hat on his head. The sleigh held piles and piles of furs, which Molly and Schrodinger burrowed into happily.

“Where do you keep finding these?” Molly asked Pavel. “You can’t tell me you keep a fleet of sleighs.”

“Me? No.” Pavel winked at her. “But I have friends.”

“Do you?” she teased, and he winked at her again.

The driver shook his reins and the horse took off, happy to be moving. The bells jingled merrily as they sped along, heading out to the skating cove on the gentle Elizabeth River outside the town, named for Captain Carter’s favorite granddaughter.

Indi Sarabian and her husband ran the skating area every year, and every year they improved on the site. This year, they’d strung lights through the trees lining the inlet: white snowflake lights, which cast a gentle glow on the whole area.

Oh, I like these better than the floodlights! Schrodinger said, hooking his paws on the edge of the sleigh to boost himself up so he could see better. It looks like a snowglobe!

“It does!” Molly agreed, enchanted. “I hope they keep them!”

The sleigh drew up to the edge of the ice to let them out, drawing everyone’s attention, and Molly giggled, knowing both Pavel and Schrodinger were enjoying their grand entrance. The pirate captain and the CrossCat jumped out of the sleigh almost before it came to a stop, and Pavel pivoted in the snow to give Molly a hand out.

It was still bitterly cold, but the cove was protected from the wind by the trees. As they did every year, the Sarabians had built a big bonfire on the shore, and Schrodinger headed right over there. Molly and Pavel followed him.

The cove was free to skate on, and Indi had built a small stand where she sold hot chocolate, tea and coffee, and rented skates for those who needed. She waved to Molly and turned to say something to the small child standing beside her. As Molly and Pavel sat on one of the logs lining the edges of the cove to put their skates on, the child (Indi’s daughter Kara) brought out an old couch cushion and set it in the snow, within the warmth of the bonfire but far enough away from any stray sparks. She squealed with delight as Schrodinger hopped up on the cushion and stuck his cold nose onto her cheek in thanks.

“I see they know you here,” Pavel chuckled, standing up easily on his skates.

“It’s a small town. Everyone knows everyone,” Molly said, standing up as well. She’d gotten new skates for Christmas last year, and she, Drew and the others had gone skating until the ice had melted. But this year, there just hadn’t been time, it seemed.

She’d hoped she and Drew would have been able to go during his month off. But now, it was Pavel taking her hand and leading her out onto the ice. As they glided off into the cold night, Molly told herself her eyes were watering because of the cold.

Just the cold.

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“Thought I’d find you here.”

Drew didn’t look up from the saddle he was polishing. “It was too hot in the house.”

Old Man Winter grunted as he came further into the stable. “You could turn the heat down.”

“Or I could come out here,” Drew said, continuing to rub the leather oil into the saddle. “Which was easier. Besides, I was talking to Ember.”

Indeed, we were having quite the conversation. The dragon’s voice was dry. Quite stimulating.

“Well, I wouldn’t want to interrupt a conversation,” Old Man Winter said. “I’ll just go watch Molly and Pavel by myself.”

The cloth fell from his hand and the saddle clattered to the floor as Drew whirled around. “What?”

“Oh, that got your attention,” Old Man Winter said, scowling, but Drew saw an odd twinkle in his eyes. “Put that saddle away and come with me.”

Once he’d put the saddle and cleaning supplies away, Drew joined Old Man Winter in the main courtyard. Ember had joined them as well, to his surprise, walking easily on her healed leg.

I want to finally see Molly, she said. I’ve heard so much about her.

“How are we going to see her?” Drew asked Old Man Winter. “Are we going to the skating cove?”

“Can’t do that,” Old Man Winter grunted.

“Why not?”

“Because I’ve been there too much in the last couple of days,” the old man said. “Don’t want to screw the weather up too much.”

Drew looked at him, puzzled.

He really is Old Man Winter, Ember said. If he stays in one place for too long, it can coat the entire place in a very long, cold winter, and that isn’t always good. Why do you think he stays here?

“Oh.” There wasn’t much more to say to that. Then Drew frowned. “Why should you care? You don’t like the Cove or humanity anyways.”

“Still not right,” Old Man Winter said stiffly. “Now come on.” And he set off across the courtyard, towards what Drew had assumed was a garden. Drew was hard-pressed to keep up with him as he pushed through the wrought-iron gate and crunched through the snow.

No, not a garden. Drew saw instead it was a maze, created by snow-covered boxwood hedges. Luckily, Old Man Winter seemed to know exactly where he was going, and Drew only had to keep him in sight.

Ember was waiting for them in the center of the maze, having simply flown in. She sat in the snow next to a pool of oddly unfrozen water, which was apparently Old Man Winter’s destination.

“How is the water still liquid?” Drew asked, leaning over. Old Man Winter stuck an arm out and pushed him back.

“Not water,” the old man said. “Don’t fall in.”

“Then what is it?”

“Magic,” Old Man Winter said.

“Well, obviously,” Drew said. “Otherwise, it would be frozen.”

No, he means it’s liquid magic, Ember said. Literally.

“You can make liquid magic?” Drew stared at the pool in fascination. “What do you do with it?”

“Anything you can imagine,” Old Man Winter said, dipping one finger in. “But mostly we use it to look at things.”

Ice crystals spread from his finger, webbing across the pool’s surface, turning into a mirror of glass. Old Man Winter muttered something under his breath, and the mirror rippled, as if a breeze had rushed through. Drew leaned over again, watching as the picture came into view.

He recognized the skating cove immediately. Indi had strung lights in the trees this year, but the bonfire was the same, and he saw Schrodinger holding court on his cushion in the snow. There were couples and clumps of people out on the ice, but Drew’s eyes went unerringly to Molly and Pavel.

Molly’s long hair was loose and flying behind her as she and Pavel spun around the ice. He couldn’t hear her, but he could see she was laughing. Something akin to actual pain stabbed through him.

She is very pretty, Ember said, leaning over and looking as well. But there is sadness in her eyes.

“You can see that?” Drew said.

Can’t you?

And then he could. Even as she threw back her head and laughed again at something Pavel said, Drew could see the tension, and the worry in her body language.

Old Man Winter was watching too. “At least she’s having a bit of fun,” he said. “She needs to not work all the time. First time I’ve seen her not up to her elbows in flour.”

“She likes being up to her elbows in flour,” Drew said. “She even bakes on her off days.”

“Kitchen witches do that.”

As they watched, Pavel spun around and stopped in the ice. Drew recognized the ornament as soon as the pirate pulled it from his coat pocket: this one was silver and blue, icy colors, and had a small charm for the silver charm bracelet her mother had gotten her in the spring hanging from the top of the ornament. Molly’s eyes went wide as she took the ornament.

“Pretty,” Old Man Winter said, and Drew started. “Good choice.”

“Thank you.”

You’re getting soft, Old Man, Ember teased gently. Next thing we know, you’ll be buying her a charm yourself.

“Bah,” Old Man Winter said. “I wouldn’t bother. There are better ways to make her smile.” He reached down again and stuck his finger into the magic, whispering under his breath.

Drew watched, amused, as tiny snowflakes began to fall on the skating rink. Molly looked up at the sky and smiled.

“I think she knows it’s you,” he said.

“Doesn’t matter,” Old Man Winter said, but there was a pleased smile on his face, and Drew knew that was a lie.

(advent) Monday’s story – and running!

I ran tonight again, but this time, for the first time in about three years, I ran on a track.  Not on a treadmill.  We’ll see how my knees feel tomorrow.

Then I came home and wrote.  I’ll be writing tomorrow morning too, and I’m hoping to be caught up by Friday.  That’s the goal, anyways!

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

“Excuse me?” Drew blinked, not sure he was hearing what he thought he’d just heard. He looked over at the doorway to the kitchen, where Old Man Winter stood waiting for his answer. “What did you just ask?”

“I asked you who was delivering Molly’s ornament today,” Old Man Winter grumbled, but his voice lacked bite. It was odd. Very odd.

“Who told you about the ornaments?” Drew said, disconcerted.

Old Man Winter sighed. “Do you think I wouldn’t know?” he said. “Honestly, boy, I have eyes. Did you think I wouldn’t see them? You’re sending ornaments to Molly, one a day. I don’t know why, but I know you’re doing it. So who is giving her today’s ornament?”

“Luke is,” Drew said, dazed.

“What is today’s surprise?” Old Man Winter continued.

“Lunch, at work.” This was going way too fast. “Luke’s bringing her pizza from Giovanni’s, because she loves it, but never orders it.”

“I haven’t had pizza in years,” Old Man Winter mused, a faraway look in his eyes. “What’s her favorite kind?”

“Barbaque chicken, with fresh mozzarella, spinach and broccoli,” Drew said. “And Schrodinger loves pepperoni, bacon, cheddar cheese and cranberries.”

“Cranberries?”

“He’s odd,” Drew said, grinning. “You get used to it.”

Old Man Winter grunted. “I guess.” He turned to go, and then paused, looking back at Drew. “Call your friend.”

“And tell him…?” Drew’s voice trailed off.

“Tell him I’m going to be taking Molly lunch.” Old Man Winter walked out, leaving Drew gaping at him.

He sat there for a good five minutes, looking at the empty doorway as his mind spun. What was going on? What had happened to Old Man Winter?

Then Drew shook himself and pulled up a window on the computer screen in front of him. Luke had the morning shift today, and he needed to catch him before he went to Giovanni’s. Or before Old Man Winter shows up and scares the crap out of him… He tapped a few keys and logged into the Gate Station’s instant messenger program.

“Hey, dude, you still there?” he sent to Luke.

“Yes, for the moment,” Luke typed back after a minute. “Got to get to Giovanni’s soon.”

“Did you order the pizza already?” Drew typed.

“Not yet.”

“Heads up: Old Man Winter is headed your way.” Drew paused, wondering how to phrase his next message. Just do it, he decided. “He’s decided he wants to take the ornament to Molly, along with lunch.”

“Are you okay with that?” Luke typed.

I wasn’t aware I had the choice. “I guess. In a way, it says to me that he is warming to Molly. Just be aware he’s coming to see you. Give him the ornament, and order the pizza for him.” The thought of Old Man Winter trying to pay for pizza was both amusing and frightening. Did he have money? “Put the pizza on my tab – Giovanni knows I’m good for it. Actually, you might want to go along with him.”

“What could possibly go wrong?” Luke typed. “Don’t worry, I’ll shepherd him through the town and make sure he gets the right pizzas.” There was a pause, and then more words spilled across the screen. “He’s here. Don’t be surprised if Mal sends you a cranky email later about him showing up without notice.”

“I had no idea he could move that fast!” Drew typed, but Luke was gone. He stared at the blinking cursor and hoped it worked out okay. Like he said, what could possibly go wrong?

His brain, ever helpful, began to provide answers to that question almost before the thought was fully formed.

<><>

Molly was coming down the stairs from the second floor when she paused, inhaling deeply. The normal scents coming from her kitchen were both sweet and savory, but this…this was something else entirely. Something that made her mouth water.

“Who is the wonderful person who brought pizza?” she demanded, swinging into the kitchen. Then her eyes widened in surprise.

There was pizza – her favorite pizza, her nose informed her. There was Schrodinger, sitting on his stool with his own favorite pizza in front of him. But instead of Luke or one of the Trio, she saw Old Man Winter, in a lumberjack’s plaid shirt, his beard combed and trimmed neatly.

He brought you lunch! Schrodinger said happily.

“I asked Drew what your favorite lunch was,” Old Man Winter said. There was just the hint of a smile (a smile?) on his face. “When he mentioned pizza, well – I haven’t had pizza in a very long time.”

Molly walked over to the stove and put the kettle in her hand onto a burner. “No one delivers to your place, huh?” she asked lightly.

“No. I might have to find a place that would.” Old Man Winter handed her a paper plate with two slices of pizza on it. “I wonder if this Giovanni would.”

“He delivers to the mines,” Molly said, sinking onto a stool. “I don’t see why he wouldn’t deliver to you.” Unless you destroy the Gate, her mind added, but her mouth was full of pizza, luckily.

“Does he now.” Old Man Winter chewed thoughtfully on a slice of pizza (Schrodinger’s pizza, Molly noticed). “He gave me a menu. I think I shall keep it.”

“I have to ask,” Molly said, after her first slice was gone. “What did you pay for this with?”

“It was on Drew’s tab,” Old Man Winter said. “I offered to pay, but Giovanni said it was taken care of.”

“Drew’s tab?” Molly and Schrodinger exchanged glances. “You mean you’re delivering this for Drew?”

“I am.” Old Man Winter wiped his mouth off, and reached into his pocket. “He said you don’t often take care of yourself, especially during the Christmas season, because it’s busy here. And that you love pizza, but don’t often order it.” He handed her a small box. “And, since I couldn’t help but notice he’s been sending you ornaments all month, I volunteered to bring today’s.”

“Volunteered, huh?” Molly said wryly, putting her pizza down and opening the small box. Inside the tissue paper nestled a beautiful orange ball, with silver beads glinting in the light. She pulled out the ornament and the little red envelope.

“May I see it?” Old Man Winter asked.

“Of course.” She passed over the ornament and then opened the envelope.

“Take some time to take care of yourself this week,” the card said. “Don’t forget to eat, especially!”

“It’s beautiful.” Old Man Winter handed the ornament back to her. “Where did he get them?”

“He commissioned them from a local artist,” Molly said. “To make me feel better.”

“Feel better?”

“It’s been a rough fall,” Molly said, picking up her second slice of pizza. “Rougher than it’s been in a long time.”

Old Man Winter didn’t press her, which was good. For a bit, she’d been able to forget the deaths, and the illness. She pushed the memories away again. Now just wasn’t the time to bring them out.

I love pizza! Schrodinger announced, breaking the growing silence. We should have pizza every night!

“No,” Molly said. “If nothing else, I can’t afford it.”

We could make our own…

“No,” Molly repeated, smiling in spite of herself. “Besides, if we had pizza every day, we couldn’t have Chinese food.”

Schrodinger cocked his head to one side, considering. Then he said, I know! We could have both!

Both Molly and Old Man Winter laughed at that. Old Man Winter’s laugh was rusty, but it was real, and it lifted Molly’s spirits to hear it. “Maybe,” she said to Schrodinger. “And if we did that, we’d be rolling you home.”

Not me, Schrodinger said. I’d run it all off.

“You’d get sick of it,” Old Man Winter said. “Trust me. Eat the same thing every day for a month, and you’ll never want to see it again.” He bit into the pizza. “Then again, if you put different things on the pizza each day, I guess it wouldn’t get old as fast.”

“Don’t give him any ideas, please.” Molly finished her slice and sighed happily. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Old Man Winter surveyed the remains. “And you have enough to take home.” He stood up and stretched. “I think I shall go back and bring Drew some pizza as well.”

“He likes pepperoni and sausage,” Molly said.

Old Man Winter smiled at her. No, he grinned, and the expression didn’t look out of place. “I guess I’m heading back to Giovanni’s, then.” He nodded to both of them and went out.

What happened? Schrodinger asked, once they were alone.

“I have no idea,” Molly said. “No idea at all.”

(advent) December 16 – Sunday

I’m sorry – this weekend was NOT my best, but I’m working on catching up, now that I’ve beaten my migraine back and I can eat again.

This is the 16th – I’m hoping to be caught up by Thursday!

<><><><><><><><><><><><><>

“Do you two have any idea what you might have done?”

Drew and Pavel looked at each other, then back at the Snow Queen, who was glaring at them. With her hands on her hips, her silver-blue eyes flashing fire at them, she was quite intimidating.

“What were you thinking?” she continued. “You promised you wouldn’t get in contact with Molly!” She rounded on Drew. “You promised!”

“I made a promise to her first,” Drew said. “And besides, there was no harm done.”

“That you know of!” Jade snapped. “You’re just lucky that Old Man Winter was busy with the dragon.”

“The dragon promised he would be,” Pavel said, not flinching when she whirled on him. “I promise, Your Majesty, this has had only positive consequences.”

“Positive consequences?” Jade spit the words at him. “What are you talking about?”

“You know as well as I do that Drew isn’t the one you’re hoping will convince Old Man Winter,” Pavel said, ignoring Drew’s look of surprise. “Molly is. And Molly was losing her will to do that, thanks to Drew not being there. That one half hour has revitalized her. And her determination to save the Cove and get him back.”

“I hope so.” Jade glared at both of them again. “Don’t do it again.”

They watched her stomp out of the room. Then Drew turned to Pavel.

“What did you mean, I’m not the one who has to convince Old Man Winter?” he asked.

“Don’t tell me you haven’t figured it out yet,” Pavel said. “Come on, Drew! Why wouldn’t she stop Molly from contacting Old Man Winter in the first place, if she wanted you to convince him? She could have, you know. She could have kept Schrodinger looking for him for the entire month.”

“But then why keep me here?” Drew countered. “Why not just let me go home?”

“Because it gives Molly just that much more incentive,” Pavel said, shrugging. “She’s not only fighting to keep him from destroying the Gate, she’s trying to get you back. Besides, I’m sure it appeals to her girlish side too. Girls get mushy over love stories.”

“I’m not sure the Snow Queen has a girlish side, but you’re right about Molly.” Drew sighed. “Dammit. I just wish I could help her.”

“You are,” Pavel said. “You’re staying here.”

“That seems so…trivial.”

“Not to Molly.”

<><>

“So Drew was out there?” Sue exclaimed. “How romantic!”

“How dangerous,” Noemi corrected her. “If Old Man Winter had found out…”

“He didn’t,” Molly said, not looking up from the tray she was filling with cookies. “And that’s all that matters.” She finished filling the tray. “Now, if you guys would put these out on the tables upstairs, I’ll bring up the box of mugs for the hot cider and the hot cocoa.”

Sue, Noemi and Lai all grabbed trays and headed out, while Molly went into the pantry for a box of cups. She made sure it was just mugs, no saucers; there were plates upstairs already for the goodies. Then she brought it back out into the main kitchen and nearly ran into Old Man Winter.

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” Molly cried, as he stumbled backwards. She put the box on the island and rushed over to him. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Old Man Winter said, getting his feet back underneath him. “I should be the one apologizing, not you.”

“I almost ran you over,” Molly said, but kept her hands at her side. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you come in.” Then his words registered. “Why should you apologize?”

“Because I treated you very rudely the other day,” Old Man Winter said. He wasn’t in the dark suit he’d worn before, but in something that looked rather Russian in flavor. Not the furs he’d been wearing when he first came to the Cove, but something similar, just more polished. And his beard had been trimmed, she noted. “And I shouldn’t have. It was pointed out to me that the only reason you asked was because your young man had promised to take you to that wedding. And I made him break that promise.”

Molly refrained from telling him that Drew had indeed shown up, but simply smiled up at him. “I accept your apology. Would you like some tea?”

“I would love some.” Old Man Winter looked faintly hopeful. “And some cookies?”

Molly laughed. “Certainly. Let me just bring these upstairs and I’ll be happy to get you both tea and cookies.”

“What is going on upstairs?” Old Man Winter asked, and Molly noticed the grumpiness of his voice was less than normal. What has happened to him?

“CrossWinds Books hosts a Carol Sing every year,” Molly said, picking up the box again. “Father Christopher brings the choir over, and we provide drinks and food for everyone.”

“May I come up and listen?” Old Man Winter said.

“Of course!” Molly led him out of the kitchen and upstairs to the large second floor, where the choir was setting up.

This year, as last year, the crown jewel of the choir was Sharsha. The lovely Mareesh girl had grown more confident in the year she’d spent studying in the Cove; instead of hiding next to Father Christopher, she was chatting with Lai and Noemi as they set up the trays of cookies on the food table.

“Here are the mugs!” Molly said, setting the box down next to the three large drink coolers. She made sure all three were labeled correctly (hot cider, hot water and cold water), and that the tea and hot chocolate boxes were full. Then she turned to Sharsha. “It’s so good to see you again!”

“And you,” Sharsha replied, but her huge eyes with their peculiar star-shaped irises were focused on a point over Molly’s right shoulder, where Old Man Winter was looking at the spread of baked goods with something suspiciously akin to glee. Molly couldn’t be sure, because her back was to him, but she bet he had a smile on his face.

It would explain the odd expression Sharsha had.

“Is that who I think it is?” the Mareesh asked her quietly.

“Old Man Winter,” Molly confirmed. “In the flesh.”

“Is he coming to choose his sacrifice?”

Not if I can help it, Molly thought, but only said out loud, “No, he’s come for some tea. He does that from time to time.”

“Indeed,” Old Man Winter rumbled, and Sharsha’s eyes widened as he looked over at them. “And cookies. I must admit, I might be addicted to Molly’s cookies.”

“You wouldn’t be the first,” Lai said, winking at Molly. “I hear the United Nations is considering labeling them deadly weapons.”

Molly stuck her tongue out at Lai. “You only say that because you want more to yourself.”

“Darn right.” Lai grinned, unrepentant. “Did it work?”

“No,” Molly said, and Lai’s grin turned into a pout. “That won’t work either.” She turned to Old Man Winter, who had a mug in his hand and was leafing through the tea box. “Would you like a suggestion?”

His face was thoughtful. “I’m looking for a good robust black.”

She picked out one of the Assam packets. “This one will fit that bill. Or did you want a flavored tea?”

“No, just straight black.” He took the Assam and added it to his hot water, then selected three of her orange-thyme sugar cookies. “Thank you.”

The words were sounding less forced. Molly wondered what had happened since Thursday, but she wasn’t going to question him. “You might want to find a seat,” she suggested instead. “They’re going to start soon.”

“You won’t be sitting?” he asked.

“No, I need to make sure everything stays full.” Molly moved to the back side of the tables as the choir gathered near the fireplace.

She loved when the choir came to sing at CrossWinds Books. Besides the star-eyed Mareesh, Father Christopher’s choir this year included singers from several of the realms that the Gate connected Carter’s Cove too, including a couple of wood elves, an older centaur and one dwarf with a resonant baritone that Molly remembered from a few years ago.

Father Christopher stood to one side of his choir and cleared his throat, getting their attention. He raised his right arm, and the music began.

For the next hour, Molly listened as she kept the coolers full and the trays covered with sweet treats. She watched Old Man Winter as well; he lounged in the arm chair he’d claimed, sipping his tea and chewing on cookies, apparently enjoying himself. It was…odd.

After the music ended, Father Christopher came over to the table and accepted a cup of tea from Molly. “That’s him, huh?” he asked quietly, after she complimented him on the concert.

“Yes,” Molly said, in an equally low voice.

“I hope he enjoyed the concert,” Father Christopher said.

“I think he did,” Molly said, handing him a plate of cookies. “He seemed to.”

“Good. Oh, I almost forgot!” Dipping into his pocket, Father Christopher handed her a lovely dark blue ornament, with sparkling silver beads punctuating the blue netting. “Hopefully, he’ll soon be home to give these to you.”

“I hope so.” Molly cradled the ornament in her hand. “I hope so.”

(advent) A winter wedding!

If I had to get married again, I think maybe I’d like a wedding like this.

<><><><><><><><><><><><><>

It was, Molly thought, the perfect winter’s day for a wedding. Overnight, snow had fallen in a soft white blanket that covered Carter’s Cove in pristine white, like a bridal veil. She and Schrodinger stood with the Trio and the rest of the wedding guests outside the small woodland chapel that her friends Mark and Charlotte had chosen to say their vows to each other. Located on the outskirts of Carter’s Cove, the Chapel of the Pines was currently decked with holly, ivy and pine boughs and silver bells. Inside, Mrs. Asher was playing “White Christmas” on the pipe organ while they waited for the bride to arrive.

Molly stole a look at Mark, looking nervously handsome in his black tuxedo, white shirt and dark green vest and bow tie. His groomsmen and the ring bearer flanked him, all dressed the same except for the fact that Mark’s vest and tie were shot through with silver snowflakes. White corsages tied with silver ribbons adorned their coats.

“Don’t they look handsome?” she murmured to Sue, who nodded.

Then, through the last notes of the pipe organ, she heard bells. Jingle bells, attached to horses’ collars. She and the rest of the crowd turned towards the field next to the chapel, where four white horses pulled a gaily-bedecked sleigh over the fresh snow. Inside the sleigh, the bride and her four bridesmaids snuggled under white fleece blankets, but Molly had to laugh at Charlotte’s little niece, the flower girl, who was seated up next to the driver, waving enthusiastically to the crowd, the white ribbons woven into her dark hair flying in the wind.

The sleigh drew up to the chapel door, and the driver stopped the horses. The groomsmen stepped up one at a time to offer their arms to their chosen bridesmaid, who stepped out of the sleigh dressed in beautiful dark green and silver cloaks. Mark lifted down the flower girl, who made everyone laugh by taking the reluctant ring bearer by the arm.

Then he turned to Charlotte, who was waiting in the sleigh, her wedding dress covered by a white and silver cloak, and lifted her into his arms. He set her down on the pathway to the chapel, took her chin in his hand and tilted her head up for one last sweet kiss before they entered the chapel arm in arm. Molly sniffled a little, tearing up already.

The guests followed the couple in, taking seats on either side of the small church as Charlotte and Mark made their way up the aisle to where Father Christopher stood waiting for them behind an altar decked with more holly, ivy and evergreen. All the bridesmaids and the flower girl carried white fur muffs instead of flowers, and all of them looked radiantly happy.

Father Christopher smiled down at Charlotte and Mark as they stepped up to the altar, and raised his arms out to welcome them. Mrs. Asher finished playing “Here Comes the Bride” just as Charlotte turned and handed her muff to her maid of honor.

“Dearly beloved…”

Charlotte and Mark had chosen a short, sweet ceremony, in no small part because the Chapel in the Woods was picturesque but not heated, and they didn’t want to keep their guests in the cold for too long. Father Christopher took their vows, they exchanged rings and a kiss, and then it was over. They walked down the aisle to Mrs. Asher’s rendition of “All I want for Christmas is You” on the pipe organ, and out into the sleigh.

“Come on,” Sue said, tugging Molly’s sleeve. “I’m cold and need to get into the warmth of the hall.”

Molly was only too happy to follow her and everyone else out of the chapel. The hall was only a few hundred yards down the street, so rather than try and drive, they linked arms and strolled down, Schrodinger sticking close beside them.

“Wasn’t that beautiful?” Sue said, sighing. “So romantic.”

“Oh yes,” Molly said. “It was perfect.” Except for the fact that Drew isn’t here, she added privately.

Schrodinger glanced up at her, but didn’t say anything, and she gave him a smile. “Don’t worry,” she said out loud. “I’m okay.”

Sue started to say something else, but then they were at the steps of the reception hall, along with all the other guests, and there wasn’t time. They checked their coats at the coat check and then entered into the warm hall, where they were met with cups of steaming hot cider.

“Oh, what a nice touch!” Molly said, taking two and leading Schrodinger and Sue over to their table. The cider was served in wide latte mugs, and she set one down for the CrossCat, who huffed across it to cool it before sticking his tongue in. Charlotte had put Molly, Sue and Schrodinger with the rest of the Trio, Steve and Luke from the Station. And there was one open seat, one that Molly tried very hard not to look at throughout the meal.

Drew’s seat.

She cradled another cup of cider in her hands, trying very hard to ignore the empty chair beside her as she looked around the hall at the people dancing. It was full of people, not only from the Cove but from several of the towns connected to the Cove by the Gate, and not all of them were human. Mark was a lawyer that specialized in inter-Realm transactions, and many of his clients were there. Charlotte was a traveling nurse practitioner for Carter Cove’s clinic, and she too had many friends who were from the Realms around the Cove. It’s too bad Old Man Winter can’t see this, she thought, sipping her cider. If this isn’t a sign of the Cove bringing people together, I don’t know what is.

“You look like you’re thinking too hard for a party,” a voice said in her ear, and Molly turned as Pavel slid into Drew’s empty seat, looking very smug.

“It’s not much of a party for me,” she admitted.

He grinned and leaned over to whisper in her ear, “Take a walk outside, around to the back of the hall. It might get better.”

Molly looked suspiciously at him, and he winked at her before turning to Lai, who had just slid into her seat and raised an eyebrow to him. “Who’s this?” Lai asked Molly.

“Captain Pavel Chekov, of the Heart’s Desire,” Molly said, getting up. “Pavel, this is my friend Lai Zhao.”

“Really? A captain?” Lai turned her full attention to Pavel, who got up and bowed extravagantly to her. Molly looked around, saw Schrodinger dancing with the flower girl, and took advantage of the fact that no one was watching her to slip out the side door.

It was cold outside, but she hadn’t wanted to waste time getting her jacket. Molly wrapped her arms around herself and walked carefully around to the back of the hall. There was a small path that led out into the woods. Looking down the path, she thought she saw movement.

Intrigued, she started down the path. Music from the hall behind her wafted on the still air, broken only by the crunching of her feet in the new snow. About fifty yards from the hall, the path widened into a small clearing. And there, in the middle of the clearing, stood…

“Drew!”

Molly flung herself into his arms, unable to believe he was really there. But his arms tightened around her, warm and real, and his lips met hers in the sweetest kiss she’d ever tasted. It was him. He was really there.

“I’ve missed you,” he murmured when the kiss broke. “I’ve missed you so much.”

“Me too,” Molly said, snuggling into his embrace. Then another thought hit her, and she drew back slightly, alarmed. “What are you doing here? What if Old Man Winter finds out?”

“He’s not going to,” Drew assured her, pulling her close again. Not that she fought him that hard; his coat covered her arms as she hugged him, shivering slightly. “Where is your coat?”

“I didn’t want to answer questions about getting it,” Molly said, laying her cheek against his chest. “So I didn’t get it.”

The music coming out of the hall changed from a fast dance tune to a slow dance, and Molly didn’t resist as Drew began to dance with her. Out in the clearing, under a dark sky that began to drop gentle snowflakes around them in a lace curtain, they danced, enjoying each other’s company in silence.

One slow song segued into another, then another. Then Drew sighed regretfully. “I’ve got to go, love.”

“I know.” Molly stepped back from him, trying not to cry or beg him to stay. “I’m glad you came.”

“Give Schrodinger my love, and tell Mark and Charlotte congratulations for me.” Drew leaned in and gave her one more hard kiss. “Stay strong. We’ll convince him.”

“And you’ll be home for Christmas?” Molly asked, catching hold of his shirt. “Promise?”

“If I have to have Pavel kidnap you from your house, we’ll be together for Christmas,” Drew said, grinning. “I promise.”

“I’m going to hold you to that.”

She watched as he strode off through the woods, heading back to the Snow Queen’s cottage and Old Man Winter. She watched, until she couldn’t see him anymore, and then she slowly retraced her steps back to the hall.

Pavel was gone by the time she got there, and so was Lai, to her intense amusement. But there was a small box in front of her seat, and Schrodinger was sitting in his seat, radiating concern.

You went for a walk without your coat? He looked over at her. Why?

“I needed some air,” Molly replied, scrubbing at the goosebumps on her arms. “That was all.” She picked up the box and opened the top.

Schrodinger leaned over, sniffed her and then looked up, his eyes wide.

“Not a word,” she warned him, taking the little silver and white ball from the box. “I mean it, Schrodinger. I went for a walk. That was it.”

There was no note with this ball. There didn’t need to be.

(advent) December 14th story

I couldn’t write yesterday.  I’m sorry for the delay.

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“Hello?” Pavel’s voice rang through the courtyard. “Drew?”

Drew stuck his head out of the stables. “I’m in here,” he said. “Come on in.”

The pirate sauntered through the stable doors. “Are you hiding?” he asked jokingly, and then stopped as he saw Ember. His eyes widened.

“Pavel, this is Ember,” Drew said, grinning at his friend’s discomfort. “Ember, this is Captain Pavel Chekov, of the Heart’s Desire, a very good friend of mine.”

Hello, Captain Chekov, Ember said, dipping her head towards him.

Pavel, to his credit, recovered very quickly. He swept his hat off his head and gave her a sweeping bow. “Hello, my lady dragon. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am.” He looked at Drew. “I never knew you knew a dragon.”

“I didn’t, until about a week ago,” Drew said, and told Pavel about the trap that Old Man Winter had found her trapped in. Pavel’s face went dark.

“Well, I agree with Old Man Winter on one thing,” Pavel said, after Drew finished. “Anyone who uses an iron trap in the Snow Queen’s woods deserve to be drawn and quartered, then fed to the wolves.” He looked at Ember’s scarred thigh. “You’ll bear those marks until the end of your days.”

At least I have more days before the end, Ember reminded him. I’ll take that, and the scars, as a reminder that not all mortals are evil. She reached out and laid her delicate head on Drew’s shoulder fondly.

He reached up and scratched gently over her eye ridges, something he’d discovered she loved, and she blew out a smoke-scented breath. Ember’s smoke wasn’t heavy, the way cigarette smoke or cigar smoke was; it was light, and held the faintest hint of hardwoods. Like a fireplace, or a Yule log. Or his father’s pipe tobacco.

“So, why are you hiding out here?” Pavel asked, leaning back against one of the stalls. “Or are you just bored?”

“Oh no. Definitely hiding.” Drew shuddered. “I don’t know what happened yesterday, but the Old Man is in a foul mood.”

“That doesn’t bode well,” Pavel said.

“No.” Drew shook his head. “And no one seems to know why. Father Christopher just said that Old Man Winter came in with Molly and Schrodinger, and then left in a huff. Molly wouldn’t tell him why.”

Pavel frowned. “That definitely doesn’t bode well. What could she have said?”

“I have a feeling I know,” Drew said. “And it would be something she would do.”

“Oh?”

“We’re supposed to go to a wedding on Saturday.” Drew sank onto the stool he’d been sitting on before. “Two of her high school friends are finally getting married, and she’s been looking forward to the party for a long time. I’ll bet she asked Old Man Winter if I could take her.”

That sounds reasonable, Ember said. And it sounds like something that would irritate him.

“Why?” Drew asked her, turning slightly so he could look at her. “Why would that irritate him?”

Because it reminds him of feelings that he buried a long time ago, the dragon said. Did you think you were the only one who loved? He is a man, for all his power, and he has a heart. It’s buried, deeply, and a request like that would bring that back to the surface. He would have to deal with it.

“And Molly would push it,” Drew said. “She wants to believe the best of people, and she wouldn’t believe that he wouldn’t want to find that. She wants everyone to be happy.”

It is a noble pursuit, Ember said. And one that will put her at odds with the man Old Man Winter has become.

Pavel was scratching his short beard thoughtfully. “Well, I see her point.”

“What, that everyone should be happy?”

“No, that would be impossible.” Pavel waved that suggestion away. “But making Molly happy? That I think we can do.” He looked over at Ember. “If you don’t mind helping, that is.”

The dragon looked at him, her head cocked to one side in a way that reminded Drew of Schrodinger. I am listening….

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Molly was baking, again. Her dress was ready for the wedding the next day, and Aunt Margie had given her the night and the next day off. She and Drew had planned to spend the night wrapping presents and watching Christmas movies on the TV. Now, Schrodinger was watching “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” in fascination and Molly was listening as she mixed cranberry orange bread to give to friends as part of the gift baskets she usually gave. It should have been a relaxing night.

Instead, Molly’s thoughts were of Drew, and Old Man Winter. Pavel had told her that Drew wasn’t being held against his will, and he’d described the house to her, but her mind kept conjuring images of cells and cold stone walls. Maybe it was the chill in Old Man Winter’s eyes. That was enough to shiver any soul.

But he was kind to Lily. And he seemed to enjoy the ballet. Her thoughts whirled in time to the strokes of her wooden spoon in the batter. Could I have been wrong? Is his soul so frozen that we won’t be able to stop him from destroying the Gate?

A sharp staccato knock on the door broke into her thoughts. As she wiped her hands quickly on the kitchen towel near her, Schrodinger came out of the living room. Are we expecting anyone?

“No,” Molly said, crossing to the door. “We’re not.”

She peeked through the spyhole in the door, then frowned and opened it. “Pavel? What are you doing here?”

As she opened the door wider, a delicious odor spread through the apartment. “I bring dinner!” he said, showing her the three large bags in his hands. “May I come in?”

I smell coconut shrimp! Schrodinger said, dancing around him excitedly. And crab rangoon!

“And fried rice, and beef and broccoli, and if you don’t watch out, you’ll make me drop it!” Pavel told him, trying to maneuver his way to the island to put the bags down. Molly hurried to shut the door and help him by grabbing Schrodinger before he could leap up.

“Schrodinger, seriously! You’d think you hadn’t been fed in years!”

But it’s coconut shrimp!

Pavel deposited the food safely on the island and Molly let the CrossCat go. “Drew gave me a list,” the pirate said. “And I have orders to make sure I see you eat.”

“Oh, trust me, I can’t turn Chinese food down,” Molly assured him. She set Schrodinger down and went to get plates. “You’ll help us eat it, I hope?”

“Of course!”

She brought back plates, chop sticks and napkins, then went back for glasses and a bottle of wine, while Pavel unpacked the feast he’d brought. The smell was amazing.

They took their plates (and one for Schrodinger, who was nearly vibrating, he was so excited) into the living room, where the Grinch had been frozen mid-snarl on the TV. Pavel stared at it. “What is that?”

“The Grinch.” Molly hit the play button and the sounds of “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch” filled the room. They ate and watched, Pavel as fascinated as Schrodinger. Molly, who had watched the cartoon every year as she wrapped presents, found herself enjoying their watching it for the first time. After the Grinch had carved the Roast Beast, she shut it off and said to them, “So, what did you think?”

I liked it! Schrodinger said, his voice sleepy now that he was full of Chinese food. I knew he could be redeemed, though.

“Oh?” Molly said, grinning. “How?”

“Yes, how?” Pavel said.

It was easy. Max stayed with him. Schrodinger yawned. Max would have left for Whoville a long time ago if the Grinch was all bad.

“Good point.” Molly yawned too. It had been a long day, and there were still cranberry orange bread dough to put in the fridge away.

“You look tired,” Pavel said. He took the plates into the kitchen, and then came back and handed Molly a small box. “Drew asked me to make sure you got this, and to tell you that he’s thinking of you.”

She accepted the box and opened it. The cranberry red beads glowed in the light of the Christmas tree as she pulled the ball out, with dark green beads interspersed. The curl of note paper tucked into the box said simply, “Don’t give up hope. I’ll see you soon.”

“Soon?” Molly looked up at Pavel hopefully. “Really?”

He smiled at her. “Really.”

(advent) Plots and Pianofortes

There are no pianofortes in this story, but I’ve always wanted to title something that way.  Yes, I’m odd.

There are plots, though!  Lots of them! (Well, for localized definitions of the word “lots”)

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“Hang on, Schrodinger!  You’re going too fast!”

But I don’t want to be late!  The CrossCat went careening across the slick sidewalk, nearly wiping out as he skidded on a patch of ice.  Molly (who was walking much slower and watching where she put her feet) could only watch as he tumbled headfirst into a snowbank.

“Are you okay?” she asked, making her way gingerly to him.

Yes.  His mental voice was grumpy as he wiggled out of the snow.  Molly couldn’t help giggling at the snow hanging on his face.

“I warned you,” she said, taking pity on him and picking him up.  He was big enough that she was thankful she’d thought to put her songbook and the tins of cookies she’d brought with her into a backpack.  A shoulder bag would have been a nightmare.

But we might be late!

It’s better than being in the hospital!”

A cold, icy rain had fallen the night before, and left everything a sheet of ice.  Molly had her boots on, but even with the additional traction of the YakTraks, she was afraid she might slip.  Especially since she was carrying Schrodinger.

“Besides, we have to wait for Old Man Winter,” Molly reminded Schrodinger.  “So we can’t go right in anyways.”

Do you really think he’ll show up?

“He came to the ballet.  He was even nice to Lily.”  Molly wondered, though, if the gruff old man would show up.  He hadn’t responded when she’d mentioned it to him.  As if he knows there’s something else I want to ask him, she thought privately.

They made it, eventually, to the church, where someone was already up in the bell tower, ringing the bells.   And waiting there, in front of the steps (which Father Christopher had de-iced, luckily) was Old Man Winter, in the same suit and scowl he’d worn to the ballet.

“Took you long enough,” he grunted, as Molly reached him and set Schrodinger down on the ice-free sidewalk.  “Thought you wouldn’t show.”

“Sorry,” she said.  “Not all of us can walk on ice like it’s dirt.”

“Hrmph.”  Old Man Winter watched her as she pulled the rubber and metal YakTraks off her boots.  “Even with those?”

“Even with these,” Molly said, clipping them to her backpack.  Then she looked up at him.  “Ready to go sing?”

“I don’t sing,” Old Man Winter snapped.  “I’m only here to watch.”

“Suit yourself.”  Molly shrugged and climbed the steps into the church.

St. Michael’s was an old church, full of dark polished wood, gleaming silver candlesticks and the scent of beeswax and incense.  Above the altar was a rosette glass window that sparkled in the late afternoon sun.  And there were people everywhere.

Molly wove her way through the crowd towards one side of the room, not even trying to keep up with Schrodinger, who had shot off to see some of his friends.   Her destination was the table on the far side of the church, where Christmas cookies and other goodies had already begun to pile up.

“Don’t worry,” she said lightly to Old Man Winter.  “I’ve got a tin for you and Drew too.”  And she handed it to him.

“Trying to bribe me?” he asked, but there wasn’t as much bite in his tone.

“Maybe,” Molly said, grinning.  She held out the second tin to him.  “What would this get me?”

“What’s in it?” Old Man Winter countered.

“More of the orange thyme sugar cookies, plus lemon snowdrops and some homemade chocolate fudge brownies.”  Molly had put some of Drew’s favorites in the tin.

“Sounds good,” Old Man Winter allowed, and there was a ghost of a smile on his face.  “What are you asking for it?”

Molly looked at him.  “A date out with Drew on Saturday.”

The smile vanished.  “No.”

“Please?” Molly begged.  “It’s for the wedding – my friends have been planning this for months!  And I haven’t seen him all month!  Just for a few hours?”  She held out the tin.  “Please?”

“No.”  And Old Man Winter turned and left.

Molly stood and watched him go, her lip trembling a little.  Then she straightened up, put the other tin on the table as well, and went to go find Schrodinger.

The CrossCat was sitting in one of the pews with Sarah and another CrossCat, one she didn’t recognize.  This Cat was regal and black, slim and yet larger half again as Schrodinger, and her eyes were a dark, deep green.

Molly!  Schrodinger jumped up as he caught sight of her.  Then he stopped.  Where’s…

Molly shook her head at him, and he stopped.  “He had to leave.”

Oh.  Schrodinger blinked, then shook his own head.  Too bad.  Let me introduce you to the Librarian.

This was the Librarian?  Molly sat down next to the Cat, and said, “It’s very nice to finally meet you!”

And you.  The Librarian’s voice was deep and rich, much more mellow than Schrodinger’s, and there was a feeling of great age and wisdom in her tone.  He is very fond of you, Molly.

“And I’m fond of him,” Molly said, stroking Schrodinger’s head.  “But he didn’t tell me you were coming today!”

He didn’t know.  The Librarian turned to look at the younger CrossCat.  I decided I needed to see what was going on.

Molly knew instinctively that the Cat was not referring to the carol sing.  And I just chased Old Man Winter away, she thought regretfully.  Stupid!

No, said the Librarian.  Not at all.  She put her paw on Molly’s thigh.  You miss your Drew very much.  You are young, and in love.  Old Man Winter has not been young in a very long time, and I do not know if he has ever been in love.  He does not know how much this young man means to you.  She paused a bit, then added, But I think he is going to learn.

Molly was going to ask more, but then Father Christopher stopped by.  “Molly!  I see you, and Schrodinger, but I thought…” His voice trailed away as Molly shook her head.  “Oh.  Well, in that case, maybe I should give this to you now, instead of waiting.”  He held out the small ornament: this one in blue and silver, with a series of little silver music notes hanging from the bottom edge. 

“Thank you,” she said, giving him a small smile.  “It’s lovely.  No note, though?”

“Not for this one,” Father Christopher said, and he nodded to the Librarian before moving on.

Sarah had been strangely quiet throughout the entire exchange.  Now, she reached out and touched Molly on the arm.  “May I see it?” she asked.

“Of course.”  Molly held the ornament out to her, letting her run her fingers over the beadwork, describing the colors to her.  Around them, the rest of the carollers settled into the pews.

“He’ll come back,” Sarah said, her fingers dropping back down to the Librarian’s soft fur.  “I know Drew will.”

“I hope so,” Molly said, looking down at the ornament again.  “I hope so.”

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Short one tonight, folks – sorry!  But there’s more coming, I promise!

(advent) And we are caught up!

Finally!  Now I just need to make sure I STAY caught up!

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“I thought I was going to die,” Molly admitted, as she set gumdrops into the frosted wreath in front of her. The island was stacked high with mini gingerbread leaves – she’d decided she was bored with gingerbread men, and she didn’t have any more houses that she could make at the moment. So she was experimenting with wreaths and gumdrops. “I honestly thought he was either going to holler at her, or walk away completely.”

“As if anyone could holler at Lily,” Sue said, stealing a gumdrop from the bowl. “She’s too adorable.”

“Oh, she’s been hollered at a few times,” Molly said, admiring the effect of the red gumdrops. “But not this time, luckily. He was really good to her.” She picked up her piping bag and began to create a red bow on the bottom left-hand part of the wreath. “So, what did you find out?”

Sue had dropped by on her lunch break to bring Molly the information on Old Man Winter she’d found. The folder wasn’t very thick.

“Not a lot,” Sue said. “There’s a couple of old diary entries I made copies of for you – one is from Captain Carter’s journal, so Old Man Winter has been here before. Not recently, though. I think the newest reference to him I found was in the 1800s.”

“So it’s been a while.” Molly finished the bow and laid the wreath aside to let the icing set. “Anything else?”

“Yeah, there was a neat treatise that one of the managers of the Gate Station did in the early 1920s about Old Man Winter and where he might have come from.” Sue pulled out the papers in question and handed them to Molly. “He seems to have been a bit of a theoretical anthropologist, and he did some traveling, interviewing various people about what he called the ‘Old Man Winter myth’ – he apparently never met him in person, and was dubious about whether he existed.”

“Really?”

Sue nodded. “You can read it – it’s pretty interesting. He ended up concluding that if Old Man Winter did exist, he was somehow related to the Snow Queen.”

“Huh.” Molly flipped through the pages. “Interesting.”

“Yep.” Sue put the folder down in a clear spot, and then snagged one of the unfrosted gingerbread leaves. “And now, I need to go grab my Chinese takeout for lunch, and head back to the mines. I’ll let you know if I find out anything else!”

“Thanks,” Molly said, already sinking onto her stool and reading. “See you.”

She didn’t move much over the next hour, except to reach for her tea cup occasionally. The stories about Old Man Winter were varied, and to her surprise, there were as many about his kindness and help as there were about his wolves and his vengeance. After she finished, Molly stared off into space for a bit, wondering what she could do with this information. She’d hoped it would help her understand the man a bit more, but all it did was raise more questions.

In the end, it was the growling of her stomach that moved her. She had barely heard Sue’s last comment, but the idea of Chinese food was a wonderful one. Molly grabbed her coat and her wallet and went out into the tea room, where Schrodinger was asleep beside the wood stove.

“Hey, Schrodinger, Chinese food?” she asked, kneeling down next to him.

One eyelid cracked open. Do I have to move? I’m warm. And comfy.

Molly laughed at the plaintive question. “Not if you aren’t hungry. Want me to bring you some beef and broccoli?”

Sounds wonderful. His eye closed again and Schrodinger heaved a great sigh of comfort.

She stopped at the front desk to see if her aunt or the other cashier wanted anything – they both said no, so Molly stepped out into the chill air and headed for the Lucky Garden Chinese food restaurant, enjoying being on her own for once.

Not for long, however. As she was striding along, Father Christopher fell in beside her. “I thought it was a Wednesday,” he said. “Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”

“Late lunch break,” Molly said, grinning at him. “I had a hankering for Peking ravioli. You?”

“Stretching my legs,” he said. “But now that you mention it, I believe there may be an egg drop soup calling my name.”

Molly noted the bag over his shoulder but didn’t ask. Before long, they were ensconced in a little booth in Carter Cove’s only Chinese food restaurant, with steaming cups of green tea in front of them.

“I hear you’ve been busy,” Father Christopher said, sipping his tea.

“You mean Old Man Winter.” Molly decided to cut to the chase. “I’m not going to sit around and wait for Drew to come home, Father. You know me better than that.”

“I do.” He nodded. “But you know I have to caution you. Old Man Winter isn’t your normal customer.”

“No, he’s not. He’s an old man with a lot of power and a lot of bitterness.” Molly took a deep breath. “And I think I have a chance to help Drew change his mind.”

“Maybe. Just be careful, Molly.” Father Christopher held up his hand to stop her saying anything. “And yes, I know, you’re always careful. But you’re not. And this time, you may have bitten off more than you can deal with.” Then he smiled at her. “Speaking of Drew…”

“Oh, my goodness!” Molly said, as she accepted the gold and red stocking he handed her. “Where did he find this?”

“I have no idea,” Father Christopher said. “I do know that he’s been planning this December for a while, and that he’s doing an amazing job of making you smile. We haven’t seen you smile this much in a long time.”

Molly peeked inside the soft velvet stocking and saw several things, which she pulled out: a CD with the words “Molly’s Christmas Melodies” written on it, a gold and red ornament and a red envelope. “Just wait until Christmas, and Santa and I will fill this to overflowing,” she read, and then sniffled.

“He misses you,” Father Christopher said quietly.

“I miss him,” Molly said, putting the card, ornament and CD back into the stocking. “I’m hoping that if I can make enough of an impression on Old Man Winter, maybe I can get him back soon.”

Father Christopher put a hand on hers. “If anyone can convince Old Man Winter to let him go, it will be you, and Schrodinger.”

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Drew was in the stable talking to Ember when Old Man Winter came in, dragging a sled behind him. He didn’t say anything but he nodded to both of them in greeting and then headed to the end of the stalls, leaving the sled in the center of the room.

“Can I help you?” Drew asked, as the old man came back, carrying a large sealed barrel.

Old Man Winter paused and looked at him. “Why?”

“Because I can carry just as well as you can, and it’s polite,” Drew responded evenly. “Besides, then I have an excuse to ask you how your date with my girlfriend went.”

To his utter surprise, Old Man Winter’s face creased into an unexpected smile. It looked odd on the old man’s face. “She’s a spirited one, boy. You’re lucky.”

“I think so,” Drew said, after a moment.

“Come with me.”

They loaded the sled with the barrels (Drew had no idea what was in them, and Old Man Winter didn’t offer), and then Old Man Winter picked up the sled’s lead. “Do you need more help?” Drew asked.

“Nope. I’ll be fine.” Old Man Winter stopped at the door and looked back at him. “She took me to the ballet.”

“The Nutcracker?” Drew blinked. “Really?”

“Yep.”

“Did you enjoy it?” Drew asked, since the old man was still looking at him.

“Yep.” And with that, Old Man Winter left the stable, pulling the sled behind him.

Well, well, well, Ember said from behind him, as Drew watched him go. I need to meet this Molly, I think. That’s the happiest he’s looked in a very long time. As Drew turned to look at her, the dragon cocked her head at him, and he swore she was laughing. You might want to make sure he doesn’t run off with her.

Drew found that a horrifying concept.