Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

Thinking about changes

Most people think about changes this time of year. It’s the turning of the seasons, I guess: as the world settles down to renew itself during the cold winter months of the Northern Hemisphere, thoughts turn to what we could do better. I’m helping Dad adjust to the new hip (he’s a terrible patient, but he’s trying), and thinking about my own life.


I recently interviewed for a new position at my day job, and one of the questions that the interviewer asked me that struck a nerve was “Where do you see yourself in 6 months?”


My honest answer was “I don’t know.” A year ago, I could have told you guys exactly where I was going. I was going to continue writing, working at my day job, and saving for retirement. Brian and I were going to spend a year following the Red Sox after we both retired, and then we were going to buy a used bookstore and open a combination bookstore/gaming store to run in our twilight years.


And then Brian died. Now I have no idea what my plans are. I’m kind of adrift in a sea of possibilities, and not all of them are pleasant. While I’m lucky that I have an amazing roommate who is perfectly willing to fulfill the Red Sox/bookstore plan (and let’s be honest, I probably will run a bookstore, and I’ll probably call it CrossWinds Books), I’m not sure I’ll be wanting to do it the same way. A lot of those plans were tied up with doing it with Brian, and it hurts to think about them now.


I am working on the Advent story for this year, which will start going up on December 1. This year is a special treat as well, since my lovely friend Kiaya is working on something for you guys to enjoy. I’m not going to say more (yeah, I know, tease, tease), but I promise you, it’s going to be awesome.


And Winter’s Storm is in process, so yes, the second book should be out in time for Christmas! I’m working on the final stuff with that, and to celebrate, I’ll be doing a giveaway. A very special one.


More later. I’m still processing things.

(writing) More Advent, of course

It’s getting to be that time of year again, after all. Yes, there WILL be a Carter’s Cove story this year. But I’m doing other things as well. I’ve just sent out a short story to a magazine for consideration, and I will be doing more short stories in the future. It’s an interesting exercise, and I think I need to hone those skills. First drafts will be posted to my Patreon, and then revised and sent out. And yes. I’ll be sure to announce if any of them get sold. 🙂


It’s my way of coping with depression. I’m realizing how unhealthy I’ve been lately, despite all my efforts. I need to concentrate on me. It needs to get better.


Christmas will be hard. I’m totally going to hide in Carter’s Cove for a lot of it. Besides, Molly has tea.

(advent) Day 0, a new year!


-Just so you all know, I’ve taken some timing liberties with this. Kaylee is now 5 years old – I’m going to be fixing it in the actual books so she doesn’t go from baby to 5 in six months. Just go with it for now.

Wednesday, November 30

“Thank you for letting me come over,” Jade said, accepting a cup of tea as she settled on to one of the stools in the kitchen at CrossWinds Books. The Snow Queen was in one of her more casual outfits for her outing today: a long riding habit, in dark brown, with snowflakes edging the hems. Her long white blonde hair was pulled back into a simple braid, and there was no sign of a coronet or tiara. She was obviously just Jade today, and not the Snow Queen.

Molly McIntyre preferred her that way. The Snow Queen was an amazing creature, and her ball was the highlight of the Christmas season, but she was also faintly intimidating, especially to a mere kitchen witch. Jade was just a friend.

And friends were always welcome in Molly’s kitchen.

“You know you’re welcome any time,” she said now, bringing over a plate of strawberry scones and her own cup of tea. “What brings you out?”

Jade’s face darkened. “Nothing good, I’m afraid, although I wish it wasn’t true.”

“What?” Molly asked, her pulse quickening. “Is everything okay with Jack and Old Man Winter? And Ember?” She glanced at the open kitchen door. “Should I close that?”

“No, they’re fine, and no, I’ve already taken care of that,” Jade said, sipping her tea. “I know they worry if you close the door, so I’ve just made it so no one can overhear us.” She paused, and said softly, “I need your help again, Molly.”

“You know I’ll do whatever I can,” Molly said. “What’s going on?”


That one word brought back a flurry of memories. Caliban, a spirit of summer, had been one of the two suitors for the Snow Queen’s hand two years ago, and hadn’t taken it well when she chose Jack Frost over him. “Caliban?” Molly repeated. “I thought he was gone? Wasn’t he in jail?”

“Only long enough to regain his strength, apparently,” Jade said bitterly, and then sighed. “I’m sorry. Let me explain. You know how I renew the protections around the Cove every year at the ball, right?”

Molly nodded. The energy raised by the Snow Queen’s Ball went to power the magical protections the Snow Queen and her allies had placed around Carter’s Cove back when the town was first started.

“Well, if you remember, those protections were set up by myself, Jack, Herse, and Caliban,” Jade said. “I just received word from King Medron that someone broke into the prison last week and freed him.”

“And you think he might be coming back here?” Molly said. That was a horrifying thought.

“His father thinks he might,” Jade said. “He’s been banished from his realm, but it’s obvious he has supporters from somewhere. And since he had a hand in the protections around the Cove, they can’t keep him out if he decides to attack.”

“So what do we do?”

“We’re going to have to redo the protections, but this time, I think it should be Cove inhabitants who do it,” Jade said. “I was hoping you would be able to help me.”

“What does it involve?” Molly asked, her mind whirling. This was not what she needed right now.

“Basically, we need to make a web around the Cove. I can save the power from the ball on the 17th and cast the final spell on Christmas, which will make it even stronger, but I need help setting up that web.”

Molly chewed on a scone as she thought. “So you need things set up? Like what kind of things?”

“It can be anything, really, as long as it’s important to the person or persons doing the creation.” Jade looked at Molly. “What are you thinking, Molly?”

“Do you remember the advent calendar you did for Lily and Zoey a few years ago?”

Jade blinked, surprised. “Yes, of course. Why?”

“Can you do something similar?”

The Snow Queen looked at her for a long minute, and then broke into a smile. “You want to have them create the markers.”

“Yes.” Molly nodded. “But it won’t be Zoey this year – she’s gone to Pennsylvania with her family to spend the holidays there. Lily’s devastated, and while she’s got her little sister, it’s just not the same. Something like this, that they could both do, would be great.”

“And children have more power than most adults for magic,” Jade added. “I like this. Schrodinger will be three – it works best if there are four, though. Is there a friend that they know that could help?”

“I think so, yes. The Fables just moved to town – Gideon is five, the same age as Kaylee, and he and Kaylee have become fast friends. I’m sure his parents wouldn’t mind. They should be in later today, and I can talk to his mother to make sure,” Molly said. “Why wouldn’t Jack count, though? You know he’ll want to help.”

“Jack is a very smart dog, but he’d be the first to tell you that magic is not something he’s suited for,” Jade said, smiling gently. “He’ll help, definitely, but for this, we need at least three humans. If nothing else, to help moderate Schrodinger.”

Molly had to laugh at that. The CrossCat was very enthusiastic when he got going, and rather than reining him in, his best friend Jack usually urged him on. “Very true,” she said. “I’ll talk to Kiaya and Zeke when they come in. Can you do a calendar in a night?”

“I can, yes, and Jack and Old Man Winter will help me.” Jade finished her tea and stood up. “I’ll have it delivered here tomorrow.” She reached out and laid a hand on Molly’s arm. “Thank you, my friend. You always have the answers I need.”

Molly blushed. “Not always,” she said. “Do you really think Caliban will come back here?”

“I don’t know,” Jade admitted. “But let’s not assume that he won’t. While the children work their advent calendar, Jack and I will work with Pavel and Old Man Winter to protect the Cove this season. Let us worry about Caliban.” And then, in a flurry of snowflakes that seemed to arise from nowhere, she was gone.

Molly sat and finished her tea, then went out into the tea room. Schrodinger was off with Drew for the day, helping him pull out Christmas decorations at the farmhouse. But the Fables had just come in, and Molly wanted to talk to them while the information was still fresh.

“Hey, guys!” she said, smiling at the young family. Zeke was the new head programmer at WCOV, the Cove’s radio station, and his wife Kiaya was a writer. Their five-year-old son Gideon had adapted to life in the Cove very quickly, although Molly hadn’t been that surprised, seeing as they’d come from another CrossRoads Town. “How’s it going today?”

“Good!” Gideon said cheerfully, running towards her. Then he stopped and looked around. “No Schrodinger?”

“He’s at the farm today, helping Drew get all the Christmas stuff out,” Molly explained. “But I think he’ll be in with me tomorrow!”

“Isn’t tomorrow your day off?” he asked, tilting his sandy blond head at her, his hands on his hips.

“It is, yes, but I think I’ll come in and bake,” Molly said, laughing a little at his seriousness. “Want to come in and help me?”

“Can we, Mom? Please?” Gideon turned and begged. “I need to see Schrodinger! I haven’t seen him in DAYS!”

Kiaya and Zeke both laughed. “You saw him Monday, buddy!” Kiaya said. “But yes, we can come in tomorrow. I can write here just as easily as at home.”

“Yay!” Gideon said, pumping his fist in the air. “Can we go and look at books now?”

“Hey Gideon, I have a favor to ask you first,” Molly said, getting down on one knee to be more at his level. “Do you know what an Advent calendar is?”

He shook his head.

“It’s a special way to count down to Christmas,” Molly explained. “The Snow Queen was just here, and is sending over a magical advent calendar tomorrow, and I was hoping you’d help Lily, Kaylee, Jack, and Schrodinger with it. Do you think you can do that?”

“Yes!” Gideon said, nodding. “I’m good at helping!”

“What would it involve?” Kiaya asked, putting a hand on her son’s shoulder. “You should always ask that first, Gideon.”

“What would it involve, Molly?” Gideon asked her.

“I don’t know, but last time, it involved magical snowflakes and all sorts of fun adventures, and making things,” Molly said. She looked up at Kiaya and Zeke. “Lily and Zoey loved it, and so did Schrodinger and Jack.”

Kiaya looked undecided. “I don’t want to impose, though…”

“You won’t be,” Molly assured her. “Trust me. And you guys are here so much anyways – it’s a fun way to celebrate the season.”

“Okay, then,” Kiaya relented, and Gideon cheered.

Zeke took Gideon upstairs to look at books (and say hi to Aunt Margie, who was supervising Uncle Art as he set up the Christmas tree in the main room) while Kiaya settled down at a table with her computer. Molly brought her out a cup of tea and a plate of cookies, and said, “Do you have a moment, before you start?”

“Sure,” Kiaya said. “What’s up?”

“Gideon doesn’t need to know this, but I wanted you and Zeke to know,” Molly said, and Kiaya raised one eyebrow. Her thick hair was currently grey streaked with purple and blue, and it was amazing. Molly wished she had the courage to do half the things Kiaya did with her hair.

“Is there something wrong?” Kiaya asked quietly.

“Not yet, I hope.” Molly briefly explained what had happened two years ago, and then outlined what she and Jade had come up with. “So they will take care of Caliban, and I know for a fact that Pavel will help keep everyone safe here,” she finished. “But he will be doing magic, as they go through this calendar. Are you okay with that?”

“I’ll have to talk to Zeke,” Kiaya said. “I don’t think it will be a problem, especially since you and Drew will be there.” She looked at Molly. “You will be helping them, right?”

“Of course. They’ll be doing most of this right here – it’s the perfect place, and central enough,” Molly said. “And just think – you’ll get a lot of writing done too!”

“Which will be good,” Kiaya admitted. “I’m on deadline, and it’s been hard to concentrate with the move.”

“Then I’ll let you get busy,” Molly said, getting up. “Let me know if you need anything else.”

She went back into the kitchen and called her sister-in-law. Corrine was more than happy to drop the girls off at the tea shop the next day, and agreed that they could help the Snow Queen. And then she called Drew.

“Hey handsome, how’s the unpacking going?” she asked.

“Hey beautiful, it’s going. We’re trying to decide what to put in the sleigh this year,” Drew said, and then laughed. “Schrodinger said to tell you that since we have snow this year, he wants a sleigh ride.”

“I think we can manage that,” Molly agreed. “Ask him if he’d like to help the Snow Queen.”

“Doing what?” Drew asked.

“An advent calendar to keep the Cove protections from falling into the wrong hands,” Molly said, and told him about Jade’s visit.

“He’s in,” Drew said. “And so am I. She’s delivering it tomorrow?”

“That’s what she said,” Molly said. “And I was coming in anyways, to bake for the bake sale. It’s as good a time as any, right?”


This is a special Advent story this year – every day, at the end of the day’s story, there will be an activity for you to do along with Lily, Kaylee, Schrodinger, Jack, and Gideon. I hope you have fun with it!

(writing) Updates and a blog tour

(above image from The Daily Tea)

It’s about two and a half weeks before I leave for Balticon and ConCarolinas, and I’m starting to get a little (okay, a lot) panicky. I’m busy writing blog posts for the upcoming blog tour for Winter’s Secret, which starts on May 16th! Since that’s about a week away, I realized I should probably let you guys know where I’ll be.


The Winter’s Secret Blog Tour

Monday, May 16 – I’ll be at KT Bryski’s blog, talking about music and what I’m currently listening to. Considering how much music is at the heart of Winter’s Secrets, it’s a good post to start off with.


Thursday, May 19th – I’ll be at Laura Nicole’s blog, talking about finding time to write. She’ll be blogging here the same day, but she hasn’t disclosed about what – I’m hoping it’s some about The Stonebriar Casefiles, which is her current podcasting project!


Friday, May 20th – Schrodinger hijacks Necia Phoenix’s blog to answer some interview questions. (Her poor interviewer now needs therapy, really)


Saturday, May 21st – I’m over at Lai Zhao’s blog talking about how I ended up writing an Advent story rather than ghosts. She’ll be over here at the same time, talking about depression and creativity, I think.


Monday, May 23rd – I’m going to be at The Geek Girl Project, talking about growing up a geek girl with a very supportive geek family.


Thursday, May 26th – I’m going to be at Clara Robertson’s blog, talking about inserting science fiction and horror into a fantasy world. If you’re interested about the Gates in the Carter’s Cove world, that’s what this one will be focusing a lot on.


Wednesday, June 1st – Over at Sarah Wagner’s blog, you’ll finally get the story of how Molly and Schrodinger met!


Friday, June 3rd – I’ll be at Angela Meadon’s blog, talking about the importance of darkness, even in a light fantasy world, and how to do it. Meanwhile, she’ll be here, talking about her new book Strong Medicine.


Monday, June 6th – I’ll be at Katharina Bordet’s blog, talking about food and kitchen witches! (Hint: this is the Katharina and Mick from Carter’s Cove’s coffee shop!)


Wednesday, June 8th – I’ll be at LJ Cohen’s blog, talking about evoking emotions in writing, and how much I can’t do poetry.


Thursday, June 9th – I’ll be at Mitchell Plested’s blog, talking about how Carter’s Cove came to be, while he’s going to be over here, talking about his newest release!


Monday, June 13th – I’ll be at Connie Cockerell’s blog, talking about how my love of tea and Christmas ended up producing a minor celebrity. I’m sure Schrodinger will make an appearance!


Whew! That’s quite a bit of travel, and if you follow me and comment on all the blogs, you’ll be entered to win a special prize – a tin of your favorite tea from Adagio Teas, plus a tea cup from Molly’s collection!


Now, I’d best get to writing. I owe my Patreon folk some more Shanna.

(advent) December 25

Friday, December 25

“Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Oh look, Santa came! Come on, everyone!”

Lily’s joyful voice echoed throughout the house, buoyed by Jack’s excited baying and the sounds of running feet. Schrodinger, who had been curled up at Molly’s feet, raised his head, sleep still in his eyes. They had come in fairly late the night before.

Then, as Molly watched, what Lily was shouting penetrated the sleep fog and Schrodinger said, Christmas! It’s Christmas! He jumped up, stepping on Drew and Molly in the process, and leapt from the bed, shouting at the top of his mental lungs, It’s Christmas!

“Yes, yes it is,” Drew said resignedly. “I don’t suppose I can go back to sleep yet, can I?”

“You can take a nap later,” Molly promised him. “You know as well as I do that they’ll be outside playing after dinner, and it will be quiet.”

“I’m holding you to that,” he grumbled, but Molly saw the twinkle in his eyes.
She laughed and got up, putting on her slippers before she padded down the stairs to start a pot of tea, and put the cinnamon rolls she’d set up from the freezer the night before into the oven. By the time the water was hot, everyone was up and in the living room, where the floor was all but gone under the massive mountain of presents.

“Good lord, where did all this come from?” Molly said, looking around.

“Santa, of course!” Lily told her, rolling her eyes. “Where else?”

“Well, some of it came from us too,” her mother said, laughing. “And don’t forget, Grandma and Grampa will be bringing more later.”

Lily, however, had realized there were more people than just her family in the room. “Grandma Ella!” she squealed excitedly, throwing herself in Pavel’s mother’s arms. “You came to Christmas!”

“And where else would I be?” Ella asked, hugging her. “Christmas is time for family, after all.”

I smell Pavel too! Jack said, wagging his tail enthusiastically and nearly taking out the tree. Schrodinger quickly shouldered his friend aside. And someone else…

“Yes, this is my mother, Brynna, and her husband Paul,” Ella said, and Lily’s eyes went wide. “Pavel’s grandmother. Mother, Paul, this is Molly’s niece Lily and her dog Jack.”

“Pavel has a grandma?” Lily said, astonished.

“Yes, he does,” Brynna said, smiling. “It’s very nice to meet you, Lily, Jack.”

When did you guys get here? Jack said, after politely sniffing Brynna and Paul’s hands.

“Late,” Molly told him, settling in on the couch. “You guys were already in bed.”

Someone knocked on the door, and Drew called, “Come in, it’s open!”

Doug and Tim appeared a few minutes later, with Ryan, and right after them, Mr and Mrs Barrett, then Peter and Donna Allard, with Lily’s best friend Zoey. To Jack’s and Schrodinger’s delight, Zoey had a wriggling puppy in her arms.

“Isn’t she adorable?” Zoey said, proudly showing off the puppy, who had a fuzzy coat and bright blue eyes. “Her name is Aurora.”

Aurora barked squeakily as Zoey set her down, her eyes on Jack, who leaned down to sniff her. Hello, Aurora, he said.

Big dog, Aurora said, and then sneezed. And cat!

My name is Schrodinger, the CrossCat said, coming over to her. Merry Christmas!

Christmas! Aurora agreed, and sneezed again.

“She’s from the Dorrs’ farm,” Donna told Molly. “They have a new breed that they’re trying out. It’s a cross between a Husky and a dog from one of the nearby Realms.”

Which Realm? Schrodinger asked, his eyes bright.

“I forget,” Donna admitted. “But apparently, these dogs are trackers, and are very smart. Aurora beelined for Zoey yesterday, and well, that was that.”

“So cool!” Lily said, reaching down to let Aurora sniff her hand. “Now we both have dogs!” She petted Aurora, then said to Zoey, “Come on, we need to sort the packages.”

“I’m going to get more tea,” Molly said, and got up.

Tim followed her into the kitchen to help, and as they assembled a tray, he said, “I got a phone call last night.”

“Oh?” Molly said noncommittally. “From who?”

“Not my parents,” Tim admitted. “I was hoping, but no go. But my sister called.” He smiled at Molly. “She loved the gingerbread house, and the pictures I sent of Ryan and Doug. We talked for a long time, and she’s thinking of coming out in the spring.”

“Oh, Tim, that’s wonderful!” Molly said, throwing her arms around him. “I’m so happy for you!”

He hugged her back. “Thanks to you. Without your support, I wouldn’t have even tried. Thank you, Molly, for accepting us.”

“Molly, if you don’t come back, we can’t open presents!” Lily called out, and Molly and Tim laughed.

“We’re coming, we’re coming!” Molly called back.

“You know, if we add any more people to this holiday next year, we’re going to need a bigger living room,” Drew said quietly, as Molly rejoined him on the couch.

“We could knock out the wall between here and the dining room,” she said, putting her head on his shoulder. “We don’t really need a dining room, do we?”

“Either that, or join the library to this room.”

“Oh, I like that idea,” Molly mused, watching Lily and Zoey hand out presents to people. Even Brynna and Paul had gifts in front of them. “More room for books that way.”

Aurora had fun playing with the bits of paper flying everywhere, chasing them through the air with baby growls. Jack and Schrodinger joined her, and Molly’s sides soon hurt from laughing. Finally, they got through all the presents and the kids were dispatched outside to play in the softly-falling snow while Molly got breakfast out.

As the adults were sitting down around the table, enjoying the cinnamon rolls and fresh cups of tea (and the quiet), Mrs. Barrett said teasingly, “So, Molly, when do we get another grandchild to add to the mayhem?”

“Do you need another one?” Molly teased back, grinning. “Don’t we have enough?”

“There’s never enough grandchildren,” Ella said, nodding at Mrs. Barrett. “Because you can spoil them.”

“As soon as we do, we’ll let you know,” Drew said. Then he looked at Molly. “Right?”

“Right,” she said. “Sorry, Mom, but nothing yet. We’re still enjoying just being married.”

“You know I’m just teasing,” Mrs. Barrett said. “You’ll do it when you’re ready.”

Molly was about to reply when there was another knock on the door. She looked at the clock, and frowned. Aunt Margie and Uncle Art had decided to go to her cousin Alicia’s for Christmas, so they weren’t expecting anyone else. “Who could that be?”

“I’ll go,” Drew said, and went out to the front door. Everyone in the kitchen looked at each other, waiting to hear what he said.

“Oh my! Merry Christmas!” he said. “Come in, come in!”

When he came back to the kitchen, to Molly’s surprise, Aunt Janice and Uncle Larry were with him. “You didn’t tell us you were actually coming! I thought you couldn’t make it?” she said, hopping up to hug the man and woman who had raised Drew after his parents died.

“It was a spur of the moment decision,” Aunt Janice admitted, hugging her, and then pulling her son Doug into an embrace. “I missed my family.” She hugged Tim tightly too. “All my boys were here, so I told Larry we needed to be here too. I’m glad he agreed with me.”

“Me too,” Doug said. “Me too.”



Merry Christmas, folks! I hope you enjoyed the Advent story this year!

(advent) December 24

Thursday, December 24

“We haven’t forgotten anything, have we?” Brynna asked Paul, who chuckled and rolled his eyes.

“No, my love, we have not forgotten anything, and it’s not like we can’t come back,” he told her. “We’re not leaving forever. If nothing else, I sail in two weeks, so we have to be back for that. I think we can make it for two weeks.”

They were taking both Pavel’s sleigh, hitched to his black horses, and a smaller sleigh that Loki was hitched to. Schrodinger was sitting on the driver’s seat with Pavel, who had decided that he didn’t want anyone else driving his team, even though Drew had offered. But since they had presents as well, they decided to take both sleighs. Ella had opted to ride with her mother, both of them working on something knitted.

Then let’s go! Schrodinger said, and Pavel laughed.

“We’re going, we’re going!” he said, shaking the reins, and the horses took off towards the Gate.

They stopped at the little stone church on their way through the town, and Brynna introduced them to the jolly priest who came out to greet them.

“Father Brundell has run this congregation for the last three years,” she said, after they’d all shaken hands. “He does a dinner every Christmas Eve for those you don’t have families, especially the sailors who have to be away from home.”

“That’s wonderful!” Molly said, as Father Brundell accepted the basket from Brynna. They’d stuffed it not only with the sweet bread, but with extra helpings of mashed potatoes and roasted brussel sprouts. “It’s hard being away from home on Christmas.”

“Indeed, but we try and make it a bit home-like,” Father Brundell told her, smiling broadly from under the knitted wool cap he had on his head. He was dressed in warm brown wool robes, with a red sash around his waist. Molly could hear the soft jingle of bells as he moved, and realized the sash had some small golden bells sewn to the edges.

We should get Father Christopher one of those! Schrodinger whispered to her.

Why, so he can’t sneak up on us? She whispered back on their personal mental channel. Like belling a cat?

Belling a cat? His mental voice was confused, and he looked at her, cocking his head to the side.

I’ll tell you that story later, Molly promised him.

“I’ll be happy to check the animals for you, and bless you for donating the eggs and milk,” Father Brundell was saying to Brynna and Paul. “You make our days brighter.”

“Well, considering some of the things we’ve done, we need to do all the good deeds we can,” Brynna joked, winking at her husband.

“You can’t fool me,” Father Brundell said, laughing. “You may be scamps, but you’ve got hearts of gold. But it’s cold, and you should be getting going. May the Gods bless your family, and your trip.”

“And you, Father!” Brynna called, as they started off towards the Gate again. There was a different tech on duty, and he took their coordinates and then went to the computer to start entering them, warming the Gate up. Molly looked at Drew as Pavel gave the coordinates.

“That’s not the Cove Gate,” she said, her forehead furrowing. “Where are we going?”

“To my mother’s house,” Pavel said, before Drew could answer. “She wanted to pick up a few things, and so did my grandmother. They’ve installed a Gate now, which I’d forgotten.”

So we get to see where you grew up? Schrodinger asked.

“Yes,” Pavel said. Then he sighed. “I’m not sure if I’m happy or not about this.”

Because of the memories? Schrodinger said, and Pavel nodded. Well, perhaps this can be the start of new memories? Because your grandfather won’t be there anymore, but we will. He nosed the pirate gently in the arm, careful not to jiggle the reins.

“Perhaps,” Pavel said, smiling down at him. Then the Gate flared to life, and the tech waved them forward onto the Road.

There was a buzz on the Roads that even Molly could feel as they traveled along, an almost frenetic energy that urged the horses forward. She turned and saw Loki keeping up with them, his shorter legs moving solidly as he trotted behind them.

It’s because it’s close to Christmas, Schrodinger said, and Molly saw his whiskers vibrating from more than just the wind of their passage. Everyone along the Roads is excited, and that just adds to the power of the Roads themselves. It makes the Roads fun to travel.

And a bit more dangerous, Drew said, since they were going fast enough that he didn’t want to speak out loud. This is always when the Roads seem to drift.

But you have a CrossCat with you, so it really doesn’t matter, Schrodinger said, and Molly laughed at the off-handed confidence in his mental voice. We can get to anywhere we need to.

I’d still rather not have the Road drift, thank you, Drew said, putting his arm around Molly. We’ve got to get back to the house before midnight, remember? We have guests!

Oh, right!

Luckily, the Road didn’t drift, and they emerged into a large building that resembled the one on Hrfafell, although this Gate station had goats rather than sheep milling around, and there were plenty of bushes growing that the goats were nibbling on, in addition to the grass. A large woman welcomed them with cheery greetings for Pavel and Ella, and then a surprised “Oh my goodness, is that BRYNNA?” for Pavel’s grandmother, who flushed.

“Bless my soul, it is!” the woman continued. “And Paul too! Welcome back!” She cocked her head at them. “You don’t remember me, do you?”

“I’m afraid not,” Brynna started, then peered closely at her. The woman was wearing a sweater and dungarees in the warmth of the Gate room, and her short curly hair looked as if she regularly ran her fingers through it. It was a slightly mad scientist look that meshed well with her dimpled grin and twinkling hazel eyes. “Is that little Cari?”

“It is indeed,” Cari said, laughing.

“Oh my, you were barely walking when I last saw you!” Brynna said, shaking her head. “And now you’re a Gate tech!”

“Engineer, actually, and have two little ones of my own,” Cari said proudly. “Are you staying?”

“No, not this time,” Pavel said, and Cari’s face fell. “But perhaps soon.”

“Da would love to see you,” she said to Brynna. “He’s actually in port for the holiday.”

“I think we’ll come back soon,” Brynna said, looking at Paul, who nodded. “After Christmas Day. There are a lot of old friends I’d like to see. Tell your Da so.”

“I will,” Cari promised, stepping back. “Blessed Christmas!”

“And to you!” Brynna called as the two sleighs pulled out of the Gate room.
Hfrafell had been a small town, but this town was larger than Molly had realized, with a port that actually rivaled the Cove’s. The docks were full of ships, and masts were gathered like a forest, bobbing gently on the waves that came in. There were clouds overhead, but no snow fell, and it was cold, but not overwhelmingly so. She snuggled deeper into the blankets and looked around as they moved through the streets, which were crowded with people.
Their progress was hampered more by the calls from old friends of both Pavel and Brynna, all of whom seemed to be out and about. And of course, once the call went up from one of them, others came out, and the air was soon full of greetings and exclamations.

“We’ll be back soon!” Brynna had to finally promise. “But we have to get to the house, and then off to another place for Christmas! But we will come back for a long visit!”

There were more shouts, but the crowd finally opened a way, and Pavel was able to move the sleigh through and out of the marketplace.

“Your grandmother is popular,” Drew observed, and Pavel nodded, looking slightly dazed.

“I had no idea,” the pirate admitted. “No one spoke of her, but now, I wonder how much of that was because no one wanted to upset my grandfather.” He sighed. “I wish I’d known, honestly. It might have made my life a bit easier.”

Now you know, though, Schrodinger told him. You can move forward.

“Yes, I can.” Pavel smiled down at the CrossCat. “And I will.”

The house they pulled up to was small, almost more of a cottage than a house, and it had no widow’s walk like Brynna’s and Paul’s house did. But as Ella climbed out and unlocked the door, Molly saw the look in her eyes: there was no doubt that the woman loved the place, and no matter what her son offered, Molly couldn’t see her giving the cottage up any time soon.

“Come in,” Ella said, turning back to them. “We have enough time for a cup of tea.”

“I can do that,” Molly offered, as they all climbed out of the sleighs and came in. The front door opened into a sitting room, and Molly could see the kitchen beyond. “That way, you can collect what you need.”

Ella nodded, and headed up the stairs. Molly went into the kitchen with Schrodinger and Drew on her heels, and between the three of them, they soon had a tray assembled with a large tea pot, enough mugs for everyone, the black tea that Ella preferred, and some cookies that Molly found in the pantry.
When they came back into the sitting room, they found Paul sitting on the sofa alone. “Pavel and Brynna are getting things,” he said in explanation. “I decided to wait here.”

“I don’t blame you,” Molly said, putting the tray down on the small coffee table in front of the sofa, and pouring him a cup of tea. “How long do you think they’ll be?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m not sure what they were getting.”

Molly looked around the room. There was a large chair by the fireplace that had an ottoman in front of it, and a faded blanket was thrown over the back. It was slightly dusty, and she realized that must have been Willem’s chair.

“No one would dare sit there,” Paul said quietly, noticing what she was looking at. “Even before he got hurt. That was his favorite chair.”

“I can imagine,” she replied. Then they both started as Schrodinger deliberately jumped up into it, and curled up. Then he sneezed, and Molly laughed.

Time for new memories, Schrodinger said. It’s just a chair.

“Yes, yes it is,” Pavel agreed, coming in. He laid a small box down by the door, and then accepted a cup of tea and a cookie from Molly. “Although I have to say, it’s odd to see anyone but the old man in that chair. Maybe we should just get rid of it.”

“No,” his mother said firmly, when she came down the stairs and Pavel repeated his suggestion. “Your great-grandfather made that chair, and it’s still solid. Besides, I like to sit in it at night now.”

I can get up, Schrodinger offered, but Ella shook her head.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said, taking what Molly guessed was her customary seat in an intricately-carved rocking chair. “This is fine as well.” She looked around. “Mother hasn’t rejoined us?”

“Not yet,” Pavel said, handing her a cup of tea. “I thought she was with you.”

“No, she went into Father’s room,” Ella said, frowning a little. “Should we check on her?”

“I’ll go,” Paul said, getting up. He left the room and went up the stairs.

While he was gone, Pavel looked around the room. “I never imagined I’d be sitting here enjoying myself,” he said quietly. “This was the room I hated the most when I was home.”

Because it was your grandfather’s favorite room? Schrodinger guessed.

“Yes,” Pavel said, looking at the fireplace, which was currently black and silent. “There was always a fire, even in the summer. He could never get warm again after his accident.”

“No, he couldn’t,” Ella agreed, also looking at the fireplace. “I haven’t lit a fire there since he died, you know.”

“Why not?” Molly asked.

“Because it didn’t seem necessary,” Ella said, shrugging. “The blanket is enough for me. And the fire is a lot of work.”

“Have you decided yet, Mother?” Pavel said. “Are you going to move in with me?”

“I don’t know,” Ella said. “Mother invited me to live with her too, but this is my home.” She looked around fondly.

“Living with either of us doesn’t mean you can’t come back, you know,” Pavel said.

“Perhaps.” She smiled at him. “I’m going to come back for a bit, at least. What would I do while you were at sea?”

“You could always come hang out at the bookstore,” Molly said, and

Schrodinger chimed in, We could keep you busy!

“I’m sure you could,” Ella laughed.

Brynna and Paul came down the stairs a few minutes later, and Molly saw the older woman’s eyes were red. She couldn’t imagine what it was like to come back into the house that she’d been thrown out of. To Molly’s relief, Pavel jumped up, concern in his eyes. “Are you okay, Grandmother?” he said, and she could hear the note of worry in his voice. A note that wouldn’t have been there even a few days ago.

“Yes, I’m okay,” she told him, smiling despite the sorrow in her eyes. “I just didn’t realize how hard it would be to come back here.” She looked at all of them. “Do you mind if we go to say goodbye to him before we leave?”

“Of course not,” Molly said. “We’ll all go, if you want.”

“That would be good.”

The little graveyard Pavel’s grandfather was buried in sat at the end of a narrow spit of land, and it obviously wasn’t the main cemetery for the town. There were only a few graves in it. The largest, and newest, was the one that Pavel led them to. On the front of the granite pillar, the words sharp and new, it said “Captain Willem Chekhov. Father, Grandfather, Captain. He has taken his final voyage.”

Brynna sank to her knees on the grave in front of the stone, her head bowed over her folded hands. “I’m so sorry, Willem,” she said softly, tears dripping down her cheeks again. “I hope now you’ve found peace at last.”

(advent) December 23

Wednesday, December 23

“All right, boys, let’s go.” Paul pushed his finished breakfast plate aside and drained his tea cup, sighing a bit. Molly had noticed the coffee in the cupboard when she was exploring the night before, but no one had asked for it, and she’d breathed a soft sigh of relief. He hadn’t seemed unhappy with the pile of potatoes, eggs, bacon, and root vegetables she’d set on the table, and it was all gone.

Where are we going? Schrodinger asked, looking up at the sailor. What do we need to get?

“Well, we need a Christmas tree, for one,” Brynna said, standing up and starting to collect the plates. “And there are some gifts I need you to pick up in the town.”

“And we need you out from under our feet,” Ella added, joining her mother. “No, Molly, you sit. We can do dishes, and then we can all start cooking dinner.”

“Are you insinuating that you can’t cook with us here?” Pavel said, grinning hugely.

“There’s no insinuation,” Ella told him. “You four are not welcome while we cook – we’ll need all the room we can get, and if we’re working hard, there’s no reason you can’t be either. You can break into the rum bottle when you get back, the decorations and tree are up, and presents are wrapped.”

“Slave drivers,” Drew said to Schrodinger. “They’re all slave drivers.”

But they’re making us dinner, so it sounds like a good trade to me, the CrossCat said. And then, when we come back, I bet there will be a nice hot lunch or at least cocoa to warm us up. Molly isn’t a slave driver. I think if we’re not helping here, we should be out of the way.

“Ah, Schrodinger, you’re a wise cat,” Brynna said, winking at Molly. “I think there could be a hot lunch waiting when you get back, yes.”

See? Schrodinger said, looking at Drew, Pavel, and Paul. It’s a trade. Let’s go!

“You don’t even know where we’re going,” Drew laughed, but he and the others got to their feet.

To get a Christmas tree! The CrossCat jumped down and bounced out of the kitchen.

“Let us at least get our coats and boots on!” Drew called, and received a strangled yowl in reply. That made everyone laugh.


“I think we’ll get the tree first,” Paul said, when the men and Schrodinger reassembled in the front yard. “That way, we can load everything on the sleigh.” He looked at the list in his hand. “Since it’s a longer list than I thought.”

What is on the list? Schrodinger asked, standing up on his hind legs to look. He put one paw on Paul’s leg to steady himself, but he couldn’t make out the words.

“MacKay’s, Piotr’s, the Candlery, and Yana’s,” Paul told him, and laughed as Schrodinger’s ears swiveled. “That means that Brynna’s been busy, and there will be packages to pick up at most of them. And I want to stop by Meri’s – she’s got a special gift for Brynna from me.”

“You said you had a sled?” Drew said. “Are we pulling it?”

“No, I think Loki needs some exercise,” Paul said, and led them around the house to the small barn Schrodinger had investigated the day before. He knew exactly who Loki was.

When Paul opened the door to the barn, a warm smell of hay and lanolin drifted out. Schrodinger bounded in happily, enjoying the feel of the animals around him. Paul and Brynna had a small farm, with three goats, several chickens, a few ducks, and two large pigs. Pavel had put his two horses in the next stalls, and they whickered as the CrossCat went by. And in the back stall was Loki.

Hello, Loki! Schrodinger called, going back to the stall where the large ram dozed on the straw. Are you ready for an adventure?

Always, the ram replied in his deep voice, opening his dark eyes and blinking sleepily. Where are we going?

To get a Christmas tree!

Loki got to his feet as Paul came up, holding his harness. “Rise and shine!” Paul said cheerily, and Loki blew a snort through his nostrils.

“That is one big ram,” Pavel said, blinking, as Schrodinger and Paul came out with Loki between them.

“Very strong,” Paul agreed. “And more easy-going than a horse.” He patted Loki fondly on the shoulder.

And smarter, Loki said, butting his head against Paul. Most horses don’t talk.

No, Schrodinger agreed. They don’t.

Paul harnessed Loki to the large sled that Pavel and Drew had pulled out. “Now, first to the tree,” he said. “Follow me.”

They followed him up the road, away from the town, and into the woods that started away from the cliffs. The morning was bright, crisp and clear, with the strong smell of the sea on the wind that rushed past them. Schrodinger bounded ahead, glorying in the feel of the snow beneath his paws, secure in the love of his chosen family. It was finally right, he realized. Pavel was happy, Molly and Drew were happy, and he had new places to explore, so he was happy. Although he’d chosen to settle down, all CrossCats possessed an innate need to explore, and Schrodinger realized that now he had yet another place to come and satisfy that need. Life was good.

“How big a tree are we looking at?” Drew asked Paul as they trudged along a narrow path in between large evergreens. The sounds of the sea had finally been eclipsed by the sound of the wind in the pines, and the sharp scent of fir and juniper all but drowned the scent of salt water. Schrodinger could smell other animals as well – animals he didn’t recognize, and some that he did. There was a bear nearby, sleeping in her den, dreaming of spring and the cubs growing in her womb. A jack rabbit bounded ahead of them, looking for something to eat and trying to avoid the hawk he knew was around. There were sharper scents, and Schrodinger paused, trying to identify them.

Wolves, Loki told him, his nostrils flaring as he scented the wind. They’re not going to bother us. We’re too big a group, and there are easier targets.

I’ve never met a wolf, Schrodinger said, deciding to stay closer to the party. But I’ve heard of them.

They’re fierce hunters, but know when to choose their battles. Loki nodded to Paul. They know he carries a gun. We’ve run into them before.

“It’s not much farther,” Paul said, turning down a side trail. “Our destination is just ahead.”

He led them down the trail, over a wooden bridge that had a small, ice-choked stream running underneath it, and into an obviously man-made field. The town had cleared a large swath of woods and planted neat rows of Christmas trees.

“We started this about fifteen years ago, when Brynna and I spent our first Christmas here, and she realized there were no trees,” Paul said, smiling proudly as they looked around. “We got seeds from one of the other islands and planted them here.” He looked at Schrodinger. “We need one about 6 feet tall. Can you find a good one?”

Of course I can! The CrossCat bounded off, running up and down the rows.

He was looking for a specific thing, as he did every year, since the first year he and Molly had looked for a Christmas tree: a nest. Lily and Jack had told him that finding a bird’s nest in the Christmas tree meant a year of luck and prosperity for everyone he cared about.

He wove in and out of the trees, looking for that scent of feathers and twigs that would signify a nest. Then he caught another scent and pulled up short. This was a scent he was familiar with.

Schrodinger had left Drew, Paul, Pavel, and Loki at the edge of the field, so he was alone in the sea of evergreens. The smell of brimstone wrapped around him, and he looked around, wondering where it came from. And if it was friendly.

Hello? He called out, hoping it was friendly. It didn’t have the signature smell of Ember, the dragon that he’d befriended who lived with Old Man Winter. But it didn’t necessarily have to be evil. Where are you?

After a long moment, he heard something crunch through the snow, and a sleepy voice said, Who’s there?

My name is Schrodinger, and I’m looking for a Christmas tree! Schrodinger said politely, sitting down under the tree he was nearest. I’m sorry if I woke you up.

Well, at least you’re polite. The trees opposite him shivered, then pulled their roots up and stepped aside, making a large opening in the field so the large silver dragon that came out of the snow could stand comfortable. I wasn’t quite asleep, luckily. I don’t sleep deeply here – too close to the town. It looked at him with deep blue eyes, not hungrily, but with interest. I haven’t seen a CrossCat in a very long time, and I stop here every year.

I’m visiting, Schrodinger said. My friend Pavel is the grandson of Captain Brynna Stromsdottir, and we’re celebrating Christmas here before we head back home.

And where is home? The silver dragon asked, settling himself in the snow. His long tail wrapped around him, and as he did so, Schrodinger noticed the trees sliding back into their spots. He was fascinated by that, and realized that he was staring when the silver dragon chuckled. The trees are kind, and don’t mind me coming through, as long as I warn them, so their branches don’t break.

I didn’t know dragons could talk to trees! Ember never told me that!

Not all can, the silver dragon said. It depends on what we learn as fledglings. My grand-dam was very interested in herbs and trees, and she taught me how to talk to plants, to find out what they can do. We’re a race of healers.

That’s amazing, Schrodinger said. Then he realized the dragon had asked him a question. I’m originally from the Den, but now I live in Carter’s Cove.

Ah, a lovely place. I had wondered. The dragon laid his head on his front paws and regarded the CrossCat. I haven’t been back there in a very long time.

It’s my home now, so I think I’m biased, but I think it’s the best place, Schrodinger said.

Of course. It’s where your people are. The dragon smiled, a large, toothy grin. That’s the best place to be, where your people are.

And where are your people? Schrodinger asked.

I’m heading there now, the dragon told him. This is my last stopping point before I get back to the island where I hatched from. We’ll be celebrating the Yule season there in two days. He smiled again. I cannot wait to see my siblings.

The image of a large warm cavern, with many great silver wings, popped into Schrodinger’s mind. He nodded, noticing how similar to the Den the dragon’s cave was. It looks lovely, he said.

It is. The dragon sighed, and rose. And I should be going. Good luck on your tree hunt, young Schrodinger. Have a merry Yule season to you and yours.

And to you!

Schrodinger watched the trees move aside again, and the dragon leapt into the air. Just before the large silver beast vanished into the sky, a thought drifted back. And if you get a chance, please tell Ember that Grismouth the Wanderer sends his greetings, and hopes he will see her again someday.

I shall! Schrodinger waited until the trees moved back into their spots, and then turned aside, looking for that elusive tree.


“So, what are we making?” Molly asked, once the menfolk had left and they’d enjoyed a leisurely second cup of tea around the table. Ella had made quick work of the dishes, and while they sat, Brynna had pulled out a large book of recipes.

“I thought we’d do a traditional dinner,” Brynna said. “I haven’t made one in a very long time, but since we’ll all be here.” She flipped through the pages of the cookbook, and then said, “Of course, we need to make the bread.”

“I can do that,” Molly said. “Bread is a specialty of mine.”

Brynna nodded. “Here’s the recipe,” she said, pulling the sheet out of the sleeve it was in, and Molly realized that the book was actually more like a binder. The recipe itself was written in a lovely hand, clear and strong. It contained raisins, brown sugar, and honey in a braided loaf. “I think we’ll want to make three – two for us, and one for the Church,” she said. “I always send a loaf down.”

Molly studied the recipe. “I think it will actually be best if we make 4,” she said. “If we do that, I can use it to make French toast the next morning.”

“Oh, that sounds lovely!” Brynna agreed. “Meanwhile, Ella, you and I can make the lamb. I’ve got a lovely roast that we got in last week.

“What do you do with it?” Molly asked her.

“I think we’ll go simple this year,” Brynna told her. “I’m going to wrap it in bacon, with herbs stuffed in it. And then we pair it with winter greens and cranberries. You didn’t use all my potatoes, did you?”

“No,” Molly said. “There’s still plenty. Mashed potatoes, then?”

“Yes, with some of the milk from the goats,” Brynna said. She looked around at them. “Ready, ladies?”

They got busy, and by the time the boys came back with their load, the kitchen smelled of roasting meat, bacon, and the sweet smell of Molly’s bread. She went to help them decorate the tree with the box of ornaments Brynna had brought down from the attic, and then they all gathered around the table for dinner.

“This is amazing,” Paul said, looking at the laden table. He kissed his wife. “You ladies have outdone yourself.”

“Agreed,” Drew said, and Pavel nodded.

This is the best, Schrodinger said. Until we get home, that is.

(advent) December 22

Tuesday, December 22

It was snowing when Molly awoke, and for a moment, she couldn’t remember where she was. The bedroom that Brynna had shown them to the night before was smaller than their bedroom at the farm, and the sounds of the waves against the rocks beneath them was something she wasn’t accustomed to.

Now, it mixed with the familiar sound of snow against glass windows, an intriguing combination that pulled her from dreaming.

Drew was still asleep, as was Schrodinger, but Molly found herself squirming out of the warm blankets, not wanting to stay in bed for some reason. She pulled on her robe and her slippers, and went downstairs to the kitchen.

To her surprise, Brynna was also awake, sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea in front of her, watching the snow fall out the windows. The kitchen was at the rear of the house, facing the cliffs, although due to the snow, Molly could only see a small ways out beyond the yard. “Good morning,” the woman said quietly. “You’re up early.”

“My days usually start early,” Molly said, in an equally quiet tone. “What time is it?”

“Seven o’clock,” Brynna said. “There’s tea in the pot, if you would like.”

“Thank you.” Molly took one of the clay mugs from where they hung on the wall, and poured herself a cup of dark, fragrant black tea. Then she took one of the seats at the table, and she and Brynna watched the snow fall in silence for a while.

“Pavel says you’re the reason he came,” Brynna said finally, breaking the silence. “That you convinced him to give me a chance.”

“Pavel likes to exaggerate sometimes,” Molly said, flushing a little. “I just reminded him that family should have a second chance, and that he shouldn’t just trust his grandfather’s stories, that he owed it to himself, to Ella, and to you to find out first-hand.”

Brynna nodded, looking sad. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at how deep Willem’s hatred ran, but I am. We were very, very much in love once.”

“They say there’s a thin line between love and hate,” Molly told her.

“Yes, they do.”

After another moment or so, Molly said, “It’s none of my business, but if you don’t mind my asking, what happened?”

Brynna sighed, and sipped her tea before replying. “Willem and I married very young, against our parents’ advice. We were so in love, though. And for a long time, all we needed was the sea and each other.” She looked out at the snow falling. “Then I had Ella, and we thought our family was complete. One of us would stay with her, and the other would take the ship on runs. It was perfect.”

“And then?” Molly prompted her, when she stopped.

“When Ella was about 12, we started to go out again together. She hates the sea, and so we’d leave her with the neighbors, who had a daughter her age,” Brynna said. “We assumed she’d fall in love and marry someone in the village, and we’d continue to sail. And then the accident happened.”

She looked over at Molly. “We’d been out longer than we meant to, and one of the big winter storms hit as we were trying to get back to the harbor. Now, we didn’t really ply the Sea Roads much – we didn’t have a navigator who could plot us a course at that point, so we were just on our sea. It was cheaper to run, too – no need to charge Gate engines, but it also meant that we couldn’t jump onto a Sea Road if the weather got too bad.”

Molly nodded, although she wasn’t quite sure what the woman meant. She knew the Sea Roads acted a bit differently than the land-based Roads, but she’d never really ventured on them, so she didn’t know how different they were. “So you were caught?”

“We were trying to get into a sheltered harbor, to let the storm pass us,” Brynna said. Her hands tightened around the mug of tea. “Willem insisted on being at the wheel, since he was stronger than I was. Our first mate was with him, trying to keep the ship stable. And then we were hit.”


“I still don’t know,” Brynna said. “It could have been a rock – we were close to land, although not close enough, I don’t think. It could have been some debris from another wreck. But something hit us hard, and we nearly foundered.” She swallowed. “Willem and the first mate were hit by the wave as the ship wallowed. We lost the first mate overboard, and for a moment, I thought we’d lost Willem too. Then we found him pinned against the side of the ship.”

“What happened?” Molly asked, her eyes wide.

“Somehow, Paul and I – he was our second mate at the time – managed to get the ship into a cove,” Brynna said, shaking her head. “I still don’t know how. Luck was on our side. But we lost two more sailors before we did, and the ship was badly damaged. Willem had been knocked out, so we didn’t know until later how bad his injuries were.”

“Pavel said he always limped,” Molly said, remembering. “And was usually in pain.”

“That was the least of his injuries,” Brynna told her. “He hit his head so hard that something broke in there. He couldn’t stand on a ship anymore – couldn’t bear to feel the movement of the waves. Even on land, he said he could feel it, and it made him sick.

“At first, I tried to continue on, and I consoled myself that he could now stay with Ella. But he started to drink, to dull the pain.” Brynna sighed. “He began to blame me for the accident. Said I wanted to take the ship from him, that I was jealous of his ability, of how good a captain he was. And then he hit me.”
Molly closed her eyes in sympathy.

“It didn’t actually hurt physically – he’d been drinking enough that he had little strength,” Brynna said. “It was more the mental pain. How could he do that? How could he strike me? How could he hate me that much?”

“It wasn’t you,” said a new voice, and Ella joined them in the kitchen. “And it really wasn’t him anymore. It was the drink.”

“I know,” Brynna told her, reaching out a hand to her daughter. “But at the time, it was shocking.”

“So you left,” Molly said, getting up and getting a mug for Ella. Then she turned to the refrigerator, looking for the breakfast fixings that she’d brought with her.

“Not immediately,” Brynna said. “I told myself that it was a fluke, that by the time I’d returned next, he’d be better. But of course he wasn’t. And then Ella got pregnant, so I was torn.”

“I told her to go,” Ella said, taking Molly’s seat. “Pavel’s father had already left, and I knew that the sight of Mother drove Father insane with rage. So I told her to go, to leave.”

“I still wish I had insisted you come with me,” Brynna told her. “You have no idea how much I regret not doing that.”

“I couldn’t leave him,” Ella said, shaking her head. “Not alone. He would have died so quickly.” Then she chuckled. “Besides, you know how much I hate ships.”

“We could have made a fast run,” Brynna said. “Ah well. It’s over and done now.” She smiled at her daughter fondly. “Now we can start making up for lost time.”

“Yes,” Ella agreed.

“Molly, you don’t have to do that,” Brynna said, starting to get up as she realized Molly was cooking on the wood stove.

“No, probably not, but I enjoy it,” Molly said, waving her back. “Trust me, I’m a kitchen witch. This is my specialty.”

“I wouldn’t argue with her,” Ella said. “Just sit back and enjoy the food she turns out.”

By the time the boys straggled in, Molly had turned out a feast of bacon, eggs, and cranberry scones that she’d brought from the Cove. “Now you see why I want to kidnap her,” Pavel said, looking at the spread before him. “I know you didn’t bring all of this with you.”

Molly flashed him a smile. “I brought the scones. Your grandmother had the bacon and eggs.”

“Not this much bacon, I’m fairly certain,” Brynna said, blinking. “I don’t think I’ve seen this much bacon in one place in my life.”

“I may have stretched it a little,” Molly admitted. “I don’t do it very often, but I can.”

The front door opened, and a male voice called out “Brynna? Did I miss breakfast?”

“Not at all!” Brynna called back, and after a moment, a stocky man with a short, greying beard came into the kitchen. He stopped at the doorway, blinking confusedly at the mass of people he encountered.

“I wasn’t aware we were having guests,” he said, looking at Brynna. “Do you know them?”

“No, they just showed up and cooked breakfast for us,” she said dryly. “I decided not to let the opportunity go by to let someone else cook.”

He laughed, a hearty, unforced laughter that was contagious, and came in to give her a kiss. Then he looked around. “I’ll bet this is your daughter, Ella,” he said, and Brynna nodded. “I haven’t see you in years.”

“Hello, Paul,” she said, getting up to give him a kiss on the cheek. “It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”

“Yes, it has,” Paul said. “But I don’t recognize anyone else.”

“This is Pavel,” Ella said, indicating her son.

“My grandson,” Brynna added proudly. “A captain, just like myself.”

“As if he could be anything else,” Paul said, looking Pavel over. He held out his hand. “Good to meet you, Captain. I’m Paul.”

“My husband,” Brynna said. “My second husband.”

Pavel looked at her, then at Paul. “You married him before my grandfather died,” he said, and Molly couldn’t tell what emotion colored his voice.

“Yes,” Brynna said, not sounding at all repentant. “Although in my defense, the man I married died when he lost the ability to go to sea.” She sighed. “Paul was my first mate for a very long time, before we got married. He was the one who reminded me that life was not all bitterness and anger.”

Pavel continued to look at Paul measuringly for a long time, not responding. Paul continued to stand, his hand outstretched in welcome, not pressuring the younger man. Molly found herself surreptitiously crossing her fingers that the pirate wouldn’t take this new information badly. He’d just started to warm up to his grandmother…

Pavel? Schrodinger said softly, coming up to his friend. Are you okay?

Pavel didn’t move until the CrossCat’s soft paw landed on his leg, then he shook himself, and (to Molly’s relief) clasped Paul’s hand warmly. “Thank you,” he said. “For taking care of my grandmother.”

“It’s been my pleasure,” Paul told him, then pulled him into a rough bear hug. “It’s good to finally meet you.”

“And you,” Pavel said, clapping him on the back.

Then Brynna introduced Molly, Drew, and Schrodinger to her husband, and they sat down to eat Molly’s meal.

“What were your plans for today?” Paul asked them, as they lingered over cups of tea and hot chocolate.

Molly shrugged, looking at the others. “Did we have plans?”

“I have to start the baking,” Brynna said. “And there’s decorating to do, of course.”

We can help! Schrodinger said, perking up at the words. We love decorating!

“I promised to have Molly, Drew, and Schrodinger back to the Cove for Christmas Eve,” Pavel said, and looked at his mother and grandmother. “They’re hosting their own family Christmas Day.”

You could come back with us. We have plenty of room. Schrodinger looked at Molly pleadingly. Don’t we?

“Of course we do,” Molly agreed. “You would all be more than welcome.”

“Just be aware that there will be pandemonium Christmas morning,” Drew said. “We’ll have not only Lily and Jack, but Ryan and Kaylee.”

And Zoey is coming over later! Schrodinger bounced in his chair. So we can all spend Christmas dinner together!

“We wouldn’t want to intrude…” Brynna said, and Molly laughed.

“You wouldn’t be,” she assured the woman. “Just be aware, you won’t be able to sleep in very late.”

Brynna and Paul exchanged glances. “It’s up to you,” Paul said, shrugging. “I go where you go.”

“Let me think about it,” Brynna said finally. “It’s a wonderful offer, but I don’t know.” A faraway look came in to her eyes. “I haven’t been to the Cove in a long time.”

We’re having ham, Schrodinger said. And turkey. And Molly’s made anadama rolls for dinner! And there’s going to be PIE!

“What kind of pie?” Paul asked him, and Molly saw the twinkle in his eyes.

Molly said she was going to make a blueberry pie, a chocolate cream pie, an apple pie, and a mincemeat pie!

“Mincemeat pie,” Paul said, rubbing his tummy. “I haven’t had mincemeat pie in a long time.”

Molly makes the best mincemeat pie, Schrodinger said, slipping out of his chair and sidling up to stand in between Paul and Brynna. And if we’re really, really good, she’ll make a cheesecake too.

“Cheesecake too?” Paul reached over and took Brynna’s hand. “How can we refuse?”

“Are you sure you have room for us?” Brynna asked Molly.

“Absolutely,” Molly told her. “We have a big farmhouse. It will be a pleasure having you.”

“Then let’s do this – we’ll have our own Christmas dinner here tomorrow, if you ladies don’t mind helping me. Then we can all go back to the Cove for Christmas Eve there,” Brynna said.

TWO Christmases? We get TWO Christmases this year? Best year ever!

(advent) December 21

Monday, December 21

“Are you sure you’re okay with this?” Molly asked her sister-in-law again, a worried look on her face. “I mean, it’s a big imposition.”

“Huge,” Corrine agreed wryly, rolling her eyes at her. “I mean, you spent all yesterday cooking, so all we have to do is warm everything up on Friday, so you don’t have to worry about hosting. The house needs to be cleaned, and Nathan is taking the girls for the week so I can do that. I get to be by myself for three days, until they join me, in a house that is stocked with amazing food and a great wine cellar. However will I survive?” She gave Molly a hug. “Trust me, I’ll be fine. The girls will be fine. You need to get going, or Pavel will think you aren’t coming.”

It will be okay, Molly, Jack added. I’m staying here, and really, what could happen that you being here could stop? The big hound licked her hand. I’ll make sure everything is safe!

“I know, I know,” Molly said, surrendering. “I just hate to impose.”

“I can finish wrapping all my gifts without interference,” Corrine said. “That’s worth having to vacuum your house alone.”

Come on, Molly! We don’t want them to leave without us! Schrodinger was already in the Jeep, leaning out of the window, his tail whipping against the seat.

“I’m coming, I’m coming!” Molly said, giving Corrine one last hug, and ruffling the fur on Jack’s head. Then she ran down the steps and hopped into the Jeep before she could think of anything else she might have forgotten.

“Ready for an adventure, Cat?” she said, making sure Schrodinger was fully in the car before she rolled up the window. It was bitterly cold out, and Molly cranked the heat, trying not to shiver.

I wonder how cold it will be at Pavel’s grandmother’s house? Schrodinger said, wrapping his tail around his paws. He was wearing his heaviest coat, as well as the hat Mrs. Barrett had made for him, and was shivering a little too. That’s how Molly knew it was really cold.

“I don’t know,” she said, flexing her fingers inside her mittens. She had small gloves on under the mittens, so her fingers would be protected if she needed to take the mittens off for any reason. “I guess it depends on where she lives. Did Pavel say anything to you about it?”

No, and I forgot to ask, Schrodinger admitted sheepishly. I was too excited about going.

“Me too,” Molly agreed, laughing a little. “Well, we’ll find out soon enough!”
Pavel had his sleigh around the back of the Gate Station when they pulled into the employee parking lot, and he and Drew were busy loading boxes and bags onto the back of it. “What is all this?” Molly asked, as she and Schrodinger joined Ella, who was supervising the two men.

“We were asked to bring some supplies through for the town my mother lives in,” Ella said. Her voice issued from the depths of the knitted hood she was wearing, and Molly could barely see the glint of her blue eyes. “When they heard we were coming, they asked if we could bring some things.”

What are we bringing? Schrodinger asked.

“Cloth, and some foods, mostly meat and fruits, that they cannot normally get,” Ella said. “It’s a rather small town, my mother says, even with the Gate there, so she asked if we could bring some things to make Christmas even brighter for them.”

“Will we have enough room for everything?” Molly said, looking at the pile.

“Oh yes,” Pavel assured her, stopping for a moment to look over at them. “It’s not as much as it appears, and we’ve got plenty of room.”

“That’s because you got this sleigh set up to smuggle things, Pavel.” Drew chuckled. “How much did that spell on the cargo box cost you?”

“It’s made me far more money than I spent, so what does it matter?” Pavel countered, winking at Molly and Schrodinger. “Besides, it means I don’t have to leave your clothes behind.”

“Well, that’s good, because I don’t intend to leave without my clothing,” Molly said, laughing at the pirate. “It’s too cold here to be walking around naked, and since we’re taking the sleigh, I’m assuming it will be too cold there too.”

“Very true,” Pavel said. “The town we are heading to is right on the ocean, and is quite cold in the Yule season. I hope you packed warmly.”

We did, Schrodinger assured him. And Molly even brought extra blankets!

“Just in case,” Molly said, shrugging. “I don’t like being cold.”

The wind whistled around them, cutting through Molly’s heavy layers and making her shiver. Drew saw that and said, “Molly, why don’t you, Ella and Schrodinger go into the Station? We’re almost done here, and you can warm up while we finish. Just leave your bags here.”

“Sounds good to me.” Molly hastily added their personal luggage to the pile, snagging the box of scones she had made for Mal as she did so, and led Ella into the mansion that housed Carter’s Cove Land Gate. As they hit the warm air, she pulled her hat off and fluffed out her hair, trying to get her ears to warm up. “Ella, if it’s an ocean town, why aren’t we taking the ship?”

“Because my son knows how much I loathe sea travel,” Ella said, pulling her hood down. Her silver streaked hair was braided back again in her customary coronet, which Molly saw covered her ears. “I get sea-sick.”

Molly looked at her. “Really?”

“Really.” Ella nodded. “It’s a shame, and I know it. I’m the first in a long line of sailors to hate the sea.” She laughed a little. “It’s probably why Pavel’s father didn’t take me with him when he left. Can you imagine, sea sickness AND morning sickness?”

“That would be awful,” Molly agreed, shivering as much from the image as the residual chill in her bones. “Come on, we’re going this way.”

They stopped in Mal’s crowded office, and he gave Molly a mock-scowl. “What do you want?” he growled, but Molly and Schrodinger both saw the twinkle in his eyes.

“To thank you personally for letting Drew come with us,” Molly said, picking her way through the mess to his desk. “Two dozen turkey cranberry scones, AND a tin of my chocolate orange fudge. For you and you alone.”

Mal’s eyes lit up, and the scowl dropped away. “Fudge too?”

“Fudge too,” she assured him, handing him the box. “And you don’t have to share.”

“Maybe next time I’ll raise my prices,” he said, switching the ever-present cigarette in his mouth to the other side so she could plant a kiss on his cheek.

“Maybe next time I won’t pay,” she countered, and he laughed. “Merry Christmas, Mal.”

“Merry Christmas, Molly. Now go, so I can get some work done.”

The Gate room was warm and green-smelling, as always, and Molly saw Steve manning the terminal. He raised his hand in greeting, but then turned as the bay doors opened at the end of the room. Pavel and Drew came through, Pavel guiding his horses expertly along the path.

“Ready to go?” he shouted, as he pulled up beside them. “Snuggle in!”

Schrodinger hopped up, not into the sleigh itself, but up on to the driver’s seat with Pavel. Please, can I ride here? He asked, looking up at the pirate. I want to see everything!

“Of course you can!” Pavel said, grinning. He turned to make sure his mother and Molly were safely in the back of the sleigh, wrapped up with Drew in the veritable pile of furs and blankets, then moved the sleigh up to the Gate terminal. He handed Steve a piece of paper with the coordinates on it, and Molly settled back into Drew’s arms to wait.

She loved watching the Gate open up. Normally, it was a deceptively-simple looking stone arch, with symbols carved into it. It wasn’t actually all stone – there were portions that were actual metallic and housed the mixture of technology and magic that allowed the Gate technicians and engineers to manipulate the Roads.

“So how did the Gates work before we had the technology to program them?” she asked Drew quietly, as the Gate began to glow in front of them.

“It took a lot more magic,” he said. “The people who used them basically forced the Roads to go through the Gates with magical force. Now, we understand the equations that make it easier for us to move them. Not all the equations, but enough of them to let the computers do most of the work.”

“I trust you,” Molly told him. “I’m glad it works. But I don’t think I want to try and figure out any more.”

He laughed.

The Road from Carter’s Cove to Hfrafell, the town where Captain Brynna Stromsdottir was now living, was a calm one, and the trip took less than an hour. The Gate at the other end of the Road was housed in a large barn, and in addition to green grass, the scent of animals hit Molly’s nose. On either side of the Road track were large sheep that grazed on the grass generated by the Gate’s heat. The animals seemed not to be bothered by the sleigh – indeed, they barely looked up from their grazing.

“Oh, how cute,” Molly said, catching sight of one of their faces. It was black, and with its shaggy grey wool all over, it looked almost like a stuffed animal. “They look so warm!”

“They’re bred for this climate,” Ella told her. “They probably only allow them in the Gate room for a bit every day, so they don’t overheat.” She pointed to the open doors at the end. “Look, they don’t have them blocked off. I’ll bet the temperature is just warm enough in here to keep the grass alive.”

“That’s true,” said one of the large men that came over to the sleigh. Unlike the Gate technicians at Carter’s Cove, he was in what looked like woolen leggings, tucked into high leather boots, and a heavy tunic of more wool. He reminded Molly of the Vikings in some of the books Schrodinger had been enjoying lately. “There are doors, though. We keep them in here when the weather gets bad, or once we start shearing, if it’s still too cold.” He smiled, white teeth gleaming in his dark beard. “Welcome to Hfrafell. Where are you from, and where are you heading?”

Pavel leaned over and handed him a piece of paper. “We’re from Carter’s Cove, and we’re heading to the General Store with some supplies we were asked to bring, and then to Captain Brynna Stromsdottir’s,” he said, and the tech’s face lit up.

“Ah, you must be Pavel, her grandson! She said you’d be coming through!” He reached up and offered Pavel his hand. “I’m Argus, one of the main Gate engineers here, and I’m pleased to meet you, Pavel!” Argus then turned to Ella and doffed his head. “Ma’am, Miss.”

Drew untangled his hand from the blankets and held it out. “Drew McIntyre, Gate engineer at Carter’s Cove,” he said, and Argus shook his hand heartily.

“You’re all very welcome!” the engineer said, grinning. “General Store’ll be happy to see you – that’s a straight shot out of the doors here. Just follow the road, until you see MacKay’s. Old Man MacKay is expecting you. He’ll give you directions to Brynna’s.”

“Thank you!” Pavel said, and Schrodinger stuck his head around to echo, Yes, thank you!

Argus looked as if someone had hit him with a two-by-four to the forehead, then his grin returned. “What…a CrossCat? Here? It IS a big day!” He shook his head. “We’ve not had a CrossCat here in years!”

Then I’ll have to make it memorable, Schrodinger said.

“Not necessary,” Molly told him, knowing that “memorable” could mean a lot of different things, depending on the CrossCat’s frame of mind that moment. “Let’s just go.”

Pavel shook his reins, and the horses jumped forward, causing the sheep to move away from the track. They burst out into icy sunshine, and clattered down the road towards MacKay’s General Store.

Everyone looked around in interest. Pavel had said the town was built on the side of the ocean, but Molly hadn’t realized that this meant it was a cliff-side town. Hfrafell clung to the side of a large mountain, layers of terraces that were arranged with houses and gardens, all shrouded in snow. There were no lights on the houses, but there were candles set in bundles of evergreens in the windows, and wreaths on the doors. MacKay’s General Store, a large building with a generous porch that held several large rocking chairs, was three terraces down from the Gate station, and there were several people waiting for them when Pavel’s sleigh pulled up.

“Ho, are you Brynna’s boy?” One of them shouted to Pavel, stepping out into the street near the sleigh. “We’ve been waiting for you!”

“I am,” Pavel affirmed, bringing the horses to a stop. If he was bothered at all by the fact that everyone seemed to know him as his grandmother’s grandson, he didn’t show it, at least to Molly’s eyes. He tossed the reins to the man on the street and hopped down, Schrodinger after him. “And we come with supplies!”

A cheer went up from the men, and they joined in, helping him and Drew carry the boxes and sacks inside, while Molly and Ella waited in the sleigh. It didn’t take very long, but Schrodinger, in his excitement, managed to get in the way more than he helped. Finally, all the supplies were unloaded, Schrodinger had been coaxed into the sleigh by Molly, and Pavel had gotten directions from Old Man MacKay about how to get to Brynna’s.

“It’s pretty easy,” the old man, his long beard braided into two neat braids and tied with red ribbons (the sight reminded Molly of Zoey’s braids, oddly enough). “Just take the next road to the right, and then follow it almost to the edge of town, on the final upper terrace. Brynna’s house is blue, and it’s got a large widow’s walk at the top. She likes to keep an eye on her ship when she’s in port, and that house looks right down on the piers.”

“When she’s in port?” Pavel blinked, surprised. “She still sails?”

“As if you could keep her off the sea,” Old Man MacKay snorted. “Although sometimes I think Paul urges her to go. She gets cranky if she’s on the land for too long.”

“Sounds familiar,” Molly said, looking innocently at Pavel. “I wondered where you got it from.”

Pavel snorted, and climbed back up on the driver’s seat of the sleigh.

“Thank you again,” Old Man MacKay told him. “You’ve made this a better Christmas, since the ships have been delayed. A lot of folks will be thanking you.”

“Our pleasure,” Pavel said, and shook the reins to start the horses up again.
The town wasn’t that large, and after a few minutes, they climbed onto the final terrace and Molly could see the blue house that Old Man MacKay had directed them to. It was larger than some of them, but not overly so, and part of the roof was flat, with a railing around it.

“The widow’s walk,” she said quietly, and Ella nodded. The spot where countless captains’ wives had stood, waiting for a glimpse of their husband’s ships on the horizons. Molly had always wanted to stand and look out over the ocean from one.

As the horses drew up in front of the gate (the house was set back a little from the road, with a front yard that may have had some beds in it, but it was covered in so much snow that Molly couldn’t tell), the front door opened, and a woman came out.

She was tall, like Pavel, but she had Ella’s blue eyes, and her long grey hair hung in two braids, one over either shoulder. Her face was weathered from years at sea, but it looked like both Ella and Pavel’s, and Molly could see the hesitation in every part of her body.

Pavel swung himself down from the driver’s seat, but it was Ella who made it to the woman first, moving faster than Molly would have thought possible.

“Mother!” she said, and burst into tears as she threw herself in Brynna’s arms. “I’ve missed you!”

“Oh, I’ve missed you too,” Brynna replied, enfolding her daughter in her strong arms, tears leaking down her face as well. “I’ve missed you too.”

Then she looked up at her tall grandson, and with only a little hesitation, she held out one of her arms. “Pavel?”

Molly held her breath, hoping that he wouldn’t step away, that he’d join the embrace. After a long moment, he did, putting his arms around both women, and buried his face in his grandmother’s hair.

They stood for a while like that, just embracing, and then Brynna stepped back, trying to compose herself. “It’s too cold to continue this out here,” she said briskly. “Put the horses in the barn in back, Pavel, and bring everyone inside. Welcome to my home.”

(advent) December 20

Sunday, December 20

“Schrodinger, can you go and get the door, please?” Molly said, as she flipped over the French toast over on the griddle. “I think Drew’s still in the shower, and I can’t leave these.”

Of course! The CrossCat hopped down from his chair and headed to the door. She heard the door open and then he said, Pavel! Ella! Come in – Molly’s making her famous French toast!  

“Famous French toast?” Ella asked, as they followed Schrodinger back into the kitchen. “For us?”

“Well, I’m not sure how famous it is, but I think it’s pretty good,” Molly said, flashing them a grin. “Pardon my pajamas. Sunday after the Snow Queen’s ball tends to be a quiet day around here, and I just didn’t feel like getting dressed.”

That’s how you know you’re really family, Schrodinger said, climbing back into his chair. He dunked his pink tongue into his tea. Because Molly’s comfortable enough to let you see that she’s in love with flannel pajamas.

“Darn right,” Molly said, not embarrassed at all. “Flannel pajamas are amazing.” And she was quite fond of the pair she was currently wearing: they were red and green plaid, with golden swans all over them. Drew had given them to her for her birthday, and Schrodinger had given her the green socks to match.

“They look very comfortable,” Ella said, taking the seat that Pavel held out for her. “I don’t blame you at all, Molly.”

Molly flashed her and Pavel a smile. “Thank you. Tea?”

“I would love some,” Ella said. “If it’s not too much trouble.”

“I keep a kettle on in the morning, so it’s no trouble at all.” Once she was sure the French toast was set for a few moments, Molly took the copper kettle off the back burner and brought it over to the table. She and Schrodinger had set the table before they’d gone to the ball the night before with her favorite holiday china set: bone white china, covered with wreaths and holly berries. She filled the cups with hot water and asked, “What kind of tea would you like?”

“Whatever you would like to serve,” Ella said, then looked at her son as he laughed. “What?”

“Do you see that cupboard on the wall there?” Pavel said, pointing to a large wooden cabinet on the wall. “That’s full of Molly’s tea collection.”

“Really?” Ella’s eyes went wide. “All tea?”

“All tea,” Molly confirmed. She set the kettle back on the rear burner, then opened up the cabinet, showing off all the neat boxes of tea. “What do you like?”

I recommend the Earl Grey, Schrodinger said. It’s the best.

“Well, then I shall have Earl Grey,” Ella said, smiling over at the CrossCat. “I must have the best!”

“I’ll take my usual,” Pavel said, getting up to get the black tea he preferred. “Let me get everything.”

Molly turned back to the French toast, which was almost ready. “So I didn’t use my normal Texas toast for this,” she said, transferring the slices to a plate, then pulling the last set of slices from the custard next to the stove and put them on the griddle. “But I think you’ll like this just as well, Pavel.”

“What did you use?” he asked, as he brought the filled tea balls over to the table.

“Blueberry bread,” Molly said, and chuckled as she heard him suck in his breath. “And we’ve got real maple syrup from our own trees out back that Schrodinger and Drew tapped this past spring.”

“Is there anything you guys can’t do?” Pavel said, shaking his head. “I swear, you could be on a deserted island and be fine.”

That’s because Molly’s a kitchen witch. They never starve, Schrodinger said wisely. So neither will we. Unless you make her mad, of course.

“Who’s making Molly mad? And why?” Drew asked, coming downstairs.

No one, I don’t think, Schrodinger said. But I was warning Pavel not to.

“That’s a lesson I think he knows pretty well,” Drew said, winking at Pavel on his way to kiss Molly. He’d changed into jeans and a sweater that Mrs. Barrett had made him. “He’s not likely to get on her bad side.”

“Hardly,” Pavel agreed. “I have seen her mad. I would rather face sea serpents in heat in the middle of the ocean, during a raging storm, in a rowboat.”

“That’s an image,” Molly said, after returning Drew’s kiss. She handed her handsome husband the plate of French toast, and then piled the last few slices on the top of the plate. “Take that to the table, please, and I’ll follow with this.” She then opened the oven and pulled out a tray of bacon and sausage.

“This is amazing,” Ella said, looking at the food, then she smiled at her son. “I see now why you want to live here, Pavel.”

As they settled in around the table, Molly looked around her bright kitchen and sighed happily. The sun was shining in through the windows, making the wooden walls glow warmly. The big table gathered them in together over the fragrant tea and French toast, filling her heart.

“This is how I always pictured my home,” she said, putting together a plate for Schrodinger. “Full of happiness and good food.”

And it’s the best home, Schrodinger said, watching her cut up the French toast for him. I don’t ever want to leave.

“No?” Pavel said, sounding surprised. “So you won’t be traveling anymore, my friend?”

Traveling, yes, but not living elsewhere, I don’t think. Schrodinger drank a bit more tea, and then sucked a piece of sausage into his mouth. I don’t even think I’d return to the den. I’ve put down my roots here.

“What about later? Don’t you want a family of your own?” Molly asked him.

Sure. I’ll bring them back here.

That statement, in Schrodinger’s typical factual style, caught her as she was taking a drink from her tea mug, and Molly almost choked. Drew had to rescue her cup as she coughed, and Pavel pounded her on the back. Schrodinger and Ella watched in faint alarm.

Are you okay? The CrossCat asked nervously.

“I’m fine,” Molly said hoarsely, shaking her head. “I just wasn’t expecting that, that’s all.” She smiled down at Schrodinger. “I think it would be lovely for you to have a family here too.”

Not for a while, though. I haven’t met the right girl.

Molly didn’t want to ask how he planned to meet that right girl, as there weren’t that many CrossCats that came through the Cove. Then again, I have no idea how old Schrodinger actually is, and at what age they breed, she thought privately. And I have to admit, the thought of little CrossCat kittens is adorable.

They ate in silence for a while, each wrapped in their own thoughts. Then Molly said, “So, Ella, what did you think of the ball last night?”

“It was amazing!” Ella said, her blue eyes lighting up. “I had no idea that anything like that could even be possible. The woods, the room, the Snow Queen.” She sighed happily. “It is a memory I will treasure. I even learned to dance!”

“Well, Mother, if you decide to take me up on my offer, you can go every year,” Pavel said.

“I know.” Ella smiled at him, the light fading from her eyes. “But I’m just not sure, dear heart. The Cove is much bigger than I’m used to. And I do love my home.”

“But why?” Pavel asked her, setting his fork down. “Why would you want to return to that place, with all its memories?”

“Because they are my memories, my son,” Ella said gently. “And not all of them are bad.” She looked down at her plate. “You were born there. I met your father there.”

“My father, who abandoned us,” he reminded her.

“Your father, who gave me you,” she said.

Pavel sighed. “I know, I know,” he said. “But my grandfather was there.”

“Pavel, it’s not always easy to leave your home,” Molly said, reaching over to lay her hand on his. “It’s a big decision.”

“I know,” he repeated. “And I will respect your decision, Mother. But I am buying the house here.”

Yay! Schrodinger said, bouncing in his chair, and Molly grabbed his plate before his paws landed in it. We’ll have a full-time Pavel!

“Well, when I’m not at sea, yes,” Pavel told him, chuckling. “As you said, this is where I want to set my roots down. Although I think there will not be a wife in my future.”

“You never know,” Molly teased. “I’m sure if nothing else, Lily would love to marry you.”

“Her father might not like that, though,” Drew said thoughtfully.

“True,” Molly said. She laughed at the look on Pavel’s face.

“Some day, you will meet a good girl,” Ella said placidly, picking up a piece of bacon. “I know.”

“We’ll see, Mother, we’ll see.” Pavel looked at Molly and Drew. “Considering the example Molly and Drew have set, she’ll have to meet a high standard.” He pushed his plate back and said, “And she’ll have to be able to cook.”

“That’s good, considering what you consider cooking,” his mother said tartly. She winked at Molly. “Maybe I should move here just to make sure you aren’t living in this kitchen.”

“He’ll just have to do chores to pay for his keep,” Molly said, grinning. “I can find all sorts of things for him to do, especially this week.”

“Why, are you especially busy this week?” Ella asked her.

“Well, it’s the week before Christmas,” Molly said. “The bookstore will be busy, and I usually make a bunch of stuff for our Christmas dinner as well. But honestly, no busier than usual.”

Ella looked at Pavel. “Then maybe this isn’t a good idea.”

“What?” Drew asked, looking at the two of them. “What idea?”

Pavel said, “Mother and I talked last night on our way home from the Ball, and,” he paused, toying with his fork as he apparently collected his thoughts, “we’ve decided to go to my grandmother’s this week.”

Molly, Drew, and Schrodinger all gaped at him. After everything they’d heard in the past month, the quiet admission was stunning.

“And we were hoping that you would come with us,” Ella said, looking at them. “As moral support.”

Of course we will! Schrodinger recovered first, and he looked at Molly and Drew. At least for some of it, right? We have to be home for Christmas Day, because we’re hosting it here. But we could go for some of it.

“It’s not usually too busy after the Snow Queen’s Ball, and I’m sure I could convince Mal to let me have some time off,” Drew said, after thinking about it for a few minutes. He looked at his wife. “We could have Nathan and Corrine come Christmas Eve, and set everything up…”

Molly looked from Drew to Schrodinger, and then over to Pavel and Ella. All four of them were looking hopefully at her.

“Let me talk to Aunt Margie,” she said slowly. “I think we can do it, but I don’t want to promise anything without talking to her, and to Corrine.” She looked at Pavel. “Do you think we could be back for Christmas Day?”

“I was thinking Christmas Eve, actually,” he said. “I know how important your family is to you, Molly, and what I’m asking.”

“What we’re asking,” his mother corrected. “It’s a lot, Molly, and if you feel you can’t…”

“I don’t want to say that,” Molly said, getting up. “But I can’t make a decision yet, without talking to them. Let me make some phone calls.”

It took some time, and a little bit of wrangling (Mal was more disappointed than either Aunt Margie or Corinne, and Molly had to promise him a full basket of her turkey cranberry scones), but eventually, everything was set. Molly threw them all out of the house, telling them that if they wanted to leave tomorrow, she had to cook.

Before he left, Pavel gave Molly a hug. “Thank you,” he murmured. “It’s time for my biological family to meet my chosen family. It wouldn’t be right to go to see my grandmother without you, Drew, and Schrodinger.”

“Oh Pavel,” she said, hugging him back. “I’m so glad we’re able to do this with you.”

He winked at her on the way out. “And just think of the fun we’ll have.”

Molly shook her head. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”