“Molly! You in here?”
Molly heard Lai’s voice cut through the instrumental Christmas carols from the radio and chuckled. Right on time, as always.
“Where else would I be?” she called back, mixing up another batch of scones. “Come on in!”
She knew, before they trooped in, that Lai wasn’t alone. They weren’t called the Terrible Trio for nothing, after all.
Lai, Sue and Noemi had brought not only the frosting ingredients she’d asked them, but a bottle of wine and two pizza boxes as well. “You guys are my heroes,” she said, inhaling the tantalizing scents of pepperoni and the zingy tomato sauce that Carter Cove’s pizza restaurant was famous for. “I was starving.”
“Only you would starve in this kitchen,” Noemi said, shaking her head. “Do you even eat when we aren’t here to remind you?”
Only when I’m here, Schrodinger said, wandering in with Jack from the tea room. I’m amazed she survived to meet me, honestly.
“Okay, okay, okay!” Molly laughed, and cleaned up the island. “We’ll eat first, and then start working on the bake sale goods.”
“Hooray!” Sue said, pulling out four wineglasses from her bag. “I always find it better to do decorating with a glass in my hand.”
“Is that your secret?” Lai teased her. “I’ll have to remember that the next time we have to do this. I see you come prepared, as well.”
“Damn straight,” Sue replied, grinning as she pulled out a corkscrew. “I wasn’t a girl scout for nothing.”
They all laughed and helped themselves to pizza and wine, although Molly made sure Schrodinger and Jack had a cup of tea. Not that he couldn’t have the alcohol, but neither he nor the hound really needed it, and alcohol wasn’t good for dogs. Then, after the pizza was gone, they got down to business. Well, the humans did. Jack wandered out to nap, but Schrodinger opted to watch.
“I printed out more order forms for you,” Sue said, handing the folder over to Molly. “Also, this year you have labels for the cookies and scones.”
“Oh, you rock!” Molly eagerly opened the folder. Sue had outdone herself this year: the labels held not only the ingredients for the baked goods, but a cute little snowflake logo and the words “Molly’s Treats” in candy cane letters. “Those are adorable!”
Sue beamed. “I thought you’d like them.”
“I do!” Molly pulled out the sheets of labels, since they’d be using them that day, and put the folder of order forms in the box of stuff she’d already packed for the bake sale the next day. Then she looked at the clock. “Schrodinger, why don’t you go wake Jack up and head out to meet the girls? We’ll get everything set up here while you’re gone.”
Will do! The CrossCat jumped down and ran out into the tea room, where Jack was napping by the wood stove.
“So, what needs to be done for tomorrow?” Noemi, always the practical one, asked.
“Well, we need to pack up the scones I’ve already baked and drizzled with icing.” Molly indicated the trays that she had lined up on the pantry counters. “I have a few more dozen scones that need to be drizzled.” These were on the counter behind Lai and Noemi. “I need to cut out this last set of scones, and bake them. Then I have about twenty balls of sugar cookie dough in the fridge that needs to be taken out and rolled out.” She looked at the clock again. “If I’m not mistaken, Lily and Zoey will be here soon, and the magical Advent Calendar will have them help us out.”
“That’s convenient,” Lai said, and Molly winked at her. “How’s the calendar working out?”
“Very well.” Molly could be smug, now that Schrodinger wasn’t around. “And I think it’s not just working on the kids, but on Zoey’s mother as well. She even wrote a letter to Santa yesterday after the concert.”
“Sweet,” Sue said. “I figured it would only be a matter of time.”
“Welcome to the Cove,” Lai agreed. “If you aren’t a believer when you move here, you soon will be.”
“Yep.” Molly handed around aprons to her friends, and then looked at them. “So, who wants to do what?”
By the time Lily and Zoey came into the kitchen, followed closely by Schrodinger and Jack, the four had become parts of a well-oiled machine. Lai and Noemi were packaging up the finished scones (four to a package) and labeling them, then packing them in one of the boxes that Drew had brought over from the Station for Molly to use. Sue was drizzling sweet orange icing over the cranberry scones that Molly had already baked, and Molly herself was rolling out sugar cookie dough. She caught sight of them in the doorway to the tea room (Schrodinger being smart enough to have them go around, rather than through the back door into the pantry) and said, “Come on in!”
“Is it safe?” Zoey asked, looking more than a little worried about entering the busy kitchen.
“Perfectly,” Molly assured her. “You know everyone here, right?”
“I think so?” Zoey stepped in after Lily, who greeted everyone with a bright smile. “Maybe.”
“They’re Molly’s friends from grade school,” Lily told her. “They’ve been friends FOREVER.”
“Is that why I feel so old in the mornings now?” Sue whispered to Molly. “Because it’s been forever?”
Molly laughed. “You’re not that old, and neither am I,” she said. Then she looked at the girls. “Are you guys hungry? There’s scones, or I can make you sandwiches.”
“We have pizza too!” Lai called out from the pantry. “Remember? We saved 4 slices from the second one.”
“Oh, right!” Considering how their faces lit up at the mention of pizza, Molly knew it had been the right decision. “Okay, pizza first, then you can open the advent calendar.”
Zoey looked curiously at what everyone was doing as Molly brought out the pizza box. “What are you guys doing?” she asked.
“We’re getting ready for the bake sale at the school tomorrow,” Molly told her. “It’s a tradition at the school – every December, there’s a huge bake sale and craft sale.”
“Yeah, there have to be other things to sell, or Molly would just rake in all the sales,” Noemi teased. “Not all of us can be amazing kitchen witches, after all.”
Molly blushed. “Hey, I buy stuff there, and some of it is even food!” she replied. “I hope Lisa brings her jams again – I intend to stock up again, especially since she didn’t have much last year.”
“Well, last year she was still recovering from the fire,” Lai pointed out. “I saw her last week, and she mentioned that she’d gone down to her parents’ again, and gotten a ton of plums.”
“Mmm, Lisa’s plum jam.” Sue looked dreamily up at the ceiling. “I love her plum jam.”
Me too! Schrodinger said. We have to get some, Molly!
“We will, if she has any!” Molly assured him. “Now, let’s get you guys out here, so we can continue to work while you eat.”
“Do you need any help?” Lily asked, as they followed her out into the tea room.
Molly pretended to consider it. “Well, don’t you want to see what the advent calendar has in store for you first? I mean, you don’t want to pass that up just to decorate cookies, do you?” She hid a grin as Lily and Zoey looked at each other, knowing exactly what the calendar had in store for them. “Why don’t you eat, and then open the calendar?” she said, when the silence had stretched. “You don’t have to make your decision now.”
“True.” Lily nodded as she took the pizza box from her aunt, who was about to place it on one of the tables. She led the other three over to Schrodinger’s bed, and plopped herself down in it. When Molly blinked at her, she shrugged. “It’s easier for Jack and Schrodinger to eat here. The tables are just a bit too tall.” Zoey sat down next to her, and Jack and Schrodinger nestled in on either side. Molly made a mental note to see if Julia down at the Home For All store had a bigger bed. She must, she thought. She has everything else.
Because the extra large dog bed just wasn’t big enough for two kids, a CrossCat and a hound dog. But it was an adorable picture. Molly wished for her camera, but her phone was back in her purse, and by the time she’d come back with it, they’d be done with their snack.
So she retreated, and winked at the Terrible Trio when they looked at her. “How are we doing in here?” she asked.
“Wonderfully,” Lai replied. “We’ve got almost all of these scones packaged.” She leaned out the pantry and looked at the trays in front of Sue. “Are those almost ready?”
Sue nodded. “That tray should be hardened,” she said, pointing with the icing bag. “I’m working my way down the line, so if you start there, we should be fine.”
Molly went back to rolling out sugar cookie dough. She had four trays already rolled out, but she wanted to stay ahead of everyone else. While she started the next ball, she went over in her head what she had for decorations. It would depend on what kind of cookie cutters they used, she knew – and then she remembered the stuff she’d gotten the last time she and Drew had gone to Portland. “Sue, how many more trays do you have to frost there?”
“Two,” Sue said. “Do you want me to do something else?”
“Yes.” Molly nodded towards the pantry. “Go in and grab the six small glass bowls, and the box from the Pastry Shop.”
“You actually went to a place called the Pastry Shop?” Sue said in mock-horror. “How could you?”
“I do actually enjoy eating pastry made by others occasionally,” Molly told her, rolling her eyes. “But in this case, it wasn’t pastry. Bring the box out, and I’ll show you.”
Sue, looking intrigued, brought out the box and the bowls. Molly set aside the fifth tray of dough, all rolled out, and opened the box. Inside, it looked like a jewel box.
“Oh, how pretty!” Sue said. “What are they?”
“Edible jewels,” Molly told her. “Well, that’s what I think they are. Really, it’s just hand-dyed sugar.” She took one of the boxes out, and the ruby red crystals inside glittered in the light. “They ordered them in specially for me, and I’d almost forgotten them. I thought we might use them on the sugar cookies today.”
“Oooh,” Lily said, as they came in. “Those are gorgeous!”
“They are, aren’t they?” Molly agreed, putting some of the crimson sugar into one of the glass bowls. There were six colors in all: red, blue, purple, gold, green and pink. The crystals were large, almost mini rock candy in shape, and they really did glitter like faceted jewels.
“Wow,” Zoey said. “Those are amazing.” She sighed. “I almost hope the calendar says we can help you today.”
“Well, let’s find out!” Lily told her. “It’s your turn today!”
“Oh, right!” Zoey tore her gaze away from the sugars, and the food paints that Molly had also taken out, and hurried over to the calendar. She looked for the golden number 9, her face so close to the calendar that Molly wondered if she could actually focus on it. “Here it is!”
Number 9 was hanging off the edge of one of the snowman’s scarves. Zoey touched it, and then stepped back.
The snowflake came out of the crumbling paint and hovered in front of her. Zoey held out her hand, palm up, and her eyes lit up as the snowflake began to spin. But it didn’t throw anything off – just spun in place, as if waiting for something.
“What’s wrong?” Zoey asked, her face concerned. “Did we break the calendar?”
“I don’t think you could,” Molly told her. “Maybe it’s waiting for something.”
“Like what?” Lily asked, furrowing her brow. “What could it be waiting for?”
She and Zoey looked at one another for a long moment, while the snowflake continued to spin in between them.
Then Schrodinger said, What if you put your hand out too, Lily? Maybe it has something for both of you?
“Well, all we can do is try,” Lily said, shrugging. She extended her hand, palm up, like Zoey’s.
That was apparently what the snowflake had been waiting for: it exploded, and two cookie cutters fell out, one into each girl’s hand. They looked at each other, eyes wide.
“So, what kind of cookies are we making?” Molly said, grinning as they turned to look at her.
“Snowflakes!” they shouted together, showing her. Both snowflakes were different, but they were the same size.
“Those will look lovely with this sugar on them,” Molly said. “How about you guys set up out in the tea room? I’ve got an idea for Jack and Schrodinger, so they can help.”
Really? Jack said, his tail wagging. We get to help?
“Of course you do,” Molly told him. “They’ll need supervision, after all.”
And artistic design, Schrodinger added. We’re good at that!
“Yes, you are,” Molly said, putting the sugar bowls on an empty tray and bringing them out to the tea room. She put them down on a table, then pulled another two tables over, making one long work bench. Then she went upstairs, and looked around.
As she’d suspected, she found a helper. Luke Travers, one of the other Gate Techs, was lounging in one of the armchairs, ostensibly reading a magazine while he waited to see if he could catch a glimpse of Sue coming up the stairs. Molly grinned and went over to him.
“You know, you could come downstairs and into the kitchen, and actually see her,” Molly said, and he jumped. “Also, holding the magazine upside down does not, in fact, make us think you’re reading it.”
Luke blushed. “You guys looked like you were busy.”
“We are. But as long as the two of you aren’t making out in the middle of the kitchen, there’s always room for one more,” Molly said. As she was talking, she was looking for a specific chair that Aunt Margie had tucked into one of the alcoves. Molly hoped it wasn’t occupied today.
She was in luck. The large armchair was unclaimed.
“Luke, can you help me?”
“Sure,” he said, getting up. “What are you doing?”
She pointed to the chair. “I need to bring that down to the tea room.”
Luke blinked. “Okay. Do I want to know why?”
Molly chuckled. “I need a chair that Schrodinger and Jack can share while they supervise the girls, who are decorating cookies. The chairs downstairs are just a little bit too small for Jack.”
“Ah, gotcha.” Luke surveyed the chair, and then said, “Hey Zach, come out here for a minute.”
In just a few moments, Luke’s younger brother came out of one of the aisles, a few books in his hand. “Wassup?”
Luke pointed at the chair. “Help me carry this downstairs.”
“I can help,” Molly protested, but Luke shook his head and grinned.
“Let Zach show off his muscles for Lai,” he said, and watched as his brother flushed.
Molly eyed the two of them. “Shall I get the Trio out to cheer you two on?”
“If you could, I’ll be that would make the trip easier,” Zach said, grinning despite his blushing, and flexed his muscles. “Appreciation makes things lighter, you know.”
She laughed. “All right, just don’t fall down the stairs, okay? The insurance can’t handle it.” Then she went back downstairs to pull her friends out to watch.
They were as good as their word. The chair was not light, but they managed to get it down the stairs with a minimum of cursing, and both Lai and Sue clapped when they put it into place.
“Thank you so much, guys!” Molly said, bringing out two of the freshly decorated scones for them. Then she turned to Schrodinger and Jack. “Is that the right height?”
They hopped into the chair and Molly knew she’d been right. It was big enough for both of them to sit side by side, and high enough that they could see the table and everything Lily and Zoey were doing. Perfect! Jack said, wagging his tail and nearly knocking Schrodinger over.
Be careful! The CrossCat ducked, and then swiped playfully at the hound. That thing is a deadly weapon!
Sorry. Jack’s tongue lolled out at his friend. At least you ducked this time.
Molly suppressed a laugh with difficulty, and turned to her helpers. “All right, we have eight trays of cookies to cut out and decorate. Do you think you’re up to it?”
“Of course!” Lily and Zoey chorused, and got down to business.
Between their efforts, and the help of the Terrible Trio, the afternoon flew by. By the time Corrine came in to pick the girls up to take them home, all the cookies were cut out, decorated, baked and were cooling.
“But we can’t leave!” Lily wailed when her mother walked in. “We have to package the cookies!”
“You have school tomorrow,” Corrine reminded her. “Molly can package up the cookies on her own.”
“Hardly on her own,” Lai said. “We’ll stay and help.”
“See?” Corrine said to her pouting daughter. “You don’t need to stay.”
“But I want to!” Lily wailed, and Zoey nodded. Corrine was unmoved, though, and after a few more tears, Lily and Zoey got into their coats.
“You guys did awesome,” Molly told them, hoping to lift their spirits. “Here.” And she handed them both a package of cookies. “These are for you. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“Really?” Zoey sniffled.
“Really.” Molly nodded. “Don’t forget your cookie cutters! And I’ll see you tomorrow – you’re going to help me sell all these cookies, right?”
They nodded, perking up at at that.
“Then I’ll see you at school tomorrow!” Molly said.
Before they left, Lily turned to Schrodinger. “You do the calendar tomorrow,” she said. “We’ll swap.”
I will, he promised. And then he glanced up at Molly as Corrine led Lily, Zoey and Jack out the front door. Since I bet it will send us to the school anyways.
“Maybe,” Molly said, and winked at him.