Ally could hear the Christmas carols even from the cellar.
She snickered to herself as she pulled her desired jar of pears down from the shelf, Madge’s enthusiastic voice carrying from the top of the lighthouse, about holly and snow and angels.
Ally joined in as she made her way up the stairs, where she deposited the jar of pears on the countertop.
“Thank you.” Said Mrs. Lichen, her eyes twinkling with amusement. She was standing at the table, whisking batter with an energy that Ally was enterally grateful for.
“I still think it’s not fair.” Ally paused in her singing and leaned forward onto the table, narrowing her eyes at her mother. “You’re the guest here. We should be the ones doing the cooking.”
Mrs. Lichen raised an eyebrow playfully. “No one will be interfering with my Christmas gingerbread cake, thank you very much,”
Ally rolled her eyes. “I think you’ll want my help once it’s ready to go in the oven. The fire gremlins have gotten into the Christmas spirit.”
Mrs. Lichen laughed.
_“Oh, Ally!”_ Madge came down the stairs two at a time, speaking still in her loud, sing-song voice.
_“Yes?”_ Ally copied Madge’s silly singing voice with one of her own. It was nice to be silly sometimes, without worrying. She saw her mother smile at them out of the corner of her eye.
“The mail has come.” Madge dropped a few letters onto the table and whisked the shrilly whistling tea kettle off the stove to pour into a waiting teapot. “Also, I’ve finished chapter twelve.” She shot Ally a disgruntled expression.
Ally giggled. “You haven’t even reached the cliffhanger yet!”
“No,” Madge narrowed her eyes over the top of the teapot. “But knowing what sort of books you like to read, I have a guess. No spoilers though.”
“They all die in the end,” Ally said at once.
“They better not.” Madge didn’t look the least bit convinced.
Ally did her best to look mysterious as she sorted through the mail.
There was a great growling and howling of rambunctious fire gremlins as Mrs. Lichen opened the oven door to slip her cake in. Ally held her breath until the oven door was closed and the shrieking somewhat muffled, then she glanced back down to the letters again. A familiar name stared up at her. Ally chuckled. _Hello again._
“Takia’s sent me a letter.” She said aloud.
“Oh, I think I know what that is.” Mrs. Lichen said absentmindedly.
“I think so too.” Ally leaned against the window seat and slit open the envelope. Outside the lighthouse kitchen window, snowflakes sparkled against the backdrop of winter sea.
“Wedding invitation,” Ally said, scanning the formal script. “It’s in March.”
“Will you go?” Madge was watching her closely.
“I think so.” Ally glanced out at the sea. Frost painted the edges of the glass, like a lace vignette. Her heart was warm and light. She giggled suddenly. “Who knows, maybe I’ll meet a sweetheart of my own there.”
“And break apart the Sunflower Girls?” Madge feigned horror.
“Never!” Ally laughed, tossing the letter back onto the table. “The Sunflower Girls are forever, whatever life throws at us.”
Life decided to throw a cat at them, apparently, because the next moment, Flicker phased through the ceiling above and landed expertly in the middle of the table. He tried his best to drink the cream, but his tongue merely passed through it.
“Here, you silly thing!” Ally conjured some ghostly milk for him while her mother and Madge laughed.
To ships at sea, the lighthouse shown a brilliant gold in the dusk. In the town square, its misty glow just reflected in the falling snow, where children whooped and laughed. Chimney smoke spiraled up from housetops and drifted over the tops of the trees. The creatures of Tanglewood hibernated beneath silky sheets of snow.
And far across the forest, in two separate attics of a treetop village, lay two halves of a double-sunrise shell on a length of cord. A quiet expression of something as true at age seven as it was at age eighteen; life was better lived with a friend by your side.
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docendo disco scribendo cogito
(I learn by teaching and think by writing.)