The Longest Night of the Year

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Wren lugged another box of candles from the car to their stall in the Yule market. She and her moms had made the three-hour drive to Oak Harbor, Washington yesterday and had slept in a nearby Hampton Inn that night. Today was Yule and the market started at ten this morning and ran until midnight. The three of them had gotten up early to have breakfast and now were unloading boxes upon boxes of their candles into what would be their stall that day.

Mama K was standing in the stall, unboxing and arranging all the candles. "Only five more boxes!" she shouted cheerfully to Wren.

"I can't believe Sawyer got to skip this," Wren muttered to herself, not at all cheered by her mother's box countdown. Usually, she and her brother were dragged to the Yule market together so she had someone to commiserate with (and to help carry things). But this year his water polo team had a tournament and much to Wren's surprise the moms had said he could go to it and skip Yule. Mom-Mom had said it was "an important step for him as he becomes an individual and citizen of the world" but didn't seem to feel the same way about Wren skipping it and staying over with a friend at home.

Wren was generally okay that at school she was known as "that hippie chick with two moms." Mama K's car had a bumper sticker that said "my other car is a broom" and Mom-Mom's favorite shirt said "Proud Pagan." She even liked most of the pagan practices they did around the house. But the Yule Market always felt like too much. At home she was too weird to fit in with the rest of the kids, but at the market she felt like she wasn't weird enough. All the other teenagers had shaved heads and were reading tarot cards and she was wearing her usual winter uniform of a sweater, an old pair of jeans, and her ratty converse. She and Sawyer usually wandered around together and without him she was feeling worried about how the day would go.

For now, though, she would put all that aside and offer to help her mothers. At least that would put off her awkwardly wandering around alone for a while. The market had officially opened and her moms' candle stall was already doing a brisk business. She knew they counted on the boost from this every year so she was glad to see it going so well. She wrapped the ordered candles in tissue paper and put them in one of the paper bags adorned with the candle shop's name (Twilight Tapers).

Wren should have known she couldn't escape her parent's notice forever, though. In the afternoon Mama K finished up with the customer she was helping and then shooed Wren out from the stall. "I shouldn't have kept you here so long. Go and get some food and talk to the other young people. Take some time to soak up the magic of Yule!"

Wren knew her mom meant well, and it was way too embarrassing to tell her that without Sawyer she felt awkward and self-conscious wandering around the market alone. She headed off, keeping her eyes focused on something in the distance so she couldn't accidentally make eye contact with anyone else her age.

She stopped at a mulled wine and cider stand and got a warm cup of cider. Then she took it to the center of the market where people were decorating the yule tree with handmade decorations. She watched the little kids jumping as high as they could to put their ornaments close to the top of the tree and then run, laughing, back to their parents to grab more decorations. Wren wrapped her arms around her body; watching everyone have fun made her feel like she was looking through glass, all alone on her side.

Suddenly she heard a voice next to her, "You have to pace yourself looking that sad; don't you know this is the longest night of the year?"

She turned to find a boy her age, also with a cup of cider clutched in his hand. He had auburn hair that flopped into his eyes and a friendly smile. Wren was startled; she wasn't used to boys approaching her. At school most of them seemed to think that being pagan meant you were a witch and they didn't want anything to do with her. She had heard some of them say if a date with her went badly she would turn the boy into a toad.

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