Chapter Twenty-One

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The next morning, Marigold stood outside the door to the jewelry store with a basket in hand.

"I baked cookies last night, and Miss Finch said I should bring some to Mr. Best to thank him for his kindness." She held the basket out toward Best and smiled gently. "I only wish I had more to offer to show my gratitude to you, sir."

"Your gratitude is more than enough, Miss Sutton. But I am fond of cookies. Thank you." He snatched one from the basket and took a bite. "Delicious. Would you care for one, Mr. Wainwright?"

"Yes, please."

Marigold tilted the basket toward me, again looking at the floor shyly.

"Wonderful," I said after swallowing my first bite. "Thank you, Miss Sutton."

She nodded and then moved to put the basket in the stockroom. She reemerged a moment later without her coat and with her apron on, ready to go to work.

"I meant to commend you last night, Miss Sutton; the store looks much more festive with your redecorating efforts. Well done."

"My pleasure, sir." She looked about her small wrapping table in the corner of the shop, seeking the ribbon she'd requested the day before. She clapped her hands happily as she saw two spools each of red and green ribbon, satin, and velvet, both. "Oh, thank you, Mr. Best. Now I will be able to make beautiful Christmas packages for your customers."

"I will hold you to that," he said. "Perhaps we will be known for our pretty presents, and word will spread around town."

"One thing you can count on is word spreading in this town," Marigold mumbled, almost to herself.

"I'm sorry, what did you say?" Mr. Best asked, standing too far away to make it out.

I, on the other hand, heard her quite clearly.

"Nothing, sir. I am only anxious to get to work."

"As are we all." He looked at me. "Mr. Wainwright, please, open the door."

I looked out of the window first. "They're waiting for us."

"Then the day will go by quickly," Best replied. "The best sort of work day, if you ask me."

***

The day did go by quickly, once again. I counted down. I had so little time left. Christmas was the day after next. I had until New Year's Eve if the Aurelia Belle and the wormhole were running on time.

How was I ever going to say goodbye to this place...to Marigold?

I walked her home once again. Neither of us seemed to be in the mood to talk. I was preoccupied, contemplating the time I had left to revel in her light. Her silence, I could only attribute to the fact she must be missing her family.

We reached the porch. She took out the key Miss Finch had entrusted her with, and prepared to unlock the door, speaking at last, "Oh! I almost forgot. Miss Finch has agreed you and Mr. Best should come around for Christmas Eve dinner tomorrow night. Then she and I will be going to midnight church services...I don't suppose you'll be attending?"

"I don't think it would be wise," I answered slowly, imagining her family, the entire town in one place, and me showing up. Public enemy number one. "Are you sure you'll be okay? I mean, your family..."

"Father always makes sure they sit in the front row, arrive early and stay late," she answered. "Miss Finch and I will sneak in late, stay at the back, and leave just after prayers."

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