Sweet treats have a place all year round, but they seem especially prominent during the darker, colder months and around big celebrations. And since I don’t have the sweetest sweet tooth, I often turn to my spice rack to temper the sweet. I’m also a card-carrying cinnamon addict, but that’s an entirely different story. Gingerbread appeals to me, because I control the level of sweet and spicy.
For this final installment of Needles, Yarn and Gingerbread I’m assuming that Gareth’s gingerbread recipe is epically tasty and not overly sweet, seeing it’s going to be turned into a house and decorated with enough frosting to give anyone a sugar coma. Yes, Gareth’s kitchen is seeing action, and at least three of the four are in for a bit of a surprise.
Thank you so much for reading.
The month is two thirds over, and the festivities are looming. It’s the shortest day soon, and there are a few solstice-related stories coming up on the blog. One of my friends is visiting with a tale of magical realism in tow, and I’ll be revisiting an old holiday… but in story form. You’ll also get a glimpse into my longest-running writing project, which will get published one of these days.
And, of course, there’s Midnight Tracks. I’ve had fun pulling a few years worth of short stories together and writing a few I never got around to. I’m on the home straight, with only one final (steamy) story left to finish and edit. That story won’t be on the website.. or anywhere else. It will be exclusive to Midnight Tracks, which is still scheduled to hit the inboxes of all my newsletter subscribers on Christmas Eve. And if you’re not subscribed to my newsletter yet, but would like to be, there’s a subscription button in the right-hand column. And another one at the bottom of this post. <3
The kitchen smelled of gingerbread and looked like an explosion in a cake shop. Empty bowls fought for space with chopping boards, serrated knives, crumbs and slivers of gingerbread. In the middle of the dining table, on a large foil-wrapped tray, stood a huge gingerbread house. It had a door and a roof, two chimneys and windows on all four sides. Gareth leaned against the centre island—a mixing bowl filled with white frosting in the crook of his elbow and a whisk in his other hand—and marvelled at Jack cutting tile marks into the roof, while Nico used a treacle-loaded brush to glue shutters to the windows.
Daniel was pulling the last of the decorations from the oven: trees and a pile of logs that would sit outside the house.
And Gareth’s bowl of frosting would shortly turn into drifts of snow.
When they put their minds and efforts together, they were a great team. Gareth hadn’t needed a cake project to prove that to himself, but he loved the house they’d created regardless.
Jack had drawn up the design. Daniel had baked the gingerbread. Nico and Jack had cut shapes and assembled the house, and Gareth had been busy mixing sticky glue and half a dozen colours of frosting.
The air in the kitchen was warm and heavy with the scent of sugar and spices, and Gareth couldn’t wait for the rest of their evening. He’d sat with Nico for part of the afternoon, learning how to knit, and he wanted to get back to the red square he’d started.
Somehow, Nico’s idea of a blanket for the four of them to share had laid claim to his imagination. It was tangible proof that they were a family, more so than the court order that had given Jack and him custody of Daniel and Nico just five weeks earlier.
Nico seemed equally keen to return to his yarn. He hadn’t argued about helping Daniel build the gingerbread house, but now that their edifice was nearing completion he was clearly distracted.
Daniel saw it, too. “What are we doing for your project?” he posed the question when they’d stacked the dishwasher and were wiping down the counters.
Nico hesitated, and Gareth wanted to wrap his arm around him. Cooking, whatever they were making, was familiar territory. The challenge Nico had chosen was not.
“We’re making a blanket that we all fit under,” Nico admitted finally. “It’s made from squares. You knit the squares and put them together to make a blanket.”
“I don’t know how to knit.”
“I can show you. And you can pick a colour you want and—”
Gareth lost track of the conversation and got lost in watching Jack instead. Jack’s eyes were wide with surprise as if Nico’s idea had caught Jack the same way it had caught Gareth. Then he smiled, and the impish tilt to his lips hinted at interesting times to come.
“Do you have extra needles?” he asked, already up and ready to be doing.
“I put everything on the coffee table,” Nico replied.
And just like that, Jack was gone.
Gareth followed more slowly. He’d not expected much in the way of argument—Jack liked to try new things and he certainly relished building and fixing things around the house—but he’d not expected Jack to grab two needles and a green ball of yarn as if it was nothing.
“You know how to knit?”
Jack unwound a length of yarn and looped it over his fingers. Four tries later, his fingers had remembered what to do. “Muscle memory,” he nodded when he had a neat row of loops on his needle. “He always said it’s like riding a bicycle.”
“Who said?” They all three stood around him now, gobsmacked, and Gareth was sure the nonchalance was a smokescreen.
“Rio taught you to knit? Why?”
“He hated me fidgeting while I tried to work stuff out. Or so he said.”
“Bullshit,” Nico burst out. “You don’t knit when you work stuff out. You juggle.”
“I do now.” Jack’s smile turned wistful, and his brows tilted at an angle Gareth had come to know and dislike. This was Jack withdrawing from them, getting lost in his past. He’d done his best to get rid of the look. Thought he had succeeded… and then Jack had gone undercover and more than one of his ghosts and insecurities had made a comeback. “I can juggle with anything,” he said now in answer to Nico’s query. “Doesn’t matter where I am. And I never quite knew what to knit. Or who to knit anything for.”
Daniel sat down beside him and fished a pair of needles from the quiver. He looked at them dubiously, and then picked a purple ball of wool from Nico’s stash. “But now you have us, and Nico’s blanket project. That’s okay, isn’t it?”
Jack set his needles down for a moment and wrapped an arm around Daniel’s shoulders. “It’s more than okay. If you two don’t get straight As for your projects, I’m photoshopping a kilt on the Headmaster’s official photo.”
“We should be okay.” Nico grabbed the seat next to Daniel. “We’ve made things as a team. Daniel’s gingerbread house can feed our whole class, and the blanket will be ours. That’s what they wanted.” He held out his hand and manoeuvred Gareth into the remaining corner of the sofa. Gareth went willingly and reached for his needles with the beginnings of a red square on them. It might be Christmas or even next year until they had their blanket to lounge under, but he didn’t doubt they’d get there.
As a family.
Seasons of Cheer is my blogging challenge for this year. Every day during December I’m aiming to post a story, snippet or outtake. A moment to stop and draw breath during a month that’s usually crazy busy.
And here’s an extra treat for everyone who subscribes to my newsletter:
Midnight Tracks, a collection of shorts, snips, and outtakes from the first five Power of Zero books, including an exclusive Christmas short story you won’t find anywhere else – delivered to your inbox on Christmas Eve. 🙂