5 min read

Chapter 36: Endings and Beginnings

Saffron celebrates the holiday with old friends and new
An image of four lit candles is overlaid with the text "Saffron and Bear" and "Chapter 36: Endings & Beginnings"

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An early snow blanketed the ground, crunching softly under Saffron’s feet as she walked through the woods. Bear padded at her side, pausing now and then to shake snow from his paws.

Despite the cold air nipping at her nose and cheeks, Saffron didn’t mind the long walk. The moon was out, the stars were shining, and there was nowhere she’d rather be. She was still basking in the joy of having the forest back the way it was supposed to be.

She could see their destination long before they reached it. The house was lit up; candles flickered in every window and lanterns hung on the fence and along the path up to the house. The large iron gate was no longer closed; it was propped open to welcome visitors in. As Saffron passed through it and walked up the path, music and laughter spilled out from within the house.

“You ready?” she asked Bear.

He meowed, and pawed at the door.

She pushed it open and was immediately greeted by the smell of cinnamon and spruce, and shouts from all directions. Everyone was here: Sage, Alistair and his family, Meg and Henry, Mister Payton, even Professor Burton and Bella, though they stood off to one side.

If the house had been magnificent last time she was here, it was nothing short of resplendent now. Greenery hung from the mantle, the stair rails, and the ceiling. Mister Payton was playing his violin while Meg sang a carol. Candles glowed on every surface, there were plates of cookies and cheese on the tables, and Sage was pressing a mug of hot apple cider into her hand.

“It’s gorgeous,” she breathed. “It’s perfect.”

“I know.” Sage tugged at her arm. “Come on, you need to try one of these cookies that Junie made.”

Bear was already doing the rounds by then, brushing against legs and demanding attention from the other guests, so Saffron followed Sage across the room to a tray of gingerbread cookies.

“Here, take one,” Sage encouraged her. “They’re so good.”

A young woman who stood near the tray smiled. “Thanks Sage.”

It wasn’t hard to see the resemblance to Alistair in her eyes. “You must be June?” Saffron set down her cider so she’d have a free hand to extend.

June shook it warmly. “Yes, but everyone calls me Junie. You can, too.”

“It’s so nice to finally meet you. I’m Saffron.”

“I know.” She smiled again. “It’s been lovely getting to know Sage and I hope we’ll get to see more of you, too.”

“Don’t worry,” Sage assured her as she threw an arm around Saffron, “I’ll make her visit so much you’ll be sick of her.”

While the town had gone back to normal quickly after Saffron used the crown to restore the land and repair the damage, Saffron’s life still felt as though it had been upended. Alistair’s parents and Junie had moved back into the house right away. A few days later, Alistair had given up his room in town and moved back as well to spend more time with his family after so many years apart.

It was about a week after that when Sage had told Saffron she was moving to the house too. Alistair had invited her, she’d explained, and as much as she loved living with Saffron, she was ready to get off the cot in the corner and have a space of her own. Saffron couldn’t argue with that, though it was going to take a while to get used to how quiet the cottage was with just her and Bear again.

She took a big bite of the cookie, enjoying the warm spices and the sharp ginger. “Oh, this is good. Do you bake much?”

“Yes. We used to have guests a lot–big parties like this, but also friends and family stopping by. Mom would prepare the food and I would do the sweets. Do you bake?”

Sage snorted, and Saffron shot her a glare. “Not well. I’ve never had much time to get the hang of it.”

“Maybe we could bake together sometime, if you’re going to be visiting as much as Sage says.”

“I’d like that.” Saffron smiled. Maybe the cottage wouldn’t feel so lonely if she had new friends to visit.

Junie was called away to help put out more food, and Sage returned to Alistair’s side. Saffron spoke to Henry for a few minutes, and enjoyed Meg and Mister Payton’s performance.

But there was someone else she needed to talk to, and she couldn’t put it off any longer. She made her way over to the corner of the room where the Professor and Bella sat quietly watching the music.

“Merry Christmas,” Saffron greeted them. She hadn’t seen them since the events in town last month. She wasn’t sure where she stood with them.

“Merry Christmas, dear,” the Professor said. “It’s good to see you.”

“I’m glad you both came. I wasn’t sure you would.”

“We were glad to be invited,” Bella said. “Was that your doing?”

Saffron shook her head. “That was Adela. She wanted a fresh start for everyone. Not that I disagreed, mind you.”

Bella nodded thoughtfully. “We’ve been working on a fresh start ourselves.”

“I’m trying,” the Professor said, with a look that encompassed both Bella and Saffron. “I know I have a lot to make up for.”

“You do,” Saffron agreed. “But tonight, let’s enjoy the party.”

And that’s exactly what they did. There were more cookies, and more cider, and mulled wine, and everyone joined in the singing toward the end of the night. Saffron’s mind was clearer and her heart fuller than it had been in a long time. She sank into the warmth and cheer with a sense that everything was going to be alright.

By the time the party wound down, it was too late for the long walk home. While the other guests went up to the spare rooms, Saffron stayed right where she was on the sofa and Sage found her a spare blanket. She wrapped herself up in it, with Bear curled beside her, and she watched through the window as snowflakes fell until she drifted off to sleep.

Thank you so much for reading! Whether you’ve been here from the beginning or joined more recently, I appreciate your interest. This is the end of Saffron’s story, but I’ll be sending out something new starting in January—more on that soon. In the meantime, if you’d like to share this story with someone you think would enjoy it, click the button below.

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Katie Conrad is a speculative fiction writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. You can find her on twitter, instagram, and tumblr.