The facts were these.
Six months, two weeks, three days and forty-seven minutes previously, lonely tourist Charlotte Charles had been murdered on a cruise ship. Additionally, six months, three days, forty-seven minutes and twelve seconds previously, the Piemaker had revived her. At this precise moment, as the pair of them worked away on some apple and cinnamon pies for the following day in the Pie Hole kitchen, neither of them was aware of this fact. This may have had something to do with it being the night before Christmas.
Technically the Pie Hole was closed for the holidays and the two occupants of the main part of the restaurant would be quick to tell any prospective customers that they were closed in no uncertain terms. Yet they made no move to lock the door, let alone head homewards themselves. Olive busied herself with cleaning the brass work as though it had been neglected for half a century, although she gave the coffee maker a wide berth, except when she fetched Emerson fresh cups of coffee. Emerson for his part was ensconced in a booth, putting the finishing touches to a fine cashmere scarf he’d been making for his mother. He grumbled beneath his breath about the fragility of the wool and the complexity of the pattern whenever Olive approached but was grateful for the coffee. He did his best not to think about the reason he had missed the last posting date for her present and avoided returning to his office, where a certain drawer kept safe all the knitted presents he could not send to his little girl.
In the kitchen, the Piemaker and the girl he called Chuck worked away on the pies, with the desert pies now in the oven, it only remained to decide what to have for the main meal tomorrow. Sharing anecdotes of culinary triumphs and disasters from holiday seasons past felt such a essential part of his Christmas Eve routine that he could hardly imagine how he had got by on previous years without it. Smiling to himself as he rolled more pastry, Ned let the sounds of the Pie Hole flow over him, the gentle susurration of quiet familiar sounds from previous years – the clack of Emerson’s needles, the rhythm of Olive’s scrubbing, the steady roll of his pin – overlaid with Chuck’s bittersweet anecdotes. He thought briefly about the family they wouldn’t be with tomorrow, Chuck’s aunts untouchable in nearby Coeur de Coeur, Emerson’s mother buried in another case, the family Olive never so much as mentioned, his own absent father and his disappearing acts. Mostly though he thought of last Christmas Eve with Emerson, Olive and himself in the same places they were this evening, of their eventual departure, leaving him with too many pies and an invitation to lunch the following day stuck in his throat.
“Emerson, Olive? Would you prefer your potatoes roast or mashed tomorrow?” called through Chuck.
There was a long silence as the steady sound of knitting and cleaning paused. Then:
Came the responses. Chuck looked up at Ned with a wry smile and he felt the words fall out of his mouth before his brain had a chance to get in the way.
“We’ll do both then,” he caught Olive’s eye as she stood hand on hips in the doorway and shrugged, “its Christmas after all.”
Somewhere behind Olive he heard Emerson mutter about “sentimental nonsense” and watched her spin around to tell him off, their banter having lost its subdued tone.
In the kitchen, Ned and Chuck shared a grin and began plotting out a different kind of family Christmas.