Tea Corner Harmony

Submitted into Contest #128 in response to: Set your story in a tea house.... view prompt

3 comments

Fiction Fantasy Romance

The sound of hot water poured from a tea kettle had a certain tranquility about it. It was softer than the sound of running water from a fountain but sturdy enough to know its purpose.


It roused me at the window seat while nearly dozing off as my mind wandered into some distant, unknown land. The smell of steeping green tea rose with the steam, wafting in my direction, confirming the idea that someone else was nearby. Of course, it shouldn't have been a surprise, considering I was sitting in a teahouse. Still, I was briefly wounded by the fact that I hadn't noticed another person enter the building, let alone take a table right behind me.


A fire crackled in the hearth, coercing a content sigh as I let the presence of this new person slip away from my thoughts, turning once more to the window and the sky above. Thanks to the empty cup of lavender tea at my side, my eyes relaxed, and I drifted through the glass window up into the heavens. However, the heavy pull was short-lived as the ticking, tapping sound of a spoon against ceramic jolted me into alertness once more. This time I pulled away from the window giving up the idea of clinging to that last bit of light from the day, and leaned towards the noise. From the sound of it, more water was poured into a second cup, and I cocked my head, attempting to get a good look considering the man's back was to me, and I couldn't see the table in front of him. Again, no voices implied there was more than one person, but curiosity stepped in, and the sound of stirring and tapping continued, over and over again, feeding the intrusiveness.


"Join me?" the man asked as if he'd seen me turn my attention to him.


It startled me, and I jerked back an inch. There was no one else in the room, aside from the tea barista behind the bar up front, too preoccupied to care what was happening to her only two patrons. My cup had been emptied for a while, but the new guest had ordered enough for two. I paused and said nothing, the idea of looming over his shoulder to get a good look at the place settings still a temptation despite the awkward invitation. Then again, I could have been wrong in assuming and felt a little embarrassed. I didn't know this man, and assuming he meant me was a little ridiculous. Flattering, yes, but also absurd. Despite the heavy daydreaming after tea, I knew I wasn't living inside a fantasy, and the only other rational thing to do was glance around the room in search of his guest.


"No. I meant you," he said, turning his chin into his right shoulder in my direction without twisting his torso to make eye contact.


My heart skipped a beat, and then I'm pretty sure it tried to leap out of my chest several times as the seconds that sprang by felt like minutes dragging on. It was as if he could read my thoughts. I was lost for words. I didn't know how to respond or how to react. He could have been anyone, good or bad, and I knew I'd never seen him before. If anything, the best idea was to grab my things and leave, which was also quite rude considering he'd just bought me a drink.


"Isn't the place to pick up women usually in a bar?" I finally asked, sucking my lips in after, feeling rather cheesy. My hands slid to my knees, and I pulled at my kneecaps as if they'd somehow form a magical blanket that would deem me invisible while I hunched. I saw him smile from the side, and I felt my heart thumping again as I took a moment to take in his profile.


His skin was tan, his face youthful but lined in a way that said he'd lived. Dark hair framed it, pulled back into a tight bun off of the nape of his neck. His smile was contagious, showing he wasn't beyond a sense of humor, even though his presence gave off the impression that he was wise beyond his years. He didn't look the type to suddenly wander into a teahouse and invite someone to tea. He looked more like he'd stepped out of a medieval video game, and I half expected to see him carrying swords at his sides. Handsome was an understatement, and if he had gone into a bar, there was no doubt that many would rush to his side. Yet there he was, sitting in an empty teahouse, asking me to join him.


"Who said anything about picking someone up?" Then he twisted, crooking an arm over the back of his chair, a hand resting on the top, the other hand folded over it. His look was direct, and I noticed the coffee color of his eyes, the slight twinkle in them as he gazed at me with something close to fondness.


The burning in my cheeks couldn't have been more obvious. I was sure they looked about as red as the coals at the bottom of the fire. This person probably traveled the world, was versed in many different cultures, and experienced life to the fullest. While I, on the other hand, was someone who hid away in an empty teahouse at a particular hour of the evening, disappearing from reality to dive headfirst into everything fantasy with no hope of ever accomplishing anything from it. I'd always felt something calling me. Always. But I couldn't figure out what, and after a long time, I started to feel lonely because of it.


"How about we start with names?" He broke the silence that had come over me. "And go from there."


A strange hope rose in me, and I lifted from my chair, gathering my purse and coat. My walk past him was stiff as I stood tall, eyeing him from the side as I passed. I knew he watched me the entire way with a smile of admiration.


I cleared my throat as I pulled the chair and sat down, lightly placing the tips of my fingers on the edge of the table. The lit candles burned away a little of the discomfort I was feeling, primarily because he was handsome and charming, and I was stiff when it came to anything proper.


"Shay. My name is Shay." I smiled. A glance was thrown in his direction and then back to the table.


"That's a pretty name. You can call me Lance," and he reached across the table, avoiding the tea, and offered a handshake.


I took it, and the warmth of his hand engulfed me. I was sure it was more robust than the fire warming my back behind us.


He was still smiling when I realized I hadn't let go. I couldn't explain it. It wasn't just the heat and the fact that a simple touch made me feel safe and secure, especially when it was a complete stranger. There was a connection.


I let go and eased back, nodding, once more taking in the setting in front of me, and I realized it felt like we were no longer inside the teahouse. Instead, the lighting darkened, creating shadows around us, and tiny balls of light floated here and there in the space between us, reminiscent of fireflies.


"Shall we get started?"


I frowned. Was there a way to start drinking tea that I wasn't aware of?


"You called to me. I came." He nodded, and his focus dipped towards the cups of tea. "While we drink, I want you to think of a question that's been lingering in the back of your mind. Let your focus on that question, and the energy that comes with it seep into the tea. You can even forget that I am here if you wish, or we can talk. Either way, please, meditate on it." He paused and then, "Try to leave a little tea at the bottom."

I shivered as a more profound understanding came over me. Intuition told me that Lance was there for reasons beyond my comprehension, but I still knew that I had called him there subconsciously. He was genuine, and this wasn't a daydream. He was my guide.


We sipped in a comfortable silence sharing curious glances now and then. For some reason, I didn't want to ask out loud the questions that kept coming to the tip of my tongue. Instead, I wanted to wait until after this unique tea ceremony. I wanted to see what he would say or do once the tea was gone. I also remembered I was supposed to be focusing on a specific question, but I was more interested to know about him and how the mystical realms of my brain had called him there.


When my cup was empty, aside from the small amount he'd asked me to keep, I showed him. It was a silent way of asking if that was the right amount. He nodded and asked for my cup. I handed it over, watching as our fingertips brushed, the heated feeling from skin-on-skin contact delaying my reaction until I glanced up and caught his eyes. His expression didn't deny anything, but a simple nod was all he afforded me before moving on.


The cup was placed over a saucer and napkin upside down, the movement quick and precise as he flipped it, waiting half a second before carefully removing the napkin.

"Place your hands over the cup."


I did as he asked.


"Now. I want you to think about that question. Really think about it this time and let it move into what remains of your tea."


My eyes flashed up at him. How had he known I hadn't been thinking about the actual question? "Can you read my mind?"


"No." Playful mischief showed in his eyes, and I knew he was lying. Either that or he had the natural ability to read people. It would have made sense as a guide.


I took a breath and focused this time, closing my eyelids. My body drifted like it usually did when I daydreamed, and I felt the cool ceramic of the cup beneath my hands. I let the image of this question move as energy through my fingers and seep into the cup. It felt natural to me as if I'd done it a hundred times.


"And release."


His voice was soothing, and I felt the cup move from under my hands before I opened my eyes. When I did, he was turning it with the handle. Three times it moved around counterclockwise.


"Would you like to read the leaves?" he asked.


"I don't know how."


"You'd be surprised," he countered. "But I will read them for you." He crooked his finger at me to come a little closer.


I looked around the darkened room, unsure if I was still in the real world because it felt like I had stepped out of reality and into another realm, which wasn't a bad thing. I felt comfortable, despite my uncertainty. So, I did what felt natural. I leaned in, scooting my chair towards his.


Once we were practically shoulder to shoulder, and my elbows rested on the table, my shoulders hunched with anticipation, he began.


"The bottom of the cup and the tea leaves there represent the past. As they start to come up the side, they move into the present, and the very top is the future. There's a broken heart at the bottom. One half is further from the other. That tells me the hurt, and the pain you've gone through has lingered. It drags from the past into the now. There's a ring around an eye which means you've been searching, reaching for a new sense of purpose. Two lines are formed in the leaves moving forward. One goes one way, the other goes the opposite way. One will lead you back to this path of loneliness you've been on, and the other, if you choose it, will lead you to what you've been seeking."


He had me at the broken heart, and tears welled in my eyes. I had been hurt in the past, and it was damaging enough that it left scars. Unfortunately, a few of those wounds were still healing mentally, making it hard for me to reach out and create new bonds.


I had to take a few moments to collect myself. Speaking was always hard when I tried to refrain from breaking down.


"You'd…you knew that already," I mumbled. "Because of who you are."


"Read mine." His tone was tender in the request, breaking away from what I said, and he slipped his cup and saucer over to me, gently pulling one of my hands free so that I could repeat the process.


I couldn't help but study his fingers as he lay them delicately over his cup upside down. Despite the light touch he gave, his entire palm collected it, his fingers slightly separated. It showed a steadfast commitment and confidence I hungered for.


He also closed his eyes.


I waited a good minute or two to see if he would grow impatient and open them, but he didn't. Instead, he gave time until I was ready, and then slowly, with a small, playful smile I wasn't sure he would see, I pulled the cup from him. It was also turned three times. Then, with a heavy sigh, I turned it upright.


The leaves were clumped together in places, and that's all they looked like to me—a wad of used green tea leaves.


"Let your intuition guide you," he told me. "Don't overthink it. Look for pictures, symbols, designs that might remind you of something, like it would if you were looking at the clouds in the sky."


I was reluctant, but he gave me a firm nod and a slight, confident lift of his chin. I wanted to ask if it was terrible that I was attracted to my guide but refrained and stared again down at the scrambled mass of wet leaves.


Squinting a little helped the pictures come into focus. Images that pulled me out of my safe zone.


"Lance," I paused, pulling myself up as if I needed a deep breath. "I don't think I can do this."


I felt my chair move, and suddenly we were face to face. He'd pulled me into his inner circle, and his eyes never left me as he raised a hand in the air, gesturing for the barista to bring more tea. Chamomile was requested.


"You've wanted me here for a long time," he said, following my gaze, refusing to let me slip away mentally into some dark corner. It was always easier to face the emptiness there than consider the possibility of something good coming into reality for fear it might slip away again. "I will tell you what the leaves say, but next time you will read." He grabbed my hand and put it to his chest. I could feel his heartbeat and that same warmth I'd gotten when we'd shook hands.


"What do they say?" I asked. A tear escaped and slipped down my cheek. I'd never read tea leaves before, but there it was, as the perfect painting in his cup. I was sitting at the window staring out into the sky, my mind reaching, wandering, trying to pull the magic cotton out of those big fluffy clouds to find what I felt I'd lost. I had brought Lance into this reality simply by calling to him without realizing it.


He shook his head, dipping his chin down as if he refused to answer before bringing his attention back to me. He took both of my hands in his, threading his fingers through mine. "What do you want in this life? Which path will you choose?"


I had a decision to make. Lance was on my side, and now it was up to me whether or not I chose to move forward with the gifts I’d been given or stay hidden. I never thought it would come at me in a teahouse by reading tea leaves. "What if I had another request in choosing the path less traveled?"


Amusement showed in his smile. "And what would that be?"


"For you to stay with me in this process between worlds. That's where we are right now, isn't it? Between worlds?"


"This is as much reality as anything else. Wherever your imagination leads us is strictly up to you." This time his nod was full of respect. “I will stay with you and teach you. That is what a guide’s job is, after all.”


"Just my guide?" I asked, my cheeks burning red from the admission that I was smitten.


"As I said, wherever your imagination takes you." He winked.


"Wherever it takes us," I corrected.


"You're going to be a powerful reader," he teased. 

January 14, 2022 06:18

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3 comments

Poppy Jackson
22:38 Feb 24, 2022

I loved this!! The character's voice really spoke to me and I really resonated with her. I loved the mystical 'between worlds' element and you set the scene so well- it felt like I was there with them. Amazing writing :)

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Jenny K
04:15 Jun 05, 2022

Thank you so much! It's always nice to receive lovely feedback and know that someone else felt the 'magic' too.

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Vicki Woods
13:39 Jan 18, 2022

Love it! It put me there!

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