Equable, I was; not prone to meddling, not eager to incur my friends’ displeasure, yet there I stood, at the door of The Nox Teahouse – a humble structure that doubled as Jillian’s home – where I was certain to eulogize too much, set my skin in the color of equivocations, and hear a dozen euphemisms before the party was through.
Taking a deep breath, I looked down at my tennis shoes. Not exactly tea-party material, me. We were short a baker at work, so I had pulled a double-shift and gotten off just in time to stand there, at the door, wishing I could turn around and go home. Planned, it was, weeks in advance, however; a push-over, I was, without doubt. So, I pulled the brass knocker up and let it fall lightly thrice.
There was a window on each side of the door. I looked through the one on the right and saw the table was already dressed, the teacups had been set out, and a candle was lit at the center of the warm display, but nothing else.
Where was everyone? I was right on time.
I jiggled the door handle – only because I’d been invited – and found the door unlocked. So, in I went with mild concern and curiosity about my missing friends.
I turned and checked the path behind me. No one there. The moon polished everything with its phosphorous glow outside, and I would have rather stayed there. I shut the door behind me.
“Bera? Are you here?”
There was, for me, some mystery surrounding this tea-party. Jillian, Bera, and Calissa were insistent that I attend, though I felt I barely knew them. Well, I had cataloged them in the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ of my friendships: they were perfectly tepid about me. Nonetheless, no one could argue that they did this tepidness perfectly, so that I was never quite sure where I stood among them.
But I would wait because that’s what I would do.
I checked my timepiece; yep, the moon was still out there. I yawned. The tea hadn’t been poured yet, so I guessed I hadn’t missed the party.
The chairs at the table, made of rustic wood, did not look comfortable, but the chairs on the other side of the room, in the den, looked marvelous. There was a bright, royal blue, velvet armchair in an embossed floral pattern; a doozy of a mustard yellow, high-backed, throne chair; and a sweet, pink, barrel chair that also looked very soft.
“I’ll just sit down and wait,” I said to myself.
The throne chair was too big and not very comfortable.
The sweet pink chair didn’t furnish much neck support.
But the royal blue chair, I must say, was delightful. So, I stayed in that one and fell asleep more than once.
Where was everyone? I wondered between nods. I had heard so much about Jillian’s Nox Teahouse that I hated to leave without a proper tea or a tour. Besides, maybe an emergency had carried them all away, sudden-like. I wanted credit for showing up after all of their nagging.
I also wanted to crawl into my own bed.
Upstairs, I wandered, because there was no one to stop me. I opened the only door at the top of the stairs and found three beds – one looking magnanimous, one fair-to-middlin’, and one a mite stingy. I considered how these beds would serve the roommates; the women were all about the same size.
I uttered, “Strange things.”
I peered behind the curtain to check the time again. Moon-high. I sighed and yawned and then tried the magnanimous bed –
Waterbed. No thank you.
I clumsily rolled out of that one and tried the fair-to-middlin’ one.
“Eh. Too hard.”
I shrugged and gave the mite stingy one a try –
“Well, never in a blue moon...” It was perfect, if I curled up like a cat. So, that’s what I did.
She’ll be pouring the tea next – just you wait and see!
I sat up in a sweaty jolt. “Hello?”
I could have sworn someone said… but no, it couldn’t be. But it was time to be done with this weird party.
I hastened down the stairs, eager to put the creeps behind me. I threw open the door and heard my own eulogy being read in the faint distance as five young women shouted from the other side:
And so began the equivocating of my skin – saying one thing to me and something else to them. I wanted to strangle them all: I smiled.
“Where have you been?”
“Waiting for you to wake up!” Calissa said with cat eyes.
No one was listening. They were already busy bringing treats on little trays from the kitchen to the table and pouring the tea. Well, at least I had gotten a nap.
“Jubee and Ginger are coming too.”
Jillian’s announcement seemed to be given just for me, so I answered: “Oh, okay.”
‘The more, the merrier’ was no motto of mine, but it wasn’t my teahouse.
Soon enough, there were six of us seated around the rustic, darling table that was all dressed up for the occasion with shiny silver towers of tea cakes, three ceramic tea-pots etched in sashes and swags, dainty triangle napkins with lace edges, mock metal crowns and the national flag for décor.
Finally, I thought, a delightful tea-party!
Whatever possessed me to think such thoughts in mixed company was beyond me. Things only got worse from there.
“The table looks so beautiful, ladies,” I declared.
“Well,” Jillian gleamed from every pore. “Let them eat cake! – Someone once said.”
Bera poured my tea first. Scalded, my tongue was, from the first sip. I set the cute cup down gently; it would have to wait.
“You know, that’s not someone you should quote favorably,” I countered.
Jillian’s face looked like she had drank my tea instead of me – the whole cup and too hot.
“That’s it!” she burst. “It’s time we told you the reason for this gathering, Liberty.”
Was that my eulogy being read in the distance again? I was sure I heard it…
“We must intercede on behalf of our nation and ourselves. We’re deeply concerned about your loyalty to us and the cause,” Jillian said, making me her task over tea.
The euphemisms had begun. I took a raspberry tea cake and started eating. I figured they weren’t done yet, and I wanted to try the cake before I had to leave. Not that I could taste it after the scalding tea.
“You did break my pink chair while we were gone,” Bera spoke up, enunciating each word painfully.
I almost choked – “What?”
I looked over at the chair; it did look broken now that I saw it again, but I hadn’t done it.
“And you slept in my bed,” Calissa said, glaring. “Do you really think that everyone’s property is your own? Do you really think that you can just believe whatever you want?” she accused.
“No...” I tried to answer, but they weren’t done yet.
Jillian sighed, nodded, and poured tea for herself and Jubee. “We’ve tried so hard to befriend you. We’ve been nice to you and invited you to everything.”
The girls all nodded.
“I mean, do you hate us? Do you want to be our friend or not?”
I cleared the last crumble of teacake from my throat and tried another sip of tea, but it was lukewarm now. The girls waited on me with rapt eyes, full mouths, and pinky fingers up.
“I’m sorry, but I’m confused,” I began. “You said I wasn’t loyal to the nation or to your cause but all of your arguments seem to say that I’m simply not presenting as loyal to you? – I’m not even sure what we’re talking about.”
Ginger snapped a biscuit and shook her head. “See, that’s what we’re talking about. You can’t even commit to a topic, darling. It’s like you have no sense of what you’re about.”
Her eyes never met mine in conversation. As long as I’d known Ginger, her eyes had never met mine – and I’d known her longer than the others, about two years.
“Do you support the taxation on tea or not?” Calissa cut in.
“Well, some – maybe – but, now? No,” I answered.
“I told you,” Bera muttered with a frown. “She doesn’t support the Crown.”
Ginger snapped again. “See – see what I mean? No straight answers.”
“Who said anything about the Crown?”
Blushing, I probably smiled.
“You didn’t bring any cake to the party either,” Jillian whined. “I told you this would be a celebration of the Crown,” she scolded, her little brown ringlets echoing her head’s displeasure. “Just a little cake would have said so much.”
Calissa’s eyes rolled over me. “You’re not even dressed with respect to the tea.”
“I just got off work,” I said.
I don’t know why I was smiling, and I was still trying to figure out whether we were talking about tea, taxation, my recluse tendencies, my poor attire, or the tea-party. Everyone was eating or drinking, so I tried my tea again: cold. That was it for me.
I scooted the hard chair back and stood up to address them.
What I said: “This is a beautiful teahouse, Jillian. Thank you for inviting me, but I have to work again in the morning, and I need to get some rest.”
What I wanted to say: “Your assassinations upon my character and confused accusations entirely ruin the beauty of The Nox Teahouse, which I would otherwise have recommended to my friends. Thanks for the invite, but I forget entirely why I came now.”
They took turns hugging me with downcast eyes, clearly unfulfilled in their mission to reform me – or whatever it was they were trying to do. I hugged them back because I cared, even if I didn’t know why.
The night was still glowing, the moon hitting my eyes. Breathing deeply, I took in the scents of pine and earth as I walked home, and I thanked God for the space to breathe. When my tiny house appeared in the distance, I ran to it, stretched out my arms, and pretended to hug the front door.
I collapsed, once inside, into my perfectly plush – but not too plush – just right bed. And when I woke the next morning, I steeped and sipped a perfectly hot – but not too hot – jasmine tea while sitting in my perfect, brown, leather chair.
“The Liberty Teahouse,” I said, snickering and holding out a pinky as I drank, alone.
When I was finished with that, I filled the bathtub with water – hot and very full – and tossed all of the tea leaves I could find stashed in my kitchen cabinet into the bath. Laughing, hysterically, I climbed in.
Liberty wasn’t dead yet.
And everyone who minded their own business lived happily ever after. The End.