DarliJ's House of Tea
by Mari Mitchell
No clock was present in the DarliJ’s House of Tea, but still the minutes ticked by as James sat alone behind the counter. Enthusiastic rain poured outside as he drank a cup of Pingshui Gunpowder. Intensely aromatic steam warmed his face and mustache. The tea’s slightly smoky flavor had a lemony aftertaste.
The bell above the door jangled as a sopping wet woman entered. James watched her shadow glide across the linoleum floor as she made her way to her usual table. Sometimes one of her two brothers would join her, but most times her boyfriend sat across from her. He with his red, unruly hair, unkempt clothes and his wild nature fidgeted, longing to be free from the restraints of a public house of tea. She with her well-behaved, chestnut waves framing her heart shaped face, a tidy dress of periwinkle, and her patient-as-peach attitude.
Her only form of company today were her tears. She hoped the tears were hidden by the dampness, but the puffy redness of her eyes betrayed any attempts at privacy or modesty.
James grabbed a clean towel and menu. He placed the menu beside a vased tiger lily and then offered her the towel. “May I get you a cup of hot tea to chase the chill away? I’ve got a lovely pot all ready.”
She looked up and gave a watered downed smile. “Thank you. That would be quite nice,” her voice, lilting and ever so lightly English.
As she took the towel, James’ hook was left bare. Once he caught sight of the exposed metal aperture, he quickly placed it behind his back. He gave her a wide smile as he retreated to get the tea and milk. Like him, she preferred her tea proper.
James had spied her many times but had never approached her directly. As in tea, timing was important.
He watched her dab herself less damp. He could not help but take notice how the rain made her dress cling to her fey form. He watched as the teacup rose, her pinky daintily pointed out. Her eyes shut as the cup lingered in front of lips that seemed to hold the promise of a kiss. She took a deep breath of the warm fragrance and then, ever so slightly, parted her pink lips and sipped. He wanted to confess. To tell all. All of the longing. His loneliness and more. But James controlled his emotions.
“If you’ll pardon me, it seems silly for the two of us to drink by ourselves. May I join you, or would you prefer to be alone?”
Her head wobbled in a round about that seemed to be more of a yes than no. With a natural flourish James took a seat across from her. He took pleasure in watching her drink his tea, so close he caught her scent, an infusion of rain, cardamom, roses and heather. Enchanting, he said softer than a whisper.
“I’m sorry, did you say something?”
James quickly recovered and pointed at the bay window. “It looks more like a lagoon than a parking lot.”
Her lips tightened as she nodded.
“Being the proprietor of a tea house is something like a bartender. I am a very good listener, only give advice when asked, and I keep secrets well.”
“Does it show?”
“Only around the edges.”
A sad half-smile floated above the teacup. She looked back at the lagooned parking lot and placed the tea on the table. “My boyfriend broke up with me today. He said I was cold as a codfish and that I mothered him too much.” Her hands reached across the table and touched James’ hook.
James noted the level of her comfort and he relaxed inside. He said supportive things as she poured out her heart’s frustrations.
“Can I get you something to eat?”
“I shouldn’t.” Her bottom lip quivered.
“Nonsense. I’ve got something that I am sure you’ll love. Something not too decadent, but special. Nothing helps happy thoughts return more than something sweet.”
From the kitchen, he took a tray of thick slices of white bread; gobs of butter spread on top. James placed the tray on his desk; then straightened the Eton College crest, which hung above a crocodile steamer trunk.
On the bookshelf, next to the leather bound copies of Treasure Island and The Princess Bride, was a birdcage that glowed.
James smiled at the contents of the cage. “I’ve got a job for you.”
The fairy decidedly placed one arm across her chest and then the other. She turned her back, peered at him over her bare shoulder and gave a sharp shake.
“As you wish.” James opened the door to the cage; his hand thrust in and grabbed the fairy tighter than necessary. With his hook he pinched her short green dress and dangled her in the air. Once over the tray of buttered bread, he firmly tapped her tiny bottom several times, causing a shower of multi-colored dust to fall. As it touched the bread, the dust transformed into small, colorful balls of sugar.
When the bread was liberally covered, James shoved the fairy into the desk drawer and locked it. The fairy hated this confinement more than the cage. The height of the drawer forced her to lie down, her wings at an uncomfortable angle, the floor covered with inches of ash from his stinky cigars.
“Here we are,” James said almost singing. He placed the cheerful tower of fairy bread on the table. “More tea, Wendy, dear?”
Wendy nibbled the bread and then took slightly larger bites. With a mouth full she said, “Yes please.” She popped a triangular piece of fairy bread into her mouth.
James beamed as a stream of light green liquid filled her cup and then his. She picked up her cup and did not mind when it spilled. She slurped and greedily consumed the last piece of fairy bread. Her eyes sparkled. Soft smiles and small giggles replaced the whimpering and tears.
“I just have to face it. Peter will never grow up and I have.” She looked at James with more discernment than before. “You know, I feel we have met before.”
“Oh, yes. I am glad you do not really remember. I had a bad temper back then. We have all the time in the universe to make more memories.”
“Did you say you had a ship?”
James leaned closer; their gaze met. “Yes, I do.”
“What a happy thought.”
“Indubitably.” James offered Wendy his long red jacket. “To shield you from the cold.”
The rain stopped and the sky cleared, revealing a fat, full moon.
Peter flew to the door of the DarliJ’s House of Tea. He tried to open the door, but it was locked. With his fists he pounded on the door. “Wendy, I know you’re in there. Come out at once!” Only then did he notice all the lights off and the sign that read “Closed”.
A woman laughed. Peter recognized the laugh. Wendy. It sounded the same as it once did, long ago when they were much younger.
The clock tower struck twelve. Peter looked up. There, sailing among the clouds, was a galleon with full masts. A pirate flag waved toodaloo at Peter.
From far above: “Oh, James, where are we going?”
His hand on the helm, the hooked arm held Wendy close. “Second star to the right and straight on until morning.”
About the Author
Mari Mitchell lives in the high deserts of California. She has placed in several contests on Writing.com and has had almost 20 things published in her first 2 years of submitting. Some can be found on Cherry Bleeds, Morphus Tales, and the anthology The Black Whole. Her tale “Alice in Ink” was chosen as Editor’s Choice in Grim Graffiti of 1/08.
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