Cup of Tea (One of Two, Short Story)
Greta liked tea.
She had since she was a little girl, when stealing sips of her mother's own fragrant drink. The best time to commit this crime was when Miss Holly came over, which was often. Miss Holly was the most ancient woman Greta had ever met and she was sure the awe would never wear off. Her crinkly, paper-sack skin mesmerized the girl of five, as did the thin, wispy white briads and puckered lips. Like a lemon drop.
"Can I watch you make tea?" Greta would ask her mother innocently.
"Sure, dear, have a seat," Mrs. Tompson would reply, plopping her daughter on the kitchen counter. Miss Holly would be standing in the corner, breathless from the walk over to Greta's house on Main Street. And she would be talking.
"Well, have you heard from June Rivers lately? Word is she's havin' meetin's with the preacher, and they're courtin'. Even though both are married an' all. Could you believe such a thing?"
"That's madness," Mrs. Tompson would reply, setting some water to boiling on the stove. "I hope it's just a rumour."
"Fear it's not, Margaret. Word is they're a-gettin' pertty serious. An' iffen ya ask me, I'd say it's more'n a buncha hogwash. It's the livin' truth."
"Surely not. The preacher is a lovely man, and I've known June for years." Greta watched, absorbing the way her mother poured the hot water into two tall mugs. She grabbed a pouch from the cabinet, and then shook several dried leaves into each cup.
"Shore is! Why, I saw 'em just yesterday. A-clingin' to each other like the world was endin'. Lord bless their souls, as I'm a seein' they're not goin' anywhere good."
There would be a sharp tone to Mrs. Tompson's reply. "Now, Miss Holly, I'd advise you to be sure of things yourself before you go making assumptions about God's decisions. It'd be best if you didn't talk that way around Greta, as well. Cream or sugar?"
"Milk, please. And sorry if I seemed like a ramblin' ole lady to ya. I didn't mean no harm, 'cept to tell ya what I've seen with my own eyes." Miss Holly smiled at Greta, who watched as her mother sugared and milked and creamed each of the cups. A half-spoonful of sweet cane, a teaspoon of cream, a capful of skim milk. All these ingredients made the herb-tea a lovely, rosy color.
"It's ready," Mrs. Tompson would say then, lifting the cup and heading towards Miss Holly. Here, Greta would make her movie. She dragged the cup to her, lifted it to her lips, and gulped it down. It burned her throat and tongue, but the taste was delicious, and like none other. She might down a fourth of the cup before her mother would turn back around, and catch her in the act.
"Why, Greta! That's uncalled for, and you're dripping. Upstairs with you, and don't come down for ten minutes."
She would take the punishment happily, splaying her arms and legs across her twin bed and dreaming of a world made only of tea.
The day Greta turned ten, things changed.
"Now that you're a big girl, dear, you may start having tea." Mrs. Tompson said over breakfast. "So what kind would you like? Raspberry? Bluberry? Cranberry?"
"Lemon thyme," Greta said after thinking for a long second. "You know, the kind with lemon slices and thyme and prunes?"
"Of course! That's my girl." And Mrs. Tompson got up to get it.
Greta took her mug outside, wanting to showcase it to the world. Little Tommie Red stood across the street, sitting on the curb, watching his favorite neighbor as she sat down and sipped her drink.
"Watcha got there?" He asked at last, having mustered up the courage to yell.
"Tea!" Greta yelled back. "My very own cup of tea!"
"Can I try it?" He stood, jumping around like most six-year-olds tend to do.
"Depends--what does your mama say about tea?"
"I don't know, I've never heard of it before."
Greta thought for a moment. "I guess it's all right, then. Come here."
Tommie did as he was told, checking to make sure no cars were coming. Not that they would in the deserted suburb where Greta lived.
"Here," she said, handing it to the little boy.
He brought it to his lips. In the next second, there was a lot of choking, some gasping, and Greta snatched her cup back. There was blood gushing from Tommie's mouth.
"What happened?" She cried, looking frantic.
"I hit my mouth on the cup...and my tooth is gone!"
Greta's eyes widened. She looked down and there, floating in her special first-cup-of-tea along with a bit of blood, was Tommie Red's tooth.
She tried not to vomit.
"Here, Tommie, take it out!" She tried to sound kind.
His face crumpled. "You meanie! You know it's bad luck for anyone but your parents to touch your tooth after it falls back."
Greta groaned. "Ugh! Fine, is your momma home?"
"Nope," Tommie said, looking rather please. Blood dribbled down his chin onto his checkered shirt. "She's at the dentist."
"How 'bout your daddy."
"He's at work."
"Then...whose home with you?"
"My brother, Tyler. He's thirteen."
"I guess you'll have to take my cup, then," Greta muttered with remorse. She handed it over. "Please keep it safe, and bring it to me tomorrow."
It was a sleepless night.
She stopped by Tommie's at dawn, already dressed and ready to retrieve his cup. Mrs. Red answered the door, her blonde hair in curlers.
"Oh, Greta! What a surprise. How can I help you?"
"Hi, Mrs. Red. Uh...Tommie took my cup yesterday. I need it back."
"What?" For a moment, confusion crossed the young woman's face. "Oh! I'm sorry sweetheart, but the cup broke last night. I meant to tell you. Tommie was playing with it and splat, it just happened. What do I owe you for it?"
"Nothing," Greta mumbled, turning on her heel. "Thanks."
She slugged home.
*There will be a part two, but for now, I want to give poor Greta a break. :o)