Tea Leaves and White Pearls

Fig

Match Seventeen: Fig:

In late August, Alfred noticed a small bruise on Florence's left ankle while they were walking around in the park.

"Florence, what happened to your ankle?" he asked.

"Hm?" she asked as she looked down at her heel. "Oh," she said, "That's nothing really."

"Nothing?" Alfred asked her, "When did you get this?"

"Three days ago," she said as they took a seat under the gazebo.

"Three days?" the American man asked, "Three days and it still hasn't healed?"

"It's fine," Florence insisted, "It doesn't even hurt me."

"It doesn't?" her friend asked. The tree spirit shook her head.

"I'm fine, really," she insisted. Alfred nodded uneasily, but managed to smile.

"Oh, Alfred," Florence spoke up. The American man turned his attention to her.

"Yes?" he asked.

"Can we stay like this for a while?" she asked as she looked up at him in his lap, "It's a really nice day and we're not really doing anything at the moment." The American man patted her on the head and gave her a little smile.

"Sure," he said. Florence smiled as she drew her chestnut red eyes closed.

"Thanks," she whispered. Alfred made himself smile as he nodded. He waited until she dozed off in his lap before reaching for his phone. The American man kept his eye on his friend as he dialed the number that needed. Don't wake up yet, he thought while the other line.

"Hello?" a young girl answered on the other line. Alfred quickly snapped to attention.

"Lydia," he whispered, "Just the person I wanted to talk to."

"Why?" she asked, "Why are you whispering into the phone?" Alfred glanced down at Florence sound asleep in his lap.

"Dude, have you looked at Florence's ankle lately?" he asked.

"Her ankle?" the girl asked.

"Yeah, there's like this bruise on it," the American man explained, "She says that she's had it for three days now." He stopped talking when he noticed a pause on the phone.

"Lydia?" he asked, "Lydia? What's the matter?"

"Oh," she said in a small voice, "This isn't good."

"What's the matter?" Alfred asked.

"What is the date today?" the girl asked. The American man had to try and think about that answer.

"August thirty-first," he said, "Why? What's wrong?"

"Summer's ending," Lydia said.

"So?" the man asked.

"She's a tree spirit and you know how trees are in autumn and winter?" the girl asked.

"I guess…" Alfred said in a slow tone.

"She'll be getting sick again soon," Lydia said in a low voice, "That bruise on her ankle is the first time. Her body slows down with healing itself and then her health starts to fail until the point that she is bed-ridden."

"Well, is there any way to stop it?" he asked.

"No," the girl replied, "The doctors are giving her pills to slow down the process for the time being. Listen, Alfred could you do me a little favor?"

"Yeah?" the American man asked.

"Could you not mention any of this to my sister?" the girl asked. Alfred looked so puzzled at her words.

"Why not?" he asked.

"You see, she knows when she is about to get sick," the younger sister explained, "She puts on a brave front to keep me from worrying. So could you please play along with her?"

"Sure, I guess…" Alfred mumbled uncertain about this whole plan.

"Thank you," Lydia said before hanging up. The American man lowered his phone as he looked down at the sleeping tree woman in his lap.

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