Tea Leaves and Silver Rings


Match Twenty-Three: Hibakujumoku:

Alfred had been so crept out by that little girl that he almost forgot about Florence. Today, he decided to focus his attention on her. He walked up to the girls’ door and knocked.

“Alfred!” Florence said when she opened up. “I didn’t expect to see you over here today.” The American man rubbed the back of his head.

“I’ve been busy lately,” he said. “Can I come in?”

“Of course,” Florence said. She moved aside, letting the tall American man inside.

“How have you been?” Alfred asked, sitting on the couch.

“I’m good,” she said. “A little tired lately.” The American man gave her a strange look.

“Tired?” he asked. Alfred did a little math in his head. “What day is it?”

“Sunday?” Florence asked.

“No, I mean is it still July or August?”

“I think it’s the first of August if I am not mistaken.”

“That can’t be right.”

“What do you mean?”

Alfred shook his head. “Nothing, it’s nothing.” Florence took a seat next to him.

“How have you been?” she asked. Alfred rubbed the back of his head and chuckled.

“Ah, bored,” he said. “I haven’t been able to see your faces in weeks, dude. You still keeping that garden?”

“Yes,” the tree spirit spoke up. “Would you like to see it?”

“Maybe later,” Alfred said. “I just want to stay here and chill with you for a little while, you know what I mean?” Florence’s face seemed to light up when he said that.

“I can see what you mean,” she said. “How you figured out who that little girl was?” Alfred chuckled nervously.

“I haven’t seen her lately and no,” he replied. “I almost don’t want to know who she is or what she wants with me.” The American man trembled. “It gives me the creeps.” Florence held his hand. She rested her head on his shoulder. Alfred’s heart jumped in his chest.

“Uh… Florence?” he asked. “Are you going to sleep on me?”

“No,” she said.

“Had a long morning?”

“Lydia and I cleaned around the house.”

“Have you been sick lately?”


Alfred put his hand on her forehead. “You don’t have a fever.” He looked around for a bit before pushing her closer to him.

“What are you doing?” Florence asked.

“Shhh,” Alfred whispered. “Just lay here for a while. It’s rather nice.”

The tree spirit drew her eyes closed. “You’re like a giant warm teddy bear.” The American man blushed as he tried to come up with something to say.

“Uh… thanks… I guess…” he said. Alfred glanced down to see a sleeping Florence. And she’s asleep already. Still, he couldn’t help but wonder if she was really coming down with something and didn’t know it. Earlier this month, Florence was strong enough to climb down a tunnel while carrying a full picnic basket. How much cleaning did the girls do today? Even that wouldn’t have tired her out. Florence didn’t have a fever. On the outside, she looked fine. Maybe Lydia would know something if he asked.

Speaking of which…

Alfred looked around the living room. He hadn’t seen Lydia trying to spy on them from the kitchen, den, or hallway. Did she finally start trusting him? As much as he wanted to believe that, Florence’s condition would be more pressing than her sister’s relationship with an outsider. Knowing her, Lydia was probably at the hospital, looking for answers.

Across town, Lydia sat in the doctor’s office. This morning, she got a call from the hospital.

“Hello?” she asked.

“Is this Miss Whitfield?” a man asked on the other line.

“Speaking,” the young girl said.

“This is Dr. Morris,” the man said. “This about your sister. Can you come by the hospital and talk?” Her stomach sank when she heard those words.

“Will I need Florence to come with me?” she asked. Lydia whispered her question after looking around.

“No, you can just come in alone,” the doctor said.

“Okay,” Lydia mumbled. Within an hour, she made it to the hospital. Now, she sat waiting with the clock ticking on the back wall. Lydia could never stand the sound. She turned when she heard the door close behind him.

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting,” Dr. Morris said. “How are you today?”

“Fine,” Lydia said in a shaking voice.

“And how is your sister?”

“She’s been a bit tired lately, but she’s fine.” Lydia closed her hands in her lap. Dr. Morris came around and sat down at his desk. Lydia lowered her head, but kept her eyes upwards.

“What is this about, doctor?” she asked. Dr. Morris pulled out Florence’s file sat it down on the desk.

“We got the test results back on Florence’s blood,” he said. “Her body is starting to reject the medication.” Lydia lifted her head.

“What?” she asked. The girl had already prepared herself for when this news would be coming, but she didn’t expect it to hurt so much.

“How long does she have before she dies?” Lydia asked.

“It’s hard to say,” Dr. Morris said, pushing his hair from his forehead. “At most, she has a year.”

“And at least?”

“I believe by the end of this year alone.”

“I see.” Lydia’s stomach turned. “I don’t have to tell Florence right away, do I?”

“We could run more tests to get a precise reading if you like.”

The young woman shook her head. “No, that will be fine. Can I take a moment?”

“Of course,” the doctor said. “You can take all of the time that you need.” Lydia bowed her head.

“Thank you,” she said in a quiet voice. She stepped out of his office and pulled out her phone.

Back at the house, Alfred got a text. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. The American man had to be careful not to wake up Florence in his arms. When pulled up his text messages, the latest one from Lydia.

“Alfred, we have to talk.”

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