This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
“Irrilia, stay close.” Raph admonished as he guided his four-year-old daughter through the drainage system. For her safety, it was important that she be familiar with the network of tunnels that surrounded their home, but the way she was eagerly darting about without any thought of self-preservation made him wonder if he should have waited another year or two. But if Sensei was to be believed, at this age, she’d be out here exploring with or without him, so this was the lesser of two evils.
Irrilia let out a gasp and, to Raph’s dismay, darted into a nearby heap of refuse, barely illuminated by the dim light seeping in from the grates above. He made it over to her just as she lifted her prize above her head with an adorable shout of exultation.
It was a cracked, chipped, discarded old coffee mug, missing the bottom half of its handle. Granted most of the dining ware they’d collected was imperfect, scavenged from what the humans above saw as unfit for their use, but this item was not in great shape, even by their standards.
He couldn’t help but smile at the reverence in her voice and crouched beside her, pulling her onto her knee as she examined her find.
“Look! Words.” She traced her chubby, little finger over the common platitude pasted onto the side of the mug.
“Can you read it?” Don had been working with her but this was a rare moment to evaluate where she was at, without wondering if she hadn’t merely memorized whichever book she was reading.
“One!” She pointed excitedly to the numeral in the top line.
“Yup. What about the word underneath?”
She squinted her large, iridescent eyes at it and began sounding out the letters. “Gah-err-ahh-nnn-puh-ahh.” She repeated the sounds quietly to herself over and over before her eyes lit up in comprehension. “Grandpa! Like Sensei.”
He smiled. “That’s right.”
She looked at the mug again. “Hashtag one grandpa.”
She pointed enthusiastically at the words, awaiting her praise. He was going to pound Mikey when he got home.
Gesturing to the first symbol, “there’s another way to say this one.”
She thought for a moment. “Pound one grandpa?”
He stifled a laugh as he mentally added Don to the beat down list upon his return. “It can also be read as number, sweetie.”
Her eyes sparkled as she scanned the words again. “Number one grandpa. That means grandpa is the best.”
He grinned. “It sure does.”
She giggled. “Grandpa is the best. How did it know, though?”
He smothered another laugh. “I don’t know. It’s a mystery.”
Her expression grew serious as she considered something. “Grandpa should know he’s the best. I have to give this to him.”
He squeezed into a quick hug. “Sure thing, kiddo. Let’s get back and get it cleaned up.”
Raph rolled his eyes at his brother as he held a hand up to stop him. “The point is, nobody calls it that.”
Don huffed. “I do.”
Raph snorted. “Trust me when I tell you that you are not the bar against which normal behavior is measured.”
Donnie crossed his arms over his plastron. “Not that I’m conceding your point, but it still doesn’t change the official designation of the symbol.”
Knowing that an argument with Don which descended into semantics could not be won and usually ended with him knocking his brother on his shell, he opted to change the subject. “So, you think that thing will leak?”
Donnie shrugged. “None of the cracks are structurally compromising, so it should be fine. Will it matter? He’ll just keep it on his knick-knack shelf.”
Raph raised an eye ridge at Donnie, wondering how someone so smart could fail to realize the obvious. “You know she’ll expect him to drink out of it, right?”
Donnie frowned. “That doesn’t seem reasonable…”
“She’s four. She’s not supposed to be reasonable. She’s supposed to be cute.”
Don smiled as they both turned to watch her staring up at the steam cleaner, waiting for her gift to be immaculate.
“And crazy-scary when she’s mad. But that might be an inherited trait.” Don added.
Raph laughed. “Trust me, my temper’s got nothin’ on hers.”
Leo asked as he fended off his niece who’d nearly bowled him over on the couch upon leaving Don’s lab. Leo looked over pleadingly at Raph as he struggled to defend his lap desk of calligraphy supplies. He just smirked back at his brother. Fearless leader thought he could handle anything, so it was time to prove it.
“A gift for Sensei.”
Leo smiled at Irrilia’s response as he shielded his kit with his body. “Well that’s sweet of you, but Sensei doesn’t drink coffee.”
Irrilia frowned at her uncle in consternation.
“It’s for tea.” She insisted emphatically.
Leo tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Hmm. We wouldn’t want there to be any confusion.”
Raph watched Leo give Irrilia a mischievous wink as he took the mug from her and dipped his brush in the inkwell. She stared in fascination as her uncle painted the kanji for tea on the back of the mug with a few sure strokes.
“There. O-cha. Now everyone will know what this mug is for.”
“Tea.” Irrilia repeated happily in English.
Raph approached. “We’ll have to let the ink dry before you can give it to Sensei.”
Irrilia flopped back on the couch and sighed dramatically.
“But I know what we can do while we wait!” They all jumped as Mikey popped up from behind the couch. Thankfully, Leo managed to keep ahold of Irrilia’s treasure.
Before he could clobber his little brother, Mikey flopped over the back of the couch and began tickling Irrilia, who squealed in delight.
“No! No tickle torture, Uncle Mikey!”
Mikey stopped with a laugh. “Then how about we make something to go in Sensei’s gift.”
Before Raph could protest the idea of his little girl carrying around a mug of hot tea, Mikey scooped her up and bounded towards the kitchen.
Leo glanced up at him. “You better go supervise. I’ll guard the mug.”
Restraining a growl, Raph immediately moved to follow and was surprised to find Mikey bypassing the kitchen completely for one of the small rooms behind it in the hallway that followed the edge of the dojo.
He winced against the intensely bright, little space full of…were those bushes?
Mikey was instructing Irrilia on how to pick off buds and leaves, collecting them in a small bowl as he held her up to the vegetation.
His little brother grinned over at him. “Tea plants. I’ve been growing them for a while. It was supposed to be a surprise, but I think this will be the perfect time for the big reveal.”
He didn’t know what to say. He wouldn’t have given Mikey enough credit to come up with such a time consuming project that didn’t involve pranking someone.
“But Uncle Don says that plants need sunlight to grow?” Irrilia looked at Mikey questioningly as she spoke.
Mikey grinned down at her. “Well the lights here are like portable sunlight. You’re Uncle Don used to use them to grow…you know what, you probably don’t want to know what we used to eat. Let’s just say that he didn’t need them anymore and helped me set this up instead.”
Irrilia shrugged and resumed her picking. When Mikey deemed they had enough, he led them back to the kitchen, setting Irrilia on the counter next to the stove as he fished out a pan.
“Mikey!” Raph yelped as he moved to snatch his daughter away.
“Chillax. She knows not to touch a hot stove, don’t ya Rilly?”
Irrilia nodded sagely. “Hot stove. Don’t touch.”
Raph scowled as Mikey heated up the dry pan. “Don’t call her Rilly.”
As usual, Mikey ignored him. “Ok, sprinkle the buds and leaves in the pan.”
Irrilia plucked up a handful and let them fall. Immediately discontent with the pace, she proceeded to upend the entire bowl into the pan.
“Whoa. Well, that works too.” Mikey laughed as he shook the pan to spread them.
Annoyed, Raph picked his daughter up and moved her to the table, not sharing Mikey’s nonchalant attitude regarding her proximity to a serious burn waiting to happen.
As Mikey moved the skillet, he used his free hand to pull out a baking sheet and set the oven to two hundred and fifty degrees Fahrenheit. Then he dumped the pan’s contents onto the baking sheet and spread them out.
“How do you even know how to make tea leaves anyway?”
Mikey rolled his eyes. “Same way anyone knows anything. Don.”
Mikey slid the baking sheet into the oven and Irrilia gracefully hopped off the table to sit in front of the oven and watch the tea leaves bake because that had to be interesting.
“How long is this gonna take?” Raph gave his little brother a pointed look.
Mikey shrugged. “It’s supposed to be twenty minutes, but I might give it a bit more, since we didn’t let the oven preheat.”
Mikey grinned conspiratorially at him. “The leaves are supposed to dry for a couple hours after you pick ’em, so I swapped out the bowl she harvested for one I did this morning. Because mah ninja skillz is awesome-sauce!”
Raph groaned and rubbed his temples. “And here I was almost mistaking you for intelligent. Thanks for correcting the mistake.”
Mikey glared at him and grabbed a small tin from the counter that, if it’s label was to be believed, once contained mints and plopped down next to Irrilia. “When they’re done we’ll collect ’em in here so they’ll fit nicely in the mug when you give it to Sensei.”
Irrilia clapped excitedly.
Raph leaned against the counter, settling in for a wait. He was pretty sure his girl wasn’t budging until her gift was done.
In what seemed like slow motion, she toppled forwards, the mug and its contents flying out of her hands. He cringed. Please land on a rug. Please land on a rug.
Naturally, the stupid thing came down on the cement space between the carpets, right on the remnants of the handle, shearing it clear off.
Irrilia scrambled for the gift, tucking the tin back in the cup, but staring forlornly at the two pieces, mug and handle fragment. Anticipating the worst, he rushed ahead to scoop her up and pat her reassuringly on the back.
“It’s ok…” He started, but he damn burst. Her wail was loud enough to rattle the weapons affixed to the wall.
Master Splinter’s door slammed open. “What is the meaning of this?”
His father’s loud, commanding voice echoed through the room, effectively silencing his daughter, mid-lamentation. Sensei’s gaze softened as he laid eyes on the sniffling child in Raph’s arms.
Master Splinter approached calmly. “What troubles you, granddaughter?”
Irrilia rubbed the tears from her eyes with the forearm of the hand holding the handle fragment.
“Gift ruined.” She blubbered as she shoved the cup out towards him.
Sensei accepted it, examining the item in wonder.
“I broke it.” Irrilia began to wail again, but his father took her from his arms, ending the break down for it could restart.
Raph followed cautiously as his father carried her to his room where he kept his kettle and other cups.
“How many of these have handles?” Sensei’s voice had an immediate, calming effect.
Irrilia blinked away her tears as she looked the collection over. “None.” She answered tentatively.
Sensei smiled at her. “Because that is how proper tea cups are meant to be. Yours is perfect now. I shall treasure it always.”
Raph sagged in relief against his father’s door as his daughter whooped in joy and gave her grandfather a hug. It had turned out to be an ideal gift after all.
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