Wolf's Lullaby

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Apologies and all that tea

TARA

It was after school when I decided that instead of going home, I would go downtown. Mina had to do some assignment after class, while Ivan had some family thing, so I was on my own.

Excitement bubbling, music blasting in my headphones, I was ready to roam. I wanted to visit a few shops and take a stroll in the park. Mina said it had a tiny pond. So, as I made my way downtown, my thoughts drifted.

The first week went by in a whirl. By the time Thursday rolled around, people stopped paying that much attention to me. A handful only introduced themselves to me during classes and those were mostly Ivan’s friends. Others ignored me. I still heard whispers, caught a few curious gazes, but that was pretty much it.

Guess the new toy lost its shine fast.

Not that I minded really, I hated being in the center of the attention. Though, it seemed I wasn’t able to escape a certain someone’s attention.

Philip.

We had two more classes together during the week, and the dude was staring at me. Not blinking.

At first the face he made was his standard frowny one, but then he looked perplexed. Like an inner battle raged inside him.

A few times he got this serious expression. He would walk towards me with determination blazing in his eyes only to at the last second walk by or make a sudden trajectory change around the corner in the hallway. Or stand and turn to his locker, pretending to open it.

What was with that?!

Then yesterday it happened.

I was by my locker, changing my books, alone since that was a day Ivan and I had only two classes together.

Someone stepped behind me. The hairs on the back of my neck all stood up, alert. I turned around, meeting an intense stare of green eyes. He looked pale, grayish bags under his eyes, expression tired, but he seemed determined. Still scary as hell. The guy had this overwhelming energy rolling off him. It was freaky, made my knees buckle. Either that or because he was really close, I could smell him. Some woodsy, citrusy scent. It was so good. Made me want to bury my face in his shirt and inhale him like a creep. Or should I opt for being normal and ask where he bought the cologne?

By reflex and the self-preservation instinct, I took a step back, hitting my head on my locker.

If it was humanly possible, I seemed to have shrunk in his presence even more than my 165cm. I felt microscopic, and he had to make one slight move and squish me like a bug.

“Sorry!” I squeaked, my throat suddenly clogged and dry, hands hugging the books to my chest.

He stared at me, his mouth opening and closing, looking really focused and serious. Eyes digging holes into mine. His demeanor changed suddenly, face softening a bit, the line between his brows straightening for the first time since I met him.

He was really handsome. Not Ivan’s rank of handsome, because the guy was a lightning strike short of a Greek god, but, boy, if he wasn’t frowning all the time and exuding that murderous aura, he could give Ivan a run for his money.

“No…” He intoned, his deep voice going lower, bringing me out of my for the situation inappropriate thoughts. Since unknowingly I seemed to have relaxed at the sound of his voice, now aware of it, I cued in panic mode, trying to meld with my locker.

Closing his eyes like he was in pain and pinching the bridge of his nose, he inhaled sharply. The muscles in his body tensed up. Pale face now got a shade of pink.

“Imsorryabouttheotherday!” He spat it out all at once, his cheeks and the tip of his ears turning bright red as he hung his head.

I was speechless. Did he say sorry? Is he embarrassed now? I gaped at him like a baffled troll.

“What?” I rolled out. He made a grimace like he was being tortured by an invisible force. Either that or he needed to go to the bathroom ASAP.

“I. Am. Sorry.” Enunciating every word, he looked me in the eye.

“I was a dick the other day.” I blinked a few times. Might have looked like I was having a mild seizure.

His gaze burned into mine, waiting. “We ok?” he asked, his voice firm. It took me a moment for the words to sink in as I gawked at the guy.

He looked straight at me, not blinking, his green gaze unwavering, but I caught the tapping of his right index finger on his thigh and a residue pink tint on the tip of his ears and cheeks, the slight shuffling of his feet.

Grumpy was uncomfortable, obviously not used to giving apologies, and the familiar urge to dispel the awkwardness bubbled inside me, threatening to spill.

“We... we…” I stuttered, “We are…. we are the champions! My friend!” The words came out in a shaky, awkward voice, and I tapped him on his bicep. I left my hand there, like we truly were pals, but screeched inwardly. Brain fart initiated movement! Brain fart initiated movement! Abort! Abort!

He stared at me, confused, looking at my hand resting on his arm, blinking, and looking back at me.

“Too much? Ok!” I said, my voice high pitched as I removed my hand like I got burned. “We’re ok! It’s ok! Everything is fine and dandy! Peachy! We are so cool right now! I mean you must have had a terrible day, what with someone pooping in your cereal and all, I mean who wouldn’t right?! No one likes sugar with a side of poop.” the floodgates of verbal diarrhea opened. Next level of mortification achieved! Congratulations to me! My tendency to ramble while overwhelmed getting the best of me.

Oh holy boulder, fall down from mighty heavens and smiteth me! Now! Deliver thy bludgeoning damage upon my lowly self!

He straightened his spine, nodded, and in a swift movement and fast strides of his long legs he was already at the end of the hall but, not before I caught a smirk on his face and he said, “Welcome to Blackwood,” in that rich baritone of his making me a little dizzy. It was a sin to possess that type of voice.

Jeez, that was intense.

I looked at his retreating figure as he disappeared; I exhaled the breath I didn’t know I was holding.

So… That happened. Perhaps he wasn’t that big of a douche. Who knows, he might have stepped in dog poop the other day, wore his underwear backwards, ate a bug at breakfast? That would ruin anyone’s morning.

I didn’t see him today at school at all though.

Lost in thoughts I made my way to the place I was dying to see. A big black and white building with a sign in shape of a teapot that said “What the Book?” So Cute! I ran up the porch steps, pushed the big double doors open and greeting me was the most wonderful fragrance in the entire world. Books, tea-leaves and herbs.

It smelled like home. A smell my grandma always had clinging to her clothes when she came from work. My heart swelled as I inhaled deeply the familiar scent, closing my eyes.

The place was big and bright. It gave off a cozy, warm feeling, even though it was colder than the outside.

There weren’t many people in here. Two, maybe three, moving through the aisles. What got my attention was a ruckus coming from the reception area slash tea making station. A small, slim lady wearing black leather pants, black shirt, and the amount of bling to make you blind, was looking around, grumbling. Opening a notebook, she adjusted her glasses as she read something intently, shaking her hot pink colored head.

“What the hell are these?” she mumbled, bringing the note book even closer to her face.

“Do you really need to drink this tea?” she slammed the notebook on the counter-top, asking a guy in front of her.

“Well, that is my favorite…” his answer wobbled as she narrowed her blue eyes at him. I craned my neck over the counter to peer into the notebook since no one reacted to me approaching.

There were ingredients listed and what seemed like a hand drawn preparation manual. It looked super neat and cute.

“I can drink mint!” the guy backed off, lifting his hands and going to the window seat, burying his nose in a book as the lady followed his movements with an intense stare.

The woman exhaled, turning her face to me, “Well, hello! Didn’t notice you there!” she said, her red lips stretched in a wide smile.

“Hello. I see you have a big variety of teas. May I look?” I asked, barely containing my glee.

“Sure go ahead, but I gotta warn you I make some nasty tea.” she said, her voice serious. I must have given her the ‘but you have a tea shop,’ kind of stare, so she continued, “My late husband was a tea whisperer. Most of these blends are his. It was his passion. He left detailed instructions in his notebooks, but I guess I don’t have the same touch. You would think you just put leaves in boiling water and voila!... Wrong! Heck, I don’t even drink tea! I like something that packs a punch.” She winked.

“Oh, I know! May I?” Clasping my hands together, inhaling the sweet fragrance of tea excitedly, I looked around the shelves. God, this was awesome. The variety of teas was huge, some I had never tried before. And the blends! I looked up at the labels, taking a whiff of some of them.

Man, I could crawl in these jars and set up camp. Each one could transport you into another realm of existence. It could tell a million different stories, elicit the fondest and happiest of memories. Basically, by this point, I was high on tea. Then I remembered what I had set out to do. I took a jar of black tea, turning to the counter and looking at the cabinets beneath it, finding cinnamon sticks, anise, honey and dried ginger.

I put the ingredients in a pot of water. Turned on the heath and waited till it was just below boiling to remove it, and added tea leaves. As I left it to sit, I cut the lemons that were on the top of the counter into wedges.

“I need rum, scotch, or brandy.” I said while I strained the tea in a big mug and added honey.

“Now you’re talking!” the old woman cheered. Her wrinkly face beaming as she went through the door behind the counter.

A few seconds passed, and she emerged holding a bottle of half full brandy.

I started adding a bit, but, as she was now standing next to me, staring intently at what I was doing, she jabbed my hand, making it shake, so there was a lot more brandy in the tea than intended. I laughed.

“Here you go! Try it.” I slid the mug towards her.

She took it, her hands shaky, closing her eyes as she inhaled the aroma of the tea and her face got this soft, loving look. A small, rueful smile played on her lips as she took a sip.

“He used to make it exactly like this for me in the winter…” voice gravelly, quiet. Her eyes full of nostalgia and longing as she lifted them to mine, smiling softly. A familiar painful tightness settled on my chest, a knot forming in my throat.

“My nana... she loved tea. She liked to dabble with herbs, making her own blends. I learned from her. It became a hobby of mine. Friday was our guess what’s in this tea night. We would make cookies then just sit listening to her vinyl’s after whoever’s turn that Friday was to guess….” my voice wobbled, eyes stinging. I will not cry in front of this stranger. So I willed myself to smile, but the best I managed was a watery one.

“Oh, dearie...” the woman patted my hand and squeezed it, giving me a sympathetic smile. “How long ago did she pass?”

“Over two weeks ago.”

“Oh.” She squeezed my hand again, looking uncomfortable, her eyes darting across the counter. Great, I bummed the lady out.

“Wait here.” She got a look like she just remembered something and disappeared inside the room behind the counter again.

A minute afterword’s she emerged carrying a bag of chocolate cookies and one with gummy bears.

“Here you go dearie.” Placing the bags on the counter in front of me, she nudged them towards me.

“I’m bad at dealing with sad things, so I usually stuff my face with sugar. People need energy when they feel sad. You look like you need it now, dearie.” A weak laugh left me as I fished out one cookie and put it in my mouth. “Yeah, sugar helps, thank you. I apologize for being mopey.”

“There is nothing to apologize for. Now chin up and eat those cookies. I bet your grandmother wouldn’t want you to be sad.” Nope, she wouldn’t. She said if something happened to her, I shouldn’t cry too much. If I remembered correctly, she actually threatened to haunt me and smack me if she caught me being too weepy.

It’s ok to cry from time to time, sweetheart. But remember that even if you don’t see me, I’m right there.” She kissed my forehead, cupping my cheeks, then tapped my chest, “and there. From there, no one can erase me. That way you’ll always have me and I’ll always protect you, Sweet Pea.”

That’s what grandma told me when Mina’s father died and the icy dread of that moment made me realize I could just as easily lose her. So I plastered myself to her, bawling my eyes out, holding onto her for dear life, like the moment I let go she would disappear.

“You ok there?” I must have blanked out. A soft voice pulled me back to present. I blinked at the pink haired, blue-eyed lady staring at me with a worried expression.

“Ah, yeah, yeah... And you are correct. She would kick my ass if she saw me being weepy.” A smile spread across my face, this one a genuine one as the tightness lifted off my chest.

“My kind of woman.” Pink haired woman said, taking a long sip of tea.

After a few moments of silence where I munched on some more cookies, my gloomy mood getting better, she said, “I’ve been thinking….” another long sip of the tea, and she sighed in delight, “You’re hired!” she proclaimed.

“I’m what?!” Was there a job posting somewhere, and I missed it?

“Well, I think it’s about time I hired someone who could make a decent cup of tea! I suck big time and you little lady know your way around it!” she said, contently sipping her tea. “I can’t pay you much and you can have a flexible schedule since you are a student. You can work two days in a week, but you are welcome to drink all the tea you’d like!”

“I...I...don’t know what to say…” I planned on getting a job during summer. Not that grandma left me with nothing, just that I would need to save money for when I leave in a year. I didn’t want to burden Lola more.

“Just say yes! You can start on Monday!”

“Okay!” I smiled. “I could make his tea, too.” I added, pointing to the window seat where the guy, still burying his nose in a book was sitting, which by the glances he was shooting at me, he wasn’t really reading.

“Knock yourself out!” the lady said.

“I’m Tara. Nice to meet you, Mrs.…?” I held out my hand to her.

“Oh, my, where are my manners?! That kid rubbed off on me! I’m Anna, dear, pleasure to meet you.” A wrinkly hand held mine in a firm grip, which was in complete contrast to the warmth radiating from her blue gaze. “I may not be your grandmother, but you can still call me Gran if you wish, dear. So cute!” she gave me the brightest smile and the most painful pinch on my cheek. I think I might bruise.

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