Tea. My mom always told me it can fix just about anything. An ice-cold glass on a hot summer day after working in the garden makes everything seem right with the world. A nice hot mug of a mint and menthol tea, your face over the rising steam, is the best thing when you have a cold or it’s allergy season. Or a cup with your best friend as she sobs over the break-up with her boyfriend. That one needs pots of tea.
Today, though. Today was a different kind of day. The table was set with my best tablecloth and tea china. I’d selected a Lapsang Souchong tea for its smoky flavor and aroma. It was steeping in its pot in the kitchen as I expected my guest, Zuri Anranyo, any moment. I added a final cookie to the plate on the table then took the package back to the kitchen.
I took a deep breath. Time to put on some soothing classical music. By the time I had it playing on repeat, the doorbell rang.
I invited Zuri in after we hugged. I’m not much of a hugger but Zuri was so I endured the gesture.
“How lovely!” Zuri sat as she looked over the table. She leaned over the low bowl of roses on the table and sniffed. “What a wonderful scent.”
“I picked them this morning.”
“You did?” She shook her head. “You’re a super woman, Orly. Is there anything you can’t do?”
I smiled. “Oh, I’m sure there is. I just haven’t found it yet.” I gave a mock flip of my hand and she laughed. “I’ll be right back.” In the kitchen I took the tea ball out of the pot and put the pot on a tray with a plate of tiny sandwiches then took it into the morning room. “Tea and sandwiches. A proper English tea time.” I put the tray on the table. “Let me pour.”
“This looks wonderful, Orly.”
I poured tea for her and for me, then sat down. “Help yourself to the sandwiches. There are cucumber and a pate. Take what you like.” I watched as she selected one of each, then handed me the plate. I took what she did and put my napkin in my lap. “There is milk and sugar,” I said as I pointed out the little pitcher and the sugar bowl.
She poured some milk into her tea then two lumps of sugar. “Thank you for inviting me, Orly. After…” she shook her hand in a stopping motion. “After Bob came with me, well, it’s kind of you, anyway.”
I ground my teeth together but smiled. “You’re my best friend, Zuri. And, as for Bob, the heart wants what it wants, right.” I ignored the burning lump in my chest.
Zuri nodded and sipped her tea. She made a bit of a face. “That smoky tea, what’s it called?”
“Lapsang Souchong. I love it.” I knew she didn’t. I didn’t much care. “It goes well with the pate.”
She nodded and took a bite of the sandwich with pate. “Oh. Yes. It does.”
I watched as she ate the sandwich and then the cucumber one as well. She looked around the table. I knew she was looking for water, anything to wash the sandwiches down without having to drink the tea. I deliberately hadn’t put any out. I wanted her to drink that tea. I picked up my cup and put my lips to the rim but didn’t drink. She took another sandwich.
“I’ll admit I’m a bit famished.” She patted her lips with the napkin. “I totally skipped lunch. I wanted to get some of the wedding planning done and I knew I’d be here with you this afternoon and didn’t want to rush.” She looked me in the eyes and put a hand over mine across the table. “Things have been strained, I know. And, well, I’ve wanted to make up with you for months.”
I nodded. “I know. It’s,” I took a breath, “awkward, is all.”
She patted my hand and picked up her tea. Zuri sipped.
“Let me get you a cookie.” I handed her the plate and she took two. She always had a sweet tooth. “Your favorite.”
She smiled. She loved those crispy lemon cookies with the large crystals of sugar sprinkled on top. I’d gone clear across town to the bakery where she bought them, just to make her feel comfortable. I watched her bite into one, eyes closed, savoring the clean lemon flavor. “Ummm, these are so good. Did you get them from LaMont’s?”
“LaMont’s is the best. Thank you.” She finished the cookie and sipped more tea. “You know, this tea really goes with the tartness of these cookies.”
“I thought so too.” I picked up my cup and pretended to sip again. “Now tell me about your wedding plans.”
I listened to her drone on for an hour. I made sure her tea cup stayed full and the sandwiches and cookies were close to her hand. When she left, I closed the door. If she kept eating like that she was going to need a bigger dress. Then I snorted. No, she wouldn’t.
Bob called me the next morning. I could hardly understand him for all the blubbering. “She’s dead, Orly.”
I made the appropriate noises. “I’m so sorry, Bob.”
“She was so relieved when you invited her to tea. Thank you, Orly, for giving her a lovely afternoon.”
“My pleasure.” I smiled as I hung up. I’d cleaned up everything yesterday afternoon. One last thing remained. I pulled the bottle of poison from under the sink and dumped it down the drain. I rinsed it several times, soaked the label off of the bottle and taking them with me, tossed the bottle in a dumpster at a gas station on the other side of town. I threw the label in another dumpster in mid-town. No one would ever know.
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