A Cup of Tea

The whistle of the kettle broke the morning silence.

“I’m coming.” Jim yells as he rushes from the conservatory to the kitchen.

Sitting at the small table in the conservatory, Jill smiles and shakes her head. He’s just like me, yelling at the kettle. I wonder if it comes from living alone too long?

She adjusts her wheelchair so she can watch him in the kitchen. He has a ritual he goes through when making the tea. She likes to watch. She could still hear him as he explained it the first time.

Rinsing out the teapot with boiling water from the kettle, he said, “Always start with a warm teapot.”

Then setting the kettle aside as he carefully measures five level teaspoons of tea leaves into the pot. “Two teaspoons per cup and one for the pot.”

When she got out of the hospital, he bought a small canister of tea to replace her stale tea bags. “Tea bags are the devil’s invention. Always use tea leaves.”

He waited twenty seconds before adding the hot water to the pot. “If the water is too hot, it will scald the tea.”

Adding the water to the pot, he sets a timer on his mobile. “Three minutes will give the perfect brew.”

She smiles to herself. Can’t remember if he ever made tea when we lived together. Coffee was his thing. On-and-on about going to Timmies for coffee after class. Tim Hortons was a Canadian franchise. Nobody here had heard of it back then.

Putting a few biscuits on a plate, he brought them to the table, held up two fingers, then went back to the kitchen. She adjusted her wheelchair back around so she could see the garden. Flowers will be in bloom soon. There was frost on the ground the day of the accident.

She could hear him getting out the cups and saucers. We only had a few chipped coffee mugs in that fourth-floor walkup in Croydon. . . . Barely scraping by and he decides he is going to open a Tim Hortons franchise. A Masters in Economics and he wants to open a coffee shop in Croydon. . . . Thought he was crazy. . . . Anyone with any business sense was leaving downtown Croydon. His friends said he should open in the new Centrale mall.

Coming from the kitchen, he held up one finger, smiled, and went back.

But he was right. How he got the lease on the building right across from the train and bus depot I’ll never know. It took everything we had and some damn long hours, but what a success. No one else opened at six. By ten o’clock, we had all the operating costs covered, the rest of the day was sheer profit. Within two years, we had five more outlets.

She heard him pouring the tea.

How does the song go? “And then you go and spoil it all By saying something stupid” . . . Marriage–I wasn’t ready for marriage. I had just started at Mary Quant. Marriage was the last thing I wanted.

He puts the tea down and sits beside her. “Let it cool for a minute. It is still very hot.”

She shakes her head. He says that every damn time. “I could put some milk in it.” She teases.

Feigning anger, “Don’t you damn well dare. It’s perfect just the way it is.”

She waits, then takes a sip of the tea. Perfect. “When I woke up from the coma, you were sitting in my room. The ICU is ‘Family Only’. How did you get in?”

Smiling, “I told them I was your estranged husband.”

“You are such a liar. . . . What did my Mum say?”

“She was cool. Didn’t say anything to the nurses.”

“She harangued me for years for not marrying you.”, she said wistfully.

“Your Mum was wrong. You were right.”

She looks at him in disbelief, “Sorry–I was right?”

“In turning me down, yes. . . . You broke my heart, but you were right. It would never have worked. I would have held you back.”

She looks puzzled.

He went on, “In case you haven’t noticed, I am a bit of a control freak.”

Grinning, “Nooo. I never noticed.”

He takes a biscuit from the plate and sips his tea.

“Back then you had just started at Mary Quant. Now you have your own fashion house.” Gesturing to the house and the garden, “You wouldn’t have all this if you had stayed with me.”

“I wouldn’t have had it if you hadn’t given me half the sale of the franchise. . . . We weren’t married. You didn’t have to.”

“I know. That’s what my solicitor said. But, there is what is legal and there is the right. I have always tried to do the right thing. . . . I couldn’t have done it without you. You deserved every penny.”

They sat looking out to the backyard, finishing their tea.

“How did you know about the accident?” she asked.

He looks down sheepishly. “This will sound creepy. . . . Back in the day, I used to get the London papers and scrapbook any articles about you. Now, I get a Google alert every time your name is mentioned in a news article.”

“And you rushed all the way from Canada to take care of me.”

“To visit a dear friend in the hospital. . . . I know–pretty creepy. Maybe I should leave.”

She laughs. “No–No, stay. . . . Show me how to set up this Google alert thing; I always have to type in your name.” She looks at him tenderly. “Are we a pair of old fools?”

He sighs. “I may be getting old, but you are still as young and beautiful as when I left thirty years ago.”

“How long can you stay?”

“Until you tell me to go.”

She reaches over to take his hand. “That might be a while.”

“That’s OK. There isn’t anything waiting for me back in Canada. My heart has always been here with you. . . . Do you want another cup of tea?”

“That would be nice.”

He picks up the cups and takes them to the kitchen. She adjusts her wheelchair so she can watch him.

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