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Green Tea (Part 7, a.k.a. The End)

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Shelli smiles at me out from under her hat. Not for the first time, her eyes remind me of hard blue marbles pressed into the chalk oval of her face. I set the tray down on top of the desk, needing to be free of the weight of it before it hits the floor.

“No problem,” I say, trying to mean it. “I have some things to catch up on, anyway.”

“See?” Shelli says, tapping your arm, flexing her red talons into the heavy wool of your coat.

She’ll need to change the color of her nail polish if the two of you continue to see each other. If she lasts longer than the ambassador’s daughter, or the dean’s wife, or the grad student with the white Jeep. Of course, the grad student was allergic to Leo and that was a problem. I remember running out of the office to buy Benadryl on more than one occasion when she was sneezing and puffy and miserable.

The two of you move toward the door. You open it with one hand and usher Shelli out ahead of you. I wonder if you will be in tomorrow, or if I should start cancelling your appointments in the morning. You have a meeting with the History Chair at 10 a.m.—he’s interested in pursuing a grant based on your findings in York.

At the last instant, you turn your great lion’s head back to glance at me. “Best cancel everything for tomorrow, Een,” you say.  “Shelli says it’s getting nasty out there.”

Een—that’s worse than ‘Miss Harris,’ if possible. Sounds like a horse or a dog or a faithful old retainer, patted on the head or the muzzle for a job well done. Shelli says something, her voice carrying in from the landing, her tone unmistakable.

“Yes, coming, darling,” you soothe, smiling out into the darkness where she waits. Turning back to me you add, “If it’s not too bad in the morning, you might just come in and get those notes organized for the presentation at Carlyle’s.”

I nod, dismissed, and you are gone. The door settles back into its frame with a wheeze and a sigh, tired of being held open on its elderly hinges. I am drawn to the window, lifting one slat in the blind with one cautious finger, determined to see what I have no desire to see. Scarlet and cinnamon entwined, oblivious to the swirl of snow that dances around them and flashes diamond-bright in the glow of the lamps that line the street.

Nothing left for me but the Morris chair and my solitary tea. Three cups reflect the shimmering firelight, mocking me. I reach for my own, accidentally knocking over the one that I set out for Shelli. It falls, its amber-green contents splashing out in a wet fan to darken the priceless Khibiri rug under the desk. The cup lies unbroken in the midst of the stain, its wide mouth turned to me in a grin.

I look at the cup. The cup looks at me. I think of you, Gil, and Shelli, somewhere together, drinking a hot, fresh cup that some stranger brought to you in a new pot with no history.

Three strokes, with my whole heart and weight behind them, and the fireplace poker makes its own sort of history with Shelli’s cup. You’ll be picking china shards out of your precious Khibiri for years to come, Gil.

Leo appears atop your desk, sure paws unsure atop the sliding stack of papers and charts and notes. After settling his haunches on a diagram of some tomb, he raises one front paw, the white-toed one, and licks it round and round to his satisfaction before raising it to polish his mysterious ‘M.’ It looks more like a salute than his usual self-absorbed bath.

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Green Tea (Part 3) (that rhymes!)

“How did Leo get his ‘M’ after all?”

Your hands flow over the cat in question, his striped and spotted fur rippling with occasional pleasure at your touch. Firelight has turned you to rusty gold, Leo to dull pewter.  I think myself pale and clouded as alabaster, the very stuff of paperweights and ash trays and souvenir chess sets.  The kinds of things people bring home from the airport for the people they remember at the last minute. I still have the pen holder you brought me from the Roman dig in York, just last year.

Your office door opens, without warning, with force. Rebounds on its hinges into the far wall and back, just shy of the tiny figure that propelled it. I say tiny only because Shelli makes me feel such a mammoth, lumbering around in a wooly sort of way.  Leo makes his feelings clear; he digs in, you wince, and he launches himself into the dark by the edge of your chair, jangling the fire tools in their stand.

“Gil, darling!”  Shelli’s bright lips frame the words, she arrows for you.  Arms open, coat swinging, all in motion. Rising from your chair, you enfold her, blotting out all but the color and sound of her. I think one of those dead lady poets said it best—the red racing sloop in the harbor, long-neck clams out of season. If I understood it, I could despise her even more. Instead, I watch as you break on the rocks that have lured you to her, as much a siren as ever brought a sailor low.

Leo stalks past my ankles, tail lashing, a cat scorned. I sit forward, soothing and smoothing his fur and his feelings. I know better than to try to hold him; his legs would bow out in scrambling resistance, his back stiffening into a curve of rejection. He wants little of me, except the brush of my fingers along his arching spine.

“Is there any of that tea left—the green jasmine?” you ask, not looking away from the woman in your arms.

(to be continued)