Another Village story this week, inspired by the Friday Flash Fics photo here. NiceTeas gets a mention in “A Little Village Magic,” (included in Of Echoes Born) and I’ve got a novella almost polished called “A Little Village Blend,” where you get to spend more time with Ivan, the proprietor who makes the tea blends (and his sister, Anya, who appears in this flash piece today). They’re both gifted in that way people in the Village seem to have, and Anya shows that off a bit here.
Change, Home, Water
A tea-shop seemed like an odd place to meet, but after so many years, Owen wasn’t going to argue on a detail as small as that. Also, once he stepped inside, Owen had to admit that NiceTeas was, well, nice.
He was early. He was always early, but forty-five minutes was overkill even on the Owen scale of over preparedness, so he went to the counter and checked the boards. Fresh sandwiches, fruit, and a few baked goods that looked suspiciously healthy were marked on the chalkboards alongside custom tea blends named things like “Second Wind,” and “Deep Breath.”
“May I help you?” The woman behind the counter smiled at him.
“Uh,” Owen said. “I’m…” He eyed the boards. “Overwhelmed.”
“Not a tea drinker?” she said.
He smiled, feeling himself blush. “Is it terrible to admit I usually just use a tea-bag, and really only drink tea when I’m sick?”
The woman put a finger over her lips. For just a second, she seemed familiar. Which made no sense. He didn’t know anyone in Ottawa. This was his first visit. Then she smiled. “I won’t tell if you don’t. There’s a tea for everything, though. My brother—we own this place—he blends them himself. So, what brings you here? Are you meeting someone?”
Owen nodded. “Yeah. Haven’t seen him in six years.” Why had he said that?
The woman tilted her head, and again he had the strangest sense he’d met her before. “Is this an ‘I need willpower’ meeting, or a ‘happy reunion’ meeting?”
Owen blew out a breath. “I don’t know.” He glanced behind him, but there was no one else in line, and he found he did want to talk about it. “We didn’t lose touch, exactly, it was…” It was what? “Complicated.”
The woman leaned forward on the counter. “So, between you and me, I’m totally engrossed in this story now, and need all the details.”
The impish smile did it. He recognized her.
“Swishy Tails!” he blurted.
She laughed. “Yes. I’m the face of Swishy Tails. The human face, at least. The Turkish Angora gets all the credit, even though I do all the work.”
“I have a cat,” Owen said, because he felt ridiculous. Though telling her he had a cat actually made it worse. The woman in front of him was the woman from the cat food commercial with the adorable white kitten. “It’s not a Turkish Angora. It’s a rescue.”
“FurEver would be proud,” the woman said.
“FurEver. It’s the local pet-shop. They run a rescue, too.”
“Ah,” Owen said, still feeling ridiculous. “Sorry. You probably get that a lot, eh?”
She shook her head. “You’re the first.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“This week,” she said. “It’s possible my brother did a lot of bragging on my behalf.”
Owen smiled. “I’m going to go with the willpower, I think. And not just because Earl Grey is one of the few kinds of tea I’ve actually heard about.”
“Does this mean I don’t get the story?” she said.
The door opened and bells rang behind them. Owen turned. He wasn’t the only one who was early. Finn looked so much older, but it was definitely him. He took a shaky breath, then waved. “Hey.”
“Hey,” Finn said.
Owen glanced back at the woman. “How about I tell you after?” he said, sotto voice.
She smiled encouragingly, and then started to make his tea.
When Owen turned again, Finn had crossed the store to meet him. He found himself looking up. “You’re taller than me.”
Finn laughed. “It happens.”
Then they were hugging. Owen’s eyes filled with tears, and when they broke apart, Finn bit his bottom lip. “Don’t you dare.”
“Sorry,” Owen said, forcing a smile.
“I’m making a pot of Earl Grey for your friend here,” the woman said. “What would you like, Finn?”
Owen turned. The woman knew Finn by name. Huh.
“This is my brother,” Finn said. “Owen, this is Anya. Anya, this is Owen. Get her to read your tea leaves. It’s life-changing.”
Brother. The word made Owen’s chest go tight.
“Nice to meet you,” Anya said, though Owen saw the skepticism. It wasn’t like Owen and Finn looked remotely alike. Finn was tall and lanky, with soft blond hair he wore really, really short now compared to Owen’s dark waves, and Finn had a chiseled chin to Owen’s rounder, softer face. And Finn didn’t have dimples. They looked nothing alike.
“Let’s go sit,” Finn said.
Once sitting, the thing Owen had been most afraid of happened: silence fell. He looked at Finn and though he tried, he couldn’t find a single way to start. I’m sorry… I wish… I’m so glad… None of them seemed like enough. He fidgeted, and was so grateful when Anya arrived with the tea pot and cups to have something to do, except when he reached for the teapot, Anya shook her head.
“Give it another minute,” she said, then stepped away.
Owen lowered his hand, resting it on the plush arm of the chair.
“Oh wow,” Finn said.
Owen glanced up. “What?” It took him a second to realize Finn was staring not at the tabletop, but at Owen’s hand. At the tattoo on his right hand, to be specific. The bird-cage with the open door. It was the only tattoo Owen had.
“Right,” Owen said. The tears were threatening again, and this time, he could see them in Finn’s eyes, too.
Finn put his hand on the table and then reached forward. Owen took it, and squeezed. In the same place on Finn’s left hand was the tattooed silhouette of a bird. It was small, and at the time he’d gotten it, six years ago, it had been Finn’s second tattoo. And it had been the cause of that final argument and started everything.
Or ended it, he supposed. Finn had obviously kept going with ink, though—his left forearm was completely covered, or at least as much as Owen could see of it before it went into his shirt sleeve. His right arm, too.
“That’s beautiful,” Finn said, still looking at the birdcage.
The silence broke. They poured the tea, and drank while they talked. Finn filled him in on a life lived on an edge that didn’t quite tip over though at first it had come close a few times, and Owen felt his heart break over and over with both relief and guilt. Guilt that he’d been the one to put Finn there, relief that nothing truly bad had happened. In turn, Owen told him of his own final two years, and then the four that came after. And then he finally said the thing he’d wanted to say from the start.
“I should have tried to find you earlier.”
Finn frowned. “Hey. It’s okay.”
Owen shook his head. “I was afraid…” He blew out a breath. “I guess I was afraid if I found out something went wrong, it would be my fault. I’m so glad you’re okay.”
Finn’s frown grew. “Your fault? Dude. I asked. Everything after that? It was my choice.” He smiled. “And it is okay. I love my life.”
The final knots in Owen’s chest unraveled. “Okay.”
Finn shook his head. “You always were over-responsible.”
“That, too.” Finn grinned, and Owen laughed.
Owen finished his tea. “This is really good.”
“NiceTeas is magic,” Finn said. Then he tilted his head. “How long are you here?”
“Right now? For the week. I got a solid deal at the B&B, just off Bank. It’s, like, a block that way.” He bit his lip, feeling almost like he was lying. He wasn’t. Not exactly. This visit was for a week.
“I have to get back to work, but when I’m done, let’s do dinner. And I’m off Wednesday. Want to do spectacularly stereotypical tourist things? Like hit a gallery? Are you still a giant nerd?”
“Excuse me?” Owen pointed at the table. “Which one of us suggested we meet at a tea shop for lunch?”
“Fair enough.” Finn rose. “It’s great to see you. I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Me too.” They hugged again, longer and stronger. Less tears.
After he left, Owen leaned back in his chair, taking a moment to breathe.
Anya returned. “So that seemed to go well.” She picked his cup and saucer and raised an eyebrow. “May I?”
He nodded, and she flipped the cup, closing her eyes dramatically before she turned the cup back over and stared into it. He found himself smiling. The Swishy Tails woman was reading his tea leaves. Life was weird.
“That big change you’re thinking of making is a good idea,” she said. “You’ve got an opportunity to make a home for yourself. Finding a True North sort of deal. I take it you’ve never really had a home before?” She paused. “Like, a home-home?”
“Wow,” he said. That was… really on the nose.
She nodded, looking back into the cup. “Take the chance. Give it a shot. You’ll be glad you did, and—if you’d like some news on the potential relationship front?”
“I am both terrified and captivated.” He gestured. “Please continue.”
She winked. “Good things in store. And something to do with water, I’d say. A bumpy start, but a good finish.” She raised an eyebrow. “You won’t go there willingly, but you’ll go there.”
Owen stared. “Okay, so either Finn filled you in, or you’re some sort of savant.” Not that he got the water part, but everything else? Wow.
“I prefer goddess,” she said. “And Finn isn’t super forthcoming. He’s a hard nut to crack about himself—too busy taking care of everyone else. For example, I had no idea he had a brother.”
“I suppose I did say I’d tell you the story.”
“You did.” Anya sat down across from him, eyes lighting up. “Spill.”
He shook his head, amused. “Why does this feel like talking to a best friend?”
“I am both approachable and wise,” Anya said.
“We’re foster brothers. Or we were. We were in a…” Owen paused. “Less than great house together. I was fifteen, and Finn was sixteen. It was worse for him.” He toyed with the tea-pot, remembering. “I had this… business.”
“I wrote essays for kids at school. Good essays.” Owen blushed, remembering. “I turned a tidy profit: they’d pay me, and if they didn’t get at least a B+, I’d give them half their money back.”
Anya’s eyebrows rose. “See, as your best friend, this only makes me like you more. You’re an honest kind of criminal.”
“Thanks. So, I had cash. But as much as it was rule-breaking in high-school that got me cash, it wasn’t about bucking the system. I wanted to go to university, which meant staying in school, which meant staying with our not-so-great family and saving cash however I could. And the not-so-great got worse and worse. The foster parents we were with, they drank.”
Anya nodded sympathetically, and to his surprise he got the sense she understood. A second later, she confirmed that. “My father was an alcoholic. Well, is. Many years sober now, but you know.”
He did. He nodded. “Finn got a tattoo. It sent our foster-father over the edge. It was… bad. And Finn wanted to run away. I tried to get him to stay in school, but it wasn’t his path, and I knew that. So, I gave Finn all my cash when things got really bad, and he ran. At sixteen. I made him promise not to tell me anything, so I couldn’t rat him out. I thought I was doing the right thing…” He smiled. “And I guess I did? But to be honest, for the last six years I’d wondered. I didn’t know where he was. I couldn’t bring myself to do so much as an internet search. I think I was afraid I’d find out…” He shrugged.
Anya nodded. “If it helps, Finn is amazing. You should stop by the Centre and check it out. He volunteers with the local shelter, too.”
“I know,” Owen said. “An article about his work was the first thing that showed up when I finally went looking for him.”
Anya smiled. “So what changed your mind? About looking for him?”
Owen pointed at his cup. “I got a job offer. A good job that I really want. I’d have to move, but I’ve moved a lot. It would be a chance to settle down. Make a home.” He remembered her words. “A home-home.”
“That sounds fantastic.”
“It’s even more than that,” Owen admitted. “It’s here. In Ottawa. Or, well, Kanata, but…” He shrugged.
“That’s fantastic! Did you tell him?” Anya said.
Owen shook his head. “I just needed to see if… I guess…” He blew out a breath.
The door opened and the bells jingled. Anya rose from the table, gathering the cups and teapot. “I think you’re going to love it here. Besides, we’re already best friends. You can’t skip town now.”
Then she was gone.
The place was really picking up now, the lunch rush starting in earnest. A second worker was there now, too, and there was a line forming at the counter. Owen gathered his stuff, and waved at the door. Anya waved back.
“See you later, bestie,” he said.
She blew him a kiss.