Tea Times Three Lost Chapters #2

As I continue to celebrate the release of Tea Times Three , I present to you: The lost chapters! Chapter 2. This one also ended up on the editing room floor. It does provide a lot of back ground, though arguably too much, which is one of the reasons it was cut.

Chapter 2

Grand Opening

 

1

 

The “Opening Very Soon’ sign was a lure too strong for Geoffrey to pass up. In deference to Claire, he lay in bed wide awake, careful not to disturb her. When his alarm went off, his hand hit the button before it could beep twice.

The down pour the night before left the earth clean under a cloudless, blue sky. The air was chilly and crisp on his face. No one else was out and about , not even Penelope Owens. Geoffrey frowned. Of course, she could have already come and gone.

What if she was on the phone to her niece already? Geoffrey put on as much speed as he could without jogging. He was forty-six after all and while the grocery business lent itself to a lot of heavy lifting, giving him excellent biceps, sitting in his office and working the register had given him a gut. For a second he envied Reverent Austin, only a year older and half his size. The man was a stick figure and could run like a horse .

After three blocks Geoffrey clutched at a stitch in his side. He wheezed onto Stratford and froze. The air seized in his chest.

The teashop was open. Geoffrey’s  brain struggled to reboot.  Two days. The tea shop had opened in two days. A feat that should have been impossible. There were permits and equipment, inspections and licenses.

Across the street two girls in their mid-twenties set up a folding chalkboard sign. They looked normal enough. But he couldn’t get past the fact that the brown paper was off the windows. Replaced by a ‘Grand Opening’ banner in jaunty metallic gold.

Geoffrey realized he was standing in front of his grocery store. Shut your mouth and man up, Geoffrey thought. They’re just girls. Ordinary young women who opened a tea shop overnight. He swallowed dryly a couple of times and realized his mouth must have been hanging open since he rounded the corner.

The two girls finished putting their sign out and the tall, blond one straightened up and turned to Geoffrey. She was almost pretty enough to be a model or maybe an actress. But there was a hominess about her instead of glamour that warmed her good looks.

The girl smiled at him and waved. “Good morning!” she called.

The other girl, a few inches shorter and dressed for work in a chef’s coat, sneakers and beige cargo pants, looked across the street. She looked at Geoffrey unsmiling and her eyes narrowed in suspicion.

Geoffrey raised a tentative hand and gave a weak hello wave. He couldn’t quiet force out a return greeting.

He looked at the chalkboard.

 

Today’s Specials

 

Oolong

Chamomile Blends

Chinese Blue Tea

Orange Pecan Scones

Butterscotch Brownies

Chocolate Cherry Gateau

 

 

The menu didn’t look very frightening. High in calories, but not actually scary.

The distinct rumble of the news van’s engine drew near. The familiar sound was a relief.

As Geoffrey waited he kept staring at the two girls. They were going to think he was a perverted old man pretty soon.  But he couldn’t seem to look away either. They looked so normal. There had to be some hint of the uncanny. The only thing so far was that the cheery blonde kept smiling and waving.

The news van pulled up but Rob Harris wasn’t looking at Geoffrey. He was watching the teashop. Probably thinking the same thing Geoffrey had. No way should it be open already.

The cargo doors of the van popped open and Jake stuck his head out.

“Hey, Mr. Callister,” Jake said. He looked up as something caught his eye. “Oh wow!.”

Geoffrey looked up. Descending from the sky was a third girl. The broom she flew on was loaded with packages and the broom’s bristled end wobbled on descent. Geoffrey inhaled, amazed. There was no hope his mouth would close anytime soon. This was the sort of thing normally only seen on TV. Like the Mona Lisa, or Ferrari cars. He knew they were out there. But to see it in person was indescribable. A thrill bubbled up in his chest and fear curled in his gut. Wonder that overshadowed a tinge of fear, like a rollercoaster.

Rob Harris’s granite face didn’t even twitch. The van peeled away from the curb, leaving a long black streak of rubber on the street.

Jake yelled and Geoffrey caught a flash of the boy holding onto a stack of boxes.

The van sped past and Geoffrey was left standing in a cloud of acidic burnt rubber and exhaust.

“My papers,” Geoffrey coughed.

As if Jake heard him, the boy threw the bundled papers out the back of the van. They hit the cobbles three blocks away in front of the town square.

“Oh no, your newspapers.”

The voice came from beside Geoffrey, so close he jumped and his already taxed heart sped up.  The blonde girl stood right next to him. He reminded himself he wasn’t in a horror movie. She’d just walked across the street while he’d been staring at the van.

“I’ll get them for you,” she said, Her eyes narrowed in concentration. She raised a hand pulled back as if tugging an invisible string. The two bundles of papers lifted off the pavement and drifted toward them. They landed at Geoffrey’s feet.

“There you are,” the blonde said. She let out a tired exhale but her perky smile never faltered.

Geoffrey snapped. Too much was happening too early in the morning. He offered a weak almost hysterical smile.

“I have to go now,” he said.

He turned and bolted for the safety of the Dry Goods. Geoffrey hit the door full force, forgetting he hadn’t unlocked it. The door shuddered as he bounced off it and his vision went grey. There was a vague sensation of falling and he knew he wouldn’t last long. After all the pavement was only six feet away.

 

 

 

2

 

 

“I told you not to show off, Bruleé.”

Bruleé, gave her sister  a sardonic look. The way she  carried on you’d think she was the oldest sister. “He’ll be fine Anglaise.”

Bruleé knelt beside the man on the sidewalk. Secretly, she knew Anglaise was right but would burn at the stake before admitting it.

She ignored her sister and summoned her magic. A warm feeling rose from her bones and suffused her body. She always pictured it in her mind as a golden light radiating from within but there was nothing visible until she released it.

“See the unseen

Good or ill

Show me what’s

in need,” she muttered.

Her slender hand passed over the man. A white glow left a trail in the air behind her hand. He was fine. He’d bruised his head on the sidewalk and his nose would be sore from its impromptu meeting with the door but other than that nothing was wrong with him. Though he could use one of her slimming teas to get him back to his ideal weight.

“Well,” Anglaise demanded.

Perhaps she’ll be satisfied if I pronounce him dead, Bruleé thought. She could feel steel grey eyes drilling into her, waiting to be proven right.

“He’s fine,” Bruleé said, “I just wanted to help.”

“You’ve helped us to a lynch mob,” Anglaise snapped.

“Don’t be ridiculous. That doesn’t happen these days.” And wait for it, she thought.

“Tell that to Granny Bon Bon.”

There it was. The one example of modern violence against witches that Anglaise could dredge up to prove her mistrust of people was right. Never mind that Granny Bon Bon had gone senile and started cursing people when she thought she was aiding them. And never mind that little boy had almost died. Granny had been assaulted by the parents but the police came and she was now in a nursing home for old witches, her powers bound, where she could do none any harm.

“Oh, look. He’s waking up,” Bruleé said.

“You should wipe his memory.”

“Nonsense. It’s not like the town won’t know we’re witches sooner or later.”

The man groaned and scrunched his eyelids in pain. Slowly, he cracked one eye open and looked around. Bruleé smiled kindly.

“What…uh…” the man said. Both his eyes opened and he looked from Bruleé to Anglaise..

“You took a nasty spill, sir,” Bruleé said.

Anglaise snorted. “Because you scared him witless.”

“That’s enough, Anglaise.”

The man was awake  and digging frantically in his pants’ pocket.

“No, no, no. I’m fine,” he jumped up and leapt for the grocery store.

He thrust the key into the lock, sparing an anxious glance over his shoulder. “Thank you anyway.”

The bang of the door slamming shut rattled the windows and Bruleé felt a puff of wind in her face. She heard the click of the lock and knew he was trying to lock them out.

Anger radiated off Anglaise, standing stiffly beside her.

“I’m going to start packing,” she snarled. Then added softly, “Again.”

Anglaise turned and started stomping back across the street before Bruleé could rally.

“No, you’re not!” Bruleé shouted after her sister. “I said we’re staying.”

Bruleé ran after her. She caught  the teashop door before it closed. Anglais was already stomping past the wooden cottage tables and chairs, ready for customers. Her baby sister Caramel stood in the middle of the room holding a stack of menus. Fresh from the printers, they were what she’d been flying in when the news van drove off.  She’d been placing them on the pink and white striped tablecloths next to the porcelain and silver tea services laid out on all the tables. Her wide golden-brown eyes looked searchingly from Anglaise to Bruleé.

“Start packing,” Anglaise said as she passed the glass display case next to the register. The bakery cases were full of cookies, scones, and golden pastries. Behind the baked goods rose a wall of cubbies, each one held a glass jar of dried tea, herbs, spices, or flowers. A passage behind the counter led to Anglaise’s domain, the kitchen and a staircase that led to the apartment above.

Caramel pulled the menus to her chest, “A-are we leaving?”

“Yes!” Anglaise passed the register and disappeared into the kitchen.

“No!” Bruleé crossed her arms. “Don’t you dare even fold a sock.”

Anglaise came back into the main shop. “Is that so?”

“We don’t know for sure that everyone will act like that guy. Maybe if-“

“Maybe if what?” Anglaise cut her off. “Maybe if we gave the green grocer a heart attack they’ll really take a shine to us?”

“Um…p-p-please,” Caramel stammered, her voice a tremulous whisper.

“I was only trying to help! We need to make friends here.”

From up above came the thump-thump-thump of a small body rapidly descending the stairs. There was the skitter of nails on tile and Fraiche, their Pomeranian, burst into the teashop, an excited ball of cream-colored fur drawn.

Bruleé walked  up to the counter and leaned over it, staring down Anglaise.   Anglaise had a point. Witches had always been persecuted, even into the twentieth century. When the Jim Crow laws were abolished in the sixties the anti-magic laws that punished the use of  witchcraft with long jail sentences and even death south of the Mason Dixon Line went with them. But it wasn’t the fifties anymore and witches were entitled to make lives  for themselves.

“We’re here to open a magic tea shop. How can we if we never use our magic?”

Fraiche was jumping up and down beside Anglaise, each leap accompanied by a shrill yap. He sprang higher than the counter on his little legs.

“There’s a time and a place.”

“S-stop fighting,” Caramel’s voice rose to normal speaking level, which for her was a shout.

Caramel blushed bright red and dropped her eyes to the floor. Bruleé and Anglaise waited expectantly while Fraiche ran to her.

“I-I want to stay,” she whispered. Friache shinied and waved his pom-pom  tail in support.

“See? Caramel is on my side,” Bruleé said.

“No, I-I’m not…I just l-like this town. It’s cute,” her voice trailed off to nothing.

Anglaise looked furious, her chef’s temper close to boiling over. Bruleé could see her gears turning. Did she carry on, insist they leave and crush her little sister or did she agree to stay?

“Fine.” Anglaise spun on her heel and headed for the kitchen. “Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Bruleé let out a quiet  sigh. She went to one of the tables and sat down. Head propped on hands, she stared down at the China plates.

“D-did you really s-scare the greengrocer?” Caramel sat down beside her.

“Yes.” Bruleé nodded miserable. “I did.” Her usual mistake. She’d used too much magic too soon, hoping she could force people to accept them.

She glanced at Caramel, still hugging her menus. Unshed tears moistened her light brown eyes.

“Want to bop me?” Bruleé nudged her with an elbow.

Caramel hit Bruleé on the head with the menus, then offered a shy smile.

“I deserve that,” Bruleé grinned. She looked around suspiciously. “Just don’t tell Anglaise.”

Fraiche whined at Caramel’s feet and she picked him up. She hugged him and mumbled into his coat, “B-but, what do we do now?”

Bruleé put an arm around her sister. She looked around the teashop. The sparkling crystal, the chintz curtains, and polished hardwood floor; all of it was just as she’d imagined. Midswich had been her choice. They had one last chance to start over and this was it. Their inheritance was almost gone and despite popular belief, witches couldn’t conjure money.

“Don’t worry,” Bruleé squeezed Caramel’s hand. “The Créme sisters will never be defeated.

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