It’s that time of month again. You get a free peek inside my next release.
You’ve met Merci and Lacey Bloom. Today, you get to meet Krista.
She’s the character that’s loosely based on me, and I have a hard time liking her. In fact, writing her took more care and concentration than writing her sister and niece. Does that even make sense?
Here’s the beginning of “Elephant in the Tearoom” which was the title of the original short story I wrote.
The flash of turquoise in the mirror as she exited her car sent a shockwave into her empty stomach. Mom bought hats for each of them to wear to high tea. Krista’s beret pressed against her head, an unfamiliar weight.
High tea at The Empress Hotel. A wistfulness choked against the bubbling well of excitement.
I wish you were here, Mom.
She glanced to either side, but no one joined her.
At the entrance, Merci called over her shoulder, “Come on, Aunt K.”
The full skirt of her sundress whipped around her calves as her sandals clattered against the sidewalk. A gust of wind stirred the scent of gas fumes with saltwater.
A doorman nodded to her as she swept through the door he held. The brick façade with multiple towers screamed historic while the high ceilings and dark paneling of the lobby echoed with refinement.
She stared at gilded gauze creating the image of a bow around lights high above. A beam of sunlight spotlighted a hallway beyond the registration desk.
Another uniformed employee asked, “Afternoon tea?” before directing them into the Lobby Lounge.
Inside what she imagined a king’s study to be like, a hostess led them through a maze of tables. She pulled out a chair with a crown-shaped back. A crushed velvet settee sat across from it, with a white cloth-draped table separating them.
Merci and Lacey slid onto the fancy love seat while Krista ducked her chin to the hostess before arranging her skirts over the padded chair and slipping her mini bag onto the empty seat beside her.
A pang twisted in her chest as her fingers lingered on the red cushion. Mom would be wearing her favorite peach hat with its silk flowers and a ribbon that nearly hung over the wide brim. The one her sister wore had a similar look but with a sage green ribbon and white silk flowers.
Krista glanced toward Merci’s white hat and caught her niece staring at the empty seat. With trembling fingers, Krista opened a leather menu lying on the table in front of her.
She’d never seen anything like it. One side had see-through packets of tea leaves. Each was numbered and corresponding numbers on the other half of the menu named and described the tea.
Krista gaped. She knew nothing about tea, but surely one didn’t select it based on what the leaves looked like.
Lacey’s eyes sparkled as she held the menu up and sniffed the packets of leaves.
“Hey, I’ve heard of Orange Pekoe.” Merci frowned over the menu at her mother. “Can you actually smell them?”
A waiter dressed in black slacks and white shirt appeared beside their table. “Is this your first tea at The Empress?”
Was it the fact her sister’s nose was buried in the menu that gave them away?
He explained that tea would be brought out first. Krista glanced over the menu as he described the timing, allowing sufficient space between courses for the tea to steep. He pointed out hourglass timers provided to insure each brew reached the desired strength. Scones and jam arrived promptly, which was followed by the sandwich course and finally the dessert tray.
A menu card described each dish.
“There will be three of each dessert?” Merci’s eyes widened when their server responded affirmatively. “Is this Heaven?”
For a split second, a grin broke through his serious demeanor.
“Any other questions about the menu? Any dietary restrictions I should be aware of?” When they shook their heads, he continued, “I’ll be back shortly to take your tea order.”
With a tip of his head, he turned away. He strode to a nearby table where three generations, from elementary-aged granddaughter in pigtails to silver-haired grandmother, had recently been seated.
A twinge in her chest tried to intrude, but Krista took a deep breath and glared at the tea leaves. “I think I’ll try the imperial breakfast tea.”
Merci smirked as she handed over the hourglass with orange sand. “You can always turn it twice and see if the tea gets as strong as coffee.”
Lacey’s lips twisted. “I’d like that doves silver needle tea, but I can’t believe it’s ten dollars extra.” She sighed. “It smells like peaches.”
Not the money thing again. Krista didn’t want to argue but this visit wouldn’t come again. She gulped, praying for fortitude and said, “How about if Todd covers upgrades?” Even if they all ordered more expensive tea, it wouldn’t be more than $50.
Lacey blinked and opened her mouth, refusal clear in her expression. Merci’s elbow nudged her mother’s side. Lacey closed her mouth.
Interesting. Krista wondered what the two had discussed on their outing to that old school. Or maybe it was the atmosphere in the tearoom that stifled Lacey’s negative comments.
In any case, Krista smiled at Merci, glad to have settled this small thing without an argument. It’s what Mom would want.
Krista glanced to the empty chair beside her, wishing it wasn’t vacant.
The server returned. Merci ordered Flora’s Berry Garden for herself and interrupted her mother to order the silver needle.
“I have a note that this table has prepaid, but the additional charges aren’t covered.” The server glanced at each of them.
“I’ll cover the upgraded tea,” Krista said, ducking her chin in confirmation. “And stick with the imperial breakfast tea.”
He gave an answering nod. “Lovely choices, ladies. The tea will be out momentarily.” He gathered up the tea menus and departed.
Merci tapped her nail on the creamer carafe. Probably real cream.
Krista wondered what sort of tea Mom would have ordered, opened her mouth to ask, but a lump trapped her voice in the back of her throat. She sipped water, trying to clear it.
Before Krista could say anything, a girl wheeled a cart into the room, stopping at various tables depositing teapots. Servers followed, answering questions.
At their table, she set three tea pots beside its matching cup. She named the teas and set a tea leaf strainer in each pot, settling the lids firmly in place. After she finished, the girl reached for the extra place setting to Krista’s right. Krista covered the porcelain tea cup with her hand, rocking it against its saucer.
The server’s brown eyes widened as she met Krista’s gaze. Krista shook her head, and the girl nodded and withdrew, leaving the dishes behind.
Your place is waiting, Mom.
I love this scene in the tearoom. Emotion simmers beneath the surface and bubbles up in unexpected ways.
Have you ever enjoyed Victorian high tea? It’s on my bucket list.