When Alicia had asked Miyo to host a birthday party at the pastry shop, Miyo hadn’t expected the celebrant to be clothed in tea masters robes, much less be Fumi, one of the most prolific tea masters of their generation.
Miyo found herself hovering between the tables with the shop attendants. She was proud to see that Yuki had been diligent in training her co-workers, and found herself merely watching as they served the guests that came and went. Yuki and the attendants handled the orders with a cheerful kindness that Miyo found herself unable to imitate as she watched what seemed to be an endless stream of people coming up to Fumi to wish her happy birthday.
She had never met Fumi before, only read about her in the news or heard about her in conversations with other masters. It was through those that she knew the basics of her fame, how Fumi was one of the fastest to ever finish the pilgrimage, and had contributed a stunning amount of research and discoveries as a master. But sitting there in the pastry shop, her long hair bouncing around her easy smile, Fumi looked more like a school girl than a renowned tea master. It was clearly evident that this was her home, and it made Miyo sharply aware of how there was still so much about Crescent Island that she didn’t know.
Miyo perked up when she spotted the Aragakis, and she started on the preparations for their usual tea as they made their way to Fumi. Miyo felt herself calm a bit in being able to settle into a routine that was familiar amidst what had overwhelmingly unfamiliar.
Suddenly a series of squeals pierced through the soft conversation within the shop. Miyo, along with all of the other guests, looked up to find Takako and Fumi hugging each other like school children, with Kensaburou giving apologetic half-bows to the crowd.
“It’s been so long!” Takako exclaimed, clutching Fumi’s hands tightly as they sat down.
“I’m sorry,” Fumi said, a genuine tone of sorrow in her voice. “I really wanted to visit but my schedule just wouldn’t allow it.”
Takako patted her hands, still not letting go. “We know. Kensaburou has been collecting all the news articles about you.” They both snuck a glance at Kensaburou, whose face flushed despite pretending not to be listening.
“You know, we had some other high schoolers volunteer at the store after you left,” Takako said in conspiratorial tone but still loud enough for everyone to hear. “But Kensaburou just kept comparing them to you.”
Miyo set down the tray of tea amidst their giggles. “I hope you don’t mind,” Miyo said as she set tea cups in front of them, “But I took the liberty of making your usual black tea.”
Before MC could pour however, Fumi spoke up. “Could I serve? I just now remembered something.”
Miyo blinked in surprise but pulled her hands back all the same. From her seat, Fumi took hold of both Takako and Kensaburou’s cups and then pulled out a small box from her belongings. Inside were a collection of dark cubes with an slightly smoky, yet sweet smell. It instantly brought smiles to the couple’s faces.
Fumi dropped a black sugar cube into each cup and crushed it into a powder with a spoon. She then gently poured in the tea, adding milk at the very end.
Takako picked up the tea cup and sniffed the aroma. “Oh my, this brings back so many memories.”
Kensaburou was quiet as he studied his cup. Miyo could see a myriad of emotions moving through his face, too many to name, but settling finally on a quiet joy that Miyo hadn’t seen before.
“Oh, before I forget,” Takako said, putting down her cup, “Ishikawa brought this wonderful tea awhile ago and we were going to order some, but he didn’t know where it was from.”
Kensaburou nodded. “It was a very dark tea but it smelled like vanilla and oranges.”
Miyo’s gaze turned inward. “Perhaps the Higa family’s black tea from Crossroads?” she murmured.
To her surprise, Fumi shook her head. “Mr. Ishikawa usually gets his tea from his son, and if I remember correctly, he prefers teas from Bara Island.” Fumi went back to her belongings and after a moment of rustling, took out a small tin marked with an orange blossom.
Realization came over Miyo. ‘Of course, Bara Island has the most fragrant teas.’
“That’s exactly it,” Kensaburou was saying as Fumi replaced the lid after letting them smell the tea.
“How did you know that?” Takako asked with a touch of amazement.
Fumi smiled. “I was just on Bara Island for my book tour.”
Miyo remembered seeing the news of Fumi’s book release. “On the history of flowering teas. It’s been getting very good reviews.”
“A book and a book tour?” Takako commented with a laugh, “You’ve accomplished more in the past few years than I have in my entire life.”
Fumi shook her head. “I’ve simply been very lucky, especially in having such wonderful friends to support me.” They all lifted their glasses in a toast as Miyo watched silently.
Later that evening, Miyo stood on the steps of the tea shop and watched the sun and moon trade places in their daily, silent dance. The rest of the day had been quiet after returning from the pastry shop, more than usual in Miyo’s opinion.
‘Likely all up with Fumi,’ Miyo thought as she went down the steps to pick up the sign. She paused, wondering at not only the thought, but the strange feelings that were stirring up a restlessness inside of her.
‘A tea master must not only be a master of tea, but also a master of their own emotions.’ Miyo smiled at the memory of Master Hatsumi’s patient words. Her apprenticeship had been a rollercoaster of teenage emotions, where within the span of a mere hour, she would move from the brightest enthusiasm to the darkest self-doubt.
But Master Hatsumi had ridden through all of the ups and downs, carefully guiding her not by teaching her to rein in her emotions but to simply acknowledge them, observe them, name them. Miyo remembered one day when she had been particularly short-tempered.
“Well the name of the emotion I’m feeling now is extreme boredom,” she had said, crossing her arms heavily over her chest.
Master Hatsumi had only given that soft smile of hers, sipping her tea calmly. “What a luxury that is,” she had said. Catching Miyo’s incredulous stare, she had continued to sip her tea and watch the afternoon pass outside the store.
“Times like these,” Master Hatsumi had finally said, her voice as warm as the afternoon sunbeam spreading along the table, “Are things to be grateful for. It’s not often that you are given a chance to listen to your own silence. It’s only through understanding your own silence that you’ll be able to understand the silence of others, and learn to share the same silence with them.”
Miyo charged the stars with a quiet thanks as she brought the sign into the shop. Besides, it wasn’t as if she had been alone the whole day. Makoto was still at the counter, studying a video on her hand-held device and making notes in a well-worn notebook.
“I’m sorry, you must be closing,” Makoto said, catching sight of Miyo carrying the sign.
Miyo gestured for her to stay. “Stay as long as you’d like. I just brought in the sign so no one will trip on it in the dark.”
“Dark?” Makoto turned and her eyes widened when she saw the moon and stars high in the sky.
“You’ve been training very hard lately,” Miyo noted.
A touch of grimness came over Makoto. “The qualification matches for the spring tournament are coming up. Our first one will be against the team that won regionals last year.”
Miyo peered at the video on Makoto’s device. “So you’re studying that team?”
Makoto shook her head. “We tried that before but it only made us play worse. We were so worried about figuring out what the other team was going to do that whenever they did something unexpected, we completely fell apart.”
She tapped on her notebook. “Since then, we began focusing on our team only. Of course, we’re not going in completely blind. But we’re not going to try to change who we are as a team for the sake of beating the other team. Even if we were to win, that strategy would only be applicable to that particular team. We’d never win any of the other matches afterward.”
“So it’s more of a long-term view,” Miyo said thoughtfully.
Makoto nodded. “Our goal is to build up the team to be strong on its own, not just in comparison to another team, and focus on the things that only our team is the best at.” She flashed a smiled up at Miyo. “Just like you with your tea.”
Miyo blinked in surprise but Makoto had already returned to making notes. Miyo studied the girl’s bowed head for a moment, then took up one of the other chairs at the counter, pondering her own thoughts silently.
Miyo walked around the display case a third time, the late afternoon sun catching in the glass as she did. She crouched down to escape it and look closer at the model, which was Crescent Island in miniature. Even though she knew it had been made by someone, it still felt like it held the essence of the island in it.
Perhaps that was just from being in the museum itself, and feeling the history within its walls. Miyo had certainly felt herself getting wrapped up in it, especially when she learned how intertwined Crescent Island’s history was with Sirens. She had only vaguely remembered learning in school about how Crescent Island had opted to stay neutral during the war, and had helped the Sirens rebuild and regain their territory after the Peace was signed.
But she hadn’t known just how many shrines there were around the island, or how many notable figures from Crescent Island were part Siren like her. The quiet mystery of why Miyo had never gotten any reactions when using her magic was finally solved, though it left Miyo feeling slightly embarrassed for not having known all of this.
Then again, it’s not like the tea masters’ association would have known to include that information in her transition packet. Even though she was the first mixed person to become a tea master, this was the kind of thing that she should have made an effort to find out on her own.
“Pretty incredible, isn’t it?”
Miyo straightened to see Fumi standing across from her, gazing at the display with a fond expression. Fumi looked much smaller without her masters robes, though Miyo wondered if it was also because of the subdued air around her. “It took over 10 years for this to be made, not counting all the research and interviews that happened before and during its creation.”
“Did you help in making it?” Miyo asked, hesitantly. With how accomplished Fumi was, she wouldn’t be surprised if she had.
But Fumi just gave a bashful smile. “No, I wish I had though. I love museums and this one is the best, in my opinion. Though I admit that I may be biased.” She glanced around at the room, her expression content. “I try to visit whenever I come home.”
“It really is amazing,” Miyo agreed. She gestured to the display and the other items in the room. “Seeing all of this and comparing it to how things are now really helps in understanding how much things have changed.”
Fumi nodded. “To be honest, that’s the philosophy I have with my tea. I think it’s important to give people a chance to remember who they were so they can see how much they’ve changed.” Her voice faltered momentarily. “Though, the trouble there is that people can get too caught up in remembering and forget to move forward.”
Miyo frowned at the somber note in Fumi’s voice. But before Miyo could say anything, the smile returned to Fumi’s face. “I think that’s why people like you.”
The surprise must have shown on Miyo’s face, judging from Fumi’s laughter. “Really! Every person I met ended up talking about you.”
“Is that so…” Miyo stuttered, feeling a flush on her cheeks.
Fumi grinned. “You see, I can remind people of how things used to be. But you, you help them see how things are now, and the endless opportunities that are possible.”
Miyo let out a short laugh of her own, her own gaze dropping sheepishly. “To be honest, I’ve been envious of you. Meeting you made me see that I’m still weak in many areas.”
“But you’re also strong in many others,” Fumi pointed out. “Every tea master has their own unique strengths, and we bring respite to people in our own unique ways. On one day, they may find their way to my shop so that they can reminisce about how things used to be. The next day, they may go to your shop so they can find the strength to face what’s yet to come.”
Miyo nodded slowly, taking in Fumi’s words and feeling it sink deep within her, replacing the envy that had been building inside her with self-reproach. “I completely lost sight of that,” Miyo murmured, “Being a master doesn’t mean I’m the only one who can give people comfort. That a person drinks a tea that I made doesn’t mean they can’t drink anyone else’s. In fact, serving them my tea may help them be more appreciative of other’s tea.”
Standing there in the sunlight with Fumi, Miyo felt as if she could see the connections that linked her to Fumi, and them to all the other masters across all of the islands. “I’ll keep working hard to support you all,” Miyo vowed quietly, to herself, to Fumi, to masters now and to come, and all those who would partake in her tea. Fumi smiled and nodded, not needing words to share in the quiet promise.