“Would you like to sit down?”
Reika glanced over her shoulder at Miyo standing behind the counter. Miyo’s kind smile forestalled the sharp retort that had immediately come to Reika’s lips.
She straightened, adjusting the bags in her hands and asked instead, “How long until the driver arrives? My ship is scheduled to leave on time.” She ran through the list of things she had suddenly been tasked with by the Ladies’ Society. She was certain that it hadn’t been her turn to provide the tea for this evening’s meeting, but there was no arguing against Lady Kumiko’s word. And now what had started out as a simple errand had turned into a time war that no one else seemed to care to battle but herself.
Miyo’s head tilted as she consulted the only timepiece in the shop, a small token resting half-hidden against the flower vase at the corner of the counter. “Perhaps a few more minutes,” she said. Reika’s discontent must have come through because the tea master immediately followed with, “I’m sure they’re on their way. It won’t be long now.”
Reika allowed a sigh to escape her lips, not bothering to hide her annoyance with Miyo’s calmness. Not for the first time, she berated herself for not having replenished her tea collection before coming to Crescent Island. ‘But of course, leave it to Lady Kumiko to pick a rare tea like this one,’ Reika thought, glaring at the tea tin nestled at the top of the bag holding all of the souvenirs she was obligated to get for her coworkers and the Ladies’ Society. Not that anyone had said anything outright – no one would have the audacity to say something like that outloud. No, it was a custom Reika had had to learn the hard way: silently.
‘Like all of the other land customs,’ she groused silently. But she had learned them all, through trial and error, practice and prayer, and it was only then did she accept her husband’s offer to buy a house in the capital. Things became busy very quickly, and she was eager to get back to continue all the projects that had been put on hold while she had been away. It had only been three days, but it had felt like a lifetime. ‘A suffering, maddeningly slow lifetime. How does anything even get done here?’
“Well, not everything gets done.”
Reika blinked, only now realizing that she had spoken aloud. She turned back towards Miyo, hoping the afternoon shadows hid her blush. “That doesn’t sound very responsible coming from a store owner, and a tea master at that.”
Miyo met her gaze without flinching, or anything but a mild smile. “I didn’t say that nothing gets done. “Just not everything.”
Reika knew she was losing her patience, her annoyance growing from sighing to a grinding of her teeth. She couldn’t stop herself from biting out, “Then what, praytell, does get done around here?”
Miyo’s smile was as bright as a child’s. “The necessary.”
The phone ringing forestalled the angry waterfall from bursting through Reika’s lips, pursing them instead as Miyo took the call. ‘It had been a mistake to come,’ Reika concluded darkly, mentally picturing her next meeting with Doctor Kimura and what she would tell him about his recommendation to “relax.” ‘How can one relax when there is still so much left to be done?’ Reika groused, eyeing Miyo while she talked on the phone. ‘Nothing would be on my list if it wasn’t necessary. How impertinent.’
“I see. I will let her know. Thank you for calling.” Miyo hung up the phone with a bow but Reika could see a furrow in what had been a clear brow until now. Dread began to build at the bottom of her throat.
“Is the driver coming?” Reika asked. If she had to adjust her plans, she’d rather know now. ‘Lady Kumiko will be waiting at the docks, I can call her personal assistant to let her know that I won’t -”
“I can take you.”
Reika coughed, her thoughts derailing. “Pardon?”
Miyo gave her a peaceful smile. “I can take you,” she repeated in that same confident tone. “There seems to be an event holding up the driver, but it just so happens that my tricycle arrived from Cloud Hill just yesterday. So I can take you, if you don’t mind riding with an amateur driver, that is.”
“The only thing that matters at this point is getting there on time. If you please?” Reika gestured towards the door, each second weighing on her and not feeling the least bit comforted by Miyo’s calm smile.
Somehow, they arrived at the docks with time to spare. However, the dockmaster informed them that no passengers could board quite yet, leaving them to the open area just outside the docks.
Reika sighed once more, tapping her foot impatiently as she stood next to Miyo’s tricycle. At least they were in the coolness of the tricycle’s shade. But it would have been better to board early and get a head start on all of the things still on her mental to-do list.
“Was it for business or pleasure that you came to Crescent Island?” Miyo asked, seated sideways on the motorcycle as she rummaged in her bag.
Reika gave a wan smile. “Neither; it was on doctor’s orders. She said my lifestyle in the capital was too stressful and that I should relax.” She eyed Miyo, expecting a snarky remark at her failure.
But instead, Miyo gave a slow nod. “Life in the capital is hard,” she said, “It can move so fast that your life is over before you know it.”
Reika straightened, catching the shadow in Miyo’s eyes. “You’ve lived in the capital.”
Miyo returned to her rummaging. “I was on temporary assignment there before I came here to Crescent Island. I learned a lot and was able to accomplish more than I could imagine, but I was happy to leave.” She pulled out a small case and shrugged. “None of it seemed necessary, to be honest.”
Reika studied Miyo’s face as the tea master focused on unwrapping the cloth case, noting the lines in what Reika had thought to be a young, inexperienced face. “What would you deem necessary?” she asked, not caring how naive the question sounded.
Miyo looked up, her hands caught in mid-motion, measuring out tea leaves into a strainer. She glanced around before settling her gaze back on Reika. “Right now, I’d say enjoying this wonderful breeze with a cup of tea.” She smiled and continued to prepare the tea.
From the docks came an announcement over the loudspeaker, notifying passengers that early boarding had begun. The timepiece on the main building showed still another half hour until the scheduled departure.
Part of Reika wanted to jump from the tricycle and board the ship so she could tackle her long list. After all, that was the only way she could prove her worth. But she knew as soon as she crossed one thing off, a handful of other items would appear.
Reika eyed Miyo, her eyes half-closed as a breeze flowed around them. None of the things on her list included sitting and enjoying a cup of tea. But then again, none of them had ever given her even half the contentment currently on Miyo’s face.
She sat back down in the seat of the tricycle. “May I join you?” she asked, deliberately putting her back to the timepiece.
Miyo smiled and for once, Reika didn’t feel the same irritation, but instead a soft blanket of calmness as she simply breathed, waiting for the tea to brew.