“Slow down,” Ikumi called out to Miyo, tea spilling over the edge of the cup and onto the tray her still growing daughter carried.
Ikumi winced as she saw Miyo’s stride quicken as the strains of her favorite TV show began playing. “Watch out for -”
“Tea is a bit of a diva, don’t you think?”
Miyo looked up, her movements careful as she and her master cleaned up the glass that she had dropped. More than the question, it was the conversational tone that made her pause.
Master Daichi’s sweeping continued, soothing even sound as he spoke. “It always wants things just right, you know? Always what it prefers. And if it senses at all the slightest bit of rushing, it’ll get bitter at not getting the attention it thinks it deserves.”
Master chuckled to himself. “Just like a real person, I suppose.”
“Wait, you’re going where? Miyo did you know this?”
Miyo shook her head slightly, the movement controlled as the bulk of her focus was on pouring the tea into Michiko’s cup while also avoiding Michiko’s wild gesturing.
Hana sighed. “Come on, I told you last week. Besides, this is about Miyo, not me!” Hana took up the cup that Miyo had just finished pouring.
“Everyone, let’s toast to Miyo’s pilgrimage!”
Miyo blushed and laughed at the commotion that followed, screeching of chairs, clamor of porcelain and voices rising above the din – “Wait, Hana that’s my cup!”
“A bit of waste don’t you think?” Master Iwao’s face was expressionless, but his bland voice made the words cut even deeper. “To use these beautiful cups and serve tea as mediocre as this.”
“You dare to use Siren magic in my tea house?” The last words echoed painfully through Miyo’s ears, and she could do nothing but sit and watch as the tea she had made that had drained her was now tossed onto the floor.
A shift of movement off of the path caught her ear, a break in the rhythm of the endless cold rain. It took her a moment to see them, the family hidden under a hasty lean-to against a tree. Their eyes that shook more than she did, the smallest set wide and pleading.
Miyo glanced at the path before her, then back at the family shivering under the dripping leaves. ‘I’m late anyway,’ she thought, as she unshouldered her teapot to gather water, the melody of warming already on her lips.
“It’s the least I can do,” Miyo said with a smile as she gathered her things, the gathering already winding down. A shadow at the edge of her vision made her turn.
Akiko tilted her head, studying Miyo as closely as she would the flowers she arranged. “Is it though?” Her voice was light but there was a serious question in her eyes. “I think you might be underselling yourself.”
Miyo shifted, the contents in her bag clanking faintly. “I just want to share tea, that’s all.”
An eyebrow rose. “Isn’t that what the pilgrimage is about?”
Miyo frowned. “The pilgrimage is to become a master who -” Her eyes unfocused as she thought back over the entirety of her journey so far. Not just the tests with the different tea masters, but also the people she’d met, the tea she had shared.
Akiko’s expression softened. “Do you get it now? It’s why we need tea masters, especially like you.”
Miyo’s held her silence too long for Akiko’s taste. She sighed and shrugged, turning to walk back to her store.
“When’s the next boat to Orchid Island?”
Akiko smiled as she turned back around to answer.
The clink of the cup against the plate echoed loudly in the quiet room. Miyo kept her eyes on the steam rising from the teapot, her mind already going through a dozen things that she could have done better – the composition of the water, the arrangement of the tea leaves, the fire for the boiling –
“It was good.”
Miyo looked up, startled. The steam seemed to meld with Master Yuko’s white hair, her smile as soft as the steam itself. “It feels like I can see the world through your eyes in this tea.”
Miyo looked down as the tea master held out a token, her hands shaking as she reached out to receive it. Master Yuko’s hands pressed hers gently. “Please share that view with more people.”
“How is it?”
Yuuto studied the cup cradled in his hands. “It wasn’t what I expected,” he finally answered, seemingly surprised by his own answer. A small laugh followed. “And yet it’s exactly what I was looking for.”
Miyo smiled and gave him a slight bow before moving to the other end of the counter, the young lady’s gaze following as she approached. “Could I help with any questions?”
Kiki glanced back down the counter. “May I ask what the gentleman is having?”
Miyo followed her gaze, her expression thoughtful. “A memory,” Miyo finally answered, “And a promise.” She caught the confused look on Kiki’s face and smiled. “Each tea has its own characteristics and the interaction with the drinker is unique. It takes time to find the tea that’s ‘yours.’ At least, that’s the way I see it.”
“How long did it take to find his tea?”
“A couple weeks. But everyone is different – some can take years.” Miyo’s gaze was quiet then refocused. “But I suppose that’s what tea is about.”
Miyo caught Kiki’s dazed expression, and she ducked her head, clasping her hands together self-consciously. “Sorry, I’m in a reflective mood today.”
Kiki shook her head, her smile touched with relief. “It’s quite all right – slowing down sounds wonderful. That’s why I came here, to you.”
The words made Miyo smile as years flashed through her mind. “Thank you. What tea may I share with you today?”