Chapter 1 – Bitter Tea

A buzz of conversation stirred up as morning arrived around town. A shop known as 100% Tea Leaves was among the few that joined in the morning commotion. What was unusual was that the employees of the tea shop did not bother with the usual opening tasks, except for two individuals–a girl wearing green and a guy in glasses.

“If you guys stand there any longer, you might glue yourself to the door,” The guy in glasses spoke up, walking past his co-workers. His words did not deter his movements around the shop.

The girl in green did not speak up to tease her fellow co-workers but directed her staring at the guy in glasses. He did not take it as a threat but turned on his smile to disarm her icy glare.

“Are they doing it on purpose?” One of the girls standing at the door asked, her eyes still glued to the shop across the way.

The girl in green shrugged, her attention was on the guy in glasses. But she was not staring in admiration. Instead, it was more like she was monitoring his movements, waiting for him to make a mistake so she could strike.

“Joe!” One of the guys among the gawkers called urgently.

The guy in glasses `did not bother to budge from his arranging tasks. “What?”

“Come here!” The other party called out in the same urgent tone as before.

Joe turned to look at the girl in green before heading to the front of the shop, his pace rapid since he wanted to get it out of the way–whatever it was–and get back to his opening tasks. “What now?”

“Look!” The guy who was calling to him gestured across the way.

“What’s the big de-…” Joe did not finish the last word because he finally saw what the big deal was. Lines formed on his face, his feet increased their pace as he made his way across the crystal clean, cream floor. He did not care to reply to the questions the others were throwing at him. At least the ones who did not know.

“What’s going on here?” The girl in green finally looked up and saw Joe making his way toward the other shop. She approached the entrance and stared each of the loitering parties down.

“Ashley!” The guy who shouted to Joe earlier jumped in as the others quieted down. “Joe’s sister!”

After that guy blurted out the answer, the murmurs among the group resumed once again. The girl in green waited for the guy to continue.

“She’s in the shop!” The guy shouted anxiously, fearing the girl in green’s stare.

The girl in green turned toward the shop across the way also and made her move. She arrived just in time to see

Joe pulling on a girl in a yellow sweater and white skirts’ arm, urging her out of the shop.

“What are you doing?” The girl in green asked, attempting to pry Joe’s hand away from his sister.

“She’s crazy!” Joe shouted–his voice reeking of explosive.

“You’re the one who’s crazy!” The girl in green shouted back, her hands grabbing onto Joe’s and freeing

Ashley’s hand at last. “We’re in someone else’s place and you’re behaving in that way? What will they think?”

“I don’t care,” Joe shot back. “She’s my sister.”

The girl in green used herself to shield Ashley from Joe’s advance, not showing any traces of fear. Ashley’s face had turned pale by that time. “What if she’s working for them? It’s just a tea shop.”

“And a rival of ours!”

“I thought you think the rest of them are silly.”

“What’s going on around here?” A voice asked from behind them.

The girl in green did not wait for Joe to respond. She turned around to face the lady who just entered the scene. She smiled politely and introduced herself. “We’re your new neighbors and we’re sorry for the intrusion. It was just a misunderstanding.”

The lady looked from Joe to Ashley to the girl in green and back. She was not convinced but decided to let it off. “Well, we’re not opened yet so if you want to come in, you’ll have to come back later like anyone else. Since you’re in the same business, I’m sure you know.”

“We apologize for the intrusion again,” The girl in green repeated.

The lady turned on her heels and walked away from them.

The girl in green breathed out a sigh of relief before turning back to Joe. “Now you see why it’s not a good idea to barge in here like that? Lucky she didn’t call security on us.” She turned to Ashley at that time and gave Ashley’s shoulder a pat before turning back to Joe. “Come on now. We have a shop to open, you know.” She took Joe’s left hand with her right and hauled him out of the shop.

Joe did not care to look back at his sister or look anywhere else. He had his eyes on the ground, not because of shame but he was trying hard to control his temper.

“What happened?” A lady in a colorful outfit stepped out to greet them at the entrance when they returned.

“Nothing, Cinnamon,” The girl in green replied with a smile. “Can we have a minute in the break room?”

Cinnamon looked at Joe’s face and then back at the girl in green’s before nodding. “Take your time.”

The girl in green gave Cinnamon a smile full of gratitude before hauling Joe to the break room in the back of the shop. It was not until she closed the door behind them and forced Joe to sit down in a chair that she spoke up again.

“Do you know how crazy that was?” She asked, staring him down with her disapproving looks.

“Of course I know how crazy it was,” Joe replied–contrary to his unwillingness to admit fault when they were in the other tea shop. “It’s just that I want to get her out of there.”

“She’s just working for the shop across the way, not enlisting herself in some kind of club to ban us.”

“That’s about the same idea.”

“Even if you want to question her, this is not the time and place. You’re never impatient, why this behavior?”

“You don’t have a sister.”

The girl in green pointed at him warningly. “Hey.”

His expression softened along with his upcoming words. “I’m sorry.”

She dropped her aggressive behavior and shrugged. “It’s okay. But the point is you can talk to her later.”

Joe nodded, his face showing regrets. He realized how foolish he was to make a scene at such a place.

“All right,” The girl in green spoke up after some moments of silence. “Let’s get back outside before Cinnamon fires us.”

“She would never,” Joe said, his cheerful tone returning as he got up to follow her out. “She needs us.”

“You never know,” She returned, her voice matching the playful mood of Joe’s.

“And Janine…” He placed a hand on her shoulder.

She turned to him, surprised at the contact, waiting for him to continue.

“Thanks for stopping me.” His voice was full of sincerity–yet there were also traces of warmness.

She smiled, her playful expression still on. “It’s my job.”

They returned to the front of the shop to find the others back at work already. It was hard to linger at the entrance when Cinnamon was monitoring them so closely. Cinnamon was not a hard-to-get-along-with type of boss, but they did not want to appear unprofessional in front of her either. There were a time and place for everything. And now was the time for them to start the day off with confidence and the power to fend off competitions.

© Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Posted: Thursday, February 23rd, 2012