Slow days at the tea shop were Annabelle's favorite.
True, they could get a tad boring at times. But the shop was such a peaceful place when it was empty. The few windows were stained glass, in various shades of pink, orange, brown, and white, and they filtered the sun so that it entered the rooms with a subdued, warm light. Along all of the walls of the tea room were jars and jars of loose-leaf tea, organized by type. Annabelle had stopped counting one day at seventy-six. The smell of tea and coffee always seemed to fill the place, even before the first cup of the morning was brewed, and a stick of incense was usually burning somewhere in the small building, giving off its smoky-sweet scent. Stepping inside the building smelled like tranquility.
Annabelle sipped a cup of Earl Grey tea, a specific blend called "Moonlight," known for its creaminess. She was using her favorite cup at the shop, a dainty porcelain tea cup with little alpine strawberries vining along the side, and it sat on top of a glass tea warmer with a tea candle that flickered within. Small as the candle was, the heat was enough to keep her tea warm as she folded napkins and read the book she had propped up in front of her. If she wanted to get anything done at this shop, work-related or otherwise, she had to be able to multi-task.
She was nearly finished folding napkins when the bell above the front door rang. Startled, she jumped to her feet and scooped up her tea, stashing it on the drink counter behind a bag of coffee beans. She wasn't technically supposed to eat or drink out where customers could see, but on slow days, she tended to break that rule when she was by herself.
She blew out the candle in the tea warmer and swiveled to greet the incoming customers. "Hi, welcome to The Jewelweed Tea Room," she said, having memorized that greeting months ago. She had learned to have the perfect inflection and volume: calm, and yet bright. Clear, but never loud. She smiled and clasped her hands in front of her without even thinking.
The customers were two young women, probably students at the university like Annabelle. They had strolled in slowly, laughing and chatting softly. Their eyes scanned the large collection of tea cups in the foyer, arranged across tables and on shelves, some for sale, and some collected by the owner. From Victorian antiques— paper-thin bone china cups with dainty floral designs —to hand-thrown cups from local artists, sturdier mugs made of stoneware clay, with warm, dappled glazes. At Annabelle's greeting, their gazes slowly turned to her.
"Hi," they said in unison, smiling at her.
"Is this your first time visiting us?" Annabelle asked, though she knew that the answer was almost certainly yes. They were timid, unsure; and they were taking in their surroundings with the type of awe that usually comes with newness. Not to mention, Annabelle knew all of the regulars.
"Yes," answered the one with light brown hair, cropped short above her shoulders. "Kendra loves tea, and she saw you guys on Instagram." She motioned to her friend, a small woman with long, dark hair. Kendra offered a small smile.
"That's great to hear!" Annabelle chirped. "Please follow me."
Annabelle lead them through the foyer and into the tea room, grabbing two menus as she went. She heard murmur about the many tea jars lining the walls. She quickly strode over to the two-seat table and arranged their menus standing up and open in front of their chairs, then lifted her tea warmer and the napkins away, leaning over to place them out of the way on the drink counter.
"How does this work for you?" Annabelle asked of the small antique table seated near the fireplace.
The two girls glanced at each other briefly, and Kendra replied, "It's great, thank you."
Annabelle gave them a smile and a nod. "Wonderful. Our latte of the week is the Peach Cobbler. All of our teas can be served hot or iced, and all but a few of the reds can be served as lattes. You're more than welcome to smell some of the teas if you're unsure of what you'd like. Any questions?"
The girls once again shared a quick look of query. "Not yet, at least," answered the girl with short hair, laughter in her voice.
"Alright, then," Annabelle said brightly. "The soup of the day is chicken tortilla. I'll be back for your drink order soon." She turned to leave, but the girl's voice rang out before she got very far.
"Oh, there's a book." Annabelle swung around to see the girl picking up her battered paperback, which must have fallen to the floor in Annabelle's panic. The girl studied the cover. "Pride and Prejudice."
Dismayed, Annabelle blurted, "Oh, sorry, sorry, that's mine, I—" She grabbed for the book, her fingers overlapping with those of the girl in front of her. Annabelle's gaze jerked up, heat rising to her face. For the first time, she noticed the girl's eyes. They were a deep green, like a shaded forest, with little hazel rings around her irises. Pretty.
Annabelle snatched the book away. "Sorry," she said again, clutching the book to her chest before shoving it into the largest pocket of her apron. Her head felt hot, and panic began to aggravate her breathing.
"Oh, uh, it's okay," the girl replied, seeming confused but smiling nonetheless.
"Um, I'll be back for your drink order. Please let me know if you have any questions," she managed, forcing an awkward, close-mouthed smile. The girl sat back down in her chair, and both customers smiled back and nodded.
Annabelle couldn't have scurried away to the kitchen fast enough.