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March 11, 2014
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The kettle started to whistle, steam billowing out of every opening. I took the smoldering, copper kettle from the fire and poured hot water into a teapot; the pretty one made out of blue and white china, the one I saved for special visits. Just as I was taking the matching teacups from the cupboard, I heard a knock on the door. I wiped my hands on my apron and rushed to the door as fast as my short, round legs could transport me. I curled my hand around the brass handle, fluffed up my curly white hair, and then pulled it open.

“Why, good day to you, Mrs. Elizabeth! Always a pleasure to see you.”

Mrs. Elizabeth was facing me; her gray hair swirled up in an elegant up do, her chubby, wrinkled face glowing and pink, matching the stretched coral fabric of her elaborate dress: lace-trimmed and tied tightly with satin ribbons at the bodice. She waved a brief good-bye to the driver of the horse-drawn carriage behind her, and turned her face back to Patricia with a grin.

“As you, my dear Mrs. Adams, as you.”

A figure was standing behind Mrs. Elizabeth. She stepped to the left to reveal the figure: a young girl, not older than 16.

“Mrs. Adams, this is my grand-daughter, Ellie. She is visiting all the way from London, isn’t that right Ellie? She’s a gorgeous little thing, isn’t she? Prettiest girl in all of London, if I say so myself. I wonder where she gets that from, eh?” Ms. Elizabeth let out a low snort, bringing out her chest.

I looked at Ellie, her pale, porcelain face looking back at me with a shy smile. Her golden hair was braided into an elegant bun, curly ringlets falling loose to her round cheeks. A baby-blue dress accented with ivory lace adorned her slight figure. She was pretty, but in a fragile, delicate way. She was the complete opposite of Mrs. Elizabeth, who was stout; not just her figure, but her attitude as well. She sensed me watching her and smiled shyly again, tucking a ringlet behind her ear with a gloved hand.

Mrs. Elizabeth coughed loudly, uncomfortable with the sudden silence.

“Well, are we going in or just standing out here and daydreaming?” Mrs. Elizabeth boomed, pushing past me and making her way inside, followed closely behind by Ellie, who gave me an interested look on the way in.

Mrs. Elizabeth walked into the large, open cottage, bright because of the sunlight pouring in through the multiple windows, her boots clacking loudly on the wood floor. She walked towards the living room to right of the kitchen, and sunk down into the wine-colored velvet couch, the antique legs screeching as she covered it with her weight. Ellie sat down slowly and elegantly on the other side of the couch, straightening her skirt and placing her hands folded on her lap.

“Why don’t you two make yourselves comfortable, and I’ll fix us a little tea and currant scones, how about that?” I made my way back to the kitchen.

“Oh, Mrs. Adams, you should know better than to spoil me!” Mrs. Elizabeth called from the living room.

I began pouring the tea into the china teacups, and breathed in the scent of herbs and bergamot. I glanced towards the living room, where Mrs. Elizabeth sat examining a small gold figure of an angel that stood on the coffee table. Ellie remained in the same position as before, her large blue eyes drifting across the various paintings and tapestries that hung on the wall. She caught me watching her, and smiled. I looked away quickly.

I arranged a silver tiered platter with the scones I made shortly before the guests arrived, the scones still warm and fragrant of butter and sugar. I set the teacups on a large platter, along with the steaming teapot and plate of scones, and a small pitcher of milk and bowl of sugar. Balancing the platter with my quivering hands, I made my way slowly to the living room and set it down on the table as carefully as I could.

“I hope Earl Grey is fine with you ladies.”

“Oh, marvelous. You know, the other day I was visiting my friend Mrs. Alexandra, and she arranged a beautiful tea and scones for me. Do you know what she said to me while pouring the tea?”

“What did she say?” I set the teacups on the table.

“She said ‘The owner of the shop urged me to try this new kind of tea, and I decided to give it a try. It’s called “green” tea.’ Green tea! Heavens, Mrs. Adams, have you ever heard of green tea before?” Mrs. Elizabeth snorted again.

“No, indeed I haven’t. How did it taste?”

Mrs. Elizabeth dipped a scone into her tea and took a bite, brushing the crumbs off her red-stained mouth.

“Like plain, simple hot water. I’m not sure how anybody can drink such foulness.”

After placing a second teacup beside Ellie, who nodded with appreciation, I took my teacup and sunk down in the cushioned chair across from the coach, pouring milk into my cup and watching it swirl into the tea. I nibbled at the corner of the scone, and let the crumbly, sweet taste fill my mouth, followed by the tart chewiness of a currant. I washed it down with a sip of tea.

“Ellie, why are you acting so shy? Speak up! Why don’t you tell Patricia here about your house in London”, Mrs. Elizabeth said, taking a second scone and dunking it in the tea.

Ellie looked up, startled. “Oh, I’m not sure there’s anything interesting to say about that,” Ellie said, her pink cheeks reddening from the attention she was not used to receiving. I pitied her: poor thing probably could’ve imagined a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than with her loud, obnoxious grandmother.

“Oh, nonsense!” Mrs. Elizabeth swallowed her scone and took a sip of her tea. “They live right in the middle of London, near Piccadilly. There’s so much to see and do for somebody her age. I tell her all the time to go out and do things, go to the park, attend a ball…but she usually just sits at home and reads books. Keeps the maid company; lonely old thing. Isn’t that right Ellie?“

Ellie smiled, but her calm eyes started to blaze. I watched her, interested. The corner of her mouth twitched ever so slightly.

“Oh yes, and how could I forget? She’s soon to be engaged! To a very agreeable young man, if I say so myself. A bit stern, but well”, Mrs. Elizabeth flailed her hand, “he’ll soften up I’m sure. Very handsome though. All dark hair and dark eyes. Very tall. He has to lean over to look into those gorgeous eyes of hers. Well that’s what beds are for of course!” She laughed at her own joke until she noticed she was the only one laughing, and looked down, adjusting her dress.

All of a sudden a loud clatter sounded through the room. Mrs. Elizabeth and I looked up at the same time to find Ellie’s face a fiery shade of scarlet, her blue eyes raging. Her lips were pressed into a thin, quivering line. Her fist clutched the handle of the teacup that was now smashed onto the plate, her thin fingers white and trembling. Pieces of shattered porcelain scattered the table. She looked directly at Mrs. Elizabeth, who was looking at her with a look of utter shock and disbelief.

“No”, Ellie whispered.

Mrs. Elizabeth’s eyes grew large and round, and her thin, penciled eyebrows shot up to her hairline. I continued to watch Ellie with a growing fascination.

Ellie sat up straight, her gaze still fixed directly at the shocked face of Mrs. Elizabeth. “No”, she said again, this time her voice gaining confidence.

Mrs. Elizabeth regained herself and shook her head, her eyes closed shut. “I’m sorry?”

“I won’t. I won’t marry him. I won’t. I despise him.” Ellie drew out the word “despise”, elongating the “I”.

“He is disgusting, and he is at least twice my age. He’s probably older than my own Papa! You don’t understand; you never would. All you care about is the money. I don’t. Not one bit. I care about affection, about finding somebody that loves me, and I love as well.” Ellie glowed with excitement.

She looked around the room as if noticing for the first time that she wasn’t alone, and she lowered her head, her cheeks burning deep crimson.

“Well,” was all that Mrs. Elizabeth could manage to bring out in a shallow, choked voice.

“If you could excuse me for a moment.” Mrs. Elizabeth couldn’t handle awkward moments, especially if she was involved in them. She didn’t take a single glance at Ellie as she stomped out of the room, shaking her head and muttering under her breath.

I care about affection, about finding somebody that loves me, and I love as well. I studied the shape of my teacup as this sentence repeated itself in my mind. Affection. Affection.

I looked up to find Ellie with her head down low, her curls covering her face. She was picking at a piece of porcelain, running the jagged edge back and forth gently across her finger. At first, alarmed, I thought she was about to cut herself, but it was clear that all the energy that bubbled inside of her was already released. She was shattered, broken like the teacup. I felt sympathy for her. Poor thing.

My eyes wandered around the room, stopping at the silver-framed mirror that hung on the center of the wall. I studied the face that was gazing back at me. The face was old. Lifeless, drained…old. So very old. I stared at my face until I couldn’t stand its ugliness any longer and looked away quickly.

My eyes continued to wander and stopped again, this time at the large oil painting that hung on the far side of the wall. It was a painting of me, on my sixteenth birthday. My mother brought me out to London and, as a birthday gift, she had a street artist paint me. I remember the sensation of sitting on the wooden stool, trying to keep a straight face as the young artist with the big, brown eyes and funny expression attempted to capture my face. His eyes trailed up and down, studying each angle, his face focused as he stopped to paint, and look up again. His eyes lingered on my lips, his face reddening. I reddened as well, and bit my lip to prevent myself from laughing. He continued to paint, catching my gaze every now and then, his mouth curving up into a smile.
When he was done, he handed me the painting and suddenly grabbed me, his mouth pressing onto mine so softly, so suddenly I didn’t have time to react, and I found myself kissing this stranger back. For the moment, I didn’t care that we were the center of attention and people that passed by stopped to stare at us. I didn’t care that I didn’t even know the man, let alone his name. All I thought about was the feel of his warm fingers stroking my cheeks, the breath that tingled the surface of my skin, the lips that moved harmoniously with mine.
“Come, Ellie.” I looked up to find Mrs. Elizabeth facing the door, and Ellie walking towards her slowly, her head to the ground. I suddenly got up, instinctively moving towards the kitchen. I grabbed a book off the kitchen table and tore a page out of the beginning. I opened the drawer under the table and grabbed a pen and some ink, and started scribbling something on the page, the words flowing out of my mind. I thought about the tenderness of the stranger’s lips on mine, the first and only time I had ever experienced such affection.
I rushed to Ellie and pushed it into her hand, who received it with a questioning look. I nodded my head, encouraging her to open it. I watched her unfold the square and her eyes trail up and down the page; once, then twice. She finally looked up at me with bright eyes, filled with life that had before been shattered into tiny pieces and scattered in a pile.
I watched the two of them leave and closed the door behind them. Leaning against the smooth surface of the wood door, I thought about the sentence that I wrote: Don’t ever lose faith in love. My eyesight blurred as I thought about my wasted, meaningless life, my missed opportunity, the big, brown eyes and the gentle touch, my face in the mirror.

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ShagunThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Mar. 19, 2014 at 3:42 pm
Perfection is the only way to describe this article. Beautiful, really beautiful. Honestly, this is one of the best pieces i've read on this site. Congratulations on getting the Editor's choice. you deserved it. 
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