The interior of the shop surprised me. It was a neat little teahouse, smelling of mint and sandalwood. Comfortable-looking tables were neatly set for two. I surveyed the other customers.
At the furthest corner of the shop, two girls with lip rings and blonde mohawks were earnestly conversing over steaming cups of chai. At a middle table, a long-haired man and a bald boy played cards, frowning intently at their hands. At a slightly larger table to our left, a tall teenager in a blue coat and thick glasses pored over calculus, frequently pausing to take sips from a huge mug of black coffee. A friendly-looking elderly man waited at the counter. When he saw Charlie, his face broke into a cheerful grin, exposing five teeth.
"Charlie! Long time no see!" He welcomed her. "How's my girl? And I see you've made a new friend. Who do I have the pleasure of meeting this fine night?" I liked him immediately.
"Alex, this is Rosemary. Rosemary, this is Alex," she introduced. "And are you going to get us some good drinks, or do we have to go drink tea in a strip club?" He grinned.
"I'll take it you want your usual, Charlie. And for Rosemary?" I chose a peppermint white tea. I recognized little else on the menu.
Charlie made small talk with Alex, leaning on the counter while he made our drinks. When they were ready, we found a table. I peered at Charlie's tea. She caught my eye.
"Want a sip?" she asked. "I won't tell what it is till you've tried it." Sensing my hesitation, she reassured me, "Don't worry. It's not cow's blood or rum or anything."
I tasted a sip. It was good, but I couldn't place the flavor. She tentatively smiled at my perplexed look.
"It's cranberry-lemon green tea. The sour and the sweet, I like them together. Alex says that he and I are the only two people to ever like it."
"Add me to that list, " I said, handing the cup back. Our fingers brushed briefly. "It tasted sweet, but a little sad, too."
I instantly regretted having said something as silly and philosophical as that about tea, but Charlie nodded seriously.
"Exactly," was all she said.
We drank our tea in the sweet-smelling comfort of the teahouse, said our goodbyes to Alex, and left. Charlie said she'd walk me to the train station so I could catch the train to Leeds in time.
We walked in relative silence, Charlie and I, and in the pallid glow of the streetlamps, I saw her brow furrow. We passed a brunette junkie, her eyes miles away from the needle tracks on her arms, and a boy and girl playing hackysack on a coffeeshop's steps.
A pool of yellow light met us, and I stopped walking. She looked at me, and I could see the slightly tight set of her mouth, the confused look behind her eyes that I had avoided at the teahouse. I pulled my eyes off the ground to meet her gaze. I pushed away the girl who said nothing and regretted everything and reached, instead, for the stranger that had popped up on the subway, the one that asked strange girls out for drinks. I reached for her hand in mine, and she let me take it.
"Charlie...." I looked down at our hands, then returned my eyes to her steady gaze. "It's all right with me," I said softly, "If it is with you."
She wrapped her finger around mine, and for a heartbeat, her mouth softly pressed against mine, so quickly I wondered if it had happened at all. The dulcet taste of the tea lingered on my lips, sweet and sad. She pulled away and smiled, with her eyes this time.