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WAITING FOR TEA TO BOIL

By Amber Lin

A blue tea cup on a white table.

In a society that didn’t believe in magic anymore, Kygo’s Tea Shop was an aberration.


Caught between two cement skyscrapers, the tiny shophouse with dull brass lettering resided in perpetual shadow. Barely any light shone through tinted windows, and the bricks no longer burnished red under the overgrown vines and moss. It was aged and coarse compared to the sweeping cream walls on its either side, emanating both the sense of foreboding and a diminished presence. If anyone even noticed it would have been extremely discomforting to look at, almost as if the taller buildings were trying to squeeze it out of existence.


But perhaps this was on purpose. State Control had yet to remove the shop from Centre City, which meant it eluded their scrutiny despite their ever-increasing efficiency in ridding public relics. Of course, it helped that no one needed teapots or kettles anymore, thanks to the Lifeline Pipes. Shopping culture was also on the verge of extinction since the National Allowance Plan was implemented, and ornaments were notorious in detracting societal progression. With so little foot traffic passing by its doors, the teashop generally remained out of mind, out of sight; except to the select few who, as some used to say, were meant to come across it.


Avril was one of them.


Kygo recognised her from years before he inherited the teashop; they were batchmates at the Compulsory Education & Skill Station (CESS). But at the time he hadn’t known any better. He hadn’t yet known the days he would spend in repose, the idle months and years hollowing his insides in anticipation for something whole. He hadn’t yet known of ardour, of endurance. He still didn’t quite know the kismet set in stone for them, only that Avril’s entrance now forever entwined their lives together.


Her hair was long, hanging straight down her back like an ebon waterfall. Her posture was slightly bent, shoulders raised to her ears, fingers pressing hard against each other. At first glance Avril looked just like the apathetic figures outside Kygo’s windows, save for her eyes: large, dark, and curious as he remembered, moving around slowly as they took in the rows of teapots on the walls.


The inside of the shop was cramped, wooden shelves packed from floor to ceiling and two wide island units with four fully-stocked tiers. Its name was a misnomer since there was more crockery than tea leaves on display - and only teapots, no strainers or saucers or cups of any kind. A mild floral smell pervaded the air alongside tendrils of tepid steam. There was also an enormous variety of teapot designs that would either frustrate an interior arranger (none looked remotely similar to its neighbour) or fascinate a reader of Popular History (some depicted cultures dating back thousands of years). But that was not the most eccentric thing about Kygo’s Tea Shop.


“Are they all… ”


“Full of tea, yes. Would you like a sip of one?”


Avril’s hair whipped as she spun round, scanning Kygo’s navy linen shirt and brown trousers through the sheen of tea vapour. In the past he would have looked ordinary, but these days ‘ordinary’ was the slick white coats over matching grey tops and bottoms, standard issue of Centre City citizens. Avril blinked a few times, confused, intrigued, wary; meanwhile Kygo continued speaking as if he wasn’t wearing anything strange at all:


“Each pot has a different flavour and they’re all perfectly brewed. I know it seems impossible, but I promise they’re all steeping at the right temperature.”


Kygo wondered if Avril’s head was spinning or gradually turning over his words. Her lack of movement was disconcerting, but he knew there was one immediate, pertinent question in her mind. His father had asked it when he met his mother, as did his grandmother when she met Kygo’s grandfather.


“Does something happen? I mean, when you drink the tea?”


“Yes. You see a previous life.”


“A… previous life?”


“Just a glimpse, of a life of someone who has passed on.”


“How does… how does that work?”


“Mm… I don’t think it’s the same for everyone. I see it in front of my eyes, like someone has put a filter over what I’m watching, if that makes-”


“No I mean, how did- how do you- how did you get a life in the tea?”


Kygo couldn’t help but chuckle, “I could explain, but it requires a leap of faith on your part.”


“Tell me. Please.”


And he did. Avril listened, really listened, pondered his words seriously even as Kygo suspected she had thoughts about his sanity. Her eyes held his for a while after he finished, silence hovering like a dandelion not quite ready to land. He marked her darting gaze and tapping fingers, presumed rationale might prevail and Avril would take her leave. But then she went with a different tack.


“I’ve never seen this shop before.”


“We’ve been here a long time.”


“But I’ve walked by here my whole life. I’ve never seen you before today.”


“Maybe you’ve never noticed me before today.”


“Why not?”


Kygo smiled, remembering the same tone that used to colour his queries. His father had taught him how to sense the more important feelings churning beneath.


“Well, why are you here?”


“What do you mean-”


“Were you taking a break from something?”


“I-I guess I was. But what does that-”


“Or were you looking for something? Some kind of… hope? A sign? Something to hold on to?”


“I was-”


Perhaps it was the sudden detour of conversation. Perhaps it was the sincerity, because Kygo was genuinely wondering. Or perhaps it was the accuracy in his line of questioning. Either way, Avril lost her nerve and her grip on an elephant-shaped teapot she had been holding and it fell to the floor, shattering with a piercing clap.


There was a rush of apologies and fingers trying to recoup the loss (mostly Avril’s). In the midst of it she began to cry, body collapsing like a silk ribbon and Kygo went from clearing shards to holding shoulders, guiding Avril to a stool. He listened to her stumbling words, contrition tripping into criticism, bitterness becoming rage and rancour and resentment and self-hate. Kygo patted and rubbed her back until she left no energy to destroy her heart.


Then he went about fixing it.


First with a warm cloth, pressing against fingertips still stinging red from the edges of ceramic. Then a cup of water for the lost tears. Eventually the broken door that was Avril’s defences gave way, and all the fears and heartaches and doubts yawning through her entire being came rushing out. Kygo consoled every qualm, made the right sounds, said the right words, and tenderly pieced her spirit together until it could once again push against his hands.


Soon Avril asked for some tea, picking a geometrically-shaped pot with bold paint and harsh lines, a light hay scent wafting from the spout. She frowned after the first sip (Kygo assumed the white tea was too light for her taste), closed her eyes for a few minutes, and then awoke with an exhale symptomatic of the end of a long sleep. Avril spent the next hour interrogating Kygo about the memory she witnessed, the life she experienced in a world she didn’t recognise, and he realised he enjoyed hearing her speak: voice crisp and firm even when the words were hesitant. It kindled something in his chest, reminded him of his own depth. Her shoulders twitched at times but otherwise the earlier pain seemed forgotten, shelved while Avril concentrated on the vast possibilities within the teashop.


It was a novelty Kygo missed: illumed with fresh views, one felt reborn, even impenetrable, from the past hurts that used to overwhelm in shadow.


By the time she had to leave Avril stood a bit taller, though her expression was heavy, concerned with how reincarnating magic resided in an alley within Centre City. Kygo told her she was welcome back any time and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Avril flushed, surprised by the intimacy of his touch. He felt soft pops of electricity punctuating their breaths, and sighed as she left through the door. The light in his chest dimmed with the setting sun.


-


‘Tea making’ covered the entire methodology from start to finish. Each component had its own title - harvesting the buds, processing the leaves, boiling the water, steeping the brew - but it was ultimately an all-encompassing term that included the lengthy time between each stage spent waiting.


Kygo had lots of practice waiting. After all, no one found the teashop unless they were meant to or had been there before, and that included State Control. When patrols by white-clad officers intensified on the roads outside he learned to combat worry by studying the city’s Modern Allocation Blueprint, preparing for the day the authorities became aware of what stood in the minute gap of their tidy districts. Kygo was ready to tackle the paperwork if he had to, knowing it would take years to reach the level of eviction. Perhaps if it got to that stage he would be due for a change anyway. There was always change at the end of a long wait.


The second time Avril visited the shop was 4 years after their first meeting. Her hair was chopped off, a little uneven on one side but still glossy. Her clothes were askew and her energy was bright, hands merrily waving, conversing almost immediately as she walked in. In the middle of their chat on trivial things - occupations since CESS, approved media features since they last met, peers and partners (if any) - Kygo realised he had been waiting for her return too. Everything she did seemed adorable: tugging her hair as if coaxing it to grow, slightly pouting when listening to him talk, raising her hand when asking how Kygo ‘brewed magic’ or rather, infused consciousness into the tea.


“Aren’t you just waiting around a lot? I’d hate that.”


“You don’t like waiting?”


“I don’t like wasting time. I’d rather do the something again and again than just stand there and wait-”


“Sounds like the perfect CESS student.”


“Oh shut it, YOU were the perfect student. I hated the CESS pit.”


“It was useful, in some ways.”


“Only when it came to eliminating anything humane. Anyway I’d rather find something to do than just wait. Speaking of which, hasn’t State Control found this shop yet?”


“No one finds this place unless they’re meant to, or-”


“Or been here, yeah I remember. You said that last time. Skies, it’s been ages since then.”


“Yes. You’re more beautiful now.”


Avril blushed furiously and swiped at her hair, but otherwise didn’t indicate she heard the compliment. Kygo tried to quell the second guessing and unease blooming at the base of his throat while she browsed the shelves.


“So, um, what’s your deal?”


“My… deal?”


“Yeah, why do you do this? Take care of this shop.”


“Oh. I was meant to.”


“Was it your parents?”


“My mum’s. She got it from her father. Who got it from his mother.”


“You didn’t want to be anything else?”


“I wanted to be myself. And here, I am.”


“Confident, are you?”


“Maybe,” Kygo mirrored Avril’s smirk until she broke into giggles. He could feel sparks igniting in his chest.


“That sounds too boring for me. I’d rather discover who I’m supposed to be along the way, make life’s journey a little more interesting.”


“I see,” Kygo paused until Avril looked at him again. “I mean, I suppose it’s like… waiting for tea to boil.”


“Don’t you boil water for tea?”


“Yes but remember the whole process is encompassed in-”


“Ah, right, the tea making.”


“Yes. So, I know what I get at the end, but I still have to go through the steps to get there,” Kygo suddenly felt like Avril could see through his skin, and shifted his gaze to the teapots around them, “I make different discoveries. I don’t think you can ever stop discovering yourself.”


“That’s cool,” Avril cast her eyes to the side too, “Maybe these past lives can help me discover who I am. One of them might even be mine.”


They turned back at the same time and shared a look, perceiving a mutual sense of truth. Kygo felt his sternum catching heat and instinctively desired to confess to Avril all of his thoughts and aspirations, his mundane routines, the secret kismet shrouded within the teashop’s herbal mists. But he reigned in the impulse and walked over to a shelf, content with kindling Avril’s mischievous grin.


“Only one way to find out.”


She drank from five different pots this time, and enthusiastically shared her experiences. A high-spirited ball player. A shy political activist. A quirky musician and their wild pet. She particularly enjoyed the memories of a pilot from a bent, steel teapot, raving so much about the adrenaline and focus Kygo remarked that it must be her favourite. At this Avril stopped, eyes swimming with amusement, surveying the teapots she’d just tried.


“I can’t pick just one. They’re all special, for different reasons.”


Kygo felt himself falter - he’d never considered that before. Avril launched into a spiel on the detriments of an identity confined to a singular memory and his hearth of a chest flared with a strange fever. He contemplated his favourite teapot against the others he’d tried, and discovered something among his inhibitions, something… audacious. Tea vapour softened the lines of their bodies as Kygo drew closer, until his fingers clasped the backs of Avril’s knuckles. She didn’t pull away, continuing to expound on multifaceted personalities though with pinker cheeks and significantly less gesturing of her left arm. Kygo would have stayed like this forever, dreaming his existence anew with open eyes.


But in time Avril had to depart for the city curfew. Dusk painted her reluctance as she halted at the door, promising to come back soon. Instead of tucking hair Kygo softly caressed her cheek and Avril didn’t flinch, leaning a little into his palm before leaving. He watched her go with a smile, knowing loneliness would strike later when the memories no longer burned as bright. But right now, he was full.


-


Kygo’s favourite teapot was dark turquoise with an irregular, handmade finish. He kept it beneath the counter, drinking the tea on days when his calm felt the pinch of consternation. Today was one of such. Relishing the gentle bite of black tea Kygo felt the heat branch through his throat and saw the world before his eyes begin to blur. He was familiar with the memories of this life, riding the wave of nostalgia into:


Wet soil. Crackling leaves. Tiny spotlights, a dark canopy. Cool skin, leading to a calloused palm. You’re making me trip! Loud, sparkling laughter. Bare feet rustling through weeds. Sharp chirping of a bird. Almost there! Crisp and firm. A break in the shadows, smell of salt. Waves. White sand. An azure tarpaulin melting into purple. Yay, it’s only just start to set! Slender limbs wrapped around torso. His. Hers. Eyes large, dark, and curious. Chest racing, light, warm.


When Kygo’s eyes refocused Avril was standing in the shop, admiring a green teapot. She shot him a quick glance, and he grasped that she’d been watching him for a while. A tickle of heat crept up the back of his neck as they greeted one another.


Avril’s hair was now a wavy shoulder length, brushing the top of a pressed Centre City lapel dress. She was poised and genial, her apologies for not returning sooner neither too distant nor too friendly, reticent hands crossed over steady arms. Kygo struggled to gauge her without seeming anxious. He made a joke about elephants having good memory, and a grin broke through her mask like sunshine cleaving storm clouds, sparkling laughter dissolving the stone in his throat.


Kygo offered Avril some tea as her eyes discerned the State Control stickers for confiscation. She accepted - requesting her old “favourite” - waiting for a break in conversation to mention them, which he appreciated. A proper lead up before broaching sensitive subjects was akin to soldiers putting on armour before a battle; adults were especially like children when it came to such things. Pleasantries fell into preferences, funny exchanges, significant memories and philosophical questions. Finally he recounted how State Control had come to assess the teashop after their last meeting. He had given acceptable answers, followed prescribed directions, and submitted faultless appeals for two years. However Kygo’s Tea Shop was inevitably declared derelict and dangerous for progressive mindsets, and set for eviction the following year. Avril’s return marked its last week in Centre City, and more than half the teapots were already packed in the back room.


While she was appropriately sympathetic as Kygo described the end of his family’s legacy, Avril’s eyes held a deeper animosity. But they couldn’t speak the words that would damn them to bureaucratic judgement, and nursed the silent spaces where teapots once filled. An austere prophecy of emptiness. A cold echo of relentless purification. The only consolation was from their hands, now linked without tentativeness. An unwavering assurance that something had blossomed without their control. Without anyone’s control.


After some time Avril took a sip from the bent, steel teapot, closing her eyes as Kygo explored their interlaced fingers and touching knees, brushing her bangs from her face. He was admiring the dip between her furrowing eyebrows when he suddenly imagined he had drunk a different kind of tea - one that showed the future instead of the past. The teapot sat between them, simmering on the table. Eventide from the windows outlined their figures in gold. Quiet embracing them like a closed jewellery box; cherished, secure. He could stay like this forever.


At this point Avril came round, eyes large, dark, and resolved.


“You need to go.”


“... Go?”


“Leave Centre City.”


“What?”


“Find a place without these rules. Continue the teashop. Your future. You can’t end here.”


“I- Where would I go?”


“Anywhere. Everywhere,” with the windows behind Avril seemed to light up in a hopeful glow. “You could go wherever you wanted and do anything- Be anything- Be everything, and still be yourself. Just don’t stay here. Don’t get stuck here.”


As she spoke Kygo was struck by how much Avril embodied the pilot’s fire. Like it had always been there, like she was finally remembering herself. And then he remembered himself. His parents. The teashop. Of course: he had not always been here in Centre City. His parents had not always been here. The teashop, and its kismet, had not always-


“You’re right.”


“Outside of Centre City, you can-”


“But I need to wait.”


“For what?”


“Someone. I need them to realise they’re waiting for me too.”


A delicate silence, a bubble mesmerising in its fragility. While Kygo had an enormous amount of faith, human brains could consider infinite possibilities. He waited as he had always waited, anxiety engulfed in stoicism, forcing lungs to breathe as Avril blinked, wary as the first time they met, and navigated her way between the lines and Kygo’s patient gaze.


“… What?”


“I’m not meant to stay here. And neither are you.”


“We… We’ve only met, what, three- two times before this-”


“I know. Come with me.”


“And we haven’t really talked-”


“We have talked about-”


“Yes, about… quite a lot of things, I guess, but still! Three days isn’t enough-”


“We’ll have more days-”


“I can’t just drop everything here and-”


“Yes, you can-”


“No, I can’t!”


“Why not?”


“Because… Because you don’t even know me!"


“Yes, I do.”


“No, you d-”


“I do!”


“Alright then, who am I?!”


“The one I’ve been waiting for.”


Avril scoffed in disbelief, standing up from the table but not letting go of Kygo’s hand. He stood as well and took the opportunity to uncage his heart, “I knew it was you from the moment you walked through those doors. Maybe even before that, the moment I met you. I knew even when I didn’t know. And I will happily spend the rest of my life discovering the reasons I knew. I- you, are what I need. The fire to my drive. My sun in an endless sky. You made me- make me want to change, be bigger and better and brighter. You helped me see-”


“You’re choosing a… travel partner, by chance-”


“I’m choose a life partner, but not by chance. Only certain people walk in here, remember? No one finds this shop unless they were meant to or been here before.”


“I’ve never been here before! Not before that time-”


“You have, just not in this life. I’ve always been waiting for you.”


“I… what are you talking about?? That’s just- How could you- Even if I were to agree, what would I even do if I came with you?!”


And Kygo saw then, the absurdity threatened Avril’s defences because it actually felt right: the sensation of truth, being properly seen, of gravity slowly - surely - finally - burgeoning inside a desolate core. Kygo knew this. He felt it.


“Anything. Everything.”


“But I’m nobody! I’m nothing! I can’t- you know how to infuse tea! And I-”


Avril suddenly broke off, staring around as if seeing the teapots - the past lives - for the first time. Living in a sanitised world meant dismissing any instinct out of place in white, organised lines, but the truth was she’d sensed it for some time now. She knew what the teapots meant. What all those lives were. Who all those lives were.


“I know how to fly.”


Kygo let out a gasp, and then laughter and relief spilled from his chest like whistling steam from a boiling kettle. Suddenly Avril could see her days of dreary routines, of predetermined social advancements, of rigid institutionalised norms, shattering into a siege of cranes taking flight, piercing across the sky. She looked down at the hand that held on to Kygo’s throughout her sceptic tirade, as if it had known something she hadn’t. Then she looked at him, eyes large, dark, and curious about the world. He smiled, wide and open as the sky.


“Where will we go?”


There was always change at the end of a long wait.


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