“Tea?” she inquired as she turned off the stove, the kettle screaming furiously in the background.
The offensive noise dwindled as Tracie pulled the lid off the boiling water.
Kayley sat silently in a mosaic-backed chair pulled up close to the small cafe table. When Tracie glanced over, Kayley gave her a knowing nod. She never said “no” to tea.
Tracie bumped through the tiny kitchen area in her studio, pulling a cherry red pot out of the over-sink cabinet. She selected a box of chamomile, stuffing two tea bags into the container. Chamomile was called for in emotionally charged situations like this one.
She gently poured the angry liquid over the bags, filling the pot up to the spout but not beyond. It was a precise science, getting the pot full enough for two cups but not so full that the burning substance ran down the front when pouring.
Tracie placed the lid on the pot and moved carefully toward the table. She squeezed past the corner cabinet with the sharp countertop edge, and stuffed herself into the other chair in the set, directly across from Kayley.
“Oh, I forgot the cups!” she cried, just after getting settled. She jumped up, almost bringing the table with her, jostling the teapot and spilling some of the contents in her haste. Her side bumped that pesky corner and she knew there would be bruises later.
“Crap!” she mourned, as she bounded toward the cup rack for two large blue stoneware mugs, chipped and fissured with use.
“It’s alright,” Kayley reassured her, a hint of a smile finally breaking the corners of her pursed lips. Perhaps the news was grim, but Tracie was still her strong-hearted, bumbling self, and somehow that realization made Kayley feel more normal than she had since she’d gotten the diagnosis.
“Okay,” Tracie said, sitting down once more, and scrubbing up the puddle with a sponge quickly snatched from the back of the sink on her way back. Kayley could tell she was still exasperated with herself. “Do you want any honey this time? Or....”
“No, thanks,” Kayley lied, so that Tracie would not feel the need to get up again. Really, she just wanted to move on and be able to talk about the illness, and the future that would be perpetually marred with it. The feelings, the fears, the nagging doubts, the hopes. But the words did not really want to come.
“At least it’s not terminal,” Kayley began, timidly.
Tracie’s face fell for a moment but she quickly erased the pain showing in her features. She would not hide her concern, though. Her friend must know she was fully aware and able to deal with the tension. This needed to be all about Kayley right now.
A long silence followed. Tracie poured out, and passed the full cup of chamomile to her friend, keeping the half-empty one for herself.
“Well, that’s good, right?” she finally questioned, prompting the conversation.
“I s’pose,” Kayley sighed. “I mean yeah, it’s treatable, but it’s still gonna be hell. There’s no getting around it...” her voice faded as she buried her face in her tea. Too hot! She pulled away quickly from the steam.
“I always burn my tongue!” she laughed.
Tracie giggled along with her and wondered if she needed to change the subject. Or say something hopeful. “What would I say?” she thought to herself, not wanting to say the wrong thing, knowing what shaky ground they tread.
Kayley settled it for her.
“I just wish... I wish... things could be like they were before. I wish we were kids again. Baking cookies, talking fake babytalk, and fighting over who that boy liked better,” Kayley lamented.
“We still do that stuff,” Tracie added wryly.
Kayley spit her tea. “OMG, I know, right!”
Tracie got up swiftly yet a bit more carefully this time. She snatched some paper towels off the roll and thrust them quickly into Kayley’s outstretched hands. It was too late for the blouse, anyway.
Kayley rolled her eyes and muttered. “Clumsy as ever... Um, can I borrow a T-shirt?”
Tracie nodded and made her way over to the opposite corner of the studio to a little dresser with overstuffed drawers, the edges of fabric peeking out in certain spots.
Tracie rummaged through a couple of drawers, frantically, as though her life depended on a rapid discovery. She was always a little bit breathless by nature.
She produced a wrinkled specimen and Kayley whipped into the miniscule bathroom for a quick change.
Kayley emerged 30 seconds later, laughing at Tracie’s taste in choice apparel. The crude message she now sported on her chest read: “Sh*t Happens.”
“It’s true, y’know,” she explained, gesturing at the words. “Yesterday I was just a normal 23 year old and today, I’m a 23 year old with a chronic disease.” Her voice trembled as she owned aloud the crazy truth about herself.
Tracie rushed over to give her best friend a tight hug. The hot tears were stinging in both of their eyes. A couple of salty drops spilled over, and yet it felt better to restrain the whole torrent. They both knew each other well enough to be comfortable crying with one another, or not at all. Or any stage in between.
A few sniffles later, they returned to the table to finish the no longer scalding chamomile. It was better, this time, to just be quiet in the moment, tracing the pattern on the table with idle fingers, and processing their overcrowded thoughts. Teatime was their unspoken heart-to-heart. The sipping and the silence; acceptance mingled with the flavor of a fighting spirit. Time stood still and hope filled its void.
They, yes they, would get Kayley through this. One day, one pot of tea at a time. For as long as it would take.
Their eyes met and swore it to be true. Their friendship was the key to survival.