He returned to the booth, carrying a tray with two cups of tea and a piece of dark chocolate cake. Two forks.
“Do you come here often?” she asked, cradling the tea cup in her cold hands.
“Often enough. I put honey in your tea. You still use honey?”
She nodded. “You remembered. And you remembered I like chocolate cake.”
“It’s only been four months.” He looked around. “This place has been a coffee shop as far back as anyone can remember, but Keir over there” – he pointed to the barista – “Keir will fix tea if you ask. And properly, with leaves in the tea ball.” He smiled. “This was the place my parents came when they were at university here.”
“Really?” she said. “Here?”
“This very table. I come here to study and write sometimes. Sometimes I sit and imagine the conversation they had with their friends, like Dad bringing Mom and her brother home for Christmas, and planning the end-of-term fling with The Mikado. I even have copies of a few of the pictures taken right here.” He grinned. “And I’ve worked out more problems that you might imagine with the Viking invasions of the 8th and 9th centuries right here with a pot of tea.”
“Your PhD defense today was brilliant,” she said. “I wouldn’t have had the nerve. That array of establishment dons and an audience of – what, 200 or more, including the press? And you’re there with your thesis to turn the establishment upside down?”
“I was petrified,” he said.
She laughed. “Then you fooled all of us. You looked calm and collected. And well prepared. You took every barb and challenge and turned it back on them so adroitly they almost thanked you for it. Tommy, you were upending three gigantic academia egos, not to mention what they had built their careers upon, and you did it brilliantly. You were absolutely brilliant.”
“The team was brilliant, Rikki.”
She sipped her tea. “The team was brilliant because our leader was brilliant. Spending three months on a remote island like Oran north of Scotland could have ended in acrimony and something out of an Agatha Christie story. And instead, we proved your theory and came away feeling we each had accomplished something incredibly wonderful. And we had. We changed the understanding of the pre-Norman history of Britain.” Her voice softened. “And our team leader inspired each of us. Don’t denigrate that.”
He smiled. “I had inspiration of my own.”
She forked a piece of the cake to cover the sudden silence.
“I hurt you,” she said. “And don’t argue. I know I hurt you. And it killed me.”
“Why did you come today?”
“Well, I received my invitation, like the rest of the team. And I wanted to see the end result of all that work we did.” She looked down. “And I wanted to see you. I wanted to see how you were. And if you looked the same and sounded the same. I wanted to hear your voice.”
He reached across the table and touched her hand, still holding the fork. “So do I look the same?”
|Rikki and Tommy on the island of Oran|
She nodded. “You still have the beard.”
She smiled back at him. “Although one thing’s different. I’ve never seen you in a suit and tie before. You look like an adult.”
“I’m feeling a lot like a little boy right now.”
She glanced at the big clock on the wall. “I have to catch my train for Cambridge,” she said. “I have a mid-term oral tomorrow on Beowulf.”
“I’ll walk you to the station.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“Yes, I do.”
He paid for their cake and tea, and they walked into the late Edinburgh afternoon already darkening into night. She took his arm.
“Can I see you?” he asked.
“This weekend? I'll take the train Friday.”
“Don’t you have plans? Didn’t I hear something about you going to London?”
“I don’t have to be there until Sunday night. I’ll come down Friday.”
She leaned closer to him. “I’m glad. I want to see you.”
“This time,” he said, “I’ll let you buy the tea and cake.”
She laughed. “Done.”
Darlene at Simply Darlene has a flash fiction prompt – a 750-word story (or poem) based on that photograph of a cup and cake. Visit her site to see what stories others have written.