She looked up in time to see the merchant take away the cup of tea she had saved up for. “What do you-?”
His stern expression didn’t change as he set down a tray complete with tea pot, matching cup and a small plate of sweets. “Better brew for you,” he said.
The svelte man dumped the contents down the sink, removed his apron, and returned with a teapot/cup set of his own. “You don’t sleep, even when you sleep,” he began. “How do you expect to study when you are busy fighting yourself?”
“I already heard this lecture from my professor,” she said, fingernails tracing the elegant pattern on the pot. “No disrespect, but you’re not my father, so-.”
“You take good care of him. He tries to care for you, too. But you won’t do either of you any favors if you end up in hospital.” He pushed the cup towards her. “My own decoction – peach, ginger and mint. Better than that bagged crap you buy.”
She shook her head, tempted to argue the point, but reached for one of the sweets instead.
“Cat paws,” he said smiling. She saw a row of perfect teeth, not a stain, chip, crown or denture present.
He grunted. “If the cat had thumbs,and I know mine does, don’t you agree he would be a wonderful confectioner? Knocked over a bag of wheat germ into the brown sugar mix. Trusted me with the rest of his secrets, too.”
She gave him a wry smile. “I don’t have enough money to pay you, for any of this.”
He slammed his hand on the table, startling her. “You aren’t to pay me back! You are to relax. You are too old for someone so young. Your father, he knows how to do dishes?”
She sipped the tea slowly, the steam warming her as the blend had a calming effect on her. Oh how her father could benefit from this, she thought. She nodded.
“Good. Tea for you, job for him, company for me. We are set! Tonight, we celebrate. Dinner, here when you find him.” She opened her mouth only for him to put a finger to her lips. “Sometimes, some of us see secrets and know when they can become nooses.”
She leaned away from him, torn between rage and ranting, between sleep and studying.
He pushed himself up from the table, went to the bakery display case, and filled a bag with a half dozen hand-pies. “In case you decide to say ‘no,'” he said, giving her that along with a burlap bag filled with a tea set for two and a canister of homemade tea.