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Subtle Tea was one of Charlotte’s favorite places in the city for people watching. The small shop and café catered to all sorts from the eccentric artist to the occasional celebrity, the college kids from the nearby campus, the rogue Starbucks employee that knew what real tea should taste like. They all fascinated her and the tea really was worth the trek across town.

Thursday afternoon found here there, nestled into her favorite spot between the front door and the street side window. Charlotte still wore her knit cap and a pair of fingerless gloves, but her coat was draped over the back of her chair. In front of her was a binder filled with the poems she had printed from her last internet query, each page in the process of being turned into a mini-work of art as she adorned then with colorful inks, beads, feathers…little notions and flights of fancy that made her smile. There was also a small rolled scroll of handmade paper tied with a combination of ribbon and raffia—a gift for her new friend.

The friend she was patiently waiting for and she was willing to bet she’d recognize him even though this would be the first time they’d come face to face. He had that sort of tangible exuberance about him that Charlotte was sure she’d feel as soon as he came through the door.

She hoped.

Date: 2009-01-15 11:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] vavarner.livejournal.com
Valentine hated the New York winter so very much. Any time he set foot out the door, it was bundled up in his Christmas-Road-Trip-Coat - a parka-like affair with a big furry collar. The hood was drawn tightly, and a long black scarf draped all over his face, covering his nose and mouth. He wore a pair of insulated gloves, but he kept his hands in his pockets for added warmth until he reached the door of the tea shop. Cold was definitely not his element.

He hurried in the door, grateful that they didn't seem to skimp on the heat here - warmth, blessed warmth. He divested himself of scarf and gloves, then stuffed them into his pockets and glanced around the room. Over there- the girl with the binder and the cute knit hat. That had to be her. Val grinned, and started bounding over that way - getting about three quarters of the way there when he remembered their conversation the other day about stalkers.

He paused there, a short distance away, and stared 'menacingly' - though it was obvious he was trying not to crack a smile, wiggling his fingers to show he had the evil mojo going on.

... about ten seconds after he did that, it occurred to him if he had the wrong girl, this would be really embarrassing, and he started to blush, dropping his hands back down to his sides. "Um, hey, Charlotte?"

Date: 2009-01-15 11:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] makerofhats.livejournal.com
She spotted him the moment he came through the door. It had been hard not to laugh, as it was, Charlotte held one hand over her mouth to stifle any giggle that might escape. He looked ready for an Arctic expedition. New York was cold this time of year but not that cold. At least not to someone who was acclimated to the weather.

Oh, he was going to mock-stalk her! She dropped her gaze to the table top to appear oblivious to the thin Eskimo staring at her. This was going to be fun, she could just tell.

Charlotte didn't bother to hide her smile as he spoke her name. "Hmm? Do I know you? Are you my knight in shining artificial fiber come to sweep me off my feet?"

She gave a small laugh and stood up, holding her hands out to him in greeting. "Hi, Val." She looked him over, squinting a bit and looking suspicious, "There is a Val underneath all of that, isn't there?"

Date: 2009-01-15 11:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] vavarner.livejournal.com
Valentine laughed. "Heyyy, don't mock the Christmas-Road-Trip-Coat," he said, then took her hands and shook them both. "I'm in here, I promise! Not really a stalker - or am I? Dum dum-- oh, you know, it is me. Hah."

He untied his hood, and unzipped his jacket, then tossed it casually over the back of the chair. He ran a hand through his blonde hair to fluff where the hood had flattened, though as usual bringing any sort of order to it was a pretty lost cause.

"I hope I didn't keep you waiting too long - I'm not late, am I? My uncle grilled me for like half an hour as I was heading out the door, wanting to know what time I'd be back and who I was going to meet and so forth."

He grinned as he settled in to his seat. "I told him you were my stalker - so if a tall German guy comes in here looking to rescue me from perceived peril, that's why."
Edited Date: 2009-01-15 11:33 pm (UTC)

Date: 2009-01-15 11:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] makerofhats.livejournal.com
"I'll do my best to seem like a real threat." She laughed as she took her hands from his, the idea that a wisp of a girl could pose any sort of danger making her giddy. She'd love to be seen as a threat, just once for the thrill of it all.

"Christmas-Road-Trip-Coat?" Charlotte gave the parka a new look, one full of respect. "I approve of apparel with titles. Can you tell me about this Christmas trip or is it somehow taboo to speak of it?" She lowered her voice dramatically as she asked the question, not quite as serious about her inquiry as one might think.

His concerns about being late, she shrugged off. Charlotte never wore a watch and didn't concern herself with things like schedules. This might seem odd considering her belief that time was at a premium in her case, but she refused to be weighed down by compulsively watching the minutes pass her by instead of experiencing them. "Tea. What do you drink? Are you a pot man or by the cup?"

Date: 2009-01-16 12:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] vavarner.livejournal.com
"Old fashioned chamomile's my favorite - pot's good for settling in a while," Valentine said, answering that question first, then smiling and leaning forward to launch into the story of the coat.

"Well now, to explain the coat I have to explain a little about the trip," he began. "I needed to go to California to save my record collection - they were foreclosing on my mother's house in Silverlake, and all my LPs were there. So I was to take a flight down - and my Mister Ellis accompanied me. Now we hadn't been seeing each other very long, and this was the first bit of serious alone-time we spent together, mind..."

He was oversimplifying a lot - but it was the flavor of the story that counted more than the details he wasn't yet comfortable sharing. "We had a glorious trip though- went to a drum circle in Venice Beach and everything. And oh, how we danced - that was our very first dance, and what a dance it was. Though I digress. The point is we only had a couple of days to complete our business in LA then fly back before Christmas. I'd promised my Uncle Hans and Uncle Met I'd be back for Christmas. We flew back as far as Denver - then our plane got grounded. I was so upset- all stuck in the airport, and us only having two days before Christmas at that point. Didn't look like the weather was going to let up any..."

He shook his head as if to indicate how sad and shameful their state of affairs was at that time. "So Ellis, he says to me 'Daddio, you sit tight and I'll be right on back' - he calls me that, among other sweet-names - and off he goes through the airport to where-I-know-not. But when he came back - he was carrying this coat, and telling me get on to my feet, put it on, because he was going to get us home for Christmas. So what could I do but bundle up in it and trust that he'd get us on home? It was a hell of a trip getting there - lord was it, two days of all sorts of misadventure - but you know what? We made it - Christmas morning too, short after sunrise. And that's why this is the Christmas-Road-Trip-Coat."

He reached back to pat the sleeve of his coat fondly.

Date: 2009-01-16 01:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] makerofhats.livejournal.com
Charlotte settled back in her chair to listen to his story, nodding and making sympathetic noises in the appropriate places. She leaned forward at one point, elbow on table and chin in hand, fixing her dark eyes on his. Simply put, she was fascinated both with his story and the way he chose to tell it. His vocabulary, 'daddio' and 'mind', it was so dated and at odds with the young, hip image he presented but Val somehow made it retro and exciting. Fun.

She clapped her hands as he finished, childish maybe, with the way she squealed at him (and the way her feet swung back and forth under the table) but Charlotte believed in enjoying things to the fullest. Always. "That...is one amazing Christmas adventure. I've never been to California, in a drum circle, snowed in in Denver or had a coat with a formal title. I'm impressed."

Charlotte handed him the roll of paper she'd brought with her, neatly tied. It was a hand-written copy of the poem he'd posted. She'd taken the time to block print the words in black ink, some in red for emphasis, and at times the inking was more heavy handed than others. She hoped she highlighted the same key words as he imagined being the most important, and even if she hadn't, they were the ones that stood out to her personally. The poem was now part her, part him and part original author, three sets of meanings all hopelessly entwined. "This is for you."

She offered it quietly, with a shy smile and then got up to go order their tea. Sometimes she liked to watch people open her gifts, other times she thought it better to let them do it in privacy. Val seemed like the private contemplative sort to her.

Date: 2009-01-16 01:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] vavarner.livejournal.com
"For me?" Valentine asked, taking the paper carefully. His eyes lit up with excitement that she'd given him a gift - but he didn't know what to say in beyond that. He took a deep breath when she got up to head for the counter - relieved that he didn't have to think of anything.

He untied the roll of paper, and opened up the scroll. He stared at it for a long time, then slowly reached out and ran his finger along the words, entranced by what she'd chosen to highlight. In some cases, they were words he would have chosen himself- but in other instances they differed. He kinda liked that, another insight, another interpretation. She'd even inked heavier in some places, and lighter in others.

He swallowed hard against a sudden lump in his throat, then carefully re-rolled the paper so he could tie it up again. Later, at home, in the privacy and semi-darkness of his room, he might unroll it again. But for now, it was almost too much to look at and think about. He tucked it carefully into the pocket of his Christmas-Road-Trip-Coat, and reached into another pocket for a handkerchief to dab at his eyes before she returned. Just the cold, he told himself. The cold making his eyes wet.

Date: 2009-01-16 04:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] makerofhats.livejournal.com
Charlotte would have taken it as a sign that the gift was well received had she witnessed Val's reaction. As it was, the petite woman sated her curiosity with a glance or two towards their table as she waited for their order. Smiling, she paid for the tea and various accouterments, thanked the barrista and carefully balanced a tray loaded with cups, saucers, a pot and an assortment of cookies.

"Could you imagine me doing this on roller skates?" She asked Val with a peel of laughter as she made her way to their table, tray wobbling in her grasp as she tried to keep it level and steady. "I've always thought they must have been the most amazing waitresses. Not only taking orders, risking being run over by motorists and carrying hot, so bad for you food, but to do it on wheels? I bet the pay was lousy though, huh?"

Conversations with Charlotte rarely followed any logical pattern. "I didn't know what kind of cookies you liked so I asked for a bunch of pretty ones."

Date: 2009-01-16 03:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] vavarner.livejournal.com
Valentine looked up from his thoughts and got quickly to his feet. "Careful, here - let me give you a hand."

He reached to take some things off the tray and place them on the table,laughing too at the thought of roller skating while doing something like this. "Oh yeah, you know these days they'd turn it into a sport -maybe with X-Treme in front of it. X-Treme Waitressing! On roller skates! It's hardcore..."

When the tea and cookies and such were settled on their table, he smiled at her before retaking his seat. "It's real nice of you treat- the broke college student in me really appreciates it. Next time's on me though, okay?"

This implied, of course, that there would be a next time - which he hoped would come true. He reached for a cookie, snagging one with a bunch of sprinkles on top.

Date: 2009-01-16 10:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] makerofhats.livejournal.com
"You're welcome. I chose this place because I like it--pretty rude without considering your budget." She took a cookie for herself, another icing and sugar sprinkled concoction that Charlotte took the time to divest of each layer of decoration before nibbling at the plain shortbread underneath. "You know, I'm not sure if waiting for tea to steep is the best part or the worst about drinking it. Waiting is so...it builds the anticipation and it mocks you. Can't have it yet."

She jabbed a finger at the pot as if it offended her somehow. "But if you pour too soon, the tea isn't any good so you really should wait if you want good tea. And who goes out to order sub par tea? I don't."

Now the sprinkles were her focus and she licked one fingertip, pressing them into the candy, letting them stick until she decided to eat the sweet substance. "Have you ever wondered what it would be like to end up in a sugar coma?"

Date: 2009-01-18 02:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] vavarner.livejournal.com
"Sticky. And kind of dazed, and maybe drooling..."

Valentine contemplated while nibbling his cookie. He liked how she jumped through random topics of conversation- he sometimes did that himself, and not many people liked that sort of thing. It was refreshing to see he wasn't the only one.

He eyed the teapot, wanting some tea to dip the cookie in, but not sure if it was done yet. "How can you tell when it's ready, anyhow? Doesn't whistle for you or anything.."

Date: 2009-01-19 06:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] makerofhats.livejournal.com
"I think," She lifted the lid and peeked at the dark liquid inside, "that you actually have to be British to know for sure."

Shrugging, Charlotte poured one cup and then another, one for each of them. Giving him a smile she offered in her best faux-Cockney, "By jove! I think we've got it."

Date: 2009-01-19 03:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] vavarner.livejournal.com
"Pip pip cheerio and all that rot," Valentine replied in his best upper-crust British accent. He held his cup of tea with pinky crooked up, affecting a disdainful expression and trying not to just crack up laughing instead. It was a bit of a struggle.

"I say, you can't get a good cuppa this side of the pond. Americans - beastly lot. Haven't had a decent bit of tea since they dunked it in the harbor, shortly before their distasteful 'rebellion'. Well, bottoms up with the bathwater, then..."

He took a sip of the tea, and then smiled, his normal accent and expression returning in the process. "Mmm.... it's good!"

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