The Lady Grey


Stella inhaled the fragrant steam from a cup of Lady Grey tea as she stared out the window of her apartment over the tea shop. She was a bad sleeper and an early riser by nature. The dawn was breaking slowly over Corran shifting from a deep red hue to a hint of orange blossom tracing the clouds as the periwinkle sky became their picturesque backdrop. She could see a corner and an edge of Maxine’s house from her window. It was still strangely comforting even though her friend was no longer there. The noise of traffic drew her gaze to the street and with a puzzled frown she observed a small white Subaru followed by a moving truck. It was barely past 6am for Pete’s sakes. The vehicles pulled around to the front of Maxine’s house and Stella felt her torso sink into itself. She gulped her tea down as a red sedan rolled by and then joined the other two vehicles. That car she was pretty sure she recognized. With a sigh she set her cup down and headed for the door, stepping into an easy pair of flats and pulling on a light shawl that hung partway down the thighs of her black jeans. Stella needed to know more. She trotted down the stairs and walked the long way around to observe from afar.

Stella walked past the Fortune Cookie Buffet restaurant and cut through the tree line and wove her path behind Alvin and Wanda MacLean's. The MacLean's were Maxine’s neighbours and very kind people. They were also likely still asleep. From beside their house at the back she could confirm the red sedan was Ben Cooper’s Mercedes. Ben was a realtor, one of the few in the area, but he drove in from Owen Sound. The Subaru was parked behind his car and in the space between Ben and a woman Stella didn’t recognize were deep in what looked like a professional conversation. It seemed an odd time and place to do business but she supposed that was the life of real estate. There hadn’t even been a for sale sign though so this all felt very abrupt to Stella. Maxine hadn’t wished for a service of any kind so maybe this was another form of closure, of letting her dear friend go. Stella felt a lump in her throat and decided to head home.

She almost didn’t notice the black SUV pulled just off the road until the driver turned his head to look her way, almost scaring the life out of her with unexpected movement. She gave a little jump and a gasp and then caught her breath back and gave him a hard stare back. He was a thickly built man with dark close cut hair wearing a suit. There seemed to be a female passenger beside him with long dark hair, directly facing her own window and listening to someone on a phone. It was dark inside the vehicle.The windows were tinted in the front but not completely. The back windows seemed much more tinted, almost completely blacked out. The man actually grinned at Stella’s reaction to him and gave a little chuckle. Asshole.

Stella tromped off in irritation. As she rounded the corner, she suddenly looked back at the black SUV suspiciously. It was still just past 6am. What were they doing there? Who the hell were they? A shiver ran through her and she quickened her pace. When she got safely back inside her apartment she found herself pacing and running it through her mind obsessively. Stella stopped in front of an old photograph on an antique desk near her window. It was of a woman and a young girl and it looked to be the late 1970s or early 1980s from the surroundings and their clothes. They were smiling but there was no joy reflected in their eyes. The pair seemed to be clinging to each other, not from affection, but from a sort of desperation. She ran a finger along the edge of the frame “I’m probably just being paranoid Mama…too much like you some days. Maybe they’re just the buyers of Maxine’s house. Just a bit weird is all...”

Stella felt like she blinked from the early morning to serving customers at the tea shop open. There were the regular locals, some commuters passing by, a few tourists looking for directions and then a woman who looked like none of the above. She was dark haired and beautiful and looked to be of East Indian descent, maybe West Indian. Stella wasn’t sure. But she carried herself with absolute confidence and wore gorgeous clothes. She approached the counter with a smile as she surveyed the menu “This is the perfect tea shop. Is it yours?” Her accent was as Canadian as could be and definitely from this part of Ontario. Her perfume wafted lightly across the space between them; jasmine and rose but delightful, not overpowering.

Stella enjoyed the compliment “Yes, and thank you. What would you like?”

“Just a simple cup of Lady Grey with an extra squeeze of lemon.”

Stella mused as she began to make it “Funny, that’s my favourite too. The Lady Grey in the County of Grey right?”

“Oh, that’s clever! The Earl has nothing on the Lady I find. He’s a pale horse without that hint of citrus.”

There were a few customers in between while the tea steeped, mostly coffee or pre-prepared items.

Stella laughed and agreed “It does make all the difference.” She set the cup and saucer on the counter and took the woman’s payment. It was cash and exact like she had calculated the tax in her head and gotten ready while the tea was made.

The woman took the saucer in her hand and kept chatting “You must get a lot of tourists in here?”

Stella nodded “It varies. Most are just passing through. We don’t have a lot of attractions in the showy sense, but it’s a quiet sweet place to visit.”

The woman looked thoughtful “Just what I’m looking for. Thank you so much.”


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