1st Place Category 3
That Extra Cup of Tea
Winner Category 3 (Ages 12 to 14)
Sebastian twirled the thin, green stem of a white lily around his firm, strong fingers. The mellow sunlight painted its petals with a soft, yellow tint. He whiffed its faint, sweet fragrance and his lips touched its lightly wrinkled yet soft skin. And then with a sudden jerk, his fingers mercilessly crushed the frail flower which they tenderly held.
“Why do you do it?” asked a voice from behind.
Sebastian nodded his head, beckoning the intruder of his quiet haven.
She slumped behind him, leaning her head against his broad back. “Brother?” She questioned.
Silence answered her.
Sebastian kept rolling the shreds of the flower in his palms, ignoring the presence of a second being.
Her hazel eyes glimmered with sorrow, her lips quivered, quietly. Her trembling fingers traced the hem of her white croquet skirt. She asked again, “Brother?”
“Lily,” his deep voice answered as his hands reached for the top of her head and surfed along the waves of her hair, “No matter how many times you ask, the answer will be the same.”
He gently entwined her brown locks around his fingers and closed his eyes. His fingers reached up again, searching for the familiar curve of her jaw and when he found it, tears were dripping down from it.
“Why do you cry?” his pained voice asked.
He turned his beloved sister’s face around and cupped it in his palms. She squeezed her eyes, but her tears escaped the clutches of her lashes. Sebastian gently wiped her tears, running his fingers along her soft cheeks. He traced her tear streaks, trying to erase them from her pale skin. Lily turned her face around. Sebastian gave a gentle squeeze on the back of her hand and slowly enveloped hers in his. Lily looked at her brother while tears continued to fall.
“Why do you have to be the one to be ridden with this illness?” she whimpered.
If it would have been you, then how would I have lived?” he answered squeezing her frail fingers.
“Then what about me?” she asked, accusingly.
Sebastian’s hands numbed, all his power left him. He fell silent. He looked at her hands and slowly loosened his grip, before withdrawing them. He didn’t answer.
“Answer me Brother!” Lily asked, broken yet infuriated, “Tell me.” She broke into sobs.
Sebastian’s fingers twitched to wipe her tears, like he had since their childhood. But he remained silent and kept sitting there, torturing himself with the sight of his Lily crying.
“I have to go.” he finally said, standing up, “Don’t be so disheartened. I might get cured.” But he himself thought otherwise.
Lily looked at his face, blurred with tears and sunlight. She tried to smile, “I’ll keep the tea ready. You’ll come soon, right?”
Sebastian nodded his head before turning around and walking away.
Lily was too stunned to say anything. Her hands and feet numbed, incapable of movement. Her voice seemed to have gotten lost, somewhere amidst her vocal chords. She sat silently, watching Sebastian’s silhouette disappearing in front of her eyes. Her reason for existence, disappearing.
The only thing that could and did keep her alive was the assurance her brother had given her-
He would come.
Ninety days later-
The house seemed empty without the presence of her brother. Lily removed the kettle from the stove and poured its contents into a cup. But still another cup of tea was left. She had a habit of making it for two people, for she had been doing it almost every day in her life since the past eight years.
She glanced at an extra cup, resting placidly over the kitchen counter. She filled it with the tea as she couldn’t control her urge to do it. She kept the empty kettle in the sink and turned the tap on.
Just then, the door bell rang.
“Brother?” Lily perked up. She closed the tap and hurried to get the door.
Passing by the hallway, she instinctively glanced at the big portrait of her brother and smiled. Somewhere deep in her heart, she knew it would be him. Since that day he left, everytime the bell would ring, Lily thought that it would be her brother. But her aspirations had not come true yet.
She quickly opened the door without sparing a second, but only disappointment met her.
“Yes?” Lily asked.
“Ma’am, there’s a letter for you.” the man replied, handing over a letter.
“Where do I have to sign?” Lily asked.
“Here” the man fingered at the bottom of the page of the notebook he was holding. Lily signed it and the man left hurriedly, pedaling his bicycle.
Lily shut the door and checked the sender’s name.
“Sebastian?” she muttered under her breath, joy evident in her voice. She quickly tore the envelope and took out the letter enclosed in it. She quickly read it, skipping words and sentences. She couldn’t grasp what was written in it. She read it again, this time carefully. She paused at every word and tried to decipher its meaning. Her hands trembled with every passing sentence and when she reached the last line, tears rolled out.
The last paragraph read-
… As I’ve told you earlier, my body is ridden with an unidentifiable illness. The doctors couldn’t find its cure. I regret coming to the hospital. These last months of my life were wasted. If I had stayed back, then maybe I could’ve died peacefully, surrounded by your love. But now I have to die with your crying face as my last memory.
By the time you read this, I’ll be long gone.
Your Beloved Brother,
Lily went to his portrait, which framed his smiling face. But suddenly, it wasn’t smiling anymore.
“Who will drink your cup of tea?” she said accusingly as tears kept rolling.
This is the first time I’ve ever won a short story competition as gigantic as this. This was truly an international competition and honestly, I felt that I wouldn’t win even the sixth position, let alone the 1st Position. Winning this competition has given me the confidence to continue my writing and has fueled my passion for writing. I’m really thankful to Laura Thomas and her associates for organizing this competition for many aspiring young writers like me. Thanks and thanks again. – Harsha Pattnaik, India, Age 13