David let them into the house. The living room still held Marilyn’s eclectic collection of furniture: the cushion-laden couch, oversize coffee table, mismatched, comfortable chairs.
It felt different, though. Less messy. Less cluttered. A bit sterile, even. Franny noticed with a cold stab of sorrow that most of the art had been stripped from the walls. A peek in the kitchen revealed a cleanliness that only occurs when stoves are not being used to do any actual cooking.
David waved her in, giving Franny his tacit permission to begin making the warm drinks. She wiped dust from the tea kettle, filled it, and set it on a too-clean burner to heat. She opened the drawer where Marilyn had kept a seemingly infinite assortment of tea sachets, tins, and packets of powdered hot chocolate.
A box half-full of Lipton tea bags rattled in the now nearly-empty drawer. Franny corralled a tin of bulk peppermint tea that had slid behind the Lipton. That could do, she thought, opening the tin and taking a whiff. The mint still held a touch of sweet, bracing scent. Franny looked for tea strainers in vain, so she grabbed a bag of coffee filters.
Scooping heaping spoonfuls of peppermint leaves into a paper filter, Franny inhaled again. Perhaps the tea tin held a bit of Marilyn’s spirit, too.
A high cupboard held a the pot. Franny rinsed it, and settled the paper coffee filter inside, twisted tightly to hold in the tea leaves. She gently poured the now-hot water into the pot.
Now, to scrounge enough cups for everyone. Kassandra, Allison, Leo, Douglas, David, me. Franny found and lined up four ceramic mugs, two hefty jelly-jar glasses, and one delicate china cup on the counter.
“Who is the china for?” Allison had come in. Her elfin features puckered with gentle concern. Franny remembered helping the young woman pick her own lock, when she’d lived in the apartment next door, and had locked herself out. Again. Allison had matured into herself a great deal since then, but her youthful appearance could still shock Franny into feeling each and every one of her own years.
“One for each of us,” Franny answered, scrutinizing her line up. “Do you want the china cup?”
“You have seven. There are only six of us.” Allison pointed to the seven containers.
Sometimes, the spirits of those we have lost just up and get a cup for themselves, so they can join the storytelling circle.