SHORT STORY WINNER | Tea...with a Side of Mystery


The evergreen trees were shimmering, the crisp ivory keys were creating a serene tune, the scent of peppermint was wafting in the air, and the bright carolers were swiftly strolling throughout the tearoom. It was Christmastime at the marvelous Drake Hotel. As usual, the Palm Court Tearoom was bursting at the seams with guests from all over the country trying to get their Christmas fix. Today was an incredibly busy day. I spent it hosting about 200 different people all happily enjoying the season. Most of the guests looked as I expected them to – adorned in their Christmas best with big smiles covering their faces. Over tea, many chatted about their upcoming holiday plans, the gifts they were buying for loved ones, and a few even took this afternoon to spread a little gossip to their fellow tea-mates. This did not surprise me though. I have been hosting for a long time and quite frankly, I thought I had seen and heard it all. That was until this afternoon, of course.

I was hosting a spry group from the city, six ladies in all. Their conversation started out jovial. They were having fun telling stories about their families and travels and playfully joking with each other. It was not until after they had indulged in a few glasses of sparkling wine that the conversation turned from light hearted and silly to something more intense. After a long pause, one of the women announced that she had something to tell the group. It was clear in her face that whatever she was about to say was not an easy proclamation.

With great hesitation but clear resolve in her voice, she declared, “I cannot afford to host our Christmas party this year. I cannot buy anyone any gifts either. If I am being completely honest, I am not even sure I have the money to pay the electric bill to light the Christmas tree.”

Wow. Now that was a new one to hear over Christmas tea. After a long and drawn out silence, one of the women finally spoke.

In a loud and thunderous voice, she boomed, “WHAT!” The rest of the group began to roar with questions and to my shock, judgements. The confessor was bombarded with retorts such as, “How could you let this happen?” and “What does this mean for our Christmas now?” The woman completely broke down into tears. These “friends” of hers seemed to be completely void of all scruples.

At the sight of her tears though, her group relented, apologized for their wicked behavior, and softly asked for more details. As the crying woman began to relieve her burden, I noticed something strange happening nearby. Just a few feet away from the ladies, there was a somewhat ominous looking gentlemen dining alone. At the sound of my guest’s tears, the gentleman became restless in his seat, squirming like he was sitting atop of simmering hot coals. He was carefully moving his chair closer to the gaggle of ladies. He was unequivocally and unapologetically listening in.

Just as the crying woman finished telling her group about the difficulties she was facing now that her husband lost his job, the tall and ominous man leapt up from his seat and strode slowly behind the ladies. The crying woman met his gaze and her mouth gently fell open. Before she could speak, he reached for her handbag hanging gently on the back of her chair. Within an instant, the woman’s group began to yell, “Thief!” One of the more brazen women of the group got up to chase the man. The entire tearoom was gawking in shock at the gentleman reaching for the handbag.

Before the brazen woman could catch him, the gentleman scooped up the handbag and dashed out of the tearoom.

All servers and guests were in an utter uproar. Plates and utensils were falling to the ground, people were clinging to each other in horror, and gasps were filling the suddenly thick and tense air. No one moved faster, though, than the woman who had been crying. In a flash, she cascaded out of the tearoom into the lobby. As she exited, she turned back and boldly commanded that no one follow her. The room stood frozen, all eyes on the exit, waiting feverishly for the finale of the drama unfolding in front of their very eyes.

After a few moments time, the crying woman emerged from the lobby and into the tearoom looking breathless but composed, and gripping her handbag. As she joined her group, they embraced her tightly. Soon, several staff members approached, wanting details about the man who abducted her handbag. To everyone’s shock, the crying woman refused to discuss the issue. She explained that she had sprinted all the way to the front lobby only to find her handbag sitting on the steps completely untouched and intact. The staff continued to press the issue but she implored them to stop. Multiple times she reiterated to both the staff and her group that she wanted to enjoy her tea without any further discussion about the incident. After a several more futile attempts to gather details, they all acquiesced to her wishes.

Slowly the women began to trickle out of the tearoom one at a time to carry on with their day. Eventually the former crying woman and one final friend were the only ones remaining from the group. As they prepared to leave, the last friend announced that she wanted to visit the ladies’ room. The former crying woman said she would stay back and wait for her. As her friend walked to the back of the tearoom, she gingerly pulled out an envelope from inside of her handbag. She opened it slowly and purposefully. To her shock, a ripe check was waiting inside with a short note attached. The woman quietly whispered the message out loud. It read:

Bunny, Please take this to support your family this Christmas. I am sorry for everything I have done. Think about you every day. All the love, Dad

Before the woman could react, she noticed her friend emerging from the ladies’ room. Quickly, she slammed the envelope back in her handbag, stood up to greet her friend, and walked out of the tearoom.

After the ladies left, the others in the tearoom began talking about the theatrics that occurred. They immediately spoke ill of the gentleman who caused the commotion. It seemed that everyone was enthralled with the idea of having such a close encounter with a perceived thief. I was the only one who knew about the discovery the woman made her inside of handbag. I was the only one who heard her whispery voice read the note out loud. I was the only one who witnessed her smile as she reveled in her Christmas miracle. I was the only one who knew that the gentleman was simply her estranged father, reaching out with love. I wish I could have set the record straight but that was impossible. After all, I am but a table.

Amanda Siegel inherited a love of writing from her dad. He encouraged her since she was small and it has been her love ever since.

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