“This is almost painful,” Lorwyn says idly.
Across the room, Taseino is attempting to speak with a teenage girl. In the time it takes me to glance their way I watch them grow tangibly more uncomfortable. I’m not sure which is more poised to flee.
“How can you just watch?” I ask.
“Talmeri definitely does not pay me enough to intervene in adolescent drama,” Lorwyn says.
“You have no soul,” I say, and she smirks. “Finish brewing this pot for me, will you?”
I cross the room quickly.
“Hello, it looks like you’re having trouble figuring out what you need! Can I help?”
“Oh,” the girl says, hands fidgeting. “I’m not sure. I was thinking about maybe getting a gift?”
I look expectantly at Taseino for more detail.
“For a party,” he says. Needlessly shifts his weight. “For girls.”
“I’m not sure what they’d like,” the girl says nervously. “Maybe this was a bad idea.”
“Well, everyone likes different teas, and of course no two girls are the same,” I say. “So it might be fun to put together a sampler pack of a few teas.”
She and Taseino both look away, which I take to mean Taseino tried this and failed. “I—maybe,” she says. “But how do I choose?”
“Had you suggested anything yet?” I ask Taseino.
He shakes his head, embarrassed. “I wasn’t sure what flavors they’d like,” he mumbles.
Two teenagers too awkward to cope. I can practically feel Lorwyn snickering.
“We’ll definitely want a good variety of flavors, but I think that’s the wrong place to start,” I say. “What kind of party is it? Formal? Fun and silly?”
“Fun,” she says quickly. “But—”
“So, tea that’s interesting or weird enough to be notable, but that they’ll also enjoy drinking,” I say out loud for Taseino’s benefit.
No wonder he was struggling—Meristo could have advised her on what would be “cool,” but he’d probably also have overwhelmed her with his charm and sent her scurrying away.
“Let’s start with the Rainberry Crystals,” I say. “Can you see the little blue shards sparkling inside this tea?”
“Oh, how pretty!”
“It’s a limited edition tea, so it’ll definitely be unique,” I say. “It’s got a nice refreshing flavor with a little zing to it. So for contrast let’s add in this one—here, smell it.”
“It’s fruity, I think?”
“It has a fruity flavor with some earthy undertones,” I agree. “But most of that flavor doesn’t come from fruit. It’s from the Cataclysm, something called jellyrose lichen.” After I explain I ask, “Too weird?”
She smiles. “No, that’ll be a good joke.”
“Well, if you like that joke… Taseino, where’s the stealthbee tea?”
“Stealthbee? What is a—no, what part of the stealthbee?” she asks.
I laugh. “Good question. The stealthbee is another Cataclysm insect. They have tiny filaments all over their bodies that secrete a coating that turn them invisible. The fun part is it sort of works on people, too. When you drink it, glassy swirls appear all over your skin, and they keep changing. The effect fades after about an hour. We infuse it into a robust tea, because it has a pretty sharp tang to it—”
“That’s perfect!” she says.
“Oh, good. Taseino, do you think you can take it from here?”
He nods, visibly relieved now that I’ve done the talking to a girl his own age part and figured out what kind of tea she’s looking for.
Lorwyn has a tea set ready for me once I’ve retreated. “I’m five years older than them at most and feel absolutely ancient,” I say.
“Adolescence passes, thank everything, but that feeling remains forever,” Lorwyn says.
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