Little Luke loved recess time. For this first grader – as is with all 6-year-old children in general, and especially for the boys and girls in his first grade class who never once gave him a second thought, recess lasted an eternity. The others quickly learned the value of cliques and groups, disdain and contempt while they played the usual games of tag, chasing one another, taking turns on the swings, or having it out with tiny fists over a disagreement, one thing they all agreed on was this: not one of them liked Luke. And if you were to ask them why this was so, they would turn their heads up at you with a puzzled look, shrug it off, and continue with their Lego projects. This never bothered Luke, who was too pale and too skinny. He simply went on about his own business; never once questioning the fate dealt him at birth. To everyone in the world, Luke was simply invisible.
Each day at ten in the morning, Luke hauled out his dusty, blue blanket from his cubbyhole, gathered his toys, and headed for the big tree at the far end of the playground. There, he spread out his blanket on the ground and carefully laid out his rag-tag team of Barbie dolls and stuffed animals that he’d collected from trash bins or stolen away from forgotten corners. Once they were set up, it was tea time. He served it with precision just as he had seen on TV, although his hands would tremble the slightest bit. He pictured his tea set to be exactly like the one he had seen and he imagined it to taste just as good, though he had never tasted it in his entire life.
He had invited, as he always did, the girl from his classroom who sat behind him two rows over. He always caught her looking at him and when he did, she quickly turned her head forward, suddenly engrossed in the teacher’s lesson on the correct way to write the letter Y.
Amy never could make it to tea time as she was always caught up in the games that the other children played. By the time she did, she was already running late. But Luke always placed an extra setting in hopes that she would make it to his side of the playground before eternity halted at the sound of the bell.
He did this every day for two whole months and she always promised she would come, until the day she stopped coming to school. A month, the teacher informed the class that Amy had moved. Her father had been reassigned to Fairbanks. She then pulled out a stack of letters from Amy to everyone in her class. Luke opened his and it simply read: “I’m sorry. Let’s have tea.” There was no forwarding address and he had no clue where Fairbanks was located.
His life continued as it had before. He went left when he should’ve gone right, said yes when he should’ve said no as if fate was playing a cruel joke with his life. Luke continued setting a place at tea time for Amy until he grew too old for silly games.He never forgot her.
It wasn’t until about twenty years later that chance encounter brought him back to Amy. She was in town visiting, when she saw a thin, pale young man across the street. She immediately recognized him and she waved to him. Luke, taken by surprise that anyone had even noticed him, waved back tentatively. They caught up with each other right there on the corner of First and Main. She was running late, but arranged to meet later that evening. “Take me to tea,” she had told him. She laughed and he smiled, finally knowing the warmth of being in on an inside joke. She hurried off, but not before scrawling down her address at the hotel… Just in case. He didn’t want to lose her again like he did in first grade. It was a date twenty years overdue.
* * *
Luke sat on the comfortable couch of the Tea Tea Bar five hours later and ordered a pot of herbal tea. She was already an hour late. He poured it into his glass with the expertise of one who had been doing it for years. His fingers trembled a little, but he knew that would pass. It always passed after a few hours. He thought back on the menagerie of guests under the tree in the playground from years before. When he no longer had a need for them, he had disposed of them with his own hand. Sometimes he would use the butter knife from his mother’s kitchen drawer. But he always served tea with trembling hands right after that.
This story was written for the Tipsy Lit Prompt of the week.