It was bitter cold on the 12th day of the Month of Celebrating, as most days in the Month of Celebrating are. As most of the population of Neopia Central made plans to visit Happy Valley or bustled in and out of the Post Office with packages, Elizabeth Rend was sitting in the catacombs. Nestled into a corner of the Coffee Shop, she watched with scorn as a Red Blumaroo opened the door for a Starry Acara. Laughing at some inside joke, the two friends ordered steaming cups of Borovan at the counter. Elizabeth’s scowl deepened. She hated the month of Celebrating, she hated snow, and she hated fun. Above all that, if there was one thing Elizabeth Rend hated, it was laughter.
She was a grumpy old green Tonu, and everyone in the Coffee Shop knew to stay away from her. If they offered to bring her a fresh cup of tea, she glared at them and would say haughtily, “I can take care of myself.” The servers had long since learned that if Elizabeth’s tea needed refreshing she would make it painfully obvious by clearing her throat so loud that everyone in the shop would turn and stare at her. Elizabeth Rend didn’t care what the other patrons thought--all she cared about was herself.
As she made her way home from a long day of sitting and scowling, Elizabeth felt a cold wind blow in on her shoulders. She shook herself and pulled her old purple shawl closer around her shoulders. Elizabeth Rend was many things, but she was no fool: she picked up her pace to get home faster. The angry north wind seemed to howl and scream as if it had come straight from the jaws of a Snow Beast on Terror Mountain. It picked up the loose snowflakes that had been collecting on the ground all day and blew them into Elizabeth’s face, where they collected on her eyelashes.
Looking up, Elizabeth could see her sizeable home in the distance. The trees outside were trimmed neatly by the gardener that came to Elizabeth’s home twice a week. The rocks that made the entrance path were all exactly the same size and shape. There were no lights on in the home’s windows to help guide lost travelers to a safe haven, nor was there a mat that said “Welcome” in front of the door. Elizabeth’s home was the perfect match to her personality: both were cold, stony and well-kept.
As she struggled with the heavy wooden front door, Elizabeth noticed a letter sitting rather forlornly in the middle of her hallway, where it had landed after being shoved through the mail slot. Elizabeth was both put off and intrigued by the letter, unsure who would have the audacity or the will to write to her. She closed the door, turned on a ceiling light and sat down softly in one of her upholstered chairs. Elizabeth looked closely at the letter. In loose, sloppy lettering it said “To Ms. Elizabeth Rend” but there was no return address. Intrigued, Elizabeth opened the envelope and pulled out a single tea bag. She shook the envelope, but there was nothing else in it.
Elizabeth eyed the teabag, lifting it up to the light. She held it close to her face and inhaled deeply, bringing in a scent of orange rind, cool peppermint and the dark, bitter leaves that only came from the trees on the mountaintops of Shenkuu. It was tea, all right, and it smelled absolutely delicious. Still suspicious, she decided to save the tea for the next morning instead of brewing it right away.
Moving slowly up the stairs so as not to stress her aging joints, Elizabeth scowled. She hated the fact that she was getting older and had a harder time getting the things done she wanted done. With a frustrated sigh, at last Elizabeth came to the top of the stairs. Changing quickly into her most comfortable nightgown, Elizabeth Rend crawled into bed and turned off her lamp.
That night Elizabeth could not sleep. She found it ridiculous and appalling, but try as she might she could not stop thinking about her teabag downstairs. Elizabeth couldn’t help but wonder what it tasted like, who had sent it, why it was sent, and if the sender had been watching her. As this last thought crossed her mind, she pulled the top cover over her head instinctively. How could she even consider drinking the strange tea? Then she remembered that earthy aroma that had come from the fresh leaves... how could she resist having just a little taste...?
With that final thought in her head, Elizabeth drifted into a cozy sleep.
The next morning, the steps creaked and groaned as Elizabeth disregarded the complaints from her knees and ran down the stairs. She rushed into the kitchen and nearly slipped on the well-polished tile floor. Suddenly Elizabeth’s mind went blank.
“Where is my tea kettle...?” she asked herself aloud. For some reason, Elizabeth didn’t recognize any part of the kitchen. She reached into the nearest cupboard and began to rummage through it, ruining the neat, orderly piles that her dishes and bowls had been in moments before Elizabeth felt panic overcome her. How would she make the tea if she couldn’t find her tea kettle?
Suddenly, Elizabeth’s thoughts came running back to her. Or course: the tea kettle was sitting on the back burner of the stove, like it had always been. Feeling ashamed of her overzealous behavior, Elizabeth picked up her pristine white tea kettle and filled it with water from the sink. Holding it carefully, she placed the kettle on top of the stove. Turning back to the living room, where she had left the teabag, Elizabeth had a horrible thought: what if the teabag was gone?
She quickly turned the corner into the living room and let out a sigh of relief. The teabag was right there, next to the empty envelope. Elizabeth snatched the little bag and went back into the kitchen, feeling silly. She placed the little teabag into the water that was now the perfect temperature. While she waited for the tea to permeate through the water, Elizabeth shook her head.
“I really am acting strangely today,” she observed of herself. “Why on earth am I so excited over this silly tea?”
Elizabeth picked up the kettle and poured the sweet-smelling liquid into her favorite tea cup. As she held the little cup in her hands, she felt a wave of heat moving throughout her whole body. It was at that point in time when Elizabeth realized how cold she felt. Without really thinking about it, she took a sip from the cup.
The tea was even better than she’d imagined--there was sweet cinnamon mixed in with the zesty orange, cooling peppermint and earth leaves. Her whole mouth seemed to be grateful and the happiness seemed to radiate out, filling Elizabeth with sheer joy. In her prim little shoes, her toes curled. Her scowl lines seemed to disappear, if only for a moment. In that tiny, blissful moment, an amazing change came over Elizabeth Rend, the sourest pet in Neopia Central. The corners of her mouth twitched, then started to turn up.
For the first time in a very, very long time, Elizabeth was smiling.
That day, after drinking nearly the entire pot of tea, Elizabeth walked out into the harsh weather with a silly grin plastered on her face. She practically skipped to the Coffee Shop, nearly tripping twice. As she came in the door, the servers looked up in dismay, only to be shocked by the happiness emanating from Elizabeth. The kindly old Shoyru who ran the Coffee Shop chuckled to herself as she counted the tips in the tip jar.
“What do you know about this?” one of the waitresses, a young Aisha, asked the shopkeeper.
The old Shoyru smiled mysteriously and shook her head. “Everyone deserves the chance to start fresh, don’t you think?” With that, the old Shoyru picked up a tray of Tigersquash Swirly Cakes and walked across the shop towards Elizabeth. The servers all watched in amazement as the old Shoyru held the tray out to Elizabeth.
“Take one. They’re on the house today,” the old Shoyru encouraged.
Elizabeth flashed her newfound smile and accepted a cake graciously. The old Shoyru sat down at Elizabeth’s table and the two struck up a lively conversation. As the sun was setting, Elizabeth wrapped her shawl tightly around her and said goodbye to the kind Shoyru.
“Before you go,” the shopkeeper said, “why don’t you take a few teabags for yourself?”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly...” Elizabeth trailed off as she smelled the same sweet, minty, earthy aroma once more. She looked at the old Shoyru in amazement. The shopkeeper’s eyes twinkled as she placed the teabags into Elizabeth’s outstretched hoof.
“Take care, dear,” the Shoyru called before disappearing into the depths of the store.
Elizabeth looked at the teabags in her hoof and smiled to herself. As she walked home that night, Elizabeth paid no attention to the frosty air and whirling snowflakes: she had an inner warmth now that would last her the whole winter.