A Healing Cuppa
Penny walked up to the cafe and breathed a sigh of relief. She giggled as the sigh took the form of steam. She trotted in and shut the door firmly behind her.
“Not used to Terror Mountain weather, eh?” the Kougra behind the counter asked.
“Definitely not,” Penny replied, unwinding her scarf and setting it on a table with her hat. “I thought it would be a nice break from the summer heat and it was…for about ten minutes.”
“Well, you’re welcome to warm up in here as long as you’d like. What can I get for you?”
Penny sat at the table, glad to give her hooves a break. “What’s your specialty, Reg?” she asked, noticing his nametag.
The Kougra looked at the menu behind him. “Hm, well, I think we’ll skip the iced beverages side of the menu.”
“The what?!” Penny interrupted. “Who could drink something cold up here?”
He chuckled again. “Why, many people. We have slushies, ice cream, chia pops, and a wide array of gourmet ice and snow foods. They’re all delicious, you should definitely stop in the Happy Valley on your way home.”
Penny looked skeptical. “I’ve always been one for a hot bowl of soup in weather like this.”
“Ah, but that can be dangerous if your insides are too cold. Trust me, I’ve lived here a long time.” He paused, considering the menu. “How about a mug of borovan?”
“Sounds great.” She looked around the shop as he prepared it. It was a cheerful little place full of fine wooden furniture. Penny gazed at the snow fall framed by the cozy curtains, thinking about home.
She was startled out of her reverie by the arrival of her order. She was delighted by the patterned pot and matching cup.
“Thank you! Can I also trouble you for one of those scones?”
“Certainly! What kind?”
“Oh, plain will do just fine, thank you.”
Reg brought her the scone and then moved across the café and began straightening the chairs and rearranging the tabletops. Penny watched him absently as she enjoyed her snack.
Finally she asked, “Reg?”
“How long have you lived up here?”
“Oh, a good many years, why do you ask?”
Penny shrugged. “I’m just curious. Where are you from?”
He paused in his work, leaning on a shelf. “Tyrannia originally. Up on the plateau. The sun got to be too much for me.” Resuming his progress through the café, he asked, “How about you, where do you come from?”
“Oh, I’m a city Kau, born and raised in Neopia Central.”
“Must be pretty quiet up here compared to all that activity.”
“Yeah,” she sighed. “Sometimes quiet is good though.”
There was a stretched silence. Reg polished a few sugar shakers. Without turning he asked, “Was there something loud in particular that sent you up here?”
She refilled her cup. “Kind of.” She took a sip then set it down. “I work in the Soup Kitchen, on the outskirts of town. It can be pretty…tough.”
“I see.” He moved behind the counter and began straightening things up back there. “I imagine that takes a toll on your heart.”
Penny nodded. “The nice thing though is that they always leave satisfied. I can watch their faces light up as they eat and it washes a little of the worry away. Oh, sure, it builds up over time, but I’m used to it.”
She had some more borovan. Reg didn’t rush her to continue, he just waited quietly, polishing glasses.
“About two weeks ago, though, we had a particularly ill pet come in. A Bori whose name we learned later was Mits. At the time he arrived, he was far too sick and hungry to tell us. He had been left to fend for himself.” Her anger and sorrow filled her throat and she choked up. Shaking her head, she continued, “It was three days before he could talk and even then he was delirious. What was worse though was when he did become lucid again…he remembered what had happened. That he had been left behind. Abandoned.”
Reg’s frown deepened. “Terrible. Happens all the time.”
“Too often!” Penny winced. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to shout. It just gets to me.”
“No worries, your feelings are understandable.” He nodded at the pot on her table, “Would you like a refill?”
“Oh, yes, thank you, it was quite delicious.”
“Not at all, I’m glad you’re enjoying it.”
He busied himself behind the counter again and Penny lapsed into reverie. When he brought the tray over this time, there was a second cup.
“I hope you don’t mind if I join you?”
“No, please do.” She moved her hat and scarf off of the table onto an empty chair.
“This pot,” he said, pouring, “is on the house.”
Penny beamed. “That is too kind.” She didn’t offer the typical refusal attempt as she was afraid to hurt his feelings. “I’m delighted to accept.” She giggled, returning his toast with her cup.
They sat drinking in comfortable silence. After a while, Reg asked, “So how is Mits now?”
She took a deep breath and set her borovan on the table. “He was finally well enough to leave the day before I set off, which of course was not a coincidence. He seemed…all right, but I worry about all of them.”
Reg put his paw on the table. “What’s your name?”
“Penny, I lived by the Giant Omelette for a long time and I saw many a hungry fellow come and go. If you think too hard about what caused the hunger and not enough about all of the folks who help feed the hungry, you’re missing out. There’s a lot of rough stuff out there in Neopia, but there’s even more that’s good.”
She blinked rapidly, a little embarrassed by her tears. She was so touched by his solicitation and she knew in her tired heart that he was right. Before she could thank him, though, the bell on the door jingled.
Reg rose smoothly and moved back to his place at the counter. The new customers were a happy bunch. By their chatter, they had been sledding. They were laughing and slipping on the snow melting off of their boots. Penny smiled, watching them. She quietly finished her drink and left the money on the table.
On her way out she looked up and saw Reg wink at her. She giggled and took off into the cold, the warm feeling in her heart preserving her.***
A few months later, Reg was just opening up the shop when the door opened. It was his neighbor, Fey. They had lived by each other for so long that he was used to her barreling in when he wasn’t quite ready for customers.
“Good morning, Reg, dear,” she greeted.
“Good morning. What can I get you today?”
“Oh, nothing at the moment, I just finished breakfast. I’m on my way out of town – you know, I mentioned I’m going down to the Trading Post again this week. Apparently there is a huge collection of plushies going up!”
Reg could see in her eyes that she had distracted herself from her original purpose. He steered her back gently. “That sounds good, I hope you find something. Were you here about your mail then?”
“Oh, yes! Actually, I’m here about your mail too!” She handed him a letter. “It was misdelievered to me, I’m afraid. I’ve let the mail office know to deliver my things to you. I’ll see you in a few days!” she called and with that the cheerful Bruce blew out of the shop, the fluttering curtains the only sign she had been there.
He shook his head smiling. Reg left the letter in the back with his hat. He needed to finish opening up and didn’t want to be forced to rush through whatever it was.
The day went on like any other, busy and bustling. He had completely forgotten about the letter until he went to pick up his things and saw it lying there.
Reg walked slowly back into the front of the shop and sat down at a table. The name on the envelope looked familiar, “Penny”.
As he read the letter, he remembered her, the Checkered Kau he had shared a cuppa with back in the summer. He smiled. “Dear Reg,
I apologize that it has taken me this long to write to you. I wanted to tell you how much it meant to me that you listened and how much your warm wisdom has helped me. Everyone here at the Soup Kitchen has noticed that I am brighter and happier than ever before. I hope that one day I can come back to your café for a visit to thank you in person.
Until then, I hope you are well.