Vlael watched the flames lick the bottom of the kettle. A moment later a stream of steam issued from the spout. Vlael lifted the kettle. She filled a pair of waiting cups two thirds full. She pinched a tea bag string in each hand. She lowered them at the same time, her eyes darting from one to the other. An inch more and they'd be in the water. It had to be right...No, perfect. Both cups of tea had to be perfect, it was her first time serving. Both bags hit the water in unison. She grinned. Nodding, she flipped the awaiting sand hourglass that would count down (or up, depending on how you looked at it) two and a half minutes.
She watched as the last of the sand grains fell. She pulled the bags out, dunked them twice. No good reason for that. Or none that she would have been able to articulate. Two felt right. Because there were two cups? Maybe. Maybe that would be her thing when she served tea--two dunks. Better to have a thing than nothing.
Vlael put the cups onto a serving tray, added a splash of hot water on top of each then walked from the kitchen, through the double doors, and into the dining room. The night was quiet. She watched the cups as she walked, making each step with deliberate effort, took her time, went slow. Not too slow, then the tea would cool, and the customers hadn't asked for cooled tea.
"Ah, this ours?" The middle-aged man asked.
"Yes." Vlael thought he looked nervous, it was the way his eyes darted. At the tea, at her, back to the tea, across to the woman he was with, again to the tea. Like he didn't know where to look. Vlael got the impression he wasn't sure how to act being served by her. It was as if he'd gone through a particular set of motions so many times before this new pattern was hard for him to grasp. Ten years ago, before The Fall, no children worked in restaurants. Ten years is not enough time to adjust, for some people.
Vlael's parents told her things would be strange. They'd been telling her some version of that for as long as she could recall. They told her the world she'd been born into was not the same they'd known. They said it was like being on a different planet and had to figure out how to live in this new place. Everything was different, they told her.
"Which is why I'd like you to start with tea." Vlael's father said.
"Can you name all the things you'll need to make tea?"
Vlael's eyes narrowed. She watched her father's face, searching for clues. It was rare for him to ask a questions with simple answers. He wanted her to think, really think, when he asked her things. "Well," Vlael said, she bit her lower lip then immediately stopped. Her mother told her that was bad habit, it let the person she was talking to know too much. 'Use your words to tell people things,' her mother liked to say. "I would need tea, water, fire, and something to boil the water in--But," Vlael was quick to add, "I would need wood for the fire, and a place to make the fire." She noted the hint of a grin on her father's face. Good, she was on the right track. Okay, he wanted more. Ah, what else. "And, I...The tea, if I didn't have tea already I would need that. I suppose I might even need to grow it. And growing plants means I need good soil and good water and good bugs to keep the bad ones away. A container to boil the water in...That would matter too. I wouldn't want to use aluminum, because you told me cast iron is better. But if I didn't have iron I'd have to get that from someone, either trade or barter. Which means I would need a skill or service or goods to offer."
Vlael's father laughed and waved his hands. "Okay, okay." He nodded. "Well done." He dropped to his knees, pulled her into a hug, and kissed her cheek.
Vlael pulled away, a little stiff. "I didn't even talk about the water."
"No, but that's okay. I'm glad you're thinking of these things." He stood. "Are you ready to start helping your mother and I?" Vlael nodded. "Good. Are you alright starting with tea?"
"Yes." Vlael said.
"Two green teas." Vlael said, setting the cups on the table. "Can I get you anything else?"
"Some of those biscuits? They sounded like cookies."
Vlael nodded. "They are, yes. Would you like an order of those too?"
"Mm, good tea...Oh, yeah." The man nodded, giving Vlael a sideways glance. "Yes. Please." He blew on his tea. He took another sip.
"Alright, I'll tell my mom." Vlael said. She paused a moment before going. It seemed too simple. Was that it? That's all there was to serving? Didn't they know this was her first time doing it? She almost opened her mouth to say so. Her jaw muscles moved, but she held the words back. These two wouldn't care. The man noticed she was still standing there. Vlael smiled, dipped her head, and scurried off to tell her mother the weirdo and his silent girlfriend wanted biscuits. She grinned at that, thinking that's exactly how she would say it. Once she got behind those closed doors she could say anything she wanted.