Tea with Miss Anita

Once the duo emerges from the Diner, Rex pauses to take a careful look around, then grabs Miki's hand. "Hey," he says with more enthusiasm than before, smiling back at Miki.

Miki smiles at Rex. "I was looking for you," he says.

Rex blinks and looks startled. "You were?"

Miki nods. "Where are we going?"

Rex points with his free hand at a small, surprisingly new-looking cottage across the street and two doors down, nestled into a small spot beside the frame house that belongs to the Collinses. "I gotta check to make sure Miss Anita ain't needin' somethin', then we can go wherever." He smiles, a little slyly. "An' Miss Anita wants to meet you anyway."

A shy smile flits over Miki's face. "I would like to meet her," he says.

Rex leads the other boy down between the two houses, Miss Anita's and the Collinses, to the back yard, where a surprisingly large and neatly-tended garden spans the space behind both houses. Pumpkins and squash and tomatoes gleam in the early evening light as Rex climbs onto the back porch nearly silently and opens the back door. "Miss Anita?" he calls into the house. "I brought him over -- he came to the Diner."

From within, a thin, elderly woman's voice says, brightly, "Oh! Bring him on in!" Rex smiles back at Miki and leads the way inside.

Miki follows, remembering to carefully wipe his shoes off on the way inside, as it is a damp, cold, evening.

The warmth of the kitchen is dry and friendly and laced heavily with the scent of baked apples and cinnamon. The kitchen itself is small and immaculately clean, with cabinets and counters and a woodstove and an icebox. Two doors lead out of the room, and one swings open to reveal a tiny bird of a woman wearing a neat knee-length dress in a pale, tasteful flower print. A shawl of light-grey wool drapes around her thin shoulders. Her white hair is done up primly in a bun, and pale blue eyes faded with cataracts peer through small, round glasses. She smiles at the two boys. "Rex! How nice! I hardly get any *real* company any more. You must be Miklos, Rex's friend." She advances, offering her hand to Miki.

Politely taking the lady's hand, Miki bows over it in the Euorpean fashion. "I am Majlath de Holtsapadtbolyh Miklos, but please call me Miki," he says formally.

She beams at Miki. "Oh, thank you, Miki. I'm Anita Turek. I used to be the schoolteacher here in town." She makes a small gesture. "Now Rex here helps me out all the time. Won't you come in and sit down in the parlor? Rex, honey, why don't you make us all some tea?" She retains a feather-light grip on Miki's hand and guides him out through the door with her.

Rex smiles and ducks his head. "Sure thing."

Miki ushers Miss Anita into the parlor and, with more perception than most boys of his age show, guides her to her favorite seat before taking a seat himself.

Miss Anita's parlor-living room area is also spotless. The chairs are draped chastely with flower-embroidered coverlets so as not to show their worn spots. The sofa has a spectacular quilt in bright jewel tones folded on the back. The coffee table is low, made of dark wood, and seems newer than the rest of the furniture. She smiles as she settles into her rocker, and peers cheerfully at Miki over the top rim of her glasses. "So, Rex tells me that you two are good friends." Her smile turns fond and knowing. "I knew that if he just waited long enough, more boys his age would come to town. These lion-boys. Such little romantics. Do you plan to stay in town for a while?" Her hands, though somewhat gnarled with arthritis, pick up her latest knitting project and begin working the dark, thick wool with practiced ease.

"I hope that my brother and I can stay for a while," says Miki after a moment, blinking. "That will depend on whether we can find work, of course."

Miss Anita nods, her knitting needles making soft clicking sounds. "You're ghost hunters, Rex says? And you're from Europe... well, I could've told that... my own family comes originally from the Czech Republic... it wasn't the Republic, of course, when we left, but from that area. That is, the family is Czech, whether where we came from was or not. You see? Your name sounds... um... Hungarian? Is that right?" She watches him throughout this, in the light of the Tiffany-type lamp on the table next to her, only looking down at her hands once or twice.

Miki nods. "Yes, we are from the Little Lands, in Hungaria. The Duchies. Has your family been in this country long?"

Miss Anita smiles and nodded. "A little over three hundred years." She finishes a row and examines it carefully, running her fingertips over the stitches. "Oh, I do hope that Miss Alison enjoys this one. It's been about ten years since I last made one for her."

WIth a curious look at the knitted object, Miki asks, "You are making something as a present?"

Miss Anita nods again. "Miss Alison is the lady who lives outside of town. She's been here a long, long time. My father and grandmother both told me to always be good to her, and good things would come to me." She laughs a little. "I've had good things happen, but I'm not sure they come from being good to Miss Alison. But I've surely not had many *bad* things happen in my life."

Miki nods, fascinated. "It's certainly kind of you to give her things. She's been around for a very long time." He looks around the cozy little room. "Did you enjoy teaching?"

"Oh, very much," Miss Anita says cheerfully. "I knew all the children, and I ran the Library too. We had all these old texts, you know, from before the Long Night there. So I copied the lessons I taught out by hand, and the children made more copies. I gave prizes to the ones who copied best." She smiles and gestures to the other downstairs room of the cottage with her head. "I still have most of the textbooks from when the old schoolhouse came down. I lost some, but we saved the rest from Zelda, you know, when my old house -- oh, I was so sad to see it go, my grandparents built it, you know -- was destroyed. The new young folks in town, and, of course, all my neighbors, pitched into build me this delightful little place to spend my last days in. It was so kind of them all." She sighs, and lays her hands in her lap, stretching one hand uncomfortably even as she focuses on Miki. "I so enjoy seeing young folks in town again. I hope your brother and you have come to stay."

Miki smiles back. "I hope so, too, ma'am. This town is one of the nicest places I have ever seen, and I have been many places." He ends with a sigh, looking down at his hands folded in his lap, then looks up again.

Rex enters the room with a silver tray that holds three teacups, a sugar bowl, and a creamer, with three silver teaspoons. He sets it down on the low table.

Miss Anita nods at Miki. "It's a lovely town. I was very sad when the town started to... well, age. That's why it's so nice to see you young folks here." She leans forward and serves herself three spoons of sugar and a dollop of cream before picking up her teacup. "Thank you, Rex. This is a lovely brewing."

Miki picks up the teacup very carefully. He doesn't put anything in it.

Rex sets himself down and makes himself a cup of tea with one spoon of sugar, and takes it up to drink immediately. He winces slightly at the heat.

(tea proceeded without much more substantial conversation)