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May 10, 2023
She clutched the tattered invitation tightly, stained and crumpled from hours of turning it over with sweaty fingers while waiting on the train for the miles to slip by. It had been such an unexpected summoning from her childhood friend Rose — no word for years, and now out of the blue, an invitation to a tea party.
Rose had suddenly moved away from the town they grew up in, where they had shared golden afternoons in gardens, invented games to which no one else knew the rules. It had been like a great dark void at first when Rose moved to the North, but over the years the ache grew less and less, until she barely thought of it these days. When the letter had arrived, with its sudden invitation to the mist-enveloped countryside where Rose now resided, she was uncertain if she would even go. Yet curiosity tugged at her, and she gathered a beaded party-gown, fine lace gloves, and a small gift for her friend as a token of goodwill.
“Teatime. Tuesday. The First of Spring.” Was all the delicately printed card had specified.
An old taxi dropped her at the huge wrought iron garden gates, and she stood for a moment gathering her thoughts, then slowly pushing open the creaking doors to the garden. The air was chill despite the spring light, and she gathered her shawl a bit tighter to her shoulders. A narrow vaulted tunnel of thick hedges led into the grounds, tangled and overgrown in a thick tapestry of branches and vines. The path turned this way and that, maze-like, and she felt a wave of dizziness overtake her like vertigo, following the small trail deeper into the garden. What an unusual place — she could not picture the young Rose she remembered living here. A thick blanket of leaves covered the pathway undisturbed by footfalls, the deeper she walked into the garden.
It felt like an age had passed by the time she came upon the clearing. There, a small table stood between flowers and vines, catching the faint rays of light that penetrated from the tangled roof far above. The space was filled with a hushed velvet silence, only broken by the occasional sigh of the wind scraping over branches and leaves, and the soft hum of wings from the myriad of butterflies crawling over the blanket of moss and vines. The table was set for an opulent afternoon tea, fruits and cakes, luscious honeycomb, and two tea settings, yet this too had fallen into a state of decay. It appeared as if it had been waiting years for her arrival, and slowly time and nature had reclaimed it along with the rest of the estate. There was no sign of Rose, no sign any human had entered this place in many years. She brushed aside some of the plants overtaking one of the chairs, and sat down to ponder this odd situation.
Suddenly it struck her — the mysterious invitation did not actually specify a time, or a year. When had Rose sent it? Had it been delayed, perhaps even a decade, and only now mysteriously arrived?
A hushed sound like the brushing of long skirts over the forest floor pulled her back from her reverie. At the edge of the clearing, a woman was walking towards the little table. Only it was not a woman, but more of a glimmer and then a shadow, like light dancing on leaves, in the shape of a person. A breath was trapped in her throat in anticipation, what would this apparition do? When the vines wrapped themselves around her wrist, and then her ankle, rooting her to the wooden chair, she barely felt their soft embrace.
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