When Lois first unlatched the locked windows of the Lake Agnes Tea House, she stood there quietly to bask in the natural beauty. She felt the cold mountain breeze rush against her face, encircle her neck, and blow back her blond hair. The air was as fresh and crisp as it had been every year that she opened the seasonal tea house. And the view was as glorious as it ever had been. Sheer rock faces spiked with narrow pine trees. Placid waters of the great lake. White clouds passing along the blue brightness of the skies and sliced by the sharp mountain peaks as they moved ever forward.
In May, the weather finally had begun to warm, albeit gradually. The days had brightened after wintry months in the heights of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Canada. The tea house always locked its windows and closed its doors in October when the northern winds began their annual harsh rush southward between the mountain peaks, followed soon by mounds and mounds of snow.
Now though was the time to reopen for the summer season. This would be Lois’s home for the next few months. She had trekked the five miles from Lake Louise, higher into the mountains to Lake Agnes. She hauled a few lightweight supplies on her back, not many though. She had help. It would be arriving soon. Greater still, it was, for Lois, a time for something more. It was her annual meeting.
Inside the house, Lois started a fire in the rough-hewn stone fireplace, took the chairs off the table tops, and lightly dusted the knickknacks. She reviewed the individual boxes of various types of teas. Flavorful loose-leaf teas from across the world—India, England, Brazil and Japan—black and green specialties, and herbal teas.
Mid-day, she stopped sweeping the floor when she heard the helicopter rotor blades’ steady thwop bouncing between the rock faces and mountain walls. The large transport helicopter was making its yearly drop-off of seasonal goods and products—flour, spices, and sugar. This would be the first drop with three more before sunset.
Lois was excited to see the olive drab Zeus Transport. She knew Joseph was aboard the giant helicopter.
Joseph arrived in May, every May. The man would be at the tea house for a day before disappearing until the following year.
The two had met a decade ago when Lois first took over the duties of opening the tea house from its long, winter break. Joseph turned out to be a gentle man, calm yet hardcore. She noticed his brow was heavy and his eyes were dark. He was focused on his task, as if antisocial. Watching him unloaded the supplies from the large wooden crate, he seemed to be struggling to balance military combat realities and a peaceful civilian life. He had powerful, stern movements that intrigued Lois. Nevertheless, she then would lose him for another year.
One day though his face cracked a smile.
That day was eight years ago. A rainy day in May. Soaked from the cold, pelting rain, he had just hauled in the last two 50-pound bags of sugar on his shoulders. He stepped across the threshold and suddenly slipped on the wet floor. The tiny grains scattered everywhere over the floor. He was flat on his back, and the bags—much lighter after the spill—had pinned his shoulders to the floor. Lois, afterward, always said Joseph was held down by sweetness.
When he fell, Lois rushed to see if he was all right. Concerns about a strained back and a concussion worried her. How was she to get him help? It was miles away and the helicopter had lifted off several hours before.
She knelt next to him.
“Are you okay? Can you move?” She patted his wrist.
He didn’t answer aloud. He didn’t move. His face was in a wince, lips pursed tight, chin scrunched. She looked at him closely, trying to learn from his eyes how much pain he was actually in. It was unclear to her. He heaved in several deep breaths and groaned. But soon his face eventually twisted into a laugh. His eyebrows eased.
She exhaled and let her shoulders slump in relief. While still kneeling over him, he palmed the back of her neck and pulled her to him. He met her lips with his.
His lips were soft and plush, opposite of such a hardened, hardcore man. Their passion grew in the unexpected intensity. He gripped her face tighter and her head harder with his calloused hands. The two were caught up in a swoon until they had to break away to breath. She collapsed, tired, next to him. “My goodness. Wonderful,” Lois said, laying her forearm over her forehead.
They laid by each other, staring at the wooden-lined ceiling of the tea house. Somehow he started to laugh when he noticed the bags of sugar—and now Lois—were pinning him to the floor. Lois shifted to lay on her side and put her arm across his chest. She moved the sagging bags off his shoulders. She asked again if he was okay.
“I’m fine, just fine,” he said lightly.
She looked at the beau below her. “I know you are.”
She licked her forefinger lustfully, not breaking their gaze. She pushed her finger in the sweet grains remaining in the bag and put her finger in his mouth. He sucked off the sugar so intensely that his cheeks suctioned inward. Lois pushed her fingers into the grains again, deeper this time, to gather up more sweetness. He sucked each finger. That was enough for him.
He rolled Lois over in a swoosh onto her back, so he was on top of her. He now had pinned her.
Lois was surprised by the man’s strength, the ease with which he had moved her. His quickness. It made her shiver with a thrill that he may have been locked emotionally like the tea house had been locked. Now he was above her, a heat between them. Her fingers went magnetically to the buttons on his tough brown shirt. At the third button, a tattoo appeared. Beneath the shirt was a Marine Corps emblem. A globe with a strong eagle atop and a navy anchor cutting through the globe. Etched into was the Latin phrase: Semper Fidelis.
But there was a deep scar across his chest, slicing over his Marine tattoo.
“What happened here?” She outlined the tattoo, avoiding the scar.
“A fluke.” He moved her hand away and pinned her wrist to the floor with his hand.
“What was this ‘fluke’?” she urged.
“In Mosul. A little scrape. A guy and a knife.”
“That’s terrible to hear. It breaks my heart.”
“Breaks your heart?” He grinned lightheartedly. He undid the first button on her shirt. “It wasn’t bad.”
Lois raised up slightly. “Not bad? Look at your scar.”
“It’s a scratch.”
“A ‘scratch’ that’ll be there all your life. It’s so deep.”
She studied the face of the man above her, then at the wound. Inside his mind, beyond his eyes, his person was dark, desert-like, solitary. She reached out to the scar. Maybe the wound was a way to learn more about this closed-off man, she thought. The act of being scarred must have been a traumatic experience in his life. She wanted to know about it and him. When she reached to the scar again, he stopped her.
She gasped and pulled back her hand. “What was that for?”
“You look good enough to eat.” He winked, diverting her.
Lois knew the wink was merely an impediment to keep her away from the scar, particularly the scar on his soul. She pulled away as did he.
They stood. He buttoned up his shirt and dusted off the sugar. She grabbed a broom and swept white grains from the floor. He walked up behind her and hugged her. When he put his lips on her neck, she didn’t respond. She became cold. Her excitement from a few minutes ago was gone. Extinguished, a flame snuffed out by the mountain wind. He backed away from Lois.
Afterward he hauled in the last few items and within an hour, he headed out.
“I didn’t expect this today,” he told Lois before leaving.
“Me neither,” she said.
“It was, er, nice.” He spoke awkwardly, sounding like it was hard to say, like he was speaking in a foreign language.
She forced a smile. He forced his smile too. It didn’t suit his reticent semblance.
Their moment of silence was enough for him.
“Good luck with summer business.” And he left.
Afterward, Lois had a horrible summer, despite higher-than-expected business revenue. And, in October, she closed down the tea house. She shuttered and locked the last window, thinking about Joseph, as she had for months. He was strong, cold and a mystery that she wanted to figure out, hoped for another chance to do so. The month of May would eventually come, and she hoped he would too. So, Lois, like Lake Agnes Tea House, was locked up herself for a few months.
During those long months, she giggled as she thought of them lying flat on the floor and covered in sugar. Her giggles were stifled though, as she remembered the scar on his chest. Even more intriguing was his reaction to it. When she asked how it happened, he had given a weak, casual answer and then froze her out. What did it mean to him? She didn’t believe the deep scar was only from a knife fight. It must have a more deep-seated scar.
After months the land thawed, much of the snow melted, and the vestiges of spring sprouted, including a warming inside of Lois. Just the thought of Joseph warmed her.
She unlatched the shutters and unlocked the windows. While the tea house aired out, Lois sat on the front porch with a hot cup of steaming tea, warming her hands and her insides when she sipped. That day the lake was calm as was the breeze. But there was an excitement, an anticipation, warming Lois more than any hot tea would. It was a warmth in her soul that radiated to her physical body.
Then she heard the most intriguing sound—other than his actual voice. It was the sound of the helicopter’s twirling blades.
She stood and watched the massive machine rise into view. It moved as if in slow motion. The pilot was precise, alert. The crate was set down on the lawn, and the thick cords around it loosened. The helicopter remained low to the ground, steady, for a moment and then lifted off with a sharp roll to the left.
Lois scanned the scene for the man she had wanted to see, who she had dreamed about, had used as impetus for many nights of sensual release, over the last year.
Her heart sped up dramatically when she saw him already at work. He was untying the cords from the crate.
She was quietly disappointed that he didn’t come right up to see her first before anything else. She had hoped he might rush to her and kiss and hold her. Real life had struck down what she had drafted as a wishful romantic mirage. Maybe it would be a cold day between them. She decided not to be too ecstatic to see him. The twin two-pound bags of granulated sugar by the front door, which she had placed there, may stay there, and not be poured out on the floor in memory of last year. She would make their meeting business-like. Just friendly. That was, until he might give a signal. She hoped he would offer some sort of sign.
“Hello again, Lois.”
She shivered at hearing his rich voice. He remembered her name. A triviality with such power to rock her core and steal her breath.
“Ready for another good year?” he asked dully, hauling a stack of boxes of teas. Relatively light weight.
She stuttered as he continued his conversation. “Yes, uh, yes, we are … are expecting a good year. A lot of new people visited last year.”
“You believe in luck?”
His question confused Lois.
“Do I believe in luck? For business, I believe in old-fashioned hard work. Nothing more. But luck, well, it may be a factor in other parts of life. Maybe.” Then, in that split second between thinking up a question and forming the words in the mouth, she wondered if she could, or would, consider the question as his signal. Sugar?
Lois asked, “What about you and luck?”
He set down the boxes in front of the wall of teas. “I believe in it, sure. If I see success, then I figure doing it that same way might bring the same result.”
“The sales last year made me rethink the types of teas to offer. Fewer African teas, more Indian teas. I also ordered a tea from Polynesia. I’ll be waiting to see if people like it. And a few more native teas. People like to get a little taste for the locale. Customers also requested more soy milk cream for their teas, instead of cow milk. A Starbucks influence from the U.S. Then the sugar—” She stopped abruptly, having said that word. An explosive word. She could only remember being on the floor with him. “Customers, they use less sugar nowadays. Had a lot left over last year.”
As she said it, she could have kicked herself for not thinking first. He could read so much into that comment.
“Health nuts,” Joseph said flippantly.
She sniggered. “These are hikers who come here. Nuts go with the outdoors.”
He huffed in his amusement at her comeback. “People need sugar. It makes us happy.”
Lois thought first but decided to go out on a limb.
“I guess you like sugar in your tea?”
He avoided her. “I’ve got some more supplies to unload.”
She was concerned about fouling up again. She had overstepped with him. She gritted her teeth. There was one chance.
As he headed to the door, Lois called to him, “If you like sugar, then I assume no soy milk.”
She heard his voice echo back. “Straight out the heifer.”
A smirk crossed her lips. She heated up the tea pot and left him alone while he hauled in supplies over the next hour.
Lois knew he was finished working when she heard a box set down and his deep exhale.
“Looks like that’s all for now,” he said. “I’ll radio back to the chopper to get back here … if you’ve got nothing else.”
“I made some tea. I brought some heavy cream with me and real sugar.” She guided him to the table on the house’s front porch with its majestic view.
“I can’t turn down tea from a lady.” He flashed a raw grin. It was a chivalrous attempt to contort that tough face.
“I say, never let a cup of tea go to waste,” Lois said.
“Many people do.”
The steam was lifting off the hot tea in their white porcelain cups. Meanwhile, Lois was deciphering his response. She didn’t know what he meant exactly. Many people do? Was he conveying something or just filling a void in conversation? Joseph’s unclear comment perplexed Lois and kept her at bay. She wanted to proceed but didn’t want to end the day with him leaving silent and cold, like last year.
The quietness remained between them as they sat on the porch, overlooking the view of the mountains and Lake Agnes. Lois decided on saying something.
“This tea is from India.”
Not a great attempt at pushing the conversation. She paused momentarily to gather some intel from his body language. Nothing, so she continued.
“Masala chai, a traditional black tea. It’s been around for some nine thousand years. People think it was considered a cleansing and vivifying drink for a king.”
“For a king, eh?”
“Yes, a king.”
Joseph turned to Lois and crinkled his brow. “And you chose this for me to drink. You’re making me wonder about your choice.” Then he again showed that tough grin.
Lois’s heart jumped, so she took another chance to feel him out. “Maybe I see something inside of you. A hint of royalty.”
He actually laughed aloud this time. “Nothing says royalty than seeing the king flat on the floor.”
Hearing that, her spirit brightened and her heart jump-started. He remembered! He wasn’t avoiding the episode.
“I would disagree,” she said, controlling her voice that was on the verge of cracking. “A king who falls, well, he may get attention from servants that he never would when sitting on his throne. Then cover him in sugar and who knows what could happen.”
She looked away and blew on her tea, letting the comment linger warm between them.
He remained quiet but kept his eyes directly on her. She felt his stare, loving the feeling. She was hopeful of what the stare might mean.
“I noticed the bags of sugar by the front door.” He spoke softly, almost unheard.
Lois didn’t respond with words. She kept her eyes away from him, staring at the blue waters of the lake. However, she was abounding in excitement and high spirits.
They were quiet again. Both were determining the length to which they wanted to test the other’s interest. Joseph may have gone far enough for Lois.
She said, “I figured sugar at the door last year made my business increase—a big year. If it worked then, sugar at the door may keep the business growing.”
“So you do believe in luck, not just old-fashioned hard work.”
“Sugar at the front door can’t hurt, right?” She still kept her eyes diverted toward the lake.
“But,” he said, “there was a king on his back, covered in the sugar. The sugar wasn’t in bags.”
“So what are you saying?” she asked. “I can’t work all year with sugar on floor.”
He didn’t answer.
The period of silence between them returned. It was tense and as loud as cannon blasts. Boom! Bang! Lois’s heart was beating, thumping fast. Was he thinking about their incident? she repeated in her mind.
And he was.
Lois felt a strong hand gently touch her shoulder. He simply said, “There’s a king on the floor.” The hand let go, and his presence was gone.
Lois had to take in a deep breath but couldn’t show her excitement. This is what she had wanted for a year. She closed her eyes and breathed in again. The air was sweet, refreshing. Then she set down her tea, took another breath, and stood slowly. Her knees were wobbly and her body unsteady from the what-could-be.
Once inside the cabin, she saw Joseph at the front door, laying prone on the floor.
She laughed hard, having trouble controlling herself. It wasn’t that it was funny. Instead, the laughter was a means of releasing all that had built up inside of her. She laughed harder and harder
“You are one of a kind. I never thought I’d see it again.”
“What are you going to do about it?” he said from the floor.
In role-play dramatic fashion, she rushed to his side.
“Are you okay? Can you move? Anything broken?” She patted his wrist.
While still kneeling over Joseph, he palmed the back of her neck and pulled her to him. They kissed. Long, luscious kisses. Slow, deep. It was the buildup of twelve months of her wishes and desires, of her hopes and fantasies.
One of her hands pressed against the floor, and the other set on his chest. His strong chest muscles were obvious, as was his strong breathing. Moving a thin fabric away was what ultimately set him off last year, so she got as close as she would dare go.
Joseph was rough. As gritty as his grin. Bristly forearms. Coarse stubble on his chin. His calloused hands were controlling, and they would not release her. However, she was gladly submissive, willing to do as he desired. He was the man she longed for. She hoped he would demand her to do much, so she could please him. That’s what she wanted. To please him, to help him. She wanted to loosen his self-formed armor.
She finally broke the kiss. Their eyes remained connected, piercing through each other’s defenses. Then she slid her hands across his torso.
“Is the king alive?” she whispered throatily. “Have I saved you, my liege?”
Her hand went under his shirt and rested on his heart, over the scar. “I won’t let you die. I am here to protect you,” she said.
She felt his heart beating fast. He simpered.
Suddenly, Lois felt his body tense. He rolled her over onto her back. Their eyes remained united. She was below the man she just learned she loved. He had been a laborer, a hardened Marine. War-torn, battled-scarred physically and emotionally.
“You have saved me,” he said simply. He leaned close and kissed her hard. His kisses were as hard as he was. Their noses crushed together, their lips pressed tight, their tongues fondled the other.
This kiss made Lois wild. She had waited for a year, for what seemed a lifetime, for his kiss, to be in this position. She had been afraid she had lost him one year ago when he suddenly closed off himself and left Lake Agnes and her on a precipice. It caused the loneliest and coldest summer of her life. The moment he left, she locked away her feelings for him and for love, even for everyday joys and blessings. She feared rousing those confined, locked-up feelings. They may have become a pain, a horrid scar. A scar on her own chest, wounded by more than a sharp knife. She did not want to again misread him and the circumstances. It would cause more imprisoned emotions. There was a greater fear though. He may have locked himself away because of her inquiries about his scar. That pain on his chest, that pain inside of him, the pain from his terrible wars. She had revived it. But it may have seared and burned him again. He may have been stabbed all over again. By her! Now one more mistake and he would never return. She would become the winter season of the tea house. Locked, distant, closed, forgotten.
In his kiss though, all the fear washed away. Her insides warmed. She was renewed. The season of spring. In fact, her own repressed scar, which she placed on her chest from a year ago, began to heal. It was love. Love had resurrected in her.
They both spoke at once.
“I have been …” “I haven’t …”
Each of them paused. She giggling girl-like. He only grunted out a single laugh.
“You first,” he said.
She fumbled out her feelings. “I have been … been thinking about you. You have never left my heart.”
His face brightened from the coarse soldier façade to a soft gentleman. “Haven’t been able to keep my mind straight since I left last year. Everything has been Lois, Lois, Lois.”
She pulled him, hugged him right against her, a blanket on her.
“Never leave me, never,” she said.
“I am here. Here for you,” he answered deeply and slowly, like a father to his beloved daughter.
They kissed again for a long time. They enjoyed each other’s presence as well as the physical touch. She felt their passion change his body as was hers changing more.
Lois loved that she had changed his pattern of breathing. More so, she was overjoyed that he was obviously savoring what she was doing. She let her hand find his scar. She touched the part of him that had a deeper impact, the part that led to somewhere no one had gone in a long time, if ever really.
This time, he allowed her to touch him. And as she did, he strengthened his pressure on her, moving his body against her hand, against her entire self. He was nuzzling. She felt he was finding peace in her, becoming settled.
And they kissed and loved each other. Their cups of Indian tea on the front porch cooled and were forgotten.
Lois felt renewed when he let her see him as he truly was. A soldier, wounded and scarred, but able to love at a greater depth than his scar. The next day, he was gone again only for a year.
This May, the thwop of the helicopter rotors grew louder, echoing off the flat-faced mountain ridges surrounding Lake Agnes. She had already set the heavy bags of sugar on either side of the front door but, in her nervousness, she again reset them only millimeters from where they were first set.
The bags of sugar were her good luck charms and had been for a decade now. More than good luck, she had decided that they were her love charms too. Each spring, she bought two special bags of sugar to place on the right side and left side of the door way. Then, for years afterward, the pair would act out Joseph’s fall and Lois’s rescue, tossing grains onto the floor and placing the bags on Joseph’s shoulders. For them, reveling in love was returning to the moment they fell in love without knowing that they had, actually, fallen together.