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|Chapter Three: Advent in the Tea House|
March 11, 2014
The bell above the door jingled as if it were alive and as happy to see customers coming in as Jinora was. The tea shop was unusually crowded today. Jinora suspected that her customers this afternoon were there as much for the air conditioning as they were for the tea. It was hot outside. But these two particular customers she knew very well, they were regulars. Chuckling, honestly happy to see the two girls, Jinora bowed in greeting to them, her green robes flowing around her frame.
"Well if it isn't Miss Nanaki and Miss Yi. You haven't been in for such a while that I was starting to fear you'd found another tea shop."
Yi laughed and put her hands up. "Never! Your place is the best, Miss Chu," she chirped and threw an arm around Nanaki's neck, drawing the other girl close. "It's Nannie's birthday today! Can we get a plate of cream cakes and some mint tea please?"
Even as Yi was speaking Jinora watched the two girls charge toward an empty table as fast as their pretty bare legs could carry them. Jinora chuckled as both girl slid the small draws under the booth table out and collected their Pai Sho tiles.
"Many happy returns, Miss Nanaki," she said. "The tea is free for birthday girls."
Nanaki was only half listening, most of her attention laser focused on Yi's opening salvo of Earth, Sand Castle, and Fireball tiles.
"Thank you, Jinora," she murmured.
Jinora was halfway to the counter before the realization of what had just transpired came to her. She gave no outward sign, but continued to the counter to give the girls' order to one of her waitresses. She waited patiently until the tray was filled and then carried it back to the table. She put it within reach of both girls. They were too involved in their tiled warfare to do more than mutter thank yous. Jinora stood by the side of the table, staring hard at Nanaki; taking in every feature. It had to be. There was no way for this to be coincidence.
After a few moments-and a powerful combo punch of Tree and Brick tiles- Nanaki reached without looking for her cup of tea, almost knocked it over, and in her haste to grab the cup before it toppled became aware of the scrutiny. She looked up timidly at the old woman looming over her.
Yi looked up also, curious.
"You called me by my given name," she said.
Nanaki was clearly perplexed by the statement, unsure if whether or not this was a good thing or a bad one.
"Did I? I'm...sorry?"
Jinora looked at the petite girl with a growing fondness, a warmth that flooded her whole body and forced the tears to start coming despite the brave front she was trying to put up. Twenty-two years of searching was finally over.
"Nobody outside of my immediate family has called me by that name since, oh, I was your age. There's only one other person who knew it, and who could know it now."
Much to Nanaki's shock and dismay, and Yi's utter surprise, the old lady got to her knees, then pressed her forehead to the floor in front of Nanaki. Nanaki moved into the baffled and embarrassed stage as patrons and waitresses turned their heads, curious about what was going on.
"You are the Avatar," Jinora said.
Nanaki's mouth fell open, and Yi's mouth dropped even more so. The announcement rocked the tea shop. Nanaki felt her cheeks starting to burn as whispers snaked their way around the premises.
"What did she say?"
"That little girl is the Avatar!"
"The Avatar has returned!"
Nanaki turned to Yi, fretting and verging on panic, to ask her friend to stop this madness and get her out of here. She stopped short when she saw Yi staring at her in unfettered awe and wonder. Then a smile crescented its way across Yi's face.
"Oooh," Yi chimed," My best friend is the Avatar! How cool is that?"
Then she too was prostrating herself on the floor. Nanaki blinked, looking up to see every other patron and waitress in the room also getting to their knees and bowing their heads to the Avatar.
Bowing to her.
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