She would let it steep for at least five minutes, so the leaves would release the bitter parts of their souls. Then she would add a spot of milk and a half-teaspoon of sugar to soften the strong taste. It was always a black tea, always a blue mug.

Caroline Duckworth, Design Editor

Her sadness was evident in the way she made tea.


She would let it steep for at least five minutes, so the leaves would release the bitter parts of their souls. Then she would add a spot of milk and a half-teaspoon of sugar to soften the strong taste. It was always a black tea, always a blue mug.


Today it was Earl Grey, the saddest of teas, in a mug the color of a robin’s egg. She stirred the tea slowly, listening to the whisper of metal scraping ceramic. Her hands cradled the mug, welcoming its warmth, its comfort.


The doorbell rang. She remained in the kitchen for a moment, standing in socked feet, breathing in the aroma of her tea. The silence of the house felt stronger, more tangible, after that interrupting ring. She waited to see if her mother would come downstairs, but then the doorbell rang again. It was obvious that her mother was in her office ignoring the world this afternoon, too caught up in her work.


She walked to the door, took a sip of her tea, and turned the doorknob. Before her stood a boy with sunlight hair and amber eyes, a book bag slung over his shoulder and a Golden Retriever at his side.


“Lucy,” the boy said with a genuine smile. “Hi.”


“Hi, Matt,” she replied, smiling back to be polite. “What are you doing here?”


“Bailey and I were going for a walk, and I just wanted to come by and see you.”


Matt had lived down the street since fifth grade, and whenever he came by, he always liked to talk. Even though she felt a tiredness lingering over her, Lucy couldn’t be rude.


“Do you want to sit down?” she asked, motioning to the pair of white chairs on the porch.


“Yeah, sure.”


She stepped outside into the September air and closed the door behind her, and they sat down together, Matt putting his book bag by his chair. Lucy’s socks caught on the wood beneath her feet. She set her cup of tea down on the table between them so she could greet Bailey, the sweetest dog she had ever met. She had never been much of a dog person because her mom never let her dad buy one, but when Matt’s family got Bailey a few years ago as a puppy, she had fallen in love with him. Lucy ran her hands through his soft, golden hair and scratched behind his ears as the dog pressed his face into her lap.


“You haven’t been at school for nearly a week,” Matt said as he looked down at the dog-leash in his hands.


Lucy kept her attention focused on Bailey and his warm, loving eyes. She could tell the dog anything, and he would love her just the same. But she didn’t feel like talking to Matt. She didn’t want to tell him that she missed school so often because on some days it was impossible for her to get out of bed. She didn’t want to tell him of the numbness she felt like a pit inside of her. She didn’t want to tell him that her life felt empty, helpless, hopeless. She didn’t want to hear that she shouldn’t be sad because she already knew that, but it didn’t change how she felt. He wouldn’t understand.


She picked up her mug with one hand while she continued to pet Bailey with the other.  “I just haven’t been feeling well,” she replied in a quiet voice before taking a sip of tea.


Matt paused, seeing the expression on Lucy’s face, and didn’t press the subject. After a moment he began to fill her in on school, taking out the extra worksheets he had gotten from their teachers and the notes he had copied so she could catch up on some of what she had missed. She had been absent frequently this year, and Matt had brought her work home multiple times to help her out. She was always grateful but often wished he would stop. She hated feeling indebted to him.


After he explained the math worksheets he had brought her, he told her about some interesting things he had noticed in the last week about their teachers and the students in their classes. Matt was a mostly quiet person in school, but he always talked a lot with Lucy. They had known each other for so long that he didn’t feel the need to be as reserved around her, and she enjoyed listening to him and his ramblings about people and life. He liked to observe others from a distance, not in a judgmental way but in an objective way, just to take people in to try to understand them.


As Lucy listened to his warm voice, she wondered if maybe he would understand how she felt. But then a fear crept in, and she shut away the thought. She didn’t want him to analyze her, to search for a cause and a solution.


By now, Bailey was lying down on top of Lucy’s feet, and her mug was empty. She sat it on the table, a feeling of exhaustion sweeping over her. She hoped Matt would leave soon. Luckily, he looked at his watch then and saw that he had been there for over an hour.


“Oh, sorry, I should go,” he said, standing up. “My parents are having people from Dad’s office over for dinner, and they want me to be there.” Bailey stood up too, leaving Lucy’s socked feet suddenly cold.


“Bye, Bailey,” she said softly as she leaned down and wrapped her arms around the dog’s neck. She buried her face in his gold-spun hair, wanting to keep him forever. When she pulled away, he licked her cheek, and she laughed. An alien feeling of delight came over her. She picked up her mug, clutching it tightly, and sat watching as Bailey followed Matt down the porch steps.


“See you later, Lucy,” Matt said with a wave and a kind smile.


“See you later, Matt,” she answered, and this time her smile was genuine as well.



The next day Lucy found herself at school, and Matt was happy to see her. They had most of their classes together, and he always sat near her even though he had other, more interesting friends. They talked about anything and everything, but Matt did most of the talking. Sometimes they were both quiet, and that was okay too. Lucy carried around her Robert Frost book, like always, and Matt asked her about it, like always.


“Which poem are you reading today?” he asked as they sat down in the library to eat lunch. Lucy didn’t understand why he sat with her when he could have gone to the cafeteria and sat with more of his friends.


She had bought the book last summer, Frost’s complete works, and she was slowly making her way through it, often skipping around to random pages. She dedicated each day to reading and focusing on a different poem, taking it in the way Matt took in people.


“‘Wind and Window Flower’,” she said. “I think it’s my favorite poem right now.” She read it out loud to him. It felt natural, almost instinctual, because she had already read it ten times that day.


“It’s beautiful,” he told her, “but… what does it mean?”


She laughed softly. “It’s a sort of love story. The wind is a person who is in love with another person, the flower. But the flower doesn’t realize it until it’s too late and the wind has already moved on.”


Matt looked thoughtfully at the carton of milk in his hand. “That’s really sad,” he said after a moment.


“Yeah,” Lucy said softly, “it is sad.”


And she began to think about all the sadness in life, in the world, in history. She thought about hatred, greed, disease, rape, death, war, genocide, and it all wrapped itself around her, tightening slowly, pulling her down, and she couldn’t escape.


She wished that she hadn’t come to school.



When Lucy got home, she made English afternoon tea in a sapphire mug. She didn’t wait for it to cool, so it burned her tongue, and then she was angry with herself. She sat on the sofa with her Robert Frost book, reading “Wind and Window Flower” once again, slowly memorizing the lovely words of Frost’s ineffable poem.


The doorbell rang. She thought for a moment that it could be her dad, but he was never home from work this early. Lucy went to the door and opened it to find Matt and Bailey again.


“Do you want to go for a walk with us?” Matt said immediately, catching Lucy off-guard.


She looked down at the cup of tea in her hand, then back up at Matt’s bright amber eyes. “Um, yeah, okay,” she found herself saying. “Let me grab my shoes.”


Lucy left her mug on the kitchen counter and ran upstairs to slip on her Converse and grab a jacket. She stuck her head in her mom’s office to say that she was going on a walk, but her mom just waved her hand to say she was busy without turning away from her computer.


Lucy sighed as she came back downstairs, but Matt greeted her with a grin.


As they walked down the street, Matt offered Bailey’s leash to Lucy. That alien feeling of delight bloomed in her chest again as she took it from his hands.


“I’m glad you came to school today,” Matt said. Lucy just shrugged. She watched Bailey’s yellow hair glitter in the sunlight as he trotted beside her, stopping often to smell mailboxes.


They passed Matt’s house and soon reached where their road ended in another. Then they turned right and walked a little while in silence until they came upon the neighborhood park, a large grassy area dotted with dogwood trees and a playground standing on the side. Matt took off Bailey’s leash, pulled a tennis ball out of his pocket, and threw it hard. The Golden Retriever galloped after the soaring ball and jumped up to catch it. He ran back to his owner, and Matt took the tennis ball from his mouth.


“Do you want to try?” he asked Lucy.


“All right,” she said, taking the ball. Bailey seemed to grin at her. She threw it underhanded, unsure of herself. It didn’t go very far, but Bailey still caught it, this time bringing it back to Lucy. “It’s okay, you can throw it,” she told Matt.


She sat down for a while, watching Matt and Bailey play fetch, and then she found herself lying on the grass. The clouds looked like cotton, all stretched and pull apart. The sky was a pale blue, the same color as one of her mugs. The rough grass tried to poke at her arms through her jacket.


Lucy heard a noise and turned to see Matt sitting next to her. Bailey plopped down nearby, panting from running back and forth, his tongue falling out of his mouth. Lucy sat up and looked at Matt, waiting for him to talk first.


“What’s going on with you?” he said in a gentle way.


“Well I’m just sitting here in the grass when I probably have homework to do,” she answered.


“No, I mean, like, how are you doing? You know I’m always here for you, and it seems like you need to talk to somebody.”


“How do you know what I need to do?” Lucy answered sharply.


Matt didn’t say anything, but his amber eyes looked almost hurt. Lucy sighed, pulling up blades of grass, twisting them, knotting them.


“I’m just sad,” she stated finally.


“But why?” he asked immediately.


“I don’t know why—that’s the point.” Lucy’s voice was tense.


Matt just looked at her, amber eyes full of worry. She hated that she made him worried. She stared at the grass in her hands, and without thinking, a jumbled river of words rushed from her mouth.


“The moments when I’m genuinely happy are rare, and they seem to float on this sea of, I don’t know, discontent. I’m just an unhappy person. I see sadness in everything, in humanity, in the world, and I can’t get around it, it’s like an inescapable vortex, and there’s an ache inside of me, a numbness, and sometimes I just want to cry, but I can’t, and on some days I can’t get out of bed because the air itself is unbearably heavy, and I can’t explain any of it. I think I’m just an unhappy person. Dad doesn’t notice because he’s always away at work, and Mom doesn’t notice because she’s always working upstairs, but she might as well have an office twenty minutes away like Dad. They’re worried about money, and I just tell them that I’m not feeling well, and they trust me to take care of myself. I’ve taken care of myself for years now. But I’m also afraid of myself. I’m afraid of my loneliness, my destructive side, my sadness—but my sadness is familiar, and I don’t know how to get away from it. I—” She took a breath, her eyes burning. “I’m just an unhappy person,” she repeated.


Her stomach felt tight, like the knots of grass sitting in her palms. Matt’s arms suddenly wrapped around her, pulling her head onto his steady shoulder.


“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m sorry for not reaching out to you sooner.”


The knots inside of her let loose. Hot tears leaked from her eyes. She breathed in, and her body shook. Matt held her wordlessly in his strong arms until she felt stable enough to pull away. He looked at her with his compassionate eyes, his blond hair competing with the sun’s light, as she wiped away her silent tears.


“My grandmother had…a similar sadness,” he said eventually. “She died when I was seven, but I didn’t find out until two years ago that she had taken too many of her pills intentionally…” His voice trailed off.


“I’m not going to commit suicide, Matt,” Lucy said softly.


“I didn’t say that. You just—you don’t know what this could do to you eventually. You need to talk to people, your family for starters. They should know what you’re dealing with—“


“I can’t tell them,” she interrupted. “I don’t know how, and they wouldn’t help. They wouldn’t understand.”


“Fine then, just talk to me. Let me try to understand. Whenever you need to, you can talk to me, whenever you feel like you’re drowning, please, just talk to me. I’ll remind you of your favorite books, of autumn leaves, of tea, of warm chocolate chip cookies, of Robert Frost poems, and I’ll tell you lame jokes, and we can listen to old music, and maybe I can help and sometimes maybe I can’t, but at least you’ll know you aren’t alone.”


More tears had streaked down Lucy’s cheeks, but they were different tears. As she rubbed them away, she realized there was a small smile on her face. She felt a dog’s nose sniffing at her head.


“And Bailey will be there to cheer you up, too.”



The next day, Lucy woke up to the early sunlight, a rare occasion on a Saturday morning. Groaning, she forced herself out of bed, slowly placing her bare feet on her soft carpet. Her parents slept in. The house was peacefully silent. After brushing her teeth, she looked at herself in the mirror, at her pale face framed by messy cinnamon waves, at her green-blue eyes underlined by tired skin.


She went to the kitchen, put water in a teal-colored kettle on the stove, and then found an old recipe for scones. She remembered when her mom would invite Matt and his mother over for lunch, and her mom would make these scones and serve them with a lemon glaze, and Matt loved them. But then her mom started working more and didn’t have time for lunches and scone-making.


Lucy started pulling out all the ingredients, found a jar of lemon glaze in the fridge, and set to work making the scones. She wanted to surprise Matt with them that afternoon. The fragrance of flour and butter filled the kitchen. She didn’t think much as she mixed and rolled the dough. It was calming and therapeutic.


The kettle on the stove started singing. Then Lucy grabbed a white mug and made green tea.