The Underground

by trogers5 on February 10, 2022


coffee in a pile of beans
photo creds: pixabay

Kate Ward ’23


By the time of his lunch break, Edmund was exhausted from an early morning preparing a case to defend his client. It wasn’t looking good, and frankly, Edmund had little faith that his client would get out of this unscathed. He walked outside to the loud street and waited under a streetlamp for the “walk” sign to appear. The wind, which smelled awfully polluted, tousled his neatly-kept hair and sent the tassels of his bolo tie flitting around. He placed a hand on his chest to try to prevent it, but just like his efforts to strengthen the case with his current client, it proved to be futile. 

He crossed the street and walked up four blocks to his favorite haunt, a tiny tea shop that had the best lavender-vanilla tea.

Lanam looked up as the door jingled. He snapped on a fresh pair of gloves and pulled his mask up over his nose. Seeing it was Edmund, he paused a moment, hands fumbling with the delicate porcelain cup he was polishing. 

“Good morning sir, what can I get started for you?” he asked as he set the cup down.

Edmund looked over the menu, fingers poised on his chin, rubbing a spot there as he read and reread the options. 

“Morning.” He paused and glanced at Lanam’s name tag. “Morning, Lanam. Say, may I have a cup of the lavender-vanilla tea with a bit of milk? Actually, make that two.” 

Lanam was taken aback—Edmund was switching up his usual order. “Do you have someone joining you?”

Edmund made himself comfortable at a table by the window, legs crossed as he skimmed through a real estate magazine. “Oh, no but I was hoping you would?” He glanced around the shop. It was empty save for the two of them, a quiet hour amidst the chaos outside. “If you aren’t too busy, of course.” A small smile graced his face, blue eyes twinkling.

The barista made a noise of annoyance and continued to assemble the two teas. Edmund liked listening to the process—the meticulous craft of tea-making, especially with loose leaves and complex flavoring, was mesmerizing. He found it to be far more interesting than brownstone apartments on glossy pages. 

Lanam sprinkled lavender petals into the cup and flourished it with a dash of milk. “Did you want the other one to have milk?” 

“Make it how you want it,” Edmund replied, dipping his chin in an affirming nod. 

Another scoff and a dribble of honey later, Lanam passed the barrier and came over to Edmund’s table. He carefully folded and set aside the magazine; he hadn’t been able to get past the first few pages anyway. He took the tiny cup in his hand and took a sip, and only then did Lanam take a seat. 

“Why tea?” Edmund asked, cup nestling against its plate.  

“Why law?” Lanam returned, bristling at the question.  

Edmund lifted a hand. “I didn’t mean any offense. I was just trying to make conversation.” He found himself a bit more flustered than usual. He was used to clients being emotional, but at work, he could detach himself from the situation. This felt different. 

Lanam sighed and smoothed his hair back. “Whatever. I guess I settled on tea because no one could do it the way I liked it, so…” He shrugged and pulled his mask up once more.

“I chose law because I wanted to help those who couldn’t help themselves. Get them out of situations that they didn’t choose to be in.” Edmund’s eyes glossed a little, recalling something distant.

A few beats of silence passed before Lanam nodded. “That’s very noble of you.” 

“It’s just a job. But…thank you.” Edmund took another sip. “How did you come up with the name for this place?” 

“The Underground? I don’t know. It was a place I was fond of as a kid, so…I decided to carry the name over to here.” He shrugged. “Look, I’m not interested in small talk, really, I’ll be honest with you.”

Edmund finished his tea and fished around in his wallet. With a thunk he set it on the table and gave Lanam a look. “I’m just glad you’re interested in talking at all. Here, I haven’t paid you. This has been the best tea yet.”

Lanam took the bills he offered and slid them into his apron pocket with a curt nod before getting up and carrying his own cup and plate to the back, and then coming back to get the other. He picked up the dish and the cup in one hand. Edmund caught his other hand and held fast. Lanam nearly dropped the dishes in shock. He looked down at their joined hands and gave the lawyer a startled look. 

Edmund rose from his seat. “So, you don’t like small talk. That’s fine. Let me cut to the chase.” He paused and was met with a scowl. “Let me take you out to dinner.” 

Frankly, that was the last thing he expected, so Lanam was caught off guard. He averted his eyes. His cruel mask had slipped and there was no recovering it, so he sighed. “Fine. One dinner. It’s not like it’s going to change anything.” 

Edmund smiled warmly and dropped his hand, heading toward the door before glancing over his shoulder. “Oh, make sure you count those bills before putting them in the register.” 

Lanam scoffed as he hurried behind the counter, trying desperately to hide the blush that had crawled up his face. “What kind of idiot doesn’t count bills before putting them away?” he grumbled as the door slammed shut, Edmund’s laugh carrying out into the street. He thumbed through the bills. Aside from being overpaid, he didn’t see anything inherently wrong with them. What was that lawyer on about? Then he noticed that one of the singles had a slight tear in the upper corner, and directly below it, ten digits scrawled in blue pen.

“Unbelievable,” he sighed.