Meanwhile, 72 days ago. . .

A few grains of roasted rice make it into my cup as a country singer laments his love life.

I fill the cup again, and this time, chimes erupt from the speakers. The tiny shot of tea empties into my mouth, the betterness giving way to a dry feeling on my tongue and on the roof of my mouth.

I’m in a tea lounge in Charlottesville, surrounded by college students, snow, hookahs, and tea. Here, I can imagine I’m an expatriate in some faux foreign county—or at least some american perception of one. With hookahs, buddhist paraphenalia, rattan furniture, and track lighting set on low with yellow gels.

I wait as the shot of tea cools and I watch as the steam slowly rises from the top of the tiny ceramic cup. I lift the lid and see that I need at least one other person to finish the pot.

A twenty minute alarm pulls on my eardrum, reminding me that Tom is on stage, in drag, playing the piano in a purple feather boa, fishnets, and electric blue eyeshadow.

The tea is cooling, the pages are filling, and the candle burns lower than when I arrived.

A waitress passes by, a batik print with legs in my peripheral vision.

I drain the cup and hold it between my thumb and forefinger. I place it down on the table and lift the lid of the teapot.

This is the last cup.