Title from Edgar Allan Poe's "Serenade"
As I wipe down a table, the creak of the door and the small tinkling of the bell alert me to new customers. Glancing over my shoulder, I smile to myself at the couple as they walk hand in hand to a table in the corner and take their normal seats.
They're regulars- always showing up on specific days and at exactly the same time. If I had to pick my favorite out of those who wander in and out of my small tearoom, it wouldn't be the elderly man that orders the same tea every morning and sits by the window, or the adorable little girl who always sweetly begs her daddy for one of my freshly made biscuits. No, it would be this mysterious couple who always picks the seat away from prying eyes and sits until closing time, doing nothing but talking as if they have all the time in the world.
They make quite the pair- him with his ever-present bow tie and tweed jacket, his floppy hair matching his boyish grin, and her with a mane of riotous curls, warm eyes that seem to change from green to blue to grey, and a smile that seems to constantly lurk at the edges of her red-painted lips.
To anyone that gives them a brief glance, she would seem like the older of the two, her features more mature than that of his youthful face, but observe them for as long as I have and it just doesn't seem to fit them. Terribly old and full of wisdom that I feel I will never find in this short life, his eyes seem out of place in comparison to the rest of his face, as if he is an ancient soul dwelling in a young man's body. If I look long enough, I see it in her, too, and it makes them seem almost other-worldly. And it's odd because as long as the two of them have been coming to my tearoom, I have not once seen either of them look a day older than the first time they stepped through my door. It's almost as if they exist outside the boundaries of time, and despite their seemingly normal nature, I can't help but wonder if they do.
Hooking a loose strand of my almost completely silver hair behind my ear, I fold the wet cleaning cloth in my hands and move to their table, smiling as I ask, "Will it be the normal, dears?"
They nod, kind smiles on their faces, and I move into the open kitchen, glancing over at them every now and again as I fix their order- one tea with so much sugar it could kill a horse, the other as black as night itself, and a large strawberry scone that they share.
Their fingers lace together as they hold hands over the table and speak in soft tones, and I can't help the small smile from creeping up my face as I work. I've only ever seen their kind of love in movies, or read about it in books. It's an unconditional, romantic love that seems endless, just like them- and it's beautiful.
As I move from behind the table with the teas in hand, the woman is reaching out, running her fingers lightly through his longer-than-normal hair with a small frown on her face.
"It needs to be cut, River." I hear him whine as I approach and she gives him a pout. "But I like your hair this long, sweetie."
They stop their playful bickering long enough to thank me as I place their teas on the table, and I hear him give a sigh of defeat as I retreat back into the kitchen. I rarely ever hear them call each other something different than dear, honey, or sweetie, so every time I hear their names it catches me off guard- but maybe it's because what they go by aren't exactly the most normal names in the world.
River and the Doctor.
The names, or title in his case, are different to say the least. But as I bring them their scone, I watch as she smiles at him over the rim of her teacup and how he's failing at repressing a returning grin, and think that the names fit them- strange or not- just like every other defining aspect they share.
It's April 22- their anniversary- and they show up like clockwork, the bell giving a joyful ring as they enter. The woman is rambling away, something I rarely see her do, a wide grin on her face and clutching one of his hands in both of hers, practically bouncing up and down as they make their way to their table. He smiles fondly at her as they sit and she continues to enthuse over whatever it is she's so excited about.
Her happiness must be contagious, because soon I find myself smiling right along with her as I move from placing a plate of biscuits in front of one couple, to their table, wiping my hands on my apron as I go.
"What're you so excited about, then?" I ask her, grin on my face and she smiles brightly up at me, her eyes shining.
"He's taking me to the Singing Towers," she says passionately. "He promised ages ago."
"Special night, then?" I don't even bother to wonder with what the Singing Towers are- by now I've learned that half of what they say is too strange for me to worry about.
The man reaches out and takes one of her hands in his, gently running his thumb over her knuckles as he quietly replies, "It is. Very special."
She beams at him, either not seeing or ignoring what I can see- a sadness hiding behind his smile that doesn't reach his eyes. It strikes me as odd because never have I seen either one of them in a negative mood unless it's an emotion that they're sharing for a circumstance that is none of my business.
So I ignore it, just as she seems to be doing, and make my way back to the kitchen after they request the same scone and teas they always ask for.
The next time they're due for a visit, the door opens directly on time as always, but when I turn to greet them, it isn't them, it's just him- the Doctor. For a moment, he just looks around as if he's lost, but then he moves to their table in the back and sits in the seat he always takes.
With a frown I walk over to the table. "Is she late?" I ask, nodding towards the chair River normally sits in. He shakes his head, the movement seeming jerky and forced as he whispers, "My wife won't be joining me this evening."
A sense of dread weighs in my chest, and I want to ask why she won't be coming, but I'm not sure if I want to hear the answer that I think I already know, so instead I settle for asking what he wants.
"Can we-" He stops at the use of plural term, closing his eyes briefly as if he's trying not to break into pieces right there. "Just the usual?" His voice is strained as he asks, and I can only nod and return to the kitchen, unable to bring myself to point out that there's no use for two teas if there is only one person.
As I fix the teas, I resolutely ignore the thought that the woman who has entered my small shop and sat right there in that seat with her husband on so many occasions will never step foot in here again.
He quietly thanks me as I place the sugar-filled tea in front of him, the straight black one in front of the empty space, and the scone in the middle. I suddenly notice how gaunt his face seems, his eyes rimmed red and shadowed with dark circles. His heavy tweed falls looser around his lanky frame, and that combined with his lost expression as he stares into his teacup, makes me want to just pull him close and tell him that it will be okay- even though I myself know that is blatant lie.
Just as I turn to leave, prepared to leave him with his thoughts, he looks up and I barely catch the next words he utters as he looks at me with those ancient and oh so sad eyes. "She's gone."
If hearts could shatter, mine would be lying in jagged pieces at my feet.
I had assumed, but actually hearing it from his lips and seeing the brokenness written across his face is something else entirely. Tears form in his eyes and he tries his best to blink them back, turning away from me, but I have none of it, pulling him to stand and wrapping him in the most comforting embrace I can offer.
It's then that he breaks, a harsh sob torn from his throat that conveys such profound despair and misery it causes my chest to physically ache. His hot tears bleed through the fabric of my shirt and all I can do is whisper nonsensical lies that everything will be fine as sobs rack through his being.
I find myself crying with him, tears falling slowly onto his tweed as I try to calm him. But they came as a pair, always together, and now it seems as if he's incomplete, and I know that no amount of attempted comforting will ever be able to fix that.
Once I finally pull back, he apologizes softly and crumples into his seat, burying his face in his hands and becoming the perfect portrayal of immense sorrow.
"I never told her," he whispers, voice thick with tears. It seems more like he's talking to the air than to me, and I don't have to provoke him with questions to get him to continue. "I had my chance- countless chances, actually- and I never told her I loved her. I thought that maybe it would hurt less if I didn't say it, but I was so wrong."
He looks at me, eyes shot red and smile bitter. "I think…if I had just told her- that I love her more than anyone and anything in the entire universe- I think her smile would have been beautiful."
I swallow heavily. "I'm sure she knew, dear."
He nods stiffly, and with that I leave him so I can tend to the other customers, that heavy sadness remaining in my chest. As I make teas for the few coming and going people, I catch him whispering to the empty chair across from him every now and again- like she's there- and that alone is enough to break my soul.
Once he leaves and I begin to close up for the night, I return to his table to find it to be like an incomplete picture- his teacup empty, the one across from him still full and stone-cold, and a half eaten scone resting on the dainty plate.
I don't expect him, but he bursts through the door right on time, pens in his hand and scrolls of papers clutched in his arms. Looking a bit harried, he rushes to the table and plops the papers onto the surface. With an excited grin, he turns to me and calls out, "The usual?"
I can only nod as he takes a seat and begins scribbling across one of the papers. Frowning, I turn on the kettle to begin the tea and pull out a warm strawberry scone. In all honesty, I figured he would still be a mess, but instead he's sitting there, humming happily with a smile on his face as he works.
When I bring over the order, I get a glimpse of a few of the things drawn and written on the mess of papers that is spread about the table. There's an elaborate sketch of what he has labeled as a sonic screwdriver, and I also catch the words neural relay before my eyes wander to another page and I find the words data core, and transfer of regeneration energy.
I haven't a clue what it means, but when I place the tea in front of him, he smiles brilliantly up at me.
"Today is the day I'm going to save her."
This time I watch the clock as it gets closer for his routine visit. The last time he left, he seemed a bit frayed around the edges, babbling on about things I only half listened to, and I wonder if he will even show up at all this time.
The door opens as the clock strikes seven, the bell giving its usual welcoming jingle. But it's not the Doctor who enters. It's a couple- a man with bright ginger hair accompanied by a raven-haired woman. Their hands are linked together and they smile at me as the take the table in the back corner.
Frowning, I follow them, fully intending to tell them that the table they have picked is reserved as they settle in their seats, their fingers threading together over the table top.
But then they ask for two teas- one full of sugar and the other with none at all- and a strawberry scone to share.
As always, thanks for reading (: