Deadlines and Tea Leaves

by kiyala (樹夜蘭)


It was eight o’clock on a Wednesday night. Judging by all the work she still had left to do, it didn’t look like Alison was going to be leaving work any time soon. Her boss had made a vaguely negative comment about her floor plans, hours ago, and it was lingering in her mind as she dealt with the rest of the work that had been left for her to complete. She couldn’t stop bringing it up on her screen every now and then, tweaking it to see if she liked that better.

She needed it to be perfect; it was the standard she held herself to for all of her work, and anything less was unacceptable. She’d made a reputation for herself; everyone in the architecture firm knew that she was hardworking, that she never let the tiniest detail slip. The fact that anyone could find something negative to say about her work made her uncomfortable. It made her feel uncomfortable, and it made her want to prove herself even more.

So here she was, still at the office when anyone with a bit of sense had already packed up for the day and gone home. She was stressed, she was tired, she was about ready to kill for a cup of—

“Tea, Alison?”

She lifted her head from her work immediately. No matter how often she stayed late in the office, she was never alone. Phoebe didn’t have the same reputation that Alison did, though she worked just as hard. She was the kind of person who kept to herself most of the time; there were days that she went completely unnoticed unless someone needed her to do some work for them. Alison didn’t understand how she could be happy with that.

She sat a few desks away from Alison, and they tended to be the first ones in the office in the morning, and the last to leave. They barely spoke; they were always far too busy with the work that they had to do, but whenever Phoebe got up to make a pot of tea for herself, she would always come around to Alison’s desk and leave a cup of it for her. Alison couldn’t even remember how it had started, but now it was something that she simply accepted.

“Please.” Accepting her cup with a grateful smile, Alison waited for Phoebe to return to her desk before lifting her cup to her lips.

Phoebe had a few different blends of tea that she liked to rotate and occasionally tried new ones. She would always make a large pot of tea, leaving it out on one of the empty desks between them so they could both reach it. She’d made sure Alison knew that if she wanted more, she could always help herself. Alison was certain that the entirety of one of Phoebe’s cupboards was dedicated to her tea; she had different sized tea pots, from those only large enough to make one mug, to ones that made six or seven cups’ worth.

Alison couldn’t help noticing the fact that if she didn’t particularly like a blend of tea and didn’t go to the pot to pour herself another cup, Phoebe would take notice. She’d still make it for herself during the day, but she wouldn’t use it again in the evenings when she brewed tea for the two of them.

Not knowing what to do with that piece of information, Alison had simply filed it away long ago. Besides, even if she knew what to say, it wasn’t as though either of them really had the time to talk about it. Alison simply continued on with her work and silently appreciated the fact that the tea made it easier to deal with her neverending list of tasks.

And if she appreciated Phoebe’s silent company as they both worked late, she kept that to herself as well.

Alison was the type who never took days off work. If she was sick, she’d down a few tablets and get on with it, and so she didn’t really have the right to comment when she noticed Phoebe doing the same thing. She just kept sipping her ginger and honey tea, and held her tongue.

Now, of course, she regretted it. Phoebe had called in that morning, too sick to get out of bed. They weren’t working on any designs together so it didn’t really affect Alison’s workload, but it meant that she was the only one staying back late at work. The office felt so much emptier when it was just her typing away at her computer, without the sound of Phoebe working at her desk as well.

It took Alison about an hour and a half of working on her own to realise just how badly she was craving some tea.

She could have easily just walked over to Phoebe’s desk and helped herself to some of the tea she kept stored away, but it just didn’t feel right to do that. She didn’t feel as if they were familiar enough with each other to do that. They just worked late in the office together; it didn’t mean that they were friends.

Alison paused at that thought, turning it over in her mind. There weren’t very many people that she could call friends, inside or outside of work. She got along with people fine, and she tended to have lunch with her teammates every day. That was different from actually having friends though. Friends cared for each other; they paid attention to each other even when it had nothing to do with work.

The way Phoebe paid attention to what kind of tea Alison liked, and which she did not.

Sitting at her desk, Alison mentally went over everything that she knew about Phoebe.

They were both roughly the same age; in their mid-twenties, a few years out of their university degrees. Phoebe had bronze skin and dark eyes that always seemed to be smiling. She had an older sister with a four-year-old daughter, and had a picture of both of them on the pinboard above her desk. Alison remembered her mentioning a pet cat every now and then, independent but affectionate whenever she returned home.

It wasn’t much, but it was still better than what Alison knew about most of her other colleagues.

She glanced towards the kitchenette. If she wasn’t going to steal some of Phoebe’s tea, then she could at least make herself a cup with one of the tea bags kept in the jar for everyone to use. She quickly shook her head, dismissing that idea as quickly as it had come. That sounded even worse than using Phoebe’s tea.

Giving up, she turned her attention back to her work. The sooner she was done with all of this, the sooner she could just leave, and have some actual dinner.

It didn’t feel like there was any less work to be done than any other night, but when Alison left the office that night, she couldn’t help notice that it was a good hour earlier than she usually left when she was with Phoebe.

She tried not to think of what that could mean.

Two days later, Alison was relieved when she walked into the office to see a familiar head of dark hair, pulled into a loose braid.

“You’re back,” she greeted, stopping by Phoebe’s desk on the way to her own.

“Did you miss me?” Phoebe grinned. “Or maybe just my tea.”

“Definitely the tea,” Alison replied. Folding her arms across her chest, she leaned against the edge of Phoebe’s desk. “How are you feeling now?”

“Much better.” Leaning over to open her tea cupboard, Phoebe smiled. “How about a nice brew to start the day?”

Alison couldn’t help but notice the fact that her day felt significantly better now that Phoebe was back. Her design meeting didn’t seem to drag on for half as long as it did before, and she was even ready for her client meeting without having to scramble to have all the last-minute preparations done.

She also noticed, with some level of satisfaction, that Phoebe’s team was taking more notice of her now. She’d heard them making comments over the past few days about just how much work they needed to take care of while Phoebe was off sick. They were finally coming to notice exactly how much work she did; Alison thought that it was about time Phoebe was appreciated for it.

Of course, with Alison’s client meeting out of the way, it meant that she had to start applying for government approval. It didn’t help that there was yet another client being dumped into her lap that she had to start designing for as well. She knew it was going to be a long night, but she didn’t particularly mind.

From the looks of it, Phoebe was working hard to catch up on all the work that she’d missed over the past couple of days. She was still typing away furiously at her computer while most of their colleagues left, barely taking notice of anything around her. Alison worked on her own design, tweaking details here and there until she was happy with them, before finally clearing her throat.

“You know, if you keep working yourself into the ground like that, you’re going to get yourself sick again.”

Phoebe looked up at that, and gave her a small smile. “Because you can talk.”

Lifting one shoulder in a shrug, Alison flicked through her notebook until she found the design notes she needed. “It’s just no fun working here on my own.”

Phoebe chuckled at that. “I suppose that must have been dull. Sorry. I have a client meeting on Friday afternoon, and I’ve lost a couple of days’ worth of work. I’ve had other people try and fill in for me, but…”

“It’s just not the same as doing the work yourself,” Alison finished, nodding with understanding.

“Exactly.” Phoebe chewed on the end of her pen. “I’d feel bad for redoing the work that my teammates have done, but I’d rather have everything work together cohesively than present something that changes styles halfway through.”

“Makes perfect sense to me,” Alison murmured, turning back to her work.

Phoebe laughed at that. “Funny. You’re the first person who hasn’t tried telling me I’m only making more work for myself.”

“Well, you are. I just think it’s perfectly reasonable.”

“At least someone understands me,” Phoebe said with a rueful smile. “I can’t stand this, I have far too much work to do by tomorrow afternoon. I’m making some tea. A special blend this time.”

“A special blend?” Alison echoed, looking up as Phoebe pulled the bottle of brandy out of her tea cupboard, adding a good amount to the tea pot. “Oh, I see.”

It tasted wonderful, when Phoebe set a cup down on Alison’s desk with a wink and, “I won’t tell if you don’t.” She lingered at Alison’s desk longer than necessary, leaning against her filing cabinet.

“We should go for a drink sometime,” Alison decided, her mouth deciding not to consult her brain first. “Friday night, after you’re finished with your client meeting. Let’s just… not stay late at work afterwards, and go out for a drink.”

Resisting the urge to physically kick herself, Alison held her breath as she waited for an answer.

Phoebe simply beamed, and said, “I would love that, actually.”

“Great,” Alison breathed.

If possible, Phoebe’s smile grew wider. Reaching out, she absently tucked a strand of loose hair behind Alison’s ear, her cheeks reddening as she realised what she was doing. Snatching her hand away, Phoebe covered it up with a quiet cough. “It’s a plan, then.”

For the rest of the night, Alison could barely think of anything but the light brush of Phoebe’s fingers against her cheek.

The office always emptied out earlier than usual on Friday afternoon. From about four o’clock, people would start making their way out, talking about weekend plans, glad to leave work behind for a couple of days.

Alison had never been one of them, thinking instead that if she didn’t get her work done now, she would have to spend the entire weekend knowing that it would be there, waiting for her once she returned.

Now, however, she focused on getting the important work done, deciding that the rest of it could wait until later.

Phoebe had gone in for her meeting at half-past three, along with the rest of her team. She’d sent a lingering glance in Alison’s direction before leaving, the way they’d both been doing all day. Phoebe had been late to come in that morning and they hadn’t found the time to speak at all throughout the day, constantly being pulled left, right and centre, with new tasks that needed to be completed immediately.

Alison could admit, at least to herself, that she was incredibly nervous. She could barely even remember the last time she’d spent any time with her colleagues outside of work, but at the back of her mind, she knew this wasn’t the main concern. What she had with Phoebe was entirely different and no matter how things went tonight, she knew that whatever it was, it was bound to change.

The prospect of that was absolutely terrifying.

It was a quarter past five by the time the meeting ended. Most of the members of Phoebe’s team went to their desks, gathering their belongings and leaving immediately. Phoebe hung back, looking over at Alison.

Once everyone else was gone, Alison got to her feet, walking over. “Ready to leave?”

Phoebe looked around the office, where there were still some people sitting at their desks and working, for once. Alison caught the way her lips curved into a small smile. “Yeah. Let’s go.”

They grabbed their bags, and Alison lead the way to the parking lot. “We can go to a bar, if you’d like. Or I’ve got these bottles of wine at home that I’ve never gotten around to.”

“Your place,” Phoebe replied immediately, following Alison to her car. Sighing as she sat down in the passenger seat, Phoebe leaned back. “This is much better than being on a crowded train in peak hour.”

“The roads won’t be much better,” Alison told her with a quiet laugh. “One of the plus sides to staying at work so late, I guess. You don’t have to deal with it.”

Even with the peak hour traffic, it was only a half-hour drive to Alison’s apartment. She turned the radio on, leaving the volume low enough that they could talk, but still loud enough that they didn’t have to. Alison couldn’t think of anything to say, but she could feel Phoebe’s gaze on her as they drove through the streets. She stopped at the red light just one street away from where she lived and turned her head, meeting Phoebe’s eyes.

Not averting her gaze, not even batting an eyelid, Phoebe continued to watch her, until Alison felt her cheeks heat. She looked away, turning her eyes back to the road. “What?”

She heard Phoebe huff in amusement, and caught the way she shook her head out of the corner of her eye. Phoebe’s short, gold-painted nails tapped quietly, rhythmically against her bag. Impatience or eagerness, or perhaps both. Alison was tapping her fingers against the steering wheel, too.

The elevator was empty on the way up. They stood beside each other, waiting for it to carry them up to the eighth floor. Phoebe stepped a little closer to Alison, their hands brushing against each other. Their eyes were bright as they looked at each other; they both knew exactly what they were doing here.

They were both wearing flats, and Phoebe was an inch and a half taller. Alison tilted her face up, their noses brushing against each other. Their hands touched again, fingers entwining this time. Phoebe’s perfume was subtle, sweet, spicy, and it made Alison’s mouth water.

The elevator pinged as it reached level eight.

Alison already had her keys out by the time they reached her door. She unlocked it, holding it open for Phoebe before shutting it behind her. They left their shoes at the entrance and Alison led the way inside, suddenly self-conscious about her apartment, the multi coloured knitted blankets from her mother piled on one end of the couch, the jade Buddha her father had given her years ago.

They both put their bags down on the couch and before Alison could turn around and suggest that they start with a drink, Phoebe was tutting quietly under her breath, crossing the room and taking her face into both hands.

Their first kiss was chaste, their lips barely moving against each other, but their next kiss was anything but. Alison held Phoebe close, licking into her mouth, tasting her, drawing out a soft moan that hung in the air between them as they pulled apart.

“About time,” Phoebe murmured as she leaned in again, and Alison couldn’t help but agree.

They kissed until their lips were swollen, until they were out of breath, and Alison pushed Phoebe towards the couch until she was sitting on it. Phoebe reached out, pulling Alison on top of her, hands resting on her sides.

Alison mouthed at Phoebe’s neck, the occasional scrape of teeth enough to have her gasping softly. She rested a hand against the other side of Phoebe’s neck, but let it wander further down, fingers brushing over her collarbone, index following the dip of her cleavage until it met the material of her shirt.

Phoebe’s hands slid down Alison’s legs, hitching her skirt higher so it was less restricting. She pulled it all the way up so Alison could spread her legs further, letting her hands rest on the curve of Alison’s hips.

They kissed again, and Alison cupped one of Phoebe’s breasts with her hand, rubbing gently through the material of her blouse. Making a soft, impatient sound at the back of her throat, Phoebe untucked her blouse from her skirt, pulling it over her head. Alison helped, tossing the shirt aside before scattering kisses over the newly bared skin.

Phoebe was wearing a black silk bra with lace edging, and as Alison slid her hand down to unzip the back of Phoebe’s skirt, she caught a glimpse of the matching underwear. She smiled into their next kiss, suddenly feeling less self-conscious about the fact that she’d worn her best lingerie to work today.

Too impatient to let Phoebe get out of her skirt just yet, Alison slid down to her knees. She leaned forward, taking Phoebe’s breasts into her hands, kissing them through the thin material of the bra, tracing her tongue over one nipple, then the other.


“Come on.” Alison tugged at Phoebe’s skirt, urging her to lift her hips just enough that it could be pulled all the way off. Not bothering with Phoebe’s underwear, Alison kissed along the inside of her thigh. She felt a hand settle in her hair, tugging gently and sighed, content. “That’s right.”

When Alison rubbed her thumb over the material of Phoebe’s panties, she found they were already damp. She smiled, sucking her thumb into her mouth and then rubbing firm circles through the material, listening to Phoebe gasp. Then she dipped her head, replacing her thumb with her tongue, and Phoebe’s gasps grew even louder.

Enjoyable as it was to make Phoebe squirm like this, Alison knew it was nowhere near what either of them truly wanted. Pulling the panties down, Alison discarded them behind her before taking hold of Phoebe’s thighs, pushing them further apart. She glanced up, making eye contact with Phoebe, who was watching with her lower lip caught between her teeth, before leaning in.

The first couple of broad licks over Phoebe’s clit were enough to have her tugging on Alison’s hair again, pulling it out of its short ponytail. Then Alison closed her lips around Phoebe’s clit, sucking, and that was enough to have her crying out softly, her hips jerking to maintain the contact even as Alison pulled away.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Alison murmured, stroking Phoebe’s thigh before dipping her head again. This time, she flicked her tongue across Phoebe’s clit before licking further down. She teased Phoebe’s entrance with the tip of her tongue, just enough to make her whimper, before licking her again, moving her head this time as she went all the way up to Phoebe’s clit and then back down again.

“Please,” Phoebe moaned, her eyes squeezed tightly shut. The hand that wasn’t in Alison’s hair was digging into the couch, her knuckles white with strain. She was holding herself back, letting Alison go at her own pace. The realisation made Alison want to make her come right now.

The next time Alison started sucking on Phoebe’s clit, she didn’t stop until Phoebe was a moaning, shaking mess.

“Look at you,” she murmured, sliding a finger into Phoebe to the first knuckle, just to tease. “I should have done this sooner.”

“We really should have.” Phoebe reached for Alison, pulling her back up into a kiss. Alison’s skirt was still pushed up around her hips and Phoebe unzipped it, letting it fall to the floor.

“I need you in my bed,” Alison decided, pulling Phoebe to her feet and leading the way.

This time, it was Phoebe who settled between Alison’s legs, licking into her, sliding a finger into her at the same time. Soon enough, Phoebe was thrusting two fingers into her, sucking on her clit, and Alison was utterly incapable of coherent thought. She came hard, her back arching off the bed, and Phoebe didn’t stop, didn’t even slow down, making Alison scream as she came again. This time, Alison placed a hand on Phoebe’s shoulder and she pulled back, grinning, her lips still glistening.

Sated and boneless, Alison gathered enough strength to pull Phoebe on top of her, both of them lying back, legs tangling as they kissed. They barely moved, rolling onto their sides, curled into each other, their tongues rubbing lazily together as they both caught their breath.

Alison wrapped an arm around Phoebe’s waist, smiling and pressing a kiss to her collarbone. There was still so much she wanted to do; Phoebe’s breasts were much bigger than her own and Alison wanted her hands and her mouth all over them, curious to see if she could make Phoebe come with nothing more than that. It could wait until later. Right now, they were both far too tired to do anything but sleep.

When Alison woke, the clock on her bedside table informed her that it was ten o’clock—the time she usually came home—and she discovered that she was alone in bed.

She sat up with alarm, relief coursing through her when she realised the light was on in the kitchen, and that she could hear Phoebe humming to herself.

Their clothes were still strewn everywhere, from the couch to the bed, and Alison grabbed her robe, tying it around her waist as she walked to the kitchen. Phoebe must have found her underwear and put it back on, but she was naked except for that. Alison hung back at the entrance to the kitchen, happy to watch as Phoebe filled the electric kettle with water, setting it to boil.

“Oh, hello.” Phoebe beamed at Alison once she noticed her. “I hope you don’t mind, I was in the mood for some tea. Though now that I think about it, I didn’t even think to stop and ask if you had any.”

Feeling her cheeks redden, Alison silently stepped into the kitchen, crossing to a cupboard and opening it. There were countless tins inside, all bought from the tea shop that had taken Alison a good month to track down the first time. One for each flavour of tea Phoebe would brew them in the office, purchased from the patient shop assistants who would listen to Alison list off the different ingredients she could remember tasting and then pour her samples until she found exactly what she was looking for.

“Oh.” Phoebe’s eyes were wide and for a moment, she just stood there, frozen. Then, she crossed the room, pressing Alison against the kitchen counter, and kissed her hard. “Oh, I never imagined…”

“Having tea with you is the best part of my day,” Alison murmured, holding Phoebe’s face in her hands. “It’s what gets me through all the stress and the deadlines.”

They rested their foreheads together, and Alison couldn’t remember the last time she’d smiled this much. From the looks of it, however, Phoebe seemed to be staying around.

It was definitely something Alison could get used to.

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