“Would you like a cup of tea?”

It was an innocuous enough line.

Tiffany Braxton read and re-read the single line she had written. It was perfectly simple and said what it said, but it also said nothing and Tiffany wanted this book to open with a bang, to grab the reader from the very first word and never let them go.

Hemingway talked about writing one true sentence. Had she ever written a true sentence in the way Hemingway meant it? She doubted it.

She knew she could turn that one innocuous line into a four-hundred-page book, but it would just be another four-hundred-page book that was pleasant enough, but said nothing.

She wasn’t looking to write the great American novel or some soul-searching study of the human condition, just a book that reached inside the reader and made them think and, maybe even more importantly, feel.

She didn’t know what she wanted them to think and feel and maybe that was the problem. She put down her pencil and leaned back in the corner of the couch where she loved to write. She looked around the cozy room with the book lined walls, the small desk that barely held her laptop computer, a lamp and a pencil cup, and she smiled. She loved this room and it made her feel warm and safe when she was in it.

Maybe that was what she wanted her readers to feel, warm and safe.

Maybe she wanted to help them escape from the new reality of the world. A world where you were never sure there wouldn’t be another terrorist attack, where the simple act of watching fireworks or a marathon or going to a movie could mean your death.

If she wanted a world where she could feel warm and safe, why wouldn’t her readers want the same thing?

She re-read the single innocuous line for probably the hundredth time, thinking that simple line was, actually, exactly what had been said so many times as a comfort or a diversion to relieve some stressful moment… Yes, the British always said have a nice cuppa tea… It will make you feel better.

Better about what? Better about everything? Will it change the world? Will it make me and everyone feel warm and safe?

Maybe. Maybe not. But it was a nice opening and she decided not to tear it up or wad the page into a ball and throw it in the garbage.

Now the problem was what to write after that single line that would make her readers feel warm and safe. That was the problem and she had no idea what the answer was.

For the next two weeks the pad with the single line sat on the table next to her favorite corner of the couch and she still didn’t know what to do with it.

Maybe I should just throw it out and start over, she thought, but knew that that wasn’t the answer. She also knew that the answer would come to her if she gave it enough time.

What she really wanted right now was to talk it out with her best friend, John, but he was on the road covering this year’s political campaign. Lately, the only time she’d seen him was on TV when he was reporting on some campaign event from somewhere around the country. Of course, they often talked late into the night and, yes, she’d seen his face on her smart phone screen, but it wasn’t the same as sitting with him in her favorite room.

Their relationship was another thing she wasn’t sure of. John’s almost constant traveling made it difficult to define how she felt about him, and he had never announced his feelings for her either. They both knew they were best friends and could always tell each other anything, but anything had never crossed the line of friendship.

She still dated but returned home after each date feeling empty. Maybe she needed that nice cuppa tea?

An only child, she’d been born in Stony Brook University Hospital and had lived and grown up in Stony Brook, Long Island; gone through the Three Village Schools and graduated at the head of her class. She lived in the same house with her parents until they were killed in a car crash on the Long Island Expressway when she was nineteen. She remained in the house until she got her BA in English from Stony Brook University, and published her first book at twenty-two.

It was doubly traumatic, selling the house because it was the only house she’d ever lived in and because she felt like it was one more severing of her only true relationship to date, the one with her parents.

The sale of the house did have the advantage that it allowed her to buy a one-bedroom condo on the Upper West Side of Manhattan; a lot smaller than the five-bedroom, four bath, thirty-seven hundred square foot house she’d grown up in.

In true New York fashion, she had lived in her apartment for a year and a half without knowing anyone’s name until she spilled her coffee all over the lobby floor and Allison had come to her rescue with a roll of paper towels from her freshly purchased grocery bag.

The two women were exactly the same age, even born in the same month, and lived only three floors apart.

Allison Leavitt had moved to New York from Houston, Texas when she was nine and her father joined a more prestigious law firm and relocated. Her mother had died when she was two, so she’d never really known her and was brought up mostly by a nanny whom she loved as a pseudo-mother. Her father was the proverbial work-a-holic, but always allocated time every week-end for them to spend together, often in Central Park where, depending on the season, they had various routines. Between her nanny and her times with her father, she felt that she’d had a wonderful childhood.

Now, nearing twenty-four years old, she still spent time with her father and often visited her nanny, who’d married years ago and moved to New Jersey with her husband, but meeting Tiffany seemed like a gift and they quickly became close friends.

Her father’s law firm opened an office in Palm Beach, Florida, and he bought a condo there so they could escape whenever possible. It had already been a month since the latest escape. Allison had all but begged Tiffany to come with them, but Tiffany declined, supposedly to work on her new book. But as the single line remained the only evidence of that work, her loneliness for both of her friends grew deeper with each passing day.

“Why don’t you come down?” Allison asked for about the thousandth time. “There’s lots of cute guys on the beach…”

There was a long pause.

“Tiffany, are you there?”

Another pause while Tiffany considered her options.

“We’ve got a great guest room with a view of the ocean and it’s got a couch for you to curl up in and write if you want. I’ll even go to Office Depot and buy you a bunch of writing pads.”

“Okay,” Tiffany finally agreed after an even longer pause. “I’ll call you as soon as I book a flight.”

“Wonderful! I can’t wait to see you! I promise we’ll have lots of fun – remember to bring your bathing suit.”



“This is perfect,” Allison said as she struggled to spread out the blanket on the beach. “You could help,” she added as Tiffany stood staring out at the ocean.

Still no reply.

“Tiff…” Another pause. “Earth to Tiffany…”

Tiffany nearly shook herself, as if out of a trance and turned toward her friend.

“Sorry. What did you say?”

“You could help.”

“Oh.” She grabbed at the flapping blanket being blown around by the ocean breeze. “Sorry,” she added as the two girls finally got the blanket under control, weighting it down with their beach gear before settling in to soak up the sun.

“What were you thinking about?”

“Nothing,” Tiffany pretended.

“Tiff, I’ve known you too long. What were you thinking about?”

“Nothing. Really,” she repeated. “I was just watching that sailboat out there.”


“There,” Tiffany pointed.

“All the way out there? How can you see it?”

“Isn’t it beautiful? The sweep of the sails. Sailboats are so elegant… not like motor boats which have no grace at all. And those yachts and cruise ships that always look like shoe boxes that float.”

Allison had heard all of this before from Tiffany, but laughed anyway, especially as she didn’t believe that Tiffany had been thinking about sailboats. Something was still bothering her, even after a week in Florida. She had thought that the change would help or, at least, let her open up a little since, in the year and a half that they’d known each other, they’d become as close as sisters, almost twins, and they’d always discussed everything.

Trying a new tactic, Allison asked, “Have you done any work on your book?”

“No. I’ve still only got that one line,” Tiffany answered before returning to stare into space.

If Allison had really known what was actually behind that faraway look, watching the sailboat as it tacked across the horizon, she would have understood what was going on in her friend’s life, but, even if she wanted to, Tiffany couldn’t have explained it because she didn’t know what was going on inside, all she knew was that she was still stuck with only one line of a book and was getting no further.

“Want to go for a swim?” Allison asked.


“Great, let’s go.”

The two girls threw off their cover-ups and ran toward the water, revealing their miniscule bathing suits, which Allison had earlier declared were “sure to get us a date tonight.”

Ten minutes later, the girls reversed their run and flopped down on the blanket, grabbing towels to dry themselves while spraying sun-screen on each other.

“Excuse me.”

Allison looked up at what she would only describe as a hunk, but realized he was addressing Tiffany.

“Excuse me,” he said again as Tiffany looked up at him. “You’re Tiffany Braxton, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” she answered, surprised by being addressed by name.

“I recognized you from your picture on the dust jacket. I read your book.”

“I hope you liked it.”

“I did.”

“I’m glad.”

Allison watched as the awkward pause lasted and wondered why neither of them said anything. She wanted to ask if that was his best pick-up line but thought that she’d only make the situation worse.

“My friend and I wondered if you’d like to get a drink or something.”

“Your friend?” Allison asked skeptically. “Are you his emissary?” she added.

“In a way. I told him I recognized Ms. Braxton…”

“That’s formal,” Tiffany responded, almost laughing. “I don’t think anyone’s ever called me Ms. Braxton.”



“Do we get to meet your friend?”

“He’s right over there,” the hunk answered as he pointed.

“Do you have names?” Tiffany asked.

“Sorry. I’m Brian…”

“And your shy friend?” Allison interrupted.


“I’ve got an idea,” Allison continued. “Before we commit to drinks, why don’t you and Scott get your stuff and bring it over here so we can talk.”



“Are you going to see Brian again?” Allison asked later that night.

“I don’t know,” Tiffany answered noncommittally. She was curled up in her favorite position in the corner of the couch in the guest room.

“They seemed nice, didn’t they?”

“And make lots of money…”

Tiffany knew that, superficially, Allison looked for the two things every girl was supposed to look for these days, a hunk who makes a lot of money.

“Stock brokers usually do,” Allison added.

“So, are you going to see Scott again?”

“Probably not.”


“For the same reason you’re not going to see Brian again.”

The two girls looked at each other as only sisters can.

“I’m going to bed,” Allison stated.



Left alone, Tiffany thought back over the evening, analyzing what had actually happened – nothing had happened. The conversation had continued easily enough because both she and Brian could talk easily with people, even if they didn’t really know them. Besides, Brian had read her book, so that was an easy ice-breaker. But, she realized there really was nothing beneath Brian’s façade of looks and money. Nothing that made her feel anything. Not that she expected to feel anything significant from what amounted to little more than a pick-up date, but she didn’t even feel enough that she wanted to see him again to learn if there was anything to feel anything about.

For the first time in a long time, she was beginning to realize what was wrong in her life, she wanted to feel.



Phillip Leavitt wouldn’t have been a successful lawyer for all these years if he couldn’t read people. And for the last couple of weeks, he had been reading Tiffany Braxton. He was concerned.

“Why don’t we go out to dinner?” Phillip suggested one afternoon. “Just the three of us, that is if you don’t have dates.”

“Dinner sounds great, Dad,” Allison answered.

“I second the motion,” Tiffany added.

“No dates tonight?”

“I think we’re going to give up dates for a while. The guys we’ve been meeting are more like boys,” Allison responded.

“Then it’s just me and my two girls. I’ll make a reservation for seven o’clock so go get showered and changed.”



“John, what are you doing here?” Tiffany almost screeched before giving John Wakefield a bear-hug.

It seemed that the whole restaurant was looking at them.

“I’m sorry,” Tiffany said, suddenly realizing that she wasn’t only making a scene, but also being rude. “This is John Wakefield, Mr. Leavitt,” she added.

“Nice to meet you,” Phillip said as he looked at Tiffany.

“And how’s my other favorite girl?” John asked Allison as he leaned over to kiss her cheek.

“Great,” she answered enthusiastically.

“We just ordered, would you like to join us?” Phillip suggested, signaling the waiter to bring another place setting before John had a chance to answer.

“What are you doing here?” Tiffany asked again as everyone settled around the table.

“We’re here on a campaign stop.”

“When did you get here?” Tiffany asked.

“This morning and we had a rally this afternoon.”

“How long will you be in Palm Beach?” Phillip asked.

“Only until tomorrow morning. We’ve got to be in Alabama for an event at two o’clock, then on to California.”

“Sounds like a tough schedule,” Phillip added.

“It is, but that’s politics,” Tiffany answered.

For the next two hours, Phillip listened as the three friends chatted. John explained his campaign position and they all exchanged stories. Occasionally John and Tiffany seemed to share a special moment. The more he watched the more he began to understand, something was wrong.

A week later, Phillip decided to call a family meeting.

“Girls, I think it’s time you went back to New York.”

“Why?” Allison asked.

“Because you’ve been here a month and I know it’s been fun, but it’s time to get back to reality. It’s time to get back to your real lives.” Phillip watched Tiffany’s eyes as he said the last sentence.

They had assembled on the balcony and the girls sipped their gin and tonics while Phillip sipped his martini and watched Tiffany. “You’re right, Mr. Leavitt,” Tiffany responded as she got up to leave the balcony.

Phillip gave Tiffany an hour before he looked in on her. “Do you want to talk about John?” he asked as he sat next to her on the couch and took both of her hands in his.

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

“Really?” Phillip waited for a reply and when none came added, “Are you sure?”

“Of course, I’m sure.”

“Okay,” Phillip responded before starting for the door.

“You’re right about going back to New York,” Tiffany suddenly replied.

Phillip smiled at her before he left.



The two girls were both sitting cross-legged on the couch in the guest room. By one a.m., they were both exhausted from laughing about all the cute guys they’d met on the beach, who’d ended up being a bunch of jerks and the awful dates they’d been.

“Why’d your father ask if I wanted to talk about John?” Tiffany suddenly asked.

“When did he do that?”

“About an hour after our family meeting.”

“Just like that?” Allison looked confused.

“Sort of.” Tiffany paused and added, “He seemed to think something is wrong or that I’m upset about something or whatever.”

“Are you?”

“Of course not.”

“Is there something I should know about you and John?”

“Of course not. There’s nothing you don’t already know.”

“Okay. If you say so.”

Allison let it go and got up.

“I’m going to bed. I’m tired.”

“Me too,” Tiffany responded.

“Good night,” Allison said as she left the room.




Tiffany had slept badly. Her mind wouldn’t seem to stop working and she woke up almost every hour on the hour, staring at the ceiling until she fell asleep again, repeating the process every hour at the chiming of the grandfather clock in the hall outside her door.

In the morning, she wondered why she’d heard the clock last night when she hadn’t any other night. Allison’s father was already in his study and the girls had the balcony to themselves to eat breakfast and talk. “My father said he’d take us to the airport,” Allison announced before adding, “Do you want to go to the beach one last time before we’ve got to get ready?”

“I think I’m just going to take it easy… I didn’t sleep very well. You go ahead. Maybe you’ll meet a cute jerk, I mean guy, to take you to lunch.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure. Now go!”

While Allison got changed into her sure to get a date bathing suit, Tiffany curled up in her usual corner of the couch and tried to take a nap to make up for the lack of sleep during the night.

A few minutes later she was at Phillip’s study door.

“I’m sorry to bother you, Mr. Leavitt. May I talk with you?”

“Of course, come in.”



Being back in New York didn’t seem to change anything for Tiffany, curled up in the corner of her couch, staring at the single line written on the pad lying in her lap. Allison let herself into Tiffany’s apartment and flopped down on the other end of the couch.

“What did you and my dad talk about just before we left?”

“How do you know we talked?”

“I saw you. I passed by his study when I was going to the beach.”

“Nothing. Really.”

“It didn’t look like it to me. You looked like it was something really serious.”

“It wasn’t anything. I just wanted to thank him for everything.”



“Okay. If you say so.”

“I do.”

“Okay,” Allison replied skeptically as she got up. “I’ve gotta go. Do you have a date tonight?”

“No. I thought I’d stay home and work on my book.”

“Work on it this afternoon. I’ll bring Chinese and a DVD. See ya later.” She was almost at the door before she added, “Have you heard from John?”

“Not lately,” Tiffany answered with a look that said don’t ask.

“Okay. See ya.”

“Bye,” Tiffany barely got out before returning to the page still lying in her lap.



“I don’t know what’s wrong, Dad. She won’t open up to me either.”

Allison listened as her father told her about the talk he and Tiffany had just before the girls left. It wasn’t a long phone call, but it left Allison more concerned about her friend than she’d ever been.



“John, what are you doing here? Is something wrong? The campaign doesn’t have an event here, does it?” Tiffany asked with near panic in her voice.

“May I come in?” John asked calmly.

“Of course!” she responded enthusiastically as his calmness reassured her.

“First of all, no, nothing’s wrong and no, there’s no campaign event. Tiff, we need to talk.”

Panic was beginning to invade her entire being again.

“Do you want something?” she asked, hoping that the mundane question would help calm her down. “How about a nice cuppa tea as the Brits say?”

“Tea sounds great,” John responded as he settled into the familiar, comfortable, over-stuffed chair next to the couch.

“John, what are you doing here?” Tiffany asked as she handed him the mug of tea. “Sorry, it’s not a real cup, but it’s the best I can do.”

“Tiffany, we’ve gotta talk.”

“You said that.”

“We’ve been friends for a long time.” John waited for a reply, and when none came, he continued. “And we’ve always been able to talk about anything.”

The panic was increasing again, but she managed to get out, “Right.”

“Being on the road so much has given me a lot of time to think.”


“And I always thought of us as friends, someone I could talk to about anything.”

“We are. And we can.”

“You’re not making this easy,” John barely got out.

“John, what are you trying to say?”

“That the more I thought about you the more I missed you. The more I missed our talks with you curled up in the corner of that couch and me in this great chair. The more I missed working through problems with you. The more I missed everything about you. And I finally realized that we weren’t just friends, we were much more than just friends. And I finally realized why I missed all of that so much and why I missed you that much was really very simple – I’m in love with you.”

“Wow!” was all Tiffany could get out as she digested John’s declaration.

“Tiffany, are you there?” John asked tentatively, watching her shift from one of her trance-like states to work at pulling herself back into focus.

“Until you said it, I hadn’t realized just how much I missed you too.”

She paused again and John waited patiently as she pulled together her thoughts and feelings, which he sensed were scattered throughout her body, not just her head, or her heart.

“I went to Florida to try and figure why I couldn’t write my new book. I thought I knew what I wanted it to say, but I couldn’t figure out how to say it. Mr. Leavitt saw it. We had a long talk and he made me realize that the problem I was having with the book was the same problem I was having myself. I wanted my book to make my readers feel warm and safe, and he told me that what I really wanted was for me to feel warm and safe, the book was only a metaphor for myself,” Tiffany responded.

“Which is why I left the campaign and came home. I want to help you feel warm and safe. Tiffany, I came home to ask you to marry me because I want to feel warm and safe too.”

They both remained seated and silent for several minutes before Tiffany added that it took going to Florida to realize the same thing. They’d been friends for so long that they weren’t even aware that they’d been falling in love, or when it had actually happened, but none of that mattered now.

Tiffany suddenly knew why she’d stared at the single line of her book for so long and what the book had to be about.

They got up simultaneously, as if on cue, and kissed.

“Of course, I’ll marry you,” she said. “Would you like that cup of tea?” she added before she kissed him again just as Allison let herself in.

“John, what are you doing here?” Allison asked.

“Marrying my best friend,” he responded happily.

Allison looked at Tiffany and ran over to give them both a giant hug.

“It’s about time,” Allison announced.

“You knew?” Tiffany asked.

“Of course. Why do you think I made you come down to Palm Beach and suffered through all those dates with those jerks?”

“To make me realize what I already knew.”


Tiffany looked at the page of her book lying on the table next to the couch. She looked at Allison and smiled, then turned back to John and kissed him, knowing her story would write itself now.