The tradition had started back in 2004, when the Saint James Tearoom was still located in Albuquerque's Old Town. Lupe's boutique, Books and Boots, was a few blocks away, and she had discovered it. At first, only Lupe and Felicia met there occasionally - whenever they felt like it. But then they invited Ramona, who had a penchant for regularity, and their gatherings became organized events. That was how the meetings were assigned a specific day and time: every third Wednesday of the month, from 4-6 p.m.
There were a few cancellations, like the day Lupe's husband, "El Viejo," had a bout of appendicitis and needed to have surgery at Presbyterian Hospital on a Wednesday afternoon. That afternoon, the three friends gathered by his bedside and even brought him flowers, which embarrassed El Viejo, who didn't quite know what to do with them.
Yet, as a rule, they didn't let the demands of ordinary life interfere with their meetings. They called themselves "sisters in tea" and felt bonded by the aromatic infusion as much as by their common language - Spanish. Ramona hailed from Havana, Cuba, and Lupe from Ciudad Juarez in Mexico; they cooed and cursed freely in their mother tongue.
Felicia was New Mexican, but still rolled her R's with gusto, like the best of them. When one of Felicia's boyfriends left her (Felicia's boyfriends were always leaving her for one reason or another), they met the following week. Against the society bylaws, which had been established by Felicia herself, they took the necessary time to badmouth him - nothing like a good bitching session to cheer a woman up. However, bitching and bragging, plus negativity of any kind, were kept out of the meetings.
The bylaws were a joke. Or maybe not. It was understood that these two hours were a special time for them to talk about themselves, books, clothes, hot flashes and anything under the sun, but not to display pictures of kids, complain about work or devote precious minutes to the boring topic of husbands.
Not that there were many husbands in sight. In fact, there was only one: Lupe's.
She and El Viejo had been married for more than 30 years and she was well past the bragging or bitching stage. They had reached the "whatever stage," she claimed. Ramona had been divorced forever, or so it seemed, and now, at 58, seemed to have lost interest in men.
So it was Felicia who often had issues in that department. She had recently hooked up with a guy nicknamed "Papacito," a Cuban that she had met at a Pilates session in the YMCA. Papacito wasn't Lupe and Ramona's first choice for Felicia's partner.
Though Ramona herself was Cuban, she hadn't liked him - at all. "Too loud," she said. "Too lazy," she thought - he didn't even have a job! And too full of himself, to boot.
It was a pity that Felicia fell for him when there was another man who looked "perfect" for her. One of the few regular male clients of the Saint James Tearoom, he was bespectacled and gray-haired, wrote detective stories and belonged to the Southwest Writers group. Lupe called him "Mr. Mystery."
"Why in the world would I want to go out with that geezer?" Felicia asked, wrinkling her nose after inspecting the man from a safe distance. "Uff!"
A real shame because Mr. Mystery seemed interested in her.
"Oh, well," Ramona said to herself as she got ready for their October tea gathering.
She always enjoyed catching up with her friends, but today, a slight apprehension bothered her as she got into her Nissan and began driving toward the tearoom.
It was Lupe's idea to invite someone else this time - her new employee at Boots and Books, a younger woman who had gone through tough times and needed support.
"It'll do her good to come and sit with us for a while," Lupe said. "Besides, it will do us good to infuse new blood in the meetings."
Ramona, who was the oldest, considered this statement ridiculous and a bit offensive. They were a group of friends, not a membership club. They had been doing fine, thank you very much, for 12 years without any "new blood." But she didn't want to sound mean and kept her thoughts to herself, particularly after an enthusiastic Felicia supported Lupe's suggestion.
"Oh, yes, and she will bring new stories, too! It seems we always talk about the same, don't we?"
(Had Felicia failed to realize that, most of the time, they talked about her?)
Ramona gave up. Maybe Lupe was right and a younger companion was the perfect addition to the group. She prepared herself to welcome the new member with an open mind. But still, in her heart, she wasn't happy and couldn't shake a sense of distrust. Her gut feelings had always been quite accurate. And why would it be different this time?
The Spanish version of this story is here.