When Gloria hired Fiona, a summer job with options, they agreed every now and then to trade spots. Gloria would wait on customers and Fiona would cook. There was no risk involved, as Fiona shared the knack for knowing what would work and how it would taste when it was done. She began with Toad-in-the-Hole French Toast. (Photo borrowed from this site.)
This turnabout happened on the day which followed Mr. Guscott's departure, the meal the three friends had shared and The Reading Man's beach pondering and explorations. He'd found three objects that he felt qualified as treasures and carried them in his pocket. He had also traded Noel Coward, which had been presented and, he believed, enjoyed, for a perennial summer favorite, David Copperfield. Even in a mass-market edition, it was a a bulky creature, only just fitting into the non-treasure-bearing jacket pocket. The day was nowhere near stormy enough for the all-weather coat with its great roominess. Mr. Apotienne was quite content to read Dickens silently to himself should that seem the indicated thing.
Whatever self-consciouness he had felt for a time over his noticed constancy at Gloria's shop was now in the past. To be the first patron of the morning made him happy but he also found it pleasant to be greeted by recognized Cove dwellers when he walked in. Early-bird tourists were equally friendly, as though the town did not know the word stranger. On that morning, from which the fog might or might not lift, two of the tables were in use and his favorite spot was free. He nodded a greeting to the family of four already tucking into Fiona's special. Even though it had nothing to do with him or much of anything, really, he was glad to see the boy and girl, ages perhaps 11 and 9, eating with gusto something that had to be a bit out of the ordinary. They did not appear to have issues about various foods touching each other and likely had not shrieked about pouring maple syrup over a baked egg.
Though her back was turned toward the door, he recognized the Cove librarian, Irene Ripley, as the other customer.
When he passed her, she looked up. He smiled back warmly, asking how she'd enjoyed the movie nights. They agreed each had been its own specific magic and wondered if, before it left, the summer would bring any other such opportunities.
He had the copy of Dickens on the table but had yet to open it. Gloria brought his plate and said, "Oh, David Copperfield. One of my favorites. I hope you'll keep reading to us." Though she hadn't said, "To me," Mr. Apotienne took that to be the message. Being read to is lovely. There is reassurance in it, a cadence or tone or just a circumstance that we connect to sleep, to the safety and comfort of our own bed. We feel attended to, indulged, enlightened. The right voice adds to an author's work and we can lose ourselves in the gift of it, whether we actually take in the words or not.
"We have story hours at the library," Irene said, "when the students are on vacation. You could bring Dickens to life in a way that might help them find a love for him, especially this story. Would you consider it?"
"Why, of course," said TRM, surprised that his spontaneously odd behavior at Gloria's brought him such an invitation. "I'd enjoy that very much. Thank you." Smiles all around, arrangements made to visit Irene and develop a plan. When she had left and Gloria was moving among the tables, he took the three found objects and lined them up between his plate and teacup. They were a rusted yet legible, empty, lithographed rectangular tin for what he supposed was a Chinese spice, a piece of tumbled lavender sea glass that had worn in the shape of a heart and what looked like a wing feather, brilliant and distinctly apple green from a bird not native to that shore. Gloria stopped to inspect them, touching one at a time. Mr. Apotienne said he thought he was meant to bring them to her, explaining that his intuition caused him to behave in ways he never expected.
As he was handing her the feather, he remembered the other word he'd been given yesterday, the one whole meaning hadn't been clear, at least not then. Secrets. And he thought, "Oh, crap sandwich, how could I have forgotten." It seems The Reading Man did have at least one secret and it seems the time to reveal it was drawing very, very close.