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Googling a butterfly. It sounded comical, like tickling a catfish, but she knew it wouldn't sound that way to Preston. He would clamber up to the computer at Bear and Hester's and punch the keys, finding what he needed in there. Having children was not like people said. Forget training them in your footsteps; the minute they put down the teething ring and found the Internet, you were useless as a source of anything but shoes and a winter coat. But Preston still asked her questions. That touched her, that they were a team. Here in the looming forest he gripped her hand tightly, as if crossing a street, as they approached the trees where the butterflies hung in their droves. Wings littered the ground. "Look up," she said, pointing at the brown clusters drooping from the branches. These trees were completely filled now. Even the tree trunks wore butterfly pelts, all the way up, like the bristling hairy legs of giants. It was a whole butterfly forest, magically draped with dark, pendulous clusters masquerading as witchy tresses or dead foliage. She only knew what they really were because her eyes had learned the secret. Preston's had not. It all waited for him, perfectly still and alive. She watched his dark pupils dart up and around, puzzling this out, looking without yet seeing. Mine, ours, her heartbeat thumped, making promises from the inside. This was better than Christmas. She couldn't wait to give him his present: sight.
Bruno reappeared with two baskets swathed in white linen napkins and a ramekin of something bright yellow.
Thatcher unveiled one basket. “Pretzel bread,” he said. He held up a thick braid of what looked to be soft pretzel, nicely tanned, sprinkled with coarse salt. “This is served with Fee’s homemade mustard. So right away the guest knows this isn’t a run-of-the-mill restaurant. They’re not getting half a cold baguette, here, folks, with butter in the gold foil wrapper. This is warm pretzel bread made on the premises, and the mustard ditto. Nine out of ten tables are licking the ramekin clean.”
“The other basket contains our world-famous savory doughnuts,” Thatcher said. He whipped the cloth off like a magician, revealing six golden-brown doughnuts. Doughnuts? Adrienne had been too nervous to think about eating all day, but now her appetite was roused. After the menu meeting, they were going to have a family meal.and
The doughnuts were deep-fried rings of a light, yeasty, herb-flecked dough. Chive, basil, rosemary. Crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. Savory doughnuts. Who wouldn’t stand in line for these? Who wouldn’t beg or steal to access the private phone line so they could make a date with these doughnuts?
The corn chowder and the shrimp bisque are cream soups, but neither of these soups is heavy. The Caesar is served with pumpernickel croutons and white anchovies. The chevre salad is your basic mixed greens with a round of breaded goat cheese, and the candy-striped beets are grown locally at Bartlett’s Farm. Ditto the rest of the vegetables, except for the Portobello mushrooms that go into the ravioli—those are flown in from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. So when you’re talking about vegetables, you’re talking about produce that’s grown in Nantucket soil, okay? It’s not sitting for thirty-six hours on the back of a truck. Fee selects them herself before any of you people are even awake in the morning. It’s all very Alice Waters, what we do here with our vegetables.”
“The most popular item on the menu is the steak frites. It is twelve ounces of aged New York strip grilled to order—and please note you need a temperature on that—served with a mound of garlic fries. The duck, the sword, the lamb lollipops—see, we’re having fun here—are all served at the chef’s temperature. If you have a guest who wants the lamb killed—by which I mean well done—you’re going to have to take it up with Fiona. The sushi plate is all spelled out for you—it’s bluefin tuna caught forty miles off the shore, and the sword is harpooned in case you get a guest who has just seen a Nova special about how the Canadian coast is being overfished.”
Adrienne had been hearing about August since her first day of work. When the bar was busy, Caren might say, It’s busy, but not as busy as August.” When the dining room was slow back in mid-June, Thatcher had said, “You’ll be longing for this once it’s August.” What was it about August? Everyone was on Nantucket in August—the celebrities, the big money, the old families. It was America’s summer vacation. Thirty-one days of sun, beach, boating, outdoor showers, fireflies, garden parties, linen sheets, coffee on the deck in the morning, a gin and tonic on the patio in the evening.
In the restaurant kitchen, August meant lobsters, blackberries, silver queen corn, and tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes. In honor of the last year of the restaurant, Fiona was creating a different tomato special for each day of the month. The first of August (two hundred and fifty covers on the book, eleven reservation wait list) was a roasted yellow tomato soup. The second of August (two hundred and fifty covers, seven reservation wait list) was tomato pie with a Gruyere crust. On the third of August, Ernie Otemeyer came in with his wife to celebrate his birthday and since Ernie liked food that went with his Bud Light, Fiona made a Sicilian pizza—a thick, doughy crust, a layer of fresh buffalo mozzarella, topped with a voluptuous tomato-basil sauce. One morning when she was working the phone, Adrienne stepped into the kitchen hoping to get a few minutes with Mario, and she found Fiona taking a bite out of a red ripe tomato like it was an apple. Fiona held the tomato out.
“I’d put this on the menu,” she said. “But few would understand.”
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As they followed the upward rise of the cane above her own hands Meggie’s eyes closed involuntarily, so she did not see the descent. But the pain was like a vast explosion, a scorching, searing invasion of her flesh right down to the bone; even as the ache spread tingling up her forearm the next cut came, and by the time it had reached her shoulder the final cut across her fingertips was screaming along the same path, all the way through to her heart. She fastened her teeth in her lower lip and bit down on it, too ashamed and too proud to cry, too angry and indignant at the injustice of it to dare open her eyes and look at Sister Agatha; the lesson was sinking in, even if the crux of it was not what Sister Agatha intended to reach. [Meggie’s punishment for arriving late on her first day of school.]
As for Meggie, she was incapable of equating Teresa’s beaming, portly little mother with her own slender unsmiling mother, so she never thought: I wish Mum hugged and kissed me. What she did think was: I wish Teresa’s mum hugged and kissed me. Though images of hugs and kisses were far less in her mind than images of the willow pattern tea set. So delicate, so thin and wafery, so beautiful! Oh, if only she had a willow pattern tea set, and could give Agnes afternoon tea out of a deep blue-and-white cup in a deep blue-and-white saucer!
In the morning they stared, awed and dismayed, at a landscape so alien they had not dreamed anything like it existed on the same planet as New Zealand. The rolling hills were there certainly, but absolutely nothing else reminiscent of home. It was all brown and grey, even the trees! The winter wheat was already turned a fawnish silver by the glaring sun, miles upon miles of it rippling and bending in the wind, broken only by stands of thin, spindling, blue-leafed trees and dusty clumps of tired grey bushes. Fee’s stoical eyes surveyed the scene without changing expression, but poor Meggie’s were full of tears. It was horrible, fenceless and vast, without a trace of green.
She accepted the deliberately blatant flattery in the spirit in which it was intended, enjoying his beauty, his attentiveness, his barbed and subtle mind; truly he would make a magnificent cardinal. In all her life she could not remember seeing a better-looking man, nor one who used his beauty in quite the same way. He had to be aware of how he looked: the height and the perfect proportions of his body, the fine aristocratic features, the way every physical element had been put together with a degree of care about the appearance of the finished product God lavished on few of His creations. From the loose black curls of his head and the startling blue of his eyes to the small, slender hands and feet, he was perfect. Yes, he had to be conscious of what he was. And yet there was an aloofness about him, a way he had of making her feel he had never been enslaved by his beauty, nor ever would be. He would use it to get what he wanted without compunction if it would help, but not as though he was enamored of it; rather as if he deemed people beneath contempt for being influenced by it. And she would have given much to know what his past life had made him so.
Curious, how many priests were handsome as Adonis, had the sexual magnetism of Don Juan. Did they espouse celibacy as a refuge from the consequences?
Just why he was so fond of Meggie Father Ralph didn’t know, nor for that matter did he spend much time wondering about it. It had begun with pity that day in the dusty station yard when he had noticed her lagging behind; set apart from the rest of her family by virtue of her sex, he had shrewdly guessed. As to why Frank [Meggie’s older brother] also moved on an outer perimeter, this did not intrigue him at all, nor did he feel moved to pity Frank. There was something in Frank which killed tender emotions: a dark heart, a spirit lacking inner light. But Meggie? She had moved him unbearably, and he didn’t really know why. There was the color of her hair, which pleased him; the color and form of her eyes, like her mother’s and therefore beautiful, but so much sweeter, more expressive; and her character, which he saw as the perfect female character, passive yet enormously strong. No rebel, Meggie; on the contrary. All her life she would obey, move within the boundaries of her female fate.
Yet none of it added up to the full total. Perhaps, had he looked more deeply into himself, he might have seen that what he felt for her was the curious result of time, and place, and person. No one thought of her as important, which meant there was a space in her life into which he could fit himself and be sure of her love; she was a child, and therefore no danger to his way of life or his priestly reputation; she was beautiful, and he enjoyed beauty; and, least acknowledged of all, she filled an empty space in his life which his God could not, for she had warmth and a human solidity. Because he could not embarrass her family by giving her gifts, he gave her as much of his company as he could, and spent time and thought on redecorating her room at the presbytery; not so much to see her pleasure as to creature a fitting setting for his jewel. No pinchbeck for Meggie.