Nathan leaned back in his chair, eyes closing as his face tipped up toward the sun. It was a perfect spring day, the sun just shy of too warm, the breeze off of the water just shy of too cool, the two together keeping him fantastically comfortable. He popped the chair up onto two legs, stretching out- he’d eaten too much, and months later, actually feeling the stretched, uncomfortable edge of being stuffed on really good food was still novel.
“I told you three orders was too many,” Audrey said, a languid sort of amusement making her voice warm. He tilted his head and cracked his eyes open to look at her, and she smiled at him over the rim of what was probably her sixth mimosa, because he was not the only one overindulging.
“Worth it,” he said, shrugging, closing his eyes again and tilting his head back once more. The sun and the food were making him drowsy, and most of the late-morning crowd had dissipated, leaving the patio echoing with the muted noise from inside, the constant, steady roll of the waves against the dock, and the calls of the birds on the water. He could hear distant hammering, one of the work crews pushing ahead even on a Sunday, and the deck still smelled bright and green, the new wood not yet fully weathered.
The reminder had lost most of its sting, sometime back in March, had become something reassuring instead- progress was being made. They were moving forward, really moving forward. What was broken was being made whole again.
And Nathan had the day off, was well-fed and warm in the bright sun, with nothing urgent to do.
Which was half of why he’d eaten more than he’d needed to; being stuffed to the gills substantially increased the odds that he was going to actually rest on his day off, instead of looking for something to fix. He had a sneaking suspicion it was the same reason Audrey had allowed Duke to coax her into so many drinks, and he had to admit, it might not be the healthiest way to ensure that they relaxed, but it was effective. Audrey was curled in her chair with her feet on the seat and one arm around her knees, turned more toward the water than the table, looking mellow and flushed in the clean light.
It was a good look, and Nathan sat up just enough to open his eyes again without having to squint.
Audrey brushed a lock of hair out of her face, tucking it behind one ear as she turned with the breeze, and Nathan felt a rush of gratitude at the sight.
One of the birds circling overhead fluttered down to land on the railing of the deck, and Audrey made clicking noises at it in greeting, breaking into a grin that made her nose wrinkle when it sidled down the rail toward their table.
“Think he’ll stay still long enough for me to take a picture for Vickie?” she asked, and Nathan shrugged.
“Vickie really need another seagull reference?” he asked, and Audrey tsked and rolled her eyes.
“Not the point,” she said, and Nathan didn’t bother to ask what the point was. It really didn’t matter; he didn’t actually care why Audrey was sending Vickie art references, it was just satisfying to know that she’d decided she wanted to. It was nice, seeing her stop in the middle of things to snap a photo, not as evidence, but just because she’d seen something that appealed to her, or that she thought would appeal to Vickie. She shifted to reach for her phone, and the gull startled, making a move like it intended to take off.
Audrey made a disappointed sound, freezing in place, and Nathan stabbed one of the half-finished pancakes on his plate with his fork, and flicked it in the direction of the railing.
It landed on the ground near one of the posts, and the seagull stopped, head craning down as it examined the offering. Audrey hastily pulled her phone out while the gull shuffled in place, looking between them and the food, and he could hear the rapid repetition of the shutter sound. The gull hesitated long enough to determine that neither of them seemed inclined to move, before it hopped down and grabbed the pancake.
Nathan had kind of expected it to peck at it, or maybe pull it apart; it did neither.
Instead, it tossed its head back and attempted to simply swallow the entire thing in one go.
Audrey let out a bright peal of laughter, quickly stifled, and Nathan stared in bemused amazement; a half-a-dozen rapid, shuddering back-and-forth movements, and the pancake vanished, somehow, into the seemingly far-too-small maw of the gull. For a jarring moment, he was reminded of the gaping beak of the sea monster-
-and he laughed, startled and louder than he’d meant, because the thought was ridiculous, and it brought more disbelief than anxious recollection.
The seagull gave a low, squalling sound, and eyed their table, clearly sizing up whether or not there was going to be more food forthcoming.
“D’you think they ever feel regret?” Nathan asked, and Audrey laughed again, and shook her head.
“No,” she said, as the seagull awkwardly flapped back up onto the railing, and immediately re-fixed its attention on Nathan’s plate. “Definitely not. Pretty sure the only emotion they feel is hubris.”
“Was pretty impressive,” Nathan said, amused. “Think it can do a whole one?”
“...That’s probably too much,” Audrey said, though she sounded speculative, and her eyes had narrowed. “I mean, a whole pancake...”
“What about a pancake?”
Nathan turned, quickly setting his fork down, and Audrey turned as well, looking guilty for an instant before she fixed her attention on the tray in Duke’s hand.
“You have to stop bringing these out,” she said, already reaching for the mimosa, and Duke gave her a crooked smile and lowered the tray for her, tilting it neatly to keep it balanced when she grabbed her drink.
“I’ll stop bringing them out when you stop drinking them,” Duke said, lifting the tray back up. “And seriously, what about a pancake?”
“Nothing,” Nathan said quickly, and Duke narrowed his eyes. The seagull chose that moment to make another demanding noise, and Nathan felt his cheeks heat. Duke tilted his head just slightly, and looked from Nathan to the gull, and then back again, and he furrowed his brows.
“Are you feeding the birds?” he asked, sounding more confused than anything. Then he frowned, and a note of judgment crept in. “...Are you feeding the birds pancakes?”
“...Maybe?” Nathan admitted, because however much it might annoy Duke that they were attracting wildlife to his patio, it wasn’t worth lying about. Duke visibly considered his answer, and shook his head, expression shifting back towards perplexed.
“I wanted to take a picture, and he was going to move,” Audrey explained. “Nathan just. Bribed it for me.”
“...Uh huh,” Duke said, rolling his lower lip between his teeth in a gesture of uncertainty. Then he shook his head, and fixed Nathan with a look. “Don’t feed the gulls pancakes.”
“Sorry,” Nathan started, but Duke continued before Nathan could get any further.
“You have like, half an orange still on your plate, that’s better. Pancakes are bready.”
“...Bready?” Audrey asked, and Duke shrugged.
“Bread isn’t good for them. Fruit is better. Eggs are okay, too.”
“You don’t mind?” Audrey pressed, sounding surprised, and Duke looked confused.
“They’re going to hang around looking for scraps no matter what,” he said. “You want to feed ‘em, go ahead. It’s not like I’m gonna be able to keep the kids from doing it, and if it makes them happy, it’s, y’know, not a big deal. Everything gets sprayed down at the end of the day anyway.”
“Oh,” Audrey said, looking thoughtful. “Then you should post a sign.”
“A sign?” Duke asked, looking thrown.
“A sign,” Audrey repeated. “With what it’s okay to give them. So they don’t get used to pancakes.”
“I’ll think about it,” Duke said, and he sounded like he meant it. “You two about done? Brunch crowd is pretty well done, I thought- Tracy says she can handle the afternoon shift. I don’t have to stay.”
“We’re about done,” Nathan said, a warm curl of satisfaction making its way through his chest. Duke offering to duck out early instead of having to be convinced to come home was still rare, particularly when he knew they didn’t actually have somewhere else they ought to be. It was nice, and Nathan wasn’t going to let it slip past. “Ready to go, soon as you are.”
“Okay. Give me... twenty minutes, I’ll be ready.” Duke nodded, free hand flexing at his side, and he gave another crooked smile. “Don’t give the bird any more pancakes.”
“We won’t,” Audrey promised. “Go finish up, we’ll be right here when you’re done.”
“I know,” Duke said, and there was only a little exasperation in his tone. He headed back inside, and they both watched until he’d made it. When they turned back, Audrey met his eyes, and there was a moment of recognition before they both chuckled awkwardly.
It’d take time, but they were getting there. Slowly.
“Now it’s gonna bother me,” Audrey said, clearly changing the subject, and Nathan blinked.
“Whether or not he could eat a whole pancake,” she said, and Nathan let himself laugh, let himself relax. They were getting there. What was broken was being made whole again.
And they had nothing urgent to do.