She’d always leave the book in the afternoon. After the lunch rush and before the evening crowd, she’d place it in the middle of the table, mark the page with a yellow binder, and place three bits on the side. She’d never stay or say a word, content to leave the book with a happy sigh, clean her glasses, and trot off into the streets of Canterlot.
She had been doing it for months, ever since that one day she had taken Rarity’s advice and given the place a chance. That first time she had found it noisy, loud, making her feel crushed and anxious at the same time. The fright had caused her to flee seconds after she had arrived, leaving her book behind. Only when she returned home did she notice its absence. After two terrifying hours of hesitation she went back. She didn’t think she would find it, fearing the book would be picked up by somepony, or worse—thrown away. It wasn’t.
The restaurant was empty, yet the book was waiting for her, placed neatly on the table she had sat at before, a lantern burning on one side of it and a bowl of soup on the other. A note was tucked among the pages serving as a bookmarker. She took it out and read.
I hope the stew is still warm by the time you return.
I enjoyed the book. I was too tired to read more than a chapter, and yet it managed to captivate me. To think someone could describe something so foreign that would feel so close to home. I hope you enjoy my gift as much as I enjoyed yours.
The soup was so spicy it made the mare steam her glasses, yet she persisted, eating sip by sip until it was gone. She then placed a three coins on the on the table and left. She didn’t take the book with her. She didn’t feel the need to anymore.
She’d always start preparing the stew two hours after sunset. Once the last dish was served, and the last customer had left, she would help her father wash the dishes prepare the restaurant for the next day, and they she would start cooking the dish for her invisible customer. She had only seen her once months ago. A unicorn, much unlike any other in Canterlot—cautious, nervous, with thick glasses and an even thicker book. Before she could approach the customer had disappeared, leaving only a book behind.
She had kept the book, put it safely on the kitchen shelf. This wasn’t the first time a customer had forgotten something. Yet as time went by, and the patrons started to leave, there was still no sign of the customer. That made her worried. She waited in front of the restaurant, then inside, then in the kitchen glancing out every few minutes to check.
The book caught her attention as she was about to go to sleep. Just a few pages, she told herself, one final excuse to stay a few more minutes in the hopes the customer would return.
The story had caught her off guard. So unexpected, yet gentle, it had claimed her interest despite her exhaustion. Two pages became five. Five became ten. Ten became twenty. In a blink of the eye a chapter had passed. She didn’t know how to react. She could keep on reading, hopefully finish the book before the customer returns... but that would be selfish. What mare would she be if she took advantage of another’s kindness, one who had given her so much joy? Instead she decided to cook: one special meal for one special customer.
She placed the good on the table once she was done, right next to the book. To be sure the customer would find it, she placed a lantern with enough oil to last the night. To show her thanks, she wrote a note and signed it.
The next morning, when she went to check on the table, the food was gone, but the book remained—along with three bits and a new note.
The food was magnificently nourishing. I enjoyed it.
Thank you for taking care of the book. It’s one of my favorites and it makes me happy you like it too. I’ve just started it myself, but am at chapter three. Maybe we could read it together?
She patiently waited for the sun to set. Usually she’d have work to do, but this night was special. This was the night she would better her fears and do something she hadn’t done since school. She had said this dozens of times before, but this time she had to go through with it; tonight they had reached the final chapter, and if she didn’t act before Saffron started it the book would end.
She combed her mane one more time, adjusted her sweater, and adjusted her glasses. Every single action made her heart tremble she might miss the moment, every single action gave her an excuse not to take a chance. They had spoken through books and food, was that not enough? They had exchanged messages, on a few occasions they had even managed to catch a glance of each other. Maybe that was enough for now?
No! The thought hit her light a lightning bolt, scaring her into a gallop. As much as she feared trying, she feared failing without an attempt even more.
There still were ponies when she arrived—and elderly pair, enjoying the last bites of their mean. She could have waited for them to finish, she could have trotted round the block, but she didn’t. She chose to go to their table and sit down.
The minutes stretched like years. The couple finished their meal, thanked the restaurants owner, and left. It was at that point that Saffron appeared, emerging from the kitchen.
She swallowed. Her heart skipped twice, sending flaming ice chills down her spine. Her forehoves moved on their own, pushing the book slightly to the side—a silent yell for attention. And Saffron noticed. With a slight smile Saffron trotted to the table.
She looked into Saffron’s eyes, seeing in them her own reflection. A thousand words poured out, captured in a single glance. Fear was swept away, as questions became answers, and hesitation was replaced by confidence. Seconds passed, then more, until finally she spoke.
“Hello, Saffron,” Moondancer said. “Let’s finish the chapter together.”