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A Breakfast Gift

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Author of two fiction novels, short stories and book reviews, Peggy Cole is a HubPages writer since 2009, currently working on a 3rd book.

Eggs Over Medium

Village Inn Pancake house, where we spent hours over a plate of food and good conversation.

Village Inn Pancake house, where we spent hours over a plate of food and good conversation.

Shaking the Bushes

I sat at the breakfast table pondering my last day in town. It wouldn't be spent doing touristy things like a trip to the beach or Busch Gardens. This would be my last trip to see a best friend.

I looked out of the plate glass window and spotted a lizard crawling along the outer ledge. His curiosity and agility reminded me of years earlier when I'd lived in town in a small house with a hedge around the foundation. My dog loved standing on her back legs, shaking the bushes to make the critters scatter.

Today would not bring the fun I'd had in the past when visiting but it would be memorable for other reasons.

A lizard crept around outside the plate glass window, looking for his own breakfast.

A lizard crept around outside the plate glass window, looking for his own breakfast.

No Smoking

The waiter placed my meal in front of me, steaming grits, eggs over medium, a short stack of pancakes awaiting warmed syrup over the top. He asked if I needed anything else. No, I had everything I needed right there on the table. Everything I needed except my friend's face across the booth smiling at me.

Instead, she lay in a hospital bed hooked up to tubes and drains, translucent in the harsh fluorescent overhead lights. When I finished breakfast, I would be standing by her prone form for the last time.

My eggs grew cold as I sat remembering the numerous times we'd eaten meals in that same restaurant. We'd seen many changes over the years. Long gone were the ashtrays at the table. Later, the smoking section moved to the back. Currently, no smoking was allowed inside. Right now, I wanted a cigarette despite having given up the habit over two decades ago.

No Coke, Pepsi

We'd driven past this factory hundreds of times over the years.

We'd driven past this factory hundreds of times over the years.

Fireworks on the Horizon

People all around me in the restaurant were wearing vacation outfits, likely snowbirds, visiting the area rich with places to go, things to see. But my journey was ending. After four days of living in the motel, I'd packed my roller bag that morning and checked out, my suitcase tucked into the trunk of the rental car, baking in the humid July climate.

Tomorrow, the fourth of July, I'd be home with fireworks a regular occurrence during the holiday and the days prior and afterward. As soon as the sun dropped over the horizon, blasts like automatic weapons would sound as the magnificent display of fireworks bloomed in the sky over the lake. Many times my friend had flown up to visit Texas during the holiday. We'd mix up a batch of Margaritas and sit on the wrap-around porch watching the show. But not this year or any year that would follow. Her travelling days were over.

When she was first diagnosed, she'd told me if she beat this thing there were so many places she'd never seen, people she wanted to visit, travel plans on her bucket list. Our last travel together would be the trip in her car, me driving, from her house to the nearby hospital.

I looked at the factory across the street from the restaurant. It had been there 30 years earlier when I lived down that street in a little bungalow house. My friend would come over and spend afternoons with me, sharing a cold glass of sweet tea and conversation. Seemed like forever ago in some ways and just last week in other ways. We were so young back then.

How many mornings had we shared a cup of fresh coffee in her living room since then, pondering the workings of government and the universe? Her house had changed over the years. She'd remodeled the bathroom and kitchen, laying the tile floor herself. The carpeting was gone, replaced by hardwood floors. The old air conditioning unit on the east wall was now a rectangle of glass blocks that let in the morning light. Her dogs had changed over the years, too, always big, friendly, lap dogs that shared the loveseat with me. Those faces had changed, coming and going with happiness and sadness as they grew old and left for greener pastures.

I remember the phone call on New Year's day, my friend telling me about one of her beloved animals passing during the night. We both cried. Now, as I faced my last visit with her, I held back the tears brimming in my eyes.

My patience was growing thin, waiting for the waiter to return with my food check so I could move toward that cold room where I would sit and watch her breathe and drift in and out of consciousness.

The Neighborhood

I looked out at the former Burger King next to the shopping center where we worked together at a hair salon.

I looked out at the former Burger King next to the shopping center where we worked together at a hair salon.

Finally, I caught the attention of a server and asked for my waiter to bring the check. He showed up at the table, seconds later, perplexed.

"Ma'am, your check has already been paid."

"You must be mistaken," I told him. "I haven't paid yet."

"Someone picked up your tab," he told me. I glanced around the room trying to spot whomever might have done that. No one was looking at me. I felt a surge of conflicting emotions: embarrassment, gratitude, humility, surprise, confusion. How could anyone have known that I needed something like that? Not financially. I was more than able to afford the meal. But I had needed compassion in that moment. An unlikely stranger gave the gift that couldn't be repaid.

I left the restaurant quickly, my head tucked down, tears forcing their way out of my weary eyes. Someone had paid it forward and all I could do was cry. The floodgates were open and I allowed pent-up emotion to roll down my face. I sat in the car in the parking lot for a long while, waiting for my emotions to subside. At last I regained my composure and drove the couple of miles to see my friend for the last time.

Can't Find My Way Home

© 2021 Peg Cole

Comments

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on July 02, 2021:

John, It's so nice to see you here. Thanks for the kind comment.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on July 01, 2021:

What a touching and delightful story, Peg. Great writing.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on July 01, 2021:

Thank you, sweet Marlene.

Marlene Bertrand from USA on July 01, 2021:

Your story is a gift to the soul.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on June 26, 2021:

Hi Flourish, Thank you. I like what you said, "Wonders for the Soul." That's another great book title. Take care and hoping for blessings to come your way.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on June 26, 2021:

Hello Nithya, You know, we live in the moment when we're young, feeling immortal, like the end is far, far away. Then, the years fly by and we have more behind us than ahead and our outlook changes.

Acts of kindness truly go a long way, especially from strangers.

Thank you so much for coming by and for the sweet comment.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on June 26, 2021:

Audrey, How nice to see you! I like that expression, "A river of feelings." Sounds like a good title for a book.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on June 26, 2021:

Oh, Peggy. I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your friends. We've reached that age where, sadly, it happens more often now. That doesn't lessen the impact and the grief. Hopefully, we have a strong faith that carries us through.

All the best to you. Thanks so much for dropping by.

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 26, 2021:

I'm sorry for your loss. It's touching that an anonymous person paid for your meal. The kindness of such simple acts, especially during life's difficult periods, works wonders for the soul.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on June 25, 2021:

Seeing your best friend for the last time can be heartbreaking; you have related your feelings so well. To receive an act of kindness from an unknown stranger when you are grieving must have been a blessing on that day.

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on June 25, 2021:

I love your story! I felt the emotion radiating from you. Losing a special friend, and saying goodbye carry a river of feelings.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 25, 2021:

If this story is one about your friendship and your last goodbye, it was powerfully written. I could feel the pain in your words. We have said goodbye to several friends in a similar manner. At least we all have our memories.

Perhaps that stranger who paid for your meal could feel your sadness.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on June 25, 2021:

Hello Dora, The smallest act of kindness can truly mean so much when needed. It really is a blessing. I appreciate seeing you here and thank you for the kind words.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on June 25, 2021:

Hello sweet Mary, Thank you so much for dropping in to share breakfast with me. And also for the lovely comment.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on June 25, 2021:

Shauna, dear one,

You always sense the deeper stuff beneath the words, don't you? Thanks so much for coming by and for saying what you did. That means a great deal to me. The muse has been silent for a long time until this morning when it poured this story out for me.

I hope Paula likes the Clapton tune. She was a big Beatles fan.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 25, 2021:

Thank you for sharing your touching experience with your friend and the compassionate deed of a stranger. What a blessing!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on June 25, 2021:

That was a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing your experience being with your friend for the last time.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 25, 2021:

Peggy, you're one of my favorite writers. Your words flow with emotion and come from the heart. I love seeing your name pop up in my feed and/or email notifications.

Good Clapton choice, my friend. It fits the story.

This is about Paula, isn't it?

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on June 25, 2021:

That's quiet a compliment, Pamela, that you "felt the emotions" as you read. I'm always honored by your visits and truly appreciate your kind remarks.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on June 25, 2021:

Hello Liz,

So sorry to hear about your friend and with the lockdown, it must have made matters worse. I agree that the strength of one's faith is important at times like these, and always. That's one of the comforts when things are completely out of our control and we feel helpless to do anything.

Thanks so much for sharing about your friend and I'm so sorry for your loss. Kind regards.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 25, 2021:

I think this is a very good and realistic story, Peg. I felt the emotions as I read. This is such a realistic scenario that plays out everywhere I think. I hope you keep writing stories.

Liz Westwood from UK on June 25, 2021:

I visited a friend for the last time just before lockdown last year. We both knew, but didn't say that it was unlikely we would meet again. We shared many phone calls until they suddenly stopped as her health declined. She died in the summer, leaving a big gap, but lots of memories. She knew where she was heading with a strong Christian faith.

Your story creates a strong and poignant atmosphere. It makes readers feel that they are there with you and reminds us of the importance of kindness.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on June 25, 2021:

Hello Bill, Thanks, as always for your kind words and for your shared experience. Time makes it a little easier to find the balance. So true. Glad for the happy years of memories.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 25, 2021:

A simple act of kindness can mean so much. I loved this story. I feels authentic. It is loving melancholy. I have had a similar experience, about four years ago. Remembering all the memories as I make the drive to Oregon to see my best friend for the last time, finding joy in those memories, joy finding balance with grief....wonderful story, my friend.

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