Sunny Side Up

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"Three eggs, sunny side up! Bacon, home fries with the fixin's, and don't forget some toast and Tabasco on the side. A healthy breakfast ain't never goin' out of style."

As I walked into the lively cafe decorated in shades of too much yellow, I smiled at the plump, bright woman behind the counter. It was difficult to remember her name, but I reminded myself I liked her. She's been here a long time, though not nearly as long as me.

Time put lines and creases on her face, and even though she was never the skinny kind of lady, men used to come in merely to see her. There was something about her boisterous, friendly way that made everyone feel at home.

The woman's looks changed, but her way of making everyone feel at home stayed the same. "Mornin', Miss Lizzie. Can I get you the usual?"

It wasn't easy as I slid myself into the low booth at the aptly named Sunny-Side-Up Cafe. The seat wasn't for the old folks like me. Nevertheless, the wobbly chairs at the old bistro tables were worse.

"Thank you, ma'am," I answered the boisterous and familiar lady politely, but my brain felt scrambled with the effort of trying to remember her name. "The usual is perfect."

I didn't have the slightest idea what the usual was. I'd walked to the Sunny-Side-Up Cafe that was just around the corner from my house every day since I was eight years old. Back in those days, this sleepy little town just far enough from New Orleans was safe for kids to wander as they pleased.

Times had changed a lot over the years, but inside the cafe, I felt like a little girl of eight sitting at the counter and sharing a chocolate milkshake with a handsome young boy.

I always enjoyed being the kind of lady that found comfort in routine. It made the world feel a little smaller and a little safer knowing there were constants. Some things would never change.

I was nearly ninety and still preferred the familiar.

There was a particular time in life when the easiness of childhood faded. The familiar became unpredictable.

That was around the time milkshakes turned into lattes, and the eight-year-old boy who shared the luxury of a chocolate treat became a handsome young man. I couldn't possibly recall when it happened, but it did. Even the cafe wasn't entirely immune to change.

His name was Benjamin, and he was always at the cafe. A lovable little scamp of a boy, he alternated between working, getting into mischief, and generally charming everyone who came to visit.

It was Benjamin's daddy who owned the cafe, so it was only right that the vivacious young boy was the apple of everyone's eye. He was most definitely the cause of my starry eyes, though I knew better than ever to tell him.

I was a plain girl, the average sort who wasn't going to be a beauty queen or study something interesting. It never bothered me too much. Most people were ordinary people. I never saw much need to put on airs and ambitions. I'd never been the type to pretend to be anything better than I was.

The more time passed, and the little boy who shared his milkshake turned into the town's golden boy, I regretted being plain old Lizzie. Though Benjamin was always sweet as ever to me, I couldn't ignore the shapely girls with their chestnut locks and porcelain-white complexions.

I couldn't ignore them because Benjamin couldn't ignore them. He'd keep flowers by the cash register so that he could present them to the prettier girls. They'd always blush and giggle becomingly.

I hated those girls. I hated being plain, unremarkable Lizzie.

Benjamin was still my best friend in the world, but it never felt like enough. It should have been. The way he'd twirl me around the cafe while singing, green eyes sparkling, that should have been enough to tell me he didn't see plain old Lizzie. In his shy way, he was courting me. It was something he'd never done with any other girl in town.

Milkshakes turned to root beer floats, and the root beer floats turned to lattes. It wasn't long before lattes turned to coffee laced with pilfered Irish whiskey.

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