The restaurant felt different as soon as Kayla walked in.
It didn’t take long to figure out why.
A young, handsome server brought a pitcher of water to the table. “Can I get you ladies something to drink?”
Where was Franklin? Ever since Kayla had moved to town five years before, she had looked forward to the old man’s sweet greetings and warm smiles. A mixture of nausea and panic washed over her.
Kayla watched her co-workers order their drinks, laughing and flirting. None of them seemed to notice Franklin was missing. For them, this was just the typical Wednesday work lunch, same as every week.
It wasn’t surprising, given how they complained about him to each other. He was slow. Not too bright. A little nosy.
To Kayla, though, her weekly conversations with Franklin were therapeutic, even though they were brief.
She ordered her iced tea and missed the way Franklin always followed up, by completing her thought — “With three sugars? And how about a spritz of lime?”
The new server, just nodded and began to walk away.
“Oh, excuse me,” Kayla called after him. “Could I get three sugars and … a spritz of lime with that?”
He stopped on his way back to the kitchen, looked over his shoulder. “We don’t have lime, miss.”
Kayla frowned. “Oh, alright. Thank you.”
The rest of the meal was uneventful, and Kayla soon got caught up in conversation about quarter-end accounting for the company, vacation plans (she had none), and what everyone was going to do with the raises they hoped they’d get that year.
It all made Kayla feel numb and a little desperate. Her dream was to open a small artisan bakery, but she had to eat, pay the bills. And with every passing year and every raise, it was harder and harder to think about leaving her job.
That was one of the reasons she had always tipped Franklin generously, at least by her standards. He flashed a fire in his eyes that she knew burned in her belly, too, and she hoped, somehow, that she might help him with his dreams, whatever those were.
Maybe then, she’d be part of something that mattered.
It seemed silly when she thought about it that way, and made even the modest tip she fished from her pocketbook for the new server feel heavy. She took one last drink of her plain, watery tea, then stood and followed her co-workers across the restaurant.
“Excuse me, miss,” a gentle man’s voice trailed after Kayla as she approached the front door.
She turned to look, surprised to find the restaurant’s owner walking toward her, envelope in hand. She had seen the man a few times but figured he didn’t know who she was.
“You are Kayla, correct?” he asked, as if reading her thoughts.
She nodded. “Yes, that’s me.”
The owner smiled an handed her the envelope.
“Franklin left this for you.”
Concern creased her face. “Thank you. But where is Franklin?”
The man cleared his throat, shuffled his feet, looked to the floor. His face flushed, and tears welled in his eyes. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I thought you knew.”
Kayla cocked her head, questioning.
“I’m sorry, miss, but Franklin is gone.”
“Yes, he passed away over the weekend.”
“Franklin died?” The words caught in her throat.
The restaurateur was still fidgeting. “I’m afraid so. But it’s not like it was unexpected.”
“It wasn’t?” Kayla had to admit to herself she really hadn’t known her waiter friend.
“No. I mean, he only retired to fight the cancer. Sold his investment firm and hunkered down. Didn’t take him long to realize he needed something to do, though. That’s why he came to work here.”
“He owned an investment firm?”
“Sure did. Best in the state. No one knew money like Franklin.”
Kayla tried to remember if she knew this about her friend, and blushed with embarrassment when she realized she had never really asked much about his past. Almost everything she thought about the man were built on her own assumptions.
The restaurant owner leaned in close and whispered to Kayla. “I can assure you … the check is good.”
“What check?” Kayla asked, but the man was already halfway across the dining room.
She stared at the envelope in her hands for a few moments, then slipped a finger under the flap and pried it open. Inside, one slip of paper was wrapped around another. She untangled them and unfolded the first, a small, handwritten note:
Thank you for your friendship and your generosity, even when you couldn’t afford it. It’s amazing what a five-dollar tip can grown into over time, when invested properly. The magic of compound interest, as they say!
Make something delicious for me.
Your friend, Franklin.
The second slip was a check, for more money than Kayla had ever seen in one place. The memo read, simply, “Sweet Dreams.”