The Last Brunch

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It was the dawn of a Sunday afternoon in sleepy New Haven, Connecticut as Camila Hill made her way to the Esprit Café for weekly brunch with her ailing father. Their long-standing brunch tradition dated back to Camila’s childhood, when her habits of sleeping in on weekend mornings conflicted with her love of all scrumptious breakfast foods. Eventually, her father, Albert Hill, decided that weekly Sunday brunch in downtown New Haven was the best solution to meet his daughter’s needs, and he valued every second he got with her in that cozy old café.
As Camila matured and grew into a busy, hardworking adult, Albert aged quickly, his body overwhelmed by arthritis and a crippling heart condition that had left him in the ER a few too many times. Despite his many medical complications, Albert still made arrangements for weekly brunches with his daughter at the Esprit Café, where they spent hours catching up with one another.
Camila was Albert’s only child, and through the many trials he endured throughout his life, she stood by his side with unwavering love and support. Their brunches gave them time to catch up with one another in the midst of their hectic lives. Waffles and omelets kickstarted their lengthy conversations about life which often stretched into the early afternoon. It was the highlight of each week for both of them.
This particular Sunday, a chilly autumn wind howled through the quiet streets of New Haven, and Camila wrapped herself tightly in her soft flannel as she waited for her father inside the café. For the first time in years, he was late. They always planned to meet at 11am sharp, and as the clock pushed toward 11:30, she grew more and more unsettled. Numerous calls to her father’s cell phone went straight to voicemail, but he never used that old thing anyway. She tried to reassure herself that he was simply having trouble finding parking or perhaps he had run into an old friend on his way and stopped to chat. After all, he practically knew everyone in a 100-mile radius, and he never missed an opportunity to talk.
After nearly 45 minutes, a haggard old man came through the café entrance, the tiny bell at the top of the door jingling as he entered slowly. She hardly recognized him at first, but his familiar smile was unmistakable. “Dad, is everything okay?” Camila asked. “I was starting to get worried.”
He lowered himself slowly into the booth where they always sat and reached out to grab her hand. “Just had a busy morning, that’s all,” he responded. After gazing at her lovingly for a brief moment, he said, “Listen, Camila, I’m afraid I don’t have much time. I just need you to know that I love you. I always will.”
“What do you mean?” Camila asked. “What’s wrong?”
Suddenly, Camila’s phone started to ring. She glanced at it to see that her mother was calling.
“You should take that call,” Albert said softly. Without another word, he slowly rose from the booth and left the café, the ring of the bell echoing once again through the silent room. Camila hesitantly lifted the phone to her ear.
“Mom, what’s going on?” Camila asked. On the other end of the phone, her mother wept. “Camila, I don’t know how to tell you this, but your father passed away this morning. Where are you? I’m coming to get you.”
Camila slowly sank into the booth, her eyes fixated on the door where her father had just exited moments ago. As a young waitress brought out their usual orders, Camila dropped her phone on the table and stormed out of the café, chasing after her father. She frantically searched the sea of strangers moving along the sidewalk to find his tall figure, but he was nowhere in sight. The cool New Haven wind whipped through the crowd, numbing Camila’s face as salty tears streaked her freckled cheeks.
As Albert’s funeral came and went and life settled back into its chaotic progression, Camila returned to the Esprit Café at 11am every Sunday morning, hoping that perhaps her father would walk through that door just one more time. She even ordered an omelet for him every time she ate there, sliding it across the table toward his side of the booth.
Camila never told a soul about her unusual encounter with the vision of her father on the day of his death. She kept it as her own little secret, always wishing that he might come back to visit her again.


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