My father always said, “Dreams go to die in Calais.” But I wanted a fresh start, and saw it as a place I could find my footing.

In January, I started working at my step-grandmother’s diner. My father’s mother died when he was young, and Karen entered the picture far before I was born.

Since my last name is common here, customers often tell me stories about my family. I’ve asked many people if they knew my biological grandmother, but no one recognized her name.

March 18 was the last time I worked prior to COVID-19 regulations on restaurants.

One of our senior regulars, Mary, sat in her usual booth that day. As always, she took 15 minutes to contemplate her options before settling with her usual breakfast sandwich.

It was particularly quiet that day. I sat with her briefly. She struggles with her memory, but she loves a good conversation.

“Did you know Joyce Scribner?” I asked her abruptly.

She took a moment to process the question. Looking off into the distance, she sipped her coffee carefully. Then, the biggest smile spread across her face.

“Oh yes,” she chuckled, “and she lit up the room at every party.”

I imagined Joyce wearing burgundy lipstick, her thin curls tucked neatly into a bun as she waltzed around with a grin that showed all her teeth and an energy of flirtatious beauty that captivated the crowd.

“She was lovely,” Mary continued. “But she died so long ago. Cancer?” “Car accident,” I corrected. “She was 45 years old.”

“Oh, yes,” she muttered, grabbing a fork and sifting around her sandwich as if drifting back into her own world of memories. “You remind me of her.”

Looking down at her empty coffee cup, she asked, “Could you get me more?”

I wanted with every fiber of my being to ask Mary if she owned any photographs or had more memories of this woman whose blood I shared but whose likeness I’d never know. But the diner began to overflow with hungry patrons, and Mary left soon after.

I wondered if that would be the last time I‘d hear of Joyce from the mouth of someone who knew her so young. Seeing Mary reminisce made me feel, if only briefly, like I was right there with them at that party in the prime of their lives. The entire world ahead of them, their dreams naive and futures bright.

Toward the end of my shift, Karen entered the restaurant and sat at the bar, her boisterous personality brightening the room. She wrapped her fingers, crowded with rings, around a sweaty glass and took a swig.

“Well, Buttercup, what do we do now?” she said, smirking.

I realized in that moment that beautiful things blossom from even the darkest of places. While I wish I’d known Joyce, I had been given the gift of Karen’s outpouring of love and support in her absence.

“I don’t know,” I responded, “but I’m grateful for you, Grammy.”

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