That ridiculous bell tinked over the door again, as it always did, and he had to duck as he crossed the threshold.
Warm hazel eyes lifted to him even as the slight frame worked to wipe down the counter still. "Morning, Ben."
She was happy this morning. Her salutation sang over the soft hum of customers. "Morning Rey," he answered, slipping into a seat at the counter. "Coffee, please."
She nodded, straightening and folding the used rag in half, and in half again. "Yep. My answer every morning from now on is no coffee until you've ordered some food."
He blinked at her, incredulous. "What if I've already eaten?"
"You haven't," she retorted, bustling to pick up a plate of pancakes. She continued address him as she waltzed around the counter to deliver the order: "You only ever drink copious amounts of coffee first thing in the morning. You later have one of those vile protein, super vitamin, and kale concoctions around mid-morning while at work, and though you claim it's fibrous and filling, you're ravenous and snippy with everyone when you come in here for your one o'clock lunch, and I'm putting my foot down on this nonsensical lifestyle now.
Who did she think…? How dare she...? Ohhhhhh... "I'm not ordering breakfast here," he answered sharply. "Hux lets me keep all necessary ingredients for my eight hundred calorie smoothie at The Supremacy Inn kitchen now. I have a routine."
She fucking winked at him as she sashayed back behind the counter. "And today is the day we're going to change that. It'll irritate the shit out of Hux to have his routine messed with, too. Not to mention the enormous health benefit it'll be to you..."
"Oh sure," he scoffed, gesturing about to nothing in particular. "Scarfing down greasy, sugar-coated simple carbohydrates as I sip on my daily dose of caffeine."
"Live dangerously, Ben. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and you're going to eat it here at my diner this morning. And every morning after after from here on out."
He blinked, determination flooding his vision now. "I think not." She had challenged him, after all...
"Oh, but I think you will." A wicked glint twinkled in those mesmerising hazel eyes that stirred something warm and wonderful inside him. "Because if you don't order breakfast," she said, "you won't be getting coffee. Ever. Again."
"You can't hold my coffee hostage!" he blurted, stunned and horrified. And trying desperately to hide said emotions, but now she'd gone too far…
"I can. And I am."
"Why?" Why indeed! Why today? Why him? Why…? "You never made this an issue before. This is our thing: just coffee in the morning, water at lunch. Not to mention the coffee and dinners I have here every Monday and Friday evening. Sometimes Saturdays and I even order one of those vile pieces of blackberry pie you shove at me Sunday afternoons."
Her expression was something between a beam and a smirk, as if he'd said something he shouldn't have... Something that meant something, but he didn't know what the fuck what… "I just feel like it today," she hummed, turning to deliver another platter of some calorie drenched thing.
"You don't have anything I like," he tried.
To which she retorted: "I have fruit—"
"—Orange juice doesn't count," he cut in.
"Actually, according to the USDA health guidelines, a quarter cup of fruit juice counts as a fruit serving." She seemed quite smug about this bit of useless trivia. "And my glasses hold at least a double portion of that."
"I don't care about the pandering minimalistic health guidelines set forth by our government." He was indignant now. No coffee and already too much talking for six thirty in the morning… And Hux's coffee at the inn was too weak… He pinched the bridge of his nose, continuing: "Fruit juice lacks all the nutritional value of whole or fully blended fruits. All the fiber has been removed and any vitamins and minerals gained are lost the first bathroom break you take after drinking it, and everything else on you menu is one double order of fried eggs and crispy bacon away from cardiac arrest."
His hand dropped to the counter, fingers drumming irritably against the cool surface. "I'd say that defeats the purpose of keep me healthy, wouldn't you agree?"
He hadn't thought anything he'd just said was particularly funny, but something must have struck a chord because was now leaning over the counter, laughing, and laughing, and laughing.
The bubbly melody filled the cozy diner instantly, as if in search for an empty space to burrow into… Finding its home within his chest… Warming him from the inside out.
He gave a thick swallow, thinking it might be best to leave all together now… Until…
"Oh, Ben…" He froze in his seat, meeting her full eyes again. She was glowing and gesturing at him. "Have you ever even seen yourself. Like really had a clear and solid look at yourself in the mirror? You're in prime condition and no more closer to cardiac arrest and I am flying to the moon."
"It's a slippery slope," he managed, voice strained and unsure, "once you get started and all…"
"Regardless." She slid a menu in his direction as she greeted a new customer. "You should have a look before you decline. You might be surprised by what you find."
She was gone to hand out menus and take drink orders before he could protest some more, or declare he was leaving… He should leave. That would show her she wasn't in any position to insert herself and just change his daily routine. He glared down, determined to scowl and remind her that all he'd kill this morning tradition of patronizing her diner if he needed to, and…
"Fuck…" he murmured, tracing a finger over a newly laminated insert in the menu. It was a colorful list of newly available breakfast items. Yogurts, Greek and plain, fruit, muesli, granola, egg whites omelettes, and sliced avocado… Even that baked sweet potato hash nest thing he'd mentioned to her last week.
He swallowed again, lifting his eyes to her as she repeated something and wrote on her notepad. He permitted the slightest tile in his lips as he looked back to the menu and silently made his selection.
He'd buried the smile under an expression of feigned irritation when she made it back to him, inquiring after his order… This perfect ray of sunshine couldn't possibly know the extent of the effect she had on him…
At least, not until he'd figured it out for himself…