6:15. Wake up.
Everyone has some sort of ritual in their life.
6:20. Wash face. Brush teeth.
Jeremiah Lee was no exception.
His days had been the same everyday for many, many days. Most of the time it was like running on auto-pilot.
6:40. Morning run around the block.
It was simple, comfortable. Familiar. Predictable.
7:00. Return from run. Grab today's paper on the way in. Stretch.
His brother always hated schedules. Too constricting, stuffy.
7:15. Turn on rice cooker. Shower.
He was always rebelling, fighting, making his own way. Jeremiah always admired him for it.
7:30. Towel off. Choose underwear. Select a button down. Dress.
He could even remember a time he had joined his brother. Taking each day at a time—not sacrificing the possibility of adventure for structure. He'd be lying if he said he didn’t enjoy himself.
7:35 Prepare breakfast. Brew a cup of tea. Pull bowl from cabinet. Two scoops of rice. One egg.
As far as the two brothers were concerned, time waited for no man. They were determined to live by the principle.
7:55. Sit down at the table. Eat while browsing the newspaper financial section. Dabble at the crossword.
Until they realized they could die by it as well.
"Brother, I can't see anything. Where is the—"
"Mike, where did you go?! This better not be one of your jokes! Michael!"
That night, the echo of his own voice back at him served as a wake-up call. The world wasn't filled with fairy tales and bedtime stories. They found his brother at the bottom of a ravine. He was still alive—but not the same. And it became very clear he would never be the same again.
8:15. Clear dishes. Place in the sink. Pack prepped lunch box.
So, Jeremiah didn't stray. He lived each day over and over, like a clock resetting—stalled. Each morning, each day, each night the same. Routine was where he found his sanctuary. His meditation.
8:25. Put on shoes. Put on jacket. Grab briefcase. Lock the door.
"You were supposed to watch out for him."
"He was your little brother- your responsibility"
"I thought you were better than this."
He took the same path as he did every day. The same short train ride down to his work building.
8:55 Waive to Lena at the reception desk and get to his own.
Though his brother had recovered quite miraculously, (The wonders of modern medicine truly astounded him) it didn't change the fact that Jeremiah had failed him. So he continued the routine day after day, week after week, year after year. Until he wasn't quite sure why he did it anymore. Some find it terribly boring- never changing. Jeremiah found it comfortable. The kind of comfortable that was like sitting on a couch, well-worn by your own body. It hugs you in a way that makes it feel impossible to get up. To get out. To move. To leave.
1 :00. Eat lunch with Amelia.
So he stayed.
5:05. Leave work.
The days had started getting warm again, and his usual walk felt longer than usual. He dabbed at his forehead a bit as he continued on the way.
5:15 Cut through park. Choose dinner from the pop up market.
He found a particularly nice batch of beansprouts he thought would go nicely with the salmon in his refrigerator.
5:40. Get in line at Marcy's Café.
Jeremiah had discovered the small coffee shop when he got lost on his way home once. He hadn't even been in the city a week when it happened. He met the owner then- a polite woman named Angela- and the cozy atmosphere was so pleasant, he quickly decided he would be a regular. The staff was kind and the place always clean. Plus, it helped that the café was small and didn't get too many visitors. It meant there was no line at this time of the day.
"I'm sorry, ma'am, I know I'm holding up the line, but you've been so helpful."
5:47. (Still standing in line.)
"I think that one makes the most sense, ma'am. Again, I'm awful sorry bout the trouble."
"It's fine, it's fine. That's what I'm here for!"
"Still, Miss," the man leaned forward, squinting a bit before pulling back. "Hannah. I appreciate it."
"Of course! So, we're doing a medium iced caramel macchiato, extra whip, with caramel drizzle and cinnamon?" She rattled off quickly.
Jeremiah's nose scrunched involuntarily. All that waiting for such a flimsy beverage. He took a moment to eye the man in front of him. He was tall, at least a few inches more so than he. Just as built. And—his brows furrowed in confusion as Jermiah wondered if the man in front of him was honestly dressed as a cowboy. A cowboy with an iced macchiato. At least the persona matched the drawl. He scoffed again, but this time, out loud.
"I'm sorry for the wait, darlin'." The man turned around and Jeremiah immediately concluded, yes, he was dressed as a cowboy. "Hope I didn't disturb you too much, but I'm terrible at these kind of places. Think I finally found something to my taste." The witty remark was on his lips before he could stop it.
"That's espresso flavored sugar milk." He stepped up to the counter forcing the newcomer to step to the side towards the waiting area. "I've seen fourteen year olds order stronger coffee than that. And quicker I might add." He reached into his pocket for his wallet when the man shot back.
"Well then, big shot, what kind drink do you get from this place?" Jeremiah stiffened. His preferred beverage was delicate to say the least, but after the show he had just put on, he refused to lose face. He faced Hannah who was wearing a bemused smirk, wiggling her eyebrows in anticipation. He could see Angela behind her, desperately trying not to giggle behind her hand.
"I will take a small cup of the dark roast." She couldn't stifle a louder chuckle.
"Are you sure?" Hannah asked leading. The glare Jeremiah shot back at her was enough for an answer, and she rang him up accordingly. "Room for cream and sugar?"
"No." He replied stiffly. He paid, gave a word of thanks and leaned against the counter impatiently. He'd almost forgotten the oddly dressed man was there until their shoulders bumped.
"Black coffee. I guess there's nothing weak about that."
"Hn." Jeremiah didn't respond, hoping the man would take his order to-go, leaving him the opportunity to get his usual. Since he had only gotten a regular coffee, both drinks came up about the same time. It only took a few moments for the two men to realize there was only one table free in the small shop. Jeremiah beelined for it as gracefully as he could, not wanting to have to deal with another inconvenience that day. Luck was not on his side however, as he and the man reached it simultaneously.
"Do you think we could share, darlin'? There aren't any other open spots." He flashed a white smile, and Jeremiah sighed, fighting the urge to roll his eyes. He gestured to the empty chair across from him and sat down roughly, pulling out his phone and opening up his world news app. He was doing his best to ignore the presence in front of him, despite the man's occasional attempt at conversation.
6:10. Depart Marcy's and head home.
Jeremiah stood up abruptly, stuffing his phone back into his pocket. The intruder had excused himself to the bathroom a few moments before, and he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to leave before he returned. He grabbed his bag and was three steps towards the door before remembering his drink. He went back to toss it, but unfortunately collided with a mass, quickly identified as the western nuisance of his evening.
"Woah there, darlin' sorry about that. You out of here already?" He bit the inside of his cheek before responding.
"Yes, I have somewhere I need to be. Good day." Both tried to pull away from each other, but the stranger backed into the table just as Jeremiah was pulling the cup towards him. Luckily, most of the coffee ended up on the table.
"I'm so sorry, my mistake. I tend to be clumsy sometimes—let me help you clean up." He started dabbing at Jeremiah's top with a napkin, making the man finally realized the splash had gotten quite a bit of the bottom left of his jacket.
"No, it's," he grabbed the other man's hand to still his action. "It's fine." They held each other's gaze for a moment before Jeremiah took in the awkwardness of the situation and broke eye contact. Before either could say anything else, Hannah was right there, wet cloth already in hand.
"No problem, leave it to me!" she chirped. The men thanked her gratefully, and Jeremiah was about to take leave when he heard her muse very loudly, "wow, you didn't drink any of this, huh?" He chose to ignore the comment, but stopped by the counter to apologize to the owner as well before walking out. Instead, a small bag and a cup was thrust at him. He looked from the counter and back up to Angela.
"Your strawberry acai refresher with coconut milk and blueberry scone. To-go." She winked, and without responding to her, Jeremiah whipped his head towards the table just in time to see the taller man look away. So, he had heard. Jeremiah put on a steely glare, and Angela and Hannah were laughing again. He snatched the bag and cup and walked out of the door with a huff.
6:35. Arrive home. (15 minutes late.)
Jeremiah was still seething as he walked through the door. His soiled jacket was in his hand as he kicked off his shoes and arranged them neatly. He finished the drink and snack on the way.
6:40. Change out of suit. Turn on television.
A documentary on African wildlife was on, and he was fascinated enough by it that he finally began to let go of the day's awkward events.
7:15. Prepare dinner.
He paired the sprouts with rice from that morning and baked the fish.
7:55. Eat dinner. Complete the crossword puzzle from the morning's paper.
He got stuck on 7 down. He finally gave up his pride and used google to find the answer.
8:20. Clear table. Wash dishes from dinner and breakfast. Prep a lunch box with the leftovers .
And like clockwork, his day went back to normal.
8:55. Meditate by the family alter.
The routine was back. As if it had never faltered.
9:15. Change for bed. Brush teeth. Wash face.
Like the second hand clicking, but not going anywhere. Never going anywhere.
10:25. Turn out light. Go to bed.
Simple. Constant. Safe.
6:15. Wake up.
6:20. Wash face. Brush teeth.
6:40. Morning run down the block.
7:00. Return from run. Grab today's paper on the way in.
He sat the paper on the table and moved towards the living room as usual, but he stumbled, accidentally bumping into one of his dining chairs. He frowned and looked down to push it in when noticed his suit jacket was hanging out of place on the back of it. He grabbed the jacket, and was immediately reminded of the day before. The man, the spill, the embarrassment. He chuckled to himself at the recollection, making a mental note to send it to the cleaners when his phone chimed. Puzzled at who would contact him at such a time, he was surprised to find a message from an unknown number.
7:02 From: Unknown
"Hi, I believe Jeremiah is your name. (I'm no stalker, the lady at the counter, Angela, gave it to me.) I still feel really bad about spilling the coffee, but you left before I could offer to pay for the cleaning. If you don't mind, maybe we could meet up this morning? Same shop? I can pay for the dry cleaning and get you a new tea. Don't worry. That cashier informed me that you're more of a pink drink man than a black pike guy. ; ) Hoping I can see you again. Just.. just let me know.
Jesse Stills (the guy from Marcy's yesterday in case you hadn't put it together.)
Jeremiah gripped the phone tighter in his hand, sure his entire face was red. Was this man he literally bumped into, this stranger—routine breaker—flirting? He let his gaze flip back and forth between the stained jacket and his living room contemplating. He needed to finish stretching- then get the rice cooker started if he was going to make his usual breakfast before work. He knew this. Still his gaze lingered. At times like these, his thoughts always fell back to his brother.
"Since when did you come to think of yourself as wise, Michael?"
"I met a really tranquil guy. He's the wise one."
"Regardless, I am beyond redemption, and you are a fool to think otherwise. I am satisfied with this. Just leave."
"You may think me a fool for forgiving you, but I do. I always will. The only thing holding you back is yourself."
7:10 To: Unknown
Nice to know you have more honor than your taste in drink would suggest. I will meet you for breakfast, if only to collect on a debt. 8:00?
He didn't have to wait long.
7:11 From: Unknown
Haha, sounds perfect, darlin. I'll see you there!
He let out a breath of relief. Not that he was looking forward to seeing the cowboy again. Honestly, he was surprised the man wanted to see him at all. He recalled being pretty rude the day before. Maybe it was really just to pay for the spill. Still, his stomach flipped a little at the thought of it being more. He glanced down, noting his post-workout state with a frown before his eyes shot to the clock on the stove in realization of the time.
7:15. Shower, dress, and make it halfway across town in less than an hour.
Jeremiah smiled softly before putting the phone down and rushing to the bathroom. He always hated being late, after all.