Hannah steps outside at 7:03 am just like she does every morning. She loves routine. There is a comfort for her in knowing what her day is going to look like. It is a warm blanket of safety whereas surprises are like cold buckets of water dumped on her head. She was the type of person who enjoyed watching a movie or reading a book the second time around better than the first because she knew exactly what was going to happen and could therefore just settle in and enjoy the story.
As she walks, the sun is just peaking up over the horizon chasing away the night. Only a few short weeks ago, her walks were warm and the sunny, but winter was now well on the way. She quickly locks the front door and pulled on her gloves.
As she walks, she sees a bus pass by with an advertisement for a new caramel latte at Stella’s Coffee. Every time she sees it she thinks she should try it out. It’s only an extra 3 minute walk so she could easily go there instead of her usual bakery. But then, what if it’s terrible? At some places, the whipped cream is so fake it tastes almost plasticy. Or it might be too sweet. No, she liked her routine. If it’s not broken, why fix it?
As she gets close to the entrance, she can smell fresh bread baking, the aroma wafting out into the street. The electronic bell dings as she steps through the door.
“’Morning Hannah,” Becky, the cashier, mumbles as she gives a giant yawn. She is already reaching into the showcase with a pair of tongs. “The usual?” she asks pinching a raspberry white chocolate scone.
“Yes please.” Hannah grabs her credit card from her purse.
Becky begins foaming milk for her vanilla latte.
“Actually, hang on,” Hannah says, staring up at the menu. “Maybe I’ll try something new.”
Becky stops foaming the milk and stares at her with her hands still elevated holding the coffee cup. She takes an exaggerated sigh as she waits for Hannah’s new order.
Hannah scans over the menu a few times, but there isn’t anything resembling the caramel latte she had seen on the bus. That one had chunks of something sweet on the whipped cream. She didn’t see that type of thing here. Better not risk it.
“Um, no actually, I’ll stick with the vanilla latte.”
She pretends not to notice Becky’s exaggerated eyeroll. When the coffee is ready, Becky slides the coffee to her, sloshing the contents over the rim.
“Er, thanks.” Hannah quickly mops the spill with some napkins, grabs her scone and coffee, and heads towards the cramped seating area.,
There are 3 metal tables squashed into a tiny area, one by the window, while the other two are on the other side by the wall. Every morning she sits at the table by the window. But this morning, there is someone already there. She hesitates for a moment in indecision. The man at her table sits sipping his coffee while reading the newspaper which is spread out over the small, round table and drapes over the sides.
She usually watches the people walking along the sidewalk and her table has the best view. She finally sits down at the table in the corner glaring at the man. He’s not even looking out the window. Why sit in a window seat and not look out the window?
She picks at her scone as she slowly eats, bored by her lack of view. It tastes like sawdust and sticks to the roof of her mouth. Did it always taste like this and she hadn’t noticed because she was distracted, or were her taste buds off because her routine had been thrown out of whack?
The rest of her day passes in a blur and before she knows it she’s walking back home. As she gets closer, she notices a column of smoke rising into the sky. Soon the air starts to smell burnt. As she turns onto her street she realizes that not only is the fire coming from her neighbourhood, it’s in her street. And then she sees it.
Smoke is curling out the windows, billowing into the sky. Firefights are scattered about, working equipment so they can start fighting the fire. She stands on the sidewalk in horror as her safety net slowly turns to ash. Where was she supposed to go now? She felt naked and exposed and desperately homesick.
* * *
The next morning she steps out of her hotel room. Her boss had given her the day off to deal with the effects of her house burning down. But she woke up at the same time she did every morning and so she figured she may as well try to stick to her routine as much as possible. She needs to buy new clothes, but the stores don’t open yet so she plans to stop by her bakery. As she walks out of the parking lot, a giant poster in the coffee shop across the street catches her eye. Advertised is the caramel latter. She hesitates for just a a moment before crossing.
“Good morning,” the cashier greets her with a smile as she steps inside. “What can I get for you today?”