Every morning Lana Stock wakes up at precisely 7:15 a.m. It takes her 15 minutes to make and consume a fruit and vegetable smoothie for breakfast. She follows this up by taking a seven minute shower, followed by four minutes of cleaning her teeth. She makes sure to floss between every tooth. She spends six minutes fixing her hair and three minutes applying some basic make-up. She finishes up her morning routine getting dressed in the clothes she laid out the night before, this takes seven minutes. She heads out her door and uses the remaining three minutes walking to the subway entrance outside her apartment.
Lana’s entire morning routine takes exactly 45 minutes. Don’t bother checking the math, she already triple checked it whenever she first put it together. This is how Lana Stock lives her life. She plans every minute of every day. This is the only way she can make sure she is making the most of her time.
Typically while Lana rides the subway, she uses this time to run formulas in her head. She knows her job as a scientist is very important and needs to be ready when she arrives at work. Then she can immediately begin solving the world’s problems. However, today Lana’s mind is elsewhere. Lana cannot stop thinking about the previous night.
Last night was Sunday. The event in question took place during the block Lana has set aside for socializing time. Lately, socializing time has been spent with her boyfriend, Holden Lowe. This particular night, Holden didn’t seem his usual, casual self.
“Hey, hi! So nice to see you!” Holden greeted his girlfriend.
At this moment Lana knew something was strange. Holden was usually so relaxed. That is what she found most attractive about him. She liked that she could talk to him about her struggles at work and he would listen and provide encouraging advice. Tonight he seemed nervous.
“Good to see you too,” Lana began, “Is everything o.k.? Have you been eating regularly?”
“Oh Lana, you always have to know everything, don’t you?” Holden responded.
Lana smirked and tilted her head in a way to suggest, “Of course, I do.”
“Not tonight! Tonight I have a surprise for you!” Holden said, with perhaps the largest smile Lana had ever seen on his face.
The first half of the dinner seemed to go as usual and Lana was beginning to feel like the promise of a surprise may have been a red herring. Perhaps Holden just wanted her to relax. It was hard for her to let go and let life happen. Maybe she should loosen up her schedule a bit, there were no problems to solve at dinner.
Once the waiter brought out dessert, Lana could tell that Holden had gotten especially nervous.
“I ordered your favorite. Cheesecake,” Holden said.
“That’s so thoughtful of you,” Lana said, even though she knew cheesecake wasn’t exactly her favorite. It didn’t really make sense to her to have favorite desserts. It was such an unnecessary part of the meal. Every option was full of empty calories. She always believed time spent eating dessert could be better spent on something else. However, over many years, she had learned that dessert is an essential part of dating. Almost every date partner she has ever had expected it. So, she decided sometime during the first few dates with Holden that she would pick a favorite. Cheesecake seemed as good an option as anything else. At least it was sometimes served with fruit.
This cheesecake was not served with fruit, however, it was covered in some sort of chocolate sauce. Holden continued to look at her expectantly. She grabbed her fork and took a bite. Something was off. There was something hard in this bite. She quickly picked up the napkin from her lap to catch whatever was inside her mouth. She quickly folded up the napkin and placed it beside her plate. Lana looked up and was surprised to see Holden smiling back at her.
“Do I have something on my face?” Lana asked.
“No, look inside the napkin,” Holden urged her.
This request seemed strange, but she tentatively grasped the edge of the napkin and folded it back. Once she pulled back the second fold she could see it. A golden ring, with an elaborate diamond set in the center.
She looked back at Holden and his eyes began to tear up.
“Lana, will you marry me?” he asked her.
The memory of this encounter consumed Lana’s thoughts on her way to work. Of course she said yes. That is what a person does in that situation, but something about it didn’t feel right. She couldn’t put her finger on it, and this uncertainty unnerved Lana. She couldn’t even convince herself to put on the ring this morning and not just because it would have added another 5 seconds to her routine. Instead of wearing it, she placed the ring in the front pocket of her lab coat. She would have to confront this problem scientifically. Then she would decide if she should wear the ring.
However, for some reason, she couldn’t concentrate on this issue. Instead, her mind drifted to a simpler time. A time before she had to worry about things like socializing time.
It was approximately five years ago. She had just started her last year of graduate school and was excited to start her final lab of her college career. This class was molecular biology and she was paired with someone she had only previously seen in classes, but had never spoken to. This person was Linus Holme. Lana didn’t care for Linus much at first. He was a little too loose with his measurements and had a pension for making bad puns. However, he grew on her over time. Not only did they become the top lab partners in their class, but they became best friends. While Lana typically did not talk about her feelings much, she found she could confide in Linus about practically anything while they were working. The concept that Linus would always be there for her wasn’t a theory, it was a scientific law.
But why was Lana thinking of Linus? This was no time to reminiscence. She had to make a serious decision about her life. Does she really want to spend the rest of her life with Holden? The idea of anything eternal did not make much sense to her. Nothing truly lasts forever and to think otherwise would be juvenile. She knew she had to break off the engagement.
What would Linus say at a time like this? He would probably make some sort of joke, tying the word marriage to what waitresses do to ketchup at the end of the night. It wouldn’t make much sense, but Lana would probably laugh anyway. She was always amazed how Linus could take something so inexplicably not funny and still make her laugh.
Why was she thinking about Linus again? This was no time to be thinking of friends. She was about the break the heart of the man she loves. The more she thought of it, she knew it made more sense to break up with him before work. She didn’t need the fear of how he’d react to interfere with her job. As she got off the train she sent a quick text message to Holden.
“So sorry, but I can’t marry you. Had a great time last night. I’ll return the ring soon.”
That should do the trick. This was a typical Lana text message, quick, easy to understand and maybe a tad cold. She tried not to think about it. She had work to do now.
She once again found her thoughts drifting to Linus. It was hard to believe that after graduating four years ago, they had both gotten hired on at the same company. She could not think of many scientific teams that have worked together for five years. Though truly, she could not imagine it any other way. Working with Linus was always a joy and they seemed to bring out the best in each other.
This time Lana did not stop herself from thinking about Linus. She was at work and who else should she be thinking about? As she stepped out of the elevator, she approached their work station. Linus was already there. She knew he got there before her because he had no morning routine. He always looked a little unkempt.
“Good morning Lan,” Linus said, grinning at her from the table.
Lana didn’t know what came over her, but the next thing she knew she found herself rushing towards Linus, their lips touching for the first time.
Maybe Holden was right, she didn’t need to know everything. Not when there were so many things she was so sure about.
These stories serve as inspiration for the upcoming short story collection, Tyranny of the Fey. The collection will be released in Fall 2023. You can get a $1 preview now!