So far, it had been an ordinary day. It was a Thursday morning, his least favorite day of the week, when he walked into Le Rôti Français, a popular coffeehouse in Yorkville. A caffeinated menu filled an entire wall.
He tried to ignore the TV mounted on the wall behind the service counter. Ever since the riots, there had been little news other than continuous coverage of the destruction. Action 21 News was the only station back on the air, and they had been airing commercial-free, nonstop updates about the rioting. Many, like Matt, were beginning to feel anesthetized by the recurrent stories and images.
Walking through the door, Matthew Tremain noticed a woman watching him—or, rather, noticing his slight limp. The limp was evident but not prominent. A speed bump in his DNA’s double helix had caused one leg to be a bit shorter than the other. It was that way the day he was born, and it was still that way thirty-two years later. He tried to pretend it didn’t bother him as he glanced over at the woman, who wore a sympathetic look on her face. He knew he should be used to pity like that, but it still bothered him. A lot. He pushed his anger aside and walked to the counter.
Running late—and this morning, of all mornings! Fidgeting, he asked himself, Why did I have to end up standing behind these two?
CleanSweep! The word came, uninvited, into his mind. When did I first learn about CleanSweep? Tanner’s e-mail! Was it only a few weeks ago now?
He brushed the word—and his growing anxiety—to the side and began listening to the discussion taking place in front of him.
“I’m going to have a latte,” the first young woman said, sounding hesitant.
“Are you sure?” her friend countered. “You were going to try a cappuccino. If you aren’t going to have that, why not just get an expresso?”
It was all Matt could do not to shout that there was no x in espresso.
CleanSweep! The word clawed at his memory again. He couldn’t get CleanSweep out of his head.
“I want to try something different,” the first woman insisted. “I just can’t make up my mind,” she said, sounding pouty. Finally, after what seemed an interminable wait, she said she was ready and pointed in a vague way. “What does a masha…mashia…”
“Macchiato?” the clerk barked.
Matt appreciated the clerk’s obviously annoyed tone and made sure to give her an extra-wide smile when she finally handed him his order.
Then that text message came in.
His phone started to vibrate, and his alert tone followed. Struggling to get the phone out of his jeans pocket, he swiped at the screen.
It was his life-defining moment. Time stamped at 9:56 a.m.
It was the warning he’d been hoping he would never get. Now, as he was reading it, an emotional trapdoor opened under his feet.
Then Matt, with a phone in his left hand, dropped his paper coffee cup. It went cartwheeling to the floor, and a woman screamed as the hot liquid splashed her leg. Looking down at the text message, Matt felt like he had been hit with a sucker punch to his gut.
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