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New Normal

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His therapist told him building and then maintaining a routine would be good for him. He should attempt to find a rhythm. Bring back normalcy, she called it.

But the thing was, Ray didn’t have a ‘normal.’ Like, he knew where he grew up and he knew his family and shit. But he had been changed and there was no going back. Growing up changed people too, it wasn’t just Iraq. But still, he didn’t know what ‘normal’ was supposed to look like now.

Anyway, since he had nothing better to do on the weekends, he’d go to the same coffee shop down the street from his shitty condo every Sunday and buy a tall frappuccino with whip. Definitely a fucking homosexual drink but he wasn’t going to tell anybody about it. He’d eat the whipped cream off the top with a spoon, and then settle back into the slightly uncomfortable wooden chair and watch people walk by. Sometimes he’d skim the paper, if there was one discarded on top of the table. But most times he would just wait around, slowly sipping his drink, passively taking in his surroundings and working on some of the breathing exercises he was taught.

Coming home was not supposed to be a super easy transition, Ray knew that. But he didn’t even feel comfortable in his hometown. Everything was so different. Even the coffee shop he frequented now was new, and nobody in there knew him from a fucking hole in the ground. Being home was just fucking boring, and maybe that was what normal was supposed to be like.

So, on that particular day, he was just sipping his drink, feeling vaguely shitty about his life like usual, when Walt texted him.

Walt: Hey man you busy

Ray was taken aback, that’s for sure. He wouldn’t consider Walt a friend. But he quickly typed out a reply anyway. You never could be sure when a Devil Dog was asking for help, and Ray had kind of taken it upon himself to be the team mom and keep everyone’s contact info together. And he had sent that email saying he’s down if anyone wanted to talk. So really, Walt was totally acting in an acceptable manner and Ray should not read anything into the impromptu text.

Ray: Nah dude what’s up

Walt: Passing through your neck of the woods, thought I’d stop by

Ray sent him the address of his coffee shop, and then waited.

Not ten minutes later, Walt walked right through the front door like he owned the place.

Ray got up to greet him and clapped him on the back. Walt smiled softly at him, like he was glad to see him or something.

“Jesus, Hasser. What are you, a model now?” Walt’s blue eyes were set off by the blue henley he wore, and his dark blue jeans hugged his hips and thighs. His hair was a little bit longer, too. His bangs hung over his right eye, and Ray was definitely into the new look.

He didn’t remember Walt being quite so attractive before.

Maybe nobody is fucking attractive when they can’t shower or change their clothes for weeks at a time. Except Rudy, of course.

“Nah,” Walt said, “I just get wear normal clothes now, and like, put pomade in my hair.”

“Normal, huh? Passing through my town and stopping in at my coffee shop, is that normal too?” Ray asked as he ushered Walt up to the front counter to order.

Walt just shrugged. In lieu of answering, he started to look over the huge menu board.

“What do you recommend?” Walt asked seriously. Ray laughed.

“Man, don’t ask me. I don’t know shit about coffee.”

Walt looked over at him and raised an eyebrow. “What? You just said this is your coffee shop.”

It was Ray’s turn to shrug. Walt ordered his coffee black, and then refused to let Ray pay for it. Ray took him over to his table, the one right up against the window facing the street, and sat back down in front of his drink. Walt raised his eyebrow at him again when he caught sight of the drink, significantly more diluted than Walt’s own, but didn’t say anything.

They sat there sipping their drinks for all of 30 seconds before Ray fucking had it with the silence. Quiet sometimes creeped him out, made him anxious when there was someone sitting right next to him. Mostly because he had no idea what the other person was thinking. What if Walt was just sitting there thinking about how much of a dumbass Ray was for not knowing jack shit about coffee? What if Walt was thinking about how Ray was a shitty friend for never calling? Were they supposed to be friends? Ray wasn’t even sure about that.

“Tell me, man. What’s up with your life? What brings you out here?”

Walt slowly put his coffee cup down, looking thoughtful. Ray hadn’t asked him a particularly hard question, certainly not one that required such a big dramatic pause.

Before he could answer, Ray interjected.

“I’m not trying to pry, dude. I just haven’t seen anybody in ages, ya know?”

Walt wrinkled his nose and shook his head, and fuck but that was adorable.

“It’s not that, Ray. It’s just, I felt like seeing you, ya know?” Walt smiled nervously at him, looking unsure of himself all of a sudden.

Ray didn’t know where Walt was going with that, so he started to think out loud.

“If I didn’t know better I’d say you came all the way to my shitty backwards middle of bumfuck hick town just to see-” Walt’s eyes flicked to Ray’s mouth before they dropped back down to his coffee cup, and Ray stopped himself mid-sentence.

Ray was absolutely losing his mind, that’s what was happening. That was the only explanation. Walt Hasser did not just show up at Ray’s coffee shop looking damn fine wanting to see him. That was so not normal.

Ray looked up from his musing to see Walt looking slightly panic-stricken.

“My therapist says I should try to be normal,” Ray quickly tried to explain. Except that was not the right thing to say.

“Ray, you don’t have to call me a faggot or whatever, I can show myself out,” Walt said as he stood up, his face flushed.

Ray was kicking himself mentally but he wasn’t going to let Walt just storm out of there. He grabbed his arm.

“No, homes. What I meant was, I was thinking about how it’s totally not normal for some hot guy to want to spend time with me, and it’s definitely not normal for some hot guy to travel across the country for me, but I’m just surprised. Good surprised.”

Walt sat back down, and a smile lit up his face.

“So it’s chill if I crash for a bit?” Walt asked, definitely looking happy again. Happy was a good look on him.

“Hasser, you just show up out of nowhere and want a place to stay, too?” Ray was teasing him, but Walt was giving him those puppy dog eyes and Ray would have said yes even if he had been thinking about saying no.

“Look, I’m gonna hafta clean my place up a bit. You are not going to be impressed,” Ray warned.

“I don’t need to be impressed. We know each other already,” Walt chided him.

“We do?” Ray asked seriously.

“Well, we could.” Walt was acting shy again.

“I guess if I can sit in a humvee with you for days on end, I can probably handle you being in my house.”

Walt squeezed his arm, and Ray looked up at him, still smiling like a dork. Ray was such a goner for those blue eyes already, he could tell.

He downed the dregs of his frappuccino and gestured towards the door.

“Alright homes, let’s go home.”

“I like the sound of that,” Walt said as he ditched his coffee cup and got up with Ray.

Walt touched the small of Ray’s back as they walked out, and Ray nearly swallowed his tongue. He felt warmth radiating out from the spot where Walt touched him. He looked around at the coffee shop, suddenly grateful for its existence.

“Ya know, I come here every Sunday,” Ray explained as he and Walt exited.

“Yeah? That sounds nice, like a routine or something,” Walt said. His hand still hadn’t left Ray’s back, and Ray took a deep breath.

He decided right then and there not to hold back. “You should come with me next time.”

They were still walking, and Walt was still touching him, and Ray was feeling just a little bit nervous about making plans for the future, but Walt seemed to take the invitation for what it was.

“Thanks, Ray. I’d like that.”

He smiled at Walt and Walt fucking winked at him like a charmer. Where the fuck did he learn that? Within the space of about 30 minutes, Ray’s world had just realigned.

Ray really was going to have to work on his definition of normal. Maybe Walt could help him with that.