The door swings open, and the Rays, Vecchio and Kowalski, slope into the diner, brushing the snow from their jackets, squinting in the sudden bright light. They stumble to a booth, plant their butts on the lurid red vinyl cushions. The waitress knows enough to bring over the coffee pot first thing.
"So," says Kowalski. He dumps sugar after sugar into his coffee mechanically, without looking, his fingers operating seemingly on their own: take a packet, rip the corner, tilt it in. Lather, rinse, repeat.
"So," echoes Vecchio.
It's been a rough day, a long day, a day that started with the shrill of a phone, taking a grim tour of dockyards and dead bodies and gray, frozen alleyways before spilling into the fluorescent glare of the diner where Ray and Ray are numbly staring into their cups. It was the kind of day that you wanted to be over, but you also didn't want to end without something else in it, something to break up the unrelenting misery. Which is why Kowalski suggested they get a cup of coffee, or something, which is why they are here.
Kowalski drinks half his coffee in one long gulp. He puts down his cup, laces his fingers behind his neck and stretches, rotating his shoulders and twisting his head, feeling things pop and crack. Vecchio's knee brushes his, and for a moment he imagines it's Dief under the table, that it's Fraser opposite him, a bulwark of red, serene despite the shitty day.
But that is Vecchio's balding head, reflecting the overhead glare, and Vecchio's skinny shoulders slumping under his coat. He's drinking his coffee slowly, carefully, like he's letting it seep through him bit by bit to push away the cold.
The waitress tops off their cups and asks if they want to order food, and they probably should eat something, but Vecchio shakes his head, and after a moment, so does Kowalski. She slaps down their ticket, and they look at it, but neither makes a move to take it.
Because when they finish their coffee, they will have to head out into the cold dark night alone, and Ray Kowalski does not care for that idea. He wants company. More than that: he wants that company to understand, to get it, to get him, to let Kowalski be Kowalski, because that's a luxury he had to do without for a long time, and he is damned if he's going to let it go again. If someone had said to him four months ago that he would want that company to be Vecchio, that skinny Italian Armani-wearing arrogant suave irritating Vecchio, well.
"We could go somewhere else to eat," he says.
"Nah. I'm not really hungry," says Vecchio.
"Yeah, me neither." A silence falls between them, thick and heavy as the snow outside the window.
Skinny, arrogant, irritating, yeah. But also: Vecchio gets him. Vecchio knows what he went through today, because Vecchio was there. And the other thing is that with Vecchio there, Kowalski doesn't have to be Vecchio any more. Kowalski can only be Kowalski. That's all that's left for him to be. So he doesn't have to hold onto it with both hands, not around Vecchio.
"Wanna see a movie?"
The question takes Vecchio by surprise. He puts down his cup. "A movie?"
"Yeah, I don't know." Kowalski shrugs, scratches the back of his neck. "I guess what made me think of it, when we were driving by the AMC on Illinois, they're showing The Mummy."
Vecchio raises an eyebrow. "I didn't figure you for a fan of classic film."
"Not the original. It's a remake." He'd read about it in the paper. What had caught his eye was the guy's name, the actor who was the star, his name was Fraser. Brendan Fraser, which was almost Benton Fraser, and it was probably stupid of him but he thought that maybe he'd like to see it, just for that. Not that he'd tell this to Vecchio. Stupid.
"Great. Some teenybopper splatter picture with buckets of fake blood. No thank you."
"Well, if horror movies give you nightmares—"
"I did not say horror movies give me nightmares. I just don't like them, that's all."
"Stella didn't like them either," he says, and watches Vecchio flinch a little at the name of their mutual ex-wife. It's not really a weapon, because it cuts him just as deeply; but it's weirdly satisfying, like picking a scab or poking a sore tooth. Like going to see a movie because there's a guy named Fraser in it, maybe.
For a moment he thinks Vecchio is going to slam the obvious backhand over the net right back at him. He sees Vecchio's lips start to form an F-for-Fraser. And then Vecchio sighs and sinks back into the red vinyl backrest. His head dips, his eyes fix on his coffee cup. Like he felt the weight of Fraser's name on his tongue and decided it was too heavy for him.
Fine, thinks Kowalski. F-for-fine, fucking fine, he is okay, he is not that lonely. He looks out the window. He finishes his cup of coffee, even the sugary sludge on the bottom. The cup makes a dull clack when he sets it down empty on the Formica tabletop.
"Yeah, well," he finally says. He fishes some bills from his wallet, slaps them on the table. "Guess I'll just head home and sit on the couch, have a brewski, see if anything good's on the tube."
Vecchio lifts his head and looks at him. His eyes are dark as the night outside. His mouth curves with the hint of a smile. "Sounds good," he says.
Vecchio's looking at him.
Vecchio's knee is brushing his leg again, and it doesn't feel like Dief. It feels like Vecchio.
Ray Kowalski exhales. Hesitantly he says, "You wanna?"
Ray Vecchio jerks his head toward the door. Toward Kowalski's apartment. Toward the night, swirling with snow. "Let's go," he says.