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Blooming...?

Chapter Text

In the months following the closure of the Habitat, Boris Habit found himself learning plenty of new things about himself and the world around him.
For example:
1. Being kind is often received with kindness in return.
2. People aren’t really sure what to think about you at first, so good impressions are key.
3. Almost killing several people with nitrous oxide does not leave a good impression, especially not on employers.
But look! The free time let the doctor cultivate his skills. Like painting. And sewing. And gardening. Watching sappy movies without crying. Things like that.

He was reaching a point where he wanted to think of something to do with the rest of his life, but he was racking his brain thinking of a way to actually get there.

After several weeks of thinking and talking to his therapist and thinking some more, he kept stumbling upon the same idea that he wanted so badly to ignore.
A voice in his head protested, “Aren’t you trying to move away from your past?! From the hurt you’ve caused?” but he ignored it as he turned on his desktop monitor.

Kamal more or less jumped out of his skin when he checked his email in the evening. In fact, he left the seat, walked over to his sofa, and groaned into its cushions. He didn’t have the energy to process what he was feeling—he had a long enough day anyways—but what he did know is
1. Something in him needed to read the message he just received and
2. He desperately, desperately wanted nothing to do with it.
He did what he usually did when this sort of thing happened: Curl up and wait for the problem to get small enough in his mind that he can handle it.
So he sat down, drawing his knees to his chest, and turned on the television.
One force would give out eventually.

It took what felt like an hour of distractions, three position shifts, and a lifetime of sighs to get him back to the email.
“Fine! Fine. I can do this. If it’s bad, I can delete it! Fine.”
He steadied his hand, clicking the mouse to open the message:

To: kamalbora@hotmail.com
From: doctorhabit@aol.com
Subject: Thinking of You

Dear Kamal,

You are probably thinking, I don't want to hear from Doctor Habit again that old dunce!! well I was thinking you were thinking that but how am I to know? If you are thinking that I’m sorry.

Anyways.

I’ve been working really hard on being better and not evil any-more. And I want to do something that is Good and Nice for the world this time for real!! My therapist says i can do it (PS: yes i have a therapist now!!)

But I have to apologize. Because you were always helping me out and listening to me even when I was being evil and i just made fun of you. It wasn't right to make my feelings your problem but thats all I ever did. You really don’t have any reason to want to listen to me any-more but that’s okay.

If you do, I would really like to talk to you sometime soon. We can get lunch and you can tell me whatever you want? I am getting good at listening now it is important. But I also think it will help me to see you again! That maybe it will help me think of what to do next. I’m really thinking so much about it and you and everyone else too.

I hope you are doing good, Kamal.

Yours truly,
Boris :-)

Kamal read the message over a few times, blinking like he surely can’t be seeing it right. But each time, it was still there, the same words thrown up on his bright screen.

Well. Back to the couch.

He wanted so badly to delete it! Where could he even begin with this? His stupid ex-boss seriously wanted to talk to him? About what?
“Whatever you want,” he said, but there’s no way he would actually care about what Kamal was thinking.
Right?
Though beyond the familiar quirks, he could sense something had changed, perhaps…
But no! It wasn’t worth it. Kamal had to respect himself. Respect his time. Move on.

(Moving on wasn’t always easy; In such a small town, he was almost surprised he hadn’t run into Dr. Habit yet. He had all sorts of ideas of how to tear him a new one, though just as many about catching him, a changed man, in a moment of serenity. “In bloom,” he might say.)
But!
But!
But!!
This was proof of nothing! Sure, it included a written apology, but there was no saying what was going on in Habit’s mind when he wrote it (or what might be going on later if they were to meet). Kamal would not go.

He stood up, determined, slamming his hand onto the mouse and hovering over the trash button.
And then paused.
“Yours truly,” said the words burning into the monitor.
“You’re… you’re beholden to no-one but yourself!” Kamal declared, pushing an accusatory finger at the screen.
His cursor drifted away from the trash icon.
“But… I sure do have some words for you,” he grumbled.
And before he knew it, his hands were on the keys, drafting a reply.

“Wow… a reply…!” Boris was apprehensive, but couldn’t help but burst at the seams that he even received a response in the first place.

From: kamalbora@hotmail.com
To: doctorhabit@aol.com
Re: Thinking of You

Doctor,

It was surprising to hear from you. I thought I would have run into you by now.

Thanks for the apology.

I guess we can have lunch some time. But I won’t take it if you make fun of me again.

I’m free on Sunday.

See you maybe,

Kamal

The doctor looked over the message, pushing his hands into his pockets.
“He really did respond…”
There was a part of him that stung, knowing that Kamal didn’t trust him, but he felt he deserved it. Knew he deserved it.
“And he never did like emails all that much.”

Re: Re: Thinking of You

Dearest Kamal,
Let’s meet Sunday @ 12 O-clock @ The Mug Place?

I will never hurt u again. Atleast Not on purpose. Promise!!

See u then not maybe!
Boris ;-)

Sent.

He wasn’t really sure what he was even going to talk about when the time came, but he remembered the times when his old friend somehow knew just what to do to condense his tangled thoughts into something almost coherent.
(And the many times he pulled himself right back into the chaos, moments later.)

Maybe nothing would happen. Maybe they would sit in near silence, and Boris would pay for the meal out of some kind of guilt and then he’d never speak to the other again.
He wanted to imagine it would be like “old times,” when he felt like he really had a friend to rely on, but he got the sense that maybe that wasn’t real. Surely, those saccharine memories weren’t good for either of them.

He was nervous. Full of those nerves that triggered whenever something was completely out of his control—something increasingly common after the downfall of The Habitat.

He extended his offer, and tried to expect nothing. But now he was wound up, and he sure hoped it would pay off.

Anyways. Now was as good a time as any to watch some rom-coms and forget his worries.

“Dearest Kamal,” groaned Kamal, squishing his face between his hands. “You’ve sure done it this time.”

“‘I will never hurt you again’, he says. I hope he can say it to my face, the big… ugh.”

In a way, he was looking forward to it. For closure, if anything. And because he couldn’t get the image out of his head that maybe he would see the Dr. Habit he had thought of as a friend—fleeting as it was.
Was it even real?
Maybe if he kept telling himself it wasn’t real it would go away.

But he had to believe in a better version of the doctor for the next few days, long enough to see him in person and then promptly fuck off forever.
No! No fucking off! Stop being so defeatist.
“You stop being so defeatist, dumbass,” he grumbled to himself. (“yes i have a therapist now”. That made one of them.)

A deep sigh, and a steadying hand.

See you then.

Chapter Text

The days leading up to their meeting were grueling. The waiting was always the hardest part; The night before opening the tunnel for Flower Kid, Kamal didn’t sleep a wink, and he found himself pacing and brushing his teeth like it was some sort of lifeline. At least then he just had a day’s notice. This time, he had to wait three whole days, so he might as well have died.

He managed to get some sleep, though his rest was fitful and he was plagued by anxious dreams. In one, Habit left him with a 100 dollar check to pay. In another, the man didn’t show up at all. In one he showed up at Kamal’s house and refused to leave.

 

When he trudged into work, he was back in the realm of probable futures, but no less consumed.

His new boss caught him at the sink, scrubbing his hands raw.

“Will you check in on the next patient?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah.”

He went through one last lather and stepped into the office as indicated, a nervous kid sitting in the dental chair.

“Hey, there. You’re just here for a cleaning, so we’ll make it quick, okay?”

 

Kamal was surprised at how quickly he landed a job after his last one. He did have a certain herbaceous lawyer look over his resume and pad it out within reason, but he still felt like something was wrong. Like he had to repent for his assistant sins, or something.

But working a normal job was almost its own repentance. He knew what to expect each day, which was nice, but it was also boring. And his new boss was just so normal. He kept expecting to walk into a broom closet and find some evidence of deep-seated trauma painted on the floor or something, but no, there were just brooms. Not even any janitors hiding in the walls.

So he cleaned teeth and got his paycheck and went home. It’s what he craved before the job at the Habitat, but felt a little lackluster now. What was it?

 

Loneliness?

 

No. He was very focused on teeth right now. No time for that.

His pick scraped the side of a molar, sticking to the enamel.

“Oh, hmm…”

“Whuh ih ich,” the kid attempted to ask, sounding frightened.

“Don’t worry, kid, it’s fine. Just brush carefully here. Could be a cavity forming.”

“Ughhh…”

 

He never had much to do when he got home after work. He read a bit, watched a lot of TV, poked around the internet. On an exciting day he’d get a little heated on the Star Trek forums. Maybe take a trip to the record store. In theory, he could spend time with some of the friends he made at the Habitat, but in practice he hated making more than one social call a month. Most meetings were by accident.

He’d been looking to pick up a hobby, but nothing had really stuck yet. He did stop by the Flower Kid’s shop one time, armed with a flower language book from the library, and tried his hand at arranging a bouquet. But then the flowers died and he decided it wasn’t for him.

He wondered if after the Habitat, Habit got into gardening. Kamal thought it would do him some good. He always had that creative streak, he probably could make some really nice arrangements and even keep them alive for longer than a few days. Maybe he’d bring some to their meeting Sunday, and Kamal would remember enough from his library book to know it meant “I’m sorry, I want to do better, I need you,” or something like that.

 

Ahem. 

Dental hygiene.

 

Aside from that one cavity risk, the kid was mostly fine. He was still waiting on a few baby teeth to drop, his mom said. The gaps he had weren’t permanent. Kamal unwrapped the sterilized equipment to scale all the gunk off his teeth—yes, he was a professional, but “gunk” felt appropriate—and started going to town. Between the gloves and his coat, the cuff of his shirt peeked out. Purple.

What was he going to wear on Sunday? He didn’t want to look too stuffy, wearing his office clothes, but he didn’t want to wear all the same stuff Habit was used to. He also wanted to show that he had grown too. Totally. He always thought his pink shirt fit him well, and then maybe he could wear it untucked with some slacks… No, that’s so plain. Did he want to broadcast to the world that he had nothing going for him? Maybe his patchwork pants. That’s not so bad.

Kamal wondered if Habit was putting this much thought into his outfit. Probably not. He wasn’t ever poorly dressed, but he has this certain style that made him look like a gay uncle in a TV show? And—whoa, whoa, whoa, he probably shouldn’t be making that assumption (shouldn’t be getting his hopes up). As far as Kamal knew, Habit didn’t like anyone, except maybe… uh… Martha? But that was. A twisted sort of thing. He wasn’t ever jealous of those grinding teeth, oh no, except for when she stole his FUCKING TOOTHBRUSH AND—

 

“Owww…!”

“Oh. Uh. Sorry.” Kamal dabbed a gauze in the poor kid’s mouth, it coming back red.

“It won’t be so bad once you start flossing, kid. I promise.”

His mom scoffed.

 

The rest of the day was uneventful, save for one kid who fell over when he tried to place the protective lead vest on them for an X-ray. He kind of wanted to snicker, but he helped them out and kept his mouth shut. Then he went home and prayed the next days would pass quickly.

 

 

Habit knew he was the one to request Kamal’s companionship, but whatever confidence compelled him to write and send that fateful email before had left him and now he was sitting in his living room anxiously folding cranes out of scrap paper.

He wasn’t really sure what to do with them. His house was already strewn with them, as well as a number of other craft supplies and half-finished things. He thought about bringing some to Kamal, but that seemed stupid. What would Kamal do with them? Accept them with an awkward half-smile, probably dump them in the recycling bin when he got home. Or maybe on the way out after lunch, if it went exceptionally poorly. 

If he strung together a thousand, he’d have a wish granted, or so the story goes. At the Habitat, it would have been easy. In a heartbeat, he’d wish for everyone’s broken smiles to be fixed, to radiate such beauty and confidence that nobody would dare hurt them. Now, he wouldn’t know what to wish for, though he was probably well on his way to a thousand. He considered counting them up, spending his next three days on a ritual to make the cafe lunch go alright.

Unfortunately, his days of magical thinking were over. He was, for the most part, glaringly lucid. The first few days outside the Habitat were like coming out of a coma, and he realized the air was probably composed of much more nitrous oxide than it should have been. Though more than the gas, it was untangling himself from the trauma, trying to sort his thoughts like puzzle pieces into the picture of a complex, which was a puzzle unto itself.

 

Good thing he had therapy today, huh.

 

“Oh, you sent the email?”

Habit’s therapist seemed excited, maybe even surprised.

Habit twiddled his thumbs.

“Yeah, yeah! But. Now I have to wait until Sunday…”

“Are you having trouble waiting?”

“...I’m rethinking things.”

His therapist paused thoughtfully, trying to think of some easily distilled wisdom for him.

“You’re not going to fix all the problems you’re worried about over lunch. So just go there and try to have fun.”

 

 

The fateful day had arrived, and Kamal had downed enough melatonin gummies to have slept through the night. At least enough to not be an absolute zombie the day of their meeting.

He laid out his clothes the night before to save himself the trouble this morning, but he still felt like rummaging through his closet to do better. He was lucky to have strategically set his alarm so he didn’t have enough time to fuss before it was time to go.

Getting dressed, brushing his hair, brushing his teeth, brushing his hair again, brushing his teeth again. Smoothing down the wrinkles on his shirt. Checking himself in the mirror. Checking his teeth in the mirror. 

I won’t take it if you make fun of me again.

“There isn’t anything wrong with my teeth,” he said to himself. Nothing wrong with their ugly yellow or the evidence of a prior caffeine addiction or—

 

He stopped looking in the mirror. It was almost time for him to head out the door, so he checked his pockets three or four times, then waited on the couch and looked at his watch. He wanted to be on time, but not too early. The waiting was always the hardest part.

 

__

 

Finally the day had come and Habit had decided he was going to make the best of it. Time to put his best foot forward, get a good attitude going. Wear his floral print shirt— one of his floral print shirts, but little did Kamal know it was his very favorite—and put on a smile. A real one!

He watered his Sunday flowers, greeting them by name and giving a few little kisses on their petals. When he was most nervous, he’d been chatting to his Lily about today—something that helped him more than he’d like to admit. Just being able to envision someone else listening to him made his head so much clearer.

He pulled on his shoes and checked the clock. It was time to get moving! He didn’t want to keep Kamal waiting.

…He probably would just leave if he were too late. Habit ran out the door.

 

 

The Mug Place was a quaint little cafe not far from the Flower Kid’s shop. As Kamal locked his bike to the rack (and to be honest, he probably didn’t have to lock it, but better safe than sorry) he scanned the surroundings for any signs of his former boss. Unsurprisingly, there were none, considering he was a good 15 minutes early. He sat down on the brightly painted bench outside, drawing his knees up on reflex and rocking slightly.

It was a nice day outside. Birds chirping and flowers blooming; The air was crisp with a breeze tousling Kamal’s hair. He felt a smile creep onto his face for the first time since he got the email. It was the kind of day that reminded him of Habit at his very best, cheery and carefree and a little silly. Kamal watched the cars pass by, all different shapes and sizes and colors. He wondered where their drivers were headed. Were they going somewhere fun? Were any of them going to meet with their ex-bosses too?

 

Kamal heard a “click-click-click” on the pavement and looked up, trying to stop himself from a double-take.

Heeled boots?! Isn’t he tall enough?!

Rapidly approaching and waving cheerily was the doctor himself, a cloud-shaped shoulder bag swinging by his side.

Kamal’s grin widened a little noticing that the pink of his shirt matched with the flowers on Habit’s shirt. Oh, his poor heart.

 

“Kamal! How good it is to see you!”

He approached Kamal on the bench, who unfolded himself and stood up. Habit grabbed his hands and shook them vigorously. “I thought maybe you wouldn’t show up but here you are! You look good!”
HUH?

Oh. Right. People say that when they haven’t seen each other for a long time. And he did look good, not just in the gay sense. He had tried a new hair conditioner and it was really doing him wonders. He was getting more sleep. All things considered, things were all good in the hood.

“Thanks. You… too. You look good. Uh, real good.”

And again, he meant this in the very professional sense. Habit looked… healthy, or some facsimile of it. It was almost jarring to see his eyes without a permanent post-cry puffiness—eyes that were staring right at him. Ah, he forgot about the staring. He turned his eyes away, a bit overwhelmed.

“Thank you, Kamal! Come, let’s go inside.”

With that, they had officially broken the ice. Kamal had been sick with worry thinking about what he would say, but here he was following Habit’s ( towering! ) figure into the cafe.

He wasn’t at ease. Far from it, his nerves were strung-up and his mind was racing. But the most stressful part was over.

 

They seated themselves at one of the two-person tables near the front, the metal spray-painted a pastel pink. A server came by to set some menus and glasses of water on the table, giving a curt smile before leaving to attend to other customers—seeming a bit intimidated by the nervous energy radiating off the two men.

 

Kamal’s leg bounced as he scanned the menu, trying to keep his eyes off Habit. He was kind of nervous to eat, like it might make his breath smell bad or something and then Habit would insult him again. I won’t take it, I won’t take it.  

But Habit was just humming to himself, looking over the menu itself. Then he set it down, folded his hands, and looked up at Kamal.

Sandwiches. Breakfast pastries. Eggs. Sandwiches. Breakfast pastries. Eggs.

“Hey, your shirt matches the table!” Habit blurted out.

“Y… Yours does. Too.” Kamal pointed at Habit’s shirt for good measure.

“Oh! We’re matching then!”

“Yeah. Yeah.” Kamal trained his eyes on the menu. Sandwiches. Breakfast pastries. Eggs.

The server stopped by their table again, interrupting them. Thank God.

“Do you know what you want, or do you need a few minutes?”

Habit looked over at Kamal, who indicated he was more or less ready. Does he have to stare?

 

“I’d like a chamomile tea, please! And ummm… a tuna sandwich!”

“What would you like that on?”
“Uhhh… bagel! Everything bagel!”

The server turned to Kamal.

“Peppermint tea and the market salad, dressing on the side,” he said in one breath, rehearsed.

“Okay! That’ll be right out.”

And thus they were left on their own.

Habit sipped at his glass of ice water, his other hand drumming against the table.

They were both nervous. Very, very nervous; This much was obvious.

With the pleasantries out of the way, the question of how to actually breach the conversation was lost on them. Kamal sipped from his glass and let a cube of ice melt in his mouth, hoping it would make him uncomfortable enough to budge.

 

“Uh… so… Your email…”

Habit processed for a moment. “Yeah! Ahah, I… So, uh. You know it’s been a few months since… yeah. And! It’s been good! I told you I’m in therapy, yes?”

“Yeah, you mentioned that. I was glad to hear it.”

“Thank you! It’s very! Necessary!”

Was it okay for Kamal to laugh? It was a little too late, because he let out a chuckle.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I shouldn’t laugh, I—”

“It’s okay, Kamal. It’s good to laugh about it. I try to, when I can…”

“That’s good to know. Just don’t… force it.” Kamal couldn’t help but recall the taut, ever-present smile on Habit’s face in the later months working with him.

“I’m doing better,” Habit insisted. “Really.”

“That’s really good to hear,” and Kamal wanted to believe it was true, even if there was a voice in the back of his head that screamed warnings at him.

Their respective cups of tea were deposited on the table.

 

“...You were saying something about ‘What to do next,’?” And Kamal needed to get to the point, because if he were honest, “ what Habit does next” was a weight that bore heavily on his anxious mind.

“Ah, yes! So, I’m still working really hard on myself and on listening and on being a good person you know. And I’m not sure if I’m really ready for working—well, I don’t know if anyone would let me do work—but it’s so lonely all on my own in the house and—well, it’s more like it’s boring doing the same thing—what I mean is—!” Habit slammed his hands on the table, then jumped as he was evidently startled by the sound he made.

“I just think it’s time for me to do… something . Again. I don’t know what it is! I just need a little ‘push’.” He pushed the air in front of him to punctuate his point.

“...And you want… my help?” Kamal was a bit confused. He didn’t consider his input particularly valuable in this situation. Or most situations. He was alright at doing what he was told, but trying to inspire another person… Well, there was probably a cosmic reason it wasn’t him who changed Habit’s mind that fateful day so many months ago. (And this definitely didn’t make him feel bad. Not at all.)

“Well, you know, it’s not like you need to tell me what to do. I’m independent. That’s one thing for sure! I just need to do things at my own pace. My owwwwnnnn paaaaace,” he drew out the words to make a point—his gradual pace.

“And the first little ‘push’ was… well, it was my Lily. It was like a door opened. The things I thought I couldn’t do… maybe I could, that’s what I felt. But now I’m feeling a little stuck again and I’m just thinking… Ah, I just thought…”

Habit paused, looking beyond Kamal. “I… hm. I don’t know what I thought. But I realized I wanted… I guess I just wanted to see you.”

 

Kamal was feeling a little lightheaded. He sipped his tea like it was a lifeline, trying not to let Habit see how it scalded his tongue. I wanted to see you. I wanted to see you.

“Well! I… Y’know, I hope I can give ya a little ‘push’. Even a ‘pull’, haha… ha…”

He coughed. “I guess I kinda wanted to see you too. Though I didn’t really know what to expect. Was wicked nervous coming here.” He grimaced for effect.

“Ah. I don’t blame you. I figured as much. I was very nervous too! But I saw you and I thought maybe it wasn’t so bad. And here we are!”

“Here we are… God, I didn’t think it’d go like this.”

“Huh? How did you think it would go?”

Kamal should’ve bitten his tongue when he had the chance.

 

But like a guardian angel, the server swept in right at that time to deliver their lunch.

Even the serveware was quaint, hand-painted ceramic bowls and plates. It was the kind of cheesy thing both of them could appreciate.

The server also refilled their ice water, asking if they needed anything else. No, they were fine. Just fine.

 

As the server rushed off, Habit looked back up at Kamal expectantly. However, he was carefully examining the salad bowl, eyes flicking between it, his tea, and the cup of dressing on the side.

 

I suppose I shouldn’t press, Habit thought. He also imagined he knew the answer. That Kamal would meet him again and find nothing more than his neuroses fraying at the edges. But feeling out what Kamal expected and what he got was of the utmost concern to Habit—something so consuming that he wholly forgot about the food in front of him.

Oh no. My food.

 

Having swallowed a bite of his (dry, undressed) salad, Kamal indicated the sandwich. “Earth to Boris. Ya gonna eat that?”

“Ah! Yes! Oh, doesn’t it look good? They have such yummy sandwiches here.”

Kamal just nodded and chewed his leaves, not at all bitter that he was too afraid to let his mouth get nasty with a little sandwich aroma.

 

Habit hadn’t thought this through very well. It wasn’t a big deal when he was alone, even if he did draw some attention; But now he had someone right in front of him, someone whose opinion mattered, and he squeezed his eyes shut trying to block out the vision of Kamal’s face twisting into shock and confusion as he realized—

Just. Act. Normal!

Habit lifted the sandwich to his mouth and… took the smallest bite imaginable.

Okay. Kamal wasn’t going to be the schmuck to scrutinize Habit’s eating… habits. No. That was weird. Look away, look down, somewhere else.

But, like, what the hell?

 

The sandwich hovered over his mouth like a mask; He stole furtive glances at Kamal and immediately shot his eyes down when they met the other’s.

He continued like this; Nibbling at the thing like he was a bird or something. A comically large, green bird.

“Is… something wrong with your sandwich, buddy?”

Habit flushed, but kept holding the sandwich, taking bites every few seconds in an increasingly suspicious display.

“Nope! E’rryfing’s fine,” he insisted, the crinkling of his eyes indicating a forced smile. The sandwich was rapidly disappearing despite his portioning.

“Ohhhkay. Well, I know I’m not one to complain to the waiter, but ya really should let ‘em know if ya need something. Alright?”

“Mmmhmm!” Habit’s voice peaked a bit at the end. Nervous energy.

 

Well, this got weird fast . Kamal just returned to his salad, aware that Habit didn’t want to talk about it. But then he started coughing, hand-waving Kamal to not worry or come closer with his sandwich as he reached for his drink. Kamal was poised to help just in case.

As he hacked and threw back the water in the glass, Kamal’s wide eyes noticed something.

Some things.

 

Teeth, more rows of teeth than he should’ve had. Hanging out behind the ones in front. Haphazardly jutting from in between.

Were they cemented? Glued onto the teeth like braces? Were they somehow… surgically… installed into his gums? Oh, oh God. No, I’m seeing things. That couldn’t be.

 

Habit swallowed hard and smiled a closed-lip smile at Kamal, flashing a thumbs-up.

Closed. You know, he was always a little shy about his smile, but this…

Kamal stared at Habit’s mouth, whose smile faded.

Uh oh.

“Is something wrong?” Habit’s voice was quiet, tone flat. He already knew the answer.

“I… just thought I saw something funky. Was worried for a second. It’s all good, buddy.”

Habit set the remainder of his lunch down, pressing his lips into a hard line.

“You saw, huh.”

“The teeth? Nah, I didn’t…” Idiot! “Yeah. Yeah I saw the teeth.”

Habit laughed dryly, the sound fading into a sigh.

“You know what Ronbo says, right? ‘C’est la vie’?”

 

“What? Dude, that’s for like, when someone dies or something. Not your teeth. You… I mean, look, I can’t even imagine how touchy it is for you, but I know I wouldn’t wanna be walking around town with a reminder of my whole… y’know, that whole thing in my noggin all day.”

Habit was looking a bit weary. “Yes, I suppose. But…” He held out his hands. Am I supposed to hold them? Kamal noticed they were shaking. Like, seriously shaking.

“I can’t fix them. Because I get like this. And I… ahah, I don’t know how to explain it to other people—I only just kept from more serious legal trouble and I—“

“I work at a dentist's office,” Kamal blurted out.

Wait. Did he just offer to fix his ex-boss’s freaky teeth?

“No, no no, I couldn’t do that to you. It’s fine, I promise it’s—“

“Really? You don’t seem as ‘fine’ as ya could be if you didn’t have to worry about all that all the time.” 

Oh my GOD. SHUT UP!

But Kamal could not shut himself up. Now that he had a glimpse of a Habit who actually took some semblance of care of himself, he wasn’t about to let him get away with this weird self-inflicted punishment.

Habit didn’t cry, but he looked like he might at any moment. Aw shit.

“I won’t. Make you do anything. But, listen. I’ve got the tools.”

Kamal speared more of his salad on his fork, trying to give Habit an out if he wanted to end the conversation.

He just stared into space.

“You’re right. As usual. Ah, I missed that.” another dry chuckle. He raised his quivering mug to his lips for a sip of tea, it seeming to calm him slightly.

He leaned back in his chair, looking at the ceiling. “So… when do you want to do this?”

Huh?

“Fu—Uh—“

“You can swear.”

“Well fuck , I don’t know. I didn’t think I’d get this far. Can I, like, check my schedule? And get back to you?” And can we stop talking about this? Kamal wasn’t even the one on the hot seat here and he was feeling his skin crawl.

“Of course, yeah. Guess I’ll be seeing you again soon, huh?” Habit looked back at him, smiling a little. 

 

“Yeah,” Kamal replied, his voice cracking.

So Kamal was going to help remove Habit’s fucked up teeth. Normal lunch. Normal day.

He tried to think of a normal conversation topic. Not teeth.

“What have you been up to?”

Yes. Normal. Small talk. No big ideas.

“Ah, lots of things… therapy, mostly. I’ve started a little garden at my house! It’s not always easy, but it makes me really happy. You should come by sometime!”

Sure. Sure. Come by. The prospect of seeing Habit again was already firmly in Kamal’s mind. Their relationship, weird little thing it was, had a future. Sure.

“That’d be nice.”

“But what about you? I want to hear!”

Oh, jeez. 

“Well, I’m working at a dentist’s office. Like I said. Gotta thank Parsley for that. Remember Parsley?”

“Of course! His hair was like a worse version of yours.”

Kamal balked. “Boris, you can’t just say that!” Also, our hair textures are TOTALLY different.

“Well, it’s true! You take good care of your hair and he looks like he has animals hiding in it.”

“And where does that put you?” Kamal gestures to Habit’s mane.

“If animals are hiding in my hair,” Habit smiled, “It’s ‘cause I put them there!”

 

Kamal exhaled, a kind of laugh, then looked at Habit’s hair. His long, long, curly hair. His long, soft curly hair. His long, pretty, touchable, curly hair. 

Uh. Animals.

“Please don’t let animals live in your hair.”

“I was just joking!”

Please don’t let animals live in your hair.”

“Okay, Kamal.” Habit was back to a more jovial attitude, winking at him playfully.

 

He took a moment to finish his sandwich, folding his hands and looking back at Kamal.

“So…”

“So.”

Neither of them had really wanted to end their time together. Even though the food was gone, they were in no hurry.

So between silences, they ordered more to drink, and found their way around to chatting. The pauses shifted from awkward to comfortable. 

 

They found out they’d both spoken to Flower Kid on separate occasions, marveling at their tact in balancing all the secrets they no doubt held. Kamal ended up talking about the latest album he’d been listening to—and though he thought it’d be too much for Habit, he promised he’d give it a listen sometime. Kamal heard about the different flowers Habit planted—the ones that were growing strong and the ones that needed some help—all described with the same love and care.

 

There was a lingering tension, a whole lot of things they wanted to say but didn’t know how to, but they knew it would take time. And it was okay. 

 

They had plenty of time to grow.