Thursday, January 23, 2014

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

"War is only half the battle."

Travis Stephensen has arrived home for thirty days from a seven month deployment to Afghanistan where his best friend was killed before his eyes. It is also his first trip home since joining the Marine Corp. Having nowhere else to really go, his mother is the only member of his family to meet him at the airport. His father had a meeting to go to but Travis isn't surprised. A former Green Bay Packer, Dean Stephensen was upset when his eldest son quit football after his sophomore year. His decision to join the Marines didn't go over well either. His younger brother Ryan is working at his father's car dealership. His girlfriend Paige sent him a Dear John letter telling him that she is now dating his brother. Before the two of them can leave the airport, Travis has a vision of Charlie Sweeney, his dead friend. It seems that he is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and hasn't told anyone so that he doesn't look weak. His mother cannot stop fussing over him.

Life at home seems even worse than before he joined the Marines. Less than a year apart, Travis notices that Ryan has fallen into his old life; dating his former girlfriend and driving his car. He isn't happy to learn that Ryan hasn't taken care of his car. His mother and father seem estranged and Travis feels the need to apologize for not calling or writing more often. His mother, who consistently sent care packages and joined support groups, tells him that she would get a call from Charlie's mother every time he wrote home. Ryan asks him if he wants to go with him to a party at their old haunt. Not really wanting to be around his brother with his old girlfriend, he reluctantly decides to go.

Once they arrive at the Manor, he is surprised to see one thing that hasn't changed since he left. Once inside the crowded house, everyone is welcoming him home and all he wants to do is escape. He sees Paige across the room and feels the pull of her even though he has to tell himself that they aren't together anymore. Before he can reach her, his best friend from high school Eddie comes up. He begins to wrestle him but Travis quickly bests him. Paige comes over to Ryan first and then Travis. The group begins to chit chat a bit and catches up and Travis quickly realizes how different he is from Eddie. Ryan sees his discomfort but he shrugs it off. After a few beers, Travis's thoughts turn back to a time just before his deployment and the promise Charlie asks him. if anything happens to him, he wants Travis to go see his mother. Travis is having a flashback and realizes that he needs to leave.

Walking down the street to a rough biker bar, he goes in and sees several more people from high school. He goes to sit on a stool at the bar next to two girls, one that he knows and he doesn't recognize the other from the back. Sitting next to her, he tries to strike up a conversation and is floored when she turns to face him. It is Harper Gray, the first girl he ever crushed on. At a party in middle school, the two of them were sent to a closet to play seven minutes in heaven. Doing nothing more than kiss, Travis embellished a bit to his friends that she let him feel her up. By Monday morning at school, the rumors were that Harper had sex with all of the guys at the party and she got the reputation of being a slut. He never told the truth. Now years later, Harper welcomes him home and tells him to leave her alone. He asks what her problem is and is entranced by her eyes up until the moment she punches him. She berates him over the party and leaves. Paige and Ryan come looking for him. He follows Paige out the door and she offers to come over during the night even though she is dating his brother. He declines.

Paige comes over anyway and afterwards Travis realizes the she hasn't changed and their relationship was a waste of time. Unable to sleep, Travis goes for a run and finds himself outside of Harper's house. A man comes out and asks Travis why he is outside of his house at 4:30am and he says he was unsure where else to go. He asks Travis if he needs a ride back home and he accepts. Just then Harper steps out of the house and asks him why he is there. He says he needed some air and she tells him that he looks like hell. she realizes that Travis has run seven miles from his house to hers and he finds it interesting that she knows where he lives. Her dad needs to go to work and she goes to change out of her pajamas. Travis and Harper's father begin a conversation and he asks if he is Linda Stephensen's son. Travis is floored that he mentioned his mother and not his famous father and comments that he use to be a douchebag. Travis agrees and thinks that he still is. Wanting to know why he has to be at work so early, Travis is surprised to learn that Harper's dad is one of the DJs on a local morning radio show that he made his roommates listen to on the Internet. He offers Travis the chance to come on and talk about Afghanistan if he ever wants to.

After dropping of her father, Harper asks if he is hungry. They stop at the Waffle House and order. She asks why he is there and Travis says that he wants to apologize for his stupid fourteen year old self. She asks if he thinks an apology is enough since guys continuously grab her and that she has never had a boyfriend, a date or sex. Paige has slept her way through the entire school and Harper is the one they call the slut. Travis feels terrible and suddenly has a flashback of Charlie. He is suddenly sick and runs to the bathroom. Harper comes to check on him and he tells her that he needs to go home. She takes him home and Travis asks why she didn't just bring him straight to his house. she doesn't answer except to say she will be late for work. Inside, he finds his mother crying. Her life became so wrapped up in making sure he was safe in Afghanistan, that she spent long periods of time on the Internet chatting with other marine parents. She began ignoring his father and now he is having an affair. They both head off to get some much needed sleep.

Soon, Travis keeps running into Harper in the most unexpected places. One night, she invites him to help a nest of sea turtles hatch. Just one look from her and he is ready to give up his darkest secrets. After having another flashback, Harper understands about what he is going through. They sit down to wait and talk but soon he tells her that he doesn't anymore. As the first baby turtle emerges, Harper reaches up and kisses him. They spend the night counting turtles. He kisses her again when she drops him off mid-morning. He knows that he will kiss her again.

Can Travis work through all that happened to him in Afghanistan, especially Charlie's death? Will his family fall apart or try and repair the damage? What will Travis's future hold? Is Harper the one person who can help him find his new normal?


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