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tell me that you're alright

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16

Mac was used to spending time with weird people. After all, he hung out with Charlie, who frequently got high on glue and looked for ghouls in his basement. His other two members of the crew, Dooley and Pete, never really seemed normal either. Dooley could hardly stay awake a lot of the time, and Pete notoriously had a violent streak and a psychotic gleam in his eye.

A couple weeks into being friends with Dennis, Mac realized he was weird too. It took him longer because unlike the others, Dennis seemed desperate to hide it. He bragged about his popularity, and when the popular kids wouldn’t hang out with him, he claimed they were beneath him anyway. According to Dennis, his body was sculpted to the proportions of a God, and yet he was constantly obsessed with imperfections in his appearance. Dennis was always the one to smile and laugh too hard, and it never really reached his eyes. Mac had never really met someone fucked up who was trying to hide it this desperately.

One early morning, Mac and Dennis were smoking alone underneath the bleachers. It was early autumn and chilly. The damp grass soaked into Mac’s clothes as he smoked on his back, watching the grey vapor disappear as it billowed into the faintly purple sky. He passed the joint to Dennis, who took it but didn’t smoke. Instead he flopped his hand to the ground, and just let it burn for a while.

“Mac,” he said. “Do you ever miss having feelings? When you’re not high, I mean.”

Mac turned on his side to face him. He thought for a minute that Dennis was just messing with him, but he looked dead serious.

“I have feelings all the time. Every day.”

“Why do you get high then?” asked Dennis. He turned to face Mac, their bodies close enough to share body heat, the conversation intimate.

Nobody else ever asked Mac questions like this.

“I guess I don’t like the feelings that I have sometimes.”

Dennis nodded, and rolled back onto his back. He finally brought the joint to his lips, and inhaled deeply. On exhale, he closed his eyes.

“It’s probably good that I don’t have any then,” he said. Mac didn’t know how to respond, but Dennis was already holding the joint in his direction. He didn’t expect him to say anything else.

The two of them smoked together in silence until the sky was a bright, blinding white. Dennis didn’t bring up the issue again for a long, long time.

17

Mac ran hot. He was unpredictable, uncontrolled, and never, ever sat still. In class (when he went) he always talked and laughed loudly with Charlie. The two of them shot spitballs at teachers and flew paper airplanes. They had been suspended more times than Dennis could count, and it didn’t even bother them. Charlie lied to his mom about where he was on suspension days, but Mac didn’t even have to. His mom didn’t care either way.

Dennis liked this about Mac, liked that he threw rocks at trains and started fights against people much bigger than him. There was a driving energy in Mac that Dennis just didn’t have, unfocused and often misplaced, but raw and animal all the same. Mac cared about his appearance and his reputation, and he was often scared of stupid shit, but his intensity in the moments where his feelings got the better of him proved that he had potential.

He made it his goal to focus Mac. If he could just do that, they would be an unstoppable dynamic duo, capable of anything. Dennis had little doubt in his capabilities; he had learned how to press Dee’s buttons perfectly years before. The first step was learning how to calm the person down. Learning how to fire someone up was easy if you could do the reverse.

As luck would have it, that very afternoon Dennis got his chance to try it out. They were drinking in Dennis’s basement, and Dee had been allowed to join them. Dee and Mac hated each other. When they were in the same room together, it was a ticking time bomb. Perfect.

Dee tried to stand up, but was too drunk and fell over. She squawked hilariously as she fell down, aluminum clanking against the floor, and Mac burst into peals of laughter.

“You sound just like a bird.”

“She does,” Dennis agreed. “Were you on your way to your cage, Dee?”

Mac laughed harder. “No she’s already in a cage!”

She shot Mac a withering look. “At least I’m not gay! Why don’t you two just go suck each other off?”

Mac reacted so quickly that Dennis didn’t even have time to process it. He was on top of Dee, strangling her and banging her head against the floor.

“TAKE IT BACK YOU BITCH!”

Dennis grabbed at Mac, and pulled him away. He dragged him to the other side of the room, and put his hands on his face.

“Look at me. Look me in the eyes.”

Mac was breathing hard, as if he was the one who had been choked. He looked into Dennis’s eyes, his own animal and wild.

“She called me gay,” he said, darting his eyes over to her.

“Shhh. Shh. Look at me buddy. You got a little hot.” Dennis stroked his hair.

“I got. . .I got so hot,” said Mac.

“I know.”

The two of them stood like this, breathing each other’s air and making eye contact for a long time. Dee ran up the stairs, and slammed the door.

“I’m ok now,” said Mac, finally looking away. “Thanks for getting me out of that jam.”

“Any time buddy, any time.”

Later, after progressing from beer to shots, they laid close to each other and shared the same air for the second time that night. Dennis closed the gap and pressed a soft kiss onto Mac’s mouth. His eyes fluttered shut, and he hummed happily.

Dee was right. Mac was gay as shit.

18

Mac and Charlie slept over the night before Dennis left for college. Like most other special occasions, this called for getting blasted on Dennis’s parents’ pricey booze. He also stole a few Vicodin pills from his mom, but Mac didn’t take one. Vicodin made him feel like he was sinking into the floor and suffocating. Dennis and Charlie popped off on them though, which made Charlie knock out on the floor shortly after. Charlie usually slept on the floor when they had sleepovers; he peed the bed when he got drunk and it was gross.

Dennis was handling his pills much better than Charlie did. He stared into space, red-eyed and Zen. Mac leaned his head on his shoulder, intermittently taking swigs of champagne from the bottle.

“What are you lookin at?”

“So empty in here,” said Dennis. “I feel. . .I feel it.” He patted his chest.

When Dennis talked like this, he liked to be touched. Mac put his arm around Dennis’s shoulder, and pulled him closer.

“It’s alright buddy. College, right? You get to go to college. Get a lot of chicks.”

Dennis smiled. “I’ll get probably every girl there. And be popular. . .so many friends, dude. Probably the most popular guy there.” He hiccupped. “Then I won’t feel. . .” he patted his chest again.

“Empty?”

“Yeah,” breathed Dennis.

The two of them sat in silence for a while, legs dangling off the bed. They passed the champagne back and forth like they had so many times before. It occurred to Mac that this might be the last time they ever did this. This house wasn’t Dennis’s home anymore.

Mac tilted his head so that his nose was buried in Dennis’s shoulder. He smelled like home, more than his own home ever had. Sometimes he daydreamed about the two of them living together, as happy as two messed up people could be. They would touch like this all the time, whenever they needed it. Maybe they would kiss, chaste like family. Dennis was on to much bigger and brighter things than that though, Mac was sure of it.

“Mac. . .why do you believe in God?”

Dennis was always asking him questions that nobody else did.

“Cause. . .I think there has to be a point. Life sucks but when you put up with it and you do all the things like God says, when you put in your time, then you get rewarded forever,” he said. “Why do you believe in God?”

“I don’t,” said Dennis. He drained the rest of the champagne, and didn’t say anything else the rest of the night.

19

The girl he brought back to his room that night was incredible. Gorgeous soft hair, large, heaving breasts, red lipstick that he could feel smearing on his face as she kissed him. He didn’t even have to talk her into having sex with him; she just wanted to bang right away with no resistance at all. She was writhing on top of him, slinky dress tossed on the floor and it was good. It was so good.

It was supposed to be good, anyway.

She reached down his briefs, and started rubbing on his cock.

“You’re so hot,” she said, slurring a little. They had met at a frat party that was still going on downstairs. The alcohol, by all logic, should have been making this even better. Dennis could tell that she was good at what she was doing, all in all a real catch of a woman. He should have been loving this.

After a few minutes of her working his dick, she said, “Are you gonna get it up, or-“

“Keep going,” said Dennis. “I’m just a little drunk is all.”

He wasn’t drunk enough to not have a boner right now.

She shimmied his underwear down to his ankles, giving him a sexy gaze. “Let me try this,” she said. Her mouth engulfed Dennis’s flaccid dick, and she hollowed out her cheeks, sucking hard. She licked up and down the shaft, again, very skillfully. After a few minutes of this not working either, she stopped trying. Dennis’s heart began beating very fast. His dick wasn’t working. His dick didn’t work.

“What the hell, dude? What’s going on?”

Dennis closed his eyes, not wanting to look at his failure anymore. “Just get out.”

“Are you gay or something? Is that what this is all about?”

He opened his eyes, sat up, and glared at her. “GET OUT OF HERE. GET OUT.”

She gave him a disgusted look, and picked up her clothes off the floor. “Fine,” she said, pulling on her dress. “You don’t have to be so rude about it.”

“Get out,” said Dennis again, covering his eyes with his hand. “Get out.”

She slammed the door behind her when she left. Dennis put his hand on his own dick, and began pumping it furiously. He thought of the prettiest girl he ever banged, her long blonde hair and her perfectly round buttocks. He thought of the dude he experimented with that one time, how his soft, dark hair had felt between Dennis’s fingers as he blew him. He thought of Maureen Ponderosa and the warm feelings he used to have when he kissed her in her dad’s Datsun. Nothing, nothing, nothing.

After a while, Dennis gave up. For the first time in a long time, he cried. All this did was make him feel even more mixed up inside, because not even the crying had feelings paired with it. Snot was pooling around his upper lip, his face was coated with tears, and still he felt empty inside.

There was no meaning to life anymore. Not if his dick didn’t work. Like a zombie, he shuffled nude over to his medicine cabinet and pulled out a big bottle of aspirin. He had a flask of crème de menthe in there too, and took it out as well. Then he closed the cabinet, and looked at himself in the mirror.

He looked pathetic and sweaty, the tears and snot drying and crusting on his face. His skin was blotchy and his hair was sticking up in tangles. He was about as far from any goal of physical perfection that he had ever imagined he would one day attain. His dick didn’t even work, his dick, his dick didn’t work-

Dennis punched the mirror and smashed it, glass shattering everywhere. His hand was bleeding but it didn’t matter. He violently unscrewed the cap of the pills, and began taking them by the handful, swallowing them down with the alcohol. When both the flask and the bottle were empty, he dropped them onto the floor, got in his bed, and waited to die.

Eventually he fell asleep, but it wasn’t forever. He awoke in a pool of his own vomit, in pain but very much alive.

Mercifully, he had morning wood. Maybe everything would be ok.