Dennis barely sleeps for weeks in the aftermath of their suburban nightmare. It’s not a pool filter, the sounds of the city, or even the combined snores of four people on a bed they’re all forced to share that’s keeping him awake. It’s the sight of Mac’s face so close to him, soft in the dim light while he sleeps like the dead. This baby-faced, cowardly man fed him a dog to make a point and didn’t even flinch when Dennis had murder in his heart. For once in his life, Mac took initiative and wasn’t afraid. It’s been years since anything Mac did surprised Dennis, and now he can’t help but look at Mac with new eyes.
Infuriatingly, Mac seems to have no concept of the gravity of what he has done. He gets up every morning, slicks his hair back stupid, flexes his glamour muscles, and drones on about body mass with a bright smile on his face. Nothing inside him is broken or even changed as far as Dennis can tell. Somehow, Mac has buried the suburbs deep inside of himself. The sleepless nights get longer and longer each passing day that Mac treats the suburbs like they were a bad dream. So, a month after suburbia is behind them, Dennis decides an experiment is in order.
The experiment is as simple as it is elegant. Over the course of several days Dennis strategically places possible weapons around the apartment. Haircut scissors on the coffee table, a kitchen knife on the counter. He tests scarves around his neck to figure out which one is the most constricting and hangs the winner from his hammock. None of these things could kill Dennis without a practiced hand, of course, but Mac isn’t knowledgeable about that sort of thing. If Mac tries to use one of these weapons, he’ll really mean it, and that’s all that matters.
It’s another week before he’s completely alone with Mac in the apartment. Dee’s gone out to the club with Artemis so Dennis suggests a movie night – Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Mac makes popcorn and Dennis grabs beer and they’re happy in each other’s company for the first time in a long time. It’s almost enjoyable enough for Dennis to not want to ruin it. Almost.
Because Mac insists on watching a movie 30 times in a row before he’s tired of it, Dennis could recite this film in his sleep. Mac’s reactions to the film are predictable too, which makes Dennis’s plan of action painfully easy. A few moments before the scene in the elevator, he gets up oh-so casually to get another beer from the fridge.
Mac shoves a handful of popcorn into his mouth (disgusting – he covers that shit in butter and it greases his face like lubricant) and says, “Where are you going, dude? This part is amazing.”
“I know,” says Dennis, faking a casual smile. “I’m out of beer and don’t want to watch it sober. You want one?”
“No, I’m good,” says Mac. From the kitchen, Dennis hears the fight begin. He opens the fridge, and stares into it. “Chris Evans’ form is way off here anyway. I’d have done a way better job.”
“Really,” says Dennis, grabbing his beer. He kicks the fridge closed, and rummages around a drawer for a bottle opener. “I dunno, bro. Those are some pretty sick moves.”
“See, that’s what they want you to think. But it’s all shot at special angles.” He takes another sip of his beer. “If you have a trained eye, you know it’s all bullshit.”
Dennis pops the cap off of his beer, and tosses it in the trash. He sets the bottle opener on the counter, turns around, and leans against the fridge.
“And you think you have a trained eye?”
Mac scoffs. He cranes his head to look at Dennis. “Uh, duh. I’ve seen like every action movie ever.”
“Alright then,” says Dennis. He points at the screen. “Tell me, Mr. Expert, how you’d improve this bullshit scene.”
Mac furrows his brow in thought, searching for words it’s clear he doesn’t have. Finally he says, “This is pretty expert stuff. I wouldn’t really expect an amateur like you to be able to understand.”
Instead of continuing their banter with a Try me or cutting it off at the pass with a classic Whatever bro, Dennis seizes his chance to hit Mac where it hurts. “Please. You couldn’t fight your way out of a tin can.”
It’s an unspoken rule that they aren’t cruel on movie night. So Mac’s first response isn’t anger; it’s shock. “What?” he says in a small voice.
Dennis takes a long sip of his beer as he contemplates what to say. Finally, he picks two insults out of the laundry list of things Mac is sensitive about. He rests his beer on the counter and says, “You’ve never taken a karate class in your life, and you once choked yourself out while fighting Charlie.”
Mac’s face goes red as he switches from surprised to enraged.
“You don’t know shit about karate, you son of a bitch,” he says, and the fact that this is the hill Mac is going to die on is so ludicrous and predictable that Dennis laughs.
“Neither do you! You haven’t even had a real fist fight in years.”
“I’ve been in fist fights!” says Mac, clenching his fists. Perfect. “I’ve had tons of fights! Just because you don’t know about them –”
“How the hell would I not know about them?” says Dennis, raising his voice. “We spend every goddamn waking minute together!”
Mac stands up and walks over to him very slowly. “Maybe you just aren’t paying good enough attention!” His fingers clench and unclench by his side
“Face it Mac. You’ve gone soft!” Dennis’s stomach flips in excitement. That’s the kicker. Mac charges right at him.
“You son of a bitch! You son of a bitch! I will strangle you! I will end you! I will –”
He flicks his eyes around for his usual plan of action (throwing something useless and soft at Dennis’s face – weak) and spots the knife planted so elegantly on the counter. He reaches for it and – hesitates.
Jesus fucking Christ. Almost there and, like a lost orgasm, it’s gone. Goddammit. Dennis Reynolds has never given up a climax without a fight and he’s not about to start now.
“Do it,” he says, voice unexpectedly ragged. Mac fakes a taken aback look.
“Do what?” He’s sweating now, rolls of it dripping from his forehead down to his chin.
“You know what.” Dennis glances towards the knife. Mac does too, and his face hardens.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Dennis is tired of dancing around Mac’s cowardice, of letting the unspoken ‘you could be so much more’ remain that way. He swallows.
“Pick up the knife, Mac.” Mac looks over at the knife again and then back at Dennis.
“I don’t –” he says. Exactly what he planned to say trails off into the ether as though not finishing his train of thought will lead to a natural impasse. Fuck that.
“Pick it up and hurt me, goddammit!”
It comes out deeper, hoarser than he expects. Mac clenches his hand, and tears well up at the corners of his eyes and Dennis – Dennis has lost.
Mac says nothing – not Fuck you, you sick son of a bitch or This is bullshit or continual claims of denial. He looks Dennis right in the eyes and, with an open palm and clenched jaw, forcefully pushes the knife off the counter by its handle so it clatters with finality on the linoleum floor. Then he storms away to the bathroom, opens the door, and slams it behind him. He turns on the shower, a popular standby when he’s either crying or puking and wants to be left alone. Maybe, Dennis muses, he’s doing both.
Dennis picks the knife up off the floor. It’s a wide knife, clean and slightly reflective. He can see the blurred outline of his face, the color of his cheeks and lips, the shape of his eyes. If this were a movie, he’d be able to look at himself clearly, to see what emotion was writ on his face. But here, in real life, his reflection doesn’t clarify anything at all. He opens a drawer, and puts the knife back where it belongs. Then he goes over to the liquor cabinet, and pulls out their bottle of vodka. He takes a long swig of it, so much that he nearly chokes as it goes down.
Nothing has changed. It doesn’t matter.