With the way Charlie fidgeted, you would be forgiven for thinking he was on a constant high. He almost was, but that wasn’t the cause of his activity. Mac knew intimately the difference between Charlie’s sobre and high fidgets, something that came naturally after years of having no one else to turn to. When sobre he would bounce his leg and play with the rips and tears in his various equally beat-up pairs of jeans, pulling at the loose threads and unraveling them further. When he was high, though, every part of his face seemed to twitch, and if he got particularly bad his eyes would flit about as if he was planning an escape route. He probably was.
Even though the rest of the Gang found it tiring at times, Mac had never particularly minded. It was just another feature of Charlie, like bad hygiene or screaming. Unlike the other two, though, it was something Mac could relate too, even if he didn’t fidget the same. He chewed on stuff, or when stuff wasn’t available then he’d chew on his inner cheek or lip or tongue, when the nerves in his chest squeezed like a bad stress toy, and he would shake his hands out and do an almost hopping motion which left him on the balls of his feet whenever he got too happy.
Neither of them had the money for a proper shrink, let alone a mere psychological evaluation, and he was pretty sure Charlie didn’t know what either of those words meant, and Mac had never really thought about it too hard before. The way they acted was, after all, far more normal than Dee’s outbursts for attention or Dennis’ lack of emotion or Frank’s everything, so even after the fiasco with Dee’s therapist, neither had thought there were any issues.
It had sent Dennis into a minor psychology student tirade, however, talking about how if anyone was going to evaluate the Gang’s issues it should be him, what with his education and his pre-existing experience with their weird idiosyncrasies and issues. Dee had attempted to get involved, but was shut down by the other Reynolds’ before she could begin talking about the differences between a major and minor course, which Mac and Charlie wouldn’t have appreciated anyways.
That was why Mac had begun searching through a variety of online sources to try and disprove the armchair diagnosis Dennis had given him, only to have each list of symptoms and checklist sound eerily similar to his own experiences. “You having ADHD and dyslexia I understand, because let’s be honest bro, I’m pretty sure everyone can tell, but I still don’t get how--”
“I mean, it makes sense to me,” Charlie cut him off, gaze laser-focused on the fidget cube he’d managed to swipe from the counter at the gas station they’d stopped at on their way to the bar. It was meant to help with Charlie’s fidgeting, and Mac supposed it sort of did, but only by making him concentrate all of it onto the little flips and buttons instead. “You got that weird thing with eye contact, remember?”
“Yeah, but I’m not uncomfortable with it,” Mac pointed out in a way that made it clear he thought it disproved the entire notion he was autistic, as opposed to simply being one thing that may not have applied.
“You almost seem too comfortable with it. You stare at people, like, a lot ,” Charlie stopped looking at his fidget cube so he could stare at Mac, who’s cheeks turned pink at the realisation that he had been staring intently at Charlie ever since they started talking. He hated when Charlie was right, but not really, it was just the only way he could describe it, because Charlie could get all annoying about it if he noticed.
Mac looked back at the ancient computer monitor on the desk, the list staring right back at him. It went over all the stuff he was used to hearing about--meltdowns, developmental delays, all that other shit you see on TV--but then there were other things, too, that felt a little bit… closer. It wasn’t particularly comforting that it kept referring to some supposed child Mac has, as if that was why he’s looking all of this up, as if he was meant to get all of this shit out of the way long before he celebrated his thirty-fifth.
He could hear the rhythmic tapping of Charlie playing with his fidget cube, and he realised just how comforting it was. They were the only two in the bar, since they had agreed to arrive extra early just so Frank, Dee, or, God forbid, Dennis wouldn’t catch them trying to sort out their psychological issues. Even though Charlie was annoying when he realised he was right, Dennis was downright insufferable.
“You remember when I started cutting off the sleeves of my shirts?” Mac turned back to face Charlie, who was still staring at the fidget cube in his hands. It was ridiculously corny and he hated to even come close to admitting thinking anything of the sort, but he wished Charlie would stare at him that way. Maybe it was just so Mac wasn’t the only one being weird about eye contact, but he knew better by now.
“Yeah,” a small smile spread across Charlie’s face, “you said they felt too scratchy, and I was like ‘dude, just wear cotton,’ and you were like, ‘but I already do!’” He flicked a tiny lever particularly hard, as if to emphasize a non-existent point, and a part of it snapped off, landing somewhere on the other side of the office. “Ah, shit.”
“Don’t worry, dude, we’ll steal a new one,” Mac waved his hands dismissively, and Charlie finally put down the cube, now staring at Mac expectantly. “So, like, according to this website, autistics- or, uh, autistic people, they have this thing called sensory issues, and that affects what they wear and eat and shit.”
Charlie nodded along, hands now idly playing with a new hole that had appeared in his shirt. Mac couldn’t tell whether a moth had eaten its way through it or if the toxic sludge of the sewers had finally reached a new level of acidic. “So, you’re thinking the reason you don’t like things touching your arms is because of sensory issues?”
Mac looked back at the monitor quickly, as if checking it for some sort of clue on what to say next, then at Charlie again. “I mean… yeah." He paused, contemplative. "It’s not like… bad or anything, right?”
“...Being autistic,” Mac said, and Charlie frowned, his brows furrowing.
“Do you think it’s bad I’m diss- das- dyslu- you know what I mean.”
Mac quickly shook his head. “Of course not, bro. You can’t help it.”
“So why would being autistic be bad for you?”
For a while, the two stared at each other as Mac turned the question over and over in his head. There were so many answers he could come up with, each with different potential outcomes. It was kind of like Charlie’s fidget cube in a way, and he didn’t want to say the wrong thing fearing that he might press too hard and send a piece flying off. The metaphor kind of fell apart by that point, but he kept it anyway.
Each answer felt wrong in their own way, though, and by the time he finally reached the true one he had gnawed at the inside of his cheek to the point where he knew with absolute certainty it was going to hurt like a bitch to have anything sour or salty for a while. Charlie still sat opposite him, fingers having only made the hole in his shirt bigger, but otherwise unchanged. His patience was… well. It warmed him.
“I’m scared,” Mac said, the word carrying so much more than it should have so that the edges of it snapped. Charlie nodded in understanding, though, and there was something just behind his eyes that Mac couldn’t quite place. After a few moments more where neither spoke, Charlie hesitantly held out a hand, palm turned up towards the ceiling. An offering.
It’s a familiar gesture, encroaching upon a ritual, but with what both of them now know (or, at least, speculate) there’s something even more intimate about it. When was the last time they had held hands, anyway? It felt like it had been years. It very well could have been. He took Charlie’s hand, although it didn’t fit quite right until they shifted so their palms were pressed against each other. Charlie’s fingers brushed against where Mac knew a rosary should be, careful to be as gentle as possible, and Mac didn’t even flinch.