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Dennis and Charlie Confront their Trauma

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It was an exceptionally slow day at the bar, so Mac, Charlie, and Dennis decided to leave their work in the hands of Frank and Dee. Usually they’d use this excuse to abandon their posts as an opportunity to do something more exciting than a stroll around the block, but Mac was, as usual, on a fitness kick, and the others just didn’t have the heart to say no to a brisk walk.

“I’m telling you man, it was ghoul juice or something!” Charlie’s voice was getting progressively more high-pitched as he spoke, once again on some nonsensical rant about one of his favorite topics-ghouls. He and Dennis lagged behind Mac as they wandered somewhat aimlessly around town, which is no issue for Mac. Mac, of course, was more concerned with getting some good exercise in than listening to Charlie and Dennis argue about nonsense.

“Charlie, I promise you, the sticky puddle you found in the bathroom was not ghoul juice,” Dennis sighed. “What do you even think ghoul juice is, anyway?”

“They make juice, I swear! It’s like… their sweat or something.”

“Besides, I thought you said ghouls were green. That puddle you found was not green.”

“It was sort of green. And it felt like ghoul juice to me.”

“Don’t tell me you touched it.”

“Of course I did, how was I supposed to-“

“Charlie, you just stuck your hand in what was probably someone else’s jizz, and-“

“Guys!” Mac called back, tired of their incessant bickering. “We’re by the coffee shop, let's get coffee!” He pointed at the coffee shop which had at least at some point been the workplace of Charlie’s dream waitress, but Mac was willing to take the risk of running into her if it meant distracting Charlie and Dennis from their argument.

“You’re not suggesting we take him in there, are you?” Dennis said, gesturing at a still fuming Charlie.

“No, I’m saying we leave him on the street while you and I go in and have a nice coffee shop date,” Mac replied sarcastically. “Of course we’re taking him in with us.”

“You think the Waitress still even works here?” Dennis asked as the gang enters the coffee shop.

“I dunno,” Charlie replied, staring at the ground. “I’ve been avoiding her lately.”

“Why wouldn’t she still work here?” Mac asked.

“Well, we haven’t been here in a while,” Dennis offered. “And I’m pretty sure she went on a drug binge or something and like… lost her job.”

“Whatever, man. I’m thirsty.” Charlie pushed past Mac and Dennis towards the counter. Dennis followed him, but Mac stayed behind, more concerned with stifling the argument between his friends than getting a coffee.

As Dennis stood at the counter probably saying something obscene to the unfortunate waitress currently working the job, and Charlie sat at a table in the corner playing with a button on his jacket, Mac’s gaze wandered to the small collection of flyers taped to the wall. Most of them were mundane, advertising charities or doomed business ventures, but one in particular caught Mac’s eye. He quickly pulled out his phone and snapped a photo of it before joining Charlie in the corner. Dennis arrived a few minutes later carrying two coffee cups.

“You didn’t want anything, Mac?” he asked, taking a sip out of one cup and handing the other to Charlie.

“I’m quitting coffee,” Mac replied, his mind still focused on the flyer from earlier.

“You drank coffee this morning. I was there.”

“Oh. I guess I’m just… not thirsty.”

“Whatever,” Charlie intruded. “Come on, Mac, tell Dennis about the ghoul juice.”

“The what?”

“The ghoul juice! In the bathroom! You saw it, right?”

“Yeah, and I told you it was jizz,” Mac sighed. “Then you stuck your hand in it.”

“Bullshit!” Charlie exclaimed before launching back into his tall tales of ghoul juice. Mac stared at the flyer. If he could just pull this off, if he could sell this to at least one of the two assholes currently sitting with him, he might not have to listen to them argue anymore. Or at least, he’d have one day where he didn’t have to deal with their arguing. Close enough.

-

Mac was riding the high of coming up with a cunning plan when he and Dennis arrived back at their apartment that night. Dennis, being Dennis, had noticed hours ago.

“You’re acting weird,” he scoffed as the two enter their living room. Mac ignored him, making his way toward the kitchen in search of something to make for dinner.

I’m acting weird,” Mac laughed, glancing at Dennis from across the room. Dennis stared back, anger making its way onto his face.

“Yeah, you are,” he replied coolly. “You’ve been acting weird since the coffee shop, what’s gotten into you?”

“Look,” Mac sighed, pulling out his phone. “I found something I thought would be… good for you.” He showed Dennis the picture of the flyer.

“Mac, this is a flyer for a support group for victims of sexual assault,” Dennis scoffed. “Even I wouldn’t sink that low. There are… easier ways to find vulnerable women.”

“That’s not what I’m saying, asshole! God, you’re a creep,” Mac exclaimed. “I’m saying you should go, like, for you.”

“Why would I need to go to an assault victim support group?”

Mac shook his head, looking disappointedly (and yet still somewhat longingly) at Dennis’ gaunt, sunken-eyed figure. Ever since Mac met him, he’d always had those classic trauma eyes, dark circles and all.

“I don’t know,” he said dramatically. “Maybe because you were raped, Dennis.”

“How many times do I have to tell you people this?” Dennis exclaimed. “I wasn’t raped. It was a mutually beneficial relationship, I seduced Ms. Klinsky all on my own.”

“Really? Because I saw you hide behind the bar today when an old lady walked in.”

“I mean, sure, I don’t trust old ladies, but that’s for completely different reasons.”

“Then how come I heard you whispering about librarians after she left?”

“You’re misremembering.”

“Look, you can deny this all you want, but you should at least try the support group, okay?” Mac insisted. “And take Charlie with you.”

“See, now you’re onto something,” Dennis said with a grin. “If anyone needs to talk about their trauma with a professional, it’s the guy who wrote a whole musical about how his uncle was diddling him as a kid.”

“Sure,” Mac conceded. “Just go to support Charlie, alright? Maybe some of your stuff’ll come up, maybe it won’t. Just try it one time.”

“My stuff won’t come up, because I have no stuff. Alright?”

“Sure. As long as you’re going.”

-

“What are you dragging me into this time?” Charlie whined. Dennis had caught him in the middle of a rat-bashing session, so he was naturally pissy. Dennis instinctively backed away in order to avoid Charlie’s rat bat (god, why did they ever think it was a good idea to buy him that?) and calmly explained the situation.

“Mac wants to get rid of us for a few hours, so he’s having me take you to a support group.”

“A support group for what?

“It’s for… abuse victims.”

“Why do I have to go?”

“What do you mean why do you have to go? It’s for you. Mac’s just having me go with you for support.”

“Look, man, I’m just saying I don’t know why I’d need an abuse victim support group.”

Dennis backed further up the basement stairs, not in the mood to be hit with a nail-studded bat. He gave Charlie the most sympathetic glance he could manage.

“Charlie, how do you not understand this? You wrote a musical about your childhood rape. Plus, I’m pretty sure you said Dee tried to rape you at some point.”

“I never wrote a musical about rape!”

“Are you really still trying to claim that Nightman wasn’t about rape?”

“No! It was about a boy who undergoes a transformation into-you know what, if you didn’t get it the first time, you won’t get it now.”

“Whatever. Just… put the bat down, okay buddy? We’re going to the support group.”

Charlie grumbled, unceremoniously tossing his rat bat onto the basement floor and following Dennis up the stairs.

“Where are you two going?” Dee called out to them from behind the bar.

“Field trip,” Dennis deflected.

“I’m sending them to therapy to keep them out of my hair,” Mac explained, not looking up from his phone.

“Good,” Dee said. “Go sort out your brains, guys.”

Dennis and Charlie both ignored her as they continue out to Dennis’ car.

As soon as they were on the road, Dennis decided to vent his frustrations.

“We’re only doing this because Mac told us to, right? Like, we don’t need help. We’ve been getting by our whole lives, nothing’s going to change because Mac found some poster in a coffee shop.”

“Sure,” Charlie agreed. “Although I gotta admit, I can see where he might get the idea that you need a support group.”

“God, not you too.”

Charlie ignored him and continued. “You did get raped, didn’t you?”

“No!” Dennis shouted in reply, struggling to maintain his composure. “Dee just told everyone that to make fun of me, I was never raped.”

“Yeah, okay, I can imagine Dee doing something like that.”

“Exactly. So this’ll hopefully just be one time, and then we can go back to pretending nothing bad ever happened.”

“Pretending?”

“Well, you’ll be pretending. I’ll just be living my life.”

“Sure, man. Whatever.” Charlie just couldn’t be bothered to deal with Dennis’s bullshit anymore. Of course, anyone who was forced to be around Dennis on a regular basis got tired of his bullshit quickly, but rape was simply the last thing Charlie wanted to argue about. It made him feel all gross inside, the way any normal person would feel if they were forced to talk about something horrible. The feelings didn’t mean anything had happened to him.

The moment Dennis pulled his car into the parking lot, he started shaking. It didn’t make any sense, there was no reason for him to be nervous, he didn’t get this nervous. Everything felt weird. The group was being held in a hospital, and hospitals always made Dennis a little nervous, but nothing like this. Sure, he’d been a little nervous about doctor’s appointments in the past, but nothing like this. His heart was in his throat, he couldn’t stop shaking, he felt like he was on the verge of collapse.

“Are you nervous right now?” Charlie asked as the two of them walked down one of the long, empty corridors of the hospital.

“A little bit,” Dennis whispered. He didn’t have time to talk; he was a lot more focused on not fucking hyperventilating.

After a stressful elevator ride and another few long corridors, the two of them stopped at a door with a sign marked “Sexual Abuse Support Group, 3:30 PM”. Neither could bring themselves to open it, or even knock.

“This feels weird,” Dennis admitted. His voice wavered. He put his hands in his pockets in an effort to hide how much they were shaking.

“I know, right?” Charlie agreed.

“So… who’s gonna open that door?”

The two stared at each other for an uncomfortable amount of time before being approached by a woman in a hospital uniform.

“Are you two here for the support group?” she asked.

Dennis and Charlie nodded wordlessly.

“Alright, you’re a bit early, but I’m going to let you come in and take a seat.”

The pair followed the woman through the door. Inside there appeared to be a conference room, except there was no table in the center and the plastic chairs were set up in a ring. Dennis and Charlie exchanged nervous glances before taking two seats next to each other. The whole experience was uncomfortable, and it hadn’t even started yet.

As more people joined them in the circle of chairs, Dennis noticed something which really wasn’t a surprise to him. Most of their fellow support group members were women.

“I told you,” he whispered to Charlie, casting a glance around the room. “Men don’t get raped. I couldn’t have been raped.”

“You’re claiming that I was raped,” Charlie hissed back.

“That’s different. You were molested as a kid. Plenty of guys got molested as a kid.”

“Excuse me?” The woman who had originally let them in said from across the room. “We’re going to get started.” She gave Dennis and Charlie a look that would definitely have been a death glare had this woman not been under the impression that she was glaring at two rape victims-there was more disappointment in her eyes than anger.

“Anyway,” she continued. “We’re going to start by going around the circle and all sharing our names, along with… whatever’s on our minds. Doesn’t necessarily have to be related to group. How about… you start?” She nodded somewhat menacingly at Dennis.

Dennis almost felt ashamed of himself. One of his only characteristics in this woman’s mind was “abuse victim”, and yet she’d already pegged him as a monster. Not that she was wrong, but that did say a lot about Dennis if he couldn’t hold onto the whole sweet, traumatized baby facade for more than two minutes.

“Ummmm. My name is Dennis,” he said as confidently as he could manage. “I’m here to support my friend Charlie. He’s a little shy, so he might not talk much-“

“Uh, bullshit?” Charlie interjected. “I’m not shy. And you’re here because Mac made you go, because you were raped, idiot! Like everyone else here.”

A stunned silence followed his outburst. Charlie tried desperately to read the room in an effort to figure out some way to salvage his reputation.

“Except me, of course. See, the truth is that I’m here to support Dennis.” He put his arm around Dennis’s shoulder, prompting Dennis (along with everyone else in the room) to give him a weird look.

“Now, what I’m hearing from you two is that you’re both still in denial about your abuse,” the leading woman observed. “That’s something we can discuss later, but in the meantime, I’ll continue. My name is Maureen…”

This was when Dennis tuned out. He felt like throwing up. This whole situation felt like a huge joke at his expense. Like, come on-Maureen? That’s not even that common of a name. The remainder of the circle finished sharing their names while Dennis continued having a crisis over his dead cat ex-wife. He was jolted back reality by Charlie elbowing him.

“Dude, question,” he whispered.

“Hm?” Dennis asked, still not completely ready to have any conversation at all.

“I understand that you feel you’ve not experienced anything that would warrant you being here,” New Maureen said.

“Exactly. Just because I had a relationship with an older woman doesn’t mean I was raped. Plain and simple,” Dennis explained.

“What if he was fourteen when he had that relationship?” Charlie asked.

“Well, it was definitely illegal and probably unhealthy, but I suppose I could accept that you weren’t sexually abused by this woman,” New Maureen replied.

“Except that he was,” Charlie argued. “She banged him like, multiple times.”

“Charlie, can we please watch our language a little bit?” New Maureen asked sweetly.

“Alright, alright, I’m calling bullshit,” Dennis exclaimed. “This is a support group for rape victims, and you don’t want him to say ‘bang’? We’ve said ‘rape’ at least five times in the last five minutes! And don’t you think it’d be better to stop trying to convince me I’m traumatised and instead start helping the people who actually are? See, I saw this coming. You’re fucking with me. You’re all fucking with me!”

“Dennis, please, calm down. Clearly you have a lot of anger, and I think that might stem from this trauma which you’re refusing to address.”

“Or maybe,” Dennis offered, lowering his voice, “maybe Charlie wants you to think I have trauma I need to deal with to cover up the fact that he’s the one who got raped.”

“I feel like you’re going to elaborate whether I ask you to or not, so go ahead and elaborate,” Maureen said.

“His uncle molested him as a kid,” Dennis explained. “Plus I’m pretty sure my sister raped him.”

“This is a complicated relationship you people have,” another member of the group said grouchily.

“Shut up,” Dennis snapped. “So anyway, my roommate wants us both to be here, so we can both get therapy, but he doesn’t understand that it was only Charlie that got raped.”

“See, Mac agrees with me!” Charlie exclaimed.

“Well, no, Mac thinks we were both raped and that’s why we’re like this.”

“Like how?”

“Fighting all the time!”

“Look,” Maureen cut in, “since you two can’t seem to make any progress, we’re going to move onto someone else.”

“No, wait, don’t move on!” Charlie exclaimed. “See, I can be traumatized! When I was a little kid, like, really little, my uncle moved into my house. And as long as he paid my mom rent, she let him do whatever the hell he wanted. So he’d pin me down with his stupid, tiny hands, and-and-”

Charlie paused, seemingly realizing what he’d just admitted. He stared across the room at the blank wall, unable to process what had come out of his mouth. What had happened to him while Uncle Jack had been living in his house.

Dennis gently placed a hand on his shoulder. Not just for show either-he genuinely didn’t know if Charlie was okay right then. Charlie recoiled from the touch, hugging his knees to his chest and rocking in his seat as he kept on staring at the wall.

“Is he broken?” Dennis asked.

“He’s probably having a flashback of some sort,” Maureen explained. “It was good of you to be here to support him. I can definitely see what you were talking about now.”

“Yeah,” Dennis agreed. For a second he realized this could be an opportunity to demonstrate his value to this therapist, maybe leading to a good ending to this story after all. But he still couldn’t get past her being named Maureen, and besides, he had to get Charlie out of whatever flashback he was in. He watched Charlie shake for a few seconds before speaking again.

“Can I… fix him?”

“Fix him how?” Maureen asked. “If you mean snapping him out of the flashback, the best thing to do would probably be to wait, considering touching him is making it worse. We can stop him if he tries to do anything dangerous.”

“So we’re just going to watch him suffer?”

“Unfortunately, that’s all we can do.”

“That’s bullshit.”

“I’m sorry.”

Dennis kept watching Charlie. He’d stopped rocking in his seat and had instead opted to close his eyes and bury his face in his knees.

“Charlie, buddy…” Dennis whispered softly to him. “It’s okay. You’re… you’re safe.” Dennis was sweating. He was awful at the whole ‘comforting your traumatized friend’ thing.

“Has he done this before?” asked one of the other women. “If you know how he snapped out of it the last time-”

“No, he’s never done this before. Before we came here he didn’t even realize he was raped. This is him figuring that out. So before any of you consider putting me through that same little routine-”

“No one put him through a ‘routine’, Dennis,” Maureen explained with a smile. “All I did was ask to move on to someone else, and he was forced to do something drastic in order to keep the attention on himself. Does that sound familiar?”

“I mean, he huffed glue and ate worms as a kid to make the school bully like him.”

“Sure,” Maureen said, nodding. “In this case, instead of eating worms, Charlie opted to talk about his childhood trauma. It just so happened that this was the first time he’d really done that.”

“So it was just a matter of figuring out what makes him do stupid things?”

“No, there was no figuring out, I think we just kind of stumbled into that epiphany,” Maureen explained. “Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I think it’s someone else’s turn to share.”

“Well, I dunno,” Dennis argued. “Seems like a kind of touchy subject to talk about around him, don’t you think? If we ever want him to get out of this flashback, best not talk about these things any more, right?”

“I’m sorry, Dennis, but this is a support group for sexual assault victims. The point of this group is for people to open up about their experiences, and if Charlie is preventing them from doing that, he’s going to have to leave.”

“Well, I’m not moving him.”

“You brought him here.”

“Alright. Fine. I’ll move him,” Dennis agreed with a smirk, standing up from his chair. He put his hands on Charlie’s shoulders and stared down at him. “Come on big guy,” he said to a shaking Charlie, “it’s time to go.”

“Fuck off, Dennis,” Charlie whined. “I’m trying to have a flashback.”

“You’re what?” Dennis exclaimed, pulling his hands away.

“I’m trying to have a flashback. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing right now, right?” Charlie’s voice still wavered as he spoke.

“Well, no, we just thought you were. You know, because of the whole ‘realizing you were raped’ thing and the hugging your knees to your chest and the staring blankly across the room.”

“Oh, no, I just got a little freaked out thinking about living with Uncle Jack, and my brain was like ‘shoot, you gotta go home and see him after whatever the fuck this is’ and I felt really scared and gross, but then I remembered that I live with Frank now, so everything’s fine. You guys were talking about flashbacks though, so I thought maybe that was like… a thing you do here.”

“No, Charlie,” Maureen said sweetly, “we don’t want to force you into having a flashback. In fact, it sounds like you may have had a flashback earlier about living with your uncle, but if you don’t want to talk about it I completely understand. In fact, if you’d like to step into the hallway for a while to try and calm down while someone else shares their experience, that’d be perfectly fine.”

“Nah, it’s cool. I’m gonna just keep trying to flash back if that’s alright with you guys.”

“Well, no, don’t do that,” Maureen told him. “See, a flashback is when you partially or fully relive a traumatic event. For example, when you thought earlier that you still lived with your uncle.”

“So I did have a flashback!”

“Yes. And it made you feel bad, didn’t it?”

“Well, it made me want to cry and made my skin feel all gross and weird, so… yeah, I guess it did.”

“Exactly. Flashbacks are a bad thing, Charlie. And while it’s good that you’ve managed to avoid them in the past by telling yourself you weren’t traumatized, I’d suggest a better coping mechanism than denial. We can discuss coping mechanisms in group later on if that would be helpful.”

“Yeah, yeah, sure, we’d love that,” Dennis intruded. “In the meantime, there’s gotta be someone else who wants to share, right?”

“You’ve sure been talking a lot,” Maureen pointed out. “Seems like you want to share something.”

“I mean, I don’t want to explain my life story to you people if that’s what you’re thinking. I’ve just been talking a lot because I have a lot of things to say about the subject. Considering the subject for the last five minutes has been my friend getting hit so hard in the face by his trauma he forgot about living with an old man. A different old man, mind you. An old man who as far as I know does not diddle kids.”

“No, he doesn’t,” Charlie confirmed. “Frank’s a weird guy, but I’m pretty sure he draws the line at diddling kids.”

“Exactly,” Dennis agreed. “So now that we’ve figured out Charlie, I think it’s someone else’s turn”

“Of course,” Maureen said. “Why don’t you share your story, Dennis?”

“Well, see, I don’t have a story,” Dennis explained. “As you said, I’ve been talking a lot. It’s someone else’s turn.”

“Yes,” Maureen said, “but see, everyone else here has already accepted that something traumatic has happened to them. Even your friend. So how about you tell me about this relationship you had when you were a kid?”

“‘Kid’ is a strong word,” Dennis argued. “I was fourteen. I knew what sex was. And I knew I wanted it! So I seduced the school librarian Ms. Klinsky, and she invited me back to her house, and we had beautiful, passionate sex. It’s that simple.”

“You’re telling me that when you were fourteen, a grown women who you barely knew invited you back to her house and had sex with you?”

“Exactly. See, I have a system which I’ve been perfecting for a very long time. It wasn’t perfect back then of course, but it was functional. It got me laid.”

“Man, you didn’t DENNIS a fifty year old woman,” Charlie argued. “She invited you over for dinner but then instead of eating with you she just took you to her bedroom and raped you.”

“How… do you know that?”

“Oh, you bragged about it constantly in high school. Just… without the rape part.”

“Obviously, because I wasn’t raped.”

“Alright, Dennis,” Maureen interrupted. “How about you explain what happened at that dinner?”

“Yeah, sure, sure. See, I was in the library… for seductive reasons, obviously… and she came up to me, put her hand on my shoulder, and asked me if I wanted to come over for dinner. Sensing an opportunity, I accepted, and picked up a few books while I was at it in order to demonstrate my value to her. Then, that night, I went over to her house for dinner. Since there was nothing set out on the table, I figured I’d use the time before dinner to advance my system. I took her hand-”

“Her old, shriveled hand-” Charlie smirked.

“Don’t interrupt me,” Dennis snapped. “Anyway, I took her hand in my own-engaging her physically-and asked her if there was anything she’d like to show me before dinner. She seemed surprised by my advances, but she still smiled and lead me to her room. Which, now that I think about it, was lucky on my part; usually I need to encourage potential partners a little more before entering the bedroom, but I guess my striking good looks were even more striking when I was young. Of course, once I was in her room, I seized the opportunity. I lied down on her bed, and I let her have her way with me.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Charlie interrupted. “That’s… not how your system works.”

“Well, like I said, it’s taken a long time to perfect.”

“Dennis,” Maureen asked. “What do you mean by ‘let her have your way with you?’”

“Simple,” Dennis said. “I lied on the bed, she stripped me down, and she did what she wanted.”

“And did you ask her to stop at any point during this?”

“I mean, yeah, but what kind of sissy listens to words like ‘no’ and ‘stop’?”

“People who aren’t rapists, Dennis.”

“No, no, you’re not listening. I was not raped.”

“Let me get this straight,” Maureen sighed. “An older woman brought you to her bedroom, took your clothes off, had sex with you, and didn’t stop when you asked her to.”

“Yes,” Dennis agreed.

“And you’re saying this wasn’t rape?”

“No, that’s not rape,” Dennis shot back. He felt his hands start to sweat, but he put them in his pockets in an effort to hide it. “In fact, that’s very similar to my current system. I think Ms. Klinsky may have taught me more than anyone else in that lousy school.”

Several of the women in the room gave him concerned glances, but he didn’t show his fear.

“I’m sure you wouldn’t imply that I’m a rapist, would you?”

“Well… I think it’s an important thing to note that your most influential sexual experience was a non-consensual one with a much older woman.”

“Okay, so maybe it was with an older woman, and maybe it was non-consensual, but that doesn’t mean it was rape.”

“That is… quite literally the definition of rape.”

“But I’m not traumatized.”

“Den,” Charlie murmured. “You’re crying.”

“No, I’m not…” Dennis grumbled, putting a hand to his face. It came back sopping wet.

“Yeah, I think you are,” Charlie replied.

“Charlie,” Dennis whispered solemnly, putting his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “A word.”

Dennis stood up slowly, dragging a very confused Charlie with him into the hallway.

“Dude, just admit it already,” Charlie whined. “That therapist lady did her magic on us, we can’t stuff it down anymore, just admit it and have a flashback like I did.”

“No, Charlie, I’m not having a flashback. I just… I wanna leave.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m tired of that bitch in there trying to tell me I was raped.”

“Well, you were raped. You basically admitted it.”

“No! No, I didn’t. I just said that maybe the sex wasn’t entirely consensual.”

“Dennis, please, come on. That’s rape! Even I know that’s rape. Now if you wanna go home, let’s go home, but at least stop being all in denial and shit.”

“Fine, fine. I was raped. I was raped at fourteen and I’m very traumatized and broken up inside. Can we please go home now?”

“Yes,” Charlie agreed. “Thank you for being honest.” He moved towards Dennis, holding out his arms for a hug.

“Please don’t hug me,” Dennis insisted. “I… really don’t wanna be touched right now, and if we make physical contact I might strangle you.”

“Understandable,” Charlie agreed. “Let’s just go back to the bar, and we can drink away all our feelings about this.”

“That’s more like it,” Dennis replied.

-

“Mac! Hey, Mac!” Dennis exclaimed, storming into the bar. His face was still flushed and damp from crying silently all the way home, which caught the attention of Mac, along with Dee and Frank.

“What the hell happened to you?” Frank asked.

“Doesn’t matter,” Dennis growled. “Mac, I need to talk to you. Back office. Now.”

“No, seriously, what happened to you guys?” Dee asked. “You two look really messed up.”

“Nothing!” Charlie exclaimed. “Nothing at all.”

“Bullshit,” Mac piped up. “What do you want, Dennis?”

“I want to have a serious, heart-to-heart conversation with you,” Dennis said slowly, a wicked smirk plastered across his face. “Back office. Now.”

“You know what? Fine,” Mac agreed, stepping out from behind the bar and walking into the back office. “Let’s get this over with.”

Dennis stormed off after him.

“What’s with him, exactly?” Dee asked.”

“Nothing,” Charlie repeated. “He specifically told me not to talk about anything that happened.”

“That’s… extremely weird.”

“See, this is why I don’t trust shrinks,” Frank butted in. “That kid’s cried like, twice in his life. Then he goes to a shrink once, and suddenly he’s all broken down crying? That’s their devil magic.”

“I know, right?” Charlie exclaimed. “She made me have a flashback!”

“See? That shit’s no good! We gotta get you and Dennis out of there!”

“Oh, we’re not going back there,” Charlie told him.

“Good! Don’t!”

“We won’t! In fact, Dennis is probably talking to Mac about it right now, he’s gonna tell him how god-awful that group was, and he’s not going to make us go back.”

“Well, that’s very good, Charlie, I’m glad you’ve got that sorted,” Frank said. “Now, are you going to tell us what happened?”

“No! Dennis said no. I can’t, guys.”

Frank and Dee gave each other a knowing look, realizing there was really no point in trying to get any farther with Charlie.

-

Meanwhile, Dennis had practically bashed down the door of the back office and was fully ready to berate Mac.

“Dennis?” Mac said gently. “W-what’s going on, man? You don’t look so good.”

“Oh, do you think?” Dennis shot back. “You think maybe I’m just a little fucked up from having a woman named Maureen spend half an hour telling me about how I was raped?”

“I thought Maureen Ponderosa was dead.”

“Well, she is, but apparently Maureen is a more common name than we all thought!”

“Dennis, I swear, I had no idea this woman’s name was Maureen. And by the way, the whole point of that group was to help you deal with the fact that you were raped. So I don’t think you get to be mad about that!”

“Except that I am mad! I am very, very angry at you right now, Mac, because I’ve spent my entire life since freshman year buying weed from you, and I started huffing shit with Charlie, and… and then doing crack with Dee and getting drunk and all kinds of other shit to try and trick myself into thinking that I wasn’t raped. And for almost thirty goddamn years, it’s worked. I have been a functional, non-traumatized human being!”

“That’s debatable,” Mac argued.

“Shut up! God fucking dammit Mac, shut up for once in your life!” Dennis screamed. “I don’t know what the fuck that therapist did to me, but… I’m feeling it again! I feel awful and sick and disgusting, and I cried all the way home and I wanna die so fucking bad. I wish I’d never fucking been born.”

“Shit, Den, I didn’t realize it was going to turn out like this.”

“Then what the hell did you want out of this?”

“I don’t know, okay? I thought it’d be good for you and Charlie to talk through all the shit that happened to you two as kids, I thought it’d be a healing thing. Fuck, dude, I was under the impression that you at least already knew you were raped, and you were just lying about it so we wouldn’t make fun of you or something.”

“Well, you were wrong.”

“God, this is… this is awful, man. Is there anything I can do?”

“You know what? Yeah, actually. Just like… stand there for a sec…”

“What?”

Then, without warning, Dennis punched Mac hard in the face.

“Dude, what the fuck?” Mac exclaimed. He put his hand up to protect himself and to check the damage done to his face, but he wasn’t fast enough. Dennis punched him again. Before Mac could say anything else, Dennis gripped him by the shoulder and slammed him down onto the desk. The impact with the desk was more painful than Dennis’s punches; Mac could have sworn he felt the blood vessels in the back of his head bursting open, forming huge, painful bruises. His back was arched awkwardly over the desk, and he wasn’t in any position to put up a fight against Dennis. Still, he attempted to struggle free, but Dennis’s bony arms were unexpectedly strong. Dennis continued his assault, slamming his fist repeatedly into Mac’s face. About twenty punches in, Mac could feel blood rushing down his chin, but he wasn’t entirely sure if it was coming from his nose or his mouth. Through his half-swollen-shut eyes, he could see the sweat on Dennis’s face. He seemed to be tiring, but the look in his eyes suggested that he had no real interest in slowing down.

“Dennis, I’m sorry,” Mac cried. Every word was a struggle; his lip had swelled up as well. “I’ll do anything, I’ll move out, I’ll never speak to you again, just… please stop.”

“Oh, Mac,” Dennis whispered. He eased up on Mac’s shoulder and opened his fist, using his now-free hand to cup Mac’s mangled face. “You know I don’t like listening to words like ‘stop’, right?” He ran his thumb over a large bruise on Mac’s cheek as Mac continued to stare at him in horror. “But according to that therapist you sent me to, that makes me a rapist. You don’t think I’m a rapist, do you Mac?”

“At the risk of being beaten to shit again, you are absolutely a rapist. In fact, you’ve bragged about abusing women several times.”

“Don’t worry, baby. I’m not gonna hurt you anymore.”

“Dennis, you’re seriously weirding me out right now.”

“Fuck. I-I’m sorry,” Dennis said, pulling his hands away. “I’m just having a lot of weird feelings right now that I’ve never actually dealt with before, and I… I need to do something. I need to do like, horrible mind-altering drugs. I need to fuck my brain up until I forget today ever happened. Like-like a reset button.”

“I’m with you on every part of that except for the mind-altering drugs thing.”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m destroying my body-”

“No, no, that’s cool, I’m just wondering where you intend to get said mind-altering drugs.”

“Oh, I mean, Charlie probably has something I can huff.”

“Yes! Yes, dude, you’re a genius. Let’s go talk to Charlie, let’s get you some glue, let’s completely wipe your memory of the horrible rape you experienced.”

“I mean, I was thinking something more noxious than glue, but yeah, that works.”

“Alright, alright. Also, do you know if glue has any, like, numbing properties? The shit you did to my face is starting to hurt.”

“Oh. Oh, god, I’m sorry about that. You know what? We’ll ask Charlie. He probably has something.”

The two of them walked calmly out the door, as if nothing happened.

“Holy shit!” Charlie exclaimed. “Mac, what the fuck?”

 

“Oh, I uh… crashed into a wall,” Mac said.

“Yeah, he did, it was really fucking funny,” Dennis laughed. “Actually, we were meaning to talk to you about that, Charlie. Do you have anything Mac could huff?”

“Um… I could check,” Charlie offered. “I mean, I was gonna check anyway, cause like… I kinda wanna huff stuff too.”

“Completely understandable!” Dennis exclaimed. “Let’s go find some glue!”

Dee and Frank just watched the scene unfold.

“Is it just me, or did Dennis totally beat the shit out of Mac?” Dee asked.

“Well, of course!” Frank agreed. “He’s a broken man, Deandra. It’s only a matter of time before he goes on a killing spree.”

“Have fun with that then,” Dee said, stepping out from behind the bar. “I’m going home.”

“Don’t leave me with that sociopath!” Frank exclaimed as Dee walked out the door. “You’re gonna have my blood on your hands when he snaps! Mark my words!”

-

After a bit of a struggle through the vent system, Mac, Charlie, and Dennis had made there way to the attic, where Charlie supposedly had things to huff.

“So… how’re you holding up, Charlie?” Mac asked cautiously.

“I mean, I’m going up to the attic to huff glue and then I’m probably gonna go smash things in my bad room,” Charlie explained. “So I think I’m pretty normal overall.”

“Really?” Dennis asked. “No more flashbacks, no more crying, no more anything?”

“Not at all,” Charlie said proudly. “Why, are you… having trouble?”

“Charlie…” Dennis groaned. “I just beat the shit out of my best friend, and now I’m in the attic with you trying to find something strong enough to wipe my memory. So I think I might be having just a little trouble.”

“Whoa,” Charlie said. “You did that to Mac?”

“It’s cool,” Mac said. “I was kind of into it until my face started bleeding.”

“God dammit, you got off from that?” Dennis exclaimed.

“Well, I wouldn’t say I got off, maybe I just felt a little sexual tension between us. More than usual, I mean.”

“You know what? I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I don’t care. Charlie, get me some glue, will you?”

“Dude, I think you need something a little stronger than glue,” Charlie suggested. “I’ve got some cleaning supplies that I can mix up for you if you want, you won’t remember anything before last week, trust me.”

“Usually I’d say that’s incredibly stupid, but you know what? That’s exactly what I need right now. Give ‘em over.”

Charlie handed Dennis a bucket full of various opaque bottles which presumably contained cleaning supplies.

“Just mix as many of those together as you want,” Charlie told him. “Meanwhile, I’m taking Mac to my bad room.”

“Oh, no, Charlie, I don’t wanna smash bottles with you,” Mac said.

“Nah man, you don’t need to smash anything,” Charlie replied. “But you do need to get out of here before he starts combining all those cleaning supplies, because those fumes will knock you out.”

“That makes sense,” Mac agreed. “Alright, well, have fun in here Dennis, okay?”

“Will do, Mac. Sorry about your face.”

“It’s… it’s fine.”

“You sure?”

“Of course, Dennis. I’m a strong man, I can take a few punches to the face.”

“Good, good, you’ve had your moment!” Charlie exclaimed. “Now, we’re gonna go to the bad room so Dennis can fuck himself up.” He pulled the vent cover back off. “Oh, and Dennis, could you please wait a couple minutes before mixing those? We wanna close up the vent on our end so all the fumes don’t carry over.”

“No problem,” Dennis agreed with a grin. “Take all the time you need.”

Charlie gave him a thumbs-up as he crawled into the vent, followed closely by Mac. Dennis closed the vent after them and then went off in search of something to do while he waited for Charlie to seal off the vent. Of course, Charlie was probably going to take longer than expected to seal it off, and if Dennis started mixing his inhalants too soon, he’d knock out Mac and Charlie as well. And despite the fact that that would be an excellent opportunity for ridiculousness, Dennis really wasn’t in the mood for that. He needed to take his mind off his trauma.

Now that Dennis was alone with his thoughts, everything came back in full force. Bony, wrinkled hands gripping his body, hot stinking breath in his face, the crushing weight of a body on top of his own. Dennis felt himself starting to sweat. His shirt felt sticky and gross on his chest, so he took it off, but that made him feel exposed. It didn’t matter though. What mattered was finding something that didn’t produce noxious gas to kill time with while Charlie sealed up that vent.

The attic was sparse. There was the odd mouse trap, bottle full of either alcohol or cleaning supplies, or cardboard box full of trash. Dennis began digging through the trash in an effort to find something, anything…

It took him three boxes, but he eventually found a kitchen knife.

The knife had to have been one of Frank’s toe knives at some point, Dennis was sure of that. But hey, a knife was a knife. And besides, one of those bottles Charlie had given him had to contain bleach, right? So Dennis did the most logical thing possible-he opened the bottles one at a time and smelled them until he found one which he could be reasonably sure was bleach. Then he grabbed his shirt, poured some of the bleach onto the knife, wiped it down as well as he could, and then dried it off on his pants. Good enough, he figured.

Dennis brought the knife to his arm, digging the side into his skin. He was beginning to see why Frank had retired this particular toe knife; it was dull as hell. A new knife or even a razor blade would have broken right through his skin, but Dennis supposed he had given up that opportunity when he agreed to join Charlie in the attic. Still, he pressed on, harder and harder until the knife finally broke his skin. He pulled it back and forth in a slicing motion in an effort to get a good cut. It stung like hell-the bleach, Dennis figured. He’d just stuck a bleached knife into his arm.

Better than an unsterilised toe knife, he told himself before bringing the knife to his arm again. It went in easier this time, probably because he’d figured out what kind of pressure he needed to make a cut. The sting of the bleached metal felt oddly healing, almost as if he was cleaning that disgusting layer beneath his skin: the layer of grime and filth left inside of him since he was just fourteen, finally it was coming out, bleached and bled away. Of course, this wasn’t Dennis’s first experience with cutting-he’d done it in the past for the thrill and for the disgustingly beautiful scars which always seemed to fade too fast. But this time he had a purpose-he was slicing the filth out of himself, and every drop of blood that fell to the floor was a bit of progress towards finally being clean again.

At last he felt he’d finished the job when his arms began to go numb from the pain. He needed to keep his hands usable for just a little longer, just long enough to mix up some cleaning supplies and get himself sufficiently knocked out so he could forget everything. With every bottle he emptied into the bucket, Dennis thought about how much he wanted to forget. He wanted to forget being pinned down by an old woman in an unfamiliar bed, being stripped down and used the way he was. But it wasn’t just about that anymore. He wanted to forget when Paddy’s had become a gay bar and he’d been whisked away in the night only to wake up in another strange bed, his ass hurting so bad he’d been unable to sit comfortably for days. He wanted to forget his own father selling him for sex to more disgusting old women. He wanted to forget beating up Mac just for being worried about him. God, poor Mac. Poor, sweet Mac. He was only trying to help. He didn’t deserve any of this bullshit.

Dennis could feel himself crying again, but he wasn’t sure if he was having feelings or if it was just the fumes stinging his eyes. He inhaled deeply.

Please, god dammit, just let me forget…

-

Dennis awoke to Mac and Charlie shaking him violently. Upon opening his eyes, he noticed that Mac was crying.

“Mac?” he said deliriously. “What happened?”

“I don’t know, dude, what happened to you?” Mac sobbed. He was sobbing.

“No, I mean… what’s wrong with you? Why are you crying so much?”

“Why am I crying?” Mac exclaimed. “I mean, I just found you shirtless, passed out in front of a bucket full of cleaning supplies with cuts all over your arms and a knife next to you! This is a lot to process, okay?”

“Mac, Mac, it’s okay,” Dennis assured him. “I think I feel better.” He sat up slowly so he could clearly see both Mac and Charlie. Mac was sitting practically on his lap, still managing to do those puppy-dog eyes at Dennis even with the bruises all over his face. Charlie, on the other hand, had opted to hang back, but he still had a horrified, pitying look on his face.

“You don’t look better,” Mac said. He took Dennis’s hand in his own, running his thumb over the deep cuts near his wrist. “God, did you cut yourself?”

“Relax, okay? This isn’t my first rodeo. I-I was careful. I cleaned the knife.” He picked up his shirt, which now had a large faded patch on it where he’d poured bleach on it.

“What do you mean it’s not your first rodeo?” Mac exclaimed. “You’ve cut yourself before?”

“I… enjoy the thrill,” Dennis mumbled. “Now, can we stop discussing my self-destructive behavior already? I wanna go home.”

“Alright. Fine,” Mac agreed. “Let’s go home.”

Charlie just nodded as he reopened the vent and beckoned Mac and Charlie to follow him. Dennis opted to leave both his shirt and the knife in the attic. He could find another shirt (and another blade, if he wanted) once he got home.

-

Mac had opted to drive Dennis home rather than the other way around. This decision made progressively more sense as the drive went on-every few minutes Mac turned to look at a shirtless, dead-eyed Dennis slumped over in the passenger seat, all signs of intelligent life drained from his face. It was highly disturbing. Throughout the years that Mac had known Dennis, he’d never seen him so sad, so broken, so vulnerable. Something told Mac that while the cleaning supplies were great for knocking Dennis out, they’d done nothing to free his mind of the horrors he’d experienced.

Their journey up the stairs to their apartment took twice as long as usual, with Mac nearly opting to carry Dennis towards the end. In fact, Dennis didn’t even make it back to his room after they finally reached their apartment-rather, he lied down on the couch and stared blankly at the wall. Mac sat down next to him. It felt wrong to leave Dennis alone in that state.

Mac ran his fingers through Dennis’s curls. Dennis initially recoiled at the touch, but soon found himself comforted by it. Mac’s hand was gentle and soft, nothing like the cold, bony hands which had held him down all those years ago. Dennis draped his mangled arms over the edge of the couch, forcing them into Mac’s line of sight.

“Dennis,” Mac said solemnly. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Tell you what?” Dennis asked, his voice empty and monotone.

“That you were hurting yourself.”

“You didn’t need to know,” Dennis replied. “It’s not like you could have done anything about it anyway. I’m a grown man, Mac. I can buy all the knives and razor blades I want.”

“Fucking hell,” Mac sighed. “I know I can’t stop you. I just wanna be there for you. I wanna help you.”

“Help me what? Help me relive the most traumatic moment of my life?”

“Again, I’m sorry about that. I’m so fucking sorry. I know I don’t really know how to help you, but I’m gonna try. Because that’s what I do. I need to help my best friend.”

“I get it,” Dennis sighed. “Sorry I wrecked your face. You didn’t deserve that.”

“It’s okay,” Mac assured him. “I told you, I was kind of into it for a while.”

“That’s… kinda gay,” Dennis said. He looked up at Mac with a grin. His eyes were still dark, but Mac knew the smile was genuine. He blushed as he stared back at Dennis.

“Yeah,” he said, “I guess it is.”

“You wanna sleep in my bed tonight?” Dennis asked.

“Of course,” Mac agreed. “Why, are you scared of the dark?”

“No, I just… I need… support,” Dennis mumbled.

“I know,” Mac replied. “Come on, man. Let’s get you into bed.”

Dennis practically clung to Mac as the two walked back to his bedroom. He kept clinging to Mac as he lied down, still in his jeans, and tried desperately to sleep. It was difficult, of course. His mind was severely fucked, more fucked than usual. But Mac’s presence made it a bit easier.