There’s something weird unfolding near the bar.
Mac’s view of the situation is frustratingly limited - he’s stuck by the door, checking his phone and the occasional ID - but whatever it is that’s going down, it involves Dennis and some guy who’s sat by the counter. He keeps hearing snatches of conversation, catching glimpses of Dennis grinning. Sometimes mystery guy starts to laugh, and then Dennis will laugh too, leaning in a little closer on his elbows.
Dennis flirts all the time. He’s hit on customers before. It’s not a big deal. And it’s not like it’s gonna go anywhere fast, Mac reminds himself, because it’s a Tuesday night. That means Dennis is gonna swing by the video store on the way home and pick up the copy of Jurassic Park they reserved last week, so -
“Jesus. You haven’t changed at all.”
The whole bar goes quiet, the way it always does when an argument breaks out. Mac glances over at Dennis and finds him scowling all of a sudden. Mystery guy’s back is still turned, but his shoulders look tense under his leather jacket.
“I never told you to come here,” Dennis says evenly. “That was your choice. Sorry to disappoint.”
“Is that a yes, then?”
“Fine,” Dennis spits, grabbing his jacket and pulling it on, and then the two of them are… walking. They’re walking in Mac’s direction, like they’re about to leave, and when mystery guy turns around Mac sees dark hair, brown eyes, and a scowl to rival the one on Dennis’s face. Mac wants to call out to them - tell Dennis to stay, or tell this asshole to fuck off, or both - but his throat has closed up. By the time he gets it open again Dennis is already slamming the door shut behind him.
For a long minute, the bar is silent.
“Who the hell was that?” Charlie says. Dee cracks open a beer and drains half in one go.
“That,” she says, with evident distaste, “was Dennis’s college boyfriend.”
“Oh.” Charlie sounds pretty put out. “That’s - damn, okay. Kinda hoping for something more fun.”
“I know,” Dee agrees, nodding. “Me too. Definitely him, though. The eyebrows are a dead giveaway.”
Mac’s ears are ringing. The conversation keeps going - the world keeps going, entirely unsympathetic to the bizarre lurching that his heart has decided to do - and it feels like he’s stumbled into a universe that he doesn’t belong in. A bad dream, maybe.
“Hey.” Dee clicks her fingers right under his nose. Somehow she’s suddenly in front of him, instead of halfway across the bar. “Moron. You alive in there?”
Mac shakes himself, blinking. The room comes into clear focus again, and he has just enough awareness to shove Dee’s hands away.
“Get out my face, Dee, goddamnit -”
“Was seeing him in the flesh too much for you?”
“Max.” Dee’s grinning in that awful, satisfied way she does when she’s found something new to be a bitch about. “What, you didn’t know he was hot? Are you jealous?”
“I didn’t know he existed,” Mac snaps.
Dee opens her mouth, but no sound comes out. She freezes, her expression carefully blank, and glances over at Charlie.
“Dennis, uh,” Charlie says. He coughs. “He never told you, buddy?”
Mac looks between them. A chasm opens up in the pit of his stomach.
“I’m not doing this,” Dee announces, backing away until she’s behind the bar, taking a long swig of her beer. “Oh, I am not doing this with you. Fuck it. I’m out.”
“You guys knew? ”
“I have,” Charlie says, scratching his hair as he stares at the floor, “I have a thing, actually, a thing I should go to, so -”
“When did he tell you?”
It doesn’t feel like the words are coming from him. Mac doesn’t feel much at all, really. Everything’s turned to static in his head. His ears are still buzzing.
“It’s not so much when,” Charlie admits, chewing his lip. “It’s more like… y’know. He's just come up a few times, man. Like, in conversation. That’s all.”
“He came up a few times,” Mac repeats dully.
Charlie fidgets, looking like he’d rather be anywhere else than here, in this room, having this conversation: Mac can’t really blame him. There’s something sharp and needle-like clawing him up inside.
A college boyfriend. Dennis’s college boyfriend.
The questions rise up in an aching, awful flood: did Dennis ask him out? Did he ask Dennis out? How long were they together? Was it serious, was it a one semester fling; how many times did Dennis kiss him, let himself be kissed by him, what did they talk about when they were alone; and why did Dennis decide that Mac didn’t get to know? That Charlie could know, and Dee could know, but Mac had to be the idiot left in the dark -
Mac pinches the bridge of his nose, fighting to keep his breathing steady. He grabs the bottle of good tequila hidden behind the register.
“We’re in the middle of a shift!” Dee yells after him. Mac doesn’t bother answering as he walks out the door.
The thing that’s bothering him, Mac decides muzzily, isn’t the boyfriend part. That he can deal with. He’s gay, after all - took him awhile to get there, sure, but that’s not the point - Dennis can date whoever he wants, Mac doesn’t give a shit. The part that stings is how he never said a word. Not one.
Mac takes another sip from the tequila bottle. It doesn’t really go anywhere when he swallows, just coats his mouth and sits there cloyingly. There was a late night at Paddy’s, years ago - he can remember watching Dennis take shot after shot, lick salt off his palm, his pink lips curled around a lime wedge. The two of them leaning so close together that the world outside their bodies ceased to exist.
Maybe Dennis is standing that close to Max right now. He probably used to, at least. When they were together.
Every week, Mac used to pick a fight with the chaos of the Philadelphia bus system and haul ass over to a diner near Dennis’s dorm building. Every week, Dennis used to show up five minutes late and slide into the seat across from him, kicking Mac’s ankles under the table; and every week, Dennis chose to keep this a secret from him, hide it from him in plain sight even as he talked about classes and girls and everything in between. The more Mac thinks about it the more his stomach curdles.
There isn’t a single thing in the world that his mind can’t tie to Dennis. It’s stupid, and it’s unfair - and above all it’s pointless, because Dennis isn’t even thinking about him right now. He’s with some stranger who apparently knows parts of him that Mac’s never even seen. Who can coax Dennis into following him with one look.
“Are you drinking tequila on the floor?”
Mac jumps. The bottle rolls off his lap.
“Mac,” Dennis says, sounding irritated. A socked foot kicks at Mac’s shins and for some reason, Mac can’t pinpoint why, that’s it. That’s the breaking point.
“Do you hate me?”
Dennis goes still.
“Do you hate me?” Mac repeats, getting unsteadily to his feet. “Yes or no, bro. Be honest.”
“Where the hell is this coming from?”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Mac snaps. Dennis takes a step back, his expression darkening.
“I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” he says. His voice has gone unnaturally even again, the way it was at the bar. Mac swallows.
“But it is Dee’s business,” he says. “And Charlie’s.”
“Yeah,” Dennis says bluntly. “It is.”
This, in Mac’s opinion, is the worst side of him. The way he’ll needle his way right to the sore, aching heart of something and squeeze it in his fist, regardless of how much it hurts him or anyone else.
“Are you serious?” Dennis says. Mac stares at him and lifts his chin, refusing to look away, and he can see it in real-time when Dennis’s top lip starts to curl into a sneer. “You want to know why? Because they didn’t spend forty years ass deep in the closet, yelling gay at anything that moved -”
“But you knew!” Mac shouts - louder than he means to, the edges all choked. “You knew, Dennis, you always knew about me, don’t pretend you didn’t -”
“Exactly,” Dennis retorts, “I knew you were a closeted piece of shit, and that you’d -”
“I came out.” Mac swallows thickly. “I came out, and you… you never said anything. You didn’t say jackshit about him.”
“Because of course I’m going to fill you in on a relationship from literal decades ago -”
“So you do hate me, then,” Mac says. His eyes are starting to burn. Dennis makes an odd, strangled sort of sound, not quite a laugh. He tilts his head up to the ceiling.
“No,” he mutters. “No, Mac, I don’t hate you.”
“Then why didn’t you say something?” Mac insists, and if he sounds more desperate than he does angry, if his throat’s scratched raw, it doesn’t matter. Dennis makes another tight half-laughing sound, shutting his eyes.
“You wanna know something Dee and Charlie don’t know? Is that it?”
“You want to know secrets about me?” Dennis says, advancing on him now, jabbing a finger at his chest as he shoves into Mac’s personal space. “Like how I knew about you?”
“Jesus, Dennis -”
“I’m not the one who wanted to end it,” Dennis spits, low and disgusted. “He saw a photo of you and he figured it out. Dumped me on the same day.”
“I don’t,” Mac says. His ears are buzzing again. You had a photo of me in college? is what he wants to ask, but it’s a dumb question and all his words are stuck in the back of his throat. Dennis is still watching him, a muscle in his jaw jumping, his expression shifting into something Mac can’t parse. Nervous, maybe. That’s what he’d call it if he didn’t know better.
“And then he waltzes back in,” Dennis continues, getting louder, “God knows how many years later, and he just has to ask about you, and I have to say that I haven’t dealt with it! I have to tell him that I’m still… that I’m exactly where I was! And you have the goddamn gall to ask me if I hate you?”
You had a photo of me in college, Mac thinks. Rapidly and without warning, several things fall into place at once.
He steps closer, breaking into Dennis’ orbit. Dennis fists his hands into his shirt like he’s about to shove him - Mac grabs hold of his wrists, keeping them there, and kisses him firmly on the mouth.
It’s been a long time since they were eighteen. That’s a long time to want someone. There’s probably an argument to be made that you can’t want anyone for that long, not really, but Dennis tastes sweet and a little like beer. He’s biting Mac’s bottom lip hard enough to hurt. He’s trembling, so Mac lets him do it; slides one hand up Dennis’s shirt to stroke his back, keeps hold of his wrist with the other. He can feel Dennis’s pulse skittering wildly under his thumb. Dennis pulls back for a second, finding his breath, and then he fits their mouths together again, slower this time.
“I used to think about you doing that,” he mutters. “Every fucking time you visited, I’d think about it, I was -”
He swallows. When he sways on his feet, Mac can feel it. He splays his fingers out over the small of Dennis’s back to keep him balanced - Dennis makes a soft, surprised sort of sound, and Mac wants to pick it up and keep it safe. He cups Dennis’s face in his hands instead and strokes his thumbs over the rise of his cheekbones, coaxing him into letting his mouth fall open.
It’s okay, he decides, that he wasn’t the guy who swept Dennis off his feet at eighteen. Dennis had a boyfriend and it wasn’t Mac - but Dennis also had a crush, and that was Mac, so there. Take that, leather-jacket-mystery-dick. They figured it out in the end.
“You had a crush on me,” he says, just to see how the words feel out loud. Dennis’s cheeks flush faintly.
“Shut up,” he warns. He’s trying to kiss Mac’s mouth again, failing every time because of the wide smiling curve it’s turned into - and Mac laughs, tilting Dennis’s chin up with his hands.
“S’okay,” he murmurs. “I won’t tell on you, dude.”
Dennis rolls his eyes. Mac duck his head and kisses him because he can, because he wants to, and because Dennis wants him to. He kisses him softly on the corner of his mouth, then the center. Dennis sighs into it, like he’s putting down something heavy. He folds both arms around Mac’s neck.