The Rocket pop comes first. Richie begs off a lick like Richie always does, and Eddie sighs and offers it with a mutter about germs. But really, he’s had Richie’s blood in his veins since the circle—a little saliva won’t kill him, and he knows it. Then Richie’s mouth closes over the Rocket. He takes a long, leisurely slurp, his lips twitching with the grin that wants to burst like a swollen zit all over his ridiculous face. Eddie splits at the sight—partly into something warm and tense, a curiosity blooming in a fierce tremor through his body, the first pubescent mewlings of desire—
And partly into a greasy wash of disgust. Disgust at himself, at the heat, and at the year-old memory of a man dripping pus onto a little red pill in the street.
I’ll suck you for a quarter, kid.
Snot running wild rivers from a red hole of a nose, soaking a top lip lumpy with sores.
I’ll do it for a dime.
Eddie remembers that he ran, but he’d forgotten this part—the voice, the scabbed hand shoved down the front of stiff brown pants. The shame and horror that clotted in his throat, because haven’t you thought of it haven’t you wondered it’s not just a leper who wants to touch you it’s a man and haven’t you wondered haven’t you Eddie?
Come back here, kid! I’ll blow you for free!
Eddie pulls the Rocket pop out of Richie’s mouth. Richie blinks owlishly, then the smile spreads.
“Too much tongue for ya, Eds? Don’t worry, I’ll ease up next time.” And he winks, and he pinches Eddie’s burning cheek. “Grumpy cute.”
“Fuck, I hate that, Richie, why do you have to do that when you know I hate it?” Eddie doesn’t mean for it to come out like it does, but there’s genuine cruelty in his voice, oily-sharp just like his mother’s special brand.
He knows Richie hears it, too. He knows because Richie’s smile disappears, and he thumbs his glasses up the bridge of his nose and shrugs, and says, “I get it, beep-beep,” in a way that tells Eddie that he doesn’t really get it at all.
Spin-the-bottle comes second. By some horrible stroke of something akin to luck, tenth grade brings a new kid to Derry High. His birthday is the first Friday of the school year, and like a fool he invites the Losers’ Club alongside a handful of his other classmates—mostly girls. Somehow they wind up playing spin-the-bottle cum Seven Minutes in Heaven, a game that has Eddie’s guts in a vice because Richie is sitting across from him and has been whispering about which girls he’s going to make it with all night.
The thought of Richie trapped in the New Kid’s closet, his hand up some girl’s shirt and his mouth sucking down her spit like she’s
(a Rocket pop)
full of vanilla ice cream—it makes Eddie sick. But it can’t make him sick, because that would make Eddie the thing that he can’t be. So he pretends he doesn’t want to throw up when Richie’s spin points at Cindy Twill. He pretends he doesn’t want to cry when Richie comes out seven minutes later, rumpled and glowing.
Ben gets Bev—Eddie thinks that must’ve been rigged, but he’s fucked if he knows how—and Mike gets Louise Fauleran. Margaret Reyne seems reluctant to kiss Stuttering Bill, but she goes with him anyway. When Eddie’s turn comes, he’s more than certain that he really will vomit on whichever poor girl is unlucky enough to wind up on the wrong end of his spin.
And because the universe is a spiteful thing, that girl is Cindy Twill.
“Two losers in one night,” Richie whoops after them, and puts on his best Bogey, which might’ve also been his best Sean Connery. “Lucky girl, that Schindy, she’sh really gettin’ the worksh.”
“Beep-beep, R-R-Richie,” Eddie hears Bill mutter, but then the closet door is shut and he’s chest-to-chest with a very warm Cindy Twill.
She sighs. “Ground rules, Kaspbrak. Frenching is okay, necking isn’t. I’ll let you get to second base, but if you go below the waist I’ll cut your dick off, got it?”
“Yeah.” Eddie clears his throat. “I-I’m not, uh—do you go first, or do you want me to—?”
“Haven’t you done this before?”
“I’ve never been to a party that actually played Seven Minutes in Heaven before, no. To be perfectly honest I was starting to think this game was a Hollywood conspiracy to make kids feel like shit for not getting groped in closets.”
“No, dipshit.” He can’t see her very well in the dark, but he’s positive that Cindy has just rolled her eyes at him. “Haven’t you fooled around with a girl before?”
“Uh.” Eddie clears his throat again. Haven’t you wondered Eddie haven’t you thought about it no I have not at least not like not with not hey Cindy maybe if you put on some glasses and call me cute—
“Oh my god,” Cindy laughs. “You haven’t, huh? Don’t worry, Kaspbrak, I’m a good kisser.”
Her mouth is wet and her tongue tastes like mint gum. Her lips are waxy with cheap cherry-scented chapstick. Eddie feels her breasts pressing against his chest, and he cups one tentatively. It’s warm and soft, and in his roaming he accidentally brushes the nub of her nipple—she squeaks into his mouth, and breaks the kiss.
“You’re pretty good for a virgin, Kaspbrak,” she says, out of breath.
Am I? He wills himself to be proud of the fact, wills himself to feel something, anything. The sensations are fine, pleasant, even, but it’s about as erotic as a sloppy smack on the cheek from one of his dreaded aunts.
Cindy kisses him lightly. “Since it’s your first time,” she coos, “I could make an exception to my rules. You think you’d like that, huh?”
She leans in and nibbles at his ear. “I’ll blow you if you promise not to tell.”
The words sound unnatural coming out of her fifteen-year-old mouth, but Eddie is beyond registering the fact. I’ll blow you for free, kid, I’ll blow you real good, suck that soft little prick for nothing at all, just a promise, just a dime.
“Hey?” Cindy pulled away. “Hey, Kaspbrak? You okay, Eddie?”
“I—” Eddie is choking on panic, and he needs his aspirator, he needs it but he doesn’t need it but he does. Richie helped him throw it away after—Richie—
Cindy cups him, now. She recoils quick as a cat. “Oh god, you’re not even hard.” She sounds wounded, as if it’s her pride and her manhood in question. “I couldn’t even get you hard, Eddie?”
Eddie stammers out a nothing of a consolation, and thankfully the very tearful Cindy doesn’t seem to connect the dots between Eddie’s lack of arousal and the fact that she’s a girl. When their time is up she wipes her snotty nose on the back of her sleeve and mutters, “I won’t tell if you won’t.”
“Deal,” he mutters back, and hopes that he looks glowy and rumpled when he emerges because Richie’s watching and Richie’s grinning and Richie has no idea how deeply Eddie has just terrified himself.
His fingers come third. 1995 has been a bastard of a year so far but the Losers have graduated, and Derry stands to be an ugly stain on their rearview mirrors soon enough. All seven of them have applied and been accepted to out of state schools, except Mike, but Mike has roots in Maine that the others just don’t—or maybe they just don’t feel them as deep. It’s a miracle they haven’t all moved away already. Ben, Bev, and Bill are all going to Colorado—“The Queen Bees”, Richie calls them, and with the way the three of them are joined at the hip (and somewhere dangerously close as well, by their own admission) it’s no wonder. Stan the Man managed to score his way into Harvard, and he and Mike have made a pact to meet in either Boston or Portland at least once a month.
Richie strong-armed Eddie—though really, it didn’t take as much strength as Eddie pretended—into heading out to California.
“My mom’ll have a fucking conniption if I come back sunburned,” Eddie says. It’s the fourth of July, and he’s just come off a three-hour lecture on how to pack for heat.
Richie laughs from the ground. He’s sprawled out on their blanket, his long legs crossed and his long arms tucked behind his head. The Losers have secured a shady patch of Memorial Park from which to watch the fireworks, well in the back, by the trees, where no one will come to bother them. Where no one will throw razor-narrow glares at The Queen Bees, the modern-day answer to Archie, Betty, and Veronica. Where no one will snap their teeth at Mike’s dark skin and kinky hair—at the curly top of Stan’s head that they just know has felt the touch of a yarmulke. Where no one will bore into Eddie’s soul and see the rot there, see the hateful pit of him that stinks of old blood and self-loathing.
“Don’tcha worry, Eds, I’ll drown you in lotion,” Richie says. Richie, who somehow can’t see what’s festering inside his best friend. “Rub you down on the beach, it’ll be real sexy.”
“I know, don’t call you Eds. Fine, I won’t call you Eds, Eds.” Richie rolls over onto one elbow. “I’ll never call you Eds again, Eds, honest.” Then, in a plummy British accent, “From henceforth and so on thou shalt only be known as Edward the Great and Pale.”
Despite himself, Eddie smiles. “Shut the fuck up.”
Richie rolls again, readjusts so his head is on Eddie’s thigh. “Never. You’d miss me too much,” he says, beaming.
“Like I’d miss a foot fungus.”
“Aw, I didn’t know you were such a fan of fungus.” Richie winks.
Ben and Stan and Bill return to the group, carrying cotton candy. Eddie declines—he knows from painful experience that his stomach will thank him—but Richie tears into his like a starving man. Within minutes his lips and fingers are covered in pink sugar, the paper cone lying at his side like the bone of a particularly sticky leg-o-mutton.
The fireworks are starting, but Eddie isn’t watching them. Richie is sucking his fingers clean one by one, each digit cradled in soft pink, swiped wet with a swirl of tongue. He moans happily at the influx of excess sugar, and an involuntary thrill courses through Eddie’s body. Eddie forces himself to look at the fireworks, his heart hammering in his chest as his brain races through images of
(I’ll suck you for a quarter, kid)
Richie’s mouth otherwise occupied, of Richie’s bare skin, of Richie laughing and smiling and joking and pressing all of Richie’s solid, lanky warmth against Eddie and
(I’ll do it for a dime)
Eddie wants to cry, because if he could just replace Richie with a girl maybe all of this would go away. Maybe the leper would go away, maybe it would dissolve along with all thoughts of haven’t you thought of it haven’t you wondered Eddie haven’t you haven’t you haven’t you always wanted—
He glances down, and Richie is frowning up at him. Richie pops his thumb in his mouth and sucks it clean in a quick motion before sitting up.
“Hey, Eds, you okay?”
Eddie shakes his head. He turns away from Richie—fuck, he can’t look at him, how could he look at him?
Richie hmphs. He grabs Eddie by the elbow and stands him up, leads him without another word into the shelter of the trees. Pushes Eddie against a thick maple trunk, looking shockingly stern for once in his short, silly life.
“What’s wrong, Eddie? You’re white as a fucking ghost, you—” Richie blanches, then. “You haven’t… seen anything, right? Tell me you haven’t, Eds.”
“No!” Eddie coils a hand around Richie’s wrist, not bothering to hate-love-hate the contact because Richie needs to know he means it. “No, Rich, I promise. But I’ve been…” He sets his mouth. “Remembering. Things. I just…”
“You don’t have to say,” Richie says. “I get it. We all do, Eddie, you can talk about it with us.”
“Not this.” It slips out before Eddie can stop it, like it had been waiting its turn all this time. “I can’t talk about this with them, Richie, it’s something… else. Something in me.”
Richie’s breath hitches. He steps back, milk white against the black of the trees, dotted with ink-dark eyes and hair and pink, pink lips, and Eddie thinks he’s beautiful. Eddie’s hand is still on his wrist, dangling between them.
“Did the werewolf talk to you?” Eddie asks. “Offer you anything?”
Richie shakes his head, but there’s something in his eyes, some deep and terrified wisdom, and Eddie knows that he knows what Eddie’s getting at. And Eddie is scared, more scared than he’s been in years, and Eddie should let go of Richie but he can’t, he can’t, he can’t let him go just yet.
“The leper, he.” The words are sticking to his throat like flypaper. Like cotton candy. “He said he’d. He.”
Richie swallows loudly. “I said he wasn’t a leper,” he murmurs. “I told you he had syphilis, he got it from fucking.”
“But he wasn’t fucking girls,” Eddie says, and his voice is almost nothing at all. “Because he said he wanted to—”
(I’ll blow you for free)
“Eddie,” Richie speaks softly, softer than Eddie deserves. “Uh. Is this you coming out?”
Eddie burns, he’s burning up, he’s turning straight to hellfire ash and he’s never coming back to life. “Maybe if you’d let me fucking finish,” he snaps. Then, quieter, “I don’t want it to be, but I guess it is.”
Richie nods. “And if I told you that I was, too? Not like. Not all the way, y’know, but girls are great, and so are…” He clears his throat. “So are you.”
Eddie’s eyes snap up. Richie meets his gaze and there’s that heat again, that snap of electricity, but instead of crawling up Eddie’s filthy skin it’s between them, in the air, crackling like fireworks. Richie comes closer. Eddie can feel his pulse in his wrist. And then there’s a line of warmsolidRichie pressed against him, and Eddie feels what he was supposed to feel in the closet with Cindy—excitement, joy, adolescent blood singing in his heart and his fingertips.
Oh, Richie Tozier tastes like sugar, and he does it for nothing but a kiss.