Actions

Work Header

Bright as yellow

Chapter Text

The worst part of living in a small town, at least in Eddie Kaspbrak’s opinion, was the fact that you could run into anyone at any time. He stood in line at the concession stand at the Aladdin with his hands tucked into the pockets of his red hoodie, trying to look inconspicuous. It was tradition for him and his best friends to go see a movie the night before the new school year, and the evening before the start of Junior year was no exception. It seemed like everyone from their high school had the same plan that night and he hoped that no one came up to him. He scrolled through his phone without really looking at anything, a tactic he regarded as the international symbol for do not approach me.

He’d drawn the short straw as popcorn-bitch and he kept one eye on the servers as he inched forward in line. He stuck his phone in his pocket when it was time to order: a tub of popcorn to split, twizzlers for Stan, raisinets for Bill and sodas for each of them. Eddie stuffed the candy into the front pocket of his hoodie and hefted the tray of drinks and popcorn over to the cutlery station to load up on straws and napkins.

“Who sent a little slice of pie like you to buy snacks?”

Eddie jumped at the voice, and turned to face a tall boy he’d never seen before. “Um… what?” Smooth Kaspbrak. Totally… smooth,  he thought as he let his eyes roam over the stranger: an impossibly tall, lanky guy with curly dark hair and a soft spray of freckles over his cheeks and nose.  Eddie stared at his brown eyes too intently and caught himself, pulling his gaze away. He belatedly registered what the guy had asked him. “Oh, uh… My friends. They sent me to get—“ Eddie glanced back to look into his dark eyes. “I’m sorry, slice of pie?”

“You look like you should be on sale back there.” The boy gave him a flirty grin, nodding his head towards the concession stand. “So it makes sense that they’re just your friends. If you were here with me, I’d be running errands for you. That’s all I’m saying.” Eddie looked forward at the mirrored wall on the far side of the theater to see both of their reflections. He felt like a rockstar when his doctor measured him at 5'6" at his last check-up, but this guy stood at least a head taller. Eddie watched himself in the mirror as he self-consciously ran a hand through the curly hair that he'd been growing out all summer. New year, new look, new attitude – or so he thought. He wanted to flirt back, really and truly, but he was still the same scrawny, nervous kid he’d always been, deep down.

Get a hold of yourself, he’s cute, but he's just some flirty, presumptuous douche-bag.

“Run errands for me?” Eddie asked flatly. “Someone I've never seen before in my life would be my slave-boy. How touching.”

The mystery guy’s voice sounded offended but that grin didn't leave his face. “I don’t know about slave-boy, because I’m clearly a fucking man, but anyway… You got a name?”

The lights blinked off and on, indicating that the show was about to start and Eddie gathered up his stuff to go. "You're man-height, but your face gives you away. You don't even look old enough to drive." He swiftly darted away, attemping to appear as though he wasn't struggling with the awkwardly heavy tray of snacks.

The flirty guy ran ahead of Eddie to open the door for him and waved him through, calling, “See you around, cherry pie,” to his back.

****

Eddie felt a poke on his shoulder. Stan leaned towards him and whispered, “The movie is up front. What are you staring at back there?”

“I’m not staring, I’m just looking. And so what? What’s it to you?” Eddie hissed at him.

“Oh shit, you’re getting totally defensive about this. Who is he?” Stan whispered excitedly, craning his neck to follow Eddie’s gaze and Bill did the same. Eddie slunk deeper into his seat as they laid eyes on what had him so distracted.

“I guess you have a t-type,” Bill whispered, turning back around to face the screen.

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean, Bill?” Eddie whispered quickly, glaring at his friend.

Bill shrugged and kept his eyes on the screen as he whispered, “Dark hair, t-tall, skinny, just like P-P-Patrick.”

Eddie looked around to see if anyone in their vicinity was listening and whispered angrily, “Patrick? Why do you have to bring that up? I had a crush on him when we were like twelve and that was before I realized what an enormous jerk he is. You guys are such-”

Stan rolled his eyes and cut Eddie off. “He’s just saying that you have a physical type, it doesn't mean you still like Patrick like that. Calm down.”

Shhhhh came from behind them.

Eddie didn't speak to his friends for the remainder of the movie. He stole one more covert glance back towards the far corner of the theater. The tall guy had his feet propped up on the seat in front of him. He sat alone, eating popcorn and cracking up at the movie, which wasn't even really that funny. Eddie dragged his eyes away, faced forward. "Cherry Pie," he whispered to himself, rolling his eyes.

****

“Well, that was a waste of ten bucks,” Stan said from the front seat as Bill’s car made its way through the quiet suburban streets.

The movie was kind of terrible, not that Eddie paid much attention to it. His mind revisited his short interaction with a gorgeous, teasing, new and exciting person -a rare thing to come by in Derry- and he hated himself for already being obsessed. He remembered what tall guy'd said about buying him snacks, and he moved into the center of the backseat and leaned forward to look at Stan. “Maybe it was a waste of only ten bucks for you, but who got stuck paying the check for the candy and popcorn? That I didn't even eat, thank-you-very-much.”

Bill laughed as he popped his blinker on to turn onto Eddie’s street. “You might have had t-time to eat some if you weren't too busy d-drooling over that dude.”

Eddie scrunched up his face and shook his head. They saw right through him, but he wasn't going to give in and admit it was true. “Drooling? He spoke two sentences to me and I basically shut him down so I don't even know what you're talking about. You’re both making a bigger deal out of it than it was.”

Stan turned around. "Uh, you're sitting back there without a seatbelt on. You're in a total love-at-first-sight daze right now."

Eddie sat back and clicked the seatbelt across his lap with a pointed look at Stan. He needn't have bothered because they were seconds away from his stop. The car pulled up at the curb by Eddie’s house and he stepped out onto the sidewalk. After a touching goodbye: "Fuck you guys," he sat down on the short brick wall at the border of his front yard as he watched the car pull away. The sky was clear and pretty and he star-gazed, not in the mood to deal with his mother just yet. A loud rumbling sounded in the distance and Eddie squinted his eyes, trying to figure out what the sound was and where it came from. It drew closer and closer and he felt his heart starting to pound.

What the fuck is that?

His breath went a little shallow and he leaned back, jamming his hand into his front pocket to retrieve his inhaler. Is a plane about to crash onto our street? He sucked a mentholated puff with a gasp, and took a couple cleansing deep breaths. The source of the sound--a motorcycle--appeared at the end of the block and it slowly chugged down the street, pulling into the driveway of the house across and one over from Eddie’s. The engine’s roar stopped abruptly, and he could hear it ticking softly.

I’m such a loser. Terrified of a motorcycle.

The driver got up off the bike and as the helmet came off Eddie felt a sharp stab in his heart. He scrambled up and back to hide behind the hedges that bordered their front lawn and continued staring across the street in horror. It was him, the boy from the movies, tall guy, cherry pie guy. Eddie knew that a new family moved into the house the previous weekend, but he hadn't noticed if there were kids his age. Across the street, the boy placed his helmet in the basket on the rear part of the bike. He kissed two fingers and touched them to the seat. That was pretty fucking adorable.

The boy dug into his jacket pocket and then lit up a cigarette, which was less than adorable, but he stood staring up at the sky as he smoked. Eddie admired someone who took time to observe the world around them when it was easier to bury their face into a screen. He ducked a little lower so he was practically laying flat on his stomach in the grass and he felt like such a creepy little stalker but he didn't want to stop looking.

The porch light came on behind him.“Eddie-bear? What are you doing?” His mother stood on the stoop in a robe, squinting across the yard at him.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

“Nothing Ma,” He whisper shouted, “I dropped my phone in the grass and it’s dark. I’ll be right in.”

His mother spoke louder than before and walked down a step, triggering the motion light on the side of the house. It bathed him like a spotlight. “Edward, I can’t hear you, why are you whispering? Get yourself up out of that grass immediately.” Eddie looked across the street to see if he’d been caught. The guy stared right at them and he wore a huge smile. He raised one hand to salute Eddie.

Why the fuck did I have to buy a bright red sweatshirt.

Eddie gave up the charade, stood up, and walked closer to his mother. “Sorry, Ma. What I said was I dropped my phone in the grass and couldn't find it in the dark.” As he reached the stoop he turned his neck to look back across the street, but the kid was gone.

His mother ushered him inside and glared across the street before shutting the door. “Can you believe this riff-raff that we have to live with now? I have a mind to call in a noise complaint.”

“Ma, it’s just a motorcycle. Lots of people have them. I’m going to bed, big day tomorrow.” He kissed her cheek and headed upstairs to change for bed. After he shut the lights, he peeked out his blinds at the house across the street. There was a light on in the front upstairs window. Eddie wondered if that was his room and felt a little nauseated. He was disgusted with himself for literally every single thing that happened that night.

This year is going to be a nightmare.

Chapter Text

Eddie scanned the classroom warily. The room was only half-full, and as far as he could tell, he was the only Junior accepted into AP Calculus. He took the seat in the farthest back corner of the room by the wall because he hated sitting with people surrounding him on all sides, especially once cold and flu season began. It was harder to see the board but it felt secure.

The teacher, Mr. Parish, was a new addition to the Derry High teaching staff and his reputation as a brutal asshole proceeded him. After he handed out their text books, he passed each row a ridiculously thick bundle of paperwork, including several dittos about classroom decorum. The girl in front of Eddie muttered something about dead trees as she handed him the last page: a boldly typed message prohibiting electronic device usage printed on bright orange paper.

Mr. Parish sat on top of his desk and swung his legs as he regarded the class. “This is a college-level course, so I expect all of you to be mature enough to be treated like college students. The most important thing you need to know is that math is not a spectator sport. The second most important thing is that while technology can be a fantastic tool for learning, you don’t really need anything besides a pencil and paper when you’re in my classroom.” He shuffled through the chaos on his desk and pulled out the glaring orange flier, held it up and ran his hand under it like it was something amazing to be heralded.

“Phones, people. If I see you messing with your phone, there’ll be immediate consequences. And I know all the moves, the there’s-something-interesting-in-my-lap, the I’m-just-digging-around-in-my-backpack. Try me. You may leave your phone on the desk face down but it must be silent. I don’t want to hear a buzz, a bleep, a bloop. Nada. What do you really have to say that can’t wait ninety minutes?”

Eddie knew he was fucked. After he heard this diatribe against cell phones, the immediate instinct was to text Stan.

“Alright, now let’s get started on a little pre-calc review. Turn to page 35 and start working on the problems on the left side – odd numbers. I’ll call you in alpha-order to come up and answer them on the board, that’ll be how I take attendance.”

The classroom grew quiet and all Eddie heard were the scratchy sounds of pencils on paper. He started working on problems: complete the square, what is f of (g of h), determine the end behavior of a function by the expression…

The classroom door squeaked open and everyone in the room looked up in unison. Eddie’s jaw dropped. Cherry pie guy came sauntering in. He was effortlessly handsome despite looking as though he just rolled out of bed. After he handed Mr. Parish a slip of paper, he glanced around the room. His eyebrows raised when he noticed Eddie, who quickly shut his mouth and hunched down in his seat. The teacher read the note and flipped through a planner to find his roster. “Okay, so transfer student, late registration. Richard… forgive me, I don’t want to butcher it.”

“Tozier. And it’s Richie."

The teacher spoke slowly as he wrote notes into his book, “Richard… Toe-sure… prefers… Richie. Okay, here." He slapped a textbook and a stack of papers into Richie’s hands. "Find a seat. I hope you aren't planning on making a habit of being late. The material is hard and it’s easy to get behind.”

“That’s what she said,” Richie replied quickly as he made his way down the aisle to an empty desk two rows across from where Eddie sat. The class tittered and whispered at his joke. Eddie watched closely as Mr. Parish’s face tinged pink. If this guy acted like an asshole about phones, Eddie couldn't imagine he handled sass well.

“Your bravado is inappropriate, Tozier. They’ll be expecting you to make an appearance in detention this afternoon.”

Richie grinned at him. “Wouldn't miss it for the world… uh Arthur,” he said, as he pointed at Mr. Parish’s full name listed on the header of one of the dittos. Eddie heard the girl sitting in front of him gasp softly as he placed a hand over his mouth and winced. He waited for the teacher to absolutely blow his top, but by some miracle, he didn't.

“Left side of page 35, Tozier,” Parish sighed tiredly. “Get to work, clocks ticking.”

Eddie couldn't fucking take it and slid his phone off his desk. He balanced it on his lap and tried to covertly text Stan with one finger.

[ omg apcalc teacher strict guyfrdom movies holy shi ]

“Did I not make myself clear earlier?” Mr. Parish’s voice boomed right next to his ear and Eddie froze, wide-eyed and blushing. He placed his phone back on the desk face down and felt pathetic for getting caught. It was all for nothing because the message went unsent.

“I’m really sorry, Mr. Parish,” Eddie replied, his eyes on the desk. He sounded like he’d never been sorrier in his life. The weight of an entire classroom full of eyeballs fell upon him and he lamented wearing a nearly fluorescent fucking lavender polo. He refused to look up because he knew his eyes would betray him and trail over to Richie and the amused expression he’d find on that face would be too much to handle.

“What’s your name?”

“Eddie Kaspbrak,” he whispered.

The teacher’s voice was gentler than when he dealt with Richie. “Kaspbrak. People always make an example out of themselves on the first day, so don’t feel too bad. It’s kind of funny how predictable human beings can be.” He picked up Eddie’s phone and walked back to his desk. “You can have this back at the end of the period, and you’ll be expected in detention today as well.” He glanced around the class. “Anyone else have nothing good to do after school today? Just let me know,” he used a lilting cadence on his last sentence, and when no one responded, he sat.

 

****

Stan came running up to their lunch table and sat down beside Eddie. “Okay, so you’re going to drop dead, ready? Your dude from the movies is in two of my classes. And… he’s super smart.”

Eddie wasn't shocked to hear the news. He knew Richie went to their school, and that he was smart. He was AP-Calculus-smart. Eddie’d kept silent with his friends about the events of the morning and the previous evening, so he feigned surprise -not very convincingly- and asked, “He goes here? How do you know he’s smart?”

“Uh, because he opened his mouth and said smart things,” Stan said sarcastically. He slapped Eddie lightly on the arm. “Oh yeah, how was AP Calc? I still can’t believe you’re taking that class. It’s got to be super hard.” Stan's mention of the math class was casual, so Eddie figured Richie hadn't spilled the beans about what happened.

“I got detention for texting you ten minutes into the class,” Eddie admitted softly. He took a bite of his sandwich.

“You got detention for texting me? But I didn't even get a text.” Stan looked confused as he unpacked his lunch. “Was it worth it? What did it say?”

Bill looked equally confused from his seat across the table. “What t-teacher in this school even gives a sh-shit about phones anyway?”

Eddie placed his sandwich down and ignored Stan’s questions in favor of Bill’s. “He’s new, and he teaches night school at community college so he thinks that if he treats us like college students we’ll be better prepared for the future.”

Stan shook his head. “College students can’t get detention, Eddie.”

“No, but they’re expected to be able to get through a class without groping their phone, Stan.”

Bill’s eyes narrowed at something across the cafeteria and he raised his eyebrows. “Oh sh-shit, Eddie look. Well d-don’t look, but he j-just walked in. Behind you.”

“I’m not fucking turning around. What’s he doing? Is he sitting with anyone?” His eyes grew huge. “He’s not coming over here is he?”

“Eddie, I swear, with all the pills your mom used to force on you. Ask her about Xanax. Xanax.” Stan shook Eddie’s shoulders gently, stealing a glance behind them.

“He’s not coming over h-here. He’s s-sitting with that kid. The new kid. Or I g-guess the old new kid.” Bill stared across the room and then he ran his eyes over Eddie’s pale face. “What did this guy even say to you that has you sh-shook?”

Eddie looked sickened. “Bill, don’t say shook. And I’m not shook. He's just a big flirt and it makes me uncomfortable. Is he over there flirting with the new kid?”

“The old new kid’s name is Ben. I had Chem with him this morning and he’s my lab partner.” Stan continued gawking behind himself. “He’s nice. I’m pretty sure he's not into guys; they look like they’re just talking.”

“Can you guys just stop looking over there? It’s embarrassing,” Eddie whispered, practically growling.

Stan grinned evilly at Eddie. “You’re going to be even more embarrassed later. Dude has detention this afternoon, too. He made some stupid joke in History class. Oh yeah, and he asked me about you.”

Eddie put his elbows on the table and covered his face with both hands. His voice was a strangled, mortified squeak. “He asked about me? How the hell does he even know we’re friends?”

“About that. He saw us creeping him during the movie. He asked if you were single and said you’re ‘the cutest stalker he’s ever had.’”

Crumbling into himself, Eddie hoped a swift death befell him before the final bell.

 

****

Eddie walked into the room and handed his slip to the girl watching over detention. He knew her. Well he knew her name was Greta, anyway. She was a senior who served on student council and acted as a teacher’s aide in a couple remedial classes. She tore her face away from Instagram to read his slip and smirked up at him. “I heard Parish is savage,” she said airily. It was the truth. Eddie messed with his phone in class with no repercussions since freshman year, and this detention was the first time he was made to sit after-school in four years. If Parish was giving out detentions to kids like Eddie, he was basically Hitler. Greta stretched her hand out towards the vacant desks. “Sit wherever, no talking, no phone. You can do homework or whatever.” The room was totally empty because getting detention on the first day of classes was nearly impossible at their school.

Eddie sat in the furthest back seat in the corner of the room near the window and placed his phone face-down on the desk. He opened his Calc notebook and reviewed the morning’s notes. Mr. Parish wasn't kidding about the difficulty of the course, and Eddie doubted that he had what it took to do well in the class. Richie on the other hand…

Parish called Richie up to answer four questions, more than what was asked of anyone else, and his lanky ass had gotten them all correct. By the end of the class, Eddie upgraded his mild obsession to a full-fledged crush. Richie was confident, amazing to look at and fucking smart. He talked to teachers like they were his friends and totally didn't give a fuck about the consequences. He drove a motorcycle… It was all just so… “Hot,” Eddie said out loud.

“No talking,” mumbled the bored senior absently as Richie jogged through the open classroom door. He stopped in front of Greta and made a show out of pulling wrinkled slips out of his pants pockets, flattening them out on the top of the desk. Eddie watched as her eyes gave the tall boy a once-over and was disappointed in himself for feeling a pang of jealousy. Greta collected the slips and looked up at Richie, amused. “Three detentions on the first day?”

“I’m an over-achiever." Richie grinned as he squatted down and leaned on his elbows so he was eye-level with her. “I get gold medals in fucking up.”

She laughed and licked her bottom lip. “Good thing I’m only staying-after for one period today. You get three slips to disappear for the price of one. No one will know,” she stage whispered the last bit, and Eddie furrowed his brow as he watched the exchange. Richie was hot, but he was also just a natural-born flirt and if Eddie allowed himself to get swept up by it he was going to end up heartbroken. Richie tapped his fingers on Greta's desk twice and backed away from her before doing a little spin. He walked straight back and took a seat at the desk directly next to Eddie.

“Hey, neighbor. Do you always stalk people from behind bushes or should I consider myself to be special? Hint: I already do.”

Eddie glanced up at Greta because he expected to hear “No Talking,” but she continued scrolling through her phone silently.

“Look, I don’t know where you came from, but I wish you’d go back,” Eddie whispered. “And I wasn't stalking you. I dropped something in the grass and was looking for it.”

A slow goofy smile took over Richie’s whole face. “That’s the lamest fucking bullshit excuse I've ever heard in my life. You,” he pointed. “You’re cute, kid. It’s bananas.” Eddie ignored him and went back to looking at his Calc notes, but Richie wasn't having it. “So, we sort of informally met today in class, but I’m Richie.”

Eddie didn't look up from his book. “I have detention today because of you.”

“Because of me?” Richie laughed. He leaned forward in his chair and tried to get Eddie to meet his eye. “Why, because you couldn't keep yourself from texting,” Richie put on a higher-pitched Eddie-voice and flicked his thumbs in the air like he was sending a text. “‘Remember that hot guy I couldn't stop turning around to stare at while watching the movie? Y’know, the one I stalked? He’s being hilarious in my math class full of nerds.’ You honestly think that’s my fault, Eds?”

Eddie felt his cheeks heating up, because Richie was right about all of it. Well, most of it. “My name is Eddie, not Eds. And I didn't stal--”

“Nice to meet you, Eddie. See, isn't that better? Eddie and Richie, Richie and Eddie. R plus E. It has a nice ring to it.”

Eddie groaned and put his head down on his book. “Why are you like this?”

“Fucked if I know. If you figure it out, can you have a talk with my mom? She asks me that shit on the daily.”

Greta walked over to them and Eddie picked up his head and sat up. She twirled the end of her ponytail around her finger and addressed Richie as she spoke. “Hey, I don’t really care if you guys talk, but can you try to be quiet? I’ll get in trouble if someone walks in.”

“For you? Anything.” Richie used his fingers in a key-turning gesture against his lips. He turned to Eddie after she’d gone back to her desk and whispered, “Five bucks says I can get her to dismiss us early.”

Eddie's voice was a falsely positive hiss. “Why don’t you just shut the fuck up and use the time to study? There are only forty-five minutes left.”

Richie tilted his head to look at what Eddie was reading. “Eds, I’m kind of amazing at math. I don’t need to study that much. If you need a study-buddy though, I’m available. All night long.”

“What I need is for you to stop calling me that. And to stop aggressively flirting with me.”

He shook his head, his voice sincere. “No, I really mean it, all bullshit aside. If you have a hard time in Calc, I can help you. We are neighbors, aren't we? I’m pretty fucking hospitable.” He said it all so earnestly that Eddie melted inside, just enough to let his guard down a fraction.

“Thanks, I guess? I am kind of worried about the class. Mr. Parish is--”

“Awesome,” Richie interjected, “He’s a good teacher. He knows his shit.”

Eddie smirked. “I was going to say scary.”

Richie reached a large hand across the aisle and softly pushed Eddie’s shoulder and the smaller boy felt himself getting erect at the light contact. He groaned internally as the rest of his body stiffened to match, but Richie was oblivious. His voice changed into a terrible British accent. “Are you frightened, m’lad? He can do fuck-all to you. Detention? Psshhhh. A gentleman’s bet says I’m his prize pupil within the next several class periods. You see, I’m a math wizard and he’ll be positively living for my jokes, gov’nah.”

Rolling his eyes at the bad accent, Eddie giggled. He bit his lip and turned his notebook towards Richie. “Okay fine. If you’re such a hospitable wizard can you explain this? I feel stupid for already being lost but why is three the limit when there are two points?” Richie took the book in hand and looked at it closely. He leaned across and softly explained it in a way that made sense, better than Mr. Parish had, and Eddie nodded along with what he said. They were close enough that he smelled cologne with an undercurrent of cigarettes wafting across the space between them and it wasn't unpleasant. Richie was easier to talk to when he toned down the flirting and Eddie relaxed. He relaxed for a split-second, because Richie reached across and snatched Eddie’s phone off his desk.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Eddie frantically flailed his arms to get the phone back but Richie leaned away from him. He held the phone out into the opposite aisle and ran his fingers across the screen.

“Guys, for real, shut up.” Greta mumbled without looking at them.

“Calm your cute little tits, Eddie Spaghetti,” Richie whispered. “I’m just sending myself a text so you have my number. That way you can reach me later when you desperately need my help, like we both know you will.” Richie handed the phone back and dug his own phone out of his pocket.

A message popped up on Eddie's screen and he opened it

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|4:30 [ my name is eddie mcstalks-a lot. im shy but i think ur hot *giggle* ]

 

 

eddies crush

|4:31[  whats cookin good lookin, the feeling is mutual ;)]

 

This fucking asshole actually put himself in my phone as 'eddies crush.' I can’t even.

Eddie put his phone in his lap and flicked his thumbs quickly. He watched Richie’s grinning face as he read the message.

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|4:32 [ you are the most annoying person Ive ever met by a wide margin ]

 

Asshole

|4:34 [ yeah but u like it, i can tell. dont hide from ur destiny ]

| 4:35 [ u know the white stripes? i can tell that we r gonna be friends ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|4:36 [ we can be friends if you stop flirting so hard ]

 

Asshole

4:36 [ ok ill stop frliting wu. what is ur moms # ]

Chapter Text

“Were we ass-h-holes like this when we were fourteen? I really d-don’t think so.” Bill kept his eyes on his younger brother but spoke the words to Stan, who was leaning back on his elbows against the kitchen sink.

Georgie sat at the Denbrough kitchen table, eating ice cream for dinner--something his mother would never have let him do--as he smirked over at Bill, clearly amused by his older brother’s annoyance. “I’m telling Mom and Dad that you called me an asshole, too,” he taunted as he dug cookie dough bites out of the giant mound in his bowl, “and you can’t stop me.”

The older Denbroughs were out of town for the weekend and Eddie came over that evening expecting a normal, standard Saturday night sleepover. Bill threw a wrench into those plans. I should have pretended to be sick and stayed home. Unpleasant surprises made Eddie itchy. He fiddled with a place mat on the table. “Is Georgie even being an asshole or is he just the most mature person here? Let’s just call it off.”

Bill leaned his hands on the table. “Eddie, y-you’re not going to talk us out of it. We’re having a party tonight, so just stop it, seriously.”

Georgie dropped his spoon in the bowl and knelt on the chair so he was eye level with Bill. “I’m gonna text Mom right now, and I’m gonna tell her that I tried to stop you, but you wouldn't listen." There was mock-concern and a touch of superiority laced in his voice. "You’re out of control, Billy.”

“I’ll gi-give you tw-t-twenty bucks,” Bill sighed, sitting down at the table and leaning his chin on clasped hands.

His little brother crossed his arms in front of his chest smugly. “Thirty.”

Stan furrowed his brow at him and sat down in the remaining chair. “If we give you thirty dollars, you’ll keep your mouth shut?”

Georgie stared down at the ice cream with a thoughtful expression. “For thirty I won’t say anything. For forty I’ll stay in my room the whole night.”

Eddie let out a pathetic groan and felt all their eyes on him. He was disgusted that there was nothing he could do to stop them, and frankly, shocked that Stan would go along with this shit. “Am I the only one here who remembers the last time we drank? It was awful.” Over the summer they managed to get their hands on a couple forties of malt liquor and Eddie thought it tasted horrible—both going in and coming out. They drank it quickly and foolishly in Bill’s garage, and Eddie’d capped off that night by hugging the toilet bowl and wishing for death while Stan tutted and fussed over him. He wasn’t interested in repeating that experience, especially not with a larger audience full of assholes who might record it.

 “You d-don’t have to drink b-beer, Eddie. You don’t have to d-drink at all.”

Eddie felt his phone vibrating in his pocket, stood up, and walked directly through the back door. He stopped abruptly halfway out and popped his head into the kitchen. “You guys decide if we’re paying him. I think this is a monumental mistake.”

“The b-baseball team has already chipped in for a deposit on a k-k-keg. It’s happening whether you l-like it or not, Eddie,” Bill called after him.

He plunked himself down on the stoop. Six unread messages: two from his mother, four from Richie. His mom wanted to know if he remembered to bring a sweater-- she saw him leave wearing his red sweatshirt so he didn't know what the fuck she was talking about--and his spare inhaler.

Richie

|6:33[ i heard theres a party tonite ]

|6:33[ want a ride ? ;) ]

|6:38[ greta said its gonna be ‘lit af’ ]

|6:40[ r u gonna get lit e. skettios? ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|6:43[ No, hard no, no and no. :P ]

 

Eddie'd maintained bare-minimum one-on-one contact with the new kid since that first afternoon in detention. Their text communication was spotty, mostly because Eddie gave one-word or noncommittal answers. But he couldn't prevent himself from observing (and observing so closely) the lanky boy flailing up his arms excitedly when he knew the answer in first period. He raised his hand more than anyone else in the class, and Richie'd predicted it correctly with Parish: the teacher had a larger appreciation for his sense of humor once it became apparent that he excelled at math. In fact, everyone in AP Calc was kind of enamored with him, at least in an academic way.

One day, he came in with glasses on and Eddie fought like mad to keep from staring. They complimented his face and he fiddled with them in a well-practiced, loving way, so Eddie knew they weren't new. At the end of class that day, he saw that Richie sent him a text that said take a picture. Eddie took care to force his eyes up front for the next several days in a row. He was such a loser.

 A message popped up on Eddie’s phone.

Stan

|6:45[ What did your secret boyfriend say? ]

 

Eddie

|6:47[ that someone has bodysnatched you ]

|6:47[ this party is a bad idea, why would you go along with it?]

 

Stan

|6:48[ Bill really wants to. It’s his house. It’s his funeral. ]

|6:48[ I’m just being supportive. ]

 

Eddie

|6:48[ and he’s not my boyfriend ]

 

Stan

| 6:49 [ You want him to be, though. ]

|6:50 [ Stop being a dick to him. ]

 

Eddie

| 6:50 [ I don’t, I’m NOT ]

 

Eddie shoved the phone back into his pocket. He’d confessed the full story about Richie to Stan, and it was freeing to get it off his chest. He had a history of fan-boying over his crushes to a third-party while he acted cold and unenthusiastic towards them in person. Stan wouldn't allow him to be satisfied with that sort of behavior this time around and it seemed to be born out of frustration more than anything else. “There are no other guys in this town for us to choose from, dumbass. He likes you, and you’re totally going to ruin it because you’re scared.” Eddie knew he was right, but it was deeply ingrained in him to morph into a little shit when he liked someone.

He went back into the kitchen in time to see Bill and Stan laying out their money on the table. “Eddie, d-do you have f-f-five bucks?”

Eddie sounded relieved and hopeful. “If I don’t have it, does that mean the party’s canceled?”

“No,” the smaller Denbrough said innocently. “It just means that I’ll be all over the house during the party. Taking pictures and trying beer for the first time.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, okay fine.” He dug into his pants for his wallet and pulled out a ten. He slapped it onto the table.

Georgie counted up his money, tossed down their change. “Nice doing business with you, nerds.” He retreated up the stairs to his room for the night.

 

****

Eddie stumbled his way up the stairs to use the bathroom. One of the boys on the baseball team brought a bottle of Jameson whiskey and convinced him that it tasted way better than beer. He downed a cup of it mixed with ginger ale and it was a far cry from that disgusting Old English that made him sick. He liked it so well he was working on a second cup. The house vibrated with music and loud, drunken voices, but much of Eddie’s anxiety melted away. After-all wasn't it Bill’s ass, not his, that was roasted if they got caught? And he was the one that wanted this stupid party in the first place.

He whispered “Really?” to himself when he saw that there was a fucking line to use the Denbrough toilet, and he slumped against the wall in the upstairs hallway. Beverly Marsh was next in line for the bathroom and looked uncomfortable, balancing a red cup in one hand and scrolling through her phone with the other. Eddie wagered that it was the first time she’d stepped foot into Bill’s house in two years and he couldn't believe she even showed up. He felt a sudden urge to see if she wanted to go read comic books with him in the garage, just like they used to do on summer afternoons. Eddie blamed puberty for ruining everything. Bill crushed on her, hard, and somewhere along the way things turned awkward for the whole group. In ninth grade she disappeared from their circle and faded until she became another ghost in the halls.

He followed her eyes as they peeked down over the banister and into the living room to survey the downstairs activity. Kids were dancing and standing on the furniture. He watched as a boy from his English class turned quickly and accidentally knocked into a girl. The beer in her hand splashed all over the rug and Eddie cringed. Bill’s mother is going to shit her pants. He lifted his eyes from the first floor with a pained expression still on his face and glanced back over to catch Bev staring at him. She smiled warmly.

“Hey, want to come in with me?” She reached out her hand to grab his without waiting for a response. Eddie bobbed his head in a noncommittal answer as the door to the bathroom opened and Bev dragged him inside. He heard a few people in the line complaining as the door shut because he’d cut three of them to go in with her.

She placed her beer on the sink and immediately plopped herself down and started peeing. Eddie turned his back to her and trained his eyes on the spot in the corner where the wall texture changed from paint to tile. “Fuck,” she groaned. “The worst part about drinking is having to pee all night. And the worst part about parties is that there are so many people.”

Eddie took a swallow from his drink and spoke to the ceiling. “Personally, I think the worst part about drinking is the puking… but I agree with the second thing you said.”

She giggled as she finished up and moved over to the sink to wash her hands. “If you pace yourself, you won’t have to worry about puking.” He hesitated before stepping up to the toilet and Bev watched with an amused smirk. She chuckled, turning to check her makeup in the mirror. “Eddie, come on. We've seen each other in our underwear. And I won’t look.” She held up two crossed fingers. “Promise.”

Eddie frowned down at the toilet that she neglected to flush. He shut the lid, flushed it and then lifted the seat back up gingerly. She giggled again, and he knew she was laughing at him. “You’re still so weird,” she said fondly to the mirror.

You’re weird,” he shot back. He relaxed a little bit and unzipped his fly to get down to business. His eyes flicked over to Bev, who busied herself with smudging a q-tip against her lashes. “What made you come here tonight? It’s been a really long time since you got too cool to hang out with us.”

He heard her exhale in a huff. “I didn't get too cool to hang out with you. I turned fourteen and grew boobs and was too old to have sleepovers with a bunch of boys.”

Eddie shut the toilet and flushed. “Your boobs would have never been an issue when it came to having a sleepover with me,” he said softly, joining her at the sink to wash his hands. “Or Stan.”

She smiled at him in the mirror, her tone gentle. “Yeah, but I didn't know that back then.” Her face fell a fraction. “Besides, it wasn't about either of you.”

“I know.” He smiled sadly back at her reflection.

“You’re getting tall,” she offered, hooking an arm around his neck and shoulder.

Eddie laughed and tipped his head against hers briefly. “Oh, please. Don’t even." She took her arm back and he turned to face her. “You didn't answer my question, why’d you come tonight?”

“Eddie, in case you haven’t noticed, the entire school is here. But if you must know, I came with Mike.”

His eyes widened and he gaped at her. “Mike Hanlon? The football player? Why would he come to Bill’s party?”

Bev looked at him like he was crazy. “Literally everyone is here. Bill’s going to be a legend. Is that what he’s going for?”

“Fuck. Maybe.” Eddie smiled ruefully. “I’m waiting for him to realize that he’s too cool for us now and drop us like you did. I didn't want to have this fucking stupid party tonight. I have zero clue where Stanley is right now for all I know he could be--”

Eddie.” Bev placed a hand on his shoulder. “I didn't drop you guys. I didn't mean to do that, anyway…” She took her hand back and picked up her cup, raised it to him with a pleading, apologetic face, and Eddie pursed his lips and obliged her, tapping his cup to hers. They each took a long swallow. “It’s really good to see you. Try to relax and have fun tonight.” She shoved his shoulder abruptly. “Ooh, Is that guy here?”

“What guy?” He choked out huskily, but he knew damn well which guy.

“Don’t play dumb,” she said saucily, grinning at him. “That cute new guy. I saw you guys talking at the movies. And Greta told me he was hardcore flirting with you in detention. Which by the way, you? Detention?”

“Why is this town so fucking small?” Eddie whined under his breath. He shook his head and gave Bev a skeptical look. “And since when do you talk to Greta?”

She shrugged and took a last look in the mirror to fluff her hair. “Shit changes. People change,” she said, and locked eyes with his reflection. “That’s why nothing lasts forever.”

****

Eddie parted ways with Beverly and headed for Bill’s bedroom to have a minute to himself. He wasn't ready to go swinging back down into the gauntlet. After he entered the quiet room and shut the door behind him, he noticed a tall, dark-haired figure standing close to the window. Eddie felt his heart pounding in his throat. “Patrick, what are you doing in here?”

The boy spun around at the sound of his voice. “Drinking beers.” He held up his cup. “When I heard that you losers were throwing this,” he swirled his finger around in the air indicating the party, “I had to come see for myself.” Eddie remained close to the door. He crossed his arms and looked at his former crush with steely eyes. He never considered Patrick to be one of their good-good friends, but he was a neighborhood playmate to all of them.

Eddie remembered hot summer days full of swimming and catching tadpoles at the quarry. Well he never caught any, he ran away and shrieked at the gross wiggly things, they looked like boogers, but he watched Patrick collect them. He squealed “Eww, Patrick, you’re so gross!” but he didn't think he was gross. He was weird and cute and interesting and nice. But around the approximate time puberty hammered an awkward wedge between Bev and Bill, it also smacked into Patrick like a mack truck and turned him into a caveman. Made him into Henry Bowers’ dumb muscle. Patrick hadn't been nice in years.

 “Well, you've seen the party, Patrick. So why don’t you go the fuck home. We didn't invite you.”

“Eddie, don’t be like that," Patrick slurred. He placed his cup down on Bill’s dresser and edged closer. "You know you miss me.” 

“You just called me and my friends losers. Why would I miss someone like you? You’re totally drunk and delusional.” He grabbed the doorknob to leave the room. “Did you come here with Bowers? Take him with you when you go.”

“Okay-okay.” Patrick stepped forward and placed his hand over Eddie’s to prevent him from leaving. “I miss you.” It sounded genuine; almost sweet. “I know you hate me because I’m friends with Henry, but didn't we used to have fun together? I’m not delusional about that.”

Emboldened by the drinks he’d swallowed and by the beseeching look he saw in Patrick’s eyes, he brought his face close to the taller boy’s.“We did have fun together but that was a long time ago. You fucked things up, not me. Let go of my hand.” Patrick backed up a pace and raised his hands in a surrendering gesture.

Eddie fled the bedroom and quickly made his way down the stairs, and there were no qualms about shoving past the ridiculous amount of people crammed in the house. He felt stronger and controlled: more so than he ever remembered feeling in his life. Patrick reduced him to an insecure, fluttery mess when they were kids, but things were so different. Beverly was right. People changed. He’d changed.

 Speaking of people changing. Eddie reached the first-floor landing and saw Bill doing beer-bongs with rest of the baseball team through the kitchen archway. As high school wore on, his oldest and dearest friend grew taller and more handsome. He faced endless opportunities to make friends with popular people, and Eddie didn't really understand why Bill continued spending most of his time with himself and Stan. It felt like they were just sitting and waiting for the inevitable. One day Bill would drop them like a bad habit.

 ****

The air outside was crisply damp and Eddie sucked it into his lungs gratefully. He was altogether overheated--from drinking, from the stuffy atmosphere inside the party, from his unexpected conversations with both Patrick and Bev. He felt strangely confident and he didn't know if it was the whiskey or the way he’d asserted himself with his old crush, but he liked it. It was peaceful in Bill’s backyard but he still heard the din of voices from inside the party swirling around his head. He teetered just on the edge of drunk, and chugged big gulps from a red cup full of kitchen sink water he’d covertly snagged before slipping out the back door.

As he descended the back stoop he spied the outline of a person sitting on one of Georgie’s swings, but it was too dark for his eyes to process who it was. A red dot appeared from thin-air, glowed briefly and flitted down, like a burning bug. “Well look who it is. Mr. I’m-a-big-fat-liar. ‘No Richie, I’m not going to the party.’ You’re lucky you’re cute.”

 Richie. His voice lacked the confidence it had in all their previous interactions. Eddie smiled in the dark and walked slowly and carefully across the yard so he didn't seem drunk. He took a seat on the other swing and as his eyes adjusted to the dim moonlight he saw Richie more clearly. He wore his glasses that night, and a dark flannel shirt over a black teeshirt. Eddie noticed that his pale face looked vulnerable, almost fragile. Was he actually upset that he didn't get invited to the party, or was this a part of the flirting game?

There were so many things Eddie wanted to say. “Hi, I'm mean, you're cute. Thanks for coming.” “You look really nice in glasses.” “How are you so smart? It makes me feel dumb, honestly.” “I’m sorry I didn't tell you that I was going to be here, but I really didn't even want to be here.”

Instead, Eddie let out a Pshhh. His voice was teasing and light, despite the words that came out. “If I wasn't cute then what? You’d leave me alone? That kind of makes me want to get into a horrible disfiguring accident.”

“Dark, Eds,” Richie grinned. “Graphic.”

Eddie giggled and kept one hand on the chain of the swing as he hung down and placed his cup on the saw dust between them. He reached up his other hand, gripped the other chain and hung his head back, the swing lightly swaying him forward and back. He groaned. “Ugh, I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m so mean to you.” He kicked his legs out and gained a little momentum.

Richie bobbed his head and spoke like he had researched the topic. “It’s because you like me. It’s okay, it’s kinda cute, actually. I can’t wait 'til you start punching me in the arm. Or threatening to beat me up.”

I think this is why I like this stupid asshole so much. I can’t hide from him. He sees right through my dumb game.

Eddie changed the subject. “So why are you sitting out here all alone? I thought you’d be the life of the party.”

 “Well you know what happens when you assume.” His eyes followed Eddie swinging. “I’m just feeling kind of out of my element here. Everyone else knows each other.”

Eddie nodded and pumped his legs, swinging higher. He hated their stupid small town. Someday he vowed to live in a big city where he didn't even know his next-door neighbor’s name. “Yeah, this whole night has been annoyingly nostalgic. I can’t want to kick everyone out.”

 “Wait, this is your party? This is a crazy party, Eddie Spaghetti. The cops might end up coming tonight.” Richie sounded equal parts worried and impressed.

The swing came to a jerky stop as Eddie purposely stubbed his toes against the ground. He scrunched up his face. “Come on, I told you not to call me that. It’s not technically my party, but I’ll be here cleaning up the mess tomorrow, so--”

Richie interrupted him, grinning. “Did you leave me off the guest list because you’re afraid I’d get into a fight with your boyfriend?” He flicked ashes and raked a hand through his wild curly hair.

Eddie bit back a smile, shaking his head. “Boyfriend? Richie, I know you know I don’t have a boyfriend. Stan told me you asked.” He gestured at the house, pointing at the fluttery shadows of people milling about in nearly every room. “I didn't invite you because I didn't want any of those people to come over.”

“You know what, Eds? I forgive you for being rude and a terrible host." Richie tossed his cigarette butt on the ground and stepped on it. “I see you broke out that festive cherry pie hoodie for the party. I love the look.”

“It’s not a cherry pie hoodie, it’s just red.” Eddie stood up and moved closer to Richie. He gracefully bent at the waist to retrieve the flattened butt with two fingers and held it up. “You’re rude for littering in my friend’s yard.” He shook his finger at Richie with a smirk. He walked across the grass to deposit it in the trash can, stumbling a bit when he came back over to face Richie, and he knew he must've looked like a foal learning to walk.

Richie’s smile was softly appreciative and it gave Eddie warm tingles in his lower belly. No one had ever looked at him that way before, and his drunk confidence threatened to leave him. He felt shy and dropped his head bashfully, bringing a hand up to rub the back of his neck. The taller boy's eyes were still on him, he felt the stare all over his face. “Wait, are you drunk, Eds?” He reached down to pick up the cup from between the swings, smelling the liquid inside it. “This is fucking water, Eddie. Are you kidding me?" Richie spat the words out like it was the funniest joke in the world, and Eddie lost his shit and started laughing hysterically. He was drunk, and at it was the first time he'd ever drank and enjoyed it. He laughed so hard he almost wobbled himself down onto the ground, and Richie got up from the swing to steady him. His laughter tapered off into giggles, and Richie looked at him fondly, pressing his lips into a line as he shook his head. "I could listen to you laugh all day, kid. It's the best thing I ever heard." 

He smiled up at Richie and opened his mouth to reply as a sudden, loud crash came from the kitchen. Both of their eyes widened, and Eddie didn't hesitate, he turned and booked it up the back stairs and into the house.

Chapter Text

Eddie’s heart thundered in his chest and he frantically burst through the kitchen door. He skidded across linoleum littered with shards of broken ceramic and cookie crumbs, almost crashing headfirst into Henry Bowers. He and Patrick lurked in the center of the room, eyes keyed-up and wild with a sea of faces gathered around the perimeter of the kitchen behind them. Seemingly the entire party had stopped everything, and people spilled back into the surrounding rooms, chattering loudly amongst themselves.

The scene was as crowded as standing room at a concert, except the main event in this case was the aftermath of a one-sided fight. Bill was reeling drunk. He leaned over the sink with one hand holding onto his jaw and he jerked away when Eddie instinctively tried to lay a hand on his shoulder. Eddie's concern for Bill shifted into white-hot anger when Patrick gave him a shrug and a guilty look.

He misses me, and this is what he does. GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE YOU ASSHOLE!

Running on adrenaline, he darted forward and shoved Patrick hard in the chest, screaming, “I thought I told you to fucking leave!”

One of the spectators shouted “Oh, shit!”

Patrick stumbled backwards, gripping onto Eddie’s hands and looking shell-shocked. “Hey, I didn't do shit, Eddie. It was Henry.”

Eddie ripped his hands away and backed up. His voice was seething but measured. “I don’t care who did what, Patrick. No one wanted either of you to come here tonight because this is the kind of shit that happens.” He moved to position himself so he was standing in front of Bill, who’d slid down the side of the counter to sit on the floor.

Bowers stepped up to Eddie, towering over him. “We’re not going anywhere, fairy princess,” he said, poking a big finger into Eddie’s collar bone with one firm nudge. “What the fuck are you gonna do about it?”

The entire confrontation sobered Eddie considerably, but he felt nauseated and dizzy under Henry’s predatory stare. He made a valiant attempt to keep himself from wheezing audibly. The asshole brought his face close, licking his lips and stinking of beer, his eyes traveling down the slope of Eddie’s jawline to his neck. Eddie cringed and braced himself. He knew what was coming.

A deep and jovial voice piped up amidst the roar: “I don’t know what he’s gonna do, but I do know that you’re gonna back the fuck out of his face.”

Eddie was too preoccupied with everything to notice that Richie followed him into the house. The dark-haired boy came towards them. He was a good five inches taller than Bowers, and stepped his foot in front of Eddie to wedge himself between them.

Scanning the crowd, Eddie backed up a few paces. His classmates looked like vultures circling prey and the atmosphere buzzed with nervous anticipation: everyone wanted to witness this shit. Eddie noticed Bev’s face among the masses. She stood in the living room next to Mike, sucking on her lower lip. Her eyes darted nervously between the town bully and the new kid.

Bowers glared up at Richie with a menacing smile. If either of them moved an inch forward their chests would have touched. “Who in the fuck are you?”

Richie stuck two fingers in his mouth, producing an ear-splitting whistle. The house got quiet and he addressed the crowd, his voice lightly pleasant.

“I've been asked to identify myself, which is important, kids. Stranger Danger and all that.” He grinned and placed a hand on his chest. “My name is Richie, I’m a Pisces, and I’m new to your fair suburb. First impressions? I gotta tell ya, that Paul Bunyan Statue in the middle of town? Not a fan. Two thumbs down.”

A chorus of scattered laughs and hushed conversations broke out and Eddie found himself giggling along with them despite it all. This guy was a maniac. Several people took out their phones and held them up, recording.

Richie lowered his eyes to Bowers and started side-stepping in a slow circle, forcing the bully to turn with him. His voice took on a soft but firm conversational tone. “You know what else I’m not a fan of? Fuckheads who rub one out by flexing on smaller kids. I’m not smaller than you. You wanna flex on me?”

Bowers reared back and punched Richie in the face without warning, landing so hard his glasses flew off. They clattered on the floor as Richie stumbled backwards into the counter. Kids gasped and several voices screamed, “Fight!” and “Worldstar!” Eddie bent down to drag Bill along with him as he moved a little closer to the back door but his eyes never left Richie. He recovered from the blow quickly, bouncing back and swinging a fist haphazardly. It connected with Bower’s ear and the shorter boy ducked his head and let out a moan on impact, but didn't stagger. They lunged for one another at the same time, locking up at the shoulder face to face.

Jesus Christ, they look like an advertisement for a UFC fight, Eddie thought crazily. The shouting voices blended into a deafening wall of noise and the crowd pushed further into the kitchen. Eddie scrambled to pick up Richie’s glasses before they got stepped on and from the floor he heard someone far away screeching, “COPS!”

Pandemonium: everyone scattered like roaches to flee, running in all different directions. Bracing himself for death by trampling, Eddie put his arms up over his head and internally surrendered. The glasses were pulled out of his grip, and then two big, strong hands grabbed him by his shoulder joints and hoisted him to his feet. “Kid, we have to move. Right now!” Richie dragged him out the back door, down the stoop and into the chilly night.

Eddie shuffled along beside Richie as they darted down the alley and onto the street. “Hey, slow down. What do you think the cops are going to do? I can’t leave Bill, he’s my best friend.” Regardless of his protests he kept moving, stepping double-time to keep up with the taller boy’s loping strides. They retreated around the corner, away from the flashing red and blue lights.

“Eddie, you want to get arrested for underage drinking? Be my guest, run along back. If this Billy-boy is really” his voice morphed into a Valley-Girl’s “like totally your BFF, he’ll understand why you left. Now, VAMOS.”

They reached Richie’s motorcycle and he sat down on it, huffing out a long, relieved breath through his mouth. Eddie gasped softly at the sight of his face in the streetlight’s glow. “Fuck, your face…are you okay? You need to put something cold on your eyes right away.” The bridge of his nose was bruised, and the smudgy blue skin traced down under both eyes. One of his lenses had cracked down the center.

Richie grinned bashfully at his soft concern. He reached under the seat to pull out his helmet and placed it on Eddie’s head for him. “I’ll be fine, Eds. It’s not the first time I got slugged in the face and I don’t think it’ll be the last. I don’t know if you know this," he lowered his voice like he was sharing a secret. " But I have a big mouth. I just wish I’d worn contacts tonight. The old man is gonna shit a brick when I tell him I broke my glasses.” His rough finger pads skidded across Eddie’s jaw as he carefully adjusted the strap to the smallest fit, and he let them linger there. Eddie’s already rapid pulse quickened impossibly at the soft touch and he wanted to melt down into the concrete and disappear. Richie dropped his hands to the handlebars. His eyes and voice were equally gentle. “You ever been on a motorcycle?”

Eddie’s face was fretful and he shook his head quickly. His voice felt like it was coming from someone else. “Where are we going? If you had anything to drink tonight, you shouldn't be driving. Can’t we walk?”

“We can stay at my house. And I didn't have a single drink, Eds. I don’t want to walk because it would mean leaving the old girl parked on the street overnight.” He patted the bike tenderly. “Come on, I’m a safe driver. You just have to hold on tight.”

Eddie wrung his hands and fixed his eyes on the bike’s back tire. It was only a few blocks to their street. But… Richie’s house? Stay over Richie’s house? Sleep over and lay in the dark and wake up in the morning looking like a hung over wreck?  He definitely didn't want to go home. If he tried to sneak into his house and his mother woke up, it would end up a shit-show no matter what. He was sobering up quickly, but she was a hawk about the smallest, most insignificant things. God forbid he sniffle.

“Eddie, are you in there?” Richie asked softly, head cocked.

He shook off his thoughts. “Yeah. Sorry. Is it okay for me to sleep over your house? I could just go home.”

Richie hung his bony wrists over the handlebars and hunched down. “Well, how chill is your mom? See, my parents, they don’t give a shit at all. It’s both the best and worst thing about them.”

How chill is my mom? She has zero. Zero chill. Goddamn it.

Fine. I’ll come to your house. But no flirty weird stuff, okay?”

Richie held up one hand and placed the other over his heart like he was taking a vow. “No funny business, at least not tonight,” he said with a wink. The engine started and it was loud as fuck. Eddie felt the vibrations in his throat just standing on the sidewalk. He carefully climbed onto the seat and leaned his cheek against Richie’s warm back. He wrapped his arms around him, pressing his whole torso flush. The fuzzy electricity pulsing through his limbs and chest from their close contact made him sigh and he clenched his eyes shut tight, grateful that the bike was loud enough to drown him out.

****

Richie’s house seemed like a palace compared to his own. The family that owned it before the Tozier’s was affluent, and Mrs. Kaspbrak loved to complain about how many cars they had in their drive way. Eddie saw it for what it was: resentment and jealously. He was surprised she hadn't complained about the new family beyond a few stray comments about the noise from Richie’s motorcycle.

Richie unlocked the front door and Eddie stepped into a large foyer with marble floors. The downstairs decor was modern, in muted neutral hues. It seemed like the kind of house where guests had to remove their shoes, but Richie didn't say anything about that. He strode straight for the stairs and Eddie caught him by the forearm, whispering, “Ice pack? You need to put one on your eyes.” They popped into the large metallic kitchen and perused the freezer. A bag of frozen peas was the closest thing to an acceptable option and Eddie carried it as they crept up the stairs.

 Portraits and candid shots of the family covered the wall that curved around the stairwell. Eddie stopped and put his finger on one small photo. Tiny Richie wore thick, thick glasses and grinned widely, clasping his muddy hands up at the camera. He was so cute.

“Yeah, what happened?” Richie whispered sardonically, as if reading his mind. There were other pictures. The Toziers’ wedding photo, Richie’s middle school graduation picture, in which his glasses were taped in the center and he cheesed with a mouth full of metal, but the smile didn't hit his eyes. Eddie particularly liked a snap of an exhausted Mrs. Tozier sitting in an armchair holding a baby, while a near-fetus Richie photo-bombed over her shoulder with his eyes crossed. There were several photos of a little girl with dark curly hair. One with a reluctant, annoyed looking Richie standing next to a pretty blond girl. They were both formally dressed, posing in the grass of a front yard.

Richie opened the door to his bedroom and hit the lights. Eddie walked in and stood in the center of the room with his hands in his hoodie pockets. His eyes bounced off Richie’s messy desk, his old, wooden canopy-posted bed frame with no top. The bed had more pillows on it than a normal person would need and was unmade, the blankets tossed to the foot. The room was huge with an adjoining bathroom, a window seat and the walls were painted soft pink, but Eddie imagined that was probably the previous owner’s choice. Nearly four weeks had passed since the Tozier’s moved into town but Richie still kept books, comics, and rolled up posters in cardboard boxes.

Eddie walked up to the picture window and placed one knee on the soft cushion below it. A quick peek out the blinds confirmed that his suspicions were correct: the window he saw from his own bedroom was Richie’s. That understanding made his heart sputter, and he shook his head at himself for being such a dork. There weren't any lights on over at his house and he contemplated crossing the street to sleep there. If his mother woke up and caught him she’d nag him half to death, but at least he could properly clean his teeth before bed. Eddie turned back to look at Richie. “I don’t have my toothbrush. Or anything to wear to bed.”

“My old man is a dentist. We have a literal fuck ton of toothbrushes here. You could take half of them home with you and no one would notice. Make a killing selling them online, Spaghetti Man.” Richie walked over to his dresser and pulled out a few pieces of clothing and tossed them on the bed. Realization stole over his face and he held finger up, raising his eyebrows like he had a brilliant idea. “I’ll be right back. Make yourself at home, but don’t get too comfortable like a little snooper. Unless you want to find out some shameful secrets.” He wiggled his eyebrows at Eddie before leaving the room.

Eddie made a beeline for the box full of comic books on the window seat. He dug through it to find a few issues that he liked, too, and noticed a stash of vinyl at the bottom of the box.

Really Richie? Records? Is he some kind of hipster? A biker, math-nerd, hipster.

Richie reentered the room in time to see him sitting cross-legged with a stack of comics balanced in his lap as he read the back of the Empire Records soundtrack.

“That movie’s a classic. And that soundtrack is amazing,” Richie said brightly, passing Eddie a couple pieces of clothing. “Those should do ya. Toothbrushes are under the sink.”

 

Eddie locked the bathroom door behind him and unfolded the clothes. He knew they couldn't belong to Richie. The pants were soft, waffled, baby blue long johns and the top, a white baseball shirt with orange sleeves—both surprisingly small. He changed into them and the well-washed cotton hugged Eddie’s body like it was tailor-made for him. He knelt and opened the cabinet under the sink. Richie wasn't kidding, there was a plethora of toothbrushes, flossing sticks, rinses and even several toothpaste choices. He pulled out what he needed and cleaned up for bed. A quick sweep of the medicine cabinet gifted him a bottle of ibuprofen. He dry-swallowed one for himself and filled the cup on the sink to bring Richie a dose. It would help bring down the swelling in his face.

The lights in the bedroom were low when he emerged. He padded softly onto the carpet and quietly dropped his folded clothes onto the desk chair. Richie was on the bed, lying flat with the bag of peas draped over the top half of his face. He’d changed clothes too, into soft flannel pants and a white tank top. Eddie studied his long arms and legs, the length of his whole body. He was almost too tall for the bed. Without his usual layers of teeshirts and flannel it was obvious that he was super skinny. The fact that his bony self stepped right up to Bowers without a scrap of visible fear was incredibly endearing.

Eddie inched towards the bed, clearing his throat. “I’m back,” he said softly.

Richie sat up quickly, removing the make-shift ice pack. He opened his nightstand drawer and pulled out a pair of glasses. They were dorky, old frames like the ones he wore in his middle school photo. He gave Eddie a once over, his eyes comically magnified and mushy looking: affectionate. They made Eddie squirm. He knew that look: he saw it right before his Aunt pinched his cheeks on Thanksgiving.

Trying to ignore it, Eddie handed Richie the water and the pill. “It’ll help your face feel better,” he hummed shyly. Richie swallowed the medicine and placed the water down without taking his eyes off Eddie. The weight of his stare was too much. “What?” Eddie asked passively. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

He cracked, a smile taking over his face and his voice. “Oh, kid. My heart.” He held his chest. “I knew they’d be closer to your size than my clothes, but I didn't think they’d fit like a glove.

Eddie bit his lip. “Whose clothes are these, Rich?” It came out sounding like he didn't really want to know.

Richie lost it. “My kid sister’s,” he yelped out before collapsing on his back, laughing. Eddie sputtered and sprang forward, hopping onto the bed. He grabbed Richie by the forearm, twisting his hands in opposite directions with burning friction. Snakebite. The ultimate playground torture.

Richie snatched his arm back and cradled it. He sounded genuinely hurt. “Ow! Jesus. I’m looking at you like that because it’s so fucking cute, dumbass.” He rubbed the red spot on his pale skin, whining. “See I knew you would try to beat me up. I’m injured, Eddie Spaghetti, and I rescued you tonight, and you do this to me.”  

“You won't stop calling me stupid names and you gave me a little girl’s clothes to wear." Eddie scooted himself to perch on the edge of the bed. "Just be glad I don’t murder you.” He wanted to come off as stern but he knew his eyes were smiling, he couldn't help it.

“Death threats, already. Man. You got it bad, huh?" Richie marveled, self-satisfied. "In record time, too.” 

Eddie face crumpled in disgust. “You have such a fucking ego—“

“And I don’t know about little girl. Sadie’s got those Tozier genes. She’s a giant.” He hauled himself up off the bed and opened his closet, rummaged around, pulled out a gray cube and a spare pillow and blanket. His voice went sincere. “Look, I didn't give you those clothes to embarrass you, I just wanted you to have something closer to your size than my stuff so you’d be comfortable. Honest. You look really cute in them, which is just a happy accident.” He dumped the contents of the cube on the floor. It was an air mattress with a built in automatic pump. The motor wasn't that loud when he clicked it on, but it was nearly two in the morning.

Eddie whisper-shouted, “Aren't we going to wake up your parents?”

Richie shook his head, sitting down on the edge of his bed next to Eddie. “Nah, they both take Ambien, so they wouldn't wake up if I cooked a fork in the microwave. They’re basically dead right now.”

“Won’t it wake your sister up, though?” Eddie tucked his knees up into his chest.

“She’s fourteen, Eds. She’s probably awake, anyway: on her laptop catfishing Christian dudes for shits and giggles.”

“Oh my God. Your little sister doesn't really do that,” Eddie whispered, incredulous. “Does she?”

“You’re such a gullible little nerd,” he answered affectionately, snickering. “I don’t know what she does, kid. We don’t talk anymore.”

“Why not?”

“She’s pissed off at the world because we moved. She acts like she hates me as much as my parents do. I’m pretty sure they only had a second kid because they wanted one that was…” He trailed off and folded his hands together, studied his own fingers. His head shook almost imperceptibly and he looked like he was weighing whether to continue the train of thought. There was a resigned thickness to his voice when he continued speaking. “One that was less like me. And instead, they got another holy terror. Nature or nurture, who knows. I think it’s Karma.”

Eddie watched him chewing on the inside of his lower lip, his bruised-up face obscured by the thick glasses. He’d stepped in and taken a pounding for a kid he barely knew that night. Maybe he did it to impress, maybe he did it because he liked attention or maybe he was just a really good guy. He was kind of annoying and he spoke before he thought sometimes, that was obviously true, but he was still intelligent and level-headed where it counted.

“I think your parents are lucky to have a kid like you, Richie,” he said reassuringly, and he meant it.

Richie did a muted eye-only double-take and then smiled softly, a blush blooming at the base of his pale neck. He nudged Eddie with his shoulder. “What are you doing tomorrow? Do you want to be a character witness when I tell my old man that I need a new pair of glasses because I got punched in the face?”

Eddie pinched the bridge of his nose. “Fuck, tomorrow.” He sounded like he’d forgotten someone’s birthday. “I have to go help Bill and Stan clean up the house tomorrow. I should text them to find out if they’re okay.” He’d been so preoccupied with Richie that he totally forgot that he left his best friends alone to deal with cops and chaos. The mattress pump made a noise and Richie got up to turn it off as Eddie crossed the room. He pulled his phone from the pocket of his folded jeans.

21 new messages. Fuck.

He quickly replied just enough to let them know he wasn't dead.

 

Big Bill

|1:20 [ edDIE WHER DID U GO? ]

|1:20[ the cops lef. They gave me a wrning ]

|1:23 [ it ws lucky that mike h was here ]

|1:23[ the cop was his uuhncle ]

|1:34[ sry I am wasted sjsownsksnl ]

|1:36[ did u kon Bevly was here ]

|1:43[ hey  txt me as sooin as uread tjhis ]

|1:43[ ven if its late, k? ]

|1:44[ jus wanftto make sueur safe ] 

 

 

Eddie

|1:50[ sorry!! I’m safe, glad you didn’t get in trouble ]

|1:51[ I’ll come back to help clean up tmrw, & explain ]

 

Stan

|1:25 [ Are you okay? ]

|1:26 [ I saw you push Patrick. ]

|1:26[ *shocked face* ]

|1:28[ Bill is SO drunk. ]

|1:34[ So Bev is here, with Mike Hanlon. ]

|1:35[ They’re also drunk and staying over in the den. ]

|1:45[ God, I hope you didn’t get abducted. ]

 

Eddie

|1:52[ I didn’t get abducted, boo ]  

|1:53[ I left with RICHIE ]

|1:53[ aksjslwmie ]                 

|1:54[ full story tmrw night ]

 

Unknown

|1:45[ EDDIE it’s BEVVIEE ]

|1:46 [ did u leave with a BOYYY? ]

|1:47 [ I got ur n from Stab ]

|1:48 [ lmfao STAN ]

|1:50[ dude the fight is on ig link ]

                                                                                             

 Eddie

|1:53 [ Hi Bev <3 myob about boys ]

|1:54 [ and holy shit, re: the fight ]

                                                                                                                    

 

“Hey, Richie?” Richie hummed in response, he was putting a sheet on the air mattress. “The fight is on the internet.”

Richie sounded mildly offended. “Already? It wasn't even a good fight. Two hits.”

“That’s all you have to say? What if your parents see it?”

“I don’t really care who sees it. That dude is a shithead, I wish I’d hit him in a better spot than his ear.” He smoothed over the sheet and tossed the spare pillow and blanket on top of the mattress. “Guests’ choice, do you want the real bed or the aer-o-bed?”

Eddie stiffened. Do I want to sleep in your bed in between your sheets where I can smell you, and think about what you do in that bed when no one’s around? He knew if he chose Richie’s bed he’d look like a little creep.

“Uh. The air mattress is good,” he said as he plopped down on it. He pulled the blanket up over himself and lay on his side, watching Richie as he climbed into bed and reached over to turn off the bedside lamp.

Eddie heard him place his glasses on the wooden table, and his hushed voice carried across the dark room. “Hey Eddie, are you still awake?”

“It’s been like two seconds since you shut the light.”

“Okay good, you’re still awake. Can I ask you something?”

Eddie sighed, purposely loud. “You just did.”

“Oh man, Eddie Spaghetti just got off a good one,” Richie giggled. “No really, can I?”

“You can ask me whatever you want if you stop calling me that.”

“Who would win in a fight? Magneto or the Hulk.”

“Uh, Magneto,” Eddie said, like it was obvious. “He could just bend a steel beam around the Hulk and incapacitate him.”

“Good point. What about Daredevil vs Rick Grimes?”

Eddie huffed out a laugh. “Uhh… Daredevil has heightened senses, but Rick Grimes would literally tear someone’s neck open with his teeth. If it really came down to it, Rick. Why are you asking me this?”

Richie’s voice sounded sleepy. “I don’t know. Just testing you. I half expected you to be like ‘who?’” He stifled a yawn and the wooden bedframe clunked as he rolled himself over. “Can I ask you one more thing?”

“Let me guess," Eddie intoned, mocking. "Who would win in a fight? Punisher or Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”

Richie let out an unrestrained, guffawing belly laugh. “Sabrina. She’d do some mo-jo on him, turn him into a kitten or some shit.” Eddie heard him inhale deeply. “I have an actual question. Can I?”

Richie.”

“Okay. Are you out, Eddie?”

The question hung in the air for a minute. “Yeah,” he drawled softly, tentatively. “It’s not exactly something I can hide. You knew it before you even talked to me, right? I mean, you hit on me immediately—“

“To everyone?” Richie’s voice was small and a little sad.

“I didn't take out a fucking billboard or anything, but people know. I think my mom doesn't really believe it. That’s why she took it so well.”

Silence. And then a soft reply. “I’m not.”

Eddie sat up, the rubber mattress squeaking underneath him. “I’m sorry, what?” 

“Like I’m not ashamed of it or inexperienced or anything, don’t get me wrong." Richie's shiny eyes caught Eddie's from across the room. "Just my parents and my sister, they don’t know. I’m bisexual, Eds. So, straight passing to them, or whatever.”

“But…but you’re so brave,” he said, dumbfounded.

Eddie thought about all the nerve it took for him to speak the words to his mother. How he’d envisioned her weeping and wailing, disowning him, calling for a doctor (her go-to solution to everything), or even throwing out the old stand-by about his father rolling in his grave. Instead, she sounded like she already knew. He’d fretted about talking to her for weeks and Stanley’d been the one to help him over the hump, only after he came out to his own parents the previous school year. If a rabbi could accept a gay son, why shouldn't a single mother who watched Major Crimes religiously?

“Well, you’re braver.” He yawned openly. “Good talk, but I’m fading away. I think that’s it for me, kid. Goodnight.”

“’Okay…’Night…” Eddie settled back down on the mattress. “Richie?”

“Mmmhmm?”

“Thanks for standing up for me with Bowers.”

"Anytime," Richie slurred, sleepily. “No fuckin’ cro-mag is gonna hit you on my watch.”

Chapter Text

Eddie woke with a moan in a room that was too bright. He sighed and stretched, peeking one eye open and quickly thought better of it, rolling over onto his stomach and burrowing deeper under the covers. There was a disgusting taste on his tongue, and it felt too big. And fuzzy. He ran it over his teeth and the roof of his mouth in a futile attempt to wipe it clean but it was so dry that it stuck to his lip. Ugh, how did he get so desperately thirsty? It felt like wads of cotton were stuffed into his mouth overnight. The sound of running water was coming from somewhere, a fresh, white noise that lulled him. He’d almost drifted back to sleep when he heard a raspy yet altogether lovely singing voice carry into the room.

/ Every time I think of you, I get a-shot right through into bolt of blue. It's no problem of mine, but it's a problem I find, living a life that I can't leave behind.

He sat up poker-straight, blinking quickly at the bare pink walls. Someone was singing a song he didn't recognize, someone close by.

/ There's no sense in telling me, the wisdom of the fool won't set you free. But that's the way that it goes, and it's what nobody knows. And every day my confusion grows.

Richie. I slept over Richie’s house. He got clocked in the head by that asshat and the cops came and…fucking Bill’s stupid party. I told him it was a bad idea. And now Richie’s singing in the shower. Of course he would do that.

Eddie slid his arms around on the mattress on a hunt for his phone. He had a hard time falling asleep the night before and spent nearly an hour reading articles and getting lost in his Instagram explore page, running his finger down over the screen refresh refresh refresh. He just couldn't shut off his brain, and he knew holding the bright screen up to his eyes made it harder to settle down but he needed the distraction. Richie was a loud sleeper: rolling around on his clunky bed, breathing audibly and muttering nonsense. All of it was annoying, distracting and cute: Richie personified. Eddie’s hand knocked into his phone. It was wedged under his left butt cheek.

_

 

Richie

|9:20[ u sleep like a rock ]

|9:21[ i bet itd take a nuclear blast to get u out of bed rn ]

|10:10[ if u r still alive, look on the floor to the right ]

 

/ Every time I see you falling, I get down on my knees and pray. I'm waiting for that final moment, you say the words that I can't say.

He found a bottle of water and the container of pain-reliever placed next to his mattress and smiled to himself. It was a sweet and caring gesture that warmed him deep in his belly. He placed a pill on his tongue and chugged gratefully from the bottle. No wonder he was parched: not only was he hungover but he’d been knocked out for nearly nine hours straight.

/ I feel fine and I feel good, I feel like I never should. Whenever I get this way, I just don’t know what to say. Why can’t we be ourselves like we were yesterday?

 

Stan

|9:15[ You left with Richie? ]

|9:15[ *intensely shocked face* ]

|9:16[ I can’t wait to hear what happened. ]

|10:10[ So great of you to join us to clean up. ]

|10:10[ *sarcasm* ]

|11:25[ God, Eddie. I know you like your sleep. ]

|11:26[ But we need help. SOS ]

|11:38 [Also, I have to show you something.]

|11:38[ It’s… not good. ]

 

What the fuck is that supposed to mean?

                                                                                                     

 Eddie

|11:40[ what do you mean not good? ]

 

Stan

|11:41[ Oh so NOW his highness answers. ]

|11:41[ Not good means bad. ]

|11:42[ It means you’re going to bust a tit. ]

|11:42[ I’d rather show you in person. ]

|11:42[ So GET HERE. ]

 

/ I'm not sure what this could mean, I don't think you're what you seem. I do admit to myself that if I hurt someone else, then I'll never see just what we're meant to be.

The door to Richie’s bedroom swung open so fast that it smacked loudly into the wall with a crunch. The girl Eddie recognized from the photos on the stairwell-the girl whose clothes he still wore-stood in the doorway in lavender pajamas. Her hair was a bit longer, but she shared Richie’s same unruly and curly dark mop. A pair of cat-eye glasses rested on her face and her eyes were deep brown but the family resemblance stopped there. She lacked Richie’s alabaster skin and angular cheekbones. Her face was rounded and soft with a glowing olive complexion. Eddie watched her closely but she didn't seem to notice him in the slightest.

She bellowed at her brother. “Shut UP, Rich! You sound like a dying cat.”

Richie’s disembodied voice had no malice in it. “G-T-F-O. Never forget: your birth certificate is an apology from the condom factory.”

She chuckled to herself and leaned back against the door jam, her eyebrows quirking when she noticed Eddie sitting on the air mattress. Lips twitching into a wickedly devious smirk, she didn't take her eyes off him. “Your birth certificate is an apology from Dad to the Earth.” Her voice dropped an octave to undoubtedly do an impression of their father, ‘I should have just asked for a handy.’’” Eddie slapped a hand over his mouth, giggling.

Richie’s tone went vicious, a foreign sound to Eddie. “Get the hell out of my room. People are trying to sleep. You’re so fucking rude, Sadie.”

“What people? This people on your air mattress with the pretty brown eyes?” She perused Eddie’s chest and arms, the only parts of him uncovered. “He’s awake. So, who is this people? And why are they wearing my shirt?”

“Oh, fuckin-shit…shove her out Eddie! I know you have it in you.” The pipes squealed as he shut off the water. Sadie crossed her arms defiantly but her eyes became mildly nervous behind her glasses.

“Hey, and if you’re really so concerned with waking Eddie up: why are you singing you gigantic douchenozzle?” She shook her head at Eddie and poked her thumb towards the closed-over bathroom door, lowering her voice conspiratorially. “He’s the worst. Honestly.”

Eddie cleared his throat, peeling the blanket off himself. “Sorry I’m wearing your shirt. And your pants, too. I—“

“A boy got into my pants last night and I didn't even know about it.” She clasped her hands in front of her chest and batted her eyelashes. “Are you there, God? It’s me Sadie. I’m a woman today.”

Wow,” Eddie said sarcastically with a small smile. “I can tell you’re related. You’re both equally charming.” He pushed himself up off the mattress and straightened his sleep-rumpled clothes. “Nice to meet you? I live across the street.”

“Oh yeah, I think I saw you at school.” Her voice was sweetly innocent, yet goading him. “You go to Derry Middle, right?”

He glared at her. “Derry High. I go to school with your brother—“

“I don’t have a brother, he’s just a stray dog that learned to walk upright,” she said smoothly. “So, what are you a niner? Is he robbing the cradle again?”

Eddie flushed and brought his hand up to the back of his neck. He had no idea what to say to that. Richie told him she didn't know he liked boys. “I’m not a niner, I just turned eighteen,” he said defensively.

Her face softened and she let out a giggle that was a lilting breath of fresh air. “I’m just teasing you, Jeez. I can tell you’re older than fourteen.” Eddie saw Richie in her features when she raised both eyebrows and smiled like something dawned on her. “That must be why he likes you,” she said thoughtfully.

He tried to keep his face neutral after that statement and pursed his lips, his expression searching.

Sadie shrugged at him. “You’re fun to mess around with. You know, Richie hasn't had a friend stay over in for-EV-er. Since way before we moved to this shit hole.”

The bathroom door bounced off the rubber doorstop with a vibrating clunk and Richie came out, clad in faded, torn up jeans and nothing else. His hair was damp and towel tousled, hanging nearly past his shoulders in its moistened state. It looked like he’d gone and gotten his face painted at a carnival: the bruising started in between his eyebrows, trailed down over the bridge of his nose and swept beneath his eyes.

Eddie tried not to stare too hard but Richie shirtless was a sight: lightly muscled with prominent collar bones and fine hairs brushing across the top of his chest; a trail of dark hair on his lower belly. The shower must've been hot, because his normally pale skin was flushed in haphazard patches on his neck  and shoulders. He had a text tattoo stretching across the left side of his ribcage but it was too small to be legible from a distance. Eddie felt his body responding to the freshly washed, half-dressed boy in front of him and he abruptly sat back down on the mattress with a plunk, his cheeks heating up. He covertly pulled the blanket over his lap and tried to focus on the wall.

The Tozier kids were too involved in their sibling spat to notice him. “Whoever did that to your face is my hero.” She made an exaggerated gagging sound and covered her eyes. “Put a shirt on, you’re gonna make me lose my appetite for five years.”

It was the first time Eddie’d seen Richie lose his temper in the slightest. Getting punched in the face was no big deal. Being insulted by a fourteen-year-old girl, on the other hand… “I swear to fucking God, get out of here, or I’m gonna--”

“Gonna what? Tell Mom? You’re such a loser.”

I’m a loser? Sades, you never leave the house. Go back to your cave and reblog some more feels.” He grabbed her gently by her shoulders and hauled her out, depositing her in the hallway.

She got the last word as the door slammed in her face. “At least I have feels!”

Richie raised both his gangly arms in a restrained arc of frustration, resting them on his head. He spun around with his elbows splayed out behind his ears, opening up his chest and revealing the hair in his armpits. Eddie tried not to bounce his eyes off every part of him, but he failed miserably. He settled on Richie’s eyes, naked and bright against the purple skin above and beneath them. Richie gave him a sheepish smile. “Sorry about that. You see what I’m saying, right? How am I supposed to talk to her?” He shuffled over to his dresser and pulled out a striped sweater that looked incredibly soft.

Eddie grinned from ear to ear as he got up to collect his day-old clothes to change into. “Richie, she’s exactly like you. If you have a hard time talking to her, imagine what it’s like to be me trying to talk to you.”

“That’s fucking preposterous. She’s mean, Eds. I’m not like that. Like I know we both say goofy shit but--”

“Richie, you told her that her birth certificate was an apology from the condom factory.”

She told ME that I sound like a dying cat. I know I sound pretty good, Eds.”

“So modest.” Eddie shook his head. “You really think you aren't mean? It’s mean to call me Eds when Ive told you repeatedly that I hate it.”

Traitor,” Richie hissed affably as he slipped the sweater over his head. “Alright forget it, she’s mean, I’m mean, everybody’s mean. I would ask if you slept okay but you were dead to the world for like ten hours, so I think I already know the answer.”

“Yeah I did. Thanks for letting me sleep over. And for saving me from Bowers.”

“You don’t have to keep thanking me for that. If those two dipshits hold an encore performance someday, somewhere, I’d do the same thing.”

Eddie’s phone buzzed.

 

Stan

|12:10[ Well you managed to avoid helping. ]

|12:10[ We’re done cleaning. ]

|12:11[ But you should still come over here. ]

 

“Shit, I’m such an asshole. I have to get over to Bill’s house.”

“I could give you a ride—“

“No, it’s okay, I can walk. The last thing I need is for my mom to hear the motorcycle and see me come out of your house. I was supposed to be over at Bill’s and now I’m ‘sleeping over with some hooligan who rides a peace-disturbing death trap.’” Eddie did a passable impression of his mother with a roll of his eyes before he ducked into the bathroom to make a quick change. 

****

Eddie plodded through the quiet neighborhood as fast as his legs could carry him. The clean-up was over and done with but he felt some sense of urgency in showing up for Stan. It was nearing one in the afternoon and based on the timing of the texts he received, he wagered his friends had scoured the entire house from top to bottom for several hours. He slowed down to catch his breath when his feet hit the pavement on Bill’s street, and as he approached the stoop he bent at the waist to stretch out his lower back. Fuck running.

“Finally.” Stan smirked at Eddie from his spot on the stoop. His curly hair was flat and disheveled and his eyes tired, but at least he’d been fortunate enough to have a change of clothes that morning.

Eddie panted, shaking his head. “I am SO sorry that I didn't come in time to help. Really. I didn't wake up until almost noon.” His breath whistled from the quick jog through the chilly Autumn breeze and he groped into his front pocket for his inhaler. He shook it and sucked a cool puff of mentholated vapor.

Stan shrugged and patted the stoop, indicating that Eddie should sit. “It’s okay, Eddie. We had Bev and Mike’s help so it wasn't that bad.”

“Where’s Bill?” Eddie sat next to Stanley and glanced behind him at the house.

“Taking a nap. He was a total mess last night. I put him to bed and this morning when I woke him up to clean he looked like a literal dead person. He’s better now I think. Coffee and Tylenol and—“

“That’s great and all, but what am I going to bust a tit over? Tell me. Please.” The anticipation was killing Eddie. He hoped that it was nothing; Stanley tended to overreact. Okay, both of them did. That’s why they usually relied on their levelheaded leader Bill to be their anchor.

“Well, it’s not really something to tell. It’s something to show…but try not to get all high-octane over it, okay?” Stan’s slim face was serious. Gravely serious.

“Okay,” Eddie drawled. “So, show me? At least explain why you needed to tell me in person.”

“Because you’re going to start worrying and hyperventilating and doing that thing where you talk so fast that no one can understand you. It’s better if you do that here with me instead of home alone. Are you ready?” He pulled his phone out and started swiping through it. Eddie watched him, confused.

“I guess I’m ready.” He didn't sound ready in the slightest. “And I wasn't home alone, I was at Richie’s house.”

Stan dropped his phone down to his lap and stuck a finger into his curls, his eyes twinkling. “Oh right, details, please.”

Eddie grinned and sucked his bottom lip. He rattled off a few choice points in a rush and Stan listened, his facial expressions running a full gamut of emotions with each detail. “His bedroom window is the one I thought it was, y’know the one I can see from my room. He likes comics, too, and he can sing…I saw him without a shirt and he has a tattoo. Oh my God and I rode on a motorcycle. I met his sister. She’s like a mini-him, just maybe a little bit meaner.” Eddie pulled his knees up and hugged them. “I’m less afraid of him now. Like less afraid of y’know, the fact that he actually likes me.”

“That’s good!” Stan leaned over and wrapped his arm around Eddie’s shoulders. “I’m glad you had a nice night. Because I think everything is about to be terrible. Just try to keep calm.” He reluctantly passed the phone over. Eddie shook his head, his face a question. “Deep breaths. Look at the phone.”

Eddie stared down at the screen, blinking dumbly. It was a picture of himself. A grainy, dark, super zoomed in photo. He was sitting on the swing set with Richie. The photographer must have been inside the house watching them. Richie was taking a drag on his smoke and Eddie was smiling, caught mid swing, leaning his head towards the other boy.

He held the phone away from himself and looked at his friend. “This is a picture of me and Richie, Stanley,” he stated, deadpan.

“I know.”

He shook the phone in his hand. “Where the fuck did it come from, Stanley?”

“Stop saying my name like that, Edward. I have no fucking clue where it came from.”

“Well, where did you get it?”

“Ben sent it to me.”

Eddie grew increasingly agitated and it showed in his voice. “So, ask him where he got it.” He thrust the phone at Stan, who rattled off a text.

“Ben replied: ’It got sent in a mass text from a number I don’t know and the message said: couple?’ He doesn't know where it came from either.”

Couple? Mass text? How many fucking people are sharing this picture?

His stomach lurched and flipped over. He wanted to dig the deepest hole he could manage and dive in headfirst. “I feel like I’m going to puke. Just knowing that people are like…discussing me. Can you forward that to me?”

“Yeah, I’ll send it.” Stan reached out and fluffed his shorter friend’s messy bed-hair. “I’m sorry that you feel that way. But you know how people are. They love tea. But this will be old news in a few days.” Eddie nodded slowly, his eyes locked onto the concrete. He didn't feel like he needed his inhaler, one small victory amid terrible news. Stan pulled his hand back. “I have something else to tell you, but it has nothing to do with the picture. Can I tell you? Are you going to be able to tear your brain away from paranoid thoughts about people passing the picture back and forth, laughing at it, photo-shopping it and making memes out of it—“

“Jesus Christ, Stanley. Stop. Do you think that’s helping? That’s exactly what I’m anxious about.” Eddie rubbed his hands over his eyes and moaned softly. His voice was a whiny whisper. “Do you really think they’re all doing that?”

“That’s what people do.”

“I hate people.” He sounded miserable.

Stan nodded sagely. “Me too. Well I guess not all people. So can I tell you my thing, or—“

Eddie blinked quickly and brought his knees down. “Yeah. Tell me. Is it good news?”

I think it’s good news…Bill and I hooked up.” 

Eddie’s jaw dropped, his face relaxing pleasantly. “Get the fuck out of here.” He smiled and slapped Stan on the arm. “When?”

“This morning in the middle of cleaning. He kissed me.” Stan cringed a little. “How do you feel about that?” They'd both claimed Bill as their first crush, but they'd collectively written him off as unattainable in ninth grade.

“I might be mildly jealous and hold a small amount of resentment," Eddie said coyly, rolling his eyes. "But I’m happy for you. So, what does it mean?”

Stanley shrugged, his eyes wide. “I don’t know. It feels like it isn't even real. I guess we’ll see how things go.”

“Yeah.” Eddie opened Stan’s forwarded message and looked at the photo of himself and Richie. “We will.”

Chapter Text

Eddie was in a dismal mood after his conversation with Stan. Deep down he knew that his friend was right, that the kids at school were fickle and they’d forget all about the photo when the next big drama surfaced. He believed it, but it wasn't enough to rid himself of the dread that had set up shop in his chest. He slung his untouched overnight bag over his shoulder and walked home briskly, though his mind wandered faster.

Urges flowed through his body in flashes that were hotter than his blood. He wanted to call Richie and babble about how unfair everything was and commiserate with him. He wished he could speak to every single person sharing the photo and tell them that they were totally immature. That they should get a life. But the compulsion to run to his bedroom and hide from the world was the strongest of them all. It felt like a spotlight shone down on him as he made his way through the quiet streets. He quickened his pace when he turned the corner to walk down his block. The imaginary light following him dimmed after he stepped through the front door and locked it behind himself.

“Eddie-bear? Is that you?” He grimaced at the sound of her voice. His mother had a sixth sense when it came to his general state of being. He readied his very best everything-is-fine face.

“Yeah, Ma,” he called, following it with a hushed, “who else would it be?”

“How was your sleep-over?” Her voice remained stationary; she sat in the armchair in front of the television. He prepared himself for a hasty retreat up the stairs.

“It was fine. I have some homework that I should finish up. I’ll be upstairs.” He bounded halfway up and stopped suddenly when he heard her speak again.

“Eddie come here, please. I want to show you something.”

Eddie mouthed a curse and made his way to the living room. His mother had her bifocals on and was fidgeting with her phone. It was apparent that the something she wanted to show him was on that phone, and the coldest throb of fear jabbed his heart. He worked to keep his facial muscles from broadcasting his internal struggle. It’s the photo, she saw it and she’s going to ask me about it and oh God, oh God. He’d only gotten so far as “I’m gay,” with her, she hadn't asked about boys he liked or if he was seeing anyone and now she would and it was awkward and fuck he wanted to be vaporized off the globe.

He made himself speak and tossed her a decoy question. “Uh, what did Aunt Amy send you this time?” His voice was Disney channel sweet and phony, the cadence too bright to belong to anyone in the Kaspbrak home. For once, his mother was too distracted to notice anything strange about his demeanor.

“No, not your Aunt. One of the mothers in the PTA sent this to me.” She passed the phone over to his slightly trembly hand.

Eddie relaxed inwardly when he looked at the screen. It was just a video of the fight between Richie and Bowers. The camera operator held their phone vertically in a shaky grip. They filmed too far away from the main event to clearly capture the faces of anyone involved, and all the microphone picked up were the screams of the kids in the crowd. It was a short clip, no more than a minute. He watched it without allowing his face to betray an emotion and handed the phone back.

Forcing his eyes to appear confused, he shook his head and inquired innocently, “Where did that come from?” 

His mother took off her glasses and sighed, placing the phone on the table beside her. “I have no clue, dear, but the video came from a child that goes to your school. If this is the way the animals in this town behave…I never thought I’d say this but I’m glad you have friends like William and the Jewish boy. They keep you out of trouble.”

“Stan, Ma. His name is Stan. And why do you assume that they keep me out of trouble and it’s not the other way around.” She had no faith in his ability to govern himself or his own life and it became more apparent every day. Eddie was frustrated. It was demoralizing and sometimes he thought she said things like that on purpose. 

She looked at him then, really took a good look for the first time that afternoon, and frowned. “You’re very pale, dear.” Her hand came up to feel his forehead and he ducked back.

“I’m okay, Ma, just tired. I better get upstairs and finish my homework before it gets too late.” Quick like a fox, he bent to peck her cheek and scurried up the stairs.

He felt safe alone in his room and tossed himself down on the bed, letting out a huge sigh. Pulling out his phone for the first time since parting ways with Stan, he checked his messages.

 

Richie

|1:36[ so did u hear, were a couple ]

|1:37[ XD this town is hilarious r people that fucking bored? ]

|2:32[ im gonna start a rumor about my dick. that its as big as a babies arm ]

|2:33[ see how long before its trending ]  

                                                                                             

Eddie Spaghetti

|2:45[ gross ]                                                                                                       

 

Richie

|2:48[ oh look who it is... ]

|2:48[ my boyfriend ]

|2:49[ he decided to answer me ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|2:50[ cut it out ]

|2:51[ of course you find this funny. everyone is going to be staring ]

 

Richie 

|2:52[ they already r eds ]

|2:53[ ur so cute who wouldnt ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti                                                                        

|2:54[ god, will you stop right now ]

|2:55[ what if your parents see it? what if Sadie sees it and tells them? ]

 

Richie 

|2:56[ if my parents saw it they wouldnt buy it. de-nile eds, deep deep denial ]

|2:57[ and sades is a lil asshole but she wouldn’t do that ]

 

_

 

Bev

|2:02[ I saw the pic ]

|2:03[ ru ok? take deep breaths ]

|2:07[ sit with me at lunch tmrw :) ]

 

Eddie

|2:47[ I’m not going to school, no way ]

                                                                                 

Bev 

|2:53[ lmao oh ur not? so what ur faking sick? ]

|2:54[ is it worth ur mom taking u to the er? ] 

                                                                                                               

Eddie                                                                        

|2:56[ I'll figure it out ] 

|2:57[ everyone is going to be talking and staring. I just can’t ]

 

Bev

|2:56[ fuck em Eddie, who cares what ne one says? ]

|2:57[ whoever did it is just jealous ]

|2:58[ just come in! it’ll be fiiiine ]

 

 

_

Big Bill

|2:31[ u okay? ]

|2:32[ call me if u need to talk ]

 

    

Eddie tossed his phone aside. He didn't want to talk to anyone, least of all Richie, whose cavalier attitude about the situation shouldn't have come as a surprise. Based on the new kid’s behavior alone, focused attention from strangers didn't seem to make him nervous. And Beverly wasn't any help, either. She’d been the target of rumors in middle school and came through with her head held high, but she was made of sturdier stuff than Eddie by leaps and bounds. Sitting with her at lunch sounded like a safe plan, but what was he going to do until lunch? The matter was closed as far as he was concerned; he wasn't going to school in the morning.

He'd only been upstairs for twenty minutes when his mother came softly rapping on the door. She hovered, commenting on his pallor and clucking her tongue. Her hands groped all over his forehead and cheeks, but there was no heat to be found. Eddie swore to it, and he thought maybe he was crazy, but underneath the concern she looked disappointed that he wasn't sick. He quietly reiterated that he felt fine, but was simply tired, exhausted. She relented, and the absence of fever bought him solitude.

He spent the rest of his Sunday tucked up in his bed with text notifications turned off, brainstorming to come up with a plan for the morning. Only one idea made sense: he would leave for school as though everything was normal and halfway through the walk he’d double back to wait his mother out. She left for work at the same time every day and didn't return until nearly six in the evening. It wasn't a flawless plan, but he’d deal with any resulting consequences as they arose.

 

****

 

Richie

|8:21[ so ur ‘sick,’ huh ]

|8:22[ u got that 24 hr fraidy-cat flu? ]

|10:45[ u know its rude to read texts and not respond ]

|12:45[ lmao eds i got asked out by 3 dif girls  idk if its bc of the pic or the fight ]

|12:46[ I blame yaoi. hot gay boys are like catnip ]

|1:31[ EDDIEEE DONT IGNORE ME IM SENSITIVE ]

_

 

Stan

|10:25[ You can’t hide forever. ]

|1:32[ Bev is sitting with us at lunch. ]

|1:33[ How 2014 of her. ]

|1:36[ HAHAH so is Richie.  We’re suddenly popular. ]

|1:37[ And we’re all discussing you. ]

|1:38[ You know, you can prevent people talking  about you by showing up. ]

|1:39[ Just for future reference. ]

 

****

  

It was late afternoon when Eddie regretted staying home. His anxiety wasn't quelled by sitting around and worrying about what people were saying in his absence, and daytime TV was boring. Several new problems loomed and all of them were products of his avoidance. He sent his mother a text to test the waters and she seemed calm, but the school would eventually call to inform her that he'd skipped. He missed an entire day of classes and he'd probably fall behind because of it. His friends obviously all thought he was overreacting and were discussing him. He knew that nothing good came from hiding, yet he still thought wildly that he’d do it all over again in the morning.

He was draped listlessly over the couch-and bearing an uncanny resemblance to a dishrag-when the doorbell rang. Creeping to the front window, he pressed the blinds up against the glass and attempted to peek out without opening them. He couldn't see who was at the door, but he heard shouting. “Eddie Spaghetti, I know you’re in there. Open up before I scale this drain pipe. It doesn't look too sturdy, but I'm a bettin' man.“

Eddie sprinted over to the front door and glanced at himself in the hall mirror. Scowling down at his faded teeshirt and lounge pants, he made a feeble attempt to finger-comb his hair. He cracked the door open just enough to stick his head and shoulders out. Richie was poised at the bottom of the stoop, grinning up at the house like he really would've climbed the rain gutter. His face was handsome as ever, despite the bruises that were beginning to go yellow and patchy in spots. Eddie’s voice delivered a flat, stern warning. “Don’t climb my house, ever.” 

Richie walked up the steps to close the distance between them and leaned in, pressing his hand against the siding. “’Oh, hello Richie, how are you today?’ Why, I’m just peachy Eds, thanks for asking-- ”

He interrupted, dropping his eyes to Richie’s chucks. “Look, I’m really not in the mood for this right now.”

“I get that,” he replied kindly, tilting his head lower. “I’m mostly here to give you the extra good Calc notes I took for you this morning. Can I come in?” His eyes were big and soft and Eddie looked deep into them, close enough to see the outline of his contacts. 

“Oh. Thank you."He blinked and stepped back, opening the door all the way. "Sorry, I thought you came over here to make fun of me for being a chicken.”

Richie just smiled at him as he ambled through the foyer and into the dining room. He set his bag down on the table and dug around inside, yanking out books and papers. Eddie followed him into the room and took a seat. The taller boy’s hair shined and was extra curly, like he spent time grooming it that morning. He was wearing another striped sweater with a leather jacket over it and black jeans. Richie's instincts seemed to be the polar opposite of Eddie's: he knew that people would be staring at him at school and instead of hiding, he went in looking his best.

Recalling the texts Richie sent earlier in the day, Eddie smirked. “So, what girls asked you out with your face looking like that?” He was being a little shit. With or without a bruised face, Richie was gorgeous.

“Ooh, so salty. Jealous?” Richie looked pleased with himself, grinning and raking his teeth over his bottom lip. “Some rando tenth graders, I think. I don’t even know their names, Eds.”

“I’m not jealous,” Eddie scoffed, incredulous. “But to be fair, you don’t seem to know my name and it hasn't stopped you from hitting on me.” There was a pile of junk forming in the center of the table and Eddie reached out to flick a ball of paper at him.

Richie batted it back, shaking his head. “You're totally jealous, Eddie. See, I know your name. Ah, okay, here we go.” He found the math notebook and passed it over, sitting down. “The last three pages are from today. I hope you can understand it, my writing is total fucking garbage. I don’t usually write that much down in class but I didn't want you to fall behind.”

Accepting the book and placing it flat on the table, Eddie ran his finger over a doodle of a turtle on the cover. It was deeply etched, scrubbed on with a ballpoint pen. “Thanks, Richie. You really didn't have to do this.”

“Yeah, I did have to,” Richie affirmed, smiling but serious. “You're not going to understand what's going on and you'll be desperate for my help. I may as well be proactive about it.” He used a long forearm to sweep the pile of junk back into his bag.

“Hey, I got into the same class as you,” Eddie reminded him, irritated. “Stop assuming I won’t be able to keep up. You don't know me well enough to judge me academically.”

Richie leaned his cheek on his hand, his eyes dreamy. “Hmm. First I had don't-climb-my-house Eddie, who's amazing. Then I got jealous-and-kind-of-snarky Eddie who's basically a gem. Now I get defensive Eddie.” He shook his head in awe. “I can't figure out which one is cuter."

“It's really annoying when you say shit like that to change the subject,” Eddie mumbled, flushing. He crossed his arms over his chest

“I don't say it to change the subject, I’m just being honest, Eds. My filter, she’s-a broken.” Richie did a passable Mario impression. He reached over and slid the notebook across the table so it was in front of himself. Flipping to the notes he’d taken that morning, he widened his eyes. “Fuck Eds, nearly anyone would be lost if they missed a couple new concepts in Calc. I didn't assume anything about you academically, promise. Parish wasn't kidding about it being a hard--”

“Do you think it was stupid of me to stay home today?” Eddie blurted it out, cringing. He wasn't sure if he wanted affirmation that it was stupid or reassurance that it wasn't. It was his first time cutting an entire day of school and he felt guilty, foolish and regretful.

Richie replied carefully. “I think it was silly, but not stupid. It really didn't end up being as big of a deal as you probably made it out to be in your head.”

“Were people staring at you and whispering like I thought they would, though?”

Richie bobbed his head. “A little bit, but it didn't bother me. Rumors flying around, weird little giggling girls coming up to me all nervous.” He laughed and tweaked at his eyebrow. “It’s honestly really funny. I thought I was gonna be super bored by small town living but it’s turning out to be more interesting than the city.” It was the first time he mentioned his old life and Eddie suddenly felt like an asshole. He'd never even asked Richie where he moved from.

“Why’d your parents decide to move here, anyway?”

Richie’s eyes turned stormy and he looked away. “Can I take a rain check on answering that one?”

“Sure,” Eddie agreed, softly. That wasn't the reaction he expected. “If it’s really personal you don’t have to tell me at all.”

“It’s just a story for another day," Richie remarked airily. He closed the notebook and put his finger on the turtle just like Eddie had. One corner of his mouth turned up. “Do you think you’ll be up for school in the morning, or is your faker flu the 48-hour kind?”

Eddie groaned and covered his eyes. “I have to go in tomorrow. I don't want to, but my mother is going to kill me when the school calls her about today.” He sighed, “Well she’ll either kill me or she’ll drag me to the doctor for a full blood panel.”

“Wow, murdering her only child and/or bloodletting? Your mom sounds really sexy, Eds. Is she single?”

God, you’re so disgusting. She's not sexy at all. Single and not looking."

Richie didn't look deterred in the slightest. “They divorced?”

“No. Not divorced,” Eddie reported, in a small voice. His fingers fidgeted with the lace doily on the centerpiece.

Realization stole over Richie’s face and his mouth dropped open. “Oh. Oh, I’m sorry, kid—“

“No-no-no, you don’t have to apologize.” Eddie shook his head quickly and caught Richie’s eyes. “It happened a long time ago. I didn't say it to get sympathy or anything. It’s okay.”

“Well I still am sorry, that sucks,” Richie acknowledged gently.

Eddie gave him a little nod and changed the subject. “So, you sat with Stan and Bill at lunch?”

“Stan the Man and Billy-boy, yes. A-plus friends you got there, for real. I also met your ex-bestie.” Eddie’s face was a question. “You know the one: redhead, about so-high,” Richie raised his hand to indicate a medium height and then placed it back on the turtle. “She drew this little guy, snatched up my book and started making a masterpiece on it without my permission. Girl after my own heart, that Bev. She talks about you like she really missed you.”

“She tried to convince me to come in to school today and I should have listened," Eddie lamented.

"Don't should have yourself, Eddie. What's done is done. Just find your inner badass tomorrow and go to school like it ain’t no thang.”

“But it’s a huge thang, to me.” 

“Maybe you need to practice,” Richie offered, his eyes traveling over to a painting on the far side of the room. He released a long breath. “Bev asked me if I wanted to go to the movies with her tonight.” Something in his posture changed, he was hunching slightly.

Eddie studied his face in profile. He looks shy. Why does he suddenly look shy? “Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah. So…you wanna come with me?”

Eddie felt his cheeks heating up and a matching warm pressure grew in the pit of his stomach. He’d never been asked out in his life, so he wasn't sure but it sounded like Richie was asking him out. He found his voice. “You mean like…like—“

“It’s just a movie.” Richie’s voice was casually reassuring, but his eyes told a different story. They were mildly apprehensive and hopeful. “It doesn't have to be anything, if you don’t want it to. Bev is bringing her dude, the big football dude.”

“Mike Hanlon?”

“That’s the guy.” Richie shot him a finger gun. “It'll probably be dead in there on a Monday night. Think of it like a trial run for you dragging yourself to school tomorrow.” He stood and slipped his bag over his shoulder. “Anyway, they’re picking me up outside my house at seven. If you wanna come, meet me out there. If you don’t…well I’ll be able to tell by the lack of Eddie Spaghetti waiting with me by the curb.”

Eddie followed him to the door to lock up and they exchanged a brief goodbye. He balanced on his toes and watched Richie’s retreating form through the glass panes. “Holy shit,” he whispered to the empty house, “this is happening.” He ran upstairs to look for something to wear.

Chapter Text

Eddie

|5:43[ did you tell Richie to ask me to come tonight? ]

                                                                                                                          

Bev

|5:44[ I may have suggested it lw;admlm but trust me he didnt need convincing ]

|5:45[ SO WIAT UR COMING?? EEEEEEEEEwejqpe2jqmd ]

|5:46[ dont eat dinner, were going out before the movie ]

 

****

Eddie was a bundle of nervous energy while he got ready to go out on his first date. Well he wasn’t entirely positive that it actually was a date. Richie’s reassuring words echoed in his head: “It doesn’t have to be anything, if you don’t want it to.” But Eddie did want it to be something. He just didn’t quite know how to articulate it.

After showering (for the second time that day) he sat on the floor in his underwear and dug around under the bathroom sink. At the end of summer vacation--right after he told his mother that he wasn’t going to get a back-to-school haircut--he bought a bottle of product and stashed it down there. It promised voluminous, frizz-free curls, but he’d hesitated to add it to his routine. He was afraid that people would see a positive change in him and the attention would make him uncomfortable. But that was only one side of the coin, because he was equally worried that no one would notice at all, that there wouldn’t be any third-party confirmation. Eddie went through his life maintaining the status quo because the idea of being noticed was equally as disconcerting as being ignored. But the distribution of the photo had ripped the band-aid off for him. People were paying attention whether he wanted them to or not, so he might as well go the Richie-route and dress to impress.

His searching fingers found the tube way in the back of the cabinet. Apply liberally to damp hair and air dry or blow dry with a diffuser. “What the fuck is a diffuser?” He followed the easiest version of the instructions, finger combing the creamy substance into his hair and twisting the curls in front where the strands were a little bit longer. His naturally fluffy locks felt springy and more substantial between his fingers as he worked them into a side part.

Satisfied with his hair, he moved to his bedroom closet. His bed was already littered with lonely cast-off sweaters and pants. The outfit he settled on was a simple look, just a white polo with black skinny jeans and black slip-on sneakers. The pants were so tight that he had to hop to pull them up. Completing the look with a fitted denim jacket and a baby blue infinity scarf, he admired his work in the mirror, scrunching his hands into his hair one final time. “You look really cute, and totally gay,” he told his reflection with a nod.

Downstairs, the front door clicked and opened. “Eddie-bear, I’m home. I picked up take out.”

He glanced at the clock: twenty to seven. His mother was late getting home from work, and she didn’t enter with a shriek or an accusatory tone. Miracles were possible. No one from the school called her. He walked halfway down the steps and took a seat, watching through the banister as she clicked on the TV.

“Edward, did you hear me? How was school?” 

“Yeah Ma, I hear you. School was fine,” he lied. “I’m going out to get a bite to eat and see a movie. Thanks for dinner, but you can put mine in the fridge.”

“Out? Who with?” Sonia came back to the foyer to look at him. “Oh, Eddie. You need a haircut so badly, what a mess. I just want to grab a pair of scissors and chop it off myself.”

The words might have stung him, but he didn’t expect anything else from her. If she told him he looked nice he probably would have died of shock. Combing his fingers through the front of his hair self-consciously, he answered flatly. “It’s my hair, Ma, not yours. I like it like this.” They traded some version of this conversation once a week since the summer time, the summer of his partial liberation. He’d taken a stand for not only his hair, but he fought tooth and nail to get her to agree to extending him an 11:30 curfew. “I’m going out with Mike Hanlon and a couple other people,” he informed her, using the name that he knew would pacify any parent in their town.

“Mike Hanlon?” His mother sounded impressed, but a little suspicious. Everyone knew Mike the quarterback: tall, handsome, popular yet kind. It was nearly impossible to find something negative to say about him. He led their team to victory, and Derry’s collective morale had always been influenced heavily by the performance of the high school football team. It was kind of pathetic, and one of the myriad reasons Eddie wanted to get the fuck out of there as soon as he could. “Okay, dear. Is that all you’re wearing? You’re going to get sick.”

Yes, and I’m sure you’d love that.

He stood and walked the rest of the way down the stairs. “I’ll be fine Ma, we’re going to be inside the whole time. Don’t wait up.”

 

****

 Eddie fidgeted at the base of the Tozier’s driveway, stealing glances over his shoulder at the house. Richie wasn’t outside yet, so he pulled out his phone and dashed off a couple messages to both Bill and Stan.

 

                                                                         

Eddie

|6:47[ sorry I didn’t answer you guys before ]

|6:47[ feeling calmer about everything now ]

|6:47 [ I think I’m coming to school tmrw ]

 

Big Bill

|6:49[ its ok that u didn’t answer eddie, u were upset ]  

 

Stan

|6:50[ Bill, it’s not okay. Don’t enable him to be a dick. ]

|6:51[ You ignored us all day and now everything is fine? ]

|6:51[ Let me guess, you talked to Richie. ]

      

Big Bill

|6:52 [ lay off of him. ]

|6:52[ its ok TO ME eddie ]

|6:53 [ see u at lunch ]

  

Eddie

|6:53 [ thanks Bill ]                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

 

“Wow, lookit you.” Eddie jumped at the sudden deep voice behind him. Richie came meandering down the driveway, staring at the shorter boy’s ass unabashedly while he puffed on a cigarette. His clothes were more casual than what he wore to school that day. He’d changed into a dark purple hoodie, and his normally big hair was compressed by a grey beanie. Chunks of his curls stuck out underneath the hat haphazardly, framing his face. He wore what appeared to be a brand-new pair of glasses that partially obscured his healing bruises. “Love the hair. And those pants. Shit. I’d ask you why you don’t dress like this at school, but I already know the answer. You’d get arrested for causing spontaneous heart attacks. Officer, I didn’t know my ass was a lethal weapon. ‘Tell it to the judge, kid.’

Eddie giggled and shook his head as he attempted to stuff his phone in the back pocket of his jeans. They were too tight to accommodate it, so he tucked it into the pocket of his jacket instead. His first instinct was to tell Richie to shut up, but he also wanted to thank him and tell him he looked nice too, that he always looked nice. “What exactly do you expect me to say when you do that?”

“’Fuck you,’ or ‘thanks,’ or ‘I know, right?’ Really anything, Eds.” He edged a little closer, his eyes warm on Eddie. “That scarf is so fucking cute.”

He fiddled with the soft blue cloth on his chest. “Thanks…you got new glasses already?”

Richie’s index finger flicked at the corner of his frames. “Yeah, apparently they ‘knew this would happen’ and got me two pairs the last time I got a new prescription. My mother has been hoarding these for me. Being known as a fuck-up pays off sometimes.”

“You didn’t fuck up though, Henry is the one who—“

 “I invited the dude to hit me. There’s video evidence of it. I shoulda just told him to go home and fuck his mother some more.” He pitched his still-burning butt into the middle of the street.

“Litterbug,” Eddie chided. “And telling someone to fuck their own mother is the same thing as saying, ‘please hit me.’”

Richie raised an eyebrow. “Ya think?”

Eddie nodded sagely. “Oh, yeah. Trust me.”

“The more you know,” he hummed under his breath, looking up at the sky.

“Do you know what movie they want to see?”

“Fucked if I know. I hope it’s something funny.”

Mike’s big red pick-up roared down the street and pulled up at the curb in front of them. Bev flung the passenger side door open before the thing even stopped rolling. She leapt out and hugged Eddie fiercely, practically tackling him. “I’m so glad you’re coming with us.” She broke their embrace and her eyes found his hair. “Oh baby, your little curlies.” Eddie turned the color of a beet and shoved her away half-heartedly. Her fingers settled onto his scarf and she looked at Richie. “Ugh, he’s so cute I can’t handle it.”

“Finally, someone’s on my level,” Richie marveled. “She really gets it, Eds.”

Eddie shook his head, embarrassed by the attention. “Okay, can we get going? I’m hungry.” He stepped up to the truck and Mike leaned across to push the front seat forward. The two-door pickup cab had a tiny backseat.

 “Hey, nice to meet you Eddie. Bev told me lots about you. All good things!”

He climbed up into the back and slid himself over so he was behind the driver’s seat. “Nice to meet you too, Mike.” The words felt strange coming out of his mouth. He’d never spoken a word to the guy before, but it was like meeting a celebrity. Eddie felt like he already knew him. Richie lumbered into the backseat, cramming himself through the gap. The space was so small that he had to sit sideways with one leg tucked under him. His knee was touching Eddie’s, there wasn’t anything that could be done to help it.

Bev pushed her seat back, cringing as it invaded Richie’s limited space. “I’m not crushing you, am I? You wanna switch with me?”

“No, you’re fine,” He looked into Eddie’s eyes as he answered her. “It’s cozy back here.”       

Eddie smiled and stared right back. Richie broke contact first, dropping his head shyly. After a beat, he peeked back up at Eddie from under his eyelashes and then it was Eddie’s turn to bashfully break away.  

 

****

They went to the diner near the Aladdin for dinner. Their waitress was a girl from school and she smirked at Richie and Eddie-- who sat together on one side of the booth--while she took their orders. That kind of shit was precisely why he’d chosen to hide all day. Beverly noticed the discomfort on his face. She leaned forward, dead serious. “If you don’t go to school tomorrow I’m going to murder you.”

He smiled wanly. “I’m going in. I have to.”

Mike scrunched his face up and tipped his chin towards their waitress. “Veronica is a gossip queen, anyway. I’m sure most people don’t even care about it anymore.”

After their food came, they ate in silence for a bit. Richie’d tried to be gentlemanly when they first sat and offered Eddie the inside of the booth. Eddie’d declined, but it ended up being a mistake. Richie was left-handed, and their elbows bumped. “See Spaghetti, I tried to warn you.”

“Hindsight is 20/20,” Eddie mused. “And if you insist on calling me that, at least don’t drop my actual name from it.”

“Aw, you like it when I call you Eddie Spaghetti.”

“He does,” Bev agreed. “I can tell.”

“I do not. That isn’t what I said at a—“

Richie interrupted. “No, I heard you loud and clear. You love it.”

All three of them looked at Mike for confirmation. “Eddie, I got you. I’m not going in for picking on this boy. He said he doesn’t like it.”

Their dinner conversation had a few gaps, but Mike tried to engage everyone at the table. He asked Richie a ton of questions about his life before moving to Derry. Eddie felt like an idiot because he should have been the one to ask him those things. The biggest bombshell came towards the end of the meal when Mike asked where the Tozier’s had moved from.

Bev dropped her fork and tossed her napkin over the remains of her dinner. “Wait a minute, your family is from NYC? Why in the hell would you move here?” Her face was twisted up as though she just couldn’t fathom it. “I can’t wait to get out of here and I don’t even know what a better place is like. How are you not constantly bitching about how shitty Derry is?”

“Well before you go thinking I’m fancy, I lived in an outer borough. Technically part of the city, but we still called Manhattan ‘the city,’” he air-quoted.

“But still,” Mike broke in for Bev, who looked like her head might explode. “Derry is such a small town. Really why’d you all move here? Are you in the witness protection program or something?” 

Richie laughed. “Nah, it’s just because Went Tozier is money hungry, but also a cheap bastard. He got an offer to be partner at a dental firm in Bangor, so he dragged us here. Derry is the cheapest place to buy a house for like forty miles in every direction.”

Eddie eyed him curiously. When he’d asked Richie the same question, his eyes expressed that there was more to that story. He dropped that train of thought because he was intrigued by learning that Richie grew up in an interesting place. “What was it like to live in New York?” He sounded like an awestruck child, and Richie grinned at him appreciatively.

“Honestly? It was equal parts interesting and annoying.” He picked at his remaining fries. “We lived in Queens and my school was in the city so I had to take a bus and two trains to commute. It took like two hours to travel 15 miles during rush hour. Fucking ridiculous.”

Bev shook her head. “Shit, I’d take that if it meant having stuff to do besides going to the Aladdin.” She checked her phone. “Damn, speaking of which, if we don’t get out of here soon we’re going to miss the movie. Last showing is in ten minutes.” They anteed up their cash and made a swift exit, leaving Veronica a bigger tip than she deserved.

 

****

Eddie slunk down low in the cushy, over sized theater seat. He’d pulled his scarf up so that just his eyes were peeking out. Of course Beverly wanted them to watch a horror movie, why wouldn’t she? He coped with it alright, though, squeezing his eyes shut to avoid being jolted by the cheap jump scares. It wasn’t like he was a total chicken, he read horror comics sometimes. There was just something about a quiet, dark theater that made him feel like a scared little boy.

In his left peripheral vision, Bev and Mike were totally making out. He rolled his eyes and glanced to his right to see if Richie noticed them, but he was engrossed in the movie. Eddie let his eyes wander over Richie’s long legs that were propped up on the seat in front of him. The theater was nearly empty and they had perfect center seats with no one in front of or behind them. Eddie placed his arm on the armrest between them and brought his eyes back up to the screen, his fingers inching towards Richie’s hand. Just as their fingers brushed, a loud scream on the soundtrack sunk his heart. He pulled his hand back and it flew by his face but it was too late to block the terrifying image that went along with the sound. He felt his breath involuntarily leaving his lungs. Oh my God, no. Not now.

He groped both hands over his hips, feeling around the front pockets of his pants. Nothing. He patted the top flaps on his jacket. They were flat and empty. Fuck. Hopping up without warning, he pushed past Richie’s long legs unapologetically and ran out into the brightness of the lobby. The space was nearly empty. There were a couple kids cleaning up behind the concession stand but they paid him no attention. He slumped on the faded couch near the windows and tried to catch his breath without access to his inhaler. The medicine in it was bullshit anyway, he’d known it since he was thirteen, but he still carried it around and used it because his brain needed it. It was just a crutch and he knew in his heart that he needed therapy to overcome it, but his mother would never allow it.

“Hey, are you okay?” Richie’d followed him out of the theater. He sat down next to Eddie on the couch, concern etched into his features

“I…I, this is so stupid,” he wheezed breathlessly. He pulled his scarf over his head and tossed it down beside him. “Fuck.”

“Wait, I’m lost here. What’s happening right now, Eds? Do you have asthma?”

“No. No, I don’t. That’s why it’s so stupid,” he gasped. Hot tears threatened to spill out of his eyes and he blinked quickly.

“Stop calling yourself stupid. Listen, can you take a deep breath?” Richie reached over and grasped Eddie’s hand, pulling it into his lap. “Try breathing in for less time than you breath out. Can you do that, Eddie?”

He nodded and took a shuddering breath, squeezing Richie’s hand. “It’s fake,” he squeaked a barely audible explanation.

“What’s fake?” Richie whispered, skating his thumb pad gently across Eddie’s wrist.

“I f-forgot my inhaler, but it isn’t real anyway. My mom, she made me…I—“

“Shhh, hey. It doesn’t matter. Breath in 1, 2, 3, 4. You’re doing great.” Richie’s voice was calm and even but Eddie was beginning to understand that his eyes gave him away in almost every situation. They were terrified behind his glasses.

Eddie nodded and swallowed. He sucked in air, counting to four and exhaled, pushing the breath out for five. They sat like that for several minutes, Richie’s fingers playing with the knobs of Eddie’s knuckles as his wheezing slowly abated. It felt like Richie’s strength telegraphed out of his warm hand and Eddie was absorbing it.

The door to the theater opened and people began spilling out into the lobby. They’d missed the end of the movie. Bev and Mike came out of the double doors looking worried, both sets of eyes scanning the lobby. Richie whistled to catch their attention without letting go of Eddie’s hand.

“There you guys are. You okay, Eddie?” Mike squatted down in front of him, so they were eye level.

“Yeah,” Eddie affirmed, his voice just above a whisper, and he wasn’t just saying it to appease. It was the first time he’d gotten through an attack without giving in to his lung sucker, and he felt better than okay. He felt strong. He used his thumb to gently flick Richie’s hand until he released his grip. “Just being silly,” he fibbed. “Scary movies aren’t really my thing.” He picked up his scarf and untwisted it, placed it over his head and allowed it to hang long.

Bev gave him a meaningful smile. He knew that she understood what really happened because she’d been privy to his attacks enough times in their childhood. He was grateful that she didn’t make a thing out of it. “Glad you’re okay, because we have one stop to make before the night is over.” She held out her hands to pull him to his feet.

.

****

 

Eddie stared out over the cliff that he and his friends leaped off so many times when they were young. All his memories of the place were bathed in warm light, filled with giggles and dares, but the view looked ominous to him that night. The water below was dark and still, and the air smelled like rotting leaves. He wasn’t entirely sure why they stopped at the quarry. It was cold out and his curfew rapidly approached.

Richie leaned over the side and looked down at the water. He spoke Eddie’s thoughts. “So what’re we doing here exactly?”

“It’s a nice quiet spot to hang,” Bev replied, taking a drag on her smoke. She had Mike’s letterman jacket draped over her shoulders. “Ask Eddie about how we used to jump down there when we were kids.”

“No way, Eddie Spaghetti, you jumped from this high? Let’s fucking do it right now!” Richie unzipped his hoodie, preparing himself.

“Richie it’s freezing out and the water is even colder. You can’t jump in there; you’ll get pneumonia.” Eddie tucked his hands around his chest and tried to keep from shivering. The breeze coming up off the water was chilly and his denim jacket had no insulation.

“Besides,” Mike wrapped his arm around Bev and pulled her closer. “We came up here for other reasons.” Bev shrugged at Eddie and handed the rest of her cigarette to Richie. She allowed Mike to lead her back over to his truck. It was parked several yards away near the base of the trail. They were far enough to be out of earshot, but close enough for Eddie and Richie to get a free show. She hopped up to sit on the opened back panel and Mike stepped in between her legs, kissing her immediately.

“Oh, right, of course,” Eddie mumbled dryly. “This is happening.”

Richie gaped over at them for a minute. He took a puff off the cigarette and grimaced. “Ugh, menthol.” He tossed it on the ground and scuffed it out like a dog digging a hole. “Y’know, when I pictured how this night would go, I definitely didn’t think it would come to this.” He zipped up his hoodie and chuckled. ”You and me creepily staring at red-blooded hetero teens groping in the back of a pickup truck. I think I saw this exact thing happen on an episode of Dawson’s Creek.”

“You’ve watched Dawson’s Creek?”

“Irrelevant.” Richie waved his hand dismissively. They stood together and openly watched the couple make out. Mike scooted up on his side next to Bev and she tilted towards him, hooked her leg over his hip and pulled him closer. In the pale moonlight, her translucent complexion contrasted beautifully with his deep skin tone. She put her hands on his neck and they kissed, melding together as he rolled her until she was flush on top of him. Eddie shuddered and he couldn’t tell if it was from the cool air or just a physical reaction to the longing he felt in the presence of their casual intimacy. “You cold Eddie Spaghetti?” Richie didn’t wait for an answer. He took off his sweatshirt and wrapped it around Eddie’s shoulders, zipping it for him. It fit him like a dress but he didn’t mind because it was so warm from Richie’s residual body heat. It felt like it just came out of a drier.

“Thanks, but what about you?”

 Richie was left in a tight black Sonic Youth shirt, his pale arms exposed. “Come on,” he started walking towards the truck and Eddie trailed behind him. “It’s probably not as cold inside here.” He opened the passenger door and pushed the seat down, stepping back so Eddie could climb in. Bev and Mike were oblivious to them. “Don’t worry about us, guys. You’re doing amazing.” He stepped in behind Eddie and shut the door. It was a little warmer inside the truck but not much. Richie rubbed his hands over his bare arms.

“You want your hoodie back?”

“Nah, I’ll be okay. You stay warm.” Their knees were touching again. Eddie drew a breath, opened his mouth to say something and then stopped. He stared out the window to find something to focus on but all he saw was darkness. “What, Eddie? Are you still scared because of the movie? Think some maniac is gonna come running up and hack us to bits?”

No, and I wasn’t actually scared,” Eddie barked, defensive. His tone softened, “I wanted to ask you something.”

Richie made a pouty face and a sweeping gesture with his hand. “The floor is yours.”

Taking another deep breath, Eddie just came out with it. “When I asked you why you moved here, it seemed like it was more than just your dad getting another job.”

He nodded slowly, studying their legs. “If you ask my father why we moved, that’s what he’d tell you.”

“Alright, but what’s the real answer?”

“The short version? I did something stupid and got expelled a week before I passed junior year, which is why I’m repeating it.” RIchie's downcast eyes were unfocused and far away.

He prodded gently. “What stupid thing did you do?”

Richie sighed and took his glasses off, rubbing at his left eye. “Remember when you told me I don’t know you well enough to judge you?”

Eddie hummed softly in response.

“Well you don’t know me well enough to hear that part of the story. No offense.” He returned the frames to the bridge of his nose, looking at Eddie carefully.

Eddie locked onto those big eyes and was hit with a sudden clarity: Richie was softer inside than his outward presentation led people to believe. “I’m not offended. I told you, if it’s too personal you don’t ever have to say it.”

If you think I won’t like you anymore after you tell me, you’re wrong.

Richie's voice sounded younger somehow. “I’ll tell you someday Eddie Spaghetti. Just not right now, okay?”

“’Kay.” He turned to sit sideways, pulling his knees up under the hoodie in one smooth motion. “But really, why Derry? Out of all the places they could’ve picked--”

“My mom grew up here. It was her idea to take us out of the city because she saw Sadie ‘going down the same road’ as me. She nagged the old man until he couldn’t take it anymore and he looked for a new job in the sticks.” Richie took off his hat and his hair stuck up crazily. He combed his fingers though the mop, and little static sparks popped in the dark.

“Hey, it isn’t ‘the sticks.’ I mean, it’s obviously nothing like a big city, but—“

“Kid, everything is the sticks compared to NYC. You can’t convince me otherwise.”

“I’ve never been there so I don’t really know enough to argue about it anyway.”

He put his hat back on and tucked his hair under it, fiddling with the strands framing his face. “I’ll take you some time, if you want to go. But we gotta go in the winter. Go ice skating in Central Park.”

“I thought people went skating in Rockefeller center?”

“The rink there is tiny and they have a limit on how long you can skate." He hugged his skinny arms around his middle, it was obvious he was cold. "Wollman rink is huge and you can skate ‘til your heart’s content.” 

“I’m not cold anymore." Eddie unzipped the hoodie. "You can have this back.”

“I almost forgot about that outfit you’re wearing." Richie smiled softly as he took back his sweatshirt and pulled it on. "Damn. I have a sudden urge to chuck you in a volcano as a sacrifice.”

Eddie furrowed his brow. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“It means you’re beautiful," Richie said plainly. "Next time some chode embarrasses you and you want to hide from the world, just remember that.”

“Oh.” He flushed in the dark and replied huskily, “Thank you, Richie.”

“Just speaking the truth,” he insisted. “Remember: zero filter.”

“No, not just for that. For before, at the movies—“

“You’re welcome. I was just looking for an excuse to hold your hand, anyway.”

“How’d you know about the breathing thing? The counting really helped.”

It was Richie’s turn to blush. “Uh, it’s a technique for coping with a panic attack.”

“Really? How’d you learn it?”

“Put that one on the someday list, kid.” He pulled out his phone. “Shit, it’s already 11. I wish I had a hose to squirt these two.” BANG BANG he rapped on the fiberglass window behind them, shouting, “HEY MIKEY, EDDIE SPAGHETTI HAS A CURFEW.”

Eddie winced, clamping his hands over his ears. “Jesus Christ, volume,” he whispered accusingly.

****

Mike’s truck idled at the curb in front of the Kaspbrak home. “Thanks, Mikey,” Richie crowed as Bev hopped back into the passenger seat.

“Again, volume, Christ Richie. My mother is asleep.” Eddie glanced behind them. The lights were dimmed but the porch lamp was left on for him. For once she’d listened when he asked her not to wait up.

“See you guys tomorrow at lunch, right?” Mike smiled, addressing Eddie.

“Yes,” Bev answered for him. “We will.”

They pulled away, leaving Richie and Eddie standing alone on the quiet street. “Oh, hey look, it’s the bush." Richie pointed at the hedges in the front of the yard. "Remember when you stalked me? Memories, like the corner of my mind--”

“Yep,” he admitted. “I did. And it’s really fucking embarrassing.”

Richie held both arms over his head in triumph. “He finally admits it! Don’t be embarrassed, it’s cute. Cutest stalker of all time.”

Eddie began walking towards his house and Richie trailed behind him. “Are you walking me to my door?”

“Yes.”

“Well here it is.” Eddie turned back to face him. “So, was this a date?” It was a bold question and he couldn't believe he said it.

Richie raised his eyebrows. “You tell me.” He reached out and bobbed his hand under Eddie’s scarf. “You’re wearing a date outfit if I ever saw one.”

“Yeah, and you,” he swept his hand in front of Richie’s torso, “are not. You looked more put together in the clothes you wore to school today.”

He leaned on his shoulder against the door and sunk his hands into the pockets of his hoodie. “Maybe I didn't want to appear over-eager.”

Eddie rolled his eyes. “Oh yeah, you’re like super casual. Especially when you tell me I’m beautiful and that my ass is a lethal weapon.”

“Just the facts, Eds. You want me to play coy and lie to you instead? Is that how you like your guys?”

Eddie shrugged and answered honestly. “I don’t really know how I like my guys.”

“Obvious Eddie is obvious.” He stuck his hand out like he wanted to shake. Eddie mirrored him, putting on a face like he just sucked a lemon. Richie grinned down at him, accepting his hand, but they didn't shake. He brought it up to his lips, kissing the back of it softly. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?” He turned on his heel and walked down the stoop.

Chapter Text

Eddie

|11:35[ I know you’re mad at me rn but I went to the movies with Richie tonight ]

|11:35[ HE KISSED MY HAND DUDE ]

|11:36[ ADF;LMF;DOQWDD WTF ]

 

 

Stan

|11:39[ O_o ]

 |11:40[ What is he, a prince from a Disney movie? ]

 

 

Eddie

|11:42[ right? like what is happening ]

 

 

Stan

|11:56 [ Or, alternative theory: link ]

 

 

What does it mean to kiss someone's hand?

Hand-kissing is a gesture indicating courtesy, politeness, respect, admiration or even devotion by one person toward another. ... The hand-kiss is used quite prominently in The Godfather series, as a way to indicate the person who is the Don.

|11:57[ Maybe you’re just secretly a mafia Don. ]

|11:57[ How dare you keep something like that from me. ]

  

 

Eddie

|12:03[ LMAO ]

|12:03[ well he is from nyc, so ]

 

 

 

****

 

The following day, Eddie dressed in an over sized college sweatshirt that belonged to his late father and a pair of light skinny jeans. He took the time to work product into his hair and gave himself a sad little pep talk in the mirror before he left home. “You’re fine. Everything is fine. Anyone who still gives a shit about this is a boring person with nothing better to talk about.” He left a half hour earlier than was necessary and during the walk he contemplated turning back several times. The autumn morning was crisp and the sound of his slip-on sneakers pounding on the pavement reverberated in the empty streets. He found himself humming along with the rhythm of his strides, and it kept him moving forward. 

When he arrived, the halls were as quiet and empty as a ghost town. He made a quick stop at his locker to drop off his coat before booking it to homeroom, where his ass was planted firmly in his seat before anyone else arrived. He managed to ignore the barrage of stares fixed on his face as students began filtering into the room. Keeping his head low, he busied himself with speed-copying Richie’s Calc notes. He wished he’d taken the time to copy them the night before, but he was too busy obsessing. Richie’s lights were on until nearly one in the morning. He kept creeping to the window to check if the other boy had gone to bed.

Cutest stalker of all time. Yep, that’s me. Cross out cutest and insert biggest.

A familiar jingle came over the loud speaker and broke him out of his thoughts. It signified the beginning of the morning announcements and Marcia Fadden’s squeaky voice filled the room. Eddie was only half listening as she babbled about lunch prices, auditions for the winter play, the fund-raiser for the Halloween dance, and football boosters. But then she said something that made his heart skip a beat.

“Will the following students please report to the guidance office after homeroom: Edward Kaspbrak and Richard… Toze-ee-ay?” Eddie’s head snapped up, his eyes landing on the speaker box above the white board. “These have been your morning announcements. Go Jaguars!” He cautioned a glance around the room and everyone--including the teacher--was looking his way. His lungs started to burn and he exhaled heavily. He realized that he’d been holding his breath since Marcia said his name.

The bell rang and he gathered his books and walked towards the guidance office slowly. He hadn’t been called into the office since middle school, when he and Bill got caught shooting off firecrackers behind the gym. It was terrifying and he cried like a baby. But he wasn’t twelve anymore and this time it was under totally different circumstances. Right?

When Eddie arrived, Richie was already in the waiting room. He lounged, eyes closed, with his head hung over the back of the chair like he was getting his hair washed in a salon. He wore an old-man-looking Hawaiian shirt over a long-sleeved teeshirt and dark green corduroy pants. His new glasses were hooked over the top hem of his shirt, and in their absence the fading bruises on the skin surrounding his eyes were really obvious. They were a mishmash of yellow and greenish brown, like some weird camouflage war-paint. Anyone else would have looked like a mess, but Richie managed to look adorable. Eddie cleared his throat to signify his arrival as he sat in the other chair.

The tall boy lifted his head quickly, his dark hair bouncing. He slipped his glasses on. “Look at this guy! Came to school and did his hair pretty and everything.”

Eddie carded his fingers through his hair. “I just figured I’d give them something to look at, since they’re staring anyway.” They were staring at him, but it wasn’t nearly as terrible as he’d worked himself up to believe it would be. It was manageable.

“That’s the fucking spirit.” Richie glanced at the frosted glass door pane that read GUIDA CE. “So what’s this counselor’s deal? You ever seen her before?”

“Mm-Mm.” Eddie shook his head. “Nope.”

The door to the office opened and a petite blond woman in a stylish pantsuit stepped out. She had a bouncy ponytail and her ears were pierced with little silver hoops all the way up her cartilage. Eddie thought she looked young, too young to be wise enough to offer guidance to anyone. “Good morning, boys. Can I have Edward first, please?”

“Ladies first, Edward,” Richie cooed. He used his fist to gently bump Eddie’s upper arm.

“God, shut up, Richie,” Eddie whispered, but he bit back a smile. The counselor smirked at their exchange. She held the door for Eddie and motioned for him to enter. He jammed his hands into the pocket of his sweatshirt as he entered the small room. Her office was a dim, sunless cube with faded motivational posters on the walls. One of them caught Eddie’s eye: Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

 She shut the door behind herself and reached out a hand. “Have a seat Edward. I’m Miss Holtzman. You can call me Judith if you’d like.”

“Okay.” He took a seat and folded his hands in his lap. “And you can call me Eddie.”

An open manila folder sat on the top of her messy desk. Eddie figured it held a record of all his transgressions, however minor they might be. She rifled through it and pulled out a page as she sat, placing it on her lap. “Eddie, this is your third school year at DH and you’ve never met with a guidance counselor. Why’s that?”

A very Richie-esque response bubbled up inside him, and he let it loose. “Maybe I don’t need any guidance, Judith.”

She chuckled, smiling sweetly at him. “At some point, everyone could use a little guidance.” Her tone was gentle and inviting; her eyes cool blue and calming. Eddie felt himself relax.

“Don’t guidance counselors help kids pick out colleges? I’m not graduating for another year.”

“Yeah, that’s part of the job. We do other things too. I called you here today because something came to my attention yesterday. Some of your classmates have been distributing a photo electronically. Have you seen it?”

“No, I haven’t,” he drawled sarcastically, rolling his eyes. He immediately thought better of it and shook his head hard, like there was a demon inside of it that needed to be expelled. “God, I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize. Sarcasm might as well be a second language to me.”

Eddie smiled shyly at her. Judith wasn’t so bad. He rubbed the heels of his hands over his eyes and sighed. “Yes, I’ve seen it. Obviously. Probably everyone in the whole town has seen it by now.”

She closed the folder and leaned her elbows on the desk. “Well, I’d like to hear your thoughts about all of this.”

“My thoughts?”

“Yes. Or your feelings, or anything else you might have to say about it. Everything you say in this room is confidential.”

“I don’t know.” He looked down at his clasped hands. “I’m embarrassed?” He peeked back up at her. “I mean, isn’t that how I should feel about it?”

She cocked her head, her brows furrowed. “There aren’t any shoulds, in my office, Eddie. Whatever you feel about it is valid. Can you tell me why you’re embarrassed?”

He widened his eyes as though she’d sprouted another head. “Because I know that everyone in the school has been talking about me for days.” He looked over his shoulder towards the door behind him. When he spoke again his voice was lower. “And because whoever sent that message was like, speculating about me and Richie being a couple.”

“Are you more bothered by the subject of the gossip, or the amount of people involved?” She said it slowly and Eddie could tell she chose her words carefully. It was said in the gentlest way possible, but what Eddie heard was: ‘Now everyone knows you’re a big homo, Edward, how does that make you feel?’

“People already knew I was gay,” he stated mildly. He widened his eyes at her and made an exaggerated motion with his head to indicate Richie sitting in the waiting room beyond the office door. Lowering his voice a fraction more, he spoke quickly. “I just don’t want everyone passing around stories about us when I don’t even know what we’re doing yet, you know?” His eyes searched hers. “I want people to forget all about it, and my friends said they would but I know they haven’t yet. Everyone in homeroom was looking at me today.”

He thought he saw a flash of recognition in her eyes. “Being put under a microscope is an uncomfortable feeling to a lot of people, Eddie. Most people don't like to be singled out. That’s why it’s completely understandable that you needed to take a day to yourself yesterday.”

He perked up, stretching taller in his seat. “Wait, that’s why no one called my mom?”

“Yes, and no one plans to. Your absence is excused.” Judith leaned forward, her face soft and open. “Eddie, how do you usually cope with stressful situations?”

By having fake-ass asthma attacks, hiding in my room and ignoring my friends, he thought, but he didn’t answer.

She seemed to sense his apprehension. “You don’t have to worry about saying anything that might offend me. I’ve heard it all.”

He puffed out a breath through his mouth. “I normally cope with stress by freaking the fuck out and hiding. In that order.”

“Have you talked with anyone at home about what’s been going on?” Judith asked softly.

Eddie released a high, barking laugh and clapped a hand over his mouth. “I swear, I’m not laughing at you, I just…” He lowered his eyes to the floor. “I can’t talk to my mother about this.”

“Why not?”

“It’s a long story,” Eddie admitted tiredly. He paused, and Judith just sat patiently, waiting for him to continue. “Sorry, but are you keeping me here for much longer? I missed Calc yesterday and now I’m missing it again.” His eyes were on the clock above her and she turned her head to follow his gaze.

Oh! Of course, you should go to class.” She began scribbling out a late slip. “We can put a pin in this for right now, but I’d like to set up a weekly with you. Would that be okay?”

“Uh, sure,” He said tentatively. “Are you going to do that with Richie, too?”

She stopped writing and looked at him curiously. “Whatever he and I talk about or decide to do going forward would be private, Eddie.”

“Yeah, I know. But…I guess I don’t really understand why you would want to talk to me again.”

“Because you told me you don’t have anyone to talk to at home. I’d like to listen to what you have to say, if you’d let me. And again, nothing we talk about leaves this room.”

He took the excuse note and showed himself out of the office. Richie was dozing in the ancient waiting room chair and Eddie grinned at the sight of him. His long legs were taking up half the room, stretched out and crossed at the ankle. Nudging him in the chuck with his toe, Eddie whispered, “Wake up, dipshit. It’s your turn.”

 

****

Eddie waited in the hallway when Calc let out because he wanted to make sure Richie was okay. He’d come into the class looking grim and disconnected after his meeting with Judith. Eddie tried to catch his eyes as he gave in his late slip to Parish, but Richie kept his head down. He didn’t raise his hand once the entire class period, and when the teacher tried to engage him he sounded subdued. Something was wrong.

Richie emerged from the classroom and motioned for Eddie to follow him. “Walk me to my locker Spaghetti Man. This Judith broad, I don’t trust her, and I don’t like her.”

Double stepping to keep up with Richie’s natural gait, Eddie was visibly baffled. “Really? She was nice to me. What did she say to you?”

Richie knit his brows together, his face a picture of disgust. “She started out asking me how I felt about that pic of us being sent around, but I told her that I didn’t give a shit about it. Assholes love to gossip, who cares? So then she wants to know how this happened to my face.” He pointed to his bruised eyes. “I told her to mind her own fucking business. This is my locker right here.” They stopped and Richie opened it to trade out a few books.

He handed Richie back his Calc notebook to put away. “You didn’t really say that did you?”

“Goddamned right I did.”

Richie. That’s so rude,” Eddie’s voice was softly disappointed. In his meeting, Judith had been nothing less than compassionate

“But true, Eds. Its none of her business,” Richie insisted. “After I said that, she goes ‘how did you manage to get 9 detentions in less than a month.’” His Judith impression wasn’t bad. He slammed his locker shut and leaned against it, smiling bitterly. “Little does she know it’s actually been more like 14 detentions but my girl Greta has helped me bury some of ‘em. Oh, and she told me I ‘use humor as a defense mechanism.’ Blah, blah, blah. What the fuck else is new? I hate when people act like they have me figured out after one conversation.”

“She seemed nice, Richie,” Eddie offered sadly. Seeing Richie like this made his chest hurt. The taller boy’s eyes blazed with tightly restrained anger, but there was something melancholy beneath it. He reached out and brushed Richie’s forearm. “I think she genuinely wants to help.”

Richie’s face softened. One side of his mouth curled up and he softly cuffed Eddie on the chin with his knuckles. “I know you do, Eds, because you’re a sweet, trusting little angel. In my book, everyone’s guilty until proven innocent. Especially guidance counselors.” His expression went bitter again. “I bet she takes our files home and sits in her bathtub sucking down wine and laughing at the sad stories of all the saps at this school.”

Eddie sighed deeply and leaned against the locker next to Richie’s. He took great care to keep his tone from sounding accusatory. “You only talked to her for like five minutes, you can’t possibly know--”

Richie cut in, his voice deadly serious. “There’s a special place in hell reserved for repo men, DMV employees and guidance counselors. Trust me.”

“Richie,” Eddie chuckled. “She was really sweet and patient and decent to me. Did we meet the same person?” The bell rang. They were both late for their next class. Eddie pushed off the locker and pointed himself in the direction he needed to go. “So, I guess you aren’t going to see her again?”

“She wants to see me again. I dunno, Eds. Look I gotta go, my History teacher already hates my guts. See you at lunch, right?” Richie sprinted off without waiting for Eddie’s reply. He gracefully ducked into the stairwell and disappeared.

“Yeah. See you later,” Eddie whispered to the empty hallway. He wished he could have been a fly on the wall during that meeting. Something wasn’t adding up.  

 

****

When Eddie entered the cafeteria, heads turned in his direction. He took deep breaths and kept his eyes straight ahead. If he allowed himself to survey the room, he’d be able to count each and every pair of eyeballs fixed on him and the walls would close in. He marched pin straight towards his regular lunch table, where Bev and Mike were already seated across from Bill and Stan. From a distance, they looked mighty friendly. He spent far too much time blaming Bill’s party for all his woes, but he supposed some good things came out of the ordeal.

Stan sunk a dimple when he noticed Eddie approaching. “I was all prepared to be a pissy little bitch to you today, but look at your hair. That’s not fair, at all.”

Bill brought his eyes up to the short boy’s locks and grinned. “Wow, Eddie. I’m not sure if you or Ruh-Richie have better curls.”

Eddie looked over his shoulder, nervous. “God, don’t let Richie hear you say that you like his hair. He’ll never shut up about it.” He took a seat next to Stan and combed a hand through the curls that hung over his forehead. “I seriously had no idea the effect this would have on people,” he mused. “Sucks that it doesn’t work on my mom.”

 Bev and Mike were sharing a zip lock baggie of baby carrots. She wrinkled up her nose and spat out, “What does she know, Eddie? Fuck her.”

Richie sidled up to the table and leaned his lanky arms against the head of it. “You want to bang Mrs. K. too, Red? That’s mighty kinky.” She primly flipped him the bird in responce. The boy that Eddie previously only knew as ‘the new kid,’ stood slightly behind Richie. “Oh right, this is my friend Benny. Cool if he joins us?”

“It’s just Ben,” the boy cut in with a small smile. He was stocky with dirty blond hair and a baby face. “Only Richie and my Grandma call me Benny.”

Eddie grimaced. “Join the club. Richie doesn’t respect that people have real names.” Each of them chorused their nicknames at the same time. “Eddie Spaghetti.” “Stan the Man.” “Billy-boy.” “Mikey-baby.” ‘Red.”

“Yeah, and not one of you chuckleheads have come up with a nickname for me,” Richie whined, sitting down next to Eddie. “It’s totally fucking hurtful.”

“I have one that’s perfect for you. Trashmouth,” Stan announced triumphantly.

“That’s totally perfect!” Bev giggled. “He is such a Trashmouth, too.”

“Hey!” Richie squeaked, sounding genuinely offended. “This is bullshit! My names for you guys are cute. Some of them even rhyme.”

Stan had zero remorse in his voice. “You are now and will forever be known as Trashmouth Tozier, live with it.”

“You gone and done me real dirty there Stanley the Manley.” Richie snapped his fingers and leaned across Eddie to point at Stan. “I’ll remember this moment for the rest of my life.” Stan pretended he didn’t hear him, turning away dismissively to chat with Bill.

Eddie’s breathing hitched because Richie was super close to him, his finger still pointing. “It’s rude to point. You seem like you’re in a better mood than you were this morning.”

Richie dropped his hand to his lap and ducked his head bashfully. “Yeah, I guess so. Sorry if I was all---“ he curled his fingers into claws, “Blurgh, at you. I didn’t mean to be.” He smiled softly, his eyes grazing over Eddie lips and travelling up his face.

“No, you were fine. I just didn’t like seeing you upset,” Eddie returned the smile, feeling suddenly giddy. He forgot all about the picture and the anxiety and just looked into those deep brown eyes and--

“Hey, sorry to interrupt your moment,” Bev’s teasing voice broke the spell. Eddie and Richie both blinked at her. “What do you guys think about the Halloween dance? Are we going?”

“Punch, costumes and bad music? I’m in.” Richie replied quickly.

Bev slapped her hand on the table in front of Stan and Bill, who were equally engrossed in a private conversation. “Hey, whisper-twins. What about you guys? Halloween dance?”

“Y-yeah, I g-guess,” Bill replied, with a cautionary glance at Stan.

Stan rolled his eyes. “Fine, we’ll go.”

Mike grinned. “Me and Bev are going to be the Joker and Harley Quinn.”

“Um no we’re not Babe, I thought we agreed to be Merida and her mom after she turns into a bear.”

Mike curled his hand around the back of Bev’s neck and pulled her closer. He lowered his voice, embarrassed. “Baby, that was a private conversation.”

Richie turned away from them to engage Ben, who looked a little out of place sitting next to the cuddly pair. “Benny, meet Mike and Bev, disgustingly cute couple of the year.”

“I see that,” he agreed. “I'll go to the dance, but isn’t it not for like two weeks?”

“That’s the thing,” Mike answered. “The dance might not happen if people don’t participate in the fund raiser. So if you guys want to go…” He raised his eyebrows at them.

"Sign me and Eddie up Mikey-baby." 

"Um, wait what?" Eddie blustered. "We don't even know what the fund raiser entails."

Ben pointed at the wall behind them. "I do."

The huge colorful sign read: Derry High School Bachelor Auction

Chapter Text

“First of all, I just want to say thanks so much for agreeing to do this. We were really worried no one would sign up,” Greta chirped, one hand over her heart. She smiled warmly at the small group of boys, the majority of whom looked mildly excited to be involved. Most of them were student athletes: football and baseball players. They were all gathered in an empty classroom the afternoon before the auction.

Richie and Eddie sat together in the back of the room near the door, the obvious odd-balls of the group. Eddie found himself internally humming a rhyme he learned when he was very little. Two of these things are not like the other things, two of these things just do not belong…

“Before I get into my own speech, do any of you have any questions up front?” The event was Greta’s brain-child and she pulled the participants together to go over the basics with them so they knew what to expect. 

Eddie turned his head to glance at Richie, expecting to see his hand wave excitedly, to hear him spew some ridiculous nonsense that wasn’t even a real question. Everyone in the room would snicker and someone would tell him to shut up, probably Eddie. But that afternoon the tall boy ignored the obvious opportunity to vamp. He sat with his cheek leaning on his hand and his eyes glazed over.

Someone near the front of the room raised his hand. “If we get bid on and the person wins, what does it mean? Like, how long do they get us?”

Greta pushed herself up so she was sitting on the lip of the teacher’s desk. “Good question. If someone bids on you, what they’re buying is one dance with you at the Halloween dance,” she explained. “So, if you’re participating in the auction, that means you have to go to the dance. Obvi.”

“Just one dance?” Eddie blurted, his voice small and relieved. Mike, who sat facing backwards on the top of a desk near the front of the room grinned over at him.

“Just one dance,” Greta assured kindly with a smirk. “All the proceeds are going towards refreshments and decorations. We’ll do the auction itself tomorrow in the cafeteria after the last bell. Each of you will come up, and I’ll introduce you.” She wrung her hands dramatically. “Please, write something down for me to say about you and give it to me by tomorrow morning. Nothing crazy, like two sentences. Otherwise I’m making shit up, okay?” Eddie stopped listening after that. Only once dance, three minutes of his life. No big deal. He’d probably end up being bought by Stanley anyway.

Stan and Bill had been giving Eddie never-ending shit for the entire week. They insisted he’d be a hot commodity on the auction block. Richie also teased him, claiming that a fist fight would break out when people started bidding. “They’re gonna be throwing down over this little bowl of Spaghetti, just like Lady and the Tramp.”

Eddie let their comments slide off his back like he was made of teflon. They were just being ridiculous. It was more likely that a bunch of girls would be squabbling over Richie, not himself. The thought of that happening made him nervous and squirrely inside his abdomen. He glanced at Richie again in time to catch him yawning against the back of his hand. Eddie opened his notebook to the last page. It was messily covered with notes that he and Richie wrote to each other during lunch. In a clean space on the marked-up page, he wrote: You okay?

Richie gave him a weak smile and mouthed Tired. He snapped his fingers and took the pen from Eddie’s hand. Also headache.

Shaking his head, Eddie scribbled a reply. You go to bed too late.

With a shit eating grin on his face, Richie scrawled his response. How would you know? His expression said it all. He was thinking: You look out your window and check when my lights go off, you cute little creep.

But Eddie had his poker face on as he snatched back the pen. Wild guess. You look like shit.

Richie smiled at the last thing Eddie wrote, removing his glasses and rubbing at his forehead. The bruises from the sucker punch were all healed up, but there were dark smudges under his eyes. Eddie couldn’t tell if he was paler than usual, or if the bags just made him appear so.

Greta’s voice broke into their bubble. “Okay, so everyone is going to dress nice tomorrow, right? You don’t have to rent a tux or anything but just try to be presentable.” She was looking directly at Richie when she said it. “No Hawaiian shirts. Or band teeshirts. Or chucks.”

“GB, you wound me,” he joked softly. “I’ll look pretty tomorrow just for you, promise.”

“Good, because I’m bidding on you,” she smiled sweetly, showing her perfect white teeth.

Eddie picked up the pen. If she wins you I’m going to be pissed. He handed the pen over with a sour expression on his face.

Richie sucked in his lower lip as he wrote. Jelly Eddie cutest Eddie. I decided.

 

 

****

 

Big Bill

|7:23[ todays the day, huh? u better not be thinking about staying home to get out of it ]

|7:25[ i dug into my emergency fund for this shit, eddie. ]

 

Eddie

|7:30[ I’m coming to school, Bill. But if you or Stan bid on me I’m not dancing with you ]

 

Stan

|7:32 [ You don’t have a choice, those are the rules. Bev said Greta told her so. ]

|7:35[ She also promised that if I won you, you’d do my Trig homework. Start reviewing your SOH CAH TOA. ]

 

****

The morning of the auction, Richie didn’t come to Calc. Eddie watched the door like a hawk, expecting him to show up late wearing cute clothes, probably something involving a sweater. Eddie’d taken Greta’s words to heart and dressed himself in an outfit similar to the one he wore on his night out at the movies. He wanted Richie to see him in it, but he mostly just wanted to see Richie.                                                                                                        

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|9:13[ did you oversleep? ]

|9:15[ Calc without you means people who normally hide all period have to answer questions, it’s pretty funny ]

|9:30[ if you did sleep in, that’s what you get for staying up late every night ]

 

Richie never made it to Calc, and morning classes breezed by after that.

Eddie approached the lunch table hoping to see the bespectacled boy, but Stan was the only person seated there. “Stanley, have you seen Richie today?” He took his regular seat next to his friend.

Stan looked up from his fruit cup and took in Eddie’s clothes with a smile. “No, he wasn’t in any of the classes we have together. Do you think he’s trying to get out of the auction?”

“Richie wouldn’t do that," he insited, furrowing his brow. "He likes attention.”

“True. I might say the same thing about you when you're wearing those pants, though.”

“Oh, fuck you,” Eddie glared with no malice. His eyebrows relaxed as he turned his attention back to thoughts of Richie. “He did seem kind of weird yesterday at the pre-auction meeting thing,” he considered, opening his lunch bag.

“Weird how?" Stan cocked his head. "Are you guys like… I mean have you started—“

“We’ve done jack shit," Eddie interrupted, rolling his eyes. "I like him, I can tell he likes me, but literally nothing is happening. We text more, and have lunch together. That's about it.”

“I feel your pain. The only thing different between Bill and I, and you and Richie, is that Bill and I kissed.” Stan raised his hand as Eddie opened his mouth to protest. “And I mean a real  kiss, not a hand kiss Don Corleone.”

Mike appeared in front of them and sat down, placing his steaming tray on the table. “Hope I’m not interrupting anything private.”

Eddie snickered. “We were talking about nothing. About how nothing is happening, at all.”

“Literally nothing,” Stan dead-panned.

“Sounds… exciting?” Mike giggled. He looked at Eddie. “Did you text Richie today?”

“Yes, but he hasn’t answered me.” Eddie fumbled for his phone to check if anything had changed since the last time he looked.

Mike opened his container of milk in a smooth motion. “If you get a hold of him, tell him he’s getting auctioned whether he comes in or not. Greta already knows of like five girls who are definitely planning on bidding on him.”

“I’ll tell him...right…now,” Eddie muttered, typing.

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|1:31[ Mike said they’re still going to auction you with or without your body present ]

|1:32[ what does it feel like to have girls so desperate to dance with you that they’re prebidding on you? ]

 

Eddie placed his phone on the table just as Ben and Bev arrived. “This is the first time he’s ever not answered me right away.”

“Who Richie?” Bev plunked herself down next to Mike. “What is he pulling an Eddie today?”

"Hey!" Eddie cried.

Stan shook his head. “I thought that, but Eddie’s right: Richie would be 100% in his element getting auctioned. He’d act like a fucking peacock.”

“I’ve had lunch with Richie almost every day since the beginning of the year and I can vouch for the fact that he would absolutely love standing on an auction block,” Ben concurred. “Maybe something happened?”

Bill jogged up to the table and sat next to Stan. “What’d I m-miss?”

Mike briefed him. “Richie is MIA. Bev coined the term ‘pulling an Eddie.’”

“What d-does ‘p-pulling an Eddie’ entail?”

“Totally freaking out,” Eddie replied distractedly. He stared at the message box on his phone's screen, willing Richie to answer him, but nothing came through.

 

****

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|3:13[ okay so please text me when you get this. Now I’m just worried, you asshole ]

 

Richie

|3:21[ hey ]

|3:22[ im sick spaghetti, like ‘please kill me’ sick ]

|3:22[ I woulda sucked it up and came to the auction, but trust me no one would buy me when im like this ]

|3:24[ sorry to answer u so late, was knocked out all day ]

 

Eddie felt a pang of sympathy hit his heart at the same time his stomach lurched. He wanted to march himself straight over to Richie’s house to make sure he was okay, but that instinct coincided with an intense desire to keep himself away from Richie for a week and a half. God how he hated cold and flu season. When the final bell rang, he fled the school without a word to anyone.

 

****

A pale and disheveled Sadie answered the door on the third ring. She was swaddled in an enormous grey sweatshirt that boasted Property of LaGuardia Highschool 2015 in red lettering and her curly hair was piled into a messy bun at the crown of her head. Her voice was good-natured, but painfully hoarse. “Whatever you’re selling little boy, we aren’t interested. I hear the people across the street are a bunch of suckers.” She pointed at the Kaspbrak residence, grinning.

He shook his head at her but couldn’t help smiling. “Nice to see you too, Sadie. Richie’s in his room, right?”

“Yeah, but you don’t want to come in here. We’re all sick.”

A squirmy sensation in the center of his gut threatened to send him running across the street to the safety of his bedroom, but he ignored it. “I think I’ll regret it, but I’m going to take my chances. What’s wrong with you anyway?”

“I dunno. The flu, I guess.” She abruptly walked away, leaving him to shut the front door. He hip-checked it to avoid touching the doorknob. It was obvious no one had cleaned in several days; the first floor of the house was a disaster area. Sadie crept back to her nest of blankets on the couch and flung herself down. She waved him up the stairs, remote in hand. “You know where dog-breath’s room is. Good luck. He’s an even bigger asshole when he’s sick.”

 

Richie’s door was slightly ajar, and Eddie tapped lightly with his finger pads before pushing it all the way open. Richie’d unpacked more of his things since the last time Eddie’d seen the space, but the room looked like a bomb hit it: clothes and books and papers were thrown everywhere. The air smelled vaguely like sickness and it made him uneasy. His mother would have an aneurysm if she knew what he was doing with his afternoon. He ran his hand across the front pocket of his jeans to fondle the outline of his inhaler, just making sure it was there and ready for him to take a hit if necessary.

All he could think about was the veritable circus of germs living inside Richie’s body, how they wanted to escape and infect everyone in a twenty-mile radius. They might not be able to think or see or speak, but viruses were driven by instinct. They’d still be wiggling their gross little gelatinous forms around on Earth and blindly searching for hosts to latch onto long after humans died out. He shuddered and steeled himself, tiptoeing slowly towards the bed.

The nightstand held Richie’s glasses, an unopened box of tissues, and an untouched bottle of water. There wasn’t any tea, juice, or medicine in sight. Eddie’s heart tugged at the sight of Richie, who was nothing more than a lump in the middle of the bed. He’d burrowed under the blanket with just his eyes and the top of his head exposed.

Eddie gingerly placed his palm flat against the sleeping boy’s forehead to find it scalding hot and dry. Dry is worse than sweaty, he’s had a fever for a while without it breaking. Got to bring it down. Richie groaned at the cool touch and rolled onto his back. It looked almost as if he’d let Sadie put make up on him. There were little swipes of hot pink fever blush on each of his cheek bones and his lips were chapped deep cherry. He shrugged the blankets off and they rolled down to his waist. His eyes fluttered open and searched around but they didn’t land on anything solid. He closed them, rasping weakly, “Sadie, don't fucking touch bme. Everythindg hurts, add it’s all your fault.”

Eddie walked in silence to the bathroom. He hunted around until he found a clean wash cloth. Soaking it in cool water from the tap, he wrung it out and folded it in half. It was exactly what his mother would do in the same situation. Not only would it help bring Richie’s fever down, it would feel good and pacify him.

Richie winced and gasped when the cloth settled across his forehead.  ”Oh, fuck that feels abazindg. You cand’t be Sadie, she’d dever do this. Are you the world’s dicest hombe indvader?” His voice was thickly congested and croaky, but he still had jokes.

“Yes,” Eddie replied softly. “I came here to steal your comics but you looked so pathetic that I decided to be your nurse instead.”

“Eddie Spaghetti,” he swooned, “You really are an andgel. I kndew it.” He groped his hand out, but Eddie stepped back.

“Keep your germy hands to yourself, please. I came here to check on you, but I’m not interested in catching what you have.”

“Good luck with that. I keep my distandce from Sadie as buch as possible and still edded up like this. The secodd you walked idto this house you were doombed--” He broke off coughing into his hooked elbow.

“Fantastic,” Eddie muttered. He sat down on the edge of the bed anyway, reaching out and holding two fingers to Richie’s cheek. “You’re really hot. Do you have—“

“Say I’mb hot againd,” he whispered, sniffling.

Richie.”

He licked at his chapped lips. “’Do I have’ what? A bodner? You kdnow it.”

“Okay, fuck this. I’m out.”

“Ndo ndo ndo, I’mb sorry, I’mb sorry,” he whined, his hand reaching again. He grabbed at Eddie’s wrist, looping his long fingers around it, and this time Eddie let him. “Please dond’t leave, Eddie.”

It was a sad, genuine plea out of the mouth of a person whom Eddie truly believed might be the cutest boy in the whole world. He had a sudden urge to climb behind Richie and just hold him. Instead he covered Richie’s hand with his own. “I’m not going anywhere. What I was trying to say was: do you have a thermometer?”

“Ndot ind here, but the bathroomb ind the hallway probably has stuff. By mbother is sick too, so she mbight have takend it ind her roomb.”

“Did you take any medicine?”

Richie shook his head no. “Huh-uh.”

Eddie ventured into the main bathroom and found a bottle of Nyquil, an ear thermometer and a package of cough drops. He returned with his offerings and got to work: he took Richie’s temperature, administered medicine and got him to drink water. Richie’s fever was high, but not dangerously so. He promptly fell back asleep and Eddie cleared himself a spot on the messy desk. He sat down to work on his homework and studied for a couple hours, paying special attention to his Calc notes. The sun shifted outside and the room grew dim.

 

Big Bill

|4:10[ dude ru seriously not showing up to this thing? ]

|4:12[ theyre bidding on u n richie anyway lol ]

|4:40[ holy shit veronica grogan just paid 135 bucks for a dance with richie ]

|4:41[ ur up now eddie, lmwa;lmdq stan started the bidding at 30 bucks ]

 

Eddie

|4:47[ veronica got him? Ewww. but also wow, that’s a lot of money ]

|4:48[ I’m kind of scared to ask but who won me? And how much? ]

 

Bg Bill

|4:49[  u sure you want to know? got ur inhaler close by? ]

 

 

 

Stan

|4:50[ Holy crap. You’re going to bust another tit.]

 

 

 

Bev

|4:50[ LMFAO UR GONNA SHIT URSELF ]

 

Richie sat up suddenly, red-faced and coughing. The cloth tumbled off his forehead, landing on the carpet with a squish. His hair stuck up crazily, matted and sweaty.

Sweaty is good, Eddie thought. Sweaty is better than dry. He tucked his phone away and turned his attention to Richie, who was blinking around drunkenly. He blindly groped for his glasses on the night table. “Eddie? You stayed?” His voice was weak but the medicine had cleared some of the congestion out of it.

“I stayed,” Eddie echoed. “Are you feeling any better?”

“Yeah, a little bit. Not as achy.” He flipped his pillow over and placed it at the foot of the bed. Flopping down onto his side, he curled his arms under it and gave Eddie a guilty smile. “Fuck, kid. You’re gonna get so sick. I’m sorry.”

“Richie, seriously, please stop saying that,” Eddie scolded, more forcefully than he intended. Richie’s eyes were wide and questioning. “I’m sorry.” Eddie explained it as calmly as he could manage. “Look, I have a thing with germs, okay? I’m not as bad as I used to be, but thinking about catching the flu from you…” He shivered from his head to his toes and fought the urge to gag. “I feel like there are already millions of germs inside me taking over my cells, just from walking into this house. They get in there y’know, and they use your own RNA to replicate themselves, did you know that?! And your stupid cells can’t even tell the difference.”

“Wait, rewind. Really?” Richie breathed sweetly. He closed his eyes and hugged his arms around his chest. “You’re a germphobe and came over to check on me anyway?”

Eddie rubbed his hands over his face and down his neck like he was scrubbing something off of his skin. “Richie, I wouldn’t be caught dead doing this for anyone else. So just shut up about me getting sick, too.” He closed his eyes and rubbed at his temples. “If you don’t mention it, I can pretend it isn’t happening.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Like two hours.”

“Eddie!” Richie’s squeal was a raspy note that rattled in his chest. “I have warm fuzzies all over. My hero.” Eddie rolled his eyes, opening his mouth to protest but Richie held up his finger. “No, I’m serious. That shit is so amazingly cute.” He sat up a little bit, resting his head on his hand, elbow pivoted on the bed. “I’m mega loopy right now, Eddie Spaghetti.”

“Loopy?”

“Straight trippin, Eds. I hate cold medicine; it makes me feel drunk as fuck.” His face got thoughtful and he chewed on his lower lip. “I feel like telling you stuff. You’re like, risking your life and your sanity to be here with me. I wanna bare my soul to you.” 

Richie’s raw earnestness felt like a balm smoothing over Eddie's fears. He wanted to be there with him. Fuck germs. “What kind of stuff do you want to tell me?” 

“You wanna hear about how I got expelled? I think I'm ready.”

Eddie’s entire body went into high alert. He nodded vigorously.

Richie unwrapped a cough drop and stuck it in his mouth. He laid on his back and stared at the ceiling. “Shut the door, okay? I haven’t said this out loud to anyone because it’s embarrassing, so just like…fuck it.” He hung an arm over his eyes. “Okay, just listen. Are you listening?”

Eddie clicked the door shut and perched himself on the edge of the mattress. He kept his voice soft and encouraging. “Yeah, Richie. I’m listening.”

He sucked in a deep breath. “Alright, so I had a boyfriend last year and I really liked him. A lot. But apparently, he didn’t feel the same way because he dumped me right before finals. He blamed it on me not being out to my parents. Said he ‘wasn’t about that closeted life.’ I told him I was planning to tell them. Like I thought we’d be spending a lot of time together over the summer and I’d kind of have to tell them, y’know, but he didn’t care.”

He paused, the cough drop clacking on his teeth as he sucked it. His voice was thicker when he spoke again and Eddie couldn’t tell if it was due to emotion or illness. “But then, I found out that it was all bullshit. It wasn’t about me at all, he liked someone else.” He took his glasses off and underhand tossed them onto the night stand. “And fuck, dude. I was really fucking pissed off about it. So, the first day of finals, while everyone else in the whole school was either taking an exam or proctoring one, I broke into the PA room and blasted the angriest break-up song I know into every single classroom in the building.”

He rolled over on his belly and looked over at Eddie. “It played on fucking repeat for a half an hour, Eds. It felt really good at the time, and my only regret was that I didn’t get to see the look on his stupid face when he heard it.”

“I'm sorry he broke your heart. I kind of want to beat him up," Eddie admitted, stern. He gave Richie a soft look. "Do you think he knew it was you?”

Richie smiled wanly. “Oh yeah. A bunch of people knew immediately that it was me. My phone was blowing up.”

“It sounds like it was disruptive or whatever, but that was enough for you to get expelled?”

“Yeah, well, I already had a record full of detentions, and two suspensions for fighting. The Vice Principal was totally done with my shit by that point. Plus after the whole thing I cursed out my guidance counselor, who first of all: pretended to be my friend for the entire year. I’ve been a straight A student since I was in first grade, Eds. So y’know, I thought like an idiot that fucking Barbara, who acted like she was my fucking buddy would help me.”

He sat up and opened the box of tissues. Eddie watched as he blew his nose aggressively, and realized that he was wrestling with tears. He chucked the wadded-up ball of disease on the floor. “She said that my actions were ‘disturbing and borderline anarchistic.’ She didn’t even know why I did it. Nobody did, except Jonnie.” He sniffled and reclined on his back, rubbing his eyes as he spoke. “I flipped out on Barbara when she said that shit to me because she was being so dramatic. Like, bitch, I know this is a high school full of queer drama nerds but get a grip on yourself. You ain’t auditioning for Criminal Minds, here.”

“Well now I understand why you don't want to trust Judith. It must have been really tough when Barbara wan't on your side.” Eddie gave him a sympathetic smile. “And, uh, queer drama nerds?”

“I went to LaGuardia. It’s a performing arts school, so like more than half of the student body was LGBTQ+, obviously.”

“Really? That’s awesome. What were you studying?"

"Drama. I totally ruined everything, coulda had a million opportunities from that school." He burst into a fit of congested coughs.

Eddie moved from the bed to fetch Richie's bottle of water for him. "It doesn't have to be ruined, Richie. If that's what you want to do you still can."

Richie's eyes were shiny and grateful. "Eddie the optimist. Where are you when Eddie the anxiety monster decides to call the shots?"

He chuckled and shook his head. " I don't know, that's a good question. Hey wait, can I ask something? What’s the angriest breakup song you know?”

“Ehhh it’s really angsty,” he groaned, slinging his arm over his eyes in embarrassment again. He might have been blushing, but his cheeks were already red to start out. “I’m gonna hav’ta plead the fifth on that one for now.” He peeked an eye out from under his arm. "Wait a minute. You came here instead of going to the auction."

Eddie shrugged. "Yeah, but they sold us both sight unseen. Want to know who you’re going to be dancing with?”

“Sure, but more importantly, I wanna know who you’re gonna be dancing with.” Richie grinned, rocking himself up to lean onto his elbows.

Eddie whipped out his phone. “You got Veronica. Remember our waitress at the diner?” Richie nodded and made a face. “And I got—“ Eddie froze, reading the name from his texts, a look of shock stealing over his features.

“Spaghetti? You okay?” Richie asked, obvious concern in his voice. He put his glasses back on and leaned forward. “Who is it?”

 

Big Bill

|4:51[ its Patrick dude, $65 ]

|5:12[ u ok? ]

 

Stan

|4:52[ Patrick. I fucking HATE text speak, but LOLOL ]

|4:53[ I couldn’t believe it. Sixty-five bucks, too. So like, that happened. ]

|4:53[ I bet twelve-year-old Eddie never imagined he’d dance with Patrick one day. ]

|5:02[ Call me later, don’t implode alone. ]

 

Bev

|4:52[ BOYS EDDIE. BOYS ARE BUYING BOYS ]

|4:52[ UR PROB GONNA DIE BUT I AM OVER THE MOON ]

|4:53[ oh btw patrick hockstetter bought u thats what im trying to say ]

Chapter Text

Richie

|1:32[ so fuckin bored eds. I wanna come back in the AM but my mom said no ]

|1:32[ still fever :*(**** ]

|1:34[ remember when u said i was really hot and it was like a double entendre? ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|1:35[ I have no idea what you’re referring to ]

 

Richie

|1:36[ tease ]

|1:38[ ru still bringing me calc notes after school? ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|1:39[ yes, but I’m going to stick them through the mail slot, ring the bell and run away ]

 

Richie

|1:39[ ur so full of shit, u miss me ]

|1:40[ and i wiped everything in my room with clorox wipes just for u ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|1:41[ did you wipe them all over your hands and body too? ]

 

Richie

|1:41[ ooh u want me to disinfect my hands and body bc ur gonna touch my hands and body ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|1:43[ lol you wish. see you at 3:30 ]

 

Richie

|1:43[ :D ]

 

-

 

Stan

|1:37[ You’re not coming again today? ]

|1:38[ We promised that we’d stop messing with you about Patrick. ]

 

-

 

Bev

|1:39[ EDDIE UR BREAKING MY HEART ]

 

-

 

Bill

|1:40[ we miss u at lunch ]

|1:41[ but i get why you dont want to come ]

|1:41[ bev and stan are transfixed ]

 

Eddie

|1:42[ nice vocab word usage ]

 

-

 

Ben

|1:42[ please come back. I’m such a 5 th wheel rn ]

 

-

 

Mike

|1:43[ lunch without u and R is boring ngl ]

|1:44[ hey before I forget, u want to help us set up for the dance fri? ]

 

 

Richie was struck down with the flu for nearly half a week. Eddie missed him, not just because he was nice to look at, kept the mood light, and challenged Eddie in a way that was fresh and unexpected. He also missed him because if Richie was present, Eddie could spare himself the pain of an awkward private conversation. His friends would not stop talking about the saga of Eddie and Patrick, and he wanted Richie to be there at their lunch table to hear it from them. Bev and Stan were reduced to giggling hyenas, and teased him mercilessly. Wasn’t it so funny that you used to like him Eddie? Isn’t this just the craziest thing to happen ever?  Couldn’t you just die?

Eddie found sanctuary in Judith’s small office. He showed up randomly at the beginning of his lunch period to find the counselor organizing files while she nibbled at her salad. She welcomed the distraction, not to mention the extra pair of hands to help with the menial tasks. The guidance team desperately needed an administrative assistant, but the school couldn’t afford the expense. He and Judith chatted as they worked, and Eddie was amazed to find himself confiding in her with very little prodding.

“I just don’t understand, why now?” He’d pulled his chair into the corner of the office next to the filing cabinet and sat alphabetizing a pile of old transcripts. His eyes kept dragging over to a framed photo on Judith’s desk, one he didn’t notice before. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Judith’s voice came from behind him. She was seated on the floor with a fan of papers surrounding her. “Sometimes people don’t realize what they really want until it becomes unattainable to them,” she muttered, shuffling files. “Chalk it up to human nature. The Grass is Greener Syndrome.”

“Maybe,” Eddie considered. His eyes locked onto the picture once again. In it, Judith was caught in the middle of an open-mouthed laugh, hugging her slim arms around a woman with short, dark hair and almond-shaped eyes. They were seated in white plastic chairs and dressed for the beach, loosely held bamboo-umbrella-decorated cocktails in their hands. The photo emanated summery good vibes and love. He wanted to ask Judith if the woman was her girlfriend, but it seemed too personal.

“Have you asked Patrick?”

He pulled his stare away from the picture and swiveled his chair. Judith was watching him from her seat on the floor. “Asked him what?”

Why now?” She echoed his sentiments softly before heaving herself up into her chair with a grunt.

Eddie blinked at the floor. “No. I haven’t even seen him around school.” It wasn’t a lie. Eddie was known for his tendency to avoid things when the going got tough, but there really weren’t any organic opportunities for him to speak with Patrick since the auction. Patrick was a senior, so they didn’t have any classes together, and he spent his lunch under the bleachers with Bowers and their group of stoner friends. Eddie couldn’t imagine himself walking up to that pack of cretins and pulling Patrick aside, demanding an explanation.

“If you really want to know, ask.” She said it as though it were the only possible solution.

Eddie wrinkled his nose. “But it’s so much easier to whine about it to you and make up hypothetical scenarios in my head.”

Judith laughed, her eyes crinkling. She gazed at Eddie with a look of pure fondness. “If the easiest route isn’t the most effective, then maybe it’s time to plan a new route.”

“Okay, Dr. Phil,” he chuckled sarcastically. He placed the stack of papers on top of the filing cabinet and rolled his chair back to its rightful place in front of Judith’s desk.

“By the way, how’s Richie doing?”

“He’s still sick. And I’m not.” His mother claimed him delicate since the day he was born, and some part of him still believed her. “I want to give my mother a big I-told-you-so lecture, but if I even mention that I walked into a flu ridden household she’d drag me to the walk-in clinic in two seconds.” He didn’t want to admit that he’d waited anxiously for the first symptoms to appear, shining his phone’s flashlight down his throat in front of the mirror every morning since his visit to the Tozier’s. He remained healthy nonetheless, and if his immune system could talk it would scream Fuck you Sonia, fuck you and your Echinacea and your bullshit theories about me. I AM STRONG.

“I meant more in the global sense. " Judith’s soft voice brought him back to Earth. "Has he offered you his opinion about the Patrick thing?”

“He’s been oddly quiet about it." Eddie studied his fingers, picking at dry spot on his cuticle. "But it’s not like I said ‘hey, check it out, this guy I had a crush on for years made it publicly known that he wants to dance with me.’ I told him it’s probably some prank. Bowers put him up to it.” The idea wasn’t exactly outside of the realm of possibility, but Eddie knew somewhere deep down that it wasn’t the case.

Eddie,”  she drawled, disappointed. “Tell him. Don’t leave him in the dark. My meetings with him are private, but I can tell you one thing: He doesn’t like liars."

“But I didn’t lie!” He ran a hand behind his neck nervously. “I just didn’t tell him the whole story.” Wait, was  he a liar?

“Lies by omission are the sneakiest lies,” Judith stated wisely. “Because sometimes it means you’re lying to yourself, too.”

 

****

Richie’s room was clean down to the linens. It even smelled clean, like it’d been hit with a heavy dose of disinfectant, for which Eddie was grateful. He reclined longways across Richie’s bed with his legs dangling over the side, his face pressed into a thick graphic novel. They were supposed to be studying together, but he was more interested in reading The Long Halloween. He didn’t particularly care for Batman, but Catwoman on the other hand...

Eddie went trick or treating as Catwoman for three years in a row starting when he was ten. It wasn’t an official costume, just a pair of gifted leggings from Beverly, a black long-sleeved shirt, and a plastic mask he spent his life savings on at the party store. He added a belt and Bev helped him paint white creases and stitching onto the length of the entire costume. His mother had no clue what he was dressed as because she made him wear his thickest, longest coat over the costume anyway. Tiny Eddie secretly loved Halloween more than any other holiday and it had nothing to do with free candy. It was a night when dressing strangely was praised and expected. A night when a boy who got picked on for wearing short-shorts and a fanny pack could dress like a strong female that he admired and no one even blinked.

Richie sat cross-legged next to him, circling mistakes on Eddie’s practice test with a purple pen. His voice was low and gravely. “Spaghetti Squash, you got this problem wrong and it’s a real easy fix.”

“Not even vaguely my name,” Eddie muttered distractedly, turning a page.

“Batman can’t help you pass the test next week,” Richie told him, removing the comic from his hands. “I can, though.”

He let out a frustrated whine and stretched his arms over his head, laying prone. “I don’t want to talk about math even a little bit, Richie.”

“Well then it’s a good thing you came over to study,” Richie chirped, laying down next to Eddie with his chin resting on his hand. “What do you want to talk about instead?”

What do I want to talk about? Well, I used to have a crush on Patrick for a really long time, and it made me feel like such a dumb little puppy. Then one day, it went away, like there was a miracle cure that I swallowed without knowing it. Now, a fucking million years later, he makes some kind of weird move and I’m scared to ask him about it and I’m scared to have to dance with him. Judith wants me to tell you, but I’m worried that you’re going to get all weird and take it the wrong way and I just can’t imagine what I’d do if you--

“Earth to Edward Kaspbrak.” Richie brought his hand to his mouth and made noises like he was mission control calling out to space. “Houston. Chhhkrr Transmission weak. Spaghetti Squash orbiter off-grid.”

Eddie flung his hand out and limply backhanded Richie across his ribs. “Shut the fuck up with the Spaghetti Squash shit,” he warned, his eyes flashing.

Richie burst out laughing at the stern reply and it turned into a hacking cough. When he recovered, his cheeks were flushed and he choked out, “You are a little Spaghetti Squash, though.”

Eddie rolled himself over to match Richie’s posture and let his eyes trail across Richie’s long body. He wore a threadbare shirt that exposed both his collar bone and a pale swatch of skin just above the waistband of his pajama pants. Eddie’s eyes got stuck there for a minute.

“I’m up here, Eds,” Richie informed him, amused. His complexion was healthier than the first day of his illness, but he looked worn down and it tugged on Eddie’s heartstrings.

“That cough doesn’t sound good. Your mom should take you to the doctor.”

“Yeah, uh, my parents are--what’s the technical term? Lemme see-lemme see,” He blinked around and scrunched up his face like he attempted to solve a riddle. “Aha, neglectful,” he exclaimed, raising a finger. “Mom got sick with the same thing as us; she’s fine now, so I just gotta suck it up.”

Eddie couldn’t imagine what it was like to have such a hands-off parent. His mother was in his face about his health constantly. Did it make Richie feel lonely? Not cared for? He reached out his hand to feel Richie’s forehead, letting it linger as he skated his thumb over Richie’s soft eyebrow. His eyelids drooped at the touch and Eddie could feel him drinking in the attention.  “At least you’re not really hot now,” he mused. “Just slightly warm.” He drew his hand back and placed it on the bed. “You think you’ll be better in time to go to the dance on Friday?”

“Probably? It’s three days away.”

“Did you decide on a costume?”

“I’m going dressed as an accountant,” Richie claimed, dead serious. “What do you think?”

What?” Eddie squealed, horrified. “You’re not that boring, Richie. Veto.”

“Okay, fine, I’m gonna go as a meatball so we match. Get it? Spaghetti and meatballs--”

“Come on, be serious,” Eddie moaned, long-suffering.

“Honestly?” He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes tiredly. “I haven’t a fucking clue, Eds. What are you going as?”

Eddie grinned, pausing for effect. “…Jean Grey.”

“No way,” Richie marveled softly, a dreamy smile playing at his lips. “That’s bold as fuck.”

“It’s just because it’s Halloween,” Eddie reasoned. He wasn’t actually bold, just festive. “I don’t have the guts to do drag in real life.”

 Richie cocked his head and squinted up at the corner of the room, and Eddie could tell he was trying to picture it. “Famke Janssen Jean Grey or Sophie Turner Jean Grey?”

Eddie let his mouth hang open, affronted. He smugly raised a hand with a flourish. “Green and gold forever.”

“Ah, classic Jean Grey. I shoulda known that by now,” Richie scolded softly and gave himself little slap on the wrist. “Eddie’s a classic kinda guy.” He rolled onto his back and put his hands behind his head with his elbows splayed. “Bodysuit or dress?”

“You’ll just have to show up to find out,” Eddie whispered, leaning closer.

Richie smiled without showing his teeth, eyes half-lidded. “Speaking of which.” He cleared his throat and returned his glasses to the bridge of his nose, taking more time to straighten them than was necessary. “You want a ride? I never get to take my bike out. Everything in this town is within walking distance and I don’t ride to school because I think one of the goons will fuck with her while I’m in class.” He paused, studying Eddie’s face. “But I guess if you’re gonna be all…mini-skintight-dress Jean Grey…” he swallowed. “It might be uncomfortable for you.” He looked strangely shy and self-conscious and it made Eddie feel brave.

He looked right into Richie’s eyes, challenging him. “Are you asking if I want a ride, or asking if I want to go with you to the dance?”

Richie blinked at him. “Um. Both?” His raspy voice was soft and hopeful.

Eddie reached out to lay a hand across his chest. “Yes, I want to go with you to the dance, Richie.” He stood up abruptly and walked backwards towards the door. “I’m going to get us something to drink.”

He padded down the steps, slowing for a second as he passed his favorite baby picture of Richie. The entire house looked to have been scrubbed clean. Eddie wondered absently when Mrs. Tozier found the time to do it; it seemed like she was never home.

Sadie was perched on one of the barstools surrounding the kitchen island. Her hair was done up in french braided pigtails and she wore the LaGuardia sweatshirt again, an item that must’ve belonged to Richie at one point that was either given to Sadie, or taken by force. She glanced up from her homework as Eddie opened the fridge and purred, a bouncing cadence to her voice. “You and Richard have been up there for a while. Study date?” 

Eddie pivoted around with two bottles of water in his hands and used his knee to shut the door. “How observant of you,” he answered dryly. He placed the water on top of the island and leaned against it. “Are you feeling better?”

“Yeah,” she nodded. Her face went bitter. “I had to go back to school after three days but that faker up there is gonna end up getting a week-long vacation.”

“He still has a fever." He crossed his arms over his chest, defensive on Richie’s behalf.  "And a bad cough.”

“Well, well." Sadie grinned knowingly at his change in demeanor. "Someone is awfully concerned with my brother’s health.”

“I thought you didn’t have a brother,” Eddie clapped back smartly. “He’s just a stray dog, right?” He pertly retrieved the water and started out of the room.

“He likes you a lot, you know,” she called to him brightly. “More than the last one.”

Eddie spun around slowly, waiting for the punchline, but Sadie just stared at him. “How…how do you know that?”

She tossed her pen down and leaned back in her seat. “He listens to different music. Sappy, lovey music.”

“He does?” Eddie bit back a smile, shaking his head. He walked back towards her. “But how do you know it’s me he likes?” Richie liking him wasn’t a surprise, but the confirmation from the tiny Tozier gave him the tingles. He wanted her to keep going.

Sadie shrugged and played with one of her pigtails. “You’re the only person he’s brought over since we moved. Plus he cleaned his room for you while he’s sick. It’s like so obvious.” She looked Eddie directly in the eye. “Just don’t break his heart.” She said it casually, it like she didn’t really care, but the gesture was sweet. It made Eddie ache for a sibling. “He was really messed up last summer.”

“I don’t want to hurt him." He leaned his chest against the counter and gave her a mournful little smile. "I really like him too, Sadie.”

She grinned, scribbling in her book. “Yeah, which is like mystery of the year.”

“I—You--" He stammered, insistent. "Your brother is an amazing person, Sadie--”

“EDDIE SPAGHETTI DID YOU GET TAKEN HOSTAGE?” Richie’s hoarse voice screeched down the stairwell and made the two of them jump. “QUACK ONCE FOR NO, TWICE FOR YES. THREE TIMES IF YOU HAVE STOCKHOLM SYNDROME.”

“Oh yeah,” Sadie gagged sarcastically. “I see the appeal, totally. He’s bae for real.”

 

****

The next day at school, Eddie braved the lunch table. Beverly and Mike were the first ones seated, and Bev was hunched over, feverishly painting Mike’s nails. Eddie was perplexed but didn’t say anything. His delighted stare must’ve said it all.

“Bevvie is just giving me a visual of how pink looks on me. I’m weighing costume options,” Mike explained sheepishly.

An enormous, sugary sweet smile spread over Eddie’s face. “I think might I have just fallen in love with your boyfriend, Bev. Help.”

She answered without looking up from her intense manicure procedure, her speech slurred from a wooden cuticle pusher between her teeth. “Back off short-stack. He doesn’t like the D, he only likes me.”

Stan arrived and breathlessly plopped down next to Eddie. “Good, you’re back,” he panted. “We won’t say anything about you-know-who.”

Bev raised her head and pinched up her face like she was trying to remember something. “You-know-who, who? Never heard of him.”

“I appreciate that,” Eddie said graciously. “But, if Richie comes back tomorrow I give you guys permission to talk about him.”

Mike narrowed his eyes. “Why would you want them to talk about it in front of Richie?”

“Talk about what in front of Richie?” Ben took his seat next to Bev.

“Just like, the fact that I used to have a crush on Patrick and how this whole thing is incredibly weird and out-of-left-field,” Eddie rattled in a rush.

Bev’s mouth dropped open and the wooden stick clattered onto the table. “HE DOESN’T KNOW?” She screamed, shrill yet amused.

Stan was shaking his head. “Oh, for fuck’s sweet sake. Eddie.”

Bill joined them, his eyes surveying the faces at the table. “N-now what?”

Ben piped up. “Richie doesn’t know about Eddie’s crush on Patrick.”

Ancient crush,” Eddie defended. “Prehistoric.”

Bill snickered. “He’s g-gonna be mad that you didn’t t-t-tell him.”

“I’ve never actually seen Richie mad,” Bev mused, focusing her attention back to Mike’s nails. “Not even when he fought Bowers.”

“Do you have to do that right now? People are trying to eat and the smell is gross,” Stan reprimanded her.

“But I want to see if hot pink is my color,” Mike bemoaned, holding up his hand. Bev had only finished applying a clear base coat.

“It is your color, trust me,” Bev cooed, leaning closer to him.

Mike kissed her softly, taking care to keep his hands out at his sides. “But if I wear that,” he said cryptically, “we won’t be able to match.”

“We don’t have to match, baby. I want to go as something scary,” she murmured, cupping his cheek. “You’re going to look so amazing, my heart is like bursting.”

“Can we tone down the PDA right now?” Stan grimaced, holding his hand up to block the couple like they were a horror movie. “Between the fumes from the polish and you two, I’m going to barf.” Bill caught Eddie’s eye over Stanley’s head and mouthed Watch. Without a word, he snaked his hand up behind Stanley’s shoulder blades and gently massaged between them, and Stan immediately quieted, sucking in his breath and closing his eyes.

“Continue,” Bill told the couple, smirking at Stan’s slackened face.

Ben grinned. “That’s a neat party trick.”

Bill smiled. “I am the St-Stanley Whisperer.” His hands moved up to the base of Stan’s neck. “S-so Eddie, you want u-us to tell Ruh-Richie that you used to like P-p-p—Fuck it. You-know-who?”

Eddie sighed. “Yeah,” he whined, miserably embarrassed. “Do you think that’s really stupid? I just don’t want to have to say it.”

“Text it to him if you really can’t say it,” Ben stated simply. “The longer you wait, the more it’s going to bother Richie.”

Bev nodded. “Yeah, Eddie. Don’t wait until the second before you have to dance with him.”

“Or… until… the second… after,” Stan mumbled, putty in Bill’s hands.

Eddie dug his phone out of the front pocket of his back pack.

 

Richie

|1:34[ did u go to judiths office again today? ]

|1:35[ tell her i said ‘jets to brazil.' shell know what it means ]

|1:43[ im coming back tomorrow btw, ru stoked? ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti
|1:45[ I went to lunch today, sorry ]

|1:45[ I’m stoked, wish you were here now ]

 

Richie

|1:46[ !!!!!!! <3 !!!!!! :D !!!!! <3 !!!!!!!!!! <3 !!! ]

 

Eddie put his phone on the table. “He’s coming back tomorrow. I’ll tell him then.” 

Bev threw her head back and cackled. “You’re not going to tell him. And we’re not playing parts in your puppet theater, either.”

“We’re not,” Stan agreed, placid and kind in his post-Bill-Massage high.

Ben nodded. "Not happening."

Eddie turned his eyes on Mike, who looked genuinely sad that he couldn't help. "Sorry."

"You g-gotta do it Eddie."

He laid his head down on the table. "Fuck."

Chapter Text

Richie

|4:29[ heyy ]

|4:29[ idk if im more excited to see ur costume or for u to see mine ]

|4:30[ ur meeting me in the driveway, right? ]

|4:30[ 545 ok? greta will shit a live bird if were late to help ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|4:45[ what a lovely image to assault my brain ]

|4:46[ I’m v excited to see your costume but if you’re dressed like an accountant or a bank teller I’m going to hurt you ]

 

Richie

|4:47[ nothing like that at all, save ur violent threats for when i deserve them ]

|4:47[ ur gonna seriously get googly when u see ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|4:47[ googly? ]

 

Richie

|4:48[ yes. googly. fuzzy, like a bunny ]

 

 

 

Eddie admired himself in his bedroom’s full-length mirror, his chest tingling with nervous anticipation. He wasn’t normally one to ring his own bell, especially when it came to his looks, but on that night, there was no denying that he looked damn good. He turned around, craning his neck over his shoulder to admire his own ass. The deep green spandex clung to him all over, leaving little to the imagination. His thrifted boots—which were spray painted yellow earlier that afternoon in Bev’s driveway--boosted his height to nearly 5’10” while accentuating his naturally thick thighs. The entire costume was DIY, just like the ones he wore as a kid, but they’d executed it so well that he could’ve led people to believe it was store-bought if he wanted to.

He and Bev shopped for components together and worked as a team to build each of their costumes. Her goal of dressing scary was brilliantly met, and Eddie personally found her choice to be downright terrifying. They joked around while they snipped and sewed and hot glued, and sweet Beverly was kind enough to keep her lips sealed regarding the Richie situation. He almost wished she would just yell at him and get it over with; he wanted to yell at himself, because he’d foolishly squandered every opportunity to spill his guts over the past several days.

Richie recovered and returned to school, throwing himself right back into the fold. He was as oblivious to Eddie’s internal struggle as their friend group was tenacious regarding keeping their word. There was nary a whisper about Patrick from any of them, but if looks could wring necks, Eddie was a dead man walking five times over. Despite their disappointed glares, Eddie remained as quiet about Patrick as Richie did regarding his costume selection for the dance. Insisting that it be kept a secret until they met in his driveway the night of the event, he believed it to be a bright idea, a stroke of literal genius, and couldn’t hide his pride over it.  “You’re gonna love it, Eds; it’s gonna knock your socks off,”  he’d declared, his eyes dancing and warm. He looked so honest and cute and happy that Eddie almost broke down and told him everything. Almost.

After one last twirl in front of the mirror, Eddie layered his thickest, warmest coat over his costume and made his way downstairs to say goodbye to his mother. His look wasn’t totally complete: the long red wig was rolled in a wig-cap, stuffed into a plastic shopping bag and shoved into his coat’s deep pocket. Not only was it a bad idea to wear it while riding on a motorcycle, he also wasn’t exactly ready to waltz into the living room and announce  I’m dressed as a lady-mutant Mama, don’t I look pretty?  Though the horrified look on his mother’s face such a statement would elicit might’ve been worth it.  

Instead, he stood before her with his pea coat briefly held open like a flasher and told her the truth. “I’m one of the X-men, Ma. They’re superheroes.” Okay, it was the truth, but the vaguest version of the truth that was possible.

Seated in her armchair, she eyed him skeptically. “That’s nice dear. A little tight, though, no?”

He shrugged, tucking his coat closed and wrapping a scarf around his neck, more for her benefit than his own. “Superheroes wear spandex.”

That seemed to appease her. She turned her attention back to her TV program. “You’ll be back in time for your curfew, I hope.”

Her continued lack of faith in his sense of responsibility frustrated him, but he tried to keep the annoyance out of his voice. At least she didn’t ask about the heels. “Yeah, Ma. When am I not?”

 

 

The chunky heels of his boots had him clopping like a Clydesdale as he crossed the street, and they inserted an involuntary wiggle into his walk. Richie was already in the driveway as he approached and whistled appreciatively. He probably could’ve heard Eddie coming from a mile away. “Holy hell, Jean Grey Parfait, you’re a giant.”

“I wouldn’t go that  far.” Eddie rolled his eyes, dismissive. He stopped walking when he reached the motorcycle, which was already uncovered and ready to go. “You’re still taller. And what the fuck Richie, Jean Grey Parfait? What is it with you and rhyming?”

“Shut your cute little face and open up that coat. Come on, let me see you,” Richie urged impatiently, his eyes excited.

With a bashful little bob of his head, Eddie tossed his scarf over Richie’s bike and made a slow show out of unbuttoning his pea coat. He whipped it off, discarding it in tandem with his scarf. Richie’s eyebrows shot up and his eyes widened, ping ponging back and forth between the yellow eagle on Eddie’s chest and the matching sash slung low around his hips until they got lost somewhere near the thickness of his thighs.

“Oh my God,”  Richie uttered, blown away. “You look…I’m fucking speechless. Holy shit, Eds.”

“For a speechless person, you’re saying a lot of words,” he teased.

 Richie ignored Eddie’s goading, circling around him like a shark to check him out from behind. “You’re missing the red hair, though. Are you planning on chopping off Marsh’s and stealing it? It’s probably too short.”

“Ha-ha,” Eddie coughed humorlessly, and began turning his body along with Richie to maintain eye contact. He tipped his chin towards his discarded coat. “Wig’s in there. I’ll put it on when we get to school. But enough about me; what are you supposed to be?” Richie had his contacts in and was decked out in all black. He wore a bomber jacket, skinny jeans, and combat boots, but his costume was a total mystery to Eddie. “If you’re dressed like a meatball under there, I’m going to murder you.”

Richie stopped his circling and let out a sharp laugh. “No meatballs, promise. Here, let me give you a big clue.“ He reached into his front pocket and pulled out a pair of glasses. They were yellow and had one narrow slit going across both eyes, the long horizontal lens a dark red color. He slid them on his face and grinned. “I can’t drive in these bad boys, so I have to take them off til we get there, but…”

Eddie smiled slowly, elated. “You’re Cyclops,” he breathed.

“Yup.” He unzipped the jacket to reveal a black shirt with yellow duct tape stretched over it in two lines that travelled all the way over his shoulders and around his waist. There was a red X over his heart. “I didn’t have anything blue, and I don’t have the right boots, but I’m close.”

“Cyclops is Jean Grey’s husband,” Eddie said tenderly, clutching at his chest.

“Yup,” Richie repeated, popping the P.

“Richie, that’s so fucking cute.”

“I know,”  he sang adorably. “See,” he grinned proudly, pointing at Eddie’s goofy, uncontrollable smile. “Googly. Soft and fuzzy.”

Eddie rushed forward without thinking, slipping his arms inside Richie’s jacket to hug him tightly around his chest. Richie froze for a second, surprised, but recovered quickly. He wrapped his arms around Eddie’s shoulders and squeezed him, pecking a quick kiss on the top of his head, and the gesture made Eddie melt inside. He hugged tighter, and felt Richie’s heart beat quicken against his ear. It was a perfect moment, warm and intimate. Something inside Eddie’s belly thrummed Tell him. Tell him. Tell him. With his head still pressed against Richie’s chest, he started to. “Richie, I have to tell you something. I should’ve told you before, but saying it out loud just makes me feel gross and squirmy and embarrassed inside.”

Richie loosened his hands and rubbed one of them up and down Eddie’s back. “I’m familiar with that feeling, kid. I’m listening.”

Eddie broke their embrace gently and picked up his coat, putting it on. His teeth chattered a bit as he spoke. “Okay, so you know how Patrick bid on me?”

“Uh-huh” He swung a leg over the motorcycle and sat down.

“And you know how I said it was probably a prank?”

“Uh-huuuh,” Richie hummed, his facial expression a mix of confusion and anticipation.

“I used to have a crush on Patrick,” Eddie blurted and cringed. “When we were little, and— He knew it. He always knew it.” He twisted his hands together and paced back and forth on the drive way. Richie was in his periphery, watching him, and Eddie didn’t dare look directly at his face. “And I got over it, because… I don’t know, because of a lot of reasons, but mostly because he turned into a completely different person as we got older.” He stopped in his tracks to heave a deep breath. “But then I saw him at Bill’s party, and he said he missed me. I thought he was just drunk and being a pain in the ass. I told him to leave, that we didn’t want him around—“

“And you shoved him,” Richie broke in, his voice subdued. There was a clicking sound as he lit up a smoke, and Eddie cautioned a glance at him. His eyes were unfocused and locked on the asphalt.

“Yeah. I shoved him. I didn’t think anything else about the whole thing after that, but then he bid on me.” He shook his head hard. “But why?” He asked the question desperately, more to himself than to Richie, but Eddie got an answer anyway.

“Because you’re adorable, Eds,” Richie told him, like it was obvious. “He realized that he blew his chance a long time ago and decided to go for it. I know the move, it’s a bold move.” He took a puff of his cigarette and flicked ashes thoughtfully. “I should’ve bid on you. Fuck, why didn’t I think of that?”

“You were half-dead when the auction was happening, how would you bid on me?” Eddie reminded him with a little smile. It was precious that Richie lamented missing the opportunity to woo him with a grand gesture. “Besides, I don’t think bachelors would be allowed to bid on other bachelors.”

 “So what? I could’ve given all my money to Stan the Man and told him to go nuts when they called your name.” He flicked his half-finished cigarette towards the end of the drive way with a sigh. “So now you gotta dance with this guy, and you feel all weird about it, and you think I’m gonna be all weird about it. Right? Am I close?”

Richie was right on the money, and Eddie blustered. “Uh, yeah. I don’t want you to be weird about it. Or get mad.”

“Hmn.” Richie fidgeted his hands on the handle bars, tapping his fingers in an unrecognizable beat. “I’ll try my best to not be weird. But you’ve met me before, right? Weird is kinda my natural state.”

“I’m aware of that,” Eddie affirmed, resignedly amused.

“You’re wasting all this time worrying about Patrick,” Richie grinned impishly. “When for all you know, Veronica Grogan and I might fall in love on the dance floor and want to have like nine-thousand babies together. Then who’s gonna be mad?”

“Uh, the entire world  because they’ll be subjected to your demon-spawn.”

“Your words are like daggers in my heart,” Richie said, mock-seriously. “Now let’s get out of here. Greta is going to commit homicide if we don’t get there in time to set up like we promised.”

“I thought she was going to shit a live bird.”

“Semantics.”

 

****

 

Greta stepped up to the microphone and produced a squealing burst of feedback that sent up a cluster of groans in the crowd. She held up a finger and took a minute to mess around with the sound equipment. Eddie wasn’t sure what she intended to be dressed as. She had a full face of stage makeup and appeared to be wearing something that belonged underneath  clothes: a wispy, silky slip with a lace hem. The vaguely cat-like ears on her head might indicate that she was meant to be a feline.

Richie leaned over and muttered out of the side of his mouth. “Dude, what the fuck is she supposed to be?” They sat side by side on the bottom lip of the foldout wooden bleachers that lined the perimeter of the gym.

Eddie tilted his head towards Richie. “I think she’s a cat wearing a night gown.”

“Sorry about that,” Greta’s voice boomed. “Happy Halloween, everyone! I know you wanna get to it, so I’ll make this really quick. Thanks so much to the party planning committee and to everyone that came early to help us set up. Also a very, very special thanks to Joey Ripsom, for loving the people at his alma mater enough to DJ tonight for almost nothing.” She gestured over to the DJ, whose setup was a simple MacBook on top of a folding table. “The biggest thank you goes to the bachelors and winners of our auction, without you all, there wouldn’t be a dance at all. We’re doing the auction dance at 9 PM, okay? Be right here in this spot at nine on the dot  if you’re participating. The committee chose a song, and it’s a slow one, so who knows?” She smiled deviously. “We might see some love connections tonight—“

Richie cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “MY LOVE CAN'T BE BOUGHT!” A few people surrounding them snickered and Eddie laid a hand over his eyes.

“Shut up, Richie,” Greta cooed into the microphone. “Thanks for coming, everyone! You all look amazing, have a great time tonight!”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

The room filled with music and people began dancing. The gym atmosphere was dark, with orange and black balloons and a few spooky looking murals lining the walls. Eddie stayed put on the bottom of the bleachers, nervously scanning the crowd, looking for Patrick. His eyes searched around until they landed on Mike and Beverly, who were breaking it down out on the floor in the middle of everything. They were the strangest pair he’d ever seen.

Beverly was cringe inducing as a demon clown, her face stark white with blood red tear tracks dripping down her cheeks, and her silver jumpsuit all grunged up by fake blood and grime. She was the stuff nightmares were made of. Mike, on the other hand, looked like a dream tinged pink and silver. He masqueraded as Pink Friday  era Nicki Minaj: blunt bangs, platform shoes and a shimmery silver dress. It was a balls-out statement for the pin-straight quarterback, and Eddie loved him for wearing it.

Richie’s voice close to his ear made him shiver involuntarily. “Stanley and Billy-boy are late.”

“Yeah. I wonder what’s taking them so long.” Eddie combed his fingers through his long fake hair, tucking a few strands behind his ear.

“Maybe they bit the bullet and just went for it already.”

 “What do you mean?”

“They like each other, don’t they? Seems kinda obvious to me that they do.” Richie waved his hand at the dancing crowd. “Maybe they decided to skip all this dumb shit and stayed home to make out.”

There was a break in the music and Bev’s voice carried across the gym. “COME DANCE WITH US YOU NERDS!”

Richie grinned. “Creepy clown-face Miss Marsh is requesting our presence. We better get out there before she hides in our closets and kills us in our sleep.” He stood up and held out his hand. “Wanna?” Eddie took it and let Richie lead him to the dance floor. They joined their friends and danced together in a group to one up-tempo song after another. Eddie realized belatedly that one of the boys dancing close to them was Ben. He was unrecognizable, done up in a fake goatee, a flat-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

“I’m Heisenberg,” he explained when Eddie just blinked at him, obviously lost.

“He’s the one who knocks, Eds,” Richie told him kindly, whatever that meant.

Eddie lost track of time along with some of his inhibitions as they danced, rocking his hips and shaking his long hair. He especially liked dancing with Mike, who twirled him until he was breathless and dizzy.

Richie disappeared, claiming that he left to get punch, but he wasn’t anywhere near the refreshments table. Eddie tracked him over by the DJ, locked in what appeared to be an intense conversation. DJ Joey shook his head, and pointed at the crowd, his brows furrowed. Richie reached into his pocket and pulled something out, stuffed it into the man’s hands and shot him double finger guns. Eddie watched his lips as he backed away from the table and thought he made out the words Don’t let me down, my dude.

A slow song began and Eddie moved over to the sidelines. He was sweaty and his bodysuit clung to him uncomfortably. His calves ached from dancing in heels and the wig was starting to get on his nerves. He fiddled with it but found no relief. “You’re the prettiest Jean Grey I’ve ever seen.” Stanley appeared next to him, wearing some sort of medieval looking doublet with toggles down the front and embossed flowers adorning it.

“Thank you. And you’re the handsomest, uh, Lord of the Rings extra?  I’ve  ever seen.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? You’re lucky I have more important things to be worried about right now,” Stan growled. He slapped Eddie roughly on the arm. “Did you tell him?”

“Fuck, Stan. Ow. Yes. I told him right before we left to come here.”

“And?”

“I don’t know. He said he’d try not to be weird about it.”

“Hmn.”

“Exactly.”

Stan glanced around at the people on the dance floor. “Have you seen Patrick yet?”

“Nope. Thank goodness for small favors. Have you  seen Mike,  yet?”

“No, not yet. Is he going to blow my mind? I’m still reeling from the fact that you don’t know who I’m dressed as.”

Bill approached them with two cups of punch and handed one to Stanley. He was dressed similarly to Stan, but his doublet was forest green and he wore a crown. “Eddie, you d-don’t r-recognize us? We’re Loras and Reh-Renly. Y’know, from Game of Th-thrones?”

“Gay icons, Eddie,” Stan chided him, insulted. “How dare you.”

“My mom doesn’t want to pay for HBO,” Eddie explained sheepishly. “I’ve seen a few episodes with you guys but I couldn’t pick any of the characters out of a line up.” He looked at his friends, standing side by side. Stan’s cheeks were pink and there was a red splotch low on his neck, close to his collar bone. “Sooo,” Eddie smirked knowingly, “Where have you guys been anyway?”

“They been smootchin’,” Richie purred, sidling up behind Eddie and wrapping an arm around his chest. He tipped the shorter boy back a bit so he was forced to look at him upside down. “Just like I told you they were. Dance with me, Spaghetti.” 

“I thought you went to get punch,” Eddie grinned goofily up at him, entranced by the unexpected embrace.

“I got lost on the way there. Come on, you danced with Mikey three times, you owe me at least one.”

 

****

Nine o’clock came rushing up on them sooner than Eddie would have liked it to. As far as he knew, Patrick wasn’t anywhere to be found in the gym, and his paranoid side began taking over. Was it really all just a big prank? A stupid fucking game to make him feel strange and nervous for a week, only for him to be stood up anyway?

The bachelors and winners were all gathered in the center of the dance floor, chattering and waiting for the music to start. Eddie stood to Richie’s left and stared daggers at Veronica, who bordered Richie on his other side. She wore a sexy pirate costume, and gazed up at the tall boy like he was something to eat. Richie seemed oblivious to her, but he had his Cyclops glasses down over his eyes, obscuring them.

“Red looks good on you.” Eddie’s heart jump-started and he jerked his neck towards the voice. Patrick was sleek and glamorous in a tuxedo, with his hair recently cut and slicked back. He looked devastatingly handsome and his bright blue eyes were clear and sweet, gazing at Eddie almost apologetically. “The hair, I mean. Obviously,” he finished dumbly.

Eddie ignored the compliment. “Hi, Patrick. Have you been here the whole time?” He glanced at Richie uneasily. Eddie knew Richie must’ve been listening to them, but he couldn’t tell if he was watching. Those stupid glasses still blocked Eddie from seeing his eyes, and he wished like mad that time travel was possible so he could go back and tell Richie that a meatball costume was an acceptable choice.

“Yeah, I’ve been here for a little bit. Just laying low.”

“What are you supposed to be?” Eddie gave the taller boy a quick look up and down. If he had to guess, Patrick was dressed as an usher in a very fancy wedding.

“James Bond,” Patrick said, but it sounded like he was asking Eddie rather than telling him. “I really like your costume. Did you make it?” He stepped a little closer, his face open and a little shy. It reminded Eddie of all the reasons he used to like him.

He opened his mouth to reply, but the opening chords to Jason Mraz’s I Won’t Give Up  interrupted him, and rolled his eyes instead. Of course.  They would choose the sappiest song in the entire world to be the soundtrack to this shit-show. He took a small step towards Patrick and sighed. “I don’t really know how to do this,” he admitted, fluttering his hands in a push-pull motion between them. "I feel really awkward."

“Well, you start by coming a little closer to me,” Patrick answered simply, his expression gentle. “I know it's awkward. You’re probably really confused about why I bid on you. I want you to know that I stopped hanging out with Henry. And I—“

“Patrick, I don’t want to talk, and I honestly don’t care why you did it. Let’s just get this over with, okay?” Eddie moved forward to close the distance and put his hands awkwardly onto the other boy’s shoulders, keeping his forearms stiff to force a bit of space between them. Patrick placed his hands around Eddie’s waist and they swayed to the music, neither of them particularly coordinated. Eddie closed his eyes and listened, really listened to the lyrics like it was his first time hearing them.

 

When I look into your eyes

It’s like watching the night sky

Or a beautiful sunrise

There’s so much they hold

And just like them old stars

I see that you’ve come so far

To be right where you are

How old is your soul?

 

It was the longest stretch of intimate contact of Eddie's post-pubescent life and his hands were on his ex-crushes broad shoulders, an ancient dream come true. When he was twelve he would have given anything to be this close to Patrick. He’d made up little fantasies in his head about how one day, they’d kiss and go to the prom together, and no one would laugh at them for being boys in love. But despite their past, and Patrick’s strong hands on his waist, and the fact that his cologne smelled fresh and inviting like a bright summery day at the beach, Richie was the only person he could see clearly in his mind. He smiled to himself and imagined that it was Richie leading him, guiding him around in a tentative circle.

That fantasy was squashed when he opened his eyes and saw Richie, dancing with Veronica a few feet away. He twirled her in a wide arc and pulled her back in close to his side, his mouth moving next to her ear, probably saying something silly. She laughed open-mouthed and rested her palm against his chest, then she reached up and took those glasses off his face, revealing his eyes, which were sullen and locked on Eddie. Eddie quirked his lips up in a cautious smile, but Richie looked away, steering Veronica to the opposite side of the crowd.

Has he been watching me the whole time? He said he wouldn't be weird, but that was a weird look, wasn’t it? If he’s mad at me over this I’m not going to be able to handle it.

“Is this okay?” Patrick asked, intruding on his internal panic. They were barely moving, with Eddie simply standing in place and tilting his hips side to side. His hands felt like they were made of lead leaned up on Patrick’s shoulders, like it would require a severe effort to move them even slightly.

“Yeah,” Eddie answered quickly, his big eyes flicking briefly up to Patrick’s face. “It’s fine, Patrick.” He glanced around at the swaying forms surrounding them. Lots of people were dancing, not just people involved in the auction. Stan and Bill were on the floor, Stan’s head resting on Bill’s shoulder. Ben was partnered with a girl Eddie knew vaguely from some class or another. She was dressed like a bottle of Sriracha, and she’d removed Ben’s Heisenberg glasses and was wearing them herself, giggling at something he whispered to her. He shifted his eyes from Ben and they landed on Richie, who was already looking at him; his eyes were dark and gloomy, downright fucking sad. Eddie wanted to stop the dance and drag him off somewhere to find out what was wrong.

 “I don’t know what I was thinking doing this,” Patrick began, clearly noticing that Eddie’s attentions were elsewhere. The regret in his voice was palpable. “I just want you to know that after the party that night, I told Henry he was a fucking asshole for what he did and he called me a faggot. So, I said ‘Yeah, I am.’”

He had Eddie’s full attention after that. “You really said that?”

Patrick nodded, looking down at their feet. “Now the whole school knows, and I lost my best friend,” he said quietly, and his feet stopped moving. Eddie stopped too and let go of him, crossing his arms over his chest. “But you’re not into me anymore,” he whispered. “Right?”

Eddie shook his head vigorously side to side. “And I like someone else now.” The song was winding down, the last couple choruses repeating.

“Yeah, I know,” Patrick sighed. “I think everyone knows.”

“I’m sorry,” Eddie offered gently. “If you did this in middle school, things would’ve turned out differently.”

“I know that. And It’s not your fault.” He cupped Eddie’s cheek with one big hand before turning and walking away, leaving Eddie standing alone as the music ended.  

 

****

 

Eddie leaned against the gym wall, watching his friends dance. They were going wild together, laughing and singing along and switching partners. Mike danced with every single one of them, his face alight like an angel. They tried to get Eddie to come back to them several times, but he was feeling low and just wanted to be still. He’d been on his own for a half hour, having lost track of Richie right after the auction song ended. Richie’s eyes haunted him. He never wanted to see that surly expression in them ever again.

DJ Joey’s voice on the microphone cut into his thoughts. “The next song is dedicated to Jean Grey from Cyclops.” Eddie nearly gave himself whiplash snapping his neck up, mouth agape. Bev caught his eyes from across the room and removed one arm from around Mike’s neck to pump her fist into the air. “Look don’t at me, alright?” the DJ continued, irritated. “This song is old but I have an ‘all requests get played' policy. Especially when there’s cash involved.” A quick acoustic guitar riff began. It was a song Eddie didn’t know, but as it played, he saw Stanley and Bev, plus a few random girls smiling sappily over at him.

 

Breathe in for luck

Breathe in so deep

This air is blessed

You share with me

This night is wild

So calm and dull

These hearts they race

From self-control

Your legs are smooth

As they graze mine

We’re doing fine

We’re doing nothing at all

 

 

My hopes are so high that your kiss might kill me

So won’t you kill me?

So I die happy

My heart is yours, to fill or burst

To break or bury

Or wear as jewelry

Whichever you prefer

 

Eddie’s heart soared and he couldn’t keep himself from smiling like an idiot. The entire gym was watching him, and about half of their faces were the embodiment of heart-eyes emojis. Mike gave him a thumbs-up and Beverly was practically swooning at him. She slapped a hand over her chest and tapped the center of it three times, releasing it with a crazy flourish. Heart explosion.  Eddie smiled at her with all his teeth showing and swung his head around exaggeratedly before holding his hands up in a defeated manner. Where is he?  She understood, raising a hand to her lips in a smoking gesture and pointed to the double doors leading outside.

He wasted no time, pushing through to the outside and found Richie seated on the ground with his back to the exterior wall of the gym, puffing on a cigarette and studying the asphalt. There were a couple butts on the ground indicating that he'd been there for a while. The cyclops glasses were pushed up into his hair like a head band and he had his arms wrapped around himself, looking vulnerable and cold in his thin jacket. He didn’t bother to look up, but he obviously knew who came looking for him. “I requested that song at the beginning of the night. Took him fucking long enough.”  His voice was soft and despondent. The music was muffled behind them, but Eddie could still make out the chorus as it began again.

 

My hopes are so high that your kiss might kill me.

So won’t you kill me? So I die happy.

 

“Richie, I don’t even know what to say. That’s the sweetest thing anyone’s ever done for me.” Against his better judgment, Eddie plopped himself onto the ground next to Richie and hugged his arms around his knees. His costume provided zero insulation and he figured he had about two minutes before he started shivering uncontrollably. “Do you really feel that way?”

 

My heart is yours to fill or burst. To break or bury, or wear as jewelry. Whichever you prefer.

 

Richie wouldn’t look at him but replied huskily. “The sweetest thing…Sweeter than buying you in an auction and wearing a tux?”

“I didn’t find any of that to be sweet.” He felt anger bubbling inside his chest, but maintained his composure as well as he could. “I was so scared to tell you about everything, and you told me you weren’t going to be weird. But now you’re so mad about this that you’re willing to freeze to death out here just to get away from me?”

“I’m not mad  at you.” He took another drag, and focused his eyes on the burning cherry of his cigarette. “But everything isn’t fucking peaches, either. You liked  it, Eddie.” There it was. The entire reason why he’d dragged his feet when he needed to tell Richie the truth. The crux of everything Eddie had been worried about all along. Once Richie knew the history, he’d be able to read into everything and let his imagination go wild. “And I didn’t promise anything, I said I’d try not to be weird. How else am I supposed to act when you clearly still like that dude?”

“Wow, you should’ve dressed up as Professor X instead, since you obviously have the power to read minds,” Eddie spat, frustrated. “You looked pretty friendly with Veronica, too. Should I start throwing out wild assumptions about your feelings?”

“She paid more than anyone else to dance with me. Greta told me to be nice, show her a good time, so I did,” Richie explained, his tone flat and even. “I barely even fucking spoke to her before tonight. It’s so totally fucking different than you and James Bond that I can’t believe you’re trying to compare it.” He took an angry little sip off his smoke.

Eddie softened, his voice church quiet. “Richie, I would have given literally anything to get out of dancing with him. I didn’t like it, no matter what you’re telling yourself.”

 “Oh, spare me that shit, would’ya?” Richie groaned, wounded. He tossed the cigarette and it landed on the blacktop a few feet away, a streamer of smoke floating above it. “I saw your face, Eddie. Smiling, talking to him. You were totally into it.”

Eddie. Just Eddie, twice. I never thought I’d yearn for you to call me by some stupid nickname, but here we are.

“Fuck, why is this happening right now?” Eddie pulled off his red hair and undid the clips on the spandex cap underneath it. He rolled the wig up inside the cap and tossed it onto the ground in front of himself. His hair was disheveled and sweaty and he scratched at his head, watching Richie--who still refused to give him eye contact--in profile. “You’re such a dipshit,” he hummed sweetly, as though he were calling Richie by a loving endearment. “I was smiling because the lyrics of the song made me think of you. And because I imagined I was dancing with you. Specifically, I was thinking about how I wanted to reach up and take off your silly Cyclops glasses and push them into your hair, just like they are right now, so I could see your eyes.”

Richie peeked over at him from beneath his eyelashes. His voice was small. “Really?”

“Really.” He shuddered. The ground was biting cold and it crept into his thin bodysuit and up his spine. He squirmed his ass around, trying to keep circulation. “But then that trollop you were dancing with took them off for me and I did see your eyes. They were looking at me like…I don’t know…They were looking at me in a way I never want to see them look at me again” He started shivering and his lip trembled but he kept talking because he needed to speak the words aloud as much as he needed Richie to hear him say them. “I d-idn’t like d-dancing with him, but I’m gl-glad I did it because it confir-med  that I don’t l-like him any-m-more. I g-guess part of m-me was wor-ried that I would  l-like it. A-and that y-you  would thi-ink  I liked i-it. That’s wh-why I w-waited so long to t-t-tell y-you.” Without a word, Richie took off his jacket and draped it over Eddie’s shoulders. The warmth trapped inside of it enveloped him immediately. “Th-thanks.”

One corner of Richie’s mouth turned up. “Trollop?”

Eddie furrowed his brow, his voice venomous “Fuck Veronica Grogan. How dare she put her grubby hands on your glasses.”

Richie bit back a smile. “Yowza, Eds. So jelly.”

Eds. He sighed in relief when he heard the nickname he'd claimed to hate over and over.  “Are we okay now? You ready to stop being a dumbass?"

“Yeah. I'm sorry. I guess I shouldn’t go all Professor X on you, huh?”

“No, because your powers are shitty. And it's okay. I expected something like this to happen.” Eddie shifted himself so he sat closer to Richie, slightly facing him. “I really liked that song, Richie.”

Fuck. I wanted to dance with you when it was playing but I was too busy out here being a fucking angst-bomb.”

“Did you mean it?”

Richie smiled softly at Eddie’s messy hair. “Mean what?” He asked coyly.

“Oh, fuck you.” Eddie leaned forward and kissed Richie delicately, and Richie sighed against his mouth, bringing his hands up to hold either side of Eddie’s face. It was a slow, soft kiss, and Eddie’s first. Richie tasted like nicotine and sweetness; maybe it was from the punch, or maybe it was just Richie. They broke apart and his eyes raked over Eddie’s face, dreamy and appreciative.

“Come inside and dance with me.”

Chapter Text

The next morning, Eddie was woken up by the persistent buzz of his phone vibrating against the small of his back. He groaned and stretched full out, arms over his head. His legs and lower back were sore from dancing. “Fuck heels,” he murmured to himself as his hands fumbled around to retrieve the phone. He touched the green answer button and rolled on his side, laying the heavy rectangle across his face. “Yeah,” he uttered, his voice thick with sleep.

“Sleepy Spaghetti head,” Richie cooed. “I have to ask you something and it’s time-sensitive.”

“So fucking ask,” he grumbled.

“What a little crab you are first thing in the morning.” Richie’s amused voice was too loud and Eddie picked up the phone and held it away from his ear. “Only it’s not first thing in the morning, it’s damn near noon boy—“

“Richie, what do you want?”

“I want the little sweetie who kissed me last night to come back. What have you done with him, impostor?”

“I’m two seconds away from hanging up on--”

“Do you like apples?”

Eddie sighed heavily. “Is this some dumb joke? Because I swear to fucking God—“

“No joke. Do. You. Like. Apples?”

“Yeah?”

“Okay good. Do you like road trips?”

Richard,” Eddie’s growl came through clenched teeth. “Get to the point.”

“Oh shit, grumpy pants is going legal-name on me over here. I’m scurred for my life.”

“Hanging up, bye—“

“Alright, fine! My mom promised Sades she’d take her apple picking today before the season is over, but being the stellar fucking parent that she is, she forgot that she had more important shit to do. I gotta take her and her little friend to some farm like two hours away. Got the keys to my old man’s back-up car. You wanna ride shotgun?”

“When? Right now?”

“Whenever you’re ready, but sooner is better than later. These kids are itching to leave and already driving me crazy. I’ve been waiting for you to wake up and see my texts since 9:30.”

Eddie took the phone away from his ear to look at the time. 11:33. “Yeah,” he said, sitting up and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. “I’ll go.”

“Awesome. Dress warm, we’ll be outside all day. And don’t forget your inhaler.”

 Richie’s sweet concern made him instantly regret being cranky. He got out of the bed and started rummaging for something to wear. “Okay, give me like twenty minutes.”

They hung up and Eddie checked his texts.

-

Richie

|9:33[ shot in the dark, but ru awake yet? ]

|9:55[ ur sleeping abilities r actually impressive ]

|10:12[ zzzzZZzZZzZZz ??? ]

|10:33[ im gonna come over and chuck rocks at ur window ]

|10:55[ txt me when ur alive, I gotta ask u something ]

|11:04[ SPAGHETTI SQUASH UR KILLING ME ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|11:35[ I’m so sorry lol, be there SOON ]

 

-

Bev

|10:15[ last night, u guys were literally the cutest thing ive ever seen irl ilysm ]

 

Eddie

|11:37[ idk, Mike might be cuter. you better hold onto him – wink wink ]

 

Bev

|11:37[ lmao IKR keep ur hands to urself little one ]

-

Stan

|11:00[ What did Patrick have to say about everything? ]

|11:02[ And what happened when you went outside? ]

|11:33[ I’m dying to know. Help. ]

 

Eddie

|11:38[ quick version: p’s bid on me was basically his coming out party and now he’s all sad ]

|11:38[ outside: I kissed Richie and it was PERFECT axslwomeols ]

|11:39[ I can’t talk though, getting ready to go fucking APPLE PICKING with him rn ]

 

Stan

|11:40[ *dies* ]

 -

Big Bill

|11:04[ how was the dance w/P? ]

 

Eddie

|11:40[ majorly awk. How was your dance with STANLEY ]

 

Big Bill

|11:41[ perfect tbh ]

 

Eddie

|11:41[ glad. <3 love you both ]

-

Mike

|11:15[ i know we havnt known each other for v long, but i was SO PROUD of u last night ]

|11:15[ just want u to know that ]

 

Eddie

|11:42[ literally same. samsies ]

 

Mike

|11:43[ :* ]

 

-

****

 

“Took you long enough,” Sadie barked as she opened the front door. Her clothes were a little too fancy for a day on a farm, and she wasn’t wearing her glasses. She shut the door behind them. “We’ve been waiting forever.”

“Sorry,” Eddie cringed, stepping into the foyer. “I sleep kind of late on weekends and—Georgie?”

Georgie Denbrough sat on the Tozier’s couch, engrossed in a video game. “Hey Eddie,” he called, distracted.

Eddie turned back to Sadie and smirked at her, instantly understanding what was going on. “Are you wearing contacts? And eyeliner?”

She glared at him. “Yeah, so what?”

He snickered and looked back over at Georgie, who seemed oblivious. “Oh, today is going to be fun, Sadie.”

She stepped closer to him and looked him square in the eye. Eddie was only taller by a couple inches at best. “Listen,” she hissed, “Don’t be a dick, or else I’ll be one right back.”

“I don’t expect anything less from you,” he replied sweetly as Richie came barreling down the stairs.

“Finally, the Spaghetti I ordered is here. If it’s cold, I’m sending it back,” he joked as he stopped dead in front of his sister. His smiling face went concerned. “Eddie, I thought I said to dress warm.”

Eddie glanced down at his clothes. He wore his red sweatshirt, dark jeans and a beige beanie. “I’m wearing like four layers under here.” He looked Richie up and down. They had on nearly matching clothes, the only difference being the color; Richie’s hoodie was purple, his hat grey. “You’re not dressed any warmer than I am, anyway, so why’re you—“

Sadie let out a frustrated moan. “Are we going yet or what?”

“We’re leaving as soon as your little buddy is finished playing whack-a-mole or whatever the fuck he’s doing,” Richie told her, tipping his head towards Georgie.

“It’s the new South Park game,” Georgie groused without turning around. Eddie could practically hear him rolling his eyes. He saved his place and got up from the couch to join them.

Richie became the embodiment of a long-suffering soccer mom. “Okay everyone hit the bathrooms before we get into the car. There will be zero rest stops. And I don’t want to hear any complaints about my driving, or my music choices or you’re all walking.”

Sadie and Georgie went grumbling up the stairs to use the bathroom.

Once they were alone, Richie stepped close to Eddie. “Good morning,” he whispered, putting his palms on Eddie’s shoulders and sliding them down his arms until their hands were joined in front of them.

Eddie lit up like a Christmas tree, playing with Richie’s long fingers. “Morning. Sorry I wake up so late. And so cranky.”

“Nah, it’s fine,” Richie pulled their clasped hands to his face and kissed the side of Eddie’s before releasing them. “Sades’ just been such a miserable little whiner all morning, wanting to leave. I think she thinks this is like a date or something. But the kid isn’t interested.”

“The kid ,” Eddie said, shaking his head. “Do you know who he is?” Richie shrugged. “That’s Bill’s little brother. I’ve known him since he was a baby.”

“Fuckin’ small towns,” Richie marveled. He turned around and shouted. “LET’S GO ALREADY!”

Sadie’s muffled voice shot back, “WE WAITED THREE HOURS FOR YOU, YOU CAN GIVE US THREE MINUTES DOUCHECANOE!”

 

****

Richie blasted rock music in the car and it prevented Eddie from goading Sadie about her obvious crush on Georgie. He glanced back a couple times to look at the pair, and they were both glued to their phones. If he had to guess, they were locked in an intense text conversation. The ride was supposed to take two hours, but they shaved nearly forty minutes off their time because Richie used some fancy app that led them down a series of short-cuts through questionable neighborhoods.

At the farm, they were provided with buckets and step stools and invited to wander unattended through the acres and acres of trees. The landscape was beautiful and Eddie took a few shots of the sloping hills that bordered the farm. Sadie and Georgie took off on their own excitedly, only after Richie threatened to leave them there if they didn’t respond to his texts later. “When I say it’s time to go, shows over kids.”

Eddie watched them run into the man-made forest of trees. “I wonder if Georgie knows she likes him.”

“Fourteen-year-old boys don’t know shit, Eds.”

The day was clear and sunny with wickedly chilly wind, and the air smelled faintly of cider and cinnamon. The aromas wafted out from the farm stand near the road, and the fall breeze seemingly carried them for miles around.

Richie was tall enough to pull apples off the low branches without using the step stool. He and Eddie collected their hoard together, and Eddie crouched down, meticulously looking through their lot to toss any that might be rotten or invaded by worms. Richie dumped a few into their bucket, messing up his system. He was about to protest when Richie spoke. “Hey, so, I’m trying out for the winter play on Monday,” he said casually.

Eddie stood to his full height, pleasantly surprised. “Really? That’s great!”

“Yeah, Judith gave me the idea, but I’m doing it mostly because of something you said.”

Eddie cocked his head. “What did I say?”

Richie took off his glasses to clean them and scrunched up one eye. “Something about how if I really want to pursue drama I should just do it. I can’t remember exactly. I was drunk on Nyquil.”

“Well, it sounds like I’m really wise.” Eddie smiled, rubbing his hands together, trying to clean some of the dirt off of them to no avail.

“The wisest,” Richie agreed, slipping the frames back on his face.

“What play are they doing?”

Little Shop of Horrors, ” Richie grinned. “I’m trying out for Seymour, but I’d settle for the sociopath dentist, too. Take a really nice shot at my father with that one.”

“Wait, a musical? Are you going to sing for the audition?”

“Yeah, probably.”

“Can people sit in to watch it?”

Richie ducked his head bashfully. “You want to watch?”

“Yes, of course I do.”

“Good, because I want you there.” He cuffed Eddie on the chin. “Living, breathing good luck charm.”

Eddie smiled shyly, poking his toe into the dirt. “I am not.”

“Oh God, you’re so fucking cute,” Richie moaned, his face pained. “I want to kiss you but Sades is probably tracking us like the paparazzi right now.”

“Richie, Sadie knows,” Eddie replied carefully. “I mean, I don’t know how much she knows, but she knew enough to know that you liked me.”

Richie’s eyebrows quirked up. “How do you know that?”

“Because she said, ‘He likes you,’” Eddie said obviously, with a grin. “And then she told me not to break your heart. It was really cute.”

“Well, shit,” Richie put his hand around the nape of Eddie’s neck and pulled him closer. “Then fuck it.” They kissed gently, and then Richie pecked kisses along Eddie’s chin and down to his throat, blowing raspberries against it.

Richie, stop ! Don’t slobber on me.” Eddie giggled, squirming away and wiping under his chin. “Come on, we came here to pick apples, right?”

“I guess, if you want to be technical about it,” he said, picking up their bucket. “This tree is beat, let’s find another one.” They trudged a little deeper into the trees and found a marker that explained which types of apple were on each row. Richie plunked down their bucket next to one. “Hey, can I ask something without it turning into a whole thing?” His tone was serious and he sounded a little cautious.

“Cryptic." Eddie unfolded the step-stool. He climbed onto it, making himself temporarily taller than Richie. “I guess?”

“What did Patrick say to you last night? I saw that you guys were talking. If you don’t want to say, it’s fine.” Richie looked up at Eddie, wearing an inscrutable expression.

Eddie let a pregnant pause stretch between them as he pulled a few apples down. “He told me that he came out to Bowers, and that he knew that I liked someone else. Most of what he said just boiled down to ‘it was stupid of me to bid on you.’” He reached out both hands full of fruit for Richie to take.

Richie nodded at his words, and received the apples, placing them into the bucket gently. “What did you say?”

“I told him that he was about five years too late, and that I was sorry.” Eddie rolled his eyes. “Does this help?”

“Help what?”

He reached out to tap Richie's forehead. “Help you with whatever’s going on up here. You have nothing to worry about.” He frowned. “Except maybe how jealous I’m going to get when you have to kiss some girl in the play.”

Richie grinned and licked his lips. “Oh right. I wonder who’ll play Audrey. Suddenly Seymour,” he sang passionately. “ Is standing beside you. You don’t need no makeup, don’t have to preteeeend. ”

“I’ve never actually seen it,” Eddie admitted. “I just know there’s singing and a love triangle and a giant plant.”

“Holy shit, Eds, that’s a literal crime against cinema.” Richie looked excited. “I know what we’re doing when we get back.”

 

****

 

The car was quiet as they returned home, their trunk stuffed with apples and their hands occupied with cider. Richie played softer music than he did on the ride in. His cup sat in the cup holder under the dashboard and his right hand held onto Eddie’s, clasped over the center console. Sadie popped her head between their seats. “Aw, how cute,” she teased. “I should’ve brought a barf-bag.”

“Put your fucking seatbelt on you maniac,” Richie warned. “If you go flying through the windshield Mom will never let me drive again.”

“What’s the incentive then? Sounds like I’d be doing the world a favor.” She sat back and buckled her belt anyway.

Eddie let go of Richie’s hand and shifted his body slightly, craning his neck to look at the kids in the backseat. “Hey Sadie, how did you and Georgie meet?”

Georgie looked up from his phone at the mention of his name. “We have three classes together,” he said.

“Hmn,” Eddie hummed. “And what led you two to go extracurricular with it?”

The little Denbrough shrugged. “We like the same video games.”

“And that’s all?” Eddie asked, watching Sadie’s face. She mouthed I hate you.

“Sadie’s cooler than most girls in Derry,” Georgie said, his eyes back on his phone. He thought for a minute. “Well, not cooler than Beverly.”

Richie laughed openly. “Oh shit, ouch Sades. How’s it feel to get burned?”

Sadie frowned, ignoring her brother. “Who’s Beverly?”

“A red-headed menace,” Richie replied easily.

“Our friend,” Eddie explained kindly. “She used to baby-sit Georgie.” He turned back to face forward, smiling to himself. All the Denbrough kids went through a Bev-crush phase, it seemed.

“What’s so great about her?”

All three boys answered at the same time: Eddie whispered, “She’s fearless.” Georgie smiled, “She’s super fun.” Richie laughed, “She’s a whack-a-doodle.”

Everyone was quiet for the remainder of the ride. They dropped Georgie off in front of his house around dinner-time. “What say you, Eddie Spaghetti? Wanna get a pizza and watch Little Shop of Horrors ?”

 

****

 

They picked up a pizza and sat around the Tozier living room, stuffing their faces and cracking up at the movie. Eddie especially liked the dentist’s solo song, and thought that he’d love to see Richie play the character. It was perfect for him: silly vamping and over-the-top histrionics. Though after the song Suddenly Seymour finished, he was totally moved and changed his mind. Richie had to play the lead role, hands down. “I can’t believe I’ve never watched this. It’s really great.”

“Yup, a classic,” Richie agreed. He paused it and turned to Eddie, who was seated on the couch next to him. “Fuck, what if they tell me I’m too tall to play Seymour.”

“Wait.” Sadie watched him from her spot on the arm chair. “You’re going to do plays again?”

Richie looked over at her. “I’m gonna try out. I don’t know if I’ll get it.”

She made an incredulous face. “Of course you’ll get it. You think anyone in that bumfuck high school has training like you do? They’re going to be totally shocked by how good you are.”

Eddie smiled at her. She did care about her brother, no matter what kind of bullshit front she was always hiding behind. “Be careful Sadie, your true feelings are showing.”

She stood up and raised her chin to him. “You know what? I thought you were nice, but you’re actually a little dick head.” She turned on her heel and stomped up the stairs.

“Hey! Rude!” Richie called after her, but Eddie grabbed his forearm.

“No, it’s okay. I teased her a lot about Georgie today. Let’s just finish the movie.” He snuggled closer. “Wait, are your parents home?”

“Yes. But Went is in his study drinking scotch and Mags is probably three mimosas beyond black-out in her room.” He raised his arm and motioned for Eddie to curl up next to him. “Fear not, little angel. They won’t be down here for the rest of the night.”

Eddie skootched over and laid his head against Richie’s shoulder. “Fear not? I’m not the one with anything to hide.”

Richie stiffened a bit at the word hide. He wrapped his arm around Eddie. “I don’t have anything to hide, Eddie. I just don’t want to sit down with them and have some fucking talk where they look at me like I’m an even bigger disappointment than they thought I was to begin with.”

“Well you won’t know how they’re going to look at you until you do it.” Eddie reached for his hand and laced their fingers together. “I thought my mom was going to kill me, or ship me to a conversion camp. She just said, ‘thanks for telling me, dear’ and went back to watching TV. For a solid week afterwards I thought maybe she’d been possessed or something.”

“Judith has been trying to talk me into it, too,” Richie said quietly. “Fuck, can we just watch the movie, Eds?”

“Yeah, I’m sorry. I’m not trying to pressure you. Just saying it’s probably not going to be as bad as you think. That’s all.”

Richie pecked a kiss against Eddie’s temple and pressed play.

Chapter Text

Eddie was the first person at the lunch table Monday afternoon. A solid thirty-eight hours had crawled by since he was last alone with Richie (he’d done the math), and the result of that distance was that he fidgeted, whipping his head around to look over his shoulder approximately once every twenty seconds, waiting to catch sight of his curly-headed boy walking through the cafeteria doors. He’d never experienced anything remotely like what he was going through.

He didn't have a crush on, or an attraction to, or an infatuation with Richie; this was entirely new and uncategorized as a feeling. It was as if all his blood had been removed and replaced with something viscous. The foreign substance flooded his senses, making him sluggish, fever-hot, and half-drunk. He was terrified to get his Calc test back in a couple days, because the odds were good that every single answer just said  The limit as x approaches zero => RICHIE.

On Saturday night, they’d parted reluctantly after an evening of cuddling and making out on the Tozier’s couch. Richie’d insisted on walking him across the street three minutes before his curfew--a romantic demonstration that nearly killed Eddie with cuteness—and kissed him goodbye while pressing him up against the front door. Eddie longed for them to spend the following day together too, but Richie kept a level head and vetoed it. Monday was a big day for both of them: the aforementioned Calc exam in the morning and Richie’s audition that afternoon. If they spent their only free day together they’d get nothing constructive done, and neither of them would walk into school prepared. Eddie grumbled and clung a bit because it felt like a dam had broken and he wanted to marinate in their mutual affections, but Richie’d whispered reassuringly in his ear as they hugged one last time. “We have all the time in the world, Eds. This is just the beginning, promise.”

“How was your weekend?” Eddie blinked dazedly up the voice. Mike smiled at him as he sat down on the opposite side of the table, toting a paper lunch sack that was large enough to be mistaken for a grocery bag full of food.

Eddie returned the smile in kind. “Mostly great. How about you?”

“Decent,” Mike replied, visibly contemplating. “I didn’t get to see Bev, or it would’ve been great.” He pulled out two sandwiches and unwrapped them, and Eddie ‘s smile shifted into a silly grin when he realized that they were peanut butter and jelly on white bread.

He stared wide-eyed at the volume of food Mike was about to consume. “Hungry?”

“To be honest, not really?” He laughed, shaking his head. “The coach thinks I should up my weight because scouts are going to be looking at me soon.” He looked behind Eddie towards the entrance to the cafeteria, and Eddie followed his eyes, assuming Mike was as anxious to see Beverly as he was to see Richie. “Sorry, I’m being rude.”

“No, you’re not. I was doing the same thing before you got here, waiting for Richie,” Eddie admitted, pursing his lips. “We’re both obsessed.”

Mike nodded vigorously. “I can’t help it though, Bev is amazing. She’s unlocked so many things inside me that I didn’t even know were there.” He took a bite of his sandwich.

“Her fearlessness is known to rub off on people,” Eddie pondered, opening his own lunch bag. He and his friends had followed her off the cliff at the quarry like lemmings in their youth; without her example, they might’ve stood there forever staring down at the still water. Similarly, he imagined that Mike wouldn’t have even thought about dressing in drag on Halloween if not for her encouragement.

“What are we talking about?” Stan sat down next to Eddie.

“How great Bev is,” Eddie told him, unwrapping his own sandwich. “Which by the way, I think Georgie has a crush on her. Isn’t that bizarre?”

“It seems to be a Denbrough family tradition,” Stan mumbled, rolling his eyes. “How was your test, Eddie?”

Eddie shrugged. “I honestly have no idea. I don’t even want to think about it.” He felt a tap on his right shoulder and turned his neck towards it. No one was there.

A body plunked down next to him on his left side. “You make it so friggin easy, Eds.” Eddie turned sharply, glaring, but he couldn’t keep the smile off his face. Richie had on one of his kooky Hawaiian shirts over a black teeshirt. He sat with his back against the table, long skinny-jean clad legs facing out, his freckled face bare and teasing. “Oh no you don’t,” he pouted mischievously. “Don’t you try to give me that crab face, come here.” He made grabby hands and dipped his head, smiling against Eddie’s mouth. They kissed slowly, lips parted, and Eddie brought his fingers up to tangle in Richie’s soft hair. “I missed you.” Richie murmured, nuzzling his head against Eddie’s hand.

“I missed you, too, and it’s only been thirty-eight hours.” Eddie giggled, combing his hand through the messy, dark curls and delighting in watching Richie’s eyelids go droopy at his touch. “Isn’t that ridiculous?” He felt giddy and warm, and maybe for the first time in his life he completely didn’t give a fuck who was watching.

“You counted? What a cute little weirdo.” Richie tipped his head to press a kiss to Eddie’s flushed cheek.

You guuuuys ,” Bev squealed as she sat down next to Mike, grinning ear to ear at their affectionate display.

Stanley gave her a withering look. “Don’t encourage them. I don’t want to sit at the gross PDA table”

“That’s too fucking bad, because that’s exactly where you sit,” she informed him, leaning in to kiss Mike with an open-mouthed hello.

“Yeah, it’s TOO FUCKING BAD, Stanley the Manley,” Richie echoed, cupping Eddie’s cheek and going in for more.

Bev pulled back from Mike, licking her lips. “You taste like peanut butter.”

Ben arrived, smirking at Eddie and Richie as he sat down. “Well, that didn’t take long.”

“I supported this from the beginning,” Stan chided himself, shaking his head. “I’m part of the problem.”

Richie broke their kiss and stood up to turn himself around and sit properly, tucking his legs under the table. “Sounds more like you’re part of the solution, Stanley. Y’know, make love, not war and all that happy horseshit? You should get an award.”

Bill arrived at the table, late as always. “What’s the hot t-topic t-t-today?”

PDA: Harmless, or crime against humanity ?” Stan quipped, opening a container of yogurt.

“Billy, Stanley is just jealous. He wants a full-out, 80’s-movie-slow-clap, hot-as-fuck, public-smootch-fest with you.” Richie guzzled water from a pint-sized bottle. It was the only thing he brought with him to the lunch table. Stan glowered at Richie, opening his mouth to argue, but Ben cut him off.

“Rich, what time is your audition?”

“Four. First slot.” He bobbed his head and drummed his fingers on the table. “First slot, best slot.”

“Is that true?” Bev asked, brows furrowed. “Wouldn't last slot be best, because you’re—“

Fresh in their minds? ,” Richie finished for her. “No, rookie mistake, thanks for playing but you lose. When you go first, everyone that goes after has to measure up to you.” He sighed and looked at Eddie. “And I’m a lot to measure up to. Right, Eds?”

Eddie chuckled down at his lunch. “So fucking impressed with yourself,” he muttered, falsely woeful.

“My audition isn't until Wednesday,” Mike piped up. “But I don’t know what slot I have.”

“Mine is tomorrow,” Ben said, his eyes on Beverly. “But I don’t think it matters what slot I get. I don’t have to sing to be the puppeteer.”

“Wait, is e-everyone trying out?” Bill glanced at Stan. “Got anything to t-tell me?”

Stan smirked at him. “I sing like a crow and you know that.”

“I’m not trying out,” Bev said through a mouthful of banana.

“What part are you going for, Mikey?” Richie was the only one at the table not eating anything. “You my competition? 'Cause I’ll fight ya.”

Mike laughed. “No, put your gloves away. I’m going for the dentist, but I would take anything in the ensemble, too. Not picky.”

“Well, br-break a leg everyone. Isn’t th-that what you’re s-supposed to say?”

“Thanks, Billy-boy.” Richie drank more water and Eddie eyed him, concerned.

“Are you not going to eat anything?”

Richie grinned sheepishly. “I try not to before an audition. It’s been a while and I don’t want to blow chunks all over the stage.”

“Do you get that nervous?” Eddie asked, his voice sweetly sympathetic. “Babe, you’re going to kick the shit out of it.”

Babe? “ Richie breathed, elated. He scooted his butt over on the bench so his hip was flush with Eddie’s.

“Uh-uh,” Stan groused petulantly. “Don’t start again or else I’m going to sit at a different table from now on.”

“Get used to it Stan,” Bev told him, watching Richie swipe his finger across Eddie’s cheek and trace down his jawline. “It’s the cutest thing in the world; you’re such a Grinch.”

 

****

Bev and Eddie sat together in the next to last row of the mostly-empty auditorium waiting for auditions to start. They hunched down with their heads close together in the uncomfortable old wooden chairs; relics that Eddie wagered were installed some time during the 1970’s. There were a few groups of kids clustered at a distance around them, and Greta sat alone three rows down, slightly to their right. Stan and Bill were in the seats directly in front of them, whispering to one another with their hands clasped on the arm rest between them. Eddie appreciated that they came to support Richie. He wished that all their friends could have been there, but Mike couldn't skip football practice, and Ben had an after-school job at the library. Eddie alternated between looking at his phone to check the time and watching the curtains for tell-tale fluttering signifying that someone might emerge. His body buzzed nervously as though he were the one auditioning.

Bev skated her fingers against his wrist. “I signed up to work on the set design team. You should sign up, too.”

“I don’t know how to do anything, though,” he replied absently, his stare locked on the stage.

“It’s easy stuff: painting backdrops, hammering nails into plywood. Plus, you would get to watch rehearsals up-close-and-personal.” She grinned and nudged him with her shoulder. “And it’d be good for you to have an extracurricular activity to put on your college applications besides sucking face with Richie.”

Eddie attempted to scowl at her, but his eyes were radiantly pleased. “Oh, screw you. We only started sucking face three days ago.”

Bill craned his neck back so Eddie could see his eyes and nothing else. “D-do you know what s-song Richie is s-s-singing?”

Eddie leaned forward in his chair. “No, he wouldn't tell me.” He sat back, his mind wandering to their brief conversation about the possibility of Richie coming out to his family. “For such a big-mouth he’s surprisingly good at keeping secrets,” Eddie mused quietly, more to himself that to Bill. He glanced up in time to see a familiar face making his way down the aisle.

“Mr. Parish?”

Parish froze, cringing, and spun around jerkily to face Eddie. He wore a belted trench coat and carried a leather briefcase, the look suiting his slight, wispy build. His face was pinched and irritated, and it seemed like he might have been on his way out the door when someone dragged him back inside to wrangle the drama nerds. Eddie’s first impression of him hadn't been the best, but the more time he spent in class the more he liked Parish. “Ah, Mr. Kaspbrak. Are you one of the fortunate ones auditioning today?”

“No. I’m just uh, here for moral support. You’re directing the play?”

“Unfortunately. Budget cuts, plus I have a vested personal interest in the theater,” he finished dramatically, raising his hand in a sweeping arc. He let his eyes wander over Eddie and his group of friends. “Be kind to your teachers kids. We do a lot for very little in return.” He sighed and continued down the ramp, stopped abruptly and side-stepped through the chairs until he reached the dead center of the auditorium--where the acoustics were at their best. He tossed off his coat onto the seat in front of himself and sat with a creak. Someone from the AV department had set him up with a wireless microphone and he clicked it on. “Alright, we’re doing this. Where’s my four o’clock?”

Eddie’s heart began to pound as the curtains on stage moved, the velveteen fabric wiggling and cascading in waves all the way up to the high ceiling. Marcia Fadden came out from behind them and took a seat at the piano, tinkling the keys a bit. Richie appeared on the left side of the stage, his Hawaiian over-shirt shed. He walked over to the piano, handing over his sheet music. He turned and walked downstage into the spotlight.

As if sensing his needs, Bev reached over and gripped Eddie’s hand, and he smiled gratefully at her. His belly wouldn't stop fluttering, and her warm skin anchored him. Richie was going to kill it, he knew it with every fiber of his being, but he was still about to jump out of his skin.

Richie stepped up to the mic and squinted up at Parish. “Hi, Mr. Parish,” he grinned. “Are you ready to have your mind blown?” Eddie and Bev shared a mirthful look. Oh Richie.

“I’m positively shivering with anticipation, Mr. Tozier,” Parish replied evenly, and Eddie smiled. Richie was Parish’s pet student in Calc, and Eddie had a feeling he was also about to become his star. "What are you singing for us today?”

“Take Me to Church, by Hozier.” He quickly swung his skinny arms across his chest in a pale blur, loosening his shoulder joints. Eddie wasn’t sure if he did it for practical reasons or to release nervous energy. “Technically I guess this is Bari-tenor, but I can sing high Tenor, too.”

“I’ve heard the song before, Tozier. It’ll tell me everything I need to know about your abilities. Whenever you’re ready.”

Richie turned his head and nodded at Marcia. She began playing the song and Richie sang softly at first, his voice mellow and absolute honey. Like Parish, Eddie knew the song, and he nearly melted into a puddle when he realized that Richie changed the pronouns in the song from she to he

 

My lover's got humor
He's the giggle at a funeral
Knows everybody's disapproval
I should've worshiped him sooner
If the heavens ever did speak
He's the last true mouthpiece
Every Sunday's getting more bleak
A fresh poison each week
"We were born sick"
You heard them say it
My church offers no absolution
He tells me "worship in the bedroom"
The only heaven I'll be sent to
Is when I'm alone with you
I was born sick, but I love it
Command me to be well

 

Richie closed his eyes, his vocal acrobatics on the Amens vibrating off the walls of the auditorium gorgeously.

 

Amen, Amen, Amen

 

Chills ran down Eddie’s spine, and he felt Beverly squeezing the life out of his hand. He looked around at the kids sitting near them in the cheap seats and everyone was wide-eyed. Stan gaped over at Bill, his face a picture of naked shock. Greta had her hand limply clutched at the hollow of her throat. She turned around and peered into Eddie’s eyes, mouthing Oh my God, did you know he could do that? Then the chorus began, and Richie threw his body into the words passionately. He pitch-perfectly hit the higher octaves, his voice robust and beautiful.

 

Take me to church
I'll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I'll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

Take me to church
I'll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I'll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

 

“Thank you, Richie, I don’t need to hear any more,” Parish said into his mic, the smile evident in his voice. Bev and Eddie jumped up and applauded--they couldn’t stop themselves--but they weren’t the only ones. The auditorium wasn’t full by any stretch, but the scattered cheers and applause were unrestrained and genuine. Bill whistled crazily and Stan turned around to drop his jaw at Eddie pointedly. Intensely shocked face, Eddie thought, his cheeks hurting from smiling.

Greta yelled, “YEAH, RICHIE!”

Parish turned around to look at them. “People, please. I’m sure Richie appreciates your enthusiasm, but we have a lot of auditions to get through today.” He turned forward.  “Tozier, have you memorized Seymour’s monologue?”

“Yeah, I have,” Richie said softly into the mic with a veiled expression on his face, despite the flush that bloomed high on his cheek bones.

“Take your time.”

Richie stepped slightly to the side of the microphone stand to allow his voice to project naturally. He sucked on his lower lip for a few seconds, looking down at the stage. When he lifted his gaze to the back of the auditorium, he became someone else right in front of Eddie’s eyes. A fidgety, nervous person with a higher voice and a New York accent.

 

 

Well, I was walking in the wholesale flower district one day. And I passed by this place where this old Chinese man sometimes sells me weird and exotic cuttings- 'Cause he knows, you see, strange plants are my hobby! Well, He didn't have anything unusual there that day. And I was about to, you know, walk on by when suddenly and without warning, there was this ...total eclipse of the sun!....It got very dark….And then I heard a strange humming sound, like something from another world. And when the light came back, this weird plant was just sitting there, just stuck in, you know, among the zinnias? I coulda sworn it hadn't been there before. But the old Chinese man sold it to me anyway….for a dollar ninety five.

 

“Holy shit,” Bev whispered with a chuckle. “Everyone else may as well go home.”

“Thank you, Richie. Decisions will be made by Friday, cast list will be posted on the main hallway bulletin board.”

Richie hopped down off the stage and jogged up the ramp towards them, and Eddie reacted on instinct. He was out of his seat in a flash, so quickly that Bev had to duck backwards and brace herself. They met in the middle and Eddie leapt up and climbed Richie like he was a tree, throwing his arms around the taller boy’s neck. “You’re so good at that,” Eddie gushed, kissing him on both cheeks.

“Yeah?” He said shyly, carrying Eddie the rest of the way up to join their friends. “Nah. Not really.”

“Richard, are you fucking insane?” Eddie let go and landed on his feet. He looked at their friends. “Tell him.”

“You’re a total R-Rockstar,” Bill said easily, like it was obvious.

“You were amazing,” Stan mumbled, like it pained him to admit it. “For a Trashmouth.”

“Have my babies,” Bev sighed dreamily, leaning her cheek on her hand. Eddie bent across the seats and shoved her good-naturedly.

Greta scooted her way down the row of seats and enveloped Richie in a hug. “Wow. I’m like, so impressed right now. I can’t wait to work on this with you.”

“You’re trying out?” Eddie asked warily.

“Yeah. Don’t look so nervous.” She smiled at him genuinely. “I’m not after your man. Besides, I’ll never get Audrey. Marcia has that one locked.”

Richie started backing his way towards the top of the ramp. “You guys want to blow this joint and get something to eat? I’m starving and a man can’t live on Spaghetti flavored kisses alone.”

“You don’t want to watch the rest of the auditions?” Stan gestured towards the stage where Eddie Corcoran was setting up to begin his song.

He continued backing away from them, raising his voice. “Nah, I don’t like to watch the competition. It’ll get me all paranoid. C’mon, let’s go to the diner. I bet I can get Veronica to comp us lunch. She wants me to have her babies, too” He winked at Bev, and cracked up laughing when Eddie chased after him for saying it.


****

 

Veronica didn’t end up comping their lunch, but she did give them free unlimited sodas and a plate of fries for the table. She flirted openly with Richie, even though he sat with Eddie’s hand clasped in his lap. Eddie wished feverishly for the power to explode heads with a glance. When Richie humored her, purring like a kitten and flirting back with a phony, syrupy grin, Eddie dug his nails into his palm, eliciting a yelp.

After they parted ways with their friends, Eddie brought Richie back to his house, and it was the first time they ever spent time together in his room. Richie responded to his private space with childlike enthusiasm, but Eddie kept the room neat, spartan. Beyond his collection of comic books there wasn’t anything interesting for Richie to explore, other than Eddie himself.

They laid on the twin bed, both of their bodies stretched long, front to front. Richie licked into Eddie’s mouth, tasting him, his tongue velvety and sweet, and Eddie felt like he might explode into a million pieces. His hands swept into Richie’s hair like they were meant to, as though they had no choice, just like magnets were drawn to steel. “You like my hair, huh, kid?” The curly mop almost seemed to beg him to do it anyway, all soft and full and springy, and he gripped onto the locks at the base of Richie’s neck. Richie shivered as Eddie’s short nails raked his scalp. “I knew you were gonna be a little hair puller, too.” He dragged his lips feather light against Eddie’s pulse point. “What if they make me cut it to play Seymour, Spaghetti Head? You gonna cry?” He turned his body to lay on his back and look up at the ceiling.

“Do you think they would?” Eddie rested his head on his hand, elbow pivoted on the bed.

“I dunno. Seymour is a huge dork, and it’s supposed to be set in the 1960’s. He wouldn’t look anything like me at all, honestly.”

“If you’re trying to say that you don’t  look like a huge dork, you maybe need to invest in a mirror,” Eddie teased, and Richie lunged his arms forward quickly to tickle his ribs, making him squeak. “Okay, okay! I’m sorry, you don’t look like a dork,” he giggled, red-faced and squirming. Richie grinned wolfishly, but relented, pulling Eddie closer. He rested his head on Richie’s chest, listening to his heart beat. “You were so amazing today. I knew you would be, but seeing it was something else.”

Richie tucked his arm around Eddie and thumbed circles over his hip. “Yeah? You think so?”

“Anyone with functioning eyes and ears knows so, Rich.”

Downstairs, the front door clicked, and Eddie shot up straight on the bed. “Eddie-bear, I’m home early. Are you here?”

“ Eddie-bear? “ Richie lifted his head and whispered into his Eddie’s ear, “Stealing that one.“

“Don’t you fucking dare, “ he hissed, eyes threateningly serious. “I’ll never talk to you again.” He took a deep breath and yelled to address his mother. It came out unnaturally thin and high. “Yeah, Ma. I’m in my room.”

“Don’t shout through the rooms, Edward, come down here if you want to talk to me.” He could tell by the volume of her voice that she’d already settled into her chair in the living room. Walking over to the mirror, he combed his fingers through his hair in attempt to make himself look presentable. There was a small mark on the side of his neck.

“Fuck, Richie,” he whined softly. “You mauled me.” He looked Richie over. His hair was wildly disheveled and his full lips extra pink from their kissing marathon. He knew his mother would take one look at them and know exactly what they’d been up to. “Look, I want to just say I’m sorry right now for whatever she says to you, okay?” He tried to keep his breathing even, but he felt it threatening to leave him.

“Eds, you don’t have to apologize to me for what your mother says. You’re not her.”

“I know, but she’s probably going to say something awful to you.” His lungs betrayed him, the breath inside them growing shallow. He fumbled in his desk drawer, pulling out his back up inhaler and shaking it. “God, Fuck. We should have gone to your house,” he wheezed and took a gasping puff on the plastic tube.  

“Hey,” Richie soothed, putting his arms around Eddie and cupping the back of his neck. “It’s okay. Your mom can be a big meanie to me all she wants. But right now, you’re getting yourself upset over shit that might happen.”

Eddie sighed against Richie’s chest, calming slightly. His voice was dejected and muffled.  “Richie, you just defined anxiety. I can’t fucking help it, okay?”

“Okay, Eds.” He ran his hands up and down Eddie’s back. “You ready to go face the music?”

They walked down the stairs together, Richie slightly behind Eddie with his chucks hooked over the fingers of one hand. Eddie padded into the living room timidly. “Ma, someone’s with me.”  He held his fist up unnaturally by his neck to cover the love bite Richie’d left on his skin.

Sonia squinted behind him.“Who is it, dear?”

“He’s my…um--” Eddie stammered, struggling for the right word. Friend wasn’t quite accurate.

“Richie Tozier, Mrs. K.” Richie stepped forward in front of Eddie, his voice unusually bright. He held out his hand for her to shake, and she took it warily. “My family moved in across the street at the end of the summer. Sorry we haven’t introduced ourselves, my father works a lot and my mother, well,” he glanced over at Eddie with a mournful expression. “She’s been going through a rough time.” Eddie watched him curiously. He’s acting. God, he really is good. “I’ve been helping Eddie with his Calc studies. See, I took Calc last semester and now I’m just taking AP Calc for fun.”

Sonia Kaspbrak bought it hook, line and sinker. She smiled sweetly at him, eating it up. “Oh, well, that’s lovely Richie. It’s nice to meet you.”

“The pleasure is mine, Mrs. K. You’re really raising a fine young man, here. A plus effort on your part.”

“Why thank you Richie. Say, would you like to stay for dinner?”

Eddie looked incredulously at his mother. In all the years he'd been friends with Stan and Bill, she'd never been this kind to them. “No, Ma. Richie has to go home. Now.” He motioned for Richie to follow him to the door.

“Nice to meet you Ma’am.” He gave her a little wave and jogged over to the bench by the front door to put on his sneakers.

“Same to you, dear.” She clicked on the TV and settled in for her evening ritual.

Um what the fuck was that? “ Eddie leaned down and whispered directly into Richie’s ear.

That was acting, Eds. “ Richie whispered back against his face. He stood up and opened the front door, motioning for Eddie to join him on the stoop. Eddie shut the door behind them, standing on the cold brick in his socks and crossing his arms over his chest to block the chill. “You were so worried that she was going to hate me that you couldn't breathe. But she loves me now.”

“Yeah but that was all phony,” Eddie said, scowling. "She loves someone that isn't you."

“Sometimes it’s easier to be someone else,” Richie admitted somberly. “Did you want me to tell her I just sucked on her baby boy’s tongue and neck and that I’d very much enjoy doing worse things to him?”

"No, I didn't. At all." Eddie licked his lips, flushing to his ears. “What kind of worse things?”

Richie pecked a kiss on the tip of his nose, and hopped down the stoop. “We’ll worry about that when you have a better word to use to describe me than um.  See you tomorrow. Text me later.” Eddie stood there watching him cross the street.

Chapter Text

Monday

Eddie Spaghetti

|9:39[ :( ]

 

Richie

|9:40[ lil skettio, whats wrong ]

|9:41[ turn that frown upside down ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|9:41[ I keep thinking about how you said I called you ‘um’ ]

|9:41[ I wanted to tell my mom who you were to me but I didn’t know how to say it ]

 

Richie

|9:42[ oooh who am i to u ]

|9:43[ tell me tell me tell me ]

|9:43[ does it start with a B? ]

|9:44[ or maybe an L   ;D ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|9:44[ Richie stop it ]

 

Richie

|9:44[ yesss say my name, eds ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|9:45[ lol ugh. forget it ]

 

Richie

|9:46[ if it makes u feel better ur my um too <333 ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|9:47[ cute :) ]

 

Richie

|9:48[ im glad u didnt tell her anything tho. ur mom thinking im ur math tutor is all a part of my master plan ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|9:48[ oh god why do you have to ruin it ]

|9:48[ I already know what you’re going to say ]

 

Richie

|9:49[ O RLY ???? enlighten me plz ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|9:49[ my mother doesn’t want to sleep with you Richie ]

 

Richie

|9:50[ :D he knows me!! soulmatesss ]

|9:51[ lmao but just ask her point blank if she does. i dare u ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|9:52[ you dare me? what are you 11? ]

 

Richie

|9:52[ i fuckin double dog dare u for that ]

|10:47[ ok so ur gonna ignore me. now whos immature? ]

|12:03[ tell mrs k i said sweet dreams ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|12:03[ you stupid asshole, shut the fuck up and go to bed ]

 

Richie

|12:04[ XD LASKKEOJMDLMD; jesus fuck ]

|12:04[ dude can u hear me laughing from over there? im cryin rn eds ]

|12:07[ study date tmrw? ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|12:08[ the only thing you want to study is what the inside of my mouth tastes like ]

 

Richie

|12:09[ I could write a 5 page paper on it tbh ]

|12:17[ eds im gonna be so good in class just so i don’t get stuck after school ]

|12:17[ thats what u do to me ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|12:20[ yes we can “study” tmrw. but at your house from now on ]

|12:21[ now go to SLEEP ]

 

Richie

|12:21[ :) :X zzzz ]

 

*

Tuesday

Big BIll

|4:21[ stanley told me to tell u that hes mad at u ]

 

Eddie

|4:37[ isn’t Stan always lowkey mad at everyone? ]

 

Big Bill

|4:40[ touche ]

 

-

 

Bev

|4:30[ ur not coming to bens audition? ]

|4:32[ u better come to mikes tomorrow ]

|4:33[ u 2 will just sit in the back making out neway lessbereal ]

 

Eddie

|4:39[ Richie doesn’t watch other people audition ]

|4:40[ it’s like a whole thing ]

 

Bev

|4:45[ HMM EDDIE OK I SEE HOW IT IS ]

|4:57[ jk I know what its like to be caught up in a boy ]

|4:58[ but stan is mad at u for real lmao ]

 

*

Wednesday

 

Eddie

|3:39[ break a leg today. sorry I won’t be there to see you ]

 

Mike

|3:45[ thank u! its ok np I understand ]

 

-

Stan

|4:02[ You’re dead to me. ]

 

Eddie

|4:31[ that’s really dramatic Stanley ]

|4:32[ Mike isn’t even mad ]

 

Stan

|4:35[ Mike is too nice to tell you the truth. You’re being a shitty friend. ]

 

Eddie

|4:37[ technically if I was at school rn I’m supposed to be in with Judith anyway so ]

|4:38[ be mad all you want ]

 

Stan

|4:39[ Oh I will. Count on it. ]

 

-

 

Eddie and Richie “studied” every afternoon that week. They both blew off their weekly sessions with Judith, and neither of them went to the auditorium to watch Ben and Mike audition. Eddie felt guilty, but he was a man possessed. He’d previously scoffed at movies that portrayed lovesick people who got totally swept up in relationships and ignored their friends, until one day the realization that he’d become one of those people hit him like a bus. But he wasn’t ashamed; Richie’s entire being begged for his attention and he happily obliged. And he always had some playlist ready to go, “’Songs to grope to,’ Eds, look me up on Spotify;” sweet music that made Eddie’s heart patter and his belly go fuzzy.  

I was blind as a bat and still knew where you were at

I was deaf, and dumb, and still knew that you’re the only one

I could show up at your door, and still know what you’re looking for

I could wait in your line, and if you had no money I’d give you my last dime

That Thursday afternoon, Eddie lay flat on Richie’s bed, with Richie stretched full out on top of him. His glasses were abandoned on the nightstand and he sucked and worried at Eddie’s lower lip like he actually did want to study it well enough to write a thesis. Eddie’s hips twitched involuntarily and he was excruciatingly hot underneath Richie’s long frame. He knew that something would happen soon, something more than he’d ever experienced with another person, and he was apprehensive that he wouldn’t know what to do when the time came.

 “Mmmnp Richie,” Eddie whispered against his mouth, still kissing. “Maybe we actually should study.”

Richie pressed his forehead against Eddie’s and laughed softly. “He wants to study.” He brought his mouth down and murmured along Eddie’s neck. “We should study the force required to hickie-fy a Spaghetti noodle. Write a fuckin’ equation and make a diagram and submit our results to the science fair.”

“Don’t chew up my neck, you animal,” he warned with zero bite behind it. “And I’m not a spaghetti noodle; I’m a person.”

“The cutest person,” Richie stated, pulling back and laying on his side. He slid his warm hand up the front of Eddie’s shirt and rested it against his tummy, and his mitt was big enough to almost completely cover the whole thing. His long fingers grazed Eddie’s flesh lightly, sending little lightning bolts across his skin.

Eddie sighed and closed his eyes, Richie’s soft touch pushing all academic thoughts out of his mind. “Hey, how come you didn’t want to watch Mike audition yesterday? I mean, he tried out for a completely different role than you did.”

Richie walked his fingers up higher to Eddie’s chest and spread them flat, his forearm disappearing under the shirt’s fabric. “Because if someone is really good it doesn’t matter what role they read for, the director could ask them to read for the lead instead. Makes me nervous.”

“If you think anyone who auditioned would be better than you then maybe you need to seek professional help.” Eddie hugged his arms around himself, giving Richie’s limb a quick squeeze.

He slipped his hand out of the warm cocoon and lay next to Eddie so they were shoulder to shoulder. “Already sought it, they said I was beyond help. I’m crazy for a boy and there’s no cure.” Richie was quiet for a minute, and when he began speaking again his voice was gentle. “Not to get all serious and preachy on you, but I bet if you got the right kind of therapy you could chuck all your inhalers in the trash. Actually, I know it for a fact, Eds.”

Eddie rolled on his side and pivoted on his elbow, resting his head on his hand. “How do you know?”

“Because I used to have panic attacks and now I don’t.” Richie raised both his arms straight up and stretched them, producing a little popping sound in his upper back. “The panicky feeling never stopped, like I still get it sometimes but I know how to deal with it now.”

“The breathing thing,” Eddie mused, remembering the way Richie had helped him at the movies when he foolishly forgot his inhaler. The idea of not requiring one seemed impossible; he’d had a lung-sucker for as long as his cognizant memories stretched back. “When did you have panic attacks?”

“When I was a kid. They stopped for good when I was like twelve though. My old man ignored it until it happened while we were out somewhere and I embarrassed him. Then I was dragged to the shrink.”

Eddie shook his head, his face twisted up in disgust. “I fucking hate your father and I never even met him.”

“Join the club. I’m pretty sure my mother has hated him since like 2010.”

“Why’d you have panic attacks? If that’s a rude question, sorry. You don’t have to say.”

“No, I’ll tell you.” Richie rolled on his side, his dark curls spread out on the bed, and Eddie ran his fingers through them as he spoke. “Before he got a practice, Went didn’t make a lot of money and we lived in an apartment building. One night he had plans to take Mags out, but they couldn’t find a sitter so they left me and Sades alone. I was nine, Eds, like what the fuck was I supposed to do if something happened, right?”

“What a couple of assholes. I swear, what’s wrong with them?” He scratched his nails against Richie’s scalp lightly, making his eyelids heavy.

“Still trying to figure it out myself. Anyway, there was a fire in our building that night. It didn’t reach our apartment or anything, but the alarms went off and they were crazy fucking loud. I had to take Sadie outside with me and we waited for hours with a bunch of strangers in the dark before they would let us go back in.” He paused, opening his eyes, leaving them unfocused on Eddie’s shirt. “After that I started having nightmares. Then a couple months later there was a fire drill at school and the alarm went off and I lost my shit.” His eyes caught Eddie’s. “I seriously thought I was dying; I couldn’t breathe and I got really hot inside my face and chest. My mom had to come pick me up from school and she took me to the doctor. He recommended I see a therapist but my dad wasn’t having it, not until it happened in front of people that he worked with, anyway. Then he was like “ Mags, you need to fix this child, ” his father’s deep voice came out of him, unemotional and flat. “So, I started seeing a dude once a week. We played Uno and he asked me about school and taught me breathing exercises.”

“You’re really strong.” Eddie ran his thumb across Richie’s cheek. He leaned down and kissed his forehead. “Like amazingly so.”

“Nah. Not where it counts,” Richie confessed. “Not like you.”

“Richie, I use a fake inhaler. I’ve been using it since I was old enough to start walking.”

“Yeah, but you’re you,” he insisted, he sat up and kissed Eddie languidly, like he meant it. He grazed his fingers on Eddie’s lower lip. “You’re not pretending to be anything. So tough. A little toughie.”

Eddie smiled and didn’t protest, though that was his first instinct. Something else came out of his mouth instead. “Richie, do you want to be my boyfriend?”

“Yes. Since the second I saw you.”

 

****

“Some of you need to get to work,” Parish grumbled as he walked up and down the aisles Friday morning, handing back their exams. “Silly mistakes. Algebraic atrocities. Addition and subtraction errors? I mean, really. What is going through your heads? Whatever happened on Riverdale last night is not going to help you pass this class.” Eddie wasn't listening to the teacher, but he heard Richie snort at his joke from across the room. He stared down at the bright red C- on the top of his test and wanted to puke. Next to the grade, Parish wrote Seems like you aren't taking this seriously. AP is for people who want to work hard, Mr. Kaspbrak. Get it together.

Glancing over at Richie, Eddie was met with a toothy grin. Richie held his paper up unabashedly, basically revealing it to the whole class. A big, beautiful A with a fucking paragraph written next to it in Parish's loopy script. Of course, you fucking perfect excuse for a human.

They left the class together, Richie excitedly dragging him down the hallway to the front bulletin board. “Eds, I’m gonna drop dead of a heart attack on the way there.” Eddie trailed behind him silently, his mind occupied. What the fuck was his mother going to say when she saw the grade? She thought he had a math tutor in Richie, and he only passed the exam by the skin of his teeth. They reached the board and Richie stood reading the cast list, still holding Eddie’s hand. “Oh fuckin-shit-yeah. I got it,” Richie said, smiling back at him, but then he looked at the list again and his mouth turned down, his dark eyes tensing. “Uh Eds. Maybe you should take a look at this?”

Eddie snapped out of his funk. “Why? What does it say?” He stretched up on the balls of his feet and put his finger on the paper, pulling it down the list of names, stopping when he got to the role of the dentist, Dr. Orin Scrivello, D.D.S. All his worries about math were forgotten, replaced with a new kind of dread. “Oh, what the fuck, Richie?”

 

LSOH OFFICIAL CAST LIST: CONGRATULATIONS!!

*******

Seymour Krelborn……………………….Richie Tozier

Audrey……………………………………Marcia Fadden

Voice of Audrey II...…………………….Eddie Corcoran

Audrey II (puppeteer).....…………………Ben Hanscom

Crystal…………………………………………..Greta Bowie

Ronnette………………………………………Betty Ripsom

Chiffon……………………………………………Sally Mueller

Orin Scrivello D.D.S.....………………Patrick Hockstetter

Mr. Mushnik……………………………………Mike Hanlon

Directed by Mr. Arthur Parish

Rehearsals begin Monday Nov 9th * 4 PM Auditorium 

 

Chapter Text

 

“S-so, my p-parents are out of t-town this weekend and I’m thi-hinking we should have a p-party tonight.” Bill glanced at his friends around the lunch table and ignored Stan’s soft, displeased muttering, though Eddie heard it and tensed. He glanced around Bill to try to meet Stan’s eyes, but Stan wouldn’t give him an inch. He’d been pointedly sitting away from Eddie for three days in a row.

“Wasn’t the last party terrible enough, Bill? I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“N-n-no not that kind of p-party, Eddie. Just us,” Bill gestured at the six of them. “Celebr-rate everyone g-getting their roles in the p-play and watch movies or play games or s-something. Everyone can sl-sleep over in the d-d-den.”

“Even me?” Bev asked cheekily, grinning at Bill. She was teasing him, but Eddie saw something mournful in her sweet blue eyes.

“Yeah, B-Beverly, even you,” Bill replied huskily, giving her a small smile.

Ben flitted his eyes between Eddie and Stan. Their tension was obvious to everyone, and distracting. “What should we bring, sleeping bags?”

“Fuck sleeping bags,” Richie scoffed. “I have an air mattress. It’s not big enough to share, but if you guys want to get real kinky with it--”

“Shut up, Richie.” Mike grinned at him. “Sounds like fun Bill, I’m in.”

“Same,” Ben agreed.

Stan sighed. “What else am I doing? Sure.”

Richie slapped his hand on the table. “Sign me and Eds up.”

“You’re not allowed to speak for me anymore after the auction,” Eddie snapped, earning him an exaggerated pout from Richie. He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, okay. I’ll come.”

“You guys,” Bev whined lovingly, her smile biting down on her lower lip. “We’re gonna do so many shots tonight.”

****

Eddie stood on Bill’s doorstep next to Richie with his fist poised to knock, but he hesitated. “Stan is so mad at me, this is going to be totally awkward.” He pulled his hand back to adjust the straps of the heavy, over-stuffed backpack on his shoulders with a wince. The sun was setting behind them, bathing Richie’s face in a soft pink light that reflected off his glasses.

“Spaghetti, you can fix it,” Richie said brightly. “You guys have been friends since you were what, six?”

“I was six and a half, Stan and Bill were five.”

“It’s still Goddamned shocking to me that you’re older than all of us, by the way.”

“Why? I’m mature,” Eddie groused, crossing his arms. “More so than you are anyway.”

“Quit stalling and knock on the door, Eds. I would but I’m incapacitated as fuck.” Richie’s arms were loaded with his air mattress and pillow, plus a bag full of snacks that they’d pilfered from Eddie’s mother’s stash.

Raising his hand once more, Eddie jumped when the door swung open in front of him. “Oh, look who it is. HEY WHOEVER ORDERED THE MALE STRIPPERS NEEDS TO FIND A NEW AGENCY, THESE GUYS ARE TROLLS!”

Bill rushed over, pushing Sadie out of the way with a sheepish grin. He looked over his shoulder at her as she skipped off behind him towards the kitchen. “S-s-s-sorry, Gyah-Georgie’s friend came h-home with him after sc-school and she’s a p-p-pain in—“

“Watch what you say, Billy,” Richie cut him off, shaking the bag of snacks at Bill until he got the hint and took them off his hands. “She’s a nightmare for sure, but she’s my baby sister.”

 “Oh, wow, th-that actually makes a lot of s-sense,” Bill chuckled. “Come in, g-guys. Everyone is in the d-den.”

They entered the house and Eddie made straight for the den. He took off his bag, depositing it on the floor in the corner. Ben and Bev were seated on the couch, locked in an intense video game battle. Mike sat beside Bev, cheering her on. “Yeah, Bevvie, hit him with a chair!”

“Excuse me, don’t you dare!” Ben scrunched up his face, mashing buttons furiously.

Bev cackled, effortlessly beating him. “You’re done-zo, Ben. It’s over.”

“What are you guys playing?” Eddie perched himself on the arm of the couch. He noticed that Stanley was nowhere to be found.

WWE 2K17 ” Mike answered without taking his eyes off the screen. “I got next. You want to play Eddie?”

“I don’t really know how to. Not much into video games.”

“It’s so easy,” Bev assured him, her beefy, muscled character thrashing Ben’s mercilessly on the TV screen. “I’m seriously just winging it, I have no idea what I’m doing.”

Ben grimaced and bit his lip, slamming on the controller. “That really makes me feel a whole lot worse, because I have played this before.” He tossed the controller down on the floor as Bev won the match.

“Hey, you mad?” Mike laughed. “Don’t break it. Give it here.” Mike and Bev started a new match.

Richie came into the den and leaned up behind Eddie on the arm of the couch. “I didn’t peg Billy as such a shit babysitter,” he spouted in shock. “He’s letting these kids shovel marshmallow cereal in their faces for dinner. If he thinks Sadie is a pain in the ass to start out, wait till he meets the sugar monster.”

“I d-don’t have a choice, Richie,” Bill’s voice came from behind them. “My bro-hother is a total little r-rat and will tell my p-p-parents everything we do if I d-don’t cave to all his demands.”

“Yeah, well if Miss Marsh is still hell-bent on us doing shots later, I’ll tell you right now that Sades is 100% NOT partaking. I’ll leave this exclusive party to drag her home by her hair before I’ll allow that.”

“I’m not going to feed children alcohol, Richie,” Bev muttered, horrified. She was destroying Mike in the game, fingers in a frenzy. “I’ll tell Georgie no and he’ll listen. Apparently, he likes me.”

“Who wouldn’t,” Mike mumbled, clacking his buttons feverishly. “Shit, Bev. Calm down! Stop kicking me.”

Eddie leaned his head back against Richie’s chest. “Since when are you so protective?”

Richie hugged his arms around Eddie, hooking his chin over his shoulder. “Since always, Eds. Sometimes I want to kill her, though. That’s normal, right?”

“Nothing about you is normal,” he said, kissing Richie’s cheek. “That’s why I like you.”

“Sweet talker,” Richie purred against his neck. “Little fuckin’ sweetheart.”

Ben slid down to sit on the floor with his back against the couch. “Hey Bill, where’s Stan?”

Bill’s eyes fell on Eddie and then bounced off quickly. “He had s-some homework he wanted to fin-ish before joining us. He’s up in my r-r-room.”

“Go up there and do it now, Eds,” Richie whispered against the shell of his boyfriend’s ear. He broke their embrace and rubbed Eddie’s shoulders like he was a boxing coach. “You got it in you, champ.”

Eddie stood up reluctantly. “Yeah, I should, right? Be right back.”

****

The door to Bill’s room was ajar and Stanley sat at the desk, writing quickly with his head bent over the page. Eddie stood awkwardly in the doorway “Can we talk?”

Stan’s shoulders stiffened when he heard Eddie’s voice and he sat up taller but didn’t turn around. “Obviously we can talk; we both have mouths and voices.”

“Stanley, God. Just drop the sarcasm for two seconds, please. MAY we talk? Is that better?”

“We may not,” he replied easily, emotionless.

Eddie walked into the room and sat on Bill’s bed. “I don’t really understand why you’re so mad at me. I told Ben and Mike that I was sorry, and they’re over it.”

Stan still refused to turn around. “They’re nicer than I am.”

“Obviously,” Eddie mumbled. “I know I’ve been selfish. I’ve never felt this way about anyone before and I want to spend every single second with him. Maybe that’s unhealthy or unfair, but I still want to.” Even sitting there in Bill’s room, he was wondering what Richie was doing in the den without him.  

“So why don’t you go back downstairs. You’ve already wasted about ninety seconds here with me.” Stan’s words cut to the core of Eddie’s feelings, his voice soft and contemptuous.

Eddie frowned and sucked on his lower lip. “Fine,” he sighed resignedly. “You can’t say I didn’t try.” He got up and walked towards the door as Stan swiveled the chair around to face him.

“I’m mad at you because you were so insistent that we all watch Richie audition, and then you didn’t give Mike and Ben the same courtesy.”

Eddie turned back. When he saw Stan’s face, he hugged his arms around himself, his guts squirming with shame. Stan didn’t look angry with him. His slim friend’s eyes were downcast and he fidgeted with his clasped hands, his lips pressed into a thin line. He looked sad. “Stan, I’m sorry that I did that. If I could go back and do it differently, I would.”

“Would you? Would you, really?” Stan cocked his head, a small smirk on his lips. ”I don’t think you would, AT ALL….But I believe that you’re sorry, and I forgive you.”

Eddie crossed the distance between them and bent down to hug Stan. “I really am sorry. I don’t ever want you to be mad at me.” Stan received him stiffly at first, but after a beat hugged him back.

“I have it on good authority that I’m ‘always lowkey mad at everyone,’ anyway, so good luck,” Stan quipped and Eddie pulled back, cringing.

“Aren’t you kind of, though?”

Stan stood up and shoved Eddie gently towards the door. “I forgave you, but don’t push it.”

****

 The group faced-off playing video games until they got bored. Bill ordered a few pizzas for dinner and they crowded around the dining room table to play card games, allowing Georgie and Sadie to play with them. Eddie found out interesting tidbits, like the fact that Richie was both a sore loser and a sore winner. For the most part, his humor fell flat when they played Apples to Apples, losing out to Ben’s deadpan sensibilities and Stan’s sarcasm. Ben ended up winning overall, his answers decidedly the best received among their friends.

“This game is rigged,” Richie sulked. “Either that, or you guys are just so unfunny that you don’t understand me at all. I feel judged.”

“What a whiner,” Eddie mocked, holding onto Richie’s hand under the table. “Do we need to play something else to save your ego?”

Sadie smiled at Eddie. “He’s always been a whiner. Good luck with that,” she chirped.

Ben stood up and reached to collect the cards that were in front of each of them. He shuffled the deck, grinning at Richie. “So am I going to win another round of this, or are we moving on to something else?”

Richie gaped at Ben. “Benny, how dare you—“

Bev cut him off. “Let’s play Never Have I Ever ,” she suggested excitedly.

“Th-that’s a drinking game, B-Bev,” Bill reminded her, glancing at his brother.

“You guys are drinking tonight?” Georgie’s eyes lit up. “I’ll tell on you if you don’t let Sadie sleep over.”

“Woah, woah, woah, little creep-o.” Richie leaned across the table to glare at Georgie, who regarded him with a smug smile. “Sades is going home, and soon.”

“You can’t tell me what to do,” Sadie retorted sourly. She pulled out her phone and started texting. “I’ll ask mom right now if I can sleep over.” She got up from the table and went into the kitchen and Georgie followed her.

Stan shrugged at Richie. “Bev used to sleep over with us when we were their age.”

Richie shook his head, dead serious. “Yeah but you three are gayer than a cock flavored lollypop.” Beverly and Stan lost their shit laughing, and Eddie released Richie’s hand to cover his eyes.

“I’m bi Ruh-Richie,” Bill said, snickering.

“Yeah and not to make it awkward, but Bill had a crush on Bev back then.” Mike grinned, reaching for Bev’s hand.

“Oh did he,” Richie sang, licking his lips. “That’s fucking interesting, man. Okay, fuck it, now I want to play Never Have I Ever .”

Ben chuckled. “Richie is so easy to sway. What about your sister, dude?”

“Eh, she’ll be fine. I don’t even think Georgie likes her. He’s too busy making moon eyes at Bevvie.”

“If your m-mother says yes w-we’ll make S-Sadie sleep on the living r-r-room couch.”

Eddie grimaced. “Do we actually have to do shots? And play Never Have I Ever ?”

Richie put his hand on his boyfriend’s shoulder and shook him gently. “Spaghetti Head, you don’t want to play?”

Stan grinned evilly. “Eddie, if we play, you don’t have to worry about the shots. You’re not going to have to drink at all.”

“Fuck you, Stanley!” Eddie squealed, trying and failing miserably to frown at him. Stan teasing him was music to his ears, but his words were embarrassingly true. Eddie had very little experience in the types of topics that came up during games of Never Have I Ever . “You guys play, I’ll watch.”

“That’s weak sauce, Eddie,” Mike said gently.

Sadie came back to the table and sat. “Mom said I can sleep over. But she said if anything bad happens it’s on you.”

“What the fuck,” Richie bristled, indignant. “Did you tell her you’re sleeping over your boyfriend’s house?”

Sadie’s eyes widened and her ears turned pink. She tipped her head towards the kitchen to see if Georgie heard, whispering, “Richie, don’t.”

Eddie elbowed Richie and gave him a severe look. He mouthed Don’t embarrass your sister. Richie rolled his eyes and sighed. “You’re sleeping on the couch in the living room. Bill’s rules. And you don’t want to fuck with Billy-boy Denbrough.”

“It’s true,” Bev told her kindly. “He looks sweet, but he’s savage.”

“S-Sadie, they’re lying to you. I’m a complete p-pushover.”

Ben shuffled the Apples to Apples cards like he was a professional, making a bridge. “Since Eddie passed on Never Have I Ever , why don’t I just keep cleaning up on this one? I’ll try to be less funny,” he promised Richie.

“Hysterical, Benny,” he deadpanned, pushing his chair back. He bent and kissed Eddie quickly, earning a groan from Sadie. “Smoke break. Bevvie?”

“Yes, please.” She put her hand on Mike’s cheek and brought their lips together.

“Ew, you’re all so gross,” Said groaned.

“My sentiments exactly, Sadie,” Stan concurred. “You should see them at school, it’s worse.”

Georgie ducked his head into the room. “Sadie, wanna play PS4?” She hopped up and followed him into the den.

Stan tipped his ear towards the door to make sure they’d left before he spoke. “Do you not want to play NHIE because you don’t want to embarrass yourself in front of Richie?”

“Stan, I haven’t done anything worth mentioning, and you know it.” He put his elbows on the table and leaned his head on his hands. “If you guys say things like ‘ Never Have I Ever  been taken to the hospital for a hangnail,’ that’s the only way I would drink. And that shit is embarrassing in and of itself.”

“Wait, what?” Mike squinted at Eddie. “Explain, please.”

“Eddie’s muh-muh-mother is um…” Bill stared at Eddie sympathetically, searching for the right way to say it.

“She used to take me to the doctor way more than I needed to go,” Eddie said quietly. “Until I was like thirteen, when my pharmacist told me that all the medications she was feeding me were placebos and there was nothing wrong with me.”

“Wow, your mom sucks,” Ben commiserated softly. “Richie doesn’t know that?”

“He knows that my inhaler is fake, but he doesn’t know the whole story, no.”

“Spending every waking second together, but no time to tell that, huh?” Stan’s words were snarky, but his voice was gentle.

“Lay off him, St-Stanley,” Bill said mildly, taking his hand.

“Starting next week, you guys won’t have as much time to spend together,” Mike mused. “Rehearsals every day after school. They’re working something out with the coach so I can get time away.”

“Yeah, me too. Well, I have to change my schedule at work,” Ben told Mike. “I can’t wait to start. I’m drawing up plans to build the sets.”

Eddie perked up, cocking his head at Ben. “I guess we’ll be working together, then. I joined the set team with Bev.”

Ben nodded and grinned. “I’ll be bossing you around. I’ve always been into building stuff, it just kind of makes sense to me.”

“Hope you didn’t miss us too much,” Richie crowed as he entered the dining room. “We playing Never Have I Ever or what, Eddie Spaghetti?” He sat beside his boyfriend and plunked his phone down onto the table.

Never Have I Ever  liked being called stupid nicknames,” Eddie remarked airily.

“LIAR!” Richie screamed, wounded. He clutched at his chest.

“Fucking use your inside voice, Richie, Jesus,” Bev muttered, sitting down next to Mike.

Eddie’s face lit up. “Oh my God, you guys. I’ll play if we all agree to just use it to take digs at Richie.”

“Yessss,” Bev hissed, popping up and running to the den, presumably to get the alcohol she brought.

“This is total bullshit,” Richie whined.

They played, giggling and wracking their brains to come up with things to make sure that only Richie drank. Never Have I Ever  lived in New York City. Never Have I Ever  been over six feet tall. Never Have I Ever  worn glasses. Never Have I Ever  had a little sister. Never Have I Ever  won the lead in a play.

“Guys, I’m going to be the only one wasted, and you’re all going to wish you didn’t do this when I ralph all over the den.”

“Five sips of a mixed drink aren’t going to make you wasted, idiot.” Stan shook his head. “I got another one: Never Have I Ever  had contacts."

“Nuh-uh. REPEAT!” Richie shouted, pointing at Stan. “Fucking FOUL BALL Stanley the Manley.”

Mike was laughing so hard he started crying. “Alright, let’s stop dog-piling my man Richie, please?” He stopped and thought for a minute. “ Never Have I Ever  jumped off the cliff at the quarry.”

Eddie, Bev, Bill and Stan took a drink.

Bev looked at Eddie. “ Never Have I Ever  broken my arm.”

Eddie smirked at her and took a drink.

Bill scrunched up one eye and stared up at the ceiling. “ Never Have I Ever  had a Bar Mitzvah.”

Stan flipped him off and took a drink.

Ben smiled. “ Never Have I Ever  played a team sport."

Bill and Mike took a drink.

Stan grinned at Bill. “ Never Have I Ever  kissed a girl.”

Mike, Richie, Bill, Ben, and Bev took a drink.

“Why Beverly Marsh, I do declare,” Richie hooted.

“Yeah-yeah,” she brushed him off, chuckling.

Eddie raised his cup. “ Never Have I Ever  played this game before tonight.”

Everyone else took a drink. “Cheap, Spaghetti. Fucking bogus.”

 

****

 

They didn’t play the game long enough for anyone to be wasted. After they got it out of their system, they kicked Georgie and Sadie out of the den, pushed the couch up against the wall and set up sleeping bags, settling down to watch a movie. Richie blew up his air mattress and tried to convince everyone that they could join in and cuddle with him and Eddie. “Uh, no thanks, buddy,” Ben replied. “But have fun.” Bill and Beverly insisted they watch horror movies. They made it through The Descent , though Eddie had to cover his eyes for most of it. Cabin Fever  was the one that most of the group knocked out watching, and Eddie got up, tiptoeing around his sleeping friends to turn off the TV and the lights. He even left the den briefly to make sure that Sadie was on the living room couch. When everything was accounted for, he joined Richie on the air mattress.

As their friends released soft, rhythmic breathing sounds around them, Eddie and Richie kissed and petted, the rubber mattress disobediently squeaking beneath them here and there. Richie kissed him tenderly, on his lips and his cheeks and his nose, and Eddie had to hold himself back from releasing little whimpers. Richie’d stripped down to his boxers and an ancient band teeshirt, and Eddie could feel all of him. Particularly the part of him that was pressed up against Eddie’s hip. It felt stiff and urgent, and filled Eddie with a surge of desire that was foreign and scary and exciting at once. He pulled back a few inches abruptly, leaving Richie comically wide-eyed and confused with his lips poised.

“I’m sorry, Richie,” he whispered, embarrassed. “I can’t…I’ve never—I… I never—“

Richie grinned sweetly at Eddie, his eyes soft. He waved his hand between Eddie and himself, like he was trying to pull the words out. “ Never Have you Ever ,” he whispered back, drawing out all the syllables, prompting him.

Eddie blushed in the dark, his volume impossibly quiet. “I haven’t uh…I mean, I’ve like— y’know, by myself. I’ve just never—“

Richie lowered his voice to matched Eddie’s, hushed and barely audible “You never, you never. Hmm.” He scratched his chin, and started throwing out guesses, ticking them off on his fingers. “You never baked a cake. You never been to France. You never climbed a mountain. You never had a hot dude suck your dick like he was dying and it had the antidote inside of it.”

Eddie covered his face with his hands and his entire body shook with choked giggles. When he could finally speak, he didn’t bother to keep his voice down. “No,” he moaned, face still covered. “I haven’t”

“You’re missing out. France is a really beautiful country.” Richie brought up his arms to block Eddie’s half-hearted slap. He smiled brightly, the soft moonlight from the windows behind them shining in his eyes. “You think I didn’t already know that about you, Eds? You’re pure as new fallen snow. A fucking angel.”

“I just don’t want you to get frustrated with me. If you want to do something and I say no.”

“Eds, I don’t think you appreciate the situation as it is.” He rocked forward and shifted himself a little closer. “I’m so fucking stoked that I get to breathe the same air as you. I feel like I won a prize because you let me be next to you.”

Eddie reached his hand up to run his fingers through Richie’s messy hair. “I feel the same way, Richie.”

“Fucking aces, kid.” Richie turned his neck to nudge his head against Eddie’s hand sweetly. “We’re doing all of this at your pace, I promise. I’m sorry if I pressed my dick on you too hard. I wasn’t doing it to pressure you.”

“This is all really touching in a gross kind of way,” Ben’s voice came from the opposite side of the room, friendly but a trifle irritated. “But can you two shut the fuck up? It’s four in the morning.”

“Sorry,” Eddie squeaked, rolling over on his side to face away from Richie.

“But Benny, I can’t contain it,” Richie stage whispered. “He really likes me.”

“Miracles are possible,” Stan’s voice deadpanned tiredly. “Silence, Richard. It’s golden.”

Eddie whimpered against his pillow. “Is everyone awake and listening to us?”

“Yes,” Bill barked, deep and sleep-thick.

Mike chuckled. “You’ve been squeaking around on that mattress for like a half-hour, how are we supposed to sleep?”

“I’m probably the only one who doesn’t mind it,” Bev breathed sleepily. “Such cuties.”

“Young Edward and I are going to settle down and spoon now,” Richie announced. “Thanks, dear listeners for tuning into the Spaghetti and Meatball smootch hour, but we have to sign off.” A pillow sailed across the room and hit Richie in his face. “Oh thanks, pals. I need one to put in between my legs.”

“Don’t you dare put my pillow next to your gross balls,” Stan warned.

“If you love it so much why’d you chuck it, Stanley? Seems like you have an impulse control problem.”  

“Fuckin’ sh-shut UP Ruh-Richie, God damn.”

Richie tossed the pillow back in the general direction it came from before laying down behind Eddie, gathering him up and pulling him back to spoon him as promised. “Richie, fuck. That was so embarrassing.”

SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

“Don’t be embarrassed,” Richie whispered into his ear, his hot breath sending tingles down Eddie’s neck and arm. “I want everyone to know.”

Eddie turned a little bit and brought his mouth to Richie’s ear. “Even your parents?” Richie’s arms hugged him tighter.

“I’ve been thinking about it, and if they actually decide to come to see me in the play, I’ll have to. Because the first thing I’m going to do after the curtain call is kiss the shit out of you.”

Chapter Text

“Look on the bright side, Eds. I’m gonna get to kill him and chop his body up into little pieces.” Richie pulled on the sleeve of Eddie’s pale-yellow polo shirt, stretching his collar down to expose the curve of his trap. They’d ducked into Parish’s empty classroom to kill time until rehearsals began, and Eddie sat primly on top of one of the desks with his legs dangling down. Richie stood directly in front of Eddie, tucked in between his knees and nibbling down the sinew next to the hollow of his throat.

“Please don’t talk about murdering people while you kiss my neck,” Eddie grumbled, but he tipped his head back further to allow Richie easier access.

“It’s just pretend murder, baby,” Richie murmured as he raked his teeth along Eddie’s clavicle, making the smaller boy’s breath hitch. “Maybe I’ll go method, though,” he mused, his grin audible. “Know anyone I can practice on?”

Richie. That’s not even a little bit funny.”

“It’s totally funny, and I’d get away with it, too.” Richie popped his head up and pushed his glasses up on his nose. He brought his face close to Eddie’s. “But your honor,” he insisted, all wide-eyed innocence. “I didn’t mean it. I was just researching for a role. Y’know, like that time Winona Ryder got caught stealing clothes?”

Eddie shoved Richie away, pulling his shirt to rights and straightening his collar. He hopped down off the desk and yanked his red hoodie back onto his body, zipping it quickly. “Can you be serious right now? In five minutes you have to walk into that auditorium and start working with him. What if it’s so awkward that it fucks up the whole play?”

Richie’s brows furrowed and he grasped Eddie’s hands. “I take acting really serious, Eds. I know I’m a big goof ball sometimes—”

Sometimes ?” Eddie deadpanned, smirking.

“—but I don’t fuck around when it comes to stuff like this. I doubt Patrick will ever be my B-F-F,” he over pronounced each letter, batting his long eyelashes. “But we’ll be civil, at least on my end.” Richie smiled and tugged Eddie’s arms to and fro playfully, shaking his body like a rag-doll. “Come ooon, Eds. It’s gonna be fine.” He shut his eyes and pressed his lips to Eddie’s forehead. “You worry your pretty little head too much.” He brushed a few curls back from Eddie’s face.

“I know I do,” Eddie agreed softly, kneading Richie’s hands in his own before stretching up to give him a lingering kiss. He rolled his eyes. “And don’t call me pretty.”

 

****

 

Eddie envisioned that he’d have a front row seat to the cast’s rehearsal, but he quickly found out that his expectations did not quite line up with reality. The crew behind the scenes were just that: behind the scenes. He spent most of the afternoon in the choir room adjacent to the auditorium with Beverly, painting a neutral-colored base coat onto an enormous drop cloth. Their work would eventually become a city-scape, and be hoisted up to hang from pulleys at the rear of the stage to create the scenic back-drop.

Ben had gathered and addressed the crew when they first arrived. His mild and agreeable demeanor shifted into a business-like gruffness that commanded respect. “We don’t need to build Rome in a day, but I expect everyone to take this seriously and put in their best effort to get us rolling forward.” The set team was a rag-tag bunch, made up mostly by members of the show choir, who were also technically part of the cast: they would lend their voices as the ensemble in the larger musical numbers.

The production was low budget, so the crew was only tasked with building the bare minimum in terms of set dressing: flat, painted plywood nailed to dollies that could be easily removed between scenes, and simple rectangular counters that could double as both the flower shop set and the dentist’s office.

“What do you know about Ben?” Beverly asked Eddie casually. She was on her hands and knees, her lithe frame obscured by a huge dirty art smock. The bangles on her wrist clacked as she stretched forward to roll out the paint in the center of the cloth, working outwards. Something about her tone and the way she stopped painting to fidget with her earing when she asked the question made Eddie uneasy.

“Not a lot,” he admitted, glancing at her sidelong as he focused on his task. “Richie told me that he and his mother came to Derry last year to live with his Aunt. Apparently, he lost a lot of weight right before he moved.”

“Hmm.” Bev leaned back on her haunches. She chewed on her lip and ran a hand through her wavy red bob. “I wonder if he tried to lose it, or if it just happened naturally from getting taller.”

Eddie stopped painting and turned his body towards her. “Wait a minute. Oh my God, Bev. You’re not actually—”

She narrowed her eyes at him and dropped her paint roller onto the newspaper next to her. “I’m not actually what, Eddie?”

“Don’t do it,” he said simply. He tugged self-consciously on the smock he wore that fit him like a tent. “I know we just started talking again, but I know you, Beverly. Just stop it.”

“I’ll stop, if you tell me what it is you want me to stop.” She blinked at him vacantly, playing coy. Her eyes were heavily made-up with dark mascara and matching liner that gave her normally soft blue orbs an icy edge.

He looked past her to peer across the room at Ben, who was hard at work, double measuring wood that was to be cut. He wasn’t Eddie’s type, though Eddie could objectively say that he was good-looking. His short dirty blond hair, hazel eyes and chubby cheeks were endearing. Besides the physical, he was patient and good-natured, and seemed like a stand-up guy; the type of guy that you could call in the middle of night to come pick you up if you were stranded somewhere. Kind and sweet and sincere. Eddie heard it in Beverly’s voice, the curiosity, the wistfulness. “I’m just going to let it go, because you’re obviously acting like you don’t know what I’m talking about.”

“Eddie, I really don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Sure, you don’t.” He shook his head, prepared to drop the subject. Beverly could do whatever she wanted.

Richie poked his head into the choir room. He was sweaty and flushed, as though he’d just gone for a run. “What’s the good word in grunt-work central?” He came closer and plunked himself down next to Eddie, chugging from a bottle of water. “Do you feel like one of Santa’s Elves yet?”

“Is that supposed to be a joke about my height? If so, fuck you—”

“No, you friggin' defensive cutie.” Richie pinched his cheek and Eddie slapped his hand away. “Just sayin’, you’re the people who do all the boring, hard stuff with little recognition, just like the poor little elves. Meanwhile fuckin’ Santa is the hero, gets written love letters and loaded up with free cookies--”

Beverly grinned from across the tarp. “Santa isn’t real, Richie.”

He gasped dramatically, slapping a hand over his mouth. “Oh God, NO. No, don’t tell me that.”

Eddie ignored his boyfriend’s silly histrionics. He was dying to know literally anything about how things were playing out on the stage. “How’s it going out there?”

Richie shrugged and leaned back on his arms. “Parish has us doing ice breakers to start out; we haven’t even looked at the script yet. You’ll be happy to know that your best buddy caught me in the trust fall. He didn’t let me fall on my ass and crack my head open on the stage and he totally could have. I think we’re gonna be fine.”

Ben walked up and took a seat on the floor next to Bev. He leaned forward to look at their paint-job. “If you’re done painting this, it just has to dry before you can add anything. You two can go watch the rest of rehearsal if you want. We only have an hour left here anyway.”

“Benny, such a compassionate dictator.” Richie stood up and stretched, his black teeshirt riding up to expose his pale belly. He reached out his hands to pull Eddie to his feet. “Lose those smocks and come on out. We’re gonna start a rough group sing after our break. I never appreciated how weird of a dude Parish is until today; you’re gonna love him, Spaghetti.”

 

Bev and Eddie took a seat in the front row and watched Parish in all his frustrated glory. He wanted the actors to choose a contemporary song to sing as a group, just so they could get a feel for each other’s abilities. The kids were sprawled out around the stage, wracking their brains to come up with something. It was proving difficult to find a track that everyone knew the words to. Greta, Betty and Marcia huddled and then started their own rendition of Into You, snapping their fingers and flipping their hair. Richie jeered and booed at them mercilessly. “No Ariana Grande, I beg you.” Mike lobbied for 24K Magic, which seemed to be a safer choice, though Richie still had no idea what was going on. “Can we sing a song where the singer doesn’t use autotune? I’d fuckin’ love that. No Beiber. No Megan Trainor.”

“What do you suggest, Mr. Tozier? Please be aware that most of your peers probably have never listened to Dinosaur Jr.” He waved his hand to indicate Richie’s shirt.  “And can we keep the swearing to a minimum?”

“Sorry, Mr. Parish.” Richie ran a hand through his hair “I dunno what we can all sing. Maybe we should just start with songs from the play.”

Patrick stepped to the front of the stage from behind the piano and Eddie tried not to stare at him, but he couldn’t help it. The tall boy was looking right at Eddie’s face as he whispered into Marcia’s ear. She grinned as she walked over to the piano bench and started playing a deep, easily recognizable melody. Patrick cleared his throat. “I think most of us probably know this one.” He started to sing, with Greta, Betty, Marcia and Mike immediately joining him. Some of the stage crew had come out from behind the wings, finished with Ben’s demands for the day. They lent their voices to the group, harmonizing.

 

It all just sounds like ooh, ooh ooh hoo hoo
Mm, too young, too dumb to realize
That I should have bought you flowers
And held your hand
Should have gave you all my hours
When I had the chance
Take you to every party 'cause all you wanted to do was dance

 

 

“Um, what the fuck is he doing right now,” Bev whispered into Eddie’s ear.

Eddie shook his head at her. He couldn’t take his eyes off of Richie, who was the only person not singing at that point. He sat cross-legged on the edge of the stage, watching Patrick with his jaw set. “Being a fucking absolute albatross,” Eddie hissed back. The group finished the song, and Parish slow-clapped.

“Moving, people. I want to see those emotions, just like that.” He turned his head to Richie, who was still glaring at Patrick. “Richard, are you a part of this or not?”

“I didn’t think knowing the words to shitty pop ballads was a requirement to be in Little Shop of Horrors .”

Parish sighed. “Fair enough. I think we’re done for today. Everyone pick up a script from me before you head home. I suggest you crack them tonight. We’ll start running lines and blocking tomorrow.” They lined up to get their scripts, and Richie stood just behind Patrick, looking him up and down. They were nearly the same height.

Bev watched them with a grimace, running her tongue over her teeth uneasily. “I think the next two months are going to be weird as fuck.”

“This entire school year has been weird as fuck,” Eddie retorted, his eyes boring holes into Patrick’s face.  “Now it’s just going to get messy.”

“Wait, you didn’t just get some kind of resurgence of feelings did you?” Bev rubbed her forehead tiredly. “Because that whole thing was cheap, Eddie.”

“No,” he replied forcefully. “No feelings. Just like, why? And STOP. And get the fuck out of here .” He eyed her nervously. “Are those feelings?”

She laughed and stood up. “Just a big mood,” she said mildly.

Mike ran down the steps leading to the stage, script in hand. He hugged onto Bev, squeezing her. “Wha’d you think baby? We’re all gonna be good together, huh?”

“The best,” she purred, putting her small hands on his cheeks and kissing him deeply.

Eddie sat there in a daze, watching in his periphery as Patrick walked down the stage steps and straight up the side ramp of the auditorium until he was out of sight. He glanced back up at the stage and saw Parish privately speaking to Richie, too low for Eddie to make out the words. Richie nodded at the small teacher, his face sheepish and apologetic. He took the script from him and went straight for the edge of the stage to jump down.

“Okay, so before, when I said civil, maybe I was being too generous--”

“I can’t fucking believe he did that,” Eddie said, addressing Richie’s chucks.

“Practice murder doesn’t sound like such a stretch now, huh?” Eddie ran his eyes up Richie’s legs and all the way up length of his torso until they reached his face to find him grinning. “It’s okay, Eds. Once again he beats me to the punch, though. I should have sang you a song.”

Eddie stood up and hugged his boyfriend fiercely around the waist. “Baby, you don’t have to compete with him, he barely exists to me.”

Mike watched their embrace, his arm around Bev’s shoulders. “That was a good song for everyone to sing, but his motivations were shady.”

"You want to tackle him for me Mikey? Flex on him with those football skills?"

"Quarterbacks don't tackle, Richie," Bev giggled.

"Nobody needs to do anything to him," Eddie insisted, his head against Richie's chest. "Let's just ignore it, okay? Please?"

Richie bobbed his head in agreement, but his dark eyes were deep pools. "No problemo, Eddie Spaghetti," he said, too brightly. 

 

****

Richie walked Eddie home and kissed him goodbye at the door. They hadn’t spoken much since leaving the school, and he would’ve promised his soul and his first-born child for the ability to know what was going on inside Richie’s head. Eddie wanted to tell him that it didn’t mean anything, that Richie didn’t have anything to worry about, that he was falling hard and fast and anything Patrick did was white-noise...but the words running though his mind sounded like a mantra he’d invented to convince himself, not Richie. When he stepped through the front door, he heard the low hum of the TV indicating that his mother was already home. He prepared himself to speak frankly with her. He wanted her to know. For Richie, and for himself. He needed her to know.

“Eddie-bear, why so late?”

He pulled off his coat and hung it, kicking off his shoes and tucking them under the bench in the hallway. “I’m helping with the winter musical, Ma. I told you.” He entered the living room and took a seat on the ottoman in front of his mother and took a deep breath. “Ma, can we talk about something?”

“I’m in the middle of a program.” She nodded towards the television, her eyes glazed.

“This is a repeat. You’ve seen it before.” Eddie took the remote and muted the TV, feeling bold and determined to assert himself with her before he lost his nerve. 

“Edward, what do you want to talk about that can’t wait twenty minutes?” She crossed her arms over her ample bosom, and looked down her nose at him.

“I wanted to tell you something important, Ma…Remember the boy you met the other day? Last week?” His voice sounded small in his own head. He wanted to believe that things had changed between himself and his mother since he was a child, but deep down he was still afraid of her.

“The nice boy who’s helping you with math?”

“Yeah. Richie. He hasn’t been helping me with math. Well, I guess technically he has, but that isn’t why I know him.”

“He lied to me, then,” Mrs. Kaspbrak stated, affronted. “Why did he lie to me?”

“He only did that for me, Ma. Because I didn’t know what to say…He’s my boyfriend. We’re together. And I'm falling in love with him.”

She sighed. “Eddie you’re too young to know—”

“I’m too old to still be in high school,” he informed her coldly. “The only reason I haven’t graduated is that I was 'sick' so much when I was little.” He felt the air shifting between them as he watched his mother rub at her eye, preparing to weep. Her number one method of control was to tug at his emotions, but he was made of steel that night. Patrick tried to pull on his emotions during the rehearsal and failed. His mother attempted to test him for the second time that day and he’d block it out. It couldn't touch him. “It’s perfectly normal for me to have a boyfriend Ma, and Richie is a great guy.”

“He’s a liar,” she simpered, her face screwed up and painful. “If he lies to me that easily, who knows what he’d do to you.”

“This doesn't work on me anymore, Ma," he said quietly, indicating her tears. He stood up and turned away from her. "I’m going upstairs to do school work. I just wanted you to know.”

“Edward, wait!” She called out to him, but he didn’t look back.

Chapter Text

Wednesday

Richie

|7:20[ good morning angel face, cant wait to see u ]

|7:26[ sleeping beauty needs a kiss to wake him up but im already at school. came early to break it off with judith ]

|7:27[ ill let her down real easy, its tough getting over me just so ur aware ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|7:38[ morning babe. youre really stopping with J? ]

|7:39[ I’m nervous about telling her why I missed last week ]

 

Richie

|7:39[ tell her the truth eds. u were helpless ur tongue is like magnetically drawn to the back of my throat ]

|7:40[ not ur fault. pretty common, happens to the best of them ]

|7:45[ btw does ur mom still loathe me? a good hate fuck is better than making love imho ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|7:46[ I think she’s indifferent now but sometimes I really hate you if that helps ]

 

Richie

|7:47[ LIESSSS dont be hurtful spaghetti head ]

|7:47[ ur gonna regret it later cuz ull miss me alllllll day. im not coming to lunch ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|7:48[ wait what? why not? :( ]

 

Richie

|7:49[ j said its ok for me to stop coming cuz of the play but she wants to have one last talk ]

|7:51[ see told u its hard to let me go. take notes for ur future ref ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|7:51[ Richie I don’t have any plans to let you go why are you hinting like I am? ]

 

Richie

|7:54[ bc im jk all the time? hi eds im richie, nice to meet u ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|7:55[ k… ]

|7:56[ but can you not joke about me getting over you like youre preparing for it? ]

 

Richie

|7:58[ gotta always be prepared for badness tho ]

|7:59[ ull be fine kiddo. im usually the one who gets dumped neway, and they move on quick ]

|7:59[ boo hoo lets all shed a tear ]

 

****

 

Eddie hunched over his sandwich and squished the spongy bread between his fingers. He’d woken up in a decent mood, but the wind was taken out of his sails after he read Richie’s insecurity-tinged texts. His first instinct was to ease Richie’s mind, but truthfully, he wasn’t sure what exactly needed to be eased. He figured that it was Patrick’s spectacle on the first day of rehearsals that had his boyfriend thinking negatively and thirsty for reassurance, but Richie had brushed that explanation off for two days, in typical Richie-fashion. “Pat-treek-whoosie-what? Dunno what you’re saying Eddie Spaghetti, are you taking Latin? Dead language, y’know. Deader than a frog with a brick up its ass.”  It was all a big steaming pile of bullshit, plain and simple.

To make matters worse, Richie calling it quits with Judith meant that he would no longer have her to use as an emotional sounding board—and that was assuming he even let down his guard for her during their talks. The closer Eddie got to him, the deeper Richie’s layers unraveled. At his core he was soft and needy, and easily bruised for good measure. Deflecting from the truth by way of humor was his first line of defense, and that morning Eddie’d watched the facade break down in real time. It was apparent that if they were going to have a serious talk about anything, that Richie wouldn’t be the one to initiate it. As the day wore on, the dread in his stomach expanded. It felt jagged, like a stalagmite forming on the floor of a cave. He wasn’t hungry in the slightest.

Their lunch table was peaceful that afternoon and Stanley was gloating over it. He sat there smiling so hard that it nearly cracked his face open. “Is today some holiday that I didn’t know about?”

Eddie looked up from his mangled food and frowned. “No?” He glanced across the table at Bev and Ben, who didn’t appear to be paying attention. They were in the middle of a hushed conversation and staring at a piece of graph paper; Ben’s plans for that afternoon’s construction work. “What are you talking about, Stanley?” Eddie leaned his head forward to look past Stan at Bill, who was snickering.

“I just figured it was a special occasion, or that I won the lottery or something,” Stan continued, disgustingly smug and showing all his teeth. “This is the first day in forever that you and Richie aren’t sitting here, licking each other’s faces and putting everyone off food.”

“Ugh, that’s so disgusting,” Eddie blanched, gagging. “We don’t lick—”

“Hey,” Bev butted in without looking up from Ben’s notes. “You don’t speak for everyone, prude-pants.”

“Yeah, I don’t mind PDA either,” Ben stated softly, leaning his cheek against his knuckles. “You have no romance in your heart, Stan.”

“Well, th-that’s just a blatant lie,” Bill shot back, reaching for Stan’s hand under the table. “He’s just into k-keeping private things p-private.”

“And Ben and I just disagree about what you two define as that which should be private,” Bev countered, crossing her arms.

“So why are we missing two members of our party, anyway?” Ben changed the subject, addressing both Bev and Eddie. “Where’s Mike? And did Richie find a way to get lunch detention--if that’s even a thing?”

Bev’s face fell and she poked glumly at the pathetic bag of dry cereal she brought with her for lunch. “Mike’s gotta give up two lunches a week for practice to keep up with football while he’s in the play.”

Eddie pouted sympathetically at her. “It’s just for a couple months.” He felt remorseful for assuming that she was lusting after Ben. It was obvious she was still enamored with Mike, and she and Eddie were both in the same boat. The play limited the time they had to spend with their boyfriends “Richie isn’t here because he’s breaking up with his guidance counselor.”

“Big mistake, that boy needs guidance in the worst way,” Stan quipped, and he wasn’t wrong. Richie did need guidance. He and Eddie both did, to be fair.

“I know you’re joking, Stan, but I agree with you. It’s good for him to have someone to talk to.”

“Who says I’m joking, Richie’s a—”

Bill clapped his free hand over Stan’s mouth, finishing the thought with a gentler ending than Stan would have. “R-Richie is annoying sometimes, but he’s a g-good guy.” He removed his hand and planted a tender kiss on Stan’s cheek, making the slim boy blush and look down at his lap.

“Woo-woo,” Bev hooted, smiling wide. She covered her heart and brought a hand to her forehead like she felt faint. “You just PDA’d so hard Stanley. I’m scandalized.”

“I hate all of you,” Stan grumbled, stuffing his tupperware back into his lunch bag.

“You d-don’t,” Bill murmured sweetly, his eyes gentle and appreciative on Stan’s flushed face. He turned his smile on Eddie. “Are you st-still g-going to see the counselor even though Richie’s not?” Eddie fiddled with the collar of his polo and nodded.

“You think you’re going to tell her about the newest Patrick drama?” Bev asked warily. She shook her head quickly, her expression apologetic. “I know whatever you say to her is supposed to be private, but I figure most of the time you’re probably talking about you-know-who.”

“Wait, are we going back to using that really clever code?” Ben joked, laughing.

“No code required,” Eddie sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Everyone in the fucking school knows exactly what’s going on by now.” He looked at Bev, worry lines etching his forehead. “I don’t know if I’m going to tell her about Patrick. I’m not even sure how to tell her why I didn’t show up last week.”

Stan perked up, grinning. “Tell her the truth,” he offered gently, unknowingly echoing Richie’s sentiments. “That lust has turned you into a big selfish jerk.”

“Thanks a lot, Stanley. That’s really helpful.” The sharp blast of the bell signaled that lunch was over, and his friends hopped up to collect their things. Eddie didn’t follow them. He remained seated and lost in his head until one of the lunch aides told him he had to leave.

****

 

The ticking of the clock was as loud as a bongo drum, and Eddie focused on the way it synched with his heart beat. He sat with his elbows resting on his knees and his face propped up on his hands, staring at a thread that was coming loose on the rubber portion of his red slip-on sneaker. He tried to pretend he was somewhere else: laying on Richie’s bed, kissing his face and smelling his smell, or at the quarry in August with the warm sun beating down on his bare back, or even in the choir room painting, where he was supposed to be anyway.

Maybe if I just sit here and run out the clock I won’t have to tell her anything. Maybe I can--

Judith cleared her throat, breaking his reverie and compelling him to look up at her. “Do you want to tell me why you stood me up last week?” Her tone didn’t betray any particular emotion, but Eddie assumed that she was disappointed in him. He was belatedly disappointed in himself, too.

He moistened his lips and fixed his eyes on the faded carpeting under his feet. His voice was subdued, and garbled by his hands holding onto his cheeks. “Since you’re asking me if I want to tell you, does that mean I have the option not to?”

“Of course. You don’t have to tell me anything.” She swiveled her chair so she faced sideways, her fingers steepled in front of her chest. “The whole point of you coming here is to talk, though. If we’re just going to sit here and stare at the floor, maybe we should go ahead and cancel next week.”

Eddie bit down on a grin, recalling something Judith had told him in their first meeting. “I thought there weren’t any shoulds  in your office.”

Judith rolled her eyes, smirking. She repeated her earlier statement with an alteration. “If you don’t want to talk to me anymore, maybe it would be more effective  for us to discontinue our meetings. Smartass.”

Eddie didn’t want to cancel their meetings; Judith was the only authority figure in his life that he could really talk to. But he also didn’t want to completely spill his guts to her, either. If he opened the flood gates and started talking about all the drama that took place in the past two weeks, he’d probably take up the entire half-hour. He gave Judith a wan smile, recalling Stan’s lightly delivered yet affecting words at lunch, and spoke truly, from the heart. “I didn’t come last week because I’m a selfish person who makes terrible decisions.”

She laughed humorlessly and rubbed her eyes, spinning her chair to face forward. “Oh God, Eddie. You’re so hard on yourself that it’s tough for me to listen to sometimes.” He peeked at her from underneath his lashes and she turned up one corner of her mouth. “I’m not here to judge you, and please don’t judge yourself; it doesn’t make anything better.” She rubbed her hands together and winced, looking a bit guilty. “I sort of already know why you didn’t come last week, if that makes it easier.”

He paused for a few seconds, confused, but then the answer slapped him in the face. “Richie told you.” He sighed deeply and closed his eyes, covering them with his hands. “If you know, why even bother asking?”

“I have to ask you because professionally, what you and I talk about and what Richie and I talk about are meant to be kept separate. This is a unique situation for me, and I’m new at this, Eddie. Still working out the kinks.”

Eddie rolled his eyes and sat up, dropping his hands to his lap. He stared at the clock above her head. “Fine, since you know. Richie and I were making out on his bed for literally hours. It was nothing against you; I don’t think a tornado could’ve pulled me away.”

“Well, I didn’t know all that, ” Judith chuckled, smiling sweetly. “So, the prophecy came true then?”

Eddie gave her a blank look. “Prophecy?”

She cocked her head and spoke slowly, drawing out each word. “The reason that you and I met in the first place…” Eddie still didn’t follow, and Judith threw up her hands in shock. “Really? Does the word couple set off any alarms for you?”

Eddie raised his eyebrows as it dawned on him. “Oh, the picture of me and Richie, right.” He shook his head at himself, feeling foolish. A month ago he considered it to be the worst thing that ever happened to him, and presently it was barely a blip on his radar. “With everything else going on, I almost forgot about it.”

“You see that? How about the next time you’re really stressing over something, you take the time to remember this moment?”

“It’s really hard for me to live for the future when the present sucks,” Eddie admitted sadly, suddenly feeling overwhelmed. His rush to get to rehearsal seemed imprudent. Patrick might pull some shit like that serenade every time they saw each other, and Richie was already handling it poorly. Things could still get worse. “I’m already starting to stress about something else, Judith.”

“Well, that’s why you come here. Lay it on me,” she encouraged amiably, leaning her elbows on the desk. “You’ll feel better if you talk about it.”

“Patrick did something else, and it shouldn’t even matter but…Richie is acting like everything is fine, but I can just tell--” he choked out, surprised by the tears brimming in his eyes. “Fuck,” he whispered rubbing hard against his eyelashes. “Why am I crying?”

“It’s okay to cry, Eddie. Especially in here.” Judith’s eyebrows furrowed at his change in demeanor. She softened her tone. “What’s Patrick done this time?” She reached into her drawer and pulled out a package of tissues, pushing them towards him on the desk.

Eddie opened his mouth and words poured out of him. His voice was thick with emotion and he rambled for a solid ten minutes, revealing everything to Judith: the dance, the time he spent alone with Richie, how he’d sat down and told his mother that he had an actual real-life boyfriend for the first time in his life and left her crying in the dust as he walked away. He capped it off by telling her about the play, and Patrick’s latest grand gesture—plus Richie’s cryptically insecure change in behavior following it.

For the most part, Judith just listened to him yammer, offering a hum or a nod here and there. When he finished, his limbs were lighter as he wiped his eyes and blew his nose. His family wasn’t Catholic, so he wasn’t really sure if he was off-base, but he likened it to the confession of sins to a priest. The unburdening of a personal hardship onto an impartial third party, and the feeling of absolution that came after.

Judith watched him carefully as he composed himself. “Are you and Richie happy together?”

He blinked at her and cleared his throat, caught off guard by the question. That wasn’t what he expected her to say at all. “Uh, yeah. At least I think we are.”

“Then don’t pay Patrick any mind. Just try to show Richie that you care about him,” she said softly. “I get the impression that he’s not used to people doing that, and I think it’s all he really needs anyone to do.”

Eddie sniffled and pressed his cool hands against his enflamed cheeks. “I can show him, because I do.”

****

 

Eddie speed-walked into the auditorium with his head ducked down. He made a beeline down the ramp for the side exit door, eager to get his ass to the choir room before Richie spied his blotchy cry-face. He nearly tripped over his feet when Parish, lounged in the same seat he’d occupied during auditions, called out to him.

“Kaspbrak,” he boomed into his microphone. Everyone on the stage stopped what they were doing to stare at them. “Might I ask a favor of you?”

Eddie squeezed his eyes shut, stopping short at the end of the aisle in which Parish sat. He turned towards the teacher and tried his best not to cringe. “Yeah, Mr. Parish?”

Parish continued to speak into the mic, waving his arms towards the cast. “Would you be so kind and join us for an unspecified amount of time this afternoon? I need a stand-in to read lines.”

“Oh uh, I--” He stammered dumbly as his eyes swept the stage, looking for Richie. They found Mike instead, who waved excitedly before quickly ducking behind the wings. Patrick stood beyond the vacancy that Mike left with a smug smirk on his face like the asshole that he was. “I’m not an actor, like at all.”

“I’m not asking you to act. You need not emote, or sing, or even move much.” Parish placed the mic down and stood up, side-stepping down the row of chairs to come closer. His tone softened as he approached Eddie. “I just need you to hit the marks, and follow along in the script. Read the lines when it’s your turn. That’s all.”

“I guess I can do that,” Eddie agreed tentatively, uncertain. “Who am I filling in for?”

Parish reached the aisle and sighed. “Mr. Tozier,” he drawled, arching an eyebrow. “Talented kid, smart as a whip. His mouth on the other hand…” The teacher trailed off, the frustration evident on his face. He leaned against the arm rest of one of the aisle seats and rubbed his thumb and forefinger against the stubble growing on his chin. “Richie needs to learn how to keep his trap shut. He has detention this afternoon, and try as I might, I couldn’t get him out of it.”

Eddie exhaled audibly, crestfallen. Richie’d been so well-behaved since they started spending their afternoons together. “Do you know what he did?”

“I don’t know exactly, but I can take a wild guess,” Parish hummed, grinning at him, and Eddie couldn’t help but smile in return. “This is none of my business, of course, but you two seem… close? Maybe you could have a chat with him, yeah?”

“I was already planning on it,” Eddie said resolutely.

“Fantastic. I don’t want to have to replace him.” Parish began walking back to his seat, calling over his shoulder. “But it’s too early for the star to already be difficult to work with.”

Eddie walked slowly down the remainder of the ramp and dropped his backpack on a seat in the front row. He climbed the stage steps gingerly and his footfalls clomped against the hollow wood, producing an echo. Marcia and Eddie Corcoran were seated at the piano bench together, engaged in a private conversation. Patrick stood center-stage, his facial features soft, watching Eddie closely as he ascended. Greta met him at the top, handing him a spare script with a little smirk, her voice low. “Too bad I’m not watching detention anymore. Richie better get his shit together; Parish isn’t fucking around.” She resumed her spot on the right side of the stage next to Betty and Sally, who were seated on stools.

“Yeah,” Eddie answered absently, looking down at the floor. There were double lines of colored tape stuck down along the perimeter, bordering the apron of the stage and the edges of the wings. Small X’s of varying colors were placed in a haphazard pattern around the widest portion of the stage, and a couple boxy shapes were drawn with colored chalk. He stepped cautiously over them, not sure of their purpose.

Patrick moved a little closer to him, and seemed to sense Eddie’s internal questions. “The tape and chalk are there to let us know where we aren’t supposed to walk, and help us learn our marks.” He smelled like that beachy cologne he wore to the dance with an undercurrent of peppermint.

Why the fuck does he have to look at me like that?

Eddie nodded curtly and trained his eyes to the floor. The lights shining down on his face were blindingly bright and made him a little dizzy. Being on a stage reminded him of nervous nausea and spelling bees from elementary school. His heart kick-started and a vaguely threatening panicky buzz coursed through his chest. “Where’s Richie’s mark? I mean, where am I supposed to stand?”

The taller boy pointed to a white X, stage right. “Are you okay?” Patrick asked it kindly, as though he really cared. He wore a teal sweater that turned his blue eyes the color of the sea on a stormy day. They were gentle on Eddie's face, concerned. “You look like you were crying.” Of course, Patrick knew he’d been crying; he’d seen Eddie cry countless times during their childhood. "What happened? Was it Tozier?"

In that moment, Eddie realized that he wasn't just over  his crush; he loathed  Patrick. He hated him for being tall and for being handsome and for smelling good. But most of all he hated him because he waited five fucking years to look at Eddie with his eyes so soft. “Mind your own business,” he mumbled, stepping onto the X and prying open the script. “What page am I supposed to be looking at?”

Mike came from behind the wings and stepped onto his mark. “Hey, Eddie. Thanks for helping us out. Page sixteen.”

“Mr. Hanlon, how nice of you to join us,” Parish’s resounding voice materialized from the speakers near the ceiling and startled Eddie. It sent his mounting anxiety over the edge, taking his lungs hostage. He quickly whipped out his inhaler and took a puff as covertly as he could manage, but there was no hiding the gasping suck-and-hiss when he plunged the trigger. The sound carried, and everyone stared at him. “Eddie, are you going to make it through this? There’s nothing to be nervous about, son; there’s no one here but us.”

“Yes,” Eddie croaked, his cheeks on fire. “I’m okay.” He pocketed his inhaler and fumbled through the thick script to find the correct page.

“Are you really okay?” Mike whispered, just behind him.

“Yeah, Mike,” he muttered. “Thanks.”

 

They ran through a few scenes, skipping any parts that involved singing. Eddie learned that the puppets for Audrey II would be rented from a theater group out of state, and they didn’t have them on hand yet. Once they arrived, Ben would join the cast for rehearsals.

Most of Eddie’s (or rather, Richie’s) interactions of the day were with Marcia and Mike’s characters, and he grew more comfortable as they warmed up. The dialogue made him smile, and he was surprised to find out that Patrick was a decent actor. He went full out with his character, getting aggressive and bawdy with Marcia’s Audrey. They spent several minutes going over a fake slap he had to deliver to her, and Parish got up on the stage briefly to walk them through the steps to safely make it appear authentic.

Forty-five minutes into Eddie’s turn as a stand-in, Richie burst into the auditorium. His hair was tucked under a beanie and he looked a mess, his flannel shirt wrinkled and his glasses askew. He booked it down the aisle, but Parish stopped him in his tracks; an encore performance of the way he’d cornered Eddie. “Mr. Tozier. A word, please?” He beckoned Richie closer, and patted the seat beside himself. Richie looked reluctant, but sat down. Eddie couldn’t tell if his boyfriend had spotted him standing on the stage. Parish spoke quietly, and the cast broke off into whispered conversation, watching and speculating.

Patrick stepped beside Eddie. “I didn’t think you’d fall for a troublemaker,” he whispered side-long, watching Richie and Parish talk. “Kid gets detention more than I ever have.”

Eddie whipped his head around and was immediately defensive, his eyes blazing. He dropped his script onto the stage with a thud. “Richie’s not a troublemaker . You think just because you and Henry are sneakier and don’t get caught that you’re better--”

“Stop saying me and Henry like it’s relevant,” the tall boy hissed, turning his eyes on Eddie. “We don’t even talk anymore.”

“What do you want a medal? You guys were still friends a month ago,” Eddie growled. His voice rose a fraction with each sentence he spoke and his little hands balled into fists at his sides. “You’ve changed sooo much in a month,” he scoffed sarcastically.

Patrick bristled, annoyed. “I’m just pointing out that if you actually talked to me, you’d know that I really have changed--”

“I don’t want to talk to you,” Eddie informed him, stern. “I want you to leave me alone. Don’t sing at me ever again. Ever. Again. ”

Patrick threw his hands up, visibly surrendering. “If that’s what you really want, then I’ll stop,” he stated placidly, like it was that simple.

“Yes. Fucking stop.”

“Boys, can we continue our work or do you need a moment?” Eddie squinted past the lights and blinked at Parish, swallowing thickly. He’d let his anger take over and forgot where he was. The teacher had been observing their discussion, and for how long was anyone’s guess. Richie sat beside him stone-faced. He wore that same fucking look he had on at the dance; those sad and sullen eyes that made Eddie’s heart clench and his stomach turn.

Eddie’s voice trembled involuntarily. “Yes, Mr. Parish. You don’t need me anymore, right?” He didn’t wait for a response, scrambling noisily down the stage steps and through the side door, making a hasty escape to the choir room.

 

****

 

Eddie slipped back into the auditorium to look for Richie after Ben dismissed the crew. The bright lights above the stage were turned off and the space was deserted. His book bag still sat in the front row of seats and he collected it quietly. The image of Richie’s sad face was stuck in his head, and he regretted running off the stage. He knew what it probably looked like to anyone watching: he’d stood engaged in an intense conversation with Patrick, so intense that their teacher had to ask if they were finished. Eddie wanted to grab Richie and explain everything the moment it happened, but the entire cast was sitting there gawking. It was bad enough that Parish was watching, he didn’t need to give Greta and Sally something extra to gossip about.

They’d walked home from school together every day since their first kiss and that evening Richie’d up and left without a word or a text. It felt like déjà vu; exactly like the dance, when Richie’d run away from him after seeing him talk to Patrick. He wanted to be self-righteous about being misunderstood—whatever Richie was thinking, he had it all wrong--but Judith’s advice was fresh on his mind. Richie needed his reassurance, and obviously, his patience. He stopped at his locker to get his coat and walked home slowly in the premature day-light-savings-time-induced darkness.

When he reached his house, he didn’t go in. He loitered at the curb staring over at Richie’s. The lights were on in the upstairs window, and he thought he saw a shadow briefly pass across the blinds. He crossed the street before he had the chance to talk himself out of it.

 

A short woman with dark curly hair and large brown eyes answered the door. She and Richie had the same cheekbones. There was no mistaking that both Richie and Sadie were her children, though they must’ve gotten their height from Mr. Tozier. She gave Eddie a tight little questioning smile.

“Hi, Mrs. Tozier. I’m Eddie Kaspbrak.” He stuck a thumb over his shoulder towards his house. “I live across the street.”

“Nice to meet you, Eddie.” She crossed her arms and pursed her lips. “Let me guess, you’re a friend of one of my children.”

Eddie fidgeted nervously with the wide buttons on the front of his pea coat. She seemed kinder than he’d pictured her, but he was still wary. “I’m friends with both of them, sort of. Is Richie home?”

Sadie’s disembodied voice came from somewhere in the living room. “He’s in his room, Eddie. Bumping sad, emo music like the big crybaby that he is. What’d you do?”

“I didn’t do anything, Sadie--” He began explaining himself, but Mrs. Tozier held up a hand to him. She rolled her eyes behind her daughter’s back and made a flapping hand motion at Eddie, mouthing blah blah blah, and stepped back to let him into the foyer.

“Go on upstairs, hun. Tread lightly, though, he’s in a mood,” she said pointedly, as though she’d already tried talking to her son that evening and regretted it.

 

 

Eddie heard the music before he even made it to the top landing. It was a gentle acoustic song, but Richie had it turned up full blast.

 

If you walk away I'll walk away
First tell me which road you will take
I don't want to risk our paths crossing someday
So you walk that way I'll walk this way

 

And the future hangs over our heads
And it moves with each current event
Until it falls all around like a cold steady rain
Just stay in when it's lookin' this way

 

 

He took a breath and rapped lightly on the door. “Fuck off Sadie,” was the muffled, flatly delivered response, “The whole room is boobytrapped.”

“When’d you have time to do that?” Eddie asked, his tone neutral. “You can’t possibly have been home for more than fifteen minutes.”

The music lowered. Richie’s voice came closer, soft and sad. “I work fast. Seems like I’m not the only one who does.”

Eddie took off his backpack and placed it on the floor with a sigh. He removed his coat and laid it neatly over the top of the bag. “Professor X, is that you? You know, you’re getting even worse at mind reading.”

Richie was right behind the door; Eddie saw his shadow stretching from beneath it. “Funny,” he mumbled, deadpan. “You’re a riot.”

“Sometimes,” he imparted, like it was a secret. “You’re funnier than me, though.”

“Whad’ya come over here to state the obvious?” Richie asked evenly. “Next you gonna tell me that water’s wet?” Eddie didn’t answer him. “You still there?”

“I’m still here,” Eddie echoed. “I came here to check on you.” He turned sharply to lean his back against the door.  “You know, the only reason I was on that stage in the first place was because you got detention, numb-nuts. I was just filling in; Parish asked me to read your lines. Then when you came in, Patrick started talking shit about you and I let him have it.” Eddie slid down the wood to sit, wrapping his arms around his knees.

“You did? How was I supposed to know that?” Eddie could almost hear Richie cringing when he asked it.

“Oh I’dunno, maybe fucking ask me ?” He spat, growing tired of the through-the-door baby game they were playing. “Instead of running away from me, acting like I did something wrong. Again. ”

There was a bump against his back; Richie plopping himself down and leaning against the opposite side of the door. “ You ran off the stage little one, looking like a guilty party if I ever saw one. So I thought y’know, that you were guilty of something.”

“Jumping to conclusions,” Eddie said tiredly. “Assuming the worst about me.”

There was silence for a beat. Then Richie’s rough, husky voice.  “I just assume everyone is gonna do me dirty, Eds. It’s not about you.”

"I wish you'd stop lumping me in with 'everyone,'" he mumbled. Eddie didn’t know anything about love, or even relationships in general. He was that kid who got walloped by unattainable crushes and sat pining alone in his room until Richie came along and made him feel romantic in a tangible way. Ridiculous, silly, fleeting thoughts about forever flowed through him, and he didn't want Richie to think he was the same as everyone else. They were different together; different to  each other and different with  each other. He knew it as a fact as well as he knew his own name. But maybe that was just naïve.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Richie whispered. “You’re different than everyone, Eddie. I know. But when I see you talking to him, standing close…” He heaved a quavering sigh. "I just imagine the worst possible thing."

“I wanted to tell you what we were talking about but not with everyone watching,” Eddie explained, swallowing the lump in his throat. “I ran off the stage because I saw you looking at me all sad, and that shit fucking kills me, Richie.” He refused to cry. Not two times in one day. Richie didn’t respond, and the silence stretched for too long. “I should’ve just went home,” he whispered to himself, rubbing at his tired eyes. “This is so fucking stupid, talking through the door.”

“I know it’s stupid, Eddie,” Richie whispered back, impossibly quiet. Eddie heard him sniffle. “I’m a huge fuck-up.”

Please don’t cry, Richie. I can’t fucking handle it, Eddie thought, but when he opened his mouth to respond, he closed his eyes and smiled. He replied with his best Richie-answer: a joke. “I’ve been aware that you’re a fuck-up since the second day I knew you,” he teased gently. “And I still want to be with you, so what does that say about me?”

Richie laughed softly, a beautiful sound to Eddie'e ears. “Holy shit, is that the twist, Eds? You’ve actually been the real fuck-up this whole time. Dun-dun-dunnn. M. Night Shyamalan should call you to get new ideas.”

Eddie wanted to hold him and look at his sweet brown eyes. “Are you feeling better now? Gonna let me in? I could just go home. It’s dinner time and I barely ate lunch.” The door bumped his back again as Richie got up off the floor, and Eddie hauled himself up quickly. Richie opened the door and stood there looking sheepish, sucking on his lower lip. He'd changed into flannel pajama pants and a long sleeved threadbare baseball shirt. His hair was a disheveled mess; his pale face bare and blotchy pink, with red eyes to match. Eddie’s heart did a painful little flip at the remnants of his boyfriend’s tears, and felt his own eyes welling up. He stepped forward to hug Richie, squeezing him tight and rubbing his back. Richie enveloped Eddie in his arms and picked him up so his legs dangled. “Please stop assuming things,” he begged, his face pressed against Richie’s chest. “Getting yourself upset over nothing.”

“I’m sorry. Like a million, billion times sorry,” Richie whispered, pecking kisses into Eddie’s hair, against his ear and down his neck.

"Boys, are you hungry? Sadie wants me to order—” Mrs. Tozier appeared in the open doorway and stood frozen when she laid eyes on them, her mouth stuck in a little O of surprise. She recovered quickly and finished the sentence amiably. “Chinese food. Pork Lo Mein, Richard?”

Richie set Eddie down gently and licked his lips. “Uh yeah, perfect Mom.”

“What would you like, Eddie?” She asked softly.

Eddie wiped at his eyes quickly and sniffled. “Chicken and broccoli?” He mumbled, asking more than telling.

“Sounds good.” Her smile made her eyes crinkle. She turned on her heel, pulling the door shut behind her.

Richie free-fell back onto his bed and it clunked under his weight. “Wow. She was so chill just now. Did that really happen, Eds? Fuck, did I eat a whole bunch of mushrooms by accident? You saw that, too, right?”

“That really happened, Richie. I think I'm noticing a pattern with you,” Eddie replied thoughtfully, sitting on the edge of the bed. “You assume that the people who care about you the most are going to be the hardest on you.” He ran his fingers through Richie’s hair, making his eyelids go heavy.

“You sound like Judith,” he breathed, visibly relaxing under Eddie’s touch.

Eddie chuckled and kicked off his shoes, scooting himself up to lay on his side looking down at Richie. “She gives good advice.”

“I’m really sorry, Eddie,” Richie said suddenly, reaching his hand up to cup Eddie’s cheek, thumbing softly over his lower lip.

“You don’t have to keep apologizing to me. Just try giving me the benefit of the doubt next time.” Eddie nipped playfully at his thumb. “And you also have to stop fucking around in class and getting detention. Parish is not happy.”

“Fuck. I know, he told me he’d replace me if it keeps happening.” Richie rolled on his side so they were face to face. “It’s really hard for me to keep from saying shit in the heat of the moment, though. People set me up so good; it’s like they’re begging me to crack a joke.”

Eddie smirked at him. “You managed to behave yourself enough to not get detention all those days when we came back here after school.”

“That was easy, because I couldn’t leave this beautiful boy alone with no one to kiss him.” Richie leaned in to bring their lips together and they kissed lazily, getting lost in each other. After a couple moments Eddie pulled back, and Richie let out a petulant little whine in response.

“Richie, what if your mom comes back up here?”

“Eds, my mother just walked into my room, saw us locked in a passionate embrace and shut the door behind her when she left. She may as well have said ‘ Have fun kids, ’ on her way out.”

"I guess so--" Eddie started, but Richie's mouth was on his in a flash, and he sighed into it, kissing back with his lips parted. He rolled himself over so he was straddling Richie's stomach and laid over his chest, melting down on top of him. He tangled his hands in Richie's hair and kissed him hungrily, like they weren't going to get another chance to ever again. Richie's hands were brand-hot and slid over his shoulders and down his back, resting on his hips, thumbs pressed into the knobs of his hipbones. A pounding on the door made them both suck in air and Eddie quickly separated himself from Richie, clapping a hand over his kiss-bruised lips.

Sadie's voice was loud. It sounded like she had her face pressed against the crack of the door. "Stop being gross in there. The food is going to be here in ten minutes and Mom said you have to set the table." They heard her footsteps thunder down the stairs.

"Fuckin' Sades," Richie moaned, rubbing his hand over his eyes. "Okay, Eddie Spaghetti, you ready to have an awkward dinner with three quarters of my family?"

Eddie smiled, relaxing. He allowed the relief to wash over him. The day turned out better than he could have imagined. "It won't be awkward. I think your mother likes me."

"She'd be a fool not to," Richie said sagely, grabbing his glasses off the night table and taking Eddie's hand. "Let's go." 

Chapter Text

Richie held onto Eddie’s hand until they reached the first floor. He wiggled his fingers, tickling Eddie’s palm before he let go. Eddie trailed behind him into the dining room and watched his boyfriend pull four white plates and four cloth napkins out of a beautiful mahogany china closet. The dining room table sat six. It was long and elegant but the décor of the room rustic and shabby-chic. It looked like a page out of a Better Homes and Gardens country living edition that Eddie would marvel over at the doctor’s office.

Sadie came into the room with a bundle of reusable wooden chopsticks and a couple forks. She deposited them in a pile near the center of the table before asking, “Fork or chopsticks?” to Eddie, screwing up her lips into a questioning pout. “Fork, I bet. So pedestrian.”

“Sades, we’re in Maine,” Richie informed her, noisily dropping the plates hard enough for them to spin on their own with a ceramic hum. He put two next to each other on the side opposite to where Sadie stood. “People haven’t been eating sushi since they were seven, here. Stop being an asshole.”

She glowered at her brother. “I hope you washed your filthy hands before you touched my plate, freak show.” Sadie sat down in what Eddie figured was her regular seat. He hesitated on choosing a chair because he’d observed that there was an unspoken rulebook in households with multiple children. If you took someone’s ‘seat’ they got pissed off.

“Richard, go easy on my plates, would you? And don’t call your sister an asshole,” Maggie chided, pouring herself a generous glass of white wine as she walked into the room. She took a seat at the head of the table. “But Sadie…stop being an asshole, please. I didn’t know how to use chopsticks when I was your age.” She flashed Eddie a reassuring smile as she brought the glass to her lips, pausing before taking a sip. “Have a seat, Eddie. You’re making me nervous.” He and Richie sat at the same time, with Eddie taking the seat to Richie's left. “Sadie, what happened to the glasses? The water pitcher?”

Sadie hung her head back and groaned at the ceiling. “’Richie  has to set the table’ means Sadie  isn't involved, Mother.”

“For Christ’s sake,” Richie mumbled under his breath, standing up to go into the kitchen.

The doorbell rang, and Mrs. Tozier got up to get the food.

Sadie watched her mother leave and leaned across the table, whispering. “So, you guys got caught?”

“Yeah,” Eddie whispered back. “Did she say anything to you?”

“She asked me—”

“WHAT ARE WE WHISPERING ABOUT?” Richie shouted as he entered the room with four pint glasses stacked in one hand and the pitcher in the other.

“Ugh, so obnoxious,” Sadie groused, disgusted. “I hope the delivery guy hocked a big loogie in your stupid spaghetti.”

“It’s not spaghetti,” Richie laughed, giving each of their place settings a glass. “I know Spaghetti  intimately, Sades, and I can categorically say--”

 “She’s right, Richie. Lo Mein is just stir-fried spaghetti,” Eddie teased, as Maggie came back with the bag full of food.

“I don’t want to hear a word about how Chinese food is better in New York,” she scolded preemptively. “I miss pizza and bagels, too. We all have our crosses to bear.”

“Luckily, wine is imported and readily available in every state,” Richie chirped, filling first his glass and then Eddie’s with water. His mother resumed her seat without responding to him.

They passed the food containers around in silence. Richie dumped nearly half of the container of Lo Mein onto his plate, shaking and opening three packets of soy sauce to drown the noodles. Sadie served herself and then set to work systematically picking all the peas and carrots out of her vegetable fried rice with her chopsticks. Eddie was the only one of them using a fork. He wanted to try the chopsticks, and grabbed a pair off the table. They felt unfamiliar in his grip, and his hand turned into a useless claw as he fumbled his thumb against the wood. Sadie and Richie argued over the best technique, both trying to teach him.

 Maggie didn’t eat much of her cashew chicken, but she managed to finish two glasses of wine, and started on a third. “Kaspbrak,” she said suddenly, making all three kids look at her in unison. “I knew that sounded familiar. Do you know Frank Kaspbrak, Eddie?”

Eddie’s hand went slack and he dropped the chopsticks on the table. “No, not really,” he said honestly. “He was my dad, but he died before I got a chance to get to know him.”

“Oh sweetie, I’m sorry. I—” Maggie’s hand fluttered near her heart and her face was pained. “I went to high school with him. I didn’t know that—”

“It’s okay, Mrs. Tozier. I was five,” Eddie reassured her with a sad little smile. “It’s just kind of shocking to me when someone mentions him, because my mother doesn’t ever.” Richie’s hand squeezed his knee under the table.

“What happened?” Sadie’s voice was uncharacteristically soft. She pressed her lips into a thin line and fiddled with her glasses, looking momentarily like a clone of Richie.

“Lung cancer,” Eddie stated, letting his eyes fall on Richie. His boyfriend didn’t smoke as much as his father had, but Richie did it enough for it to negatively affect his health in the future. He felt Richie’s hand tap his knee three times. An unspoken, I know, Eds. Eddie noticed Sadie watching her brother’s arm move, and the little smile on her face as she went back to pushing her rice around. “Did you like growing up in Derry, Mrs. Tozier?” Eddie asked, changing the subject.

She blinked down into her wine. “I did and I didn’t,” she remarked cryptically, holding the glass by the stem and swirling it. “And you can call me Maggie.”

“Well, that’s shocker number two of my night. Looks like Mags has a new best friend.” Richie squeezed Eddie’s knee once more before taking his hand back. He deftly used his chopsticks to twirl a ridiculously large mound of noodles into his mouth

“Richard, don’t call me that,” she said stoutly. “I hate it when your father does it.” Eddie grinned at that statement, wondering if Maggie hated Mags  in the same manner that he  ‘hated’ Eds.  He gave up on the chopsticks and picked up his fork. “How did you boys meet?” Maggie sipped her wine thoughtfully, looking at her son.

Richie gagged a little on his mouthful of starch, quickly peeking over at Eddie. The truest answer to the question was that Richie’d hit on Eddie hard and fast at the movie theater. The second truest answer was that they’d gotten thrown into detention together. Both explanations might have made cute anecdotes to entertain future grandchildren, but neither one was appealing enough to regale someone’s mother. Sadie saved them like a swift little angel of mercy. “They’re in the same math class.” She smiled at their grateful eyes briefly before focusing back on her meal.

“Oh, thank goodness; a smart kid. Hopefully a good influence on this one,” Maggie said, tipping her head towards Richie.

“I get better grades than he does and I don’t even study,” Richie grumbled, refilling his water glass.              

“It’s true,” Eddie admitted shyly. “I probably don’t even belong in AP Calc. And lately I haven’t been studying at all. “ The last part was said pointedly, and directed towards Richie.

Maggie’s eyes flitted back and forth between them and she looked like she wanted to say something else, but drank another swallow of wine instead. When she spoke, Eddie expected her to ask an uncomfortable question about the nature of their relationship, but her train of thought was drastically different than what he thought it’d be. “You make good marks Richard, but how many detentions do you have this year? I’m just biding my time waiting for the first suspension letter to come.”

“Oh goodie,” Richie drawled, his voice dripping with sugar-coated sarcasm. “It’s shit-on-Richie  hour. Otherwise known as she’s-halfway-through-a-bottle-of-wine  hour.” He stood up and collected his half-full plate. "I'm not in the mood for this shit today." Eddie watched him escape to the kitchen and cringed at the squeaky sounds of him scraping his dinner into the trash before turning his eyes back on Maggie, who looked like she’d been slapped. Her cheeks were drunk-flushed and her eyes embarrassed. Sadie kept her stare on her plate, her expression passing as simple angsty fourteen-year-old indifference. They all heard Richie creak up the stairs and slam his bedroom door.

Eddie understood where each of them were coming from. On one hand, it was clear that Maggie expected her son to be a disappointment. She put him in a small box in which his gangly limbs and huge personality couldn’t comfortably fit. On the other hand, Richie, regardless of his natural tendency to poke fun at others and his ability take a joke, was hyper-sensitive to true criticism. Maggie Tozier drank too much and was possibly a little judgmental, but she sat down with her children and was interested in their lives. It was more parenting than Eddie’d ever gotten in his house, and he was a trifle jealous. He felt close to Maggie as he watched her guilty face, because Richie frustrated him, too.

“He’s been doing a lot better lately,” Eddie cautioned, his voice gentle and lilting. Maggie furrowed her brows at him, lost.  “With detentions,” he explained. “I think maybe it makes it harder for him to do better if he thinks you’re just expecting him to be worse.”

Sadie raised her eyebrows at Eddie across the table. Damn, son, she mouthed.

Maggie’s eyes searched his face. “How long have you two been…Um--” she faltered, groping for the right word.

“Since around Halloween,” he answered easily.

She nodded and stood up without bothering to clear her plate, but she didn’t forget to grab her glass and the rest of her bottle to take with her. “I hope you stick around,” she whispered, and left the dining room.

Sadie waited until she was sure her mother was out of earshot. “Me too,” she said genuinely.

“Thanks, Sadie.”

“You gonna run upstairs and rescue doofus from himself again?” She shoveled rice into her mouth.

He laughed down at his dinner. “Not planning on it. He didn’t go up there to sulk because of me, and I’m hungry.” He took a bite of his chicken and broccoli, and sighed.

Sadie swallowed and wiped her mouth. “My mom asked me if Richie is gay.”

Eddie widened his eyes. “What’d you say?”

“I saaaaid,” she sang out, her cadence bobbing up and down. “That he’s never come out and told me, but I think probably yeah, he seems kinda gay, so what?”

Eddie smirked. He kind of really loved Sadie. “And what’d she say to that?”

’Hmn,’”  Sadie hummed quickly. “That’s all. ‘Hmn.’ And then she told me to go upstairs and tell Richie to set the table.” She leaned her elbow on the table and propped her chin against her knuckles. “I wonder if she’s gonna tell my dad.”

“Tell Dad what?” Richie asked from the doorway behind her.

“ Jesus Fuck ,” Sadie gasped, tossing her chopsticks onto her plate. “Don’t sneak up on people, you creep!”

Richie came into the room and sat on his knees in the chair next to Eddie, picking up the Lo Mein. “Mags is locked away in her cave for the night. Maybe it was a little dramatic to chuck my dinner away like that,” he said, jamming a clean set of chopsticks right into the container. “Don’t judge me.” He tipped his head back to drop a mess of noodles into his mouth. “Tell Dad what, Sades?” he asked again, still chewing.

Sadie took a deep breath, her eyes nervous. “That Mom, y’know, walked in on you guys.”

“She told you that?” Richie glanced over at Eddie.

“Yeah,” Sadie whined, cringing. “Rich, why don’t you just talk to her about this.”

“Fuck her, I’m not talking to her for a week.”

“Good plan,” Eddie deadpanned. “Real mature.”

“You heard what she said, Eddie. She’s counting the days ‘til I get a suspension. Zero faith in me.”

“So, prove her wrong,” Eddie challenged. “You can do that without making her feel like shit. Start behaving yourself at school.” Richie rolled his eyes and opened his mouth to protest, but Eddie held up his hand. “You got detention today,” he reminded Richie. “You were good for ten days and slipped. Try to make it thirty days this time, starting now.”

“Mom’s right,” Sadie said, picking up her plate to leave the room. “Cling to this kid like a baby koala bear, idiot brother. He’s perfect.” She smiled at Eddie. “I’m gonna go watch TV.”

Richie’s eyes followed his sister as she walked into the kitchen. “My mother compared me to a koala?” He asked, perplexed.

“No,” Eddie giggled. “She said she hopes I stick around.”

“Really?” Richie asked sweetly, his voice higher than normal. He leaned closer to Eddie. “I hope so, too.”

“Three out of four Toziers recommend me,” he stated smugly, putting his hand under his chin delicately.

“Oh my God. So fucking cute.” Richie laughed deep, from his belly. “Eddie Spaghetti,” he said slowly, his eyes raking all over Eddie’s face.

“What?” Eddie asked, coy.

Richie exhaled, biting his lip. “Nothing,” he breathed softly, taking both of Eddie’s hands and lacing their fingers together. The look he gave Eddie said more than just nothing. But Eddie could wait for the words to match. He wasn’t going anywhere.

Chapter Text

“You were right,” Bev whispered, her lips fluttering against Eddie’s earlobe. They sat side by side in the front row of the auditorium, watching rehearsal. Eddie was attempting to focus on studying his Calc notes, but between Beverly trying to talk to him, the sounds of the cast working through their lively musical number, and the simple fact that it was the lazy Wednesday before Thanksgiving break, he just couldn’t get it together.

“Right about what?” He whispered back, tilting his head up to her ear. Stan and Bill were seated directly behind them, and Ben was by his lonesome in their row, five chairs away from Eddie.

“I do think Ben is cute,” she whispered again, ashamed.

“What?! No!” Eddie exclaimed, unable to keep his voice down.

Stan leaned forward and scolded him. “Can you shut up? This song is amazing and I want to hear it. Stop being rude and watch your boyfriend sing.”

Eddie glared at him, offended. “I watch him all the time. I’ve heard Richie sing his part for this song privately like ten times, Stanley.”

“W-well I haven’t,” Bill added, leaning forward to whisper between Eddie and Bev’s heads. “So a-all of you shut up. P-Please.” He sat back to watch the performance.

Bev’s face was back by Eddie’s ear in a flash. “Don’t think the wrong thing about this. I love  Mike,” she insisted, pulling away a bit to look into Eddie’s eyes. “Ben is just cute and sweet and kind of romantic, y’know?” She looked past Eddie at their husky blond friend, who was oblivious to them. “I wish he had someone that liked him. We’re all paired off and it’s sort of sad.”

“You guys have said that to each other?” He asked, surprised. She cocked her head at him and Eddie rolled his eyes. “ Love .”

“Yeah, a while ago. You and Richie haven’t?”

“No. It’s too early for that isn’t it?” He looked up at Richie, who was finishing up his solo, his voice pure and his face full of raw emotion and tenderness. "But I can feel  that he loves me, when he looks at me.” Eddie groaned lightly and covered his face with his hands. “Is that so cheesy?”

Bev reached over and grazed her nails in circles on his upper back. “It is  cheesy but it’s also beautiful. I love you guys both so much.”

“Fucking shut it,” Stan hissed, kicking the back of Eddie’s seat.

“Stan loves you, too,” she whispered, giggling.

 

Parish dismissed the cast early, merciful because it was the day before a holiday. He called Ben up on the stage and huddled them quickly to lecture about the importance of keeping up with running lines and singing practice over the long weekend.

Eddie watched Patrick carefully as Parish spoke. He’d been behaving himself like he promised he would over the past two weeks, and Richie’d even gone so far as to mention that Patrick wasn’t a bad guy; he was a decent actor and actually kind of funny. They were working well together. Eddie kept mum on the subject, but he knew deep down that it couldn’t last.

The cast began filtering down off the stage, and Bev got up to meet Mike as he walked down the steps, leaving Eddie sitting there alone. Richie came rushing over like an excited puppy, throwing himself into Eddie’s space and kissing him sloppily over his neck, causing his Calc notebook to clatter off his lap to the floor and his pencil to go rolling away. Eddie slapped at his boyfriend half-heartedly with both hands, giggling. “Rich, come on, boundaries.”

Stan leaned forward to scowl at Richie. “I was going to tell you how brilliant you were up there, but now I’m reminded of why I hate you.”

Richie pulled back and sat in the chair beside Eddie. “Aw you think I’m brilliant, Stan the Man. Noted.” He took his glasses off and cleaned them on the hem of his colorful button-down over shirt, his face suddenly serious. “Speaking of brilliance, Eddie Spaghetti, Mags had a bright idea last night.”

“Oh yeah, what’s that?”

“Well neither of my parents have any desire to go anywhere tomorrow, because it’s like nine hours of driving to get near anyone we know.” He slipped his glasses back onto his face, grinning. “Plus me and Sades in a car for that long is like the fucking worst thing ever. You’d see us on the news because Went would probably pull over to murder all of us halfway there. So, we’re gonna just do Thanksgiving at home.”

“Uh huh,” Eddie hummed, waiting for the point.

“Mags thought, y’know, since it’s just you and your mom that maybe you both might want to come have dinner at our house tomorrow.” Richie played with a lock of his hair. He shook his head abruptly, flailing his other hand nervously and blurting the rest in a rush. ”I know it’s really short notice and you said that you and Mrs. K go to see her sisters usually, so I think she’ll understand if the answer is fuck off. ”

Eddie raised both his eyebrows. Things between he and his mother had been strained and business-like since he told her about his relationship with Richie. In some ways it was a blessing, because he got the distance that he really needed from her. But it also made him feel lonely and cold, because her jealously was palpable. It wasn’t that she disapproved of Eddie being with Richie, it felt more like she was angry that she no longer had him all to herself.

The idea of letting her loose to freely interact with Richie and his parents made him apprehensive, because the odds were good that she’d say something embarrassing or rude. Eddie must’ve been quiet for too long, because Richie started rambling again.

“Now that everything is out in the open, they want to make up for lost time or some shit. My dad wants to meet you. It’s really fucking weird, Eds.” The previous weekend, Richie’d sat his parents down in the living room to officially tell them he was bisexual. Eddie couldn't have been prouder of him for coming out, and it turned out that his years-long worry about his father's disappointment in him had been all for naught. Went wasn't disappointed, or even surprised. He claimed he had an inkling since Richie was twelve, and he'd rattled off the reasons in a way that only an old, straight, white man could. 

“You always wanted to watch that show where everyone’s singing all the time for no reason. Never interested in sports, not even slightly. Plus all the musical theater, I mean come on, Rich. What do they call that thing? Gay-dar? I lived in New York City for nineteen years, buddy-boy, I’m no slouch. But thanks for being honest with me.”

“Well, I don’t particularly want  to go to Aunt Amy’s house,” Eddie started slowly, thinking out loud. “My mother and her sisters are each their own unique flavor of crazy. Just thinking about going there tomorrow gives me a headache.”

Richie smirked at that. “If you’re suggesting that you’ll be better off at my house then you’re going to be real disappointed. My family are a bunch of bananas, too.”

“Yeah, I guess they are. But I’ll ask her tonight, see what she says—Mmph.” Richie leaned forward to kiss him before he was finished talking.

 

****

 

It took a bit of finesse on Eddie’s part, but Sonia eventually accepted the invitation. He’d reminded his mother how much she hated the long, dark drive home from her sister’s house, plus pointed out that Maggie Tozier was a native to the area which could uncover some interesting information. “She might have good stories about Daddy from high school, Ma. And it wouldn’t be the worst thing if you made a new friend.”

Once the plans were decided, Sonia surprised Eddie with her enthusiasm. It’d been a long time since anyone outside family had invited her to a dinner party. She baked two pies for the occasion that morning; pecan and pumpkin. As they cooled, she dressed herself up nicely in a blouse and skirt and picked out clothes for him, insisting that he wear a hunter green sweater vest and a pale-yellow dress shirt.

“Have you seen the size of their driveway Eddie-bear? I take it this is going to be an occasion .” His mother had a track record of being simultaneously envious and enamored with well-off people, the term she used when referring to the wealthy. He didn’t think it was necessary that they try to impress the Toziers, especially not with their clothing choices, but did as she bid him anyway. The finished product made him look like a twelve-year-old model from a Sears catalogue, complete with dockers and brown dress shoes and a green wristwatch he rarely wore.

At the last minute, Sonia declared that they must  pick up a bottle of wine to bring Maggie, though she knew nothing about vintages or regions.

 -

Eddie Spaghetti

|2:30[ babe Sonia wants to get your mom a bottle of wine but she doesn’t drink. Help ]

 

Richie

|2:30[ heyyy cutey cute cute ]

|2:31[ get her something white and dry from france. nething that costs more than 13 bucks is a safe bet ]

****

They arrived promptly at three, and Went Tozier answered the door, handsome and sleek in a sport coat over a turtleneck. He looked different than Eddie expected him to, considering he’d passed by the man’s picture on the staircase more than a few times. His strawberry blond hair was going prematurely white, and he was thin as a rail; equally as tall and lanky as Richie. Eddie and Sonia stepped over the threshold into the foyer, and the atmosphere in the house was inviting. The rooms were lit low and the smell of roasting turkey and sweet yams and brussel spouts melded into one savory aroma. Eddie watched his mother's eyes bounce of the furniture and up to the expansive height of the ceiling.

“Welcome, and Happy Thanksgiving,” Went bellowed with a grin. “Take off your coats and stay a while.” After a brief introduction, he tucked their outerwear in a bundle over an arm and handed off the wine and pies to Sadie, who looked uncomfortable in a black crushed-velvet shift dress.

“Dad, you’re so loud,” Sadie groaned, balancing everything in her hands precariously. “Hi, Mrs. Kaspbrak. I’m Sadie. Your son is the best thing about this whole town.” Eddie ducked his head bashfully and bit down on a smile.

Sonia looked a little taken aback by the blunt compliment about Eddie and ignored it. “Nice to meet you, dear. You look lovely today.”

Sadie gave Sonia a strange look, clearly expecting the woman to gush about her son. She met Eddie's eyes for an instant with pity laced in hers, before turning to carry the bounty in her arms to the kitchen. Went busied himself putting their coats away in the closet. Sonia elbowed her son with a pointed glare while their backs were turned, and plucked at her blouse. Her expression was vindicated: See, they’re dressed up. Eddie exhaled heavily and nodded at her almost imperceptibly, humoring her.

Went returned and held up his glass of scotch. He attempted to entice Mrs. Kaspbrak in his deep and jovial manner. “Sonia my dear, can I wet your whistle with a glass of wine? Or maybe a cocktail? I make an excellent Martini.”

“Oh, that’s kind of you, but I don’t drink.”

 Eddie turned to her, fiddling uncomfortably with his sweater vest. “You don’t have to drive home, Ma. Live a little.”

From the kitchen, they heard a metallic bang followed by, “Oww, FUCK. “

After a beat came Maggie’s frustrated voice. “Richard, please, for the love of God, get out of here.”

“Ah, that’s my boy,” Went stated proudly, hand over his heart, and Eddie couldn’t tell if he was mocking or serious. “Come with me, fair maiden, we’ll see about getting you that drink.” He beckoned Sonia to follow him into the dining room, and to Eddie’s surprise his mother looked a little bit charmed as she obliged him.

Richie emerged from the kitchen doorway, sucking on an obviously injured finger on his left hand and holding a paper towel loosely in his right. He looked more put-together than Eddie’d ever seen him in a burgundy dress shirt, a charcoal tie, and black slacks. His dark curls were sleekly defined and framing his bare face. The look was either ruined or completed by a pair of crazy-printed mismatched socks.

“Eds, I sliced my finger open. Mags doesn’t care, told me to fuck off before I got blood on her kitchen towels.” He jammed his hand into the paper towel with a wince.

“Yeah, I heard. Let me see what you did to yourself.” Eddie took his boyfriend’s hand and pulled away the rapidly reddening paper to survey the damage.

“No kisses?” Richie pouted. He took in Eddie’s outfit with a slow smile. “You look cuter than a Hello Kitty lunch box full of baby birds.”

Eddie grinned, ignoring the question about kisses. Richie was just sucking on his bloody finger and his mouth was not coming anywhere near Eddie. “I look  like a nerd, but you look very handsome,” he hummed distractedly, all his attention focused on Richie’s hand. The cut was long but shallow, spanning two knuckle segments and stretching down to the webbing on Richie’s middle finger. “I don’t think you need stitches. Do you have stuff to fix this up?”

“Bathroom,” Richie murmured, tipping his chin towards the stairs, his eyes soft on Eddie’s face. “Where’s Mrs. K?”

“About to get lit up with your dad.”

“Oof, she’s a goner.”

Eddie kicked off his dress shoes and left them neatly by the front door. He held Richie’s good hand and led him up the stairs to the hallway bathroom.

Richie took a seat on the closed toilet, and did as Eddie told him, wrapping his finger tightly in the paper towel and holding it over his head to slow the bleeding. 

Digging around in the medicine cabinet, Eddie pulled out peroxide, a box of gauze pads, and a bottle of liquid bandage, the best thing to use on an inconvenient spot like the flesh between the fingers.

“Blood doesn’t scare you like germs do?”

 “It does, sort of.” Eddie gently took Richie’s raised hand and unwrapped it. He held it over the sink to pour peroxide onto the cut, frowning sympathetically when Richie cringed at the sting. “But I suck it up for people I care about.”

Richie closed his eyes, and scrunched up his face, trying not to laugh. “What else do you suck up for people you care about?” His grin was smugly satisfied.

Heblushed and shook his head. “You fucking shithead,” he whispered, long-suffering. “I should just leave you here to do this yourself.” He unwrapped a piece of gauze and roughly thrust it into Richie’s good hand. “Wrap that around your finger and hold your hand up again. I can’t put the liquid bandage on ‘til the bleeding stops.”

He did as he was told, still outwardly gloating over his joke. “So how awkward do you think this day is going to get? Scale of one to ten.”

“Probably a six.” Eddie leaned his hip against the counter of the sink and crossed his arms. “A nine if my mother ends up getting drunk. How’s the blood situation?”

Richie brought his hand down and checked it. “Slowing down but still bloody as fuck.” He raised his hand back up and rested his wrist over the top of his head, quirking an eyebrow. “They all probably think we came up here to hook up,” Richie stage-whispered. “Wanna?”

Eddie squinted at him, incredulous. “If you think I’m going to make out with you while you’re bleeding profusely, you have me totally fucked up.” He pulled out his phone.

“What’cha doing?”

“Telling my mother that you hurt your finger and I’m helping you clean it up, so she doesn’t get the wrong idea about where we went.”

“Fuckin’ boyscout.”

“Okay let me see where we’re at,” Eddie said, motioning for Richie to bring his hand down. He peeled back the gauze gingerly and surveyed the wound. Satisfied that it was through bleeding, he painted a thin coat of the cold liquid onto Richie’s skin, sealing the cut. It stunk like nail polish, and Eddie knew first-hand how painful it was. Richie was a huge baby about it, squeezing his eyes shut, shaking his head around, and moaning.

“It stiiings SO BAD,” he whined pathetically. “Blow on it, Eddie.”

“That’ll just put germs into it,” Eddie informed him calmly. ”It’ll stop stinging in a couple seconds, try to relax”.

Richie whimpered and threw his head back, and Eddie took mercy on him, bending over to kiss his cheek and his ear and the sensitive skin where his neck met his jawline. He sighed, softly grasping the back of Eddie's head with his good hand and pressing their foreheads together. “There’s my baby, I thought for a minute he sent his clone here.” Richie tried to kiss Eddie’s lips, but he leaned away.

“I’m still not kissing you on the lips,” he whispered. “You just had blood in your mouth.”

“Total bullshit,” Richie groused petulantly. “Fine. Let's get back down there. I want to see if Mrs. K has enough liquor in her to make this will-they-or-won't-they shit we've been doing official.”

****

They returned from the second floor to find that everyone was already seated in the dining room waiting for them. Candles were lit and the table was dressed with orange and brown hues. The place settings had small homemade name cards that could only have been crafted by Sadie. Their parents seemed to be getting along famously, chatting about turkey cooking times and pie crust. Maggie and Went were at either head of the table, and Sonia and Sadie sat opposite one another on each of the long sides. Eddie’s paranoid brain wondered if that’d been done purposely, so he and Richie couldn’t sit together. They took their seats quietly, and Richie’s foot immediately made its way across the space between them to slide up one side of Eddie’s slacks, softly rubbing at his shin.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Eddie,” Maggie said sweetly. “Sorry I didn’t say hello earlier, I was busy in the kitchen.”

“Yeah, too busy to care that your first-born child was bleeding to death,” Richie complained miserably.

“Oh, get over it ya’ big baby.” Sadie turned towards her brother. “I hate  that I have to sit next to you today.”

Went raised a hand. “Children, maybe we should say grace before we start talking about how we really  feel about one another. Save the hatred for dessert.”

Eddie smiled his thank-you at Maggie, who rolled her eyes at him playfully.

“Hi Mrs. K,” Richie cautioned belatedly. “Happy Thanksgiving.”

She nodded at him curtly. “Same to you, dear.” Her tone was neutral, but it felt chilly to Eddie.

Went led them in a brief blessing, to which Sonia got a little misty. Everyone else’s heads were bowed, but Eddie and Richie locked eyes. Eddie’d never played footsie with anyone before. The idea of it disgusted him in truth; feet were dirty. He tried to keep himself from giggling at the absurdity of his current state, because he was surprised to learn that he liked it. Richie’s long toes covered and squeezed over his little ones through their socks, and a rush of warmth spread throughout his chest and dripped down low in his belly.

Food was passed around and Sadie lectured them about the ethics of murdering turkeys. She wasn’t a vegetarian, but she thought that blood sacrifices in the name of false holidays were foolish and pointless. Did they know how many turkeys were killed in November and not even eaten? “I’m eating this poor bird, only so that they didn’t die for nothing,” she stated sadly as she forked a slice onto her plate.

It was obvious to Eddie that Maggie wasn’t touching that topic with a ten-foot-pole. She backed away from it gracefully, asking Richie about the play instead. He was noticeably shocked that she’d bring it up. “Uh, rehearsals are going great. Are you asking because you’re actually gonna come to opening night?”

“Tell me what day and I’ll put it in my calendar,” Went remarked without looking up from his plate.

Sadie and Maggie’s heads both jerked towards him so quickly that Eddie almost laughed. Richie raised his eyebrows, nonplussed. “Okay, who are you and what happened to my father? You know if you’re already drunk, that’s like a sin, right? It’s only four PM, and it’s a Thursday.”

“Richard, your father isn’t drunk,” Maggie chided roughly. She glanced at her daughter. “We’d all like to go to your play, wouldn’t we Sadie?”

“Yeah, I want to see it, Mom,” Sadie replied evenly. “Mostly because Richie dies at the end.”

Eddie laughed heartily at that, receiving matching glares from both his mother and his boyfriend. “I’m sorry. That was funny.” He composed himself quickly and set to work cutting up his turkey.

Sonia sipped her wine primly. “You have a lovely home, Maggie. Thank you for inviting us into it.” His mother’s pleasantly pleased and complimentary voice was unfamiliar to Eddie, and he looked at her like she just landed on Earth from another planet. Maybe she is drunk.

“Thank you. And of course, Sonia.” Maggie smiled warmly over the rim of her wine glass. “You and Eddie are always welcome here. I’m just thrilled that our boys are happy together.” Eddie probably should have been happy that the parents were being so friendly with one another, and so accepting of himself and Richie, but he just felt uncomfortable. He furrowed his brow and widened his eyes across at Richie, who shrugged, looking similarly uneasy. He held up seven fingers to Eddie, mouthing  Awkward scale seven.

“You know, I always thought my sister Pat was gay,” Went mused off-handedly, his glass of scotch hovering in front of his lips. “All those cats, and never got married.”

Eddie laughed again, hard, just as Richie covered his eyes with his hand and Maggie barked “ Wentworth ! ” Of all the things Went Tozier could  have said, it was pretty tame. Eddie wasn’t offended; the old man was just trying to relate in his own way, and it cut through the tension Eddie felt like a hot knife through butter.

Sadie wouldn't let it slide. “Yeah, Dad,” she chirped sarcastically, shaking her head down at her plate. ”Every single-woman with more than three pets is a lesbian.”

He took a tiny sip of the brown liquid. “That’s not what I said at all, young lady.”

“You may as well have,” Sadie continued. “I wear pants more than dresses. Maybe I’m gay.” She gasped, slapping a hand over her mouth dramatically.

“Sades, shut up,” Richie mumbled tiredly.

Eddie marveled at how similar Sadie was to Richie, and decided to treat her similarly. He stretched out his foot diagonally underneath the table to kick her in the shin, making her yelp and glower across at him. She mouthed  Asshole, I’m on your side,  shaking her head in irritation.

Sonia saved them by asking Maggie about the stuffing ingredients, which sparked a long enough conversation to keep everyone else at the table quiet. Went got up to refill the ladies’ wine, and Eddie was impressed by his mother’s resolve to live a little  like he suggested. She seemed to be living a lot. After dinner the male population of the group retired to the living room to recover a bit before dessert as they watched football, though Went was the only one who really cared about the game.

“Go sports team A!,” Richie cheered loudly, his arm draped over Eddie’s shoulder.

Went put his beer can down on the coffee table. “Which team is that, son?”

“I dunno Dad, the team in really, really tight pants who keep slapping each other on the ass?”

Eddie giggled. “That’s both teams, Richie.”

Sadie sidled up and leaned over the back of the couch. “It’s really sexist of you guys to not help us clean up, y’know.”

“Sades, I tried to help Mom earlier and ended up maimed and scarred for life. Then instead of giving a shit, she yelled at me. If it’s sexist to protect myself from injury and ridicule, then brand me a sexist, I guess.”

Eddie untangled himself from Richie and stood up. “She’s right, I’m going to go help.” He walked behind the couch and leaned down to whisper into Richie’s ear. “Plus, I want to see what our moms are talking about in there. Shit’s bizarre.”

****

 

Eddie

|4:45[ before I forget to say it HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! sucks that it falls on TDAY this year ]

 

Big Bill

|4:47[ thx eddie. yeah its ok happens like once every 5 yrs ]

 

Eddie

|4:50[ the toziers are going away tmrw for Richies dads work or something ]

|4:51[ he wants to have a party on sat, which I think is a terrible idea but it could be YOUR party ]

|4:52[ what do you think? ]

 

Big Bill

|4:55[ doesnt have to be MY party, but ill come either way ]

 

-

****

“Well, that wasn’t as much of a shit-show as it could’ve been.” Richie sighed in relief as he shut his bedroom door. He loosened his tie and removed it, tossing it on the floor, and started working on the buttons of his shirt. Their parents were downstairs having coffee. All three kids escaped with little protest from the adults; Maggie was the only one who really wanted them to stay. Eddie was sprawled out on the bed with his shirt untucked and his sweater vest shed. He was sluggish and his belly felt painfully full after two slices of pie. “What’s the final awkward score, Eds?”

Eddie blinked at the ceiling. “Some parts were a solid seven, others were like a four. So not too bad.” He watched in horror as Richie brought his fingers up to his eyes and took out each of his contacts, sticking them to the only free spot on the top of his messy desk. “Did you really just do that?! And without washing your hands first? Ugh, why are you so gross?” He rolled on his side to face the wall. “I’m never sitting at your desk again.”

“Spaghetti,” Richie laughed, sliding onto the bed right behind Eddie in a spooning position, but not touching him. “If you think that was gross, our future is looking mighty precarious.”

“I don’t even want to ask what the fuck you’re getting at with that cryptic comment.” He craned his neck back to make sure his boyfriend wasn’t getting any ideas. Richie was just lying there with his hands between his knees, looking like an innocent angel. He’d stripped down to his white undershirt. “Don’t you dare put your dirty eyeball hands on my shirt.”

“Bay-bee,” Richie purred behind him. “I’m so thankful for you, and all you do is shit all over me.”

Eddie turned over, his face resignedly affectionate. “You are?”

“Yes. And my eyeballs are clean,” he insisted. “I washed them with soap, for you.”

“Okay, now you’re just lying.”

Richie was indignant. “You don’t know; I might have.”

“You didn’t.”

“Fine, I didn’t. Do you want me to? I will.”

“What are we even talking about, anymore?”

“Who knows. I’m just trying to confuse you enough that you forget about my eyeball hands so I can grope you.”

Eddie laughed, grabbing Richie by the collar of his teeshirt and pulling him closer to kiss him. “Today,” he whispered, his eyes flicking over Richie’s face, “I kissed a boy after he licked blood, and I played footsie with him even though feet are gross,” he sighed, “And now I’m going to let him put his eyeball hands on my most expensive shirt.”

Richie smiled and planted his face into Eddie’s neck, nudging him until he fell back. He slinked over and spread himself on top of Eddie, whispering into his ear. “Your boyfriend sounds like a pretty gross dude.” He brought his mouth down to Eddie’s neck.

Eddie exhaled heavily and nodded, “He’s sooo…gross,” he muttered shakily, as Richie’s lips traveled slowly up one side of his neck and down the other. “But he’s also…so good looking  that it’s confusing. Beautiful...disaster.”

“You think so?” Richie asked softly, like he couldn’t believe it. His raked his thumbs over Eddie’s forehead, sweeping them back into his hair, petting him. “Do you ever tell him that?”

“I just did tell him, you dumbass.”

He slapped himself lightly on the forehead, grinning. “Huh! Wow, we were talking about me this whole time? Shit, I had no idea.” He furrowed his brows suddenly. “Wait, FUCK YOU Spaghetti Head, I’m not gross.” Richie darted his head down and put his mouth back on Eddie’s neck, blowing loud, wet raspberries against it.

“Oh God damn it! Cut it out!” Eddie squealed, trying to squirm away. “Don’t ruin it!”

Richie obediently stopped, moving off of Eddie and lying on his belly. “It was already ruined when you slandered me.” He laid his head down on his arm. “You gonna sleep over tomorrow night?”

“Yeah. I told Bill about the party Saturday. Don’t forget to tell him happy birthday.”

“Oh right, little Billy-boy is seventeen today.” Richie whipped out his phone and squinted at the screen.

“Can we do a cake for him at the party?”

“Sure, but it’s not going to be like, intimate. The cast is coming, too.”

Eddie sat up. “The whole cast?”

Richie licked his lips, his face nervous. “Yeah.”

“Even—”

Even, ” Richie stated resolutely. “I can’t invite everyone and leave him out, Eds. That’s mega fucking rude.” Eddie sat there, thinking and blinking. “I can practically see the wheels turning in your head, kid. It’s gonna be fine. He and I are chill now.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not  chill.”

“Then get  chill. He hasn’t bugged you since you yelled at him, right?” Eddie shook his head. Patrick had been polite and quiet. “So, just try to relax. It’s not like it’ll be just him, all our friends, plus Greta, Marcia, Sally…What’s the worst that could happen?”

Chapter Text

Eddie only woke up because he was sweltering. He didn’t know what time it was, but he could tell by the way his eyes burned that he hadn’t slept for long enough. His whole body was cocooned in a blanket, and his boyfriend’s warm forehead was pressed up against his neck. Richie slept hot. He was shirtless with two of his long limbs slung across Eddie’s torso and hip.

On his best mornings, Eddie woke up mildly cranky. When he woke up constricted, over-heated, and following a less-than-stellar stretch of sleep, he was a literal walking nightmare.

The adult Toziers drove away Friday afternoon leaving Richie in charge of Sadie and the house, with a couple ground rules. He wasn’t to have any parties, and no one could sleep over. Richie seemed like he relished in his stubborn determination to break them both. Eddie slept over that night, and they stayed up making out and joking and talking until the wee hours of the morning. While he didn’t expect to get a perfect amount of sleep that night, Eddie assumed at the very least that when he opened his eyes he’d be free to hop up out of bed without a struggle. He assumed wrong.

He strained his neck and wriggled his shoulders around in vain. Richie felt like he was made of lead. “Richie. Richie.” Eddie grunted, trying desperately to knock Richie’s arm off of himself from underneath, but it was no use. “Richie, wake up.”

“Don’wanna,” Richie muttered, his voice raspy and thick. He buried his face further into the hollow of Eddie’s throat, his hair falling across Eddie’s face and tickling his lips and nose.

Eddie sighed heavily and craned his neck in a futile attempt to escape the torture Richie’s normally beloved curly locks were doling out. He swallowed the brimming anger and kept his voice as gentle as he could muster. “You’re too hot; you’re killing me right now. Look, you don’t even have to wake up, just move your arm and leg so I can get out from under this blanket.”

“Baby, baby, baby,” Richie cooed sleepily. “I know I’m hot, but I still love to hear you say it.” It was almost comical how truly opposite they could be. Richie woke up sweet and lovey dovey, while Eddie was instantly ready to maim anyone in his path, if necessary.

“Get. The. Fuck. Off. Of. Me.” Eddie exhaled through his nostrils, about to blow his top. “Move your heavy-ass tree trunk leg and your lanky-ass praying mantis arm. Now.”

Richie wiggled his arm and leg briefly, then returned them to their starting position. “There, I moved them,” he mumbled, his mouth grinning against Eddie’s adam’s apple and his long eyelashes fluttering against the underside of Eddie’s chin.

“Richard, I swear to fucking God  if you don’t let me get up I’m just going to start peeing all over your bed.”

“Oh, I love idle threats,” Richie chuckled, his voice gradually clearing as he became more alert. “You would never purposely piss on yourself, Eds. Let’s not kid ourselves, here. I know you by now.”

“YOU WANNA FUCKING TRY ME?”

Richie surrendered, taking his arm and leg away and rolling onto his back. He rubbed his eyes roughly with his balled fists and spoke through a huge yawn. “And the award for crabbiest little crab in the fish tank goes to Eddie Spaghetti for Saturday Morning Tantrum . Do you want to give a speech?”

Eddie ignored him and tossed the blanket off of himself. He stretched full from his fingers to his toes, and involuntary breathy little whimpers escaped from his throat as his stiff muscles shook.

“When you make those kinda noises, it’s really hard for me to keep from mauling you, Eds.”

“Any part of you that comes near me right now is getting bitten off.”

Richie rolled on his side, sighing glumly. “You’re so cute when you wake up; why do you have to be the meanest little jerk?”

“It’s a natural phenomenon. Like how the prettiest colored frogs are the most poisonous.” He rolled on his side to face Richie, his eyes immediately zeroing in on his boyfriend’s bare chest to settle on that tiny ribcage tattoo. Eddie'd only seen it once from a distance when he barely knew Richie. The previous evening, he’d gotten to read it, and he’d held himself back from asking what it meant. In delicate script, it said:  And have no thorns to distance me

Richie watched his eyes. “See something interesting?” His voice was flat. "Now you like me again?"

Eddie dropped his chin. "It's not that I didn't like  you." He stuck out his hand and ran his finger over the tattoo softly. “What does it mean?”

Richie smacked his hand with one little slap and reached down to yank the blanket up over his chest. “Oh, well, I only tell nice boys what it means. Not little cranky Jeckyl and Hyde  mother fuckers who threaten to piss on my sheets out of spite.” He yawned openly and turned away from Eddie to face the wall. “I’m going back to sleep.”

 

****

 

Eddie was seated on the counter in the Tozier kitchen, watching Beverly mix together the batter for Bill’s birthday cake. “I was such a dick this morning. I don’t know if he’s going to be mad at me when he wakes up.”

“He’s still sleeping?” Bev laughed and shook her head. “Maybe you should go check if he’s still breathing  Eddie.” She scraped the contents of the mixing bowl evenly into two square pans.

 “This is totally normal,” Sadie assured her from her seat at the island stool. “Richie wakes up at nine, chugs a bottle of water, then goes back to sleep ‘til like three every Saturday. He’s so predictable.”

“What did you say that was so mean?” Bev opened the oven and put the pans in side by side. “You think I can bake them both at once? I don’t really know how to do this.”

Sadie shrugged. “If it comes out a hot pile of garbage, it’s the thought that counts.”

“I said he had praying mantis arms,” Eddie squeaked quietly to himself, cringing.

Sadie cracked up laughing, slapping her hand on the counter. “Yo, HE DOES!”

Eddie chuckled, rubbing his eyes. “Stop it.”

“If that’s the worst thing you said, I think it’ll be fine.” Bev leaned up against the counter beside him, setting a timer for the cake on her phone. “What time is everyone coming over here?”

“I told our people to come at eight, and I think Richie told the cast to come at nine or ten.” Eddie swung his legs, bumping his bare heels against the cabinet. “I really, really hope that no one else shows up. My mom is home across the street. If she sees or hears anything crazy going on, she’s probably going to come banging on the door.”

Bev nodded, staring at the floor. “Where’d you tell her you were going to be?”

“Where else? Bill’s.” Eddie looked over at Sadie. “You’re going to stay in your room tonight, right?”

“I can’t make any promises,” she told him woefully. She paused, thinking. “I won’t tell on you guys to my parents, though. That I can  promise.”

Richie came breezing into the kitchen, talking on his phone. He’d thrown his purple hoodie on over his bare chest, and his face was still pillow creased and sleep puffy. “Yeah, GB, you can do that here… Whenever you wanna.” He opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle of water. “Okay… I dunno… “ He laughed. “Bitch, please… See ya.” He placed first his phone and then his glasses onto the counter and rubbed his eyes. “Greta is coming over here early to make jello shots. She can’t make them in her fridge without her mom knowing.”

“Jello shots?” Bev asked excitedly.

“You’re damn right Bevvie,” Richie answered brightly.

“What flavors?”

“I dunno, ask GB when she gets here.” He cracked the bottle of water and drank almost half of it in one gulp.

Eddie squirmed internally, watching his boyfriend. Richie hadn’t looked in his direction once.

“How do you make  jello shots, anyway?” Sadie asked her brother.

“M.Y.O.B. Sades.”

“Fine, I’ll just sit here and watch her make them,” Sadie grumbled, crossing her arms.

Richie finished the bottle of water and crushed it. “Okay, ladies, I will be in the shower if you require my assistance.” He walked out of the kitchen without even glancing at Eddie.

Bev caught Eddie’s eyes and tilted her face towards Richie’s retreating back, mouthing Talk to him.

Eddie hopped down off the counter and double-stepped to catch up to Richie. “Hey. I’m sorry.”

Richie stopped walking just before he hit the stairs but he didn’t turn around. “What are you sorry for?”

“For saying mean things, and being angry when I wake up.”

Richie spun around, his eyes wounded. “It’s not that simple.” His voice was more serious than Eddie’d ever heard it. “I get it, I’m a goof-you’re serious, I’m big-you’re little, so like if you use me as a punching bag, everyone goes 'Oh ha-ha, the little one thinks he’s tough.'" Richie looked away. “I still get hurt, Eddie.”

“I know,” Eddie said softly. He didn’t know what else to say.

“Look, I’m not telling you to get the fuck out or anything, but I don’t really see the point of you hanging around tonight.” Richie ran a hand through his tangled hair.

Hanging around tonight…  Eddie looked down at his feet. “Are you breaking up with me?”

“No. But I don’t wanna have some big long talk right now, so this isn’t getting fixed.” He fiddled with the zipper on his hoodie, zipping it up and down quickly. “What do you even wanna stay for? You don’t like drinking or parties, and you’re all stressed about Patrick coming.”

Eddie furrowed his brow. There was  a point to him being there that night. “If people are going to be in your parents’ house doing jello shots, I want to be here to make sure they don’t trash the place.”

Richie sighed, backing towards the stairs. “I’m sure they  appreciate your maturity very much Eddie.” He took them two at a time until he was out of sight.

****

 

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday dear Billy…

…Billy-boyyy…

…Biih-iiiil…

Happy Birthday to you

 

 

 

"Thanks g-g-guys, you d-didn’t have to do this f-for me.” Bill used a huge bread knife to cut the cake. Bev’d done it up with chocolate frosting and rainbow sprinkles. Sadie’d lent her calligraphy skills and wrote “Happy Born-day, Billiam”   in blue icing with a flourish.

“Yes, we did,” Ben scoffed, opening the packages of little paper plates and napkins. They were Frozen  themed. Richie’s idea of a joke. “Frozen like your boyfriend’s heart, Billy.”

Stan shocked them all by hugging Bill from behind and kissing his neck while he cut the cake. “I appreciate the l-l-love Stan, but sh-sharp object. D-d-dangerous.”

“Wowee wow-wow. Lookit Stanley,” Richie crowed. “His heart grew ten sizes that day. “

Bev was seated on the counter with her legs wrapped around Mike, who was tucked right in front of her. “Did you wish for a pony?”

“I-I-I wished,  that the c-cops don’t show up t-tonight,” Bill said evenly, placing slices of cake onto the plates. “This whole birthday-b-boy-has-t-to-do-the-w-work  thing is a b-bullshit tradition Bee Tee Dub.” He dropped the knife once he’d cut nine slices, enough for all their friends, plus Sadie and Greta.

“Did you just say  BT-Dub?” Mike couldn’t stop laughing.

“Wow,” Greta whispered to herself. “Fucking dork party.”

“GB! Be nice, or else you’re cut from the guest list.” Richie ran his finger across his neck. “Done. Out. Peace.”

Greta scowled at Richie. “Fuck you, then I’m taking my jello shots with me.”

“What are you going to sit and eat them in the driveway?” Stan asked, deadpan. “You can’t take them home, we all know you had to come here to make them.”

Eddie poked at his cake. He wasn’t in the mood to talk to any of his friends. Richie was boisterous and having a great time despite their tense morning.

“What flavors did you make?” Ben asked Greta.

“Blue raspberry, strawberry, lime and cherry.”

Sadie piped up from the doorway. “They taste terrible.”

Richie whipped his head towards Greta, and she cringed under his stare. “You let her eat one?”

 “I let her taste a spoonful of the mixture before it set.”

 “Uncool,” Richie shoved a giant bite of cake into his mouth. “Bad babysitter,” he slurred though the food.

“Richie, it was just a taste. We’re all underage,” Eddie said quietly. Richie ignored him.

“So, do we need to do anything to prep the house before everyone else comes over?” Mike looked worried. “Your mom’s furniture is mighty light-colored. Maybe we should cover the couches with sheets or something.”

“That’s a good idea, baby.” Bev kissed his cheek, wrapping her arms around his neck.

Mike held his plate out away from his body. “Bevvie, you’re gonna get cake all over me.”

“I’m just gonna have to clean it off then, huh?” She cooed in his ear.

“Ugh,” Sadie put her plate of half-eaten cake down on the counter. “Suddenly, I feel like puking.”  

“Rightfully so,” Stan agreed.

Richie grinned at him. “Stanley, you’re gonna be a little drunk slut tonight, I bet.”

“F-fat chance,” Bill muttered, earning himself a slap on the shoulder from Stan.

Ben put down his empty plate. “Okay Rich, put us to work.” He indicated himself and Mike. “We’re on it. Show us what needs to be moved, hidden, covered.”

“Everything in a two-block radius,” Stan quipped, his dimple sinking deep. “It’s a Richie-party.”

“He’s not wrong,” Eddie muttered.

“Sorry, did I hear something?” Richie held a hand to his ear.

“This is going to get old, Richie.” Bev glared at him disapprovingly. “So you have praying mantis arms, big deal.”

“Wait, WHAT?” Stan was smiling ear-to-ear. “Tell me. I need to know.”

Richie walked away from them, motioning for Mike and Ben to follow, and they obliged.

Once they were out of earshot, Eddie sighed. “I was mean to him this morning, and he basically told me he’s sick of my pissy little attitude and to go home.”

“Good for him,” Stan said firmly. “You are a little asshole sometimes, and it’s only cute like 33.33% of the time.”

“S-so why are you h-h-here?” Bill asked, and Eddie gave him a dirty look. “Hey! You s-said he t-told you to leave.”

“He said I could stay but he didn’t see the point.” Eddie put his barely-eaten cake down on the island. “I’m still here because I think this party is going to get out of control and I want to be here in case someone needs to act responsibly.”

Bev smiled sadly at him. “I think you’re being very mature. And this shit can’t last forever. He’ll get over it.”

****

 

The party was going better than Eddie thought it would. His friends pushed the living room furniture together, covering everything with a dark flat king-size sheet from the adult Tozier’s linens, and hid anything breakable in the upstairs bedrooms. Sadie was milling about the party, but Eddie smelled her breath three times and she didn’t seem to be sneaking anything she shouldn’t partake in. Patrick hadn’t spoken to him once. The bane of Eddie’s existence stuck like glue to Marcia Fadden; the pair bonded over the course of rehearsals and were friends.

They'd stuffed the kitchen sink full of ice, with beer cans packed into it. The island counter was covered with little dixie cups full of jello and the flipped-inside-out remains of crushed shots. Eddie stood with Bill and Stanley, having just eaten his second jello shot of the night; lime. It tasted exactly like rubbing alcohol smelled, with a twist of lime. He shivered and grimaced, sticking out his tongue. “I’m not having any more of these.”

“M-more for everyone e-else,” Bill replied easily, sucking a blue one out of the dixie cup paper.

“Have you seen Mike?” Stan was looking out through the kitchen doorway into the living room, where Richie and most of the girls at the party were dancing.

“Not in a while,” Eddie answered. A new song started, and a raucous and unanimous high-pitched screech from the voices in the living room made Eddie's eardrum go fuzzy. It felt like he'd put his ear up to a seashell. A few voices began singing along, loudly. One of the voices was unmistakably Richie. Eddie rolled his eyes and walked away from his friends to get into the living room in a flash.

His boyfriend was clearly drunk, having lost his shirt and socks somewhere over the course of the night, and his skinny jeans were slung low, exposing the deep V of his hipbones. Bev and Greta danced wildly with him, their hands all over his chest and back. Beverly’s red hair was sweaty and her short denim skirt rode up on her thighs. Sally and Betty were also singing along, dancing intimately together on top of the sheet-covered couch. They all threw their arms around haphazardly and sang into each other’s faces, rolling and shimmying their shoulders.

 

I’d rather be at home with Ray

I ain’t got seventy days

‘Cause there’s nothin’, there’s nothin’ you can’t teach me

 

Eddie watched as Richie wrapped his arms around Bev and took one of her hands to dance properly, swaying and leading her in a bouncy circle, with her palm laid flat against the small of his back. They broke apart and Richie grabbed Greta, dipping her with his face close to hers and making her squeal. There was a bitter taste in Eddie’s mouth and it had nothing to do with lime jello shots. Raw jealousy tasted a lot like lemons.

 

That I can’t learn, from Mr. Hathaway

I didn’t get a lot in class--but I know, it, don’t, come, in, a, shot, glass

 

Richie spun Greta into Bev, and they rocked together, Greta laying her head on Bev’s shoulder. Partner free and uninhibited, Richie rolled his hips, hopping around and crooning unabashedly. His curly hair bounced as he bobbed his head to the beat. He looked utterly sexy, and sounded like an angel.

 

They tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no no

Yes, I been black, but when I come back, you’ll know, know, know

I ain’t got the time, and if my daddy thinks I’m fine

He’s tried to make me go to rehab, I won’t go, go, go

 

When the chorus ended, Richie hung his head back and stared at the ceiling, screaming mournfully. “Y’SHOULDA WENT, AMY!”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Eddie snickered. He stalked over to Richie and grabbed him by the wrist, dragging him out of the living room and into the adjacent--and empty--den. When the door shut behind them, Richie shuffled towards him slowly, still dancing, and Eddie backed away cautiously. “Someone’s having a good time. What the fuck happened to your shirt,” he scolded, before letting out a squeak, startling himself as he bumped into the wall.

Richie brought both his palms up to rest on either side of Eddie’s head, leaning in and looking down at him. “I was dancin’ and got hot, so I took off m’shirt. Wanna ‘rrest me, Off’cer S’getti?” His glasses were crooked and his lips were a little bit blue.

Eddie smiled and rubbed the back of his neck. Richie was so cute. “Arrest you on what grounds?”

“Bein’ TOO FUCKIN’ PRETTY  to go shirtless.”

He laughed and shook his head. “Stick out your tongue.” Richie squeezed his eyes shut and did as he was told. His long tongue was tinged deep purple. “How many jello shots have you had?”

Richie squinted at him, held up 4 fingers, shook his head quickly and held up just his thumb, then spread his palm, settling on all five fingers. “A hunred and thirty eight.”

“What a mess,” Eddie chuckled up at him. “Which one of the ladies in your harem is holding your hair back tonight?”

“My harem? Pshhhh” He straightened his glasses, and tapped his finger three times against Eddie’s lips. “You’re so jelly of girls, Eds, but I only see you. Anywhere. N’body else.”

“I thought you were mad at me.” Eddie put both of his palms gingerly on Richie’s chest.

Richie shook his head fast. “Can’t be. ‘mpossible.” They could still hear the song playing in the next room and Richie leaned down and whispered the lyrics into Eddie’s ear. “I don’t never wanna driiiiiiink again… I just…ooooh just need a friend,” and Eddie shuddered involuntarily from his hot breath. “I gave you goose bumpy bumpy bumpies.” Richie breathed against the shell of his other ear, and then he started sucking on Eddie’s ear lobe.

Eddie couldn’t take it. He pulled Richie’s face away from his ear and slammed their lips together, sliding his hands up Richie’s neck and into his hair, and Richie quickly removed his hands from the wall. He grabbed Eddie by his hips, easily hoisting him up like he weighed nothing. Eddie wrapped his legs around Richie’s waist and kissed him hungrily, his small mouth nearly getting lost inside Richie’s. It was sloppy and wet and warm and Richie tasted vaguely like jello and vodka and nicotine and cherry 7up.

Richie stumbled a little as he backed up and sat on the arm of the couch with Eddie straddling his lap, and without warning, he let himself fall backwards so they landed in a heap onto the cushions. The tumble they took made them both puff out air against each other’s faces, and it broke the spell. Eddie laughed, his cheek against Richie’s chest. “So graceful.”

“You love it,” Richie murmured, hugging his arms around Eddie and squeezing him. “Okay, night-night Eddie S’getti.” He produced loud fake snoring sounds.

“Richie! There a bunch of drunk people in your living room. You can’t go to sleep.”

“Drinking makes me’sleepy, just wanna snuggle you,” he whined petulantly. “Fuck all of ‘em.”

“What if they destroy your house?”

“Then I’m’n big fuckin’ trouble, I guess.” He kissed the top of Eddie’s head. “I gotta good idea fr’the future. Y’wanna hear it?”

Eddie moved over so he was sandwiched in between Richie and the back of the sofa. “Probably not, but I have a feeling you’re about to tell me anyway.” He pushed Richie’s messy hair back from his forehead, and Richie moved his head in rhythm with it, nudging against Eddie’s hand.

Richie looked into his eyes, dead serious. “Someday, you’n’me are gonna both jerk-off into a cup.” Eddie made a disgusted face and opened his mouth to complain. “Nonono staywithme lemmefinish. Then we’ll take our jizz, okay? ‘N mix it allup and put in Bev’s! Uterus! We’ll have the MOST. PERFECT. BABY.” He hiccuped. “EVER. It'll have your eyes’n’face’n lil cute body, Bev’s hair and my ‘mazing pers-nality. Whad’ya think?”

“I think Greta made those jello shots out of Robitussin. You’re high as shit right now.” Eddie paused, thinking. “But don’t call our baby ‘it.’ And if we’re custom building them from our parts, they need to have your eyes. And cheek bones and hair and lips and freckles, too.”

Richie smiled wide, bringing his face close to Eddie’s. “You think I’m cuuue-ooot,” he sang, “y’wanna have my baaay-beeees.”

“Ugh, forget I said anything.”

“Can’t.” He tapped his forehead. “Burned up here forever, now.”

Eddie traced his finger down Richie’s cheek. “I’m sorry that I’m so mean sometimes. I know this is a bad time to try to talk to you for real about anything--”

“Eds. I like you cranky.” He kissed Eddie chastely on the lips. “S’mtimes,” he added, rolling his eyes.

“We should go back out there.”

“Noooo,” Richie moaned, low and guttural.

“Fine.” Eddie got up off the couch and leaned over Richie, kissing his forehead. “Stay here. I’m the only one left sober enough to make sure that this night doesn’t turn into a total disaster.” He pulled the fleece throw blanket off the top of the couch and covered Richie. Making his way to the door, he spied the waste can in the corner of the room and as an afterthought, brought it over and put it in front of Richie on the floor. “If you have to puke, do it in there.”

“I dunhavta puke, Eds,” Richie muttered sleepily. “Ni-night, love you.”

Eddie froze and held his breath. “Uh. Night Richie.” He shut off the lights in the den on his way out.

 

****

 

“Fucking shit cunt shit.” Eddie knelt on the floor in the living room, furiously working a stain remover pen into the beige carpet over a spot of jello and cursing under his breath. He'd spent the past hour busying himself with any menial task he deemed necessary. He didn't want to think about the fact that Richie said 'love you.' His boyfriend was drunk and half-asleep and the odds were good he wouldn't remember most of what happened in the den the next morning.

Music was still playing in the living room, but it was lower, and the volume of voices in the house nonexistent. He didn’t know where any of his friends were, but he had a front-row-seat to watch Sally and Betty making out on top of the sheet-fort they’d built from the Tozier living-room furniture.

Eddie hadn’t looked at a girl as a sexual object once in his life, but he couldn’t keep his eyes from sliding over to them. Their mouths were spit-slick and they caressed each other’s hair in a delicate, loving way. It made him wish that Richie would’ve called it quits after two shots so he was alert enough that they might do something similar in his bed.

He gave up on the stain. His next order of business was to make sure Sadie was doing okay. It was sometime after one AM, and he hadn’t seen her in over an hour. He climbed the stairs and stumbled across Bill and Stan, kissing in the hallway. Stan was pressed up against the wall, his face flushed. They barely noticed him.

“Don’t mind me, just being a fucking responsible adult amongst children,” Eddie muttered as he hurried by. Rapping sharply on Sadie’s door, he got no response. He jiggled the handle and found it unlocked. Creaking the door open slowly, the light from the hallway spilled into the room, illuminating the occupants of the bed. “You have to be fucking shitting me.”

Bev’s wide, scared eyes caught his. She immediately pulled back from her kissing partner and her hand fluttered up to her mouth. Ben sat up, looking sheepish and mournful.

“Eddie, it’s—”

“Save it. I’m not looking for you.” He shut the door behind himself and leaned against it, banging his head back into the wood. “Why the fuck did I have to see that?” He whispered to himself.

“S-see what?” Bill and Stanley were both staring at him, their hair messy and their mouths blue, just like Richie’s.

“Nothing,” Eddie lied. “Can you guys help me look for Sadie? I’m checking all the rooms up here, but I haven’t found her yet.”

“Yeah, sure,” Stan said in a small voice. “Billy let’s check the dining room.” He took Bill’s hand and they went downstairs.

Licking his lips, Eddie composed himself for a minute before he found his resolve and headed for the Tozier parent’s bedroom. He knocked louder this time. There was a muffled whispering inside and the clunky shuffling of foot falls. Whatever was going in there, it sounded frantic. Eddie was done playing games, he swung the door open hard enough for it to hit the wall. “Mike?”

“Eddie, uh. Hey.” Mike didn’t have a shirt on, and Greta was in the bed with the sheets pulled up to her neck.

Eddie took one step into the room and pointed at Greta accusingly. “WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU PUT INTO THOSE JELLO SHOTS?”

She bit her lip, looking down at the bedspread. Her voice was an embarrassed squeak. “Vodka?”

“Y’know what? I don’t even care about this,” he said tiredly, slapping a hand over his eyes. “Just have fun.” Eddie shut the door and backed away from it. He put both hands on his head and blew air harshly out of his mouth. Why did he insist on being the responsible one that night? Why did Richie have to get so drunk? Whywhywhy? Eddie stood still in the hallway and heaved long, slow, deep, even breaths until his heart rate slowed down.

He continued on his quest and checked the bathroom for Sadie, and luckily there were no surprises in there. At least not of the all-my-friends-are-hooking-up-and-or-cheating-on-each-other  variety. Someone had obviously puked in the toilet and didn’t do a very good job cleaning it up. He made a mental note to make Richie take care of it in the morning.

His last options on the second floor were Went’s study, which was mercifully locked, and Richie’s bedroom. He didn’t imagine that Sadie would ever-in a million years-willingly spend time in her brother’s room, but he went in nonetheless, without bothering to knock.

“Of course,” Eddie stated dryly. “It’s you. Do you have a fetish for lurking in other people's bedrooms at parties or...”

Patrick was seated in Richie’s desk chair, reading a comic book. He put it down on top of the pile of junk in the middle. “Hey, Eddie. Everything okay out there? I heard yelling.”

“Don’t. Don’t play like you give a shit.” Eddie drew a quavering breath. “Have you seen Richie’s little sister? Curly black hair, glasses, almost as tall as me?”

Patrick shook his head. “I mean, I saw her when I first got here. But not in a while, no.”

“Okay, thanks.” He turned to leave the room and heard Patrick get up out of the chair and come a little closer.

“Wait, Eddie, can I talk to you? It’s important.”

Eddie stopped in the doorway with his back to Patrick. “Go ahead.”

Patrick rambled, nervous. “I wanted to tell you something. For a while now. But I didn’t know how to say it and… fuck. I'm kind of drunk.” 

“Get to the point, please.” Eddie refused to turn around to look at him. He felt his phone buzzing in his pocket and pulled it out. “Hold on, wait.” He opened the message. Stan sent him a picture of Sadie. She slept curled up on the floor of the den, right next to the couch where Richie was knocked out. Eddie smiled to himself and crammed the phone back into his pocket. “Okay. What?”

“I did something. And when I tell you…” His voice got impossibly low, “you’re going to be really mad.”

“Just say it,” Eddie practically begged. He was tired, and he didn’t give a shit anymore.

“I’m the one that sent that picture to everyone. You know, of you and Richie.”

Eddie turned around, his entire face puckered up in shock. His throat felt too thick, like something was stuck in it. The anger started as a rumble deep in his gut. It spread out through his veins like hot electricity, settling at the base of his neck, where it throbbed, too hot. When he found his voice, it shook. “You. You did that.” Patrick closed his eyes and nodded, wincing. “Why the FUCK did you do that?”

He sounded like he might cry. “I don’t know, honest to God, I don’t.”

Eddie balled his fists, seething. “Get out of my boyfriend’s house, or I’m going to seriously fucking kill you.”

“I just want you to know that I’m sorry,” Patrick whispered. “I shouldn’t have done it to you, or to Richie.”

“Patrick, I don’t fucking care  if you’re sorry. I was SO embarrassed, I couldn’t even go to school.”

His brow furrowed, and he shrugged. “But everything’s okay now. Right? You’re okay with it now? I've seen you at school. You seem good.”

“THAT’S NOT THE POINT.”

“Then what is the point?” Patrick asked bitterly, shaking his head. “I said I was sorry. What the fuck do you even have to be mad about, now?” His tone roughened and raised, and Eddie felt it: Patrick was just as angry as he was. “You have your stupid fucking perfect rich boyfriend, your dumbass nerd friends, and no one even gives a shit about the pic anymore! So really, FUCK YOU for still being mad, Eddie.”

The next few seconds felt like they lasted an eternity and a millisecond at the same time. Eddie didn’t have any recollection of stepping forward, cocking his fist back and punching Patrick hard in the nose. All he remembered was the spurt of blood that shot out of Patrick’s face onto Richie’s carpet, the painful warm heat radiating out of his own knuckles, and the hot tears coursing down his cheeks as he fell to his knees.

Chapter Text

Eddie…. Eds…. Eddie Spaghetti, wake up. Why the fuck are there french fries in my bed? Y’ know, you have to cook those, baby. Are you waking up? I see your eyelids moving. If you get up and yell at me, I’m gonna chuck you out the window.

Eddie opened his eyes and Richie was leaning over him. His voice was sweet and gentle. “Morning, lil angel. What the fuck happened in here?” Eddie groaned in response. “Is that blood on the carpet? Or did you have a ketchup fight during your raw-french-fry-eating party?”

“It’s blood,” Eddie rasped, sitting up. He cleared his throat. His voice was hoarse from all the yelling he’d done the previous night. The bag of frozen french fries he’d put on his hand before falling asleep was laying on top of the blanket, thawed out and surrounded by a damp spot. “Sorry about the french fries, I didn’t know what else to use,” Eddie explained, holding out his right hand to show Richie his bruised knuckles.

Richie sat down next to Eddie on the bed, tucking his leg under himself. “Baby, what happened?” He started, concerned, and then it dawned on him. “Ohhh shit, you punched someone! Real good, too, huh? Here, give it.” He held out his hand to take Eddie’s and gently thumbed over the knuckles, isolating each one with a little pressure. Eddie winced a little but didn’t cry out; the pain wasn’t that severe. “It’s not broken,” Richie declared brightly. “Was that baby’s first punch?”

Eddie chuckled softly. “Yeah. Baby’s last  punch. Shit fucking hurts. No one prepares you for that.”

”Was it Stanley?” Richie cheesed hard.

“Richie, you know it wasn’t Stan,” Eddie laughed.

Richie’s smile slowly faded. “Yeah, I can guess who it was. Why’d you hit him?”

“Because his stupid nose was begging for it,” Eddie answered flatly. Richie just watched him, studying his face. Was he searching there to find the answer to his question?

Eddie didn’t want to rehash the events of the night for Richie just yet. The truth was, that he regretted punching Patrick almost immediately, and it didn’t have anything to do with the pain in his hand. He’d blown his top completely twice in one day, and whether his anger was warranted or not, it made him feel ashamed and out of control. The rush of hitting Patrick had left him so shaky that he barely registered when the taller boy slunk out of the room, leaving him all alone, crying on the floor.

Pushing the memory away, Eddie sighed. He gave Richie a once over. His lips were still blue and he’d tossed on a ratty green polo shirt that was too big for him. “You were pretty gone last night.”

“Yeah,” Richie snickered. “Understatement of the century, there. I was on another planet, Eds. Fuckin' jello shots. I lost count after eight.”

“Do you remember everything?”

“It’s kinda like a movie with missing reels,” Richie admitted, cringing. “I remember going outside to smoke with no shoes on; that was a bad idea. Dancing.”

“Do you remember taking off your shirt?”

Richie ducked his head, embarrassed. “Yeah, I remember I did it so you’d look at me.”

Eddie took a deep breath and released it slowly. “I thought you were trying to make me jealous.”

Richie frowned and shook his head. “Of what, Greta and Bev? They’re both my friends.” He folded his hands in his lap and looked down at them, playing with his fingers. Squeezing his eyes shut, it looked like it pained him to say what he said next. “When you get jealous of girls, it feels like you think because I’m bi that I’m ready to drop my pants for anybody.”

“I don’t think that at all, Richie,” Eddie replied softly.  “I just don’t trust Greta.”  And I trust her even less after last night.

"But you can trust me ," Richie said in a small voice. "I wish you would."

"I wish you  would." Eddie smirked, cocking his head. “It’s kind of like how you  get upset every time you see me talking to Patrick, even though there’s nothing going on, and never will be.”

“Valid point,” Richie whispered. “But Patrick isn’t your friend, kid.”

“No, he isn’t,” Eddie affirmed. He went back to his original point, kept poking for answers. It was already obvious to him that Richie didn’t remember what he said, but he wanted to make sure. “What else do you remember?”

 “I remember us kissing in the den, and telling you that I want us to build a Frankenstein  demon baby with Bev.” He gave Eddie a self-satisfied smile. “You want the baby to look like me.”

“Of course, you remember that.  Egomaniac.” Eddie used his good hand to reach for Richie’s, and pulled it into his lap. “I had a lot of time to think last night because my hand was throbbing and I couldn’t sleep--”

Baby,  I’m so sorry you had to punch someone’s face.” Richie hugged him, tackling him back so he was lying down. He kissed Eddie on his forehead and temple. “Does it still hurt that bad?”

“Not that  bad.” Eddie used the fingers of his left hand to delicately hold Richie’s lips closed. “Can I finish what I was saying?”

Richie smiled against his fingers and nodded vigorously.

“From now on, I’m going to try my best not to blow up at you like I did yesterday morning, but I want you to try your  best not to totally shut down and run away from me.”

“Mmmphaay” Eddie took his fingers away. “Okay,” Richie whispered. “Deal.”

Eddie kissed him on the mouth, ignoring all simmering thoughts about questionable drunken oral hygiene and lingering bacteria. Richie tasted like he used a pile of sugar for toothpaste. “What time is it?”

“Ten. My parents are gonna be home in two hours.”

“Alright, then let’s get to work.”

****

The house was full of hungover messes, who blinked blearily at Richie and Eddie as they made their rounds. They kicked out the stragglers from the cast, and woke their remaining friends to recruit them as house-cleaners. Bill and Stan were in their sleeping bags on the den floor, not far from where Sadie slept. Beverly spent the night alone in Sadie’s bed. Mike, Ben and Greta were nowhere to be found.  

The home wasn’t that much of a wreck, considering everything. Patrick had left a small splatter of blood on the carpeting halfway down the staircase, and few tell-tail drops on the marble platform of the foyer, punctuating his escape. Richie triumphantly remembered the miracle cleaning product his father bought off of late night TV and used it to soak all the stains he found, eviscerating them.

Eddie put Stanley to work cleaning the upstairs bathroom, while he and Bill carried down all the hidden breakables from upstairs, and moved the living room furniture back to its rightful arrangement. Bev got put on empty-cans-and-jello-shot-wrapper duty. Sadie laughed in Eddie’s face when he asked for her help, and skipped up the stairs to her room.

 Moving furniture made the pain in Eddie’s hand blink back to life and he went into the kitchen to find a way to alleviate it. Beverly was at the island, using her forearm to sweep empty jello shot cups into a big black garbage bag. She averted Eddie’s eyes when he came into the room. He stopped at the sink to run cold water from the tap directly onto his hand. Richie was right; he had too much mobility for it to be broken, but it was swollen and bruised, and the more he flexed his fingers the worse it got.

Bev watched him curiously. “What’re you doing?”

“Cheating on my boyfriend,” he replied smartly. “Oh no wait, that’s you.”

Eddie,” she groaned. “I—”

“You told me you weren’t going to do this,” Eddie stated accusingly. “I knew  you would since the first day of rehearsals.”

“And I acted like you were being paranoid,” Bev recounted, ashamed of herself.

“Did you tell him?”

“He was already gone when I woke up.”

“Fucking tell him, Bev. I’m not saying anything to anyone, but I don’t have a burning desire to keep secrets from Richie.” He pulled his hand out from under the tap and dried it on a dishtowel.

“I’m going to tell him in person.” She looked into Eddie’s eyes. “I am.  Now what were you just doing with the water, really?”

He rolled his eyes. “I hurt my hand last night.”

“How?” Beverly dumped the last of the trash into the bag and tied it off.

“He slammed it into Patrick’s snout,” Richie announced as he walked into the kitchen. He hopped up to sit on the counter. “I’m callin’ it, we’re done here. Place looks prettier than a painting of ballerinas.”

“Wait. Eddie, you punched Patrick?” Bev dropped the full trash bag onto the floor. “When? Why?!”

Eddie walked around the island and leaned up against the counter so he settled easily between Richie’s legs. Richie snaked his arms around him, hanging his head over Eddie’s shoulder. His tone was soft. “What’d he do to make you mad, Eds? Do I have to go finish him off?”

Eddie smiled and leaned his head against Richie’s. “No more violence. He told me that he was the one who sent that pic of us to everyone.”

“Really?” Richie sounded baffled more than anything. “Why did he do that?”

“He said he doesn’t know.”

Bev raised her eyebrows. “And you punched him just for that?”

Eddie scrunched up his face, feeling stupid. “No, it didn’t happen like that. I punched him because he told me I have no right to be mad about it.” He leaned back against Richie with all his weight, and Richie squeezed him. “And I’m not  mad, about just the picture anymore. The only thing I have left to be mad about is the fact that Patrick--who I’ve known since I was eight—would do something like that to me. I don't even think mad is the right word.”

“Yeah, he knew exactly how badly you would react to it,” Bev said thoughtfully. “Which is why I don’t buy the whole ‘I don’t know why I did that’ shit.”

Stan came into the kitchen, looking a little green around the gills. “The bathroom is clean.”

“You’re truly a king among peasants, Stan the Man. Thank you. Where’s Billy-boy?”

“Packing up our sleeping bags,” Stan sighed, hoisting himself up into one of the stools. He ran his hands through his messy curls. “I almost puked cleaning up that puke.”

 "At least they made it to the bathroom," Eddie hummed, optimistic. "Last night was a mess, but I guess it could've been worse."

"Stanley did you know my baby has a killer right hook? Tell him, Eddie Spaghetti, show him your battle scars."

"Richie,"  Eddie whined, embarrassed. "I'm not proud of it, okay?” He stepped away from his boyfriend, leaving the kitchen to go upstairs and get his stuff. They all would have to clear out of the Tozier home in a few minutes, anyway.

 

****

Mike

|10:20[ ive been sitting here typing n deleting what to say to u for like 10 mins ]

|10:21[ we didnt have sex. ik what it looked like but i swear ]

|10:24[ r u gonna tel bev? ]

 

Eddie

|11:35[ im not, but you need to ]

|11:35[ SOON ]

 

Mike

|11:36[ ik, shes gtb so mad tho ]

 

Eddie

|11:37[ just tell her. I promise I won’t tell anyone else ]

 

Mike

|11:39[ thank u ]

 

Eddie

|11:45[ I’m not doing it to help you, it’s just something you 2 need to work out not me ]

|11:46[ its no ones business but yours and I wish I didn’t know it ]

 

Mike

|11:47[ ok, still thanks ]

 

-

Ben

|10:45[ sorry ]

 

Eddie

|10:49[ out of everyone involved in this you’re the person who needs to be sorry least ]

 

Ben

|11:02[ wait wym “everyone” who else is involved ]

 

Eddie

|11:08[ okay detective Ben, never mind that. just stop hooking up with Bev. STAHP ]

 

Ben

|11:10[ ok ]

 

-

 

****

Just before noon, Eddie walked across the street to crash in his empty house. His mother was out, just as he expected her to be. Most of her Sunday afternoons were spent at church.

He was lounging on the sofa in the living room with a proper ice pack balancing on his hand, absently watching a marathon of Bizarre Foods--a show which both disgusted and intrigued him—when the doorbell rang. Eddie opened the door without checking who it was. He expected it to be Richie, running over to return something he left behind by accident.

Patrick was standing on the stoop, sucking in his lower lip. Both of his eyes were black-and-blue. There was a small cut at the bridge of his nose, and the skin around it was puffy and red. Eddie felt regret and sympathy and a nostalgic sense of caring flow through him like warm molasses. It reminded him of all the times when Patrick would bust open his knees or his elbows skateboarding and Eddie would take him home and mend him up, right as rain.

He looked a tired mess standing there, and had on the same clothes he wore to the party—black hoodie and black jeans and black boots--like he’d been out wandering the streets all night and just stopped by Eddie’s house because he had nowhere else to go. Eddie didn’t speak, and Patrick held up his hands. “Listen if you’re gonna hit me again, aim lower, okay? My nose is broken.” His voice sounded congested.

Eddie leaned against the door-frame and sucked his teeth. “I’m never hitting anyone ever again. My hand hurts so much.”

“My condolences,” he mumbled.

“Did you go to the hospital?”

“No. There’s nothing they can do anyway.” Patrick gingerly touched either side of the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. “I set it myself. Not the first time, either.”

Eddie grimaced. “Ugh, Jesus, I’m so sorry.” He softened his face. “Why are you here?”

“I don’t know; I like pain?” Patrick laughed to himself. “I’m going door-to-door, apologizing to the neighborhood for apologizing too loud last night.”

Eddie tried not to smile. He tried really hard. But he failed. “I shouldn’t have hit you.” He rolled his eyes and stood up straight. “I have an anger issue, apparently.”

“I’m not mad that you hit me. Although Parish is going to be, because I sound like I have a cold and my singing is going to be shit tomorrow.” His eyes were the brightest blue suspended over the purple flesh beneath them. “I should’ve waited to tell you all that stuff when I was sober, but I only had the balls to do it because I was drunk.”

“It would have been better if you didn’t tell me at all,” Eddie admitted softly. “You were right. That pic doesn’t matter to me anymore. It was the worst thing in the whole world when it happened, but now everything is good.”

“But if I didn’t tell you, and you didn’t punch me, and you didn’t obviously feel bad  about punching me…” Patrick smiled. “We wouldn’t be having this nice, civil conversation at all."

Eddie sighed and begrudgingly nodded, looking away. “You shouldn’t tell people they don’t have a right to be mad, though. Especially when they’re already  mad. Just like, for your information.”

“Yeah, blah blah all feelings are valid.” Patrick was grinning. “You been seeing the counselor, too?”

“Hold on,” Eddie brought his eyes back up. “You talk to Judith?”

“She’s been trying to talk me into spilling my guts to you since September.”

Eddie frowned down at Patrick’s feet. “Richie was right; guidance counselors are evil.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Patrick mumbled. “I gotta go. Just wanted to come by to check if you hate me.”

“I did, but not now, no.” Eddie replied easily, shaking his head.

“Okay good. And Richie isn’t going to beat me up?”

Eddie smiled, his eyes trailing instinctively over to Richie’s bedroom window across the street. “I can’t predict his next move. The kid’s a fucking cyclone jammed into a human-shaped body.”

“Fair enough,” Patrick hummed, backing down the stoop. “Well, see ya.” He turned and shoved his hands in his hoodie pockets as he walked away. Eddie shut the door and released a long breath. No one ever told him that punching someone could be therapeutic, relationship mending, even. He doubted he’d ever be friends with Patrick, but he didn’t have to hate him or fear him. Not anymore.

Chapter Text

“Come on Spaghetti, lemme see that foot.” Eddie bit back a grin and hoisted his right leg across Richie’s lap. Richie stuck his tongue out of the side of his mouth as he tightened and laced up the skate boot, pulling the laces around Eddie’s lower leg firmly. “You gotta make ‘em tight so you don’t mess up your ankles.”

“I know, Richie.” Eddie smiled, oddly charmed by Richie treating him like a baby. “I know how to skate, y’know.” He fiddled with his pale blue infinity scarf, puffing it closer around his throat. “It’s been a while, though.”

“Even people who know how to skate make the mistake of not tying their skates tight enough. The results are like a Greek…” Richie made a little noise as he yanked on the laces, pulling them taught. “Fuckin’… tragedy. Trust me, kid.” He finished with Eddie’s right skate, set it down and patted his leg to receive the left.

He was excited to be there with Richie, but Eddie was already dead-tired. It was only one in the afternoon, but they’d been on the go since just after dawn. They got up early and hopped an express train out of Portland to NYC. The trip took just under seven hours. Eddie had no scope of what New York was really like prior to that day. He learned that it was huge and tiny at the same time. Compressed and compacted, with too many people moving around all over the place. The subways weren’t scary like he thought they might be, but everything seemed unsanitary. Central Park was bigger than any park Eddie’d ever seen. It was big enough to have its own streets and a zoo.

As Richie tugged against his foot, Eddie glanced behind himself at the glass panes that led to the ice; people-watching. The rink was outdoors; located in the huge park. The center of the ice was coned off for a small figure-skating class of varying age groups. There were at least a hundred skaters with pink cheeks and noses circling the outer portion of the ice, wobbling and squealing. Little kids were deliberately diving onto their bellies and sliding, and Eddie smiled. He remembered being just like them.

He patted his gloved hands together, turning back to Richie. “You want me to tie yours?”

“Nah, baby. I don’t want you to get rope burns on your little hands.” Richie held out his palm. He pulled Eddie’s laces so tight that there were red welts stretching across his long index and middle fingers.

“Jesus, baby," Eddie hummed softly, "you take this seriously.”

“Because rolled ankles are a serious bitch,” Richie stated sagely. He finished up with Eddie’s left skate and gently deposited his foot on the rubber mat beneath them before making quick work of his own skates. 

Eddie had on black standard rental models; Richie’s feet were so big he had to rent blue ones. “I need a pair of blades from your freak-show stock, please and thank you."  He’d grinned cheekily at the pretty woman behind the rental counter, who'd laughed and Psshed at him, totally charmed. Eddie wasn't jealous. Not because she was damn near thirty and no threat, but because he'd worked to be drama-free for the week that'd passed since Thanksgiving break.

His friends' drunken cheating dabocle? Their problem, not his. Richie being extra and loud and goofy and sweet? Adorable; not something to get mad about, ever. Patrick existing, and smiling softly over at him during rehearsals? Totally fine and chill. Judith knowing that Patrick was the one who sent the picture and not saying anything to Eddie about it? Just a counselor doing her job, which (apparently) entailed trying her best to help all the queer male students at their school to get their shit together; a noble pursuit. Eddie was happy, floating on a cloud. Drama-free December was going well, though it was only four days in.

They stepped out onto the ice together, both a little rickety on the touch-down. The rink was enormous, just as Richie’d promised when he vowed to take Eddie skating there someday. The ice was smooth, meticulously upkept glass; nothing like the natural pond Eddie’d skated on when he was young.

Eddie was shaky to start out, but he gradually began gliding smoothly, easing back into the flow of the movement. As a child it thrilled him to go flying across the ice fast as a whip. He felt free there. Free from ridicule and his mother’s hovering presence: no one could catch him when he was moving faster than the speed of light. It was something he excelled at, and it was as natural to him as walking.

But he hadn’t skated once since the January when he was twelve years old, the day he’d broken his arm. The ice on their skating pond was jagged that day. The older boys played hockey the previous afternoon and their toe stoppers chipped and gouged the surface. He’d tripped over a gnarled spot and his hands broke his fall, painfully snapping back his wrist.

His friends were there with him; wide-eyed and frantic. Beverly was the calmest; she soothed soft, sweet words in his ear. Stanley nervously petted at Eddie’s forehead while he cried, and Big Bill helped Patrick hoist him up into the basket of a borrowed bike to ride him home. Sonia let loose on Patrick as she loaded Eddie up in the car. She blamed him for everything, and Patrick took it all without complaint. He’d apologized to her, though he’d done nothing but rescue her son.

Push off, glide. Push off, glide. Eddie stretched his legs when he got into the rhythm, lifting his feet off the ice to pick up a little more speed, skating just ahead of Richie, and then pulling taut against Richie’s hand to slide backwards a bit.

“Smack my ass and call me Sally. Look at this kid,” Richie marveled, as they eased around the circle together. “You’re a really good skater.”

Eddie blushed and shook his head. “I’m not that good. I haven’t skated in six years.”

“You’re even better, then,” Richie insisted, stopping them in the corner by the short white wall. “Skating is not like riding a bike.”

“Why are we stopping?” Eddie’s breath came out in little white puffs. Richie grinned down at him, all pink cheeks and shiny eyes and foggy glasses. He was fuzzy and soft in his striped sweater and he put his cold hands on Eddie’s face and leaned down, pecking kisses on Eddie’s bottom lip. “Oh, that’s why,” Eddie whispered against his lips coyly, before kissing him back.

They skated for three hours, and Eddie ached when they got off the ice. He’d forgotten how much standing on the thin blades messed with the lateral edges of his feet. Richie reached down to untie Eddie’s skates and remove them like it was his duty. When he saw Eddie rubbing at the sorest spot of his own foot, Richie patted his lap again to receive them and rubbed them himself. Eddie felt it on the tip of his tongue; scary and permanent and true.

 Richie, I love you, too. You’re the best. I’ll never say anything mean to you ever again.

They sat in their socks, drinking hot cocoa in the lobby of the rink and making up silly names for passersby. Neither of them were in any hurry to leave because leaving meant beginning another six-hour train ride. Richie’s phone kept buzzing and buzzing. It was on the bench between them, lit up and dancing with vibrations. An incoming call from someone saved as HanBanNahAna.  “So, uh, I told my friend Blake I was in the city and he’s got a huge fuckin’ mouth. We’re invited to a party.” His voicemail notification beeped.

 “You know how much I love parties,” Eddie said sardonically. He sipped his cocoa.

“Yeah, I know, Eds,” Richie sighed. “It’s just I haven’t seen my friends since last summer, and they’re being really annoying about it. The party is in Brooklyn.”

“Let’s go,” Eddie said firmly, before he thought better of it. “I can scratch ‘going to Brooklyn’ off my bucket list.”

Richie reached for Eddie’s free hand, interlacing their fingers. “You have a bucket list?”

“I’m just starting one today,” Eddie admitted, sheepish.

“What else is on it?”

Have sex. Learn to drive. Move far, far away from my mother. Ride on a plane. Go to college.

“At this point, just things normal people do all the time,” Eddie said sadly, scrunching up one eye. “I’m boring.”

“Lies. Lies and slander.” Richie pulled Eddie’s hand up to his mouth and kissed it. “Not at all boring.”

****

 

Richie swung their arms as they walked hand-in-hand back to the subway. They hopped the A train and transferred to the L, getting off in an industrial-looking neighborhood. It was still relatively early, so Eddie wasn’t anticipating a wild party, but he could hear the music from half-way down the block. The building was ruddy brick, and looked like a burnt-out warehouse from the street. Inside it was renovated, with an upstairs loft and a spiral staircase.

Loud music vibrated out of ridiculously huge speakers set on cinder blocks. There were droves of teenagers there, despite the early hour.  Most of them seemed to shop exclusively at vintage clothing stores. At least half of the girls at the party had hairstyles that involved a partial shave near their temple, and he saw four different guys wearing military jackets over band teeshirts. The air in the space was a visible haze; people were smoking weed and vaping openly all over both floors. The walls were brick, decorated with road signs and scrap metal and purple Christmas lights.

Richie casually glanced around, trying to spot anyone he knew in the crowd. The music changed abruptly, and a soft, dreamy song began playing. Something in Richie’s face shifted--almost imperceptibly--but Eddie caught it. He watched curiously as Richie scanned around the space more intently. It was obvious to Eddie that he was hunting for something specific. “What are you looking for?”

Richie licked his lips, his eyes conflicted, a trifle worried, maybe. “Uh. It’s just this song. It’s nothing, Spaghetti.”

Eddie was even more confused by that comment. He felt his forehead involuntarily tense and he focused his eyes on the dirty cement floor, listening to the song.

 

And you live life with your arms reached out

Eye-to-eye when speaking

Enter rooms with great joy shouts

Happy to be meeting

And bright, bright, bright, bright as yellow

Warm as yellow

 

And I do not want to be a rose

I do not wish to be pale pink

But flower scarlet, flower gold

And have no thorns to distance me

But be bright, bright, bright, bright as yellow

Warm as yellow

 

And have no thorns to distance me…. Richie’s tattoo.  Eddie understood immediately. He didn’t need Richie to explain anything anymore. His tattoo was a lyric from the song that was playing, and someone at the party was playing it for him.

There was a loud whistle above the music. They both looked up. A girl smiled hard and waved at Richie from the open loft above them and began descending the spiral staircase. She was short and slender, decked out in a mustard-colored mini-dress with a long black cape over it and knee-high black combat boots. Her hair was long, dyed lavender, and it flowed when she moved, cascading in chunky layers. As she got closer, Eddie noticed that she had snake-bite piercings and plugs in her ears and blue eyes like Patrick’s. His jealousy was so immediate and strong that it sent acid up his esophagus.

“I can’t fucking believe this shit right now, is it really you?!” She squealed, rushing over to throw herself into Richie’s arms.

“Believe it, shweetheart,” Richie drawled in a weird accent, hugging her back lightly and releasing her quickly. Eddie stood there feeling awkward. “Hannah, this is Eddie. Otherwise known as Eddie Spaghetti, sweet little angel face, the—”

“I fucking get it Richie, beep-beep. Hi, Eddie.” Her eyes appraised Eddie, and he looked away quickly.

“Hi. Um, where’s the bathroom?” Hannah pointed over Eddie’s shoulder at a hallway behind them. “Okay. I’m gonna…” He motioned towards the direction she pointed.

“You okay?” Richie’s face was a little concerned, but a little sad quirk of his lip told Eddie that he expected it to happen.

“Yeah, just gotta, y’know,” Eddie mumbled quickly and scurried away hastily, leaving them alone. So much for drama-free December.

He wasn’t sure how long he was in the bathroom. It was filthy, with a graffitied mural on the back wall and two sharpie-marked stalls that had broken locks on the doors. The urinal looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since 2007. He didn’t go in there to use the restroom, just to stand still, and breath slowly, and quietly berate himself for agreeing to come to a fucking party in Brooklyn. Parties. Where people got punched, humiliated by rumors, and some of them cheated on their boyfriends…

A couple of tall hipster dudes with man buns came into the bathroom and caught him loitering there. He felt like an enormous loser and fled, jogging jerkily back into the main room. Richie and Hannah had shifted positions so they were facing the bathroom, probably so they'd see Eddie when he emerged. They were distracted and in the middle of a conversation. Eddie crept over a little closer and covertly ducked behind them, into a darkened doorway where he could hear them clearly because they were shouting over the music.

“So how are you really  doing out in the boonies?” Hannah played with her hair, combing her fingers through it.

“Really? I’m making the best of it? Acclimating, or whatever the fuck you want to call it.”

Hannah nodded up at him. Her eyes were all over Richie’s face. Eddie didn’t like the way she looked at his boyfriend, it was intimate. “Your boy’s been gone a while.”

“Yeah, I’m starting to worry that he’s been kidnapped.” Richie’s head turned back and forth, but he didn’t bother to look behind himself, otherwise he’d have caught Eddie creeping on them. “Can’t leave a cutie like that unattended around these heathens.”

Hannah let a healthy thirty seconds pass. She was still looking at Richie’s face. “He let you fuck him yet?”

Richie chuckled, running a hand through his curls. “Always the mistress of etiquette. Such a classy broad you remain, Hannah Banana.” Eddie flinched when he heard the nickname, and he saw Hannah’s eyes light up at it.

“That’s a big no, then." She smiled demurely and elbowed Richie in his side. "How long ‘til you lose interest?”

Richie licked his lips, looked into her eyes. His voice was almost too low for Eddie to hear it. “It’s not like that with him. We’re waiting ‘til he’s ready.”

“And you’re not going crazy?” Hannah stepped closer to Richie. “I’d fuck you in the bathroom right now, no questions asked. You’re still so hot it’s disgusting.” She moved her hand up to touch his hair and Eddie felt his heart lurch. But Richie caught her hand before it reached his curls and swung it in an arc, holding it out away from his body. 

“Your desperation is sorta disgusting.” He was looking at her like he pitied her. “We broke up for a reason Han Ban.”

“Broke up,” Eddie whispered to himself.

Hannah arched up on the balls of her feet, bringing her face close to Richie’s. She was staring right at his full lips, and he was still holding her arm out. The cape slipped a bit off her left shoulder. “Yeah, because you wanted to SUCK DICK.”

He raised his eyebrows and widened his eyes, staring hard down at her. “Newsflash: I STILL DO. ”

She pouted, mocking him. “But poor little baby virgin doesn’t let you suck it, huh?” Eddie cringed and held his breath. He was  a little baby virgin, and scared to not be one. He shouldn’t have eavesdropped at all, and he felt too awkward to wander up and join them now that the conversation had intensified.

Richie shook his head and frowned. “You’re still such a fucking bitch.” He let go of her hand roughly.

“Yep, and proud to be.” She crossed her arms, backing up a pace. “You used to like it.”

“I was sixteen and fucking dumb,” Richie declared brightly. “And your goth bullshit really pissed off my mother. That’s the only reason I went out with you.”

“OH PLEASE,” she shrieked, laughing. “We got our flesh branded for each other. Don’t try to downplay us  because you have some little twink in your back pocket.” Richie didn’t reply. He was looking down at her boots, biting down on his lower lip. Eddie watched his face, desperately trying to read Richie's mind. Hannah sighed, her voice softening. “Does Mags know you like dick yet?”

“For your information, yes. I came out,” Richie stated, cocking his head. “I came out because of him; for him.” Eddie’s heart pounded. He wanted to know all of this, every word of it. But he was watching for too long, he wasn’t supposed  to hear it. He also didn’t want to stop listening.

Her eyebrows quirked up, and she pounced again. “And I bet Mags just LOVES little baby virgin.” Eddie tensed. Her mocking was painful, and his skin felt like it was too tight.

Richie sighed heavily. “His name is Eddie.  And I  love him. So, shut your fucking mouth.” Eddie closed his eyes and smiled. It wasn’t just drunken mutterings, or an accident, or a sleepy mistake. I love you, too, I didn’t really know before how to tell if it was love or not, but I think maybe I figured it out.

“Oooh you LOVE him,” Hannah cooed, placing her hand over her heart. “That’s cute, really. Richie loves something besides himself.”

Richie let out an angry but restrained growl. “Augh, Why the fuck did I even come here?” He put his hand on the top of his head, pushing back his hair. "I knew Blake wasn't going to show until fucking nine like the flake that he is."

“You came because you miss this,” Hannah said easily, stretching her arms out to indicate the whole party. “Interesting people, who are doing actual awesome things, not fucking going to barn dances or whatever they do in bum fuck Egypt.”

“You’re such a God damned snob.” Richie shook his head, disgusted. “You live in QUEENS, Hannah. Get over yourself.”

Hannah scoffed, equally disgusted. “The worst shitty neighborhood in Queens is more interesting than anywhere in fucking Maine, Richie. Come on.”

“Y’know what? I’m so fucking  out of here.” Richie whipped his head around briefly, then pulled out his phone. He walked away from Hannah, closer to the entrance as he composed a text.

Eddie felt the buzz against his hip. He was frozen, totally stuck. How was he going to play it off like he didn’t just witness all that? Shaking his head around to clear it, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone.

 

-

Richie

|6:20[ baby where ru? ]

 

Eddie Spaghetti

|6:20[ hiding ]

 

Richie

|6:21[ smart, this party is fucking shitsville. come find me ok? ]

|6:21[ I gotta gtfo rn ]

-

 

Eddie covertly inched back around the room so it looked like he was coming from the direction of the bathroom. He walked up to Richie, who was still furiously typing on his phone. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Richie greeted softly, pocketing his phone. “You okay?”

“Yeah, just kind of anxious I guess.”

Richie nodded, put his hand around the back of Eddie’s head and pulled him into his chest. “Wanna hit the road?”

Eddie wrapped his arms around Richie and hugged him tightly. “Yes.”

 

 

****

 

Eddie had his head laid against Richie’s shoulder. They’d put up the armrest between them. The express train moved fast, and it rocked gently from side to side. He looked up at his boyfriend, who had his eyes closed behind his glasses. “Richie?”

“Mmn?”

“Are you sleeping?”

“Sorta.”

“Okay.”

“Why?”

“I wanted to ask you something.”

Richie leaned his head against Eddie’s “Go nuts.”

“That song that was playing. That’s where you tattoo came from right?”

“Yeah.”

“But what does it mean? I mean… Why is it important enough to permanently…” He wanted to say ‘brand your flesh’ but he didn’t want to use Hannah’s exact phrasing.

Richie sighed and took off his glasses, hooking them over his knee. He rubbed roughly at his eyes. “If I could go back and do it over, I wouldn’t have gotten it, Eds.”

“Oh.”

“Someday when I have the money I’m gonna get a sweet cover-up tattoo.”

“Okay, but even though you regret it, it meant something when you got it right?”

He sighed resignedly. His tone was church-quiet. “That was me and Hannah’s song, Eds.”

Eddie picked his head up off Richie’s shoulder and looked out the window at the scenery blurring past them. “Oh.” He looked back at Richie to find his cheeks a little pink.

“She said the song was written about me. I’m ‘Bright As Yellow,’” Richie air quoted, snickering, embarrassed. “We both got lyrics tattooed on our ribs at some shitty fucking shop on the Lower East Side that didn’t ID. I thought I loved her; that it was forever. I was dumb.”

Eddie nodded slowly. “When did you realize you didn’t?”

Richie furrowed his brow. “What do you mean?”

“You said you thought  you loved her.”

He reached for Eddie’s hand and squeezed it. “Only just recently, kid.”

“But why? How?”

“Are you writing my biography, Eds?” Richie asked gently. “I’m really not that interesting.”

Eddie chuckled. “No. Richie…” He shut his eyes and squeezed Richie’s hand back, willing himself to just say it. Pushed it out. “I heard everything you and Hannah said.”

Richie sat up a bit and turned towards him. “You were listening?”

“Yes,” he whispered, eyes still closed.

“Why?” Richie didn’t sound mad, just confused.

Eddie let go of Richie’s hand, rubbed his face tiredly. “Because I’m a creepy little insecure stalker, on top of being a little baby virgin.”

“Oh, Eddie. Fuck that bitch, seriously. She’s such a jealous, spiteful…” Richie trailed off, his eyes blindly searching the floor. Eddie knew he wasn’t looking for anything down there with his glasses off.

“What’s wrong?” Eddie shifted in his seat, turning towards Richie a fraction.

Richie shook his head and blinked down at his lap. “You heard.” He leaned his elbow on his knee, put his hand against his cheek, and turned his head towards Eddie, so his hand was partially obscuring his face. He was hiding behind it. "You heard me say I--"

“Yeah,” Eddie interrupted softly. “It wasn’t the first time I heard you say that, though.”

Richie narrowed his eyes. “Wait, what? Rewind.”

“You told me," Eddie informed him slowly, cringing slightly, "when you were drunk.” 

Richie covered his face with both hands. “Jesus-shit, that’s really fucking embarrassing.”

“It’s not,” Eddie reassured him. “It was so cute, Richie. I just didn’t know if it was for real.”

“Of course it’s for real,” Richie whispered at the floor, offended.

No, I didn’t mean it like that. I meant because you were drunk.”

“Hmmn,” he hummed, still looking at the floor.

Richie,” Eddie smiled sweetly. “I love you, too.”

Richie closed the space between them in an instant, burying his face into Eddie’s neck, just nuzzling him. “I love you so  much, Eddie,” he purred, muffled against Eddie’s skin. “God, I’ve been dying to say it, but I didn’t want to creep you out.”

He kissed Richie's ear, ran his fingers through those springy dark curls, smelling them. They smelled like mint and the lingering aroma of weed and something else. Something sweet; just Richie. “Consider me not creeped out.”

“Consider me ec-fucking-static, Eds.” He felt Richie melting against him; warm and soft and pliant. They didn't say very much the rest of the ride home. They didn't have to. 

Chapter Text

Eddie sat at the empty lunch table with his totally unappetizing sandwich staring at him, mocking him. It smelled disgusting and looked even worse. His head felt unusually heavy, and he rested his chin on his hand. The dead weight pulled his wrist back hard enough to leave a reddened crease on the skin stretched over his joint. He kept his tired eyes focused on a piece of paper instead of his lunch: the most recent Calc exam he got back that morning, all marked up with Parish's cursive writing in red ink.

B- An improvement, however I think you’re capable of more. Show me something spectacular on the final exam, Mr. Kaspbrak. Please. Shock me. I crave it.

He’d completely earned that grade. Richie had helped him study—actually truly study—for that third exam, and though he might have been capable of more like Parish suggested, he was just happy that it wasn’t another C. If he did well enough on the final exam he could still pull off a B as his final mark in the class. His online homework average was an A--mostly thanks to the fact that Richie 'helped' him figure things out by doing three-quarters of the work for him.

Beverly was the first of his friends to arrive at the table. Her blue eyes were apologetic on Eddie all the time, her guilt must've been eating her up. She sat down stiffly, and smiled tightly across the table at him. “I’m gonna tell him today--” Bev started, in a tiny voice, and Eddie held up his right hand limply, his head still propped on and dragging down his left one.

“Bev, it’s been two weeks,” Eddie muttered tiredly. “If you haven’t done it by now just don’t bother. You’re both totally ridiculous.”

Frowning, Bev looked down at her lap. “Both of us? What does that mean?”

“Nothing. I don’t care anymore. Stop talking to me about it.” Eddie pushed his sandwich further away, folded his arms and laid his head down on them. He stayed that way for several minutes, or it might have been for five hours, he wasn’t sure. At some point, he felt a cool kiss on the nape of his neck. Then an even cooler hand touched him in the same spot.

“Baby, you’re so hot.” Richie’s concerned voice. “Do you feel sick?”

“Well, he’s laying his head down on the lunch table.” Stanley’s sarcastic voice came from the ether. When had he arrived? “That’s probably an indication that he’s not feeling well.”

“Stanley the Manly, you’re such a friggin’ genius I don’t know how NASA hasn’t snapped you up already.”

Mike’s voice, far away and gentle. “Maybe you should take him to the nurse, Richie.”

“The nurse doesn’t know shit,” Richie replied quickly. “I’ll scoop him up and piggyback him home.”

Ben’s voice, chuckling. “Richie’s such a hero. We should all aspire to be as noble.”

“H-h-hey guys.” The table shook a little, Big Bill, oblivious, late, stuttering. “Why is E-Eddie laying d-down like that?”

Eddie sat up and blinked blearily around the table. All his friends were looking at him. “I’m just tired.”

Richie laid his knuckles against Eddie’ forehead, pouting sympathetically at the heat he found there. “Does being tired usually cause a fever? If so, I’ve been doing it wrong.” He slid his hand down to cup Eddie’s cheek, and Eddie leaned into the touch. It was soothing against his hot face. “Okay, come on Spaghetti. Let’s get your stuff; I’m taking you home.”

It was unseasonably warm out, but Richie still insisted that Eddie bundle up for their walk back to the Kaspbrak residence. They stopped by Richie's locker where he dumped off his own books and pulled out a stashed beanie to put over Eddie’s curls. Richie carried his backpack for him, and kept an arm around his shoulders the whole way. The walk was a blur, and Eddie only had a vague recollection of opening the front door to his house and climbing the stairs.

Richie kissed his forehead. “Get into your jammy-jams and lay down. I’ll be right back.”

After Richie left the room, Eddie did as he was told, stripping down quickly and pulling on soft, comfortable clothes. His skin ached dully when he slid the material over it. He curled up in the bed and closed his eyes.

Eddie knew his concept of time and space was flawed. Something whistled in the distance; high-pitched and insistent. He wished it would shut up so he could sleep. The door hinges creaked, and there was a ceramic plink somewhere off to the left of his head. Something settled on and pulled down one side of the mattress; a lightly carried weight. A tickly touch brushed back the hair from around his ear, and then a small, soft object was plugged up inside the hollow of it. Beepbeepbeepbeep

Bay-beeeee,” Richie cooed tenderly. “One oh three point seven? Tell me what hurts you, and I’ll beat it up.”

“My throat,” Eddie whispered. “I thought it was just from my wisdom teeth coming in, but I guess…”

Shhhh, okay,” Richie whispered back. He took one of Eddie’s hands in his, put a small object inside of it. “Swallow this for me. Can you sit up?”

“Yeah,” Eddie snickered. “I’m not dying, Richie.”

“I know, but your fever is so high, angel. You must feel like a dog turd that’s been cooked in a microwave.”

“I just feel like I need to sleep for forty hours straight." Eddie groaned lightly as he sat up. He saw that Richie not only brought him a glass of juice, but made him tea as well. He winced as he swallowed the pill and chased it with juice. “You made me tea?”

Richie ducked his head a little. “Yeah, with honey.” Eddie sighed longingly down at his lap, pouting a little bit and Richie squeezed his knee. “Why sad, little baby? You hate tea? Wanna chuck me out the window?”

Eddie shook his head, one corner of his mouth turning up. “No, it’s just that I want to kiss you, but if I got you sick and ruined the whole play I would feel even worse than I do now.”

“Raincheck, then,” Richie promised him. He waved his hand at Eddie. “Lay back down, baby. Let me snuggle you.”

“Richie, you should go back to school," Eddie whined, feeling guilty. "I’ll be fine here, I’m just going to sleep.”

“Wild horses couldn’t drag me away from you right now, kid," Richie whispered. "You ever heard that song?”

Eddie shrugged, laying back down on his side. Richie kicked off his chucks and climbed onto the bed. He pressed his body flush against Eddie's back, warm and solid, wrapping his arms around and entwining their legs. He started crooning softly, his lips right up on the back of Eddie's neck and his voice impossibly delicate and sweet. Eddie didn't know the song but when he heard his name in the lyrics, and felt Richie's mouth curving and smiling against his skin, he knew those couldn't have been the real words. He was safe in Richie's arms, lulled and secure.

 

Childhood living, is easy to do

The things you wanted, I bought them for you

Graceless Eddie

You know who I am

You know I can’t let you

Slide through my hands

Wild horses, couldn’t drag me away

Wild, wild horses, couldn’t drag me away

 

****

“What exactly is going on in here?” Sonia’s voice was just shy of angry. They’d fallen asleep together, Richie spooning Eddie, his face pressed up behind Eddie’ neck.

“Holy fuck-balls,” Richie’s sleepy voice exclaimed nervously. The bed sunk and shifted as he got up off of it. “I’m sorry, Mrs. K. We weren’t doing anything, I swear. Eddie was sick and I—”

“Look, Richard,” Sonia began, frigid. “I don’t have a problem with my son’s orientation, but I’ll be dead before I let lewd activities take place under my roof. Understand?”

“Crystal clearly,” Richie’s tone took on a mocking edge, and Eddie opened his eyes wide, immediately worried about where his boyfriend was going with his words. “We were just sleeping, Sonia.  Don’t get your panties in a wad over it.”

Excuse me? What did you just—How dare you--” His mother was shrieking and stammering, eyes flashing.

“Ma, Richie,” Eddie croaked weakly, struggling to sit up. “Please don’t. Don’t do this right now.”

“I’m done here, don’t worry Eds.” Richie was looking at his phone, biting his lip. “Parish is gonna kill me, I missed rehearsal. Feel better, okay?” In a flash, Richie grabbed his jacket and sneakers and thundered down the stairs.

“Sorry,” Eddie whispered belatedly. “Thank you.”

“Eddie-bear, you’re sick?” Sonia’s tone went gentle. “Why didn’t you call me at work?”

“Because it wasn’t an emergency, Ma.“ Eddie pinched the bridge of his nose. “I know how you get--”

“How I get?” She snapped back, her voice ice-covered and skirting on the edge of vicious. “I get  worried about my child. Who’s obviously off doing questionable things with badly-behaved boys  and making himself ill.”

“Ma, I’m not  a child anymore,” Eddie informed her coolly. “And Richie isn’t sick. He didn’t get  me sick.”

“I’m making you an appointment with Dr. Emmett for the morning. We’ll see what he says about it.” Sonia left the room, and Eddie threw himself back onto his pillows. The last thing in the world he wanted to do was go into a doctor’s office with his mother.

 

****

 

After the standard tongue depressor and ear-scope examination, the doctor pushed his thumbs against Eddie’s throat, feeling the soft, swollen lumps that were his glands. Dr. Emmett had been Eddie’s pediatrician since he was fifteen. They’d switched doctors several times in his youth because Sonia claimed that 'they didn’t know what they were talking about'. In actuality, it was just that they were catching onto her twisted little games and she ran from them like a fugitive.

“Since you have a moderately high fever and a lack of cold symptoms, I’m confident that this is bacterial, Eddie. We’ll do a quick throat culture to confirm it and get you set up with a week of antibiotics.”

Eddie sat stiffly on the cold examining table. They’d gotten the earliest appointment available. He was half-asleep and freezing. Why were doctor’s offices kept so cold when most of the people coming in had fevers?

Sonia blustered, flapping at her chest like she was having a coronary. “Dr. Emmett, wouldn’t you say that this is an indication that Eddie needs to have his tonsils taken out?”

“No, I wouldn’t,” Dr. Emmett replied evenly. “I’m not in the business of prescribing unnecessary surgery. Your son has an isolated bacterial infection. If he had a history of chronic tonsillitis, he might  be a candidate for a tonsillectomy. But as is, he’s fine. He needs rest, Advil, fluids, and antibiotics. He’ll start feeling better after two or three days on the medication.”

“I’d like Dr. Wells to come look at my son,” Sonia stated coldly, crossing her arms. “A second opinion.”

“Ma, I think Dr. Emmett knows what he’s talking about.” Eddie’s voice was raspy and mild. He treated his mother with kid gloves, and he’d been doing it since he was a kid himself. “Can you go wait in the waiting room, please?”

“Eddie-bear, I need to BE here so that they don’t—”

“Mrs. Kaspbrak, your son is eighteen. He doesn’t need you to be in here with him, and he’s asked you to leave. Now if you’d be so kind.” The doctor opened the door to the examination room and motioned for Sonia to exit.

She glared first at Eddie, who flinched, and then at the doctor, snatching up her purse and walking heavily through the open door. Dr. Emmett shut it with a soft click and sighed, having a seat on the stool. “You’re a trooper, son. I don’t know how you put up with that.”

Eddie rubbed his eyes with both hands. He didn’t want to start crying in front of the doctor. “Practice,” he said simply.

The doctor left and the nurse came in to stick an object that resembled a Q-tip into his throat. It tickled and he almost gagged. Almost. The doctor came back and said words that were familiar. Medicine, prescription, full-course, keep your fever down, rest, no schoolwork, take care of yourself, good luck with your mother, patience of a saint.

****

 

-

Richie

|8:45[ baby baby cute cute I love u sm ]

|9:26[ i hope ur getting lots of sleep and feeling better already ]

|11:34[ i miss u sm ]

|1:45[ :*(*** baby ]

|2:15[ if sonia took ur phone ima sock her in the lip YA HEARD THAT MRS K? ]

|3:12[ this is not about me this is not about me this is not about me ]

|3:13[ oh hey eds, didn’t see u there. just trying to keep myself from thinking the bad thoughts ]

 

-

Bev

|1:30[ we miss u, feel better :( ]

 

-

Big Bill

|1:36[ hope sonia isn’t driving u insane. get well soon <3 ]

-

Stan

|1:38[ Do you have mono? You know, because you suck face 24/7? ]

|1:40[ Just kidding. Hope you feel better soon. ]

-

Mike

|1:45[ idk if ur still mad at me, but feel better eddie wlysm ]

-

Ben

|1:50[ drink juice and don’t watch too much tv ]

|1:54[ except if maury is on, watch that and tell me who was the father ]

-

 

 

 ****

Eddie woke to the sounds of his laptop keys clacking. He blinked across the room. Richie was seated at his desk with a pencil in his mouth. “You better not be downloading porn onto my computer,” he croaked, making Richie jump.

His boyfriend turned around sharply, pulling the pencil out of his mouth. “Heeyyy, Spaghetti. How are you feeling?” He chuckled, jerking a thumb at the computer. ”I’m not downloading anything; I’m doing your math homework.”

“Richie that keyboard is all covered with germs.”

“It's a good thing I’m not afraid of germs.”

Eddie sat up and grabbed his phone off the night table. 4:38. Still early, his mother wasn’t home yet. He frowned, realizing that Richie’d gotten into his house without being let in. “How’d you get in here?”

“Scaled the drain pipe,” Richie replied casually, eyes back on the computer screen.

Eddie smirked, cocking his head. “You’re full of shit.”

“Yeah, I am." Richie grinned, pointing at the window. "I brought over Went’s ladder and climbed up. You should really lock your window though, kid. Like I’m glad I made it in, but so could a burglar or a creepo.”

“You’re not at rehearsal,” Eddie said slowly. "Baby, you missed two rehearsals for no reason."

“Parish said I could leave early," Richie assured him gently. "And it's not for no reason, it's important.”

Eddie shook his head, rolling his eyes. “Sneaking into my window to do my homework isn’t more important than rehearsal three days before opening night.”

“Not your homework, Spaghetti. You," Richie insisted. "I came to see you, to make sure you’re okay.” He got up from the chair and came over to the bed. There was a thick stapled bundle of paper in his hand. He took a seat on the edge right in front of Eddie and kissed his forehead, lingering his lips there. “Not as hot, good deal. You need to take medicine? I'll get it for you.”

"No, I don't have to take it 'til I eat dinner. But thanks, baby." Eddie'd never had someone be so genuinely sweet and loving to him when he was sick. It made him warm from the inside out, and he didn't know what to make of it. Normally when he was ill, he just wanted people to leave him alone. His mother's smothering, hovering, selfish presence loomed over him, made him guilty. But Richie oozed pure caring.

His eyes were soft on Eddie's face, checking him, like he was scanning to make sure he was really okay. Then he shook his head quick and bopped himself on the forehead. "Oh yeah, here, this too." He handed the paper over to Eddie. “Parish gave it to me for you. It’s some take home extra credit thing. He said if you do well on the final and complete this he’d be willing to bump your mark up.”

“Really?” Eddie looked down at it. There were pages of looseleaf stapled to the back of it haphazardly. They were all filled in with Richie's chicken-scratch writing.

“Yeah, and I uh--” Richie bit his lip, sheepish. “I did the problems for you already. I made enough mistakes that he wouldn’t think I did it. You just have to copy it in your handwriting.” He cringed, ran a hand through his hair. “I’m not trying to patronize you or anything, just didn’t think you should have to worry about this when you’re sick.”

Eddie smiled down at the paper. “Thank you.”

“No problemo, sick Spaghetti monster," Richie said brightly. "So you didn’t answer me, how do you feel?”

“Okay?” He shrugged. “It still feels like I’m swallowing razor blades, but I’m not aching all over anymore.”

“Baby you’re making my heart ache,” Richie moaned, reaching out his hand to finger comb Eddie’s hair back from his face. “What did the doctor say?”

“I have tonsillitis. He gave me antibiotics.” Eddie sighed and closed his eyes, nuzzling his head against Richie’s hand. "My mother tried to get him to give me a tonsillectomy and he shut her down.”

Richie screwed up his face, confused. “Why would she do that?”

“Because she gets off on having a sick kid,” Eddie said bitterly, shaking his head.

“Uh, what?” Richie laid on his side and propped his head up on his elbow. “What are you talking about?”

Eddie sighed again, deeply. He’d made it this far with Richie without telling him the whole story about Sonia. She’d gotten better over the years--mostly because Eddie took a stand for himself--but an improved present didn’t erase a painful past. “When I was a little kid, my mother used to take me to the doctor more than I needed to go. I didn’t know it then but I understand now that it was some kind of attention-seeking-thing for her. Y’know?”

Richie shook his head. His eyes were pained and disgusted. “No, I don’t  know, thankfully. You mean like she used you to get sympathy from doctors? I heard of that stuff on TV before.”

“Yeah, exactly like that. When I was fourteen my pharmacist took me aside and told me that my medicine was placebo, that my mom was making me think I was sick when I wasn’t at all.” He sat up a bit and squared his shoulders. “I confronted her, and ever since then she’s been different.” Eddie broke eye contact and stared at the bedspread. “Different-ish,” he added. “She mostly ignores me now, unless I’m actually sick. She used to smother me all the time.”

“Eddie, why didn’t you tell me this before?” Richie’s voice was whisper-quiet, soothing.

“I don’t know. I don’t like talking about it.” He watched Richie, who was obviously thinking hard, looking down at Eddie’s bare foot on the bed in front of him. “I used to live in a constant state of panic. That I was already sick, or getting sick, or about to get sick. I don’t live like that that anymore, and it’s better. Telling people about how it used to be doesn’t change it. I don’t need pity or anything.”

Richie sat up quickly and took both of Eddie’s hands. “Baby, I love you. I don’t pity you. You’re so fucking strong. I whine about my parents and they’re God damned saints compared to your shit-fuck of a mother.”

“I love you, too. And yeah. They are,” Eddie agreed, cringing. He took a deep breath. What he was about to say might be harsh. “When you talked about your parents and said they were neglectful, I felt bad for you. Then when I met them, I realized that they were trying their best. Maybe your mom doesn’t give you exactly what you need specifically,” Eddie smiled sadly and shook Richie’s hands playfully. “Because you need a lot,  Richie. But at least she’s trying.”

“I feel like a real scum-bag,” Richie mumbled, embarrassed. “I’m sorry for ever complaining.”

“No, I don’t need you to be sorry for anything at all. But would you…” He trailed off, covered his eyes with his hand shyly.

Eddie didn't look over at him, but heard the smirk in Richie's voice. “Would I what?”

“Would you sing to me again?” Eddie whispered, squeezing his eyes shut. He peeked at Richie with one eye to find him smiling sappily.

Richie took off his glasses and tossed them onto the night table. “Lay down, baby.” Eddie did, and Richie was right behind him again, just like the previous afternoon, breathing him in and snuggling against his neck and kissing his hair. He whispered against the shell of Eddie's ear. “If we fall asleep and Sonia comes squawking in here at me I’m gonna bop her in the nose harder than you hit Patrick.”

“Promise?” Eddie giggled, squeezing Richie’s hands that were clasped in front of his chest. Richie sang for him. His voice was warm butter and it melted down over Eddie, coating him; protective. He swam in that song; lyrics unfamiliar but close to his heart anyway.

 

 I want it

It's a crime

That he is not around most of the time

 

The way he shows me I'm his and he is mine

Open hand or closed fist would be fine

The blood is rare and sweet as cherry wine

 

His fight and fury’s fiery

Oh but he loves

Like sleep to the freezing

Sweet and right and merciful

I'm all but washed

In the tide of his breathing

And it's worth it, it's divine

I have this some of the time

 

The way he shows me I'm his and he is mine

Open hand or closed fist would be fine

The blood is rare and sweet as cherry wine

Chapter Text

Friday

angellove

|8:45[ good morning! I love you, have a great day :) ]

|8:46[ youre going to be so amazing tonight ]

 

<3 baby

|9:15[ BABYYYYYY OMG SO CUUUTE THASNK U ASKSDFLDAWLOK ]

|9:15[ ILSYM UR FUCKING KILLING ME I MISSU HOW DO U FEEL?? ]

 

angellove

|9:35[ lol Richie shh breathe. fuckin caps  ]

|9:35[ I feel okay, no fever now. I prob could’ve come to school today but yknow ]

|9:36[ sonia wont allow it ]

 

<3 baby

|9:38[ shes gonna let u come tonite tho right? ]

 

angellove

|9:50[ I’ll be there ]

 

<3 baby

|9:51[ :D <3<3 !! :* ]

|9:54[ btw i made this for u Spaghetti Songs ]

 

-

His heart was warm and full. Eddie laid on his bed listening to that playlist for the rest of the day, thinking about the time early on, when Sadie informed him that she could tell Richie liked him. Her brother listened to sappy music, this same music, probably, and that gave him a little giddy buzz in the pit of his belly. He wanted so badly to hold Richie, be held by him. Later.

 

****

 

He thought absently that it must have been a joke. It wasn't happening to him; she couldn't do this.

Not tonight.

Eddie felt like there was vice around his neck, squeezing the life out of him. Forcing himself to pull in deep, measured inhales, he focused on the length of them to calm down, just like Richie taught him. He refused to give his mother the satisfaction she'd get out of watching him suck on his inhaler.   

There were urges to scream into her face and break things. Punch a hole through the wall. Throw the remote into the center of that stupid TV she loved so much. Take all her magazines off the coffee table and tear them to shreds. Get up and run as fast as he could out the front door with no shoes on. Instead he just sat there on the ottoman in front of her, staring down at the carpet. Eddie knew he was trapped.

He willed himself to push out an angry tone from his diaphragm; something menacing. All he could muster was the whine of a sad, hoarse little boy. “Ma, I have to go. This is so important to me.”

“I’m sorry Eddie-bear, but the answer is no.” Sonia crossed her arms. She was larger-than-life in her armchair and her word was law. “It’s for your own good,” she informed him, incredulous. “You obviously don’t care about your health, so I have to.”

“I’ve been taking medicine for three days. My fever is gone now.” He stood up so he was looking down at her, but her stare alone could crush him like an empty soda can. His mother had never laid a hand on him but she beat him up in other ways; ways people couldn’t see unless they were really trying. “You heard what the doctor said, that I should feel better by—”

“Have you listened to your own voice?” She shook her head, and sucked her teeth. “Feeling somewhat improved  doesn’t mean you are well enough to go gallivanting off—”

Gallivanting?” Eddie’s voice went thin and high. It cracked. “I’m just going to be sitting still in a chair at the school for a couple hours.”

“You aren’t going anywhere tonight.” She picked up the remote. It was the final word and she wasn’t budging. “End of story.”

“You can’t force me to stay here. Technically I’m an adult.” His tone was meek and shaky; he didn’t even believe the words coming out of his mouth. Adult. Yeah okay, Eddie.

“Oh really?” She scoffed, mocking him. “Do you pay bills? Can you survive out on your own in the street, Edward? NO. You can’t.” The TV clicked on. “I’m not going to keep arguing in circles with you.” His mother’s eyes left him. They were glued to the screen. “We have nothing else to talk about. Go upstairs and rest in your bed for the night.”

“BED? IT’S FUCKING SEVEN PM,” he shouted as loud as he could as he stomped up the stairs. He heard her screaming his name, grievously offended by his profanity. Good.

After slamming his bedroom door and kicking it a few times—hurting his bare toes in the process--he sobbed on his bed until his head was stuffed up and his voice was even more ruined than it began. He ached for Richie; his sweet freckled face and his mellow voice and his big, warm hands that comforted and stabilized. But Richie was already at school preparing himself for the show. Eddie couldn’t pile any stress onto his boyfriend right before a performance. Not couldn’t; wouldn’t.

As his sobs trailed off into whimpers, an incessant thought materialized in his brain. It blossomed and floated and spread wide like a lily on the surface of a lake. What would Richie do?  Well, Richie would tell Sonia to go fuck herself, but more practically, Richie would do whatever was necessary. Richie would get the fuck out of here.   A whoosh of feral energy flowed through Eddie. He hopped off the bed and tiptoed to the window, holding his breath as he slowly slid it open. It was old and rickety and squeaked, especially in the cold.

The evening was bright and chilly for mid-December and flurries fluttered in the breeze; pretty against the glow from the street lamps. He grimaced down at the narrow awning outside his window; it was dusted with crystallized powder and it shined. Slippery.  The snow had just begun collecting on the lawn below. He thought wildly about just climbing out and leaping off. Tuck and roll, right? People do that.  But there was nothing to hold onto on the ledge, and the drop was too high for his short legs. He licked his lips and looked over at Richie’s house across the street.

His mother would hear every little creak and crack his footfalls made against the floor. He wanted to rush to escape like the house was on fire, but he moved painfully slow, collecting clothes and his medication and anything he’d need to stay overnight. The odds were good that he wouldn’t want to risk coming back until Sonia had a good stretch of time to calm down.

He threw on the stealthiest clothing he had: black skinny jeans and a black sweater and his red sneakers—which were not stealthy, but had the best traction. A quick glance in the mirror had him cringing. His face was blotchy and swollen from crying, but underneath that the illness left him withered and washed out. Product-free and messy, his hair was a fluffy wreck. Despite all of it he knew that Richie would be happy to see him in that auditorium no matter what he looked like. He was ready.

His hands shook and he chewed on the inside of his lip as he opened up Instagram and searched for Sadie Tozier. He found a private account, called theeversades. The icon was a picture of a Peppa Pig meme. Eddie wasn’t totally sure if it was her, but he took a shot.

 

-

ekasp1999

{ Sadie I think this is you. it’s eddie. I need your help }

{ I hope you read this really really soon. please answer me asap }

{ are you home? this is the only way I knew to reach you }

 

theeversades

{ its me. im home for now but were going to the play in a lil while what do u need }

 

ekasp1999

{ I need you to get your dads ladder from the garage and bring it over here. but be really quiet }

 

theeversades

{ do u also need help moving a body? u shouldnt be talking about this stuff on IG yk }

 

ekasp1999

{ sadie, I fucking swear I don’t have time for jokes. Just DO IT }

 

theeversades

{ k fine maniac, relax }

 

ekasp1999

{ bring it to the front left window of my house okay? And be QUIET really quiet }

 

theeversades

{ uh yeah I can read }

 

ekasp1999

{ tysm really }

 

theeversades

{ np }

 

-

****

 

Sadie barely made it across the street with the ladder. The hunk of metal was taller than her and she struggled and lurched to balance it, almost slipping in her flats and toppling over in the street. She was fancied up to go to the play, wearing a dress and no over coat. Her stubborn determination came through in the end, and Eddie was grateful for it.

He watched her without speaking, motioning his arms and mouthing instructions like a flight conductor on the tarmac and he wasn’t sure if she understood, but she’d come to his rescue without asking questions so he didn’t think she really needed to. Somehow, Sadie managed to get the ladder upright and leaned against the house without making a racket. She exaggeratedly shrugged up at him and made a little walking motion on one flattened hand with the fingers of the other. He understood that.  Well, now what dummy? You gonna climb out, or what?

Right, right, right, right. I actually have to do this. Oh fuck shit fuck.

Eddie held up a finger to her and stepped away from the window to dim the lights in his room and lock the door. He pulled on his pea coat and slung his backpack over both shoulders, steeling himself, readying himself to be brave. I’m going to climb out a window, he thought crazily and almost burst into hysterical laughter at the absurdity of it.

Sadie was on the ground, glaring up at the window, hugging her arms around her body and doing a little dance. Eddie motioned roughly for her to move further to the right, away from the sight-line of the living room. She got the hint and shifted over, though she flipped him off, mouthing,  Come on! Let’s go!

He dragged his desk chair over and stood on it so he could easily step out over the windowsill. My, but it was high up, and by far the scariest thing he’d ever done. At least when he jumped off the cliff at the quarry there was water below to catch him. The wind was cold and it whipped against him, flapping his coat and threatening to topple him over. How the fuck did Richie do this so easily?  He crouched low against the shingles and crab-walked over to the ladder, backing up to gingerly place his foot on the first rung. It was not solid, it felt like it could go clattering down to the lawn right underneath his weight, but he went down it anyway.

When he reached the ground, Sadie bopped him on the shoulder. “What the fuck, Eddie,” she hissed. “You didn’t tell me I was breaking you out of jail.”

SHHHHHH 

He covered her mouth with his hand, mouthing Shut up. He reached up and pulled the ladder back, and it swung down in an arc. Sadie helped him catch it as it fell, and they laid it on the side of the house, right up against the foundation to protect it from the weather. “We have to go,” he whispered and grabbed her hand. They ran across the street together.

 

****

The Toziers didn’t ask him any questions. Maggie took one look at his red face and pulled him into a hug, warm and soft. He almost started crying again, but thought about where he was headed and swallowed it back. It was going to be a good night; he was happy for Richie, and proud of him.

When they entered the school, the Toziers inched along with the crowd to go straight into the auditorium to get seats. Eddie noticed Mike amidst the chaos that was the main hallway. He was in full costume, sitting on the floor with his back leaned up against the lockers and his hands hanging over his upturned knees. Eddie turned to Sadie. “Uh, I’ll catch up okay? Save me a seat next to you.”

Mike looked up as Eddie approached. “Hey, Eddie. Are you feeling better?” His voice was subdued.

“Hey.” Eddie leaned against the lockers next to Mike and slid down to sit cross-legged beside him. “Yeah, mostly. What are you doing out here? Don’t actors do like some huddle or something before you go on?” He glanced up at the clock on the wall. Curtain time was in twenty minutes.

“I just needed a few minutes to myself.” Mike had powder in his hair to make him appear older, and between that, the fake wire-rimmed glasses, and the brown hounds tooth suit he wore, he did. “I told Bev.” He glanced sidelong at Eddie, flapping one of his hands. “I wanted to get it out of the way before I went on tonight. Just so it wasn’t plaguing my brain.”

Eddie widened his eyes. He clasped his hands in his lap and nodded down at the floor. “How did it go?”

Mike shook his head, his expression bitter. “She turned around and told me about… the thing you already know.” He puffed air out of his mouth, making his lips vibrate. “Now I wish I had kept my mouth shut.” He took off the lens-free glasses and rubbed a hand down his face tiredly.

“You both made a mistake,” Eddie started gently. “Maybe you can get past—”

“What Bev did is different than what I did, Eddie,” Mike stated, firm. “Ben is our friend.”

“Greta is sort of our friend,” Eddie said uncertainly. “She’s Richie’s friend, anyway. Friend adjacent, at least.”

“Greta doesn’t sit at our lunch table every day.” Mike folded his fingers together and toyed with them, studying them.

“She doesn’t,” Eddie agreed lightly. The crowd in the hallway was slowly trickling into the wide-open auditorium door. It was almost time for the show to start. “Mike, I know you’re upset, but you and Bev are both guilty.”

“Yeah. I think what I’m most upset about, is that when I told her, she seemed relieved. She wasn’t mad at all.”

Eddie licked his lips. He didn’t want this to ruin their group’s dynamic, but he had a feeling that Mike was too hurt. Beverly would get over it easily, and maybe that was what hurt the most. Not the cheating, but that she was cavalier about it. “Do you think you’ll work it out?

“I don’t know,” Mike sighed. “We still have to talk more.”

“Well no matter what happens, we’ll still be friends.” Eddie patted Mike’s shoulder reassuringly. “Promise.”

Mike grinned and nodded. “Thanks Eddie. I should get back there before they think I deserted the show.”

“Okay,” Eddie smiled. “Break a leg.”

Mike got up and walked away, leaving Eddie sitting there in his own relief. It was out in the open and things might not go back to normal, but they could go forward. That was most important. Progress.

 

****

 

The production was fantastic. Their sets looked professional, and all the actors brought their A-game. The crowd laughed and applauded, hooting and cringing and groaning at the gory parts. Eddie had to keep reminding himself that it was Ben working the plant puppet, because he was hidden away out of sight. Mike was hilarious as the grousing Mr. Mushnik, and Eddie stared at his face to look for signs that he was upset, finding none. Eddie was in awe of that, because when he was upset there was no hiding it. 

Greta, Sally and Betty were energetic and sassy as the chorus trio. They had more singing parts than anyone, and Eddie was continuously shocked by Greta’s ability to belt. He never expected it from looking at her. Marcia Fadden squeaked and fluttered demurely as Audrey, and when she and Richie kissed, Eddie repeated a mantra in his head that he’d prepared. 

Acting. It’s just acting. Richie could’ve hooked up with Hannah and he didn’t. He loves me. 

Richie was simply too handsome to play Seymour, though he was amazing in the role. They’d tried to nerd him up with costuming. He wore a brown flannel shirt and a brown sweater vest that were too big for him with straight-legged khaki pants that hung strangely on his tall shape. They’d pinned back his hair to make it appear shorter and he had his own clunky, over-magnified eighth-grade glasses over his face. Eddie still thought he looked beautiful, especially when he sang. 

Eddie kept sneaking glances over at the Toziers to see her honest reaction to Richie’s performance. Sadie smiled softly when her brother sang, while Maggie cried at least twice: Richie’s solo in Skid Row (Downtown) got her choked up and then the water works started again during Suddenly Seymour. Went may or may not have fallen asleep three times. Eddie wasn’t sure, but he stifled giggles thinking about it. At least the old man was present--physically if not consciously--and that’s what counted. 

He already knew first-hand how good Richie was, so Eddie was most impressed by Patrick, who seemed to be getting the hardest laughs from the audience. His voice was rich baritone when he sang and he and Richie played off each other naturally as rivals. Richie as the meek and shuddery submissive Seymour fucked with Eddie in a big way. He was and wasn’t his boyfriend for those three hours. 

The show closed to a standing ovation. During the curtain call, Greta gave Richie a shove so that he stepped forward in front of the rest of the cast, and the crowd roared for him. Eddie screamed as loud as he could with his mangled voice, and he heard high-pitched whistling and screams as one wave of solid noise that pierced into his eardrums, clouding his hearing. 

 

****

 

Eddie waited next to the stage for him, and Richie came out twenty minutes after the show ended. He’d already changed into his own clothes but he still had on those silly old glasses. His hair was unpinned; loose and crazy and frizzed out. “You were so amazing baby, I love—” Eddie squeaked as Richie immediately picked him up and swung him around, legs dangling. He planted his mouth right onto Eddie’s neck like it was a corncob, grumbling out sloppy eating noises. “Baby, I love you, but fucking cut it out.” Eddie pushed at Richie’s head, squirming to get away but Richie wasn’t having it. 

“Eddie Spaghetti, I missed you SO MUCH. Just let me bite you a little while.” 

“Stop slobbering on my neck!” 

“But it’s my big night,” Richie whined, though he did as he was told and stopped slobbering. He hauled Eddie up over his shoulder instead.

Eddie hung over head-first, looking at the floor. He sighed tiredly, going nasal from the change in his equilibrium. “I’ve been through a lot to get here, and you’re making me regret it.” 

“Why?” Richie set Eddie down on the floor. “What happened?” 

“I’ll tell you later.” 

“Okay,” Richie said reluctantly. He stepped forward and ducked his head down to kiss Eddie on the mouth, but Eddie turned his face away cringing. 

“You could still get sick, Richie. it’s only been four days.” 

Eddie!  I don’t care about that. Please kiss me?” 

“But you have two more performances.” The play ran Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If opening night was any indication, they were going to be making a lot of money for the school and if they lost Richie they’d be taking a big hit, even with his understudy filling in. 

“Yeah, and if I get sick right this very second it’s probably not going to be an issue for like three days.” Richie frowned sadly. “Do I have to get down on my knees and beg you?” 

“No.” Eddie stood on his tiptoes to kiss his boyfriend, like he meant it. He heard someone clear their throat. The Toziers were there, waiting to congratulate Richie, and Eddie stepped back, sheepish. 

“Hell of a show, son, really something.” Went boomed. “The writer sure hates dentists, though.” 

"Yeah, Dad." Richie grinned toothily. “Sounds like my dude Ashman has a brain." 

Richard,” his mother warned briefly. But then she softened and stepped forward to hug her son. “You were just wonderful, really.” She pulled back quickly and folded her hands in front of herself. Eddie smiled sadly at her. She loved Richie, but she didn't seem to know how to show it just right.  

“Thanks, Mom.” 

“You were really good,” Sadie mumbled, eyes on the floor. 

Richie reached out and grabbed her by her shoulder, pulling her into a tight hug. He rested his cheek on the top of her head. “Thanks, Sades.” 

“Ugh, God  I shouldn’t have told you.” Sadie moaned dramatically and made a disgusted face, but she wrapped her arms around her brother’s waist and hugged him back.

“What say we all go out for a nice dinner, my treat.” Went was jovial, all smiles. “Rich, ask your friends if they want to come with.” 

"Really? Is this like an anything-goes-free-for-all or do you mean like two friends?" 

Maggie smiled up at Went. "Anyone interested in joining us, Richie." 

"Fuckin-A--" 

"Richard."

 

****

 

Almost everyone came out to eat with them--well everyone who was anyone that mattered to them, anyway. Ben and Bill and Stanley and Greta joined them at the Derry House restaurant. Beverly and Mike had more important things to worry about that evening, and Eddie understood. Richie pouted a little bit over their refusal, but Eddie whispered to him "I'll tell you everything later."

 After dinner, Richie brought Eddie back home, smirking at the fact that they had to climb into the window. Sonia hadn't messaged Eddie once all evening, and he assumed she had no idea that he'd even left. They took off their jeans and spooned under the blankets. Eddie chattered softly about how Sadie broke him out of 'jail,' --to which Richie chuckled fondly--and about Bev and Mike's situation.

 "Baby, you knew all that and kept it a secret? You're the best friend. I would've blabbed to you immediately."  When Eddie yawned and his eyelids got heavy, Richie set an alarm for five in the morning, whispering an explanation. "So I can get out tomorrow before Sonia makes us the top news story. The headline would be: 'Boys In Love, Murdered In Cold Blood.' Sub header: 'A small town rocked to its core.' Witness statement: 'They deserved it.' - Stanley Uris"

They snuggled and petted, and Eddie whispered to Richie about how proud he was of him, so talented, so beautiful. He kissed his cheeks and his eyes and tugged softly at his messy hair, and Richie melted for him, shy and self-conscious, "Naw, I was okay. Nothin' special. But thank you, baby." They listened to Spaghetti Songs low, the music tinny coming out of Richie's phone speaker, kissing deeply and lazily; germs could go fuck themselves.

 

 Stay a while

 Let me hold you

Stay a while 

'Til I've told you, oh 

Of the love that I feel tonight 

Stay a while 

What's your hurry? 

Stay a while 

'Cause I worry, oh 

Any time that you're out of sight 

I hate to see you go 

Tell you what I'll do, I'll be good to you 

I'll make you glad that you are mine

Chapter Text

“The Flash just isn’t as hot in flat print,” Richie mumbled thoughtfully, squinting down at the page with his glasses pushed up into his hair like a headband. 

Eddie looked over at him and grinned. They were laying side-by-side on their bellies, reading comic books on Richie’s bed. “You think the Flash is hot?” He kicked his bare feet up behind him and turned pages lazily, not really paying attention to the story.

“Not the character on his own, but…” Richie huffed a little laugh and shook his head fast. “Never mind.”

“Wait, uh-uh. You have to tell me now.” He closed the cover of his comic and leaned his cheek on his hand, smirking at Richie

Richie glanced around himself, like he was checking to see if anyone was listening, even though they were alone in his bedroom--alone in the whole house, or so Richie claimed. It was the middle of the afternoon on the first day of winter break. His parents would be out until early evening, and Sadie was off sledding with Georgie Denbrough. “Grant Gustin”  he whispered, and held a finger up to his lips.

Eddie pitched forward onto his face. His cheek pressed against the cool cover of Deadpool and Cable,  and he cackled until he teared up. “You have to be kidding me,” he moaned, wiping tears. 

“Hey, rude.  Shut up!” Richie whined in a small voice, offended. He slid his glasses back over his eyes and sighed so long it ended with a growl. “When I was a kid I really liked Glee.  And not only did it make me realize that I wanted to do musical theater, but it also helped me figure out, y’know. That I like dick.”

“Ohhh,” Eddie breathed in recognition, pushing himself back up on his elbows. He screwed up his mouth and nodded. “Okay. I get it now.” But then he frowned, questioning. “Grant Gustin was so mean on Glee.”

“Uh, chucking stones from that glass house are we, little one?” Richie grinned and poked Eddie in the shoulder, giving him a little shove. “You’ve been nicer lately, but you’re mean, too. I have a type, and it obviously isn't a physical one.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Eddie whispered absently, blinking down at the bedspread. “Hannah seemed kind of mean.” 

“That’s because she is  mean.”  Richie went back to his reading. "Like a snake."

“Hmmn.” Eddie continued to stare down in front of himself with his eyes unfocused, thinking. He didn't want to sit there analyzing Richie, but he couldn't help but think about Maggie, and the way she scolded Richie more often than she praised him. Eddie knew better than anyone the ways that parents could fuck up their kids. If Richie had a tendency to be attracted to people with dismissive streaks, maybe it was because he thought that disapproval and love went hand in hand. He felt Richie's eyes on his face. "I was just thinking, that you might have like...a subconscious association between attraction and being treated like shit. "

Oh, nonono,”  Richie exclaimed, frantic. “Are you about to get Freudian on me with this? If you start talking about how I secretly want to fuck my sister I’m gonna drag you outside and bury you in the snow.”

Richie,”  Eddie shrieked, his face horrified. He made a little gagging noise. “That’s the most disgusting thing you’ve ever said, and that’s saying a lot.”

“I’m just saying— Because she’s mean to me!” Richie’s voice got high and accusatory. “Come on, you were thinking it!”

Eddie laughed incredulously. “I was thinking that you associate love with people treating  you badly, not that you actually want  to...Ugh, God I can't even say it."

“Well I don’t  want to.” He tossed his comic book away from himself, and it hit the headboard with a thunk.  "At all."

“Thanks for clearing that up,” Eddie muttered sarcastically. He wished he had a bucket of bleach on hand to wash out his brain.

Richie cringed, hanging his head down into his hands. “Did I just ruin everything?”

“No,” Eddie admitted resignedly. “If you being gross was a deal breaker I would have told you to fuck off two months ago.” He heard Richie smile, the sound of his lips slightly smacking on his teeth because he was cheesing so hard.

“What if I told you that I wish you  had a sister so I could secretly want to fuck her?  Your mom just doesn’t do it for me anymore.”

Eddie closed his eyes, shaking his head weakly. “Do you lay in bed at night and think about shit like this or is it just spur of the moment word vomit?”

“Oh, sweet little Eds,” Richie cooed sympathetically, bumping his shoulder into Eddie’s. “You don’t even want to know  what I think about when I lay in bed at night.”

“Truer words never spoken.” Eddie flipped pages, pretending to read, but Richie’s statement about private bedtime thoughts dragged his mind back to something Hannah said when they were at that party in Brooklyn. In fact, the closer he got to Richie, the more he thought about it. His mind wandered to it when they were lying in bed, spooning with no pants on and he felt Richie expanding behind him, growing excited just for  him. Those times when Eddie knew exactly what was happening but did nothing about it, didn’t even mention it.

It was obvious to Eddie that Hannah and Richie used to be lovers, though they hadn’t discussed it in detail. Her attitude and body language screamed it. She so, so, casually offered to take him into the bathroom like it was second nature to her, and she had asked Richie if he was going crazy  without sex, as though she understood the intricacies of his appetite better than Eddie ever could. Was he truly going crazy? Did he feel incredibly frustrated? If so, he sure hid it well.

That morning, Eddie’d crossed the street shortly after he woke up and they’d spent half the day reading and listening to music. Richie hadn’t tried to initiate anything with him beyond a kiss hello. It might have been because they were comfortable and had fun just sitting quietly together, but maybe it was something else. Maybe it meant that Richie didn’t want to work himself into a frenzy when there was no chance of letting the frenzy fly.  

At that very moment, he and Richie laid together on a bed in an empty house with all the time in the world to do whatever they wanted to, but instead they were talking about fucking people’s sisters and the Flash. Eddie knew that he--suddenly and totally--wanted to let Richie touch him. He felt silly, like there had to be some speech leading up to it, some fanfare-laden explanation, and he started cautiously. “Richie?”

“Yes, angel?”

He tried hard to relax his cheeks, but he knew it had to look like he just sucked on a lemon. “Can I ask you something?”

“Uh huh,” Richie pushed his glasses up on his nose and glanced over. “Oof, based on your face, I’d wager you want to ask something not good .”

“I’ve been thinking about what Hannah said to you and--”

“Ooooh boy,” Richie drawled, tensing up his face nervously. “See this is why you shouldn’t go around being a little snooper, because then your head’s messed up over bullshit that doesn’t really matter.”

Eddie sighed because Richie was right, but he kept going with his point. He wanted to talk about it. “You had sex with her, right?”

“Yeeeah,” Richie said slowly, his tone telegraphing what’s your point?  “I did. Two years ago.”

“But she asked you—” Eddie shook his head, forced it out. “If you were going crazy. Without sex.”

“She did  ask that,” he agreed brightly. “You’re a good listener.”

Eddie took a deep breath and held it. Let it out slow. “So, how  are you? Not going crazy?”

“’How?’ he asks me,” Richie hummed, smiling. “You want me to draw a diagram, Eds?” He rolled on his side and propped his head up on his elbow. “I jerk off every morning and night, and I spend my days walking around with a perma-boner." His shoulder shrugged up to his ear. "It is what it is. Have you heard me complain yet?”

“No. You haven’t. But you obviously would rather  be, I mean— Doing things with me— And if you want to, y'know, do something we-”

“Wait, woah. Wait-wait-wait woah-woah. Are you talking about this right now because you’re thinking about—” Richie’s eyebrows shot up and he rocked himself closer to Eddie, running a warm hand down over his shoulders to the small of his back. “Because I’m on board. You don’t have to ask me anything; just say the word.”

Rolling over onto his back so that Richie was looking down at him, Eddie grinned. His boyfriend's brown eyes were excited and shimmery behind his glasses, like a kid on Christmas morning. “Say what word, Richie?”

“Anything in English that indicates that you want me to worship your dick with my mouth,” Richie said simply, petting Eddie’s hair softly. “I can also wing it with Spanish.”

Eddie squeezed his eyes shut, wincing, just came out with it. “I want you to worship my dick,”

“Holy shit. Lift Off,” Richie whispered. He leaned down and kissed Eddie tenderly, holding onto his face with both hands. Eddie parted his lips, breathing into Richie’s mouth and curling their tongues together languidly.

It was different than all the other times they’d kissed. Richie tasted the same, sweet and sort of minty with a tinge of nicotine, and he smelled vaguely like coconut and fabric softener and sandalwood aftershave, but he felt  different. He was softer; less urgent. As though previously he tried to soak up as much as he could in a limited amount of time, and now he was just cruising, taking the scenic route. He stopped his deep kissing every so often to peck a single kiss to Eddie’s lower lip, letting their noses brush. It was passionate and loving, and it ignited a fire that started low in Eddie’s belly and spread down.

Eddie was a passenger every other time they’d made out, letting Richie set the pace and getting carried along by the inertia of his speed. He was afraid to take the wheel, because if he got too big for his britches and riled Richie up only to back off, he’d feel like a little tease. That afternoon they were kissing with a destination already planned, and Eddie wanted to steer. He kept his lips moving against Richie’s and turned on his side, hooking his leg over his boyfriend's hip, pulling him closer.

“Fuck Eds,” Richie muttered, muffled against Eddie’s lips. “You know my birthday isn’t until March, right?” He rolled on his back suddenly, hauling Eddie up onto himself in one quick motion, so Eddie was straddling him.

“It’s not your birthday; it’s just Tuesday,” Eddie whispered playfully. He bent at the waist and kissed slowly along Richie’s jawline and down his neck, making Richie’s breathing go jagged. The sound of those little puffs of air close to his ear made Eddie tingle, and he opened his mouth wider, tensing his lips hard--biting Richie without teeth--along the chords on the side of his throat.

Richie let out a little whimper. “Man, I fucking love Tuesdays,” he whispered huskily.

Turning his head to suck on the other side of Richie’s neck, Eddie sunk his teeth only slightly, dragging them along Richie’s soft skin. He whispered between nibbles. “You taste…good everywhere. Do you…know that you do?”

Richie swallowed and he looked like he might choke on it. He watched Eddie like he'd never seen him before in his life, studying his every move. “I only know,” he breathed, voice shaking, “what you tell me, baby.”

He kissed down the center of Richie’s throat, pulling down the collar of his shirt to lick over his collarbone experimentally. “You taste as good as you look--” He sat up and put both his hands under Richie’s shirt, peeling it up, and Richie quickly rocked with it, putting his arms over his head and shifting so Eddie could pull it up and over. He looked beautiful laying there: his skin porcelain except for the blooming blush in his cheeks and at the base of his neck, hair spread out in a fan, lips wet and pink and parted. “--And you look perfect. Take off your glasses so I can see your whole face.”

“I wanna see you  though.” Richie licked his lips, obviously conflicted. He ran his hands under the hem of Eddie’s shirt, tickly around his waist and Eddie shifted his hips forward, putting a little pressure against Richie beneath him. Richie gasped and squinted his eyes, arching up into Eddie tentatively. “Mmn, holy shit, Eds. Take off your shirt for me?” Eddie obliged, tossing it on the floor and immediately faltered. He felt self-conscious right away; all up in the air on display. The discomfort must’ve shown in his face, because Richie sat up to meet him, kissing him slowly, warm hands massaging across his shoulders and back. He thumbed over Eddie’s cheek. “Don't be shy, baby. You’re so beautiful.”

“No,” Eddie whispered coyly, dropping his chin. “You are.”

“We can both be beautiful,” Richie teased, rocking Eddie back and forth. “This isn’t like Highlander  or whatever. 'There can be only one.'”

“I have no idea what that is,” Eddie admitted, grinning. “Can we lay back down?”

“Whatever you want, baby.” Richie took off his glasses and reached back to put them on the night table. "Wanna take our pants off first?"

"Okay." They stood briefly to remove their jeans and Richie watched Eddie blindly, smiling softly at his briefs. 

Laying down on their sides facing one another, they started kissing again, and Eddie's lips were nearly numb but he didn't want to stop feeling Richie's mouth on his. It was the most he’d seen and felt of Richie, and Eddie studied him, taking him in. His boxers were brightly colored and too big for him. He had thick, hairy thighs that were as long as Eddie’s whole arm. The skin on his back was smooth and soft and Eddie ran his hands all over it as they kissed, his fingers especially drawn to the hollow just above the curve of Richie’s ass and the little tuft of hair there. Richie noticed him lingering there and whispered against Eddie’s lips. “You like that part?”

“I like,” Eddie whispered back between kisses, “all your parts.” Richie’s big hand slipped down Eddie’s side, past his waist, skirting over his hip and ass, down to his thigh and back up, just caressing him. The soft but firm movement left Eddie flushed and overheated from the inside.

Richie sucked on Eddie’s lower lip and raked his teeth against it. “All my parts like all your  parts, too,” he whispered, planting one last chaste kiss on Eddie's mouth. “Lay back now, sweet pea; relax.” Eddie shifted and laid back, resting his head on Richie’s pillow, watching Richie get up on his knees and come towards him on all fours, gangly yet lithe. “I wish I had my glasses on so I could see how hot you are Eds.”

"I'm not," Eddie mumbled, bashful. He turned his head to the side and stifled a giggle, covering his face with one hand. “Am I hotter than the Flash?”

“Hotter than Ironman,” Richie whispered firmly against Eddie’ neck, kissing it and sucking down the length of it. He made his way down to Eddie’s chest and cocked his head at an angle to pepper kisses along Eddie's ribs, mouthed over the side of his waist, wet and soft. Eddie panted in wobbly breaths, his skin sizzling everywhere Richie’s lips landed. Richie traveled down his body like he was taking a well-planned trip, as though he’d vowed to sample everything there was to offer along the way and didn’t want to miss out.

When his fingertips dipped just under the waistband of Eddie’s briefs and teased along it, Eddie shivered. They slid from the front near Eddie’s tummy to the sides of his hips, light and feathery. Then Richie's warm hand palmed Eddie gently, touching the firm outline of him through his underwear and Eddie felt himself twitch in response as a desperate, barely audible and uncontrollable noise left his throat. “Richie,” he whispered, and he was sure there was a ventriloquist hiding somewhere in Richie's room throwing their voice into his body, because he didn't have the power to speak anymore.

“Hmn?”

“Can you leave them on? I mean, will you take just it out when you…”

Richie smirked up at him, squinting. “Sure. I can do that.” He did just that, popping him out of his briefs through the hole, and Eddie was momentarily cold. "I hope you make that little sound again; that was fucking hot."

Eddie rolled his eyes and started to respond, but he felt himself enveloped in warm, firm wetness, and he involuntarily brought his hands up to cover his eyes, elbows splayed out. He’d never experienced anything like it and he thought his entire body might just explode like a land mine and destroy Richie’s bedroom. His breath got ragged and he whispered, babbling, unable to control the words. “Oh baby, Richie, God, Richie.”

The wetness went away, but Richie’s firm hand played with him, tugging on him loosely. “Oh, fuck yes, Eds. Say my name just like that.” His voice was throaty and thick. “But try to leave God out of it; that’s just too kinky for me.”

Eddie dropped his hands in frustration and glared down at Richie. That squinty smirk remained on his face; glasses-free but still trying to watch, and so fucking chronically  joking around. “Richie, do you really have to say shit like that right now? How the fuck am I supposed to—”

“Hey, hold on, what happened to nice Eddie? We have a deal  Eddie? Nice baby Eddie who isn’t mean and likes all my parts.” Richie kept his hand down there and replaced his mouth, moving them together in one motion, and Eddie shuddered, placing his hands back over his eyes and pressing into his face. His hips twitched up on their own and he tried nobly not to buck them. He got lost in the sensation, his mouth dropping open and his breath coming in little whiny gasps, until he heard a wet pop. “Does nice baby Eddie like my mouth?”

“I fucking SWEAR; I’m going to get up and walk out of here.”

“Oh yeah? I call your bluff.” Richie’s mouth returned and Eddie quickly abandoned all thoughts about leaving. His back arched, up, up, up and he wondered crazily if he might be levitating. He knew he was close,  and it was embarrassing because it was so quick  but he couldn’t help it, it was too much, too wet and Richie’s tongue moved and moved; soft and wide and laving and flicking.

“Richie, I’m-- It’s-- Gonna--“ Richie didn’t stop moving his mouth or his hand, and he didn’t speak, but he hummed, low and vibrating, and it surrounded Eddie everywhere, making him whine under his breath and bite down on his lower lip. He felt himself shaking all over, the skin in between his thighs twitching on its own, and then Eddie did explode, but it was contained, just inside his body--a bright flash of warm pleasure that started in his gut and went down to his toes. Eddie sunk beneath it; drowning in it. He dropped his hands limply above his head, laying prone, his breath heaving. “Sorry,” he whispered.

Richie laughed, so giddy, but almost silent. “Sorry?! That was great! What are you sorry for?” He moved up to lay beside Eddie.

“That I didn’t warn you,” Eddie whispered, wiped out. “That I just—”

“Kid, I know what ‘I’m- It’s- Gonna-‘  means.” He laughed again, running his fingers through Eddie’s hair. “Don’t worry about it. You taste like peach cobbler.”

Eddie might have blushed at that, but his face was already hot. He turned on his side and reached his arms limply for his boyfriend, who quickly inched his hips forward until their chests were flush. “Hhmmmn,” he sighed weakly, contentedly, hanging one arm over Richie.

“Oh you’re all gooey now, huh?” Richie whispered fondly, wrapping his arms around Eddie. “I made you melt into a puddle of Eddie-goo.”

“Why are you so good at literally everything?” Eddie asked, his voice awestruck and breathy. He rubbed his hand down Richie’s velvety back slowly, feeling each of his ribs on the way down. “You’re so good, baby, and patient.”

“I dunno if that’s a true statement,” Richie whispered in his ear. “I’m pretty bad at shutting the fuck up. And I overreact like it’s nobody’s business”

Eddie cupped Richie’s face, looked into his eyes. “Richie, please don’t be self-deprecating right now. I’m trying to tell you nice things.”

“I know, Eds.” He kissed Eddie’s forehead.

“I just want you to know that I love everything about you, even the things that make me mad.”

Hallmark couldn’t have said it better,” Richie chuckled. “Baby. I love you so much, too.”

Eddie was quiet for a minute, thinking. “Do you want me to put my mouth on you?”

“Are you kidding? You don’t need to ask me,” Richie insisted, taking Eddie’s chin between his thumb and fore-finger. “I’m telling you right now—open invitation. If you want it, reach out and take it. It’s yours.”

Eddie snickered softy. “I just don’t know if it’ll be any good, I’m not—”

“You know what they say about practice, right?” Richie laughed and rubbed roughly down the side of his face with one hand. “I feel like I’m a football coach about to give you a pep talk. ‘Y’know son, if you try your best, even if you fail, we’re all winners.’

 

****

 

Eddie wasn’t very good, at all,  but he didn’t fail.  It didn’t come as a surprise that Richie had a lot to say. He enthusiastically told Eddie exactly what to do, and how much he enjoyed all of it. Afterwards though, he was pliant and soft; sleepy, and sweeter than Eddie’d ever seen him. He whined petulantly when Eddie got up out of the bed to go get them something to drink, and Eddie kissed his forehead, promising to come right back.

He threw on a gigantic pullover sweatshirt of Richie’s that hung down to his knees, tugged on his jeans and headed downstairs. Richie told him that they would be the only people in the house for hours, but Maggie surprised him by being home. She was in the kitchen--seated at the island looking over a shopping circular--and smiled warmly at him. “How’s break going?”

He smiled nervously, sure that the truth was tattooed all over his face. I just had oral sex for the first time in your son’s bedroom, so you could say that break is going kind of amazing, Maggie.  “Okay. Relaxing.” He turned from her to open the fridge.

“What are you guys up to?”

He flinched into the cold air hitting his face and squeezed his eyes shut. “Listening to music. Reading comics.” It came out sounding like a question. He pulled out two bottles of water.

“Do you know what Richie wants for Christmas?”

My dick. “Uh, he hasn’t really said anything.” Eddie faced her and placed the water down on the island. He was eager to escape, but didn’t want to be frantic about it. "Maybe get him an ugly Christmas sweater. He'd probably think it's just a regular nice one."

Maggie chuckled lightly. "I'll probably end up getting him pajamas and a gift card at this rate, but funny idea. What do you  want for Christmas?”

“Me? Oh, you don’t have to get me anything.”

“No one has to  get anything for anyone," she stated evenly. "But if you tell me what you like, you’re more likely to get something…well, something you actually like. ”

Eddie grinned shyly at her. “This is something that people usually get as a gift when they don’t know what someone wants, but I love scented candles.”

“Really? What kind?”

“Christmas tree. Cookies. Anything wintery. My mother won’t let me have them because she says they bother my allergies, but I don’t have any allergies.”

Maggie frowned at that, confused. She opened her mouth to say something, but Richie's voice screeched down the stairs, interrupting her. "EDDIE SPAGHETTI, DID YOU GET LOST? YOU SAID YOU'D BE RIGHT BACK! I NEED SNUGGLES!"

Eddie covered his face with both hands. At least he didn't say anything about his dick. "Richie,"  he called, swinging his hands open like church doors and the cringe on his face filling up his voice. "Your Mom is here."

"OH. HI MOM. SORRY." A pause. "WHAT'S FOR DINNER AND CAN EDDIE STAY?"

Maggie sighed and gave Eddie a wan smile. She simply motioned a hand for him to go back upstairs and went back to looking at her circular.

"Sorry, Maggie."

"You don't have to apologize to me; I created that," Maggie replied lightly. "You can stay for dinner, hun. We're probably ordering in. Tell Richard he can fight it out with Sadie to decide."

Eddie nodded and walked away, stopping halfway between the stairs and the kitchen. He spun around and looked at Maggie. "He's really special, you know." She glanced up at Eddie, brows slightly tensed, just listening. "He might be annoying and loud sometimes, but he's sweet and smart...and kind of the best person I've ever met, actually. I just thought you should know." He turned and continued on up the stairs, smiling to himself as he got to the top and heard Richie playing his playlist.

Richie was laying on the bed, still in just his boxers, hands behind his head with his elbows splayed. "You look so fucking CUTE in my sweatshirt, it fits you like aMmph--" Eddie kissed him immediately, climbing on top of him and stretching out flat. "Shit, have I released the kraken and now it's just gonna be all-day everMmph--" He kissed Richie deeper, as passionately as he knew how to and with everything he had to offer. When Eddie pulled away, for once in his life, Richie was quiet.

Eddie licked his lips and just looked at Richie's face, appreciating him. "I don't know how to say the right thing without it sounding cheesy, or forced, but you're just so ..." 

"You, too," Richie said firmly, nodding slowly. "One hundred percent, fucking, same."

Chapter Text

Big Bill

|5:23[ what ru n richie doing later? ]

 

Eddie

|5:34[ what do you think we're doing Bill? ]

 

Big Bill

|5:36[ figured. want to come out w us instead? ]

 

Eddie

|5:37[ depends on where ]

 

Big Bill

|5:38[ the baseball team is having a party, I know how u feel about parties but its not in a house ]

 

Eddie

|5:41[ billy did u know i always had a crush on u? ]

|5:42[ u shoulda banned ME from sleepovers not red ]

|5:42[ see u at the party BIG BILL teehee ]

 

Big Bill

|5:46[ richie I didnt BAN bev. I know its u eddie doesn’t type like that ]

|5:47[ r u actually coming or what ]

 

Eddie

|5:49[ this STUPID ASSHOLE took my phone and held it over my head Bill ]

 

Big Bill

|5:50[ lol so are u coming? ]

 

Eddie

|5:50[  … yes ]

_

 

Bev

|5:39[ ru going tonite? ]

|5:40[ me n mike r trying to work things out and its gonna b awkward ]

|5:41[ I mean like w ben and us, so if were all there itll be easier i think ]

|5:41[ lemme know ]

 

Eddie

|5:42[ bevvie did u know that i love clown porn? ]

|5:43[ big shoes and red noses really do it for me ]

 

Bev

|5:45[ qlmm;anowjq WUT ]

|5:46[ u know id never kink shame u but god damn ]

 

Eddie

|5:49[ that was Richie. I don’t like clown porn :( ]

 

Bev

|5:49[ LMFAOOO im crying ]

_

 

Stan

|5:33[ Come tonight, please. It’ll be fun. ]

|5:35[ Fire smell; Snow air; The quarry. Things Eddie likes for 500. ]

 

Eddie

|5:42[ OMG STANLEY ]

|5:43[ STANLEY ]

|5:43[ DO U THINK RICHIE IS SEXY? ]

 

Stan

|5:43[ You aren’t sexy. Please give the phone back to your boyfriend. ]

|5:44[ I don’t speak mentalityofatwelveyeardoldish so I can’t talk to you. ]

 

Eddie

|5:44[ >:( RUDE RUDE RUDE RUDE ]

|5:48[ god damn it. we’re going Stan ]

_

 

Mike

|5:43 [ cu later right? ]

 

Eddie

|5:44[ mikey why did the football coach go to the bank? ]

 

Mike

|5:45[ :D y ]

 

Eddie

|5:45[ to get his QUARTER BACK SLAKSDOOWMXLLS ]

 

Mike     

|5:46[ :D :D :D ]

 

Eddie

|5:49[ Mike we’ll see you later ]

_  

 

Ben

|5:42[ if u and rich arent going im not either ]

|5:43[ he isnt answering me so im covering my bases lmk ]

 

Eddie

|5:46[ richie cant answer cuz his hands r kinda busy rn ]

|5:47[ big strong hands that are good at everything benny its insane ]

 

Ben

|5:47[ thanks for sharing. been wondering tbh :p ]

 

Eddie

|5:48[ GOD WTF nooo BEN BEN ]

|5:49[ it wasn’t me Ben ]

 

Ben

|5:50[ eddie I know. ur boyfriend is a huge nerd ]

|5:52[ so r u going? ]

 

Eddie

|5:53[ ugh yes ]

_

 

****

 

The winter breeze pulled up stagnant cold air from the hollow beneath the cliff, and the woods smelled like snow with an undercurrent of campfire, plus just that lingering tinge of sewer. Good old rock quarry.

Eddie shivered and tucked his knees up into his chest, trying in vain to warm himself. He wished he’d remembered to put on a hat. His upper body was swaddled by two shirts, his red hoodie and a puffy jacket. He’d wanted to wear long-johns under his pants but the dark skinny jeans clung to his ass like a latex glove, leaving no room for additional protective layers.

‘Let’s go to that party in the woods,’ they said. ‘It’s going to be fun,’ they said. Who the fuck has fun at below freezing temperatures besides penguins?

They all must be descended from penguins, Eddie reasoned, giggling to himself. His friends seemed to be enjoying themselves, and his boyfriend was clearly thrilled--which wasn't a shocker--but the fun promised to Eddie was not coming to him. He longed to be in any other place, as long as it was warm and clean. Richie's bed was a possibility (clean optional) or even in a vat of rising bread dough. A softer, more comfortable place, because he was painfully sober and his ass was going numb from sitting on a big-ass frozen rock.

Eddie sat there watching everyone else. He saw Richie, who was illuminated from behind by the fire and impossibly cute, laughing and gesturing emphatically at Ben. He swept his beer holding arm at the wooded patch behind them.'"It can't fuckin' pos'bly all be poison-ivy. Your boy's on another trip."  Eddie bit down on a grin. Stanley.

Bill was by the kegs, in full jock-mode and hanging with his baseball boys. His stuttering voice was deeper and louder than normal. Stanley hovered near him looking a bit awkward, but smiled privately when Bill talked. The rest of the time he rolled his eyes and took big gulps from his cup, looking for something to do. It wasn’t his element in the slightest, but Bill wanted him there. Eddie could tell by the way Bill moved back a step to check his boyfriend every so often. Stanley and Bill had a long, shared past, but possibly divergent futures, and Eddie thought he might be the only person who realized it.  

Bev and Mike seemed pretty cozy. They sat quietly together on a fallen tree beside the fire with their hands interlaced. Eddie wondered how they’d done it; how were they able to move past it? Was it simply a matter of everyone makes mistakes  or was it it’s almost Christmas, baby…  He tried to imagine himself forgiving Richie for something similar, but he guessed that they would never be in the same situation. They were the center of each other's universes and it was scary and comforting all at once.

The party was really nothing more than a bunch of drunk teenagers standing in the woods, and just an excuse for Bill’s baseball team friends to build a bonfire in the clearing of the small forest just beyond the quarry. There were a couple kegs, and someone played DJ with one of those little cups that amplified a cell phone speaker. Kids milled around drinking beer out of red cups, and several someones nearby were definitely smoking weed. Couples were wandering off to hook up in the cars parked on the gravel path that led up to the cliff. Happy almost-birthday, Jesus, Eddie thought to himself, rubbing his hands up and down on his legs.   

Richie walked over and placed his cup on the ground, standing in front of the boulder where Eddie was perched. His leather jacket was unzipped, his face all glasses-free and lovely. “Eddie S’ghetti, I told’ya to dress warm.” Clearly not following his own advice to Eddie, all he wore under his jacket was a colorful opened Hawaiian shirt over a band teeshirt. "You shoulda wore a hat." He yanked off his gray beanie roughly and sent static sparks out into the air surrounding his head, creating a brief halo. His movements were jerky as he hopped in front of Eddie and reached forward to tuck the hat crookedly over his curls, pushing them down against Eddie's forehead in the process.

“Thanks, baby,” Eddie said, straightening the hat and tucking his hair under it. “Beyond squeezing my ass into my snow-pants from when I was twelve, I don’t know how much warmer I could’ve possibly dressed.”

Richie snickered and ran his hands through his messy hair, finger combing it. It was getting long enough to pass his shoulders. “If you drinka couple beers, y’feel a lil warmer.” He bent at the waist to retrieve his cup, and nearly slipped and dropped it as he pulled himself up onto the rock to sit next to his boyfriend. “Trus’ me.”

“I know, Richie,” Eddie whined, irritated but with no real bite behind it. “I just hate the way beer tastes.”

“I think Bevvie has somethin’ in her purse.” He wrapped an arm around Eddie’s shoulders, trying to share his warmth. "Drambuie ‘r whateverthefuck that she stole from her Aunt’s liquor cabinet. Maybe y’like it." Richie was giddy and optimistic; his eyes dancing and his cheeks flushed. He was sweetness and light, and he looked so handsome that Eddie probably would have dragged him into the woods to maul him if it wasn’t thirty degrees outside. “A couple shots’ll fix ya rightup.”

Eddie grinned and reached out to fluff a hand through Richie’s long curls, playing with the still-clinging static. “How many beers have you had, Richie?”

“Hmmn. Good question.” Richie licked his lips and stared at the dirt ground in front of them. “Trick question?” He sounded so earnest that Eddie burst out laughing.

“Babyyy,” Eddie purred as his laughs tapered into giggles. “Ease up okay?” He continued to pet Richie’s hair, making his eyelids go fluttery. ”There’s no bathroom here and if you have to puke you’ll get it all over your chucks.”

“My babybabybaby always lookin’ out for me,” Richie leaned in to kiss Eddie’s cheek, but puffed out air instead, blowing sloppy raspberries against his skin.

Richie, quit it,” Eddie warned once, his eyes serious. “It’s too cold out for you to get spit all over my face.”

“But ‘s Chrissmas Eve-Eve, baby,” Richie pouted, massaging Eddie’s shoulder lightly. “Don’t I get presents?”

“One: there are no presents on the day before Christmas Eve.” Eddie ticked off on his fingers. “Two: your presents would never include your being allowed to blow fart noises on my face. Three: you’re drunk as shit; just shut up.” He turned and gave his boyfriend the best incentive for him to shut up; Eddie tongue.

 

****

 

Richie went off somewhere to relieve himself in the woods, so Eddie wandered over to get liquid heat from Bev.

“I heard you might have something to warm me up,” He told her as he approached, grinning. She and Mike were still cuddly together and appeared incredibly warm, their faces licked by the shadow of the flames. “Please help. My prissy little homo ass doesn’t tolerate Coors lite.” His eyes kept flicking above their heads, instinctively watching for Richie. 

Fire-light reflected off of Beverly’s eyes, transforming their natural clear blue into a golden amber color. “You want some whiskey?!” She squealed, incredibly excited.

Eddie shook his head and snickered. “I guess I do. If that’s what you’ve got.”

“It’s really Christmasy whiskey, Eddie.” Mike's arm was tight around Bev’s shoulders. “Like, traditional.”

“Yeah, this is the stuff they inject into those cute little chocolate bottles.” She dug around in her over-sized purse and pulled out a small bottle, pouring him a finger of it. “Sure you can handle it? Coors lite tastes like apple juice compared to aged whiskey.”

“There’s no planet where beer tastes like apple juice, Beverly.” Eddie took the cup and sniffed it primly. He made a disgusted face, held his breath and drank. It burned his throat and tasted like fire and smoke and fruit and honey all at once. Grimacing, Eddie exhaled roughly. “God, okay. I need a beer to chase this.” He groped his hand out in front of himself.

Bev held out her own cup to him. “Be my guest.”

He took a sip of it, double fisting both cups. Another drink of whiskey; another swallow of beer. “Am I supposed to be warm now?”

Mike laughed fondly at him. “Give it like ten minutes to kick in.”

“Keep both of those,” Bev told him sweetly. “I can get another beer.” She disentangled herself from Mike, standing and stooping to give him a chaste kiss before walking away towards the kegs.

Eddie sat down in the vacant spot she left next to Mike on the trunk. It was toasty there by the fire. “So, things seem to be back to normal?”

“Yeah, we’re trying to just move past it,” Mike agreed. His eyes were cast across the bonfire, in Ben’s direction. Ben sat alone on a stump, staring right into the flames. “I dunno how I’m supposed to just be cool with Ben now, though.”

“He made the same mistake you did,” Eddie muttered sagely. He sipped the whiskey again and didn’t need to chase it. It was sort of good; nuanced and obviously lovingly crafted. "Maybe you could try to let it go."

“Easy for you to say,” Mike said simply. “Imagine if Richie hooked up with Stan. Would you forgive them both?”

Eddie furrowed his brow, his face incredulous. “Stan wouldn’t hook up with Richie in like a thousand years.”

“It’s just a hypothetical,” Mike whispered, impatient. "I'm just saying you don't know what you'd do."

"I know what I'm gonna do right now." Eddie stood up, beginning to feel a bit cocky from the liquor. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go see my friend  Ben. Who is human  and makes mistakes,  like erryone.” He gave himself a wide berth stepping around the fire, and stopped in front of Ben.

“Hey, Eddie. You drinking tonight?”

“Yeah, Richie’s gonna be so proud.” He stepped a bit closer to Ben. “You a pyro or something? Like the fire more than people?”

Ben smiled sadly. “Nah. Mike’s pissed at me; Bev won’t look at me. Stan and Bill are having a quadruple date with the baseball team. You and Richie are you-and-Richieing.” Ben held up his red cup. His voice was flat but amiable. “This beer and that fire are only things in my world right now. Unless you want to join me in my misery.”

“I think it’ll blow over,” Eddie declared brightly, swinging both of his cups out. “After break, y'know? When we all come back. New year, new poss-bilities. Y’know?”

“Wow. You’re wasted off three sips, Eddie. Maybe you should move back a little.” Ben pointed at the fire, huge and bright and engulfing. They both looked at it and watched a piece of a broken chair disintegrate in front of their eyes.

Eddie backed up a couple paces so he was directly beside Ben. “Shove over?”

Ben moved his hip to the side a little so Eddie could sit next to him. “What are you drinking?”

“Dram-booby?”

It was nice to hear Ben laughing, hard and wheezing. Eddie giggled along with him. “It’s boooo-eee" he drawled, chuckling. "Drambuie.”

“Right," Eddie moaned mirthfully. "I don’t like an’thing to do with boobies to be honest.”

Ben took a long swallow of his beer, still amused. “Why do you have two cups?”

“Chaser?” Eddie drained the last of each of his cups, tipping his head back to catch the liquid. “Gotta find Bevvie, get more. Y’be okay?”

“Yeah," Ben smiled, his mood completely different than when Eddie first got there. "Thanks, Eddie.”

“N’problem. Try to have fun, go find Richie.” He got up and was immediately a little dizzy, but he pointed himself in the direction of the kegs. Ambling on jelly legs, he kept his eyes on Beverly, using her as an anchor. She stood there chatting animatedly with Bill and Stan.

Eddie wasn’t paying attention to what was in front of himself and walked smack into someone's firm chest. He gasped on impact and bounced off, dropping both of his cups on the ground with a clatter. Raising his eyebrows, he stared up at the person he bumped into, surprised to see Henry Bowers there at all. Since the debacle that was Bill’s party, and his falling out with Patrick, Henry was a ghost at school.

Henry smiled bitterly down at Eddie. He wasn't as tall as Eddie remembered him to be. “Well, if it isn’t the little faggot that turned my best friend gay. Where’s your boyfriend, pussy?”

Eddie narrowed his eyes at Bowers. His whiskey-and-beer muscles flexed involuntarily and his anger popped on like someone flipped a switch in his brain. “Which is it, am I PUSSY or a FAGGOT?” He was yelling so loud that heads turned. “If y’can’t tell the diff’rence maybe I’m not the only faggot here.”

“Ohhhh SHIT,” Bev screeched from across the clearing, throwing up her hands over her head. “Fucking tell him, Eddie.”

The smile blinked off Henry’s face. He stepped a little closer. “That’s a bold statement coming from someone I can fucking wreck  with one finger.”

Eddie glanced around them. People were watching their altercation, a lot of people. Stan’s worried face, Bill’s grin. Where’s Richie? I wish he would see this.  He smiled suddenly, all full of piss-and-vinegar. Bold. “You wanna put y’finger in me Henry? But we haven’t e’en kissed yet.” He heard laughter--the baseball team, his friends, people he didn’t even know, everyone--all cracking up.

Bowers fumed silently, his adam’s apple bobbing up and down. His voice got low and serious. “Look, I don’t want to end up in jail tonight, so you better shut the fuck up.”

Eddie sang out without fear. “I think y’d like it in jail. ‘Specially the showers.” He wasn’t afraid to be hit, or have mean words shit onto him. If he actually ended up getting punched in the face, well, he’d cross that bridge when they came to it.

“Th'fuck are you doing asshole?” Richie’s angry voice, approaching. He stepped in front of Eddie, bumping him back a little bit. “Get th'fuck out of his face.”

“Richie, s’okay. I can handle it.” Eddie pulled on Richie’s arm, trying to get him to back up, but his boyfriend was livid, tensed and heavy, locked into place.

Richie's mouth was right up by Henry’s ear. “Th'fuck he say to you, Eddie?” Everything was happening too quickly. The crowd was closing around them, watching. It got quiet, someone shut off the music.

"I said he's a little faggot," Henry repeated icily, unblinking. 

Richie didn't move a muscle. "Oh, so you mean y'mistook him for y'r daddy?"

“Watch your mouth, homo." Bowers licked his lips and focused his eyes on Richie's neck. "Y'know, your little boyfriend has an even bigger mouth than you do.” He didn't even look slightly nervous. The words he spoke were facts to him. Clean and even and truthful. "I was just about to break his jaw, but you're here now. Merry Christmas."

“Do it fuckface,” Richie growled, seething. “I’d fuckin' love it.”

“Richie, NO!” Eddie screamed, just as Bowers hauled back and punched Richie in the chest on the right side. It was dirty and sudden. Cheap, Richie would have called it. Bogus.

But he couldn't say anything. The hit knocked the breath out of him and he fell back, hitting his head against the frozen ground and knocking Eddie over in the process. Eddie scrambled on the dirt, throwing himself on top of his boyfriend to protect him, but Bowers shoved Eddie off easily and climbed on top of Richie’s unconscious form in a flash. He straddled Richie, punching him in the face, once, twice, three times. Everyone was screaming, and Eddie stood up to yank on Bower’s shoulders weakly but got slapped across his face, knocked back.

Ben came from out of nowhere. He ran at full speed. “You fucking sonofaBITCH,” he spat, slamming into Henry shoulder-first, tackling him. Bowers squawked like a turkey when he hit the dirt, and his head bounced off the ground. "Get the fuck out of here." Ben stood up shakily, backed up a pace. "That shit was Ag-Assault. The cops'll pick you up in ten minutes."

Bowers stayed seated on the ground, panting, watching Richie. He met Eddie's eyes briefly before standing up and walking away from the clearing, towards the parked cars.

Crawling over, Eddie took Richie’s hand, brought it to his face. “Baby, baby, I’m sorry,” he wept, tears hot and flowing down, dropping onto Richie’s shirt. Richie didn’t move, his lip and nose were bloodied but he was still breathing, shallowly. “Call someone,” Eddie yelled out, but he didn’t know who he was talking to. Stan was there, the first one to come to him.

“I’m calling 911 right now, Eddie. He’s going to be okay.” Stan's face was drained of all its color. He sat down on the ground next to Eddie with his phone pressed to his ear. “Hi, I need an ambulance. We’re at the quarry." He pulled the phone away from his ear, his voice going up. "Yes, the fucking cliff by the woods off the highway in Derry, Maine." He sighed. "Uh almost eighteen, male, just got the shit beat out of him by a scumbag. Unconscious, but breathing. Yes, he’s had alcohol tonight. I don’t know. I don’t know. Look are you going to send someone? Okay. Okay.” He hung up. “They’re coming, Eddie.”

"We're not supposed to move him right?" Eddie asked, out loud, at least he thought so. He still held onto Richie's hand, but it was limp and cold. He tried to warm up Richie's finger tips using his cupped palm.

"N-n-n-n fuck fuck.  D-don't.  Muh-move him.  At-at All."  Bill crouched down. "You ch-ch-checked his bruh-heathing right?"

"Yes. He's breathing. And he has a pulse in his thumb." Eddie blinked and blinked, he felt Stan's arm around him. He breathed, deep and shaky. The side of his face stung. Richie's thumb is cold. But it's cold out, so that's normal. And he's pulsing. Or is that my pulse?

"He's going to be okay." Bev knelt beside him, destroying her tights, probably. She put her hand over Eddie's hand that held Richie's. "He's tough."

"Yeah," Eddie whispered, closing his eyes. He heard crunching on the frosty ground.

Mike came into view on the other side of Richie. "We called the cops on Henry. Fucking hope he does wanna get fingered in jail or whatever you said, Eddie, 'cause he's going." He was dead serious, and Eddie felt nervous laughter bubbling up but he squashed it down. 

"Yeah. Hope so." Eddie wasn't talking. He was squeaking. Or maybe he was just thinking the words. 

"Guys, get out of the way." Ben, pushing at Stan, so he'd move. Flashing lights, people in blue uniforms. Flashlight in Richie's eye. 'Dilated, non-responsive. Weak breath sounds.' They strapped him to a board and loaded him into a big metal box on wheels. Eddie begged to go, but 'Family only, not possible. Sorry, kid.

Meet him at the emergency room. Call his parents. Cops. Witness statements. ' 

Chapter Text

Eddie woke with a start and sat up blinking. The emergency waiting room was bright and antiseptic with buzzing fluorescent lights and uncomfortable old benches. He didn’t know how long he’d been sleeping with his head on Stan’s lap, but based on the way his eyes burned, it couldn't have been more than twenty minutes. Stanley was knocked out, too, his head dangling back over the top of their bench at a painful-looking angle.  

There didn’t seem to be too many emergencies plaguing the staff during the wee hours of Christmas Eve morning. The room was only occupied by Eddie and his five friends, the Toziers and an unrelated young woman struggling with a fussy infant. The overnight receptionist was quietly indifferent. She played soft holiday music out of an ancient boom-box on top of a filing cabinet. A sad little Christmas tree sat in the corner, decorated with mangy garland and clean syringes among other odds-and-ends.

A persistent buzz massaged Eddie’s hip. His mother, messaging him for the nine billionth time. He refused to answer. If he told her where he was, she’d order him to come home immediately, and he wasn’t leaving. 4 AM, and no courtesy call home. She’s going to kill me.

The three Toziers were each in their own separate spheres. Went wore a stony expression, eyes locked on the floor. Every so often he reached out his hand to rub a circle on Maggie’s upper back. It was mechanical; full of duty, not compassion. Her face was red and puffy but she seemed like she’d reached the point of being all cried out. She wrung her hands and licked her lips, glancing up at the double doors every other minute. Sadie lay on her back, stretched full-out on one of the double benches in the corner. She wore pajamas with a coat thrown over them and held her phone up in the air, staring at it listlessly.

“Eddie, are you up? Did he say anything to you?” Maggie was looking over at him with hopeful eyes. “I know you told us before, but was he—”

“Mags, the boy told us everything he knew when we got here,” Went muttered tiredly. “Let him be.”

“He didn't wake up at all after he got hit,” Eddie mumbled placidly, words he’d already spoken over and over: to the EMTs, the emergency room receptionist, the attending physician and to the Toziers three times. He felt tranquil repeating them.

After five hours of sitting vigil in a hospital, Eddie'd calmed down considerably, but he'd run the gamut from numb to hysterical. At the quarry he might have been in shock; when he got to the ER and explained things to Maggie, he broke down. Laying his head on her legs, he wept, yammering, releasing it. 

"Richie got punched in the chest, so hard and when I saw him laying on the ground I thought he was dead, Maggie, because he was so flat. He doesn't even sleep that still, he twitches or kicks or rolls around and he was just like, limp. His hands were cold and it was so scary, Maggie, and they wouldn't let me ride with him even though I begged them."  Maggie cried with him and took Richie's hat off of his head and massaged his scalp, shushing him and squeezing his hands. She even took him to the bathroom to put cold water on his face; mothering him gently without judgment or comment.

The doctor came by twice with updates. The first time he informed them that Richie would be put through x-rays and a CT scan. The second time, he told them that Richie had bumps and bruises, three cracked ribs, a concussion, a broken nose and a collapsed lung.

Most of his injuries were minor, but the lung was a cause for concern. The injury could heal on its own in a week or two, but it might also need surgical correction. The surgeon wasn’t available in the middle of the night and they wouldn’t know if it was in their best interest to go that route until she arrived in the morning. Richie remained unconscious, a possible side effect of his being intoxicated when he sustained a head injury. They had him on IV fluids, and he was in stable condition.

“Sit tight; good thoughts. Hopefully the next time you see me, he’ll be awake.”

Three hours had passed since they got that information. Eddie felt jittery, despite being on almost no sleep. There was so much nervous energy contained in his belly that he probably could’ve sprinted halfway across town and back and not broken a sweat. Based on what the doctor said, it seemed like Richie was going to be okay, but Eddie wanted to be allowed to see him  and touch him  so he could be positive. He hopped up from his spot and walked quickly over to Sadie’s bench.

“Can I?” He pointed at her legs, which were blocking him from sitting next to her.

Sadie shifted back and sat properly so Eddie could join her. He sat and glanced across the room, eying his friends. Beverly was asleep with her mouth open and her head on Mike’s lap. His coat was draped over her like a blanket. Mike was awake, having what seemed to be a pleasant conversation with Ben. Bill’d moved from his seat in the corner as soon as Eddie got up. He gently coaxed Stan into laying down in his lap, and sat massaging absently at his still sleeping boyfriend’s neck. Eddie was grateful that they cared about Richie and himself enough to stay there nearly all night waiting for news.

Sadie followed his gaze, watching Bill and Stan. She kept her voice low. “So what really  happened tonight?”

“Really?” Eddie rubbed at the back of his neck. It was his fault, all of it. He should’ve kept his mouth shut. “I picked a fight with a guy who was bigger than me and your brother jumped into it head-first.”

“Why the fuck does he have to do stuff like that?” She probably meant for it to come out pissy and critical of Richie, but she just sounded sad.

“Because he’s protective, and leaps before he looks.” Eddie looked down at his hands. He still had dirt all wedged up underneath his fingernails from crawling around on the ground and he hadn't even thought once about cleaning them. “I think Richie is going to be okay, Sadie.” If he believed it, it'd be true.

She nodded down at the floor. "He better be."

The double doors opened, and the attending physician they'd spoken to all night approached the Tozier parents, flipping papers on a clipboard. Eddie stiffened and sat up poker straight. He bounced off the bench and double-stepped closer. Stood right behind Maggie. Listened.

Richie’d been moved to a room upstairs, and he'd probably be calling it home for at least five days. He was conscious, cognizant, and talking--despite being repeatedly told to keep quiet. They had him on oxygen and pain medication.

A confused grin blinked off and on the doctor's face as he addressed Maggie. “We don’t want to let him eat anything just yet. Not until after the surgeon takes a look at his x-ray in the morning… but he mentioned something about spaghetti twice. When the nurse told him no food he got really agitated.”

Eddie laughed weakly, trying not to cry. “He's asking for me,” he explained softly. “I’m Spaghetti.”

The doctor smirked and bobbed his head down at the chart. "Mystery solved, then. Well, you can visit him one at a time. Normal visiting hours don't start until ten tomorrow, so let's make it brief for tonight."

Maggie turned around to look at Eddie. “You can go in first.” She nodded quickly, tears spilling over. “He’d want that.”

 

****

 

Richie’s eyes were closed when Eddie entered the room. The only sounds were the soft beeps of the vital statistics machine and a faint hissing of oxygen. He crept up beside the bed silently and assessed his boyfriend.

His face was scattered with bruises--under his eyes, his right cheek, low on the base of his chin--and his bottom lip was split. There was a small white splint over his nose, the skin reddened and swollen surrounding it. He was propped up high on several pillows and his curls were pulled into a messy bun, with little curly too-short tendrils hanging down by the nape of his neck. Eddie smiled softly at the way Richie's ears stuck out without his hair blocking them, and he wondered who put it up like that. A little plastic canula was in his nose to help him breathe, and the cable attached to it hooked up over his ears and tied off underneath his chin. His left arm was all stuck up with IV tubes, and he looked extra young and pale and thin under the florescent lights.

Eddie slipped his fingers into Richie’s right hand, his voice feather light. “I heard someone in this room ordered spaghetti.”

Smiling with his eyes closed, Richie whispered. “Baby.” His voice was raspy and weak. When he opened his brown eyes, they were glassy and distant. He looked completely drugged up. “Hi.”

“Hi,” he whispered back. “Are you okay?” Eddie wanted to kiss and hug him, but was too afraid of hurting him to risk it.

It was obvious that Richie had difficulty breathing because he spoke painstakingly slowly. “I’m in the fucking… hospital, Eddie.” He grinned and then winced, tonguing gently over his busted lip. “So, no, probably not okay... But I’m high as fuck… on pain medicine, so... I'm over it.” He held up his left hand to show Eddie a medication pump on a cable. “Lookit, I got'a... happyhappy-funtime button”

“They t-trust you to do that y-yourself?” Eddie’s voice trembled and he willed himself not to start crying, tensing his shaking lips and blinking his eyes rapidly. He crumbled, sobbing. “Richie, I was so fucking scared.” He leaned forward to lay his head down on the bed, desperately curling his fingers into the blanket. His body shook with sobs, and he pressed his face up against Richie's thigh. “I’m so  sorry, Richie. I love you so much.” He felt like he could have cried himself to sleep right there.

“Eddie Spaghetti... You don't have anything... to be sorry for,” Richie whispered. “I love you, too.” He limply patted at Eddie’s hair.

"I thought you were dead,  baby. Please don't fight ever again," Eddie whispered into Richie's leg, pleading. "If anything happened to you, I mean like seriously, I couldn't. I couldn't." 

“Look Eddie…look at me," Richie soothed, fingers skating against the back of Eddie's neck. "I’m alive... It's no big deal... Just kinda hard to breathe.... Maybe I’ll quit smoking… good thing, yeah?”

“Richie, please, don't downplay this,” Eddie mumbled, sniffling. He pushed back to stand upright and wiped at his eyes roughly. “This is fucked up, okay?”

"Baby, come closer... They took my... contacts out." He groped his hand out to pull Eddie closer to him. “It's fucked up, yes…but we don't have... to dwell on it." 

"Dwell on it? It happened literally five hours ago." Eddie shook his head, flabbergasted. "I've been sitting in the waiting room all night with nothing else to think about. You can't call it dwelling  when it just happened."

Richie studied Eddie's face, his eyes a little unfocused. "Baby, you sleep at all?” He grimaced and scooted himself over a little to the left. “Lay with me?”

“I’m not supposed to stay long,” Eddie admitted sadly, though he was dead-tired and wanted nothing more that to just lay beside Richie all night and listen to him breathe. “Your parents want to come in and—”

“Fuck ‘em,” Richie said simply. “Please?” He patted the blank space next to himself. “I gotta stay elevated, but you... can lay down right here.”

“Okay.” Eddie climbed up gently and laid down on his side, stretching his arm across Richie’s lap. He nuzzled his head next to Richie's hip, kissing him there, through the hospital gown. "Want to kiss you, but your mouth probably hurts," he mumbled, already drifting. "I'kiss you anywhere else."

"That's all I need," Richie whispered, running his thumb in a circle over Eddie's hip. "Your snuggles... and morphine... fucking better already."

"You also need... oxygen," Eddie whispered, falling into an exhausted sleep right away, but the lights were too bright and he slept fitfully. People came in and out of the room and he felt the vibrations of Richie's voice next to his head. Words broke into his sleep and he couldn't tell if they were real or part of his dreams.

  

 ****

Maggie full of emotion, crying. “Richie, what did you do, though?” 

“Why’s it always gotta... be something I did?”

“Because it's almost always something you did, it just is."

“Mother of the year… calling it. Get your… speech prepared.”

“Richard, you’re so critical of me, but you lie to my face—”

“You understand that someone... put me in the hospital tonight… and you’re blaming me, right?”

“I'm not blaming you, but I also don't believe that you were just standing around minding your own business and got beaten up this badly. You said something to him--”

“I don't know why you... even bothered coming in here..."  Buzzing on his hip, loud, echoing.

Sighing. “Has Eddie told his mother where he is, because she’s—”

Richie, too loud. “That fucking… bitch. Who cares? Let her.... worry… She’s a-“

“I’m going to knock on her door when we leave. She deserves to know where—”

“Don't let the door hit you on the ass... Tell Sadie to come in, please.”

 

 ****

 

“Does it hurt to have a collapsed lung?”  Sadie, far away, soft.

“What do you think, genius?”

“I think yeah. It does. How bad?"

"Bad enough for them... to put me on basically... free-flowing heroin."

"Did it hurt when he hit you?”

“Don’t really remember it... In theory, yes it... probably hurt.”

“Who did that to your hair?”

“Why? You jelly... like Machiavelli?”

“No dummy. It looks nice on you.”

“Thanks, Sadie.”

"I think Eddie really loves you."

"Yeah?"  Richie's hand on his hip. "I really love him, too."

 

**** 

 

“The kid can’t be comfortable like that.”

“He’s fine, Dad.”

“What happened to no more fighting?”

“The fuckin douchebag... called him a faggot.”  Richie’s warm palm on his back. “And he hit... me first, anyway.”

“In your life, a lot of people are going to say things that make you angry. Growing up is going to mean knowing when to back away. When it isn’t worth it.”

“I guess I'm not grown up yet... I'd fight him again... right now. Fucking get... a hit in this time.”

"You're nothing if not persistent, Rich."

"Is anyone else coming in?... I'm really tired."

“No, I told the rest of your friends to clear out and let you get some rest, get some for themselves, too. I'm taking your mother and sister home. We'll come back in the morning--well, later on today, we’ll be back. Okay?”

“Sure.”

“Rest up, feel better, son.”

“Thanks, Dad.” 

 

 ****

 

“It’s not regular visiting hours.” A monotone voice, fed up. “He can’t stay here.”

“Listen, Linda…this kid is bonkers… okay? You wanna… release the kraken? He’ll straight… end your life. Let him… sleep. For your own… safety. Trust me.”

“Y’know what? I’m off shift in an hour, what the fuck do I care.”

Richie, dripping with sarcasm. “You’re a true... humanitarian, really.”

 

****

 

 

Greta and Marcia came by with flowers and a teddy bear early in the day. Eddie woke to the sounds of their cooing and 'poor babying' all over Richie. He sat up with a scowl and his death-stare sent Greta running for the hills.

"Well, Merry almost-Christmas, Richie, feel better," she squeaked on the way out the door.

"Baby, please stop... trying to murder girls... with your eyes." Richie held his chest, laughing weakly. "You shoulda been Cyclops... not me."

The Toziers returned shortly after visiting hours officially opened up. They brought a change of clothes for Richie and his glasses, plus bagels and cream cheese and coffee in a cardboard container. Maggie set everything up on the table in the corner of the room. As promised, the surgeon came by to talk to Richie and his parents. She didn't think surgery was warranted, the collapse wasn't severe and his lung would re-inflate naturally in about a week.

"Thank goodness for small favors," Went declared after she left, smiling. "So you can eat. Bagel, Rich?"

Richie's glasses sat funny over his splint. He'd been taken to the shower by the nurse and he'd changed into the teeshirt and pajama pants Maggie brought him. He put his hair back up in a bun while it was still wet, and Eddie loved it. Those big ears were a new thing for him to moon over. "Not hungry... but I'll take some uppers... to go with my downers," he muttered, pointing across the room at the coffee. 

"Richie, you have to eat something, it's been twenty hours." Maggie spread cream cheese on a bagel for Sadie. "Have half of Sadie's."

"Hey! Don't hand out my food to stray dogs," Sadie blustered from her chair by the window.  "Who says I'm not going to eat the whole thing?" 

"You never do," Richie and Maggie said at the same time.

Eddie saw them catch eyes and smile at each other. He sat at the foot of Richie's bed, watching the Toziers: a fly on the wall observing them in all their functionally dysfunctional glory. 

Went handed Richie a paper cup. "Here you go, son, forty-five sugars, right?" He winked.

"Anything less would be a crime... Thanks, Dad."

"Coffee or a Bagel, Eddie?" Maggie pointed with her plastic knife. " Or both? It's just an assembly line, now. Let me know."

"I'll take a poppy seed, thanks." Eddie watched Maggie, working to make them all happy, trying her best to do what she knew how to do. He only had a vague recollection of her conversation with Richie, it was fuzzy and dream-like in his memory. She focused on Richie's honesty, his lack of accountability, and his tendency to talk his way into trouble, instead of telling him what he really needed to hear: that she loved him, that she was happy he was okay, how awful she felt when she thought he wasn't  okay. Eddie didn't know if she realized she did it, or if she just didn't know how to do things differently. 

She walked over to hand him the paper plate with his bagel. "Here you go, honey."

"Thanks." Eddie smiled and took it gratefully. He was starving.

 

****

Went left mid-day to get down to his practice. "No holidays for partners, children."

Despite losing a person, they kept getting in trouble for having too many visitors. The limit was three, but at any given moment, there were at least five people crammed in Richie's small room. When their friends returned, fresh and rested, Maggie and Sadie took a trip to the cafeteria. 

Eddie was jealous that they'd all slept well, showered and changed. He was a mess in his red hoodie, still smelling like campfire with whiskey coming out of his pores. Richie clung to him for comfort anyway, his right arm wrapped around Eddie's waist and his hand clutching onto the waistband of Eddie's pants with his thumb dipping just below it. Eddie was prepared to be there by Richie's side until someone forced him out. 

"I heard you... called 911 for me... Stanley. So you do... love me, I knew it." Richie wore a one-thousand watt smile. "If things went south... would you have thrown yourself... on my coffin?"

"Baby, don't even joke about that," Eddie grumbled, shaking his head. 

"Richie, calling 911 just means I'm a level-headed, respectable human being," Stan replied gently from his lucky spot on the only chair in the room.

"Yeah you're right... Benny is the real MVP... my hero."

"Bowers deserved to get knocked on his ass," Ben stated simply, shrugging and leaning back against the window sill. "Someone had to."

"Eddie knocked him on his ass with WORDS." Bev leaned forward from her spot at the foot of the bed and fist bumped Eddie on his toes. "I thought it was amazing."

Eddie sighed, ashamed. " I shouldn't have done it. He wouldn't have hit Richie if I--"

"Eds, stop blaming... yourself." Richie rubbed his hand up and down Eddie's arm. "I asked  him to hit me... Again."

"Yeah you and Bowers are both pretty consistent I guess," Ben mused, grinning.

"He's g-g-gonna do time for it." Bill leaned against the back of Stan's chair. "Mike s-said his uncle s-said they set his b-bond at s-seventy-fuh-five thousand d-dollars."

"Holy shit." Bev whistled long and low. "He didn't tell me that."

"He j-j-just texted everyone." Bill held up his phone. "Check yours."

"I turned mine off," Eddie mumbled down at the bed. "I'm surprised my mother hasn't filed a missing person's report."

"She might have," Stan said brightly. "If your phone is off, how do you know she didn't?"

The nurse came squeaking into the room, pushing a wheeled cart. She cocked her head at all of them, pointing her fingers and making a slow show of counting. "Hmmn, so I see five people, when I've repeatedly told you all that the limit is three."

Richie grinned at her. "Sounds like your employer... needs to get a better... security staff. Slackers... all of them Mary." 

Mary snapped her fingers. "Out, everyone. Give me five minutes to change his IV."

"Oh man, a quickie... Mary, I do so much... better when I have more... time, ask Eds."

"Richie," Eddie groaned, pushing himself off the bed. He leaned over to kiss Richie on the forehead. "Don't joke about sleeping with your nurse."

 "'Kay," Richie intoned brightly.

They left the room together and the others headed down to the gift shop, but Eddie hung back. He sat waiting in the chairs near the vending machines where he had a clear view of Richie's door. After a few minutes staring at the brightly lit drink machine, he decided to grab himself an iced tea. He was punching in numbers but stopped and looked up when he heard his name.

"Kaspbrak, I thought I'd see you here. How's our friend doing?" His teacher was there, wearing jeans and a college sweatshirt, looking incredibly strange dressed down.

"Hi, Mr. Parish." Eddie smiled, surprised. "He's doing okay. Acting like it's no big deal. How'd you... I mean who told you that--"

Parish dropped his chin. "I heard about the assault on my police scanner. Did a little investigating."

"You have a police scanner?" Eddie's eyes flicked behind his teacher. Mary emerged from Richie's room, and threw him a brief thumbs up over her shoulder before pushing her cart down the hallway.

"Son, someday when you're a homeowner, you'll understand." He stepped back and gestured towards Richie's room. "If you'll excuse me." 

Eddie smirked to himself and turned back to the buttons, pressing his selection. He heard Parish speak again.

"By the way, not on the record yet, but it's going to be a B+ for you."

His drink went WUMP  into the bottom of the machine as he yanked his neck over in the direction of his teacher's voice. "Really?"

Parish's head was the only thing visible around the corner of Richie's doorway. "Yes. Good hustle in the eleventh hour. Commendable." He disappeared.

Eddie stood there smiling, blinking at the floor. Richie was going to be okay; he got a good grade in Calc. All he needed was for his mother to not act like a complete asshole to him about staying out all night, and everything would be perfect.

He pulled out his drink, turning to go back into Richie's room when he saw Patrick making his way down the hall. He was holding a comic book, looking a little nervous.

Eddie raised his eyebrows. "Hi."

"Hey." Patrick nodded his head slowly, pouting his lips a little. "Henry's a real scumfuck, huh?"

"You'd know better than anyone." Eddie shook his iced tea, looked down at Patrick's feet. "How'd you find out about Richie?"

"Marcia? Greta told Marcia. I don't know who told Greta." He smiled, bright and handsome. "This town is just the longest game of telephone anyone's ever played."

"That's kind of really accurate," Eddie agreed, smiling. "So what are you doing here?"

Patrick replied sarcastically. "Uh, what are you  doing here?"

"Uh, my boyfriend  is in the hospital?" Eddie matched his cadence, teasing.

"He's not my boyfriend,  but I came to see him, too." Patrick grinned, licked his lips. His eyes were fond, all over Eddie's face. It was a nice, playful, comfortable exchange, just like they used to have when they were kids. 

Eddie pursed his lips, rolled his eyes. "Thanks for coming to see Richie, Patrick.”

“You don’t have to thank me. I came for him, not you.” Patrick shrugged, crossed his arms. “I had fun working on the play with him."

"Yeah, um, I didn't get a chance to tell you before, but you were really good." Eddie cringed internally. 'Didn't get a chance to tell you,' more like 'I avoid you like you have Ebola.'  "You were good in the play, I mean."

"Thanks. I was kinda surprised people were that into me," Patrick admitted, scrunching up his nose. "I'm kind of a weird dude, and the character was brutal."

Eddie fidgeted with his bottle of tea. "Yeah. But the dentist is funny... You're funny." 

Patrick was staring right at his lips. "Am I?"

"You have your moments," he answered resignedly. "So Richie is your friend now or something?"

 "I never disliked him. I’ve just been really pissed that he won." Patrick said it pointedly. "Y’know?” He gave Eddie one of those impossibly soft looks he’d been tossing his way since that first day of rehearsals.

Eddie shook his head. “Talking about me like I’m some prize is incredibly weird.”

“You think you’re not?” Patrick was serious. “You are. And he won. ”

Eddie sighed, moistening his lips slowly. “Fine. Look. It’s flattering that you finally like me back, okay?" He shifted his feet nervously, popping out his hip. "I can admit that. But that’s all I'll say about it.” 

Patrick smiled and backed up, maintaining eye contact for as long as possible. "I'll take it." He turned and walked into Richie's room.

****

 

"They're gonna kick... you out soon Spaghetti Head." They laid in Richie's bed, legs entwined. Everyone else had already gone home. Visiting hours were over in fifteen minutes.

"I know." Eddie'd shed all of his upper layers save a white teeshirt. He was looking forward to showering and changing his clothes, but he was reluctant to leave Richie. He played gently with Richie's damp hair, loose and extra wavy from being up in a bun. It smelled like apples from the shampoo the nurse gave him. "Maybe I could practice non-violent resistance. Y'know, like Gandhi."

Richie held the right side of his chest, trying not to laugh. "Wait, you mean like... lay there like a slug... until someone has to drag you out?"

Eddie giggled. "Yeah, think it'd work?"

"No, but I'd fucking... pay cash money to see it happen."

"Ugh, God," Eddie moaned, gently pushing his face into Richie's neck. "My mother is going to massacre me as soon as I walk through the door."

"Tell her to fuck off... You're eighteen... She needs to get a hobby... Or a boyfriend." Richie kissed Eddies temple, his ear. "A dog... Get her a dog."

"She'd torment a dog. 'Patches has IBS Eddie-bear, we have to take him to the vet every Wednesday.'"

Richie laughed silently, grimacing. "Oh no baby, stop... I can't laugh... You're gonna kill me."

"Oh, I'm sorry." He peppered Richie's neck with soft kisses. "No more jokes, ever-ever again."

"Well, no that's... just boring." Richie snaked his hand up Eddie's shirt, playing his fingers over the skin just above his navel. "Hey, y'know... what we can do in fifteen minutes?"

"Richie the door doesn't lock."

"There's a curtain."

Eddie rolled his eyes. "The curtain  doesn't lock either."

"Yeah, but it closes."

"I'm not hooking up with you in a hospital bed."

Richie whined petulantly. "But baby, I almost died."

"You've been saying since last night that it isn't a big deal, and now you're using it to guilt me?" Eddie grinned super hard. "So cute."

"Spaghetiii  did you just... call me cute?!" Richie squeezed his arms tight around Eddie. "Oh this hurts... but it's worth it."

"You are cute, the cutest." Eddie reached up and ran his fingers over the shell of Richie's ear. "Your big ears are cute." 

Richie dropped his mouth open, affronted. "Hey!  That's not nice."

"Why not? I like them." He ran both his hands up through Richie's hair, pulling it up and gathering it together, raking against his scalp. "You should wear your hair up more often. So I can see them."

"Yeah but if I.. wear my hair up... you can't do this... to me, mmmn." Richie was practically purring. "Wanna hide under... the bed?"

Eddie let go of Richie's hair and wrinkled up his forehead. "What? Why?"

"So they can't... kick you out," Richie explained, sheepish, "and you can... stay with me tonight."

"Baby, I wish I could stay." Eddie looked at the clock on the wall. "Are you scared to stay alone?"

Richie's voice got softer, shy. "I wouldn't say scared...  but I don't like it, no."

"Call me, even if it's late. If you're sca--if you don't like it." Eddie smiled, kissed Richie's left cheek and forehead, the only spots on his face that were cleanly bruise and injury-free. He stood up to put on his sneakers and hoodie.

"I'm not scared," Richie declared again, self-righteous. "You coming back tomorrow?"

"Of course, baby." Eddie sat on the edge of the bed, waiting for staff to come kick him out. "I'm going to come every day." 

Richie looked down at his lap. "Spend Christmas in the hospital? Super fun?"

Eddie brushed his fingers against Richie's good cheek. "Anywhere you are is where I want to be."

Chapter Text

The TV wasn’t on. That’s the first thing Eddie noticed when he stepped through the front door. Bad sign number one: seven thirty PM on a Wednesday, and his Ma wasn’t neck deep in recorded daytime soap operas. He shut the door behind himself and took off his coat. The house lamps were dim, but the bulbs from the Christmas tree spilled soft pink light into the foyer.

“Ma?” He kicked off his sneakers and set them under the foyer bench. There was no response, just an eerie silence. “I’m sorry,” he cautioned, intoned like a question and squeaky as a church mouse.

“You’re sorry?” Sonia’s voice made him jump. Her tone was low and even, and Eddie wasn’t sure if he should be scared yet. She was just sitting there in the armchair with the lights off. Bad sign number two. “I had to have Maggie Tozier, come over here and tell me where my son was.”

Eddie stepped through the open arch way and stayed close to it. This was going to be bad, he knew it. “Maggie Tozier," he repeated gently, "Is my boyfriend’s mother, Ma. She came to tell you that—”

“That MY SON, was in a hospital all night.” Stony disdain poured out of her face, which was only half-illuminated by the tree-light. The features Eddie could make out were all screwed up and puckered with anger, or maybe disgust. ”It’s good to know that you don’t deem me worthy of getting the information from your own mouth.”

He took a deep breath and hesitated for a beat because he was afraid to say it out loud. “I didn’t call you because I thought you’d yell at me.”

"You thought I'd yell at you," she repeated softly to herself. Her voice raised, mocking; awestruck. “And what do you think I’m going to do now ? Congratulate you?”

“No, I don’t think that.” Eddie stepped a little closer, cautious. “Why are you sitting in the dark?”

“Because I’ve been thinking.” She reached her hand up to turn on the lamp beside her. ”Richie isn’t a good influence on you,” she said plainly, folding her hands. “Coming home late, not calling. You didn't start behaving this way until you met him.”

Eddie shut his eyes. "Richie?" He hadn't used his inhaler in weeks because of things Richie taught him. Richie helped him get a B+ in Calc. Richie made him feel more,  than anyone he ever met. Yet all his mother saw was negative, negative, negative. “Richie didn’t make me do any of that--” 

“You used to come home on time, you listened to me,” his mother ticked the points off on her fingers. “You told me what was going on with you." She threw up her hands and shook her head. "Now everything is a big secret.”

“I’m not trying to be secretive,” Eddie mumbled, sincere. “It’s just hard to talk to you sometimes.”

Sonia blinked her eyes, swirling her head in a little half circle. “Do you have any idea how hurtful that is?”

“Ma, I’m sorry that I didn’t call you.” He apologized again, and he meant it. If he’d called, she would have guilted him into coming home and his sad, weak little heart would’ve listened. He was sorry that he didn’t do it, but if he could go back and change it, he wouldn’t. “My boyfriend was unconscious, I just wanted to be able to wait there until I knew he was okay.”

“When did you find out he was okay?”

“What?”

Sonia’s eyebrows raised and her voice went up an octave. “MAGGIE TOZIER  came to see me at six this morning.” She pointed across the room at the digital clock on the cable box. “It’s almost eight o’clock at night. So tell me: what time did YOU Edward, find out your boyfriend  was okay?”

Eddie took a jerky step back. “Four.”

“Four.” Sonya echoed, her voice stripped of emotion. “So you—” she airquoted, “—'just wanted to wait there until you knew he was okay,’ but you found out he was okay at FOUR.” She crossed her arms over her bosom. “I take it that you don’t mean four PM.”

“Fine, okay!” Eddie raised his voice, desperate, not angry. “I wanted  to be there for him all night, so I stayed. I’m eighteen years old, you don’t have to worry like I’m—”

She broke in, wounded, self- pitying. “Oh, good to know, I can just give up on worrying about you because you’re—”

Eddie let out an unrestrained angry grunt. “AUGH,  Ma. Stop.  Just please, stop.” He scrubbed his hands all over his face, still tired, still aching to shower. “Have I ever stayed out all night before?”

“No, you haven’t. But—”

“I haven’t.” He agreed, stern. “I made a mistake, this time. I said I was sorry.” Eddie turned around, leaving the room. Taking his power back by dismissing her first. “I have to take a shower, so I’m going—"

“I don’t want you to see Richie anymore.” It sounded to Eddie like she enjoyed the way the words tasted in her mouth.

He whispered as he spun around. “What?”

Sonia raised her chin confidently. “You heard what I said,  Eddie. “ Her eyes were alight and they spoke volumes. 'Gotcha, kid. Stop right there, this is how I win.'

“That’s ridiculous, Ma.” Eddie shook his head slowly, looking down at the carpet. “You can’t stop me, anyway; we go to school together.”

“Oh, School-SHMOOL!  You will not see him after  school, he will not be in your bed  when I get home from work, you will not tell me you’re sleeping over at William Denbrough’s house  and actually be over there with him.  You think I don’t know what you do, but I know EVERYTHING.”

Eddie felt like she’d punched him in the stomach. He wanted to vomit all over the floor. That whiney little boy was back again, the one inside him that he hated, coming out to let her know she could steamroll him. Lay him down in the drive way and back the car over him. Hopeless and small and trapped. “Ma, I love him.”

“You don’t know what love is,” she hummed, mocking and callous.

And that’s when Eddie furrowed his brow. He answered her, deep and strong, from his toes. “You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”

The way the expression on his mother’s face abruptly shifted from smugness to shock would have made him laugh, but he was too angry to find the humor in it. "What did you say to me?”

He spoke calmly and deliberately. “I love him, and I know what love is.” He pointed his fingers back and forth between her and himself. “Whatever you’re doing to me right now, is not  love.”

He turned on his heel and marched up the stairs, ignoring her pleas for him to come back. In his room, he haphazardly stuffed clothes and his Christmas gifts for Richie--still unwrapped because he thought he'd have time--into his backpack quickly before racing back down to the front door. She was there waiting for him, clutching at his wrist too tight, weeping and wailing, but he shrugged her off. Eddie didn't say another word to his mother, just put on his sneakers and coat, opened the door and ran down the stoop into the falling snow. He didn't stop running for two blocks.

****

 

Eddie'd messaged Bill when he was only a block away from the Denbrough house. It was short notice to ask for refuge on a holiday evening, but he knew his oldest friend wouldn't turn him away. The house was pretty from the outside, all dressed with white lights. His heart pounded like a jackhammer while he waited on the stoop and he felt immediately guilty for showing up as a burden, but he knew he'd probably just curl up on the floor and cry himself to sleep. That's what he really wanted to do, anyway.

Bill answered the door, and grabbed Eddie swiftly by the shoulder to usher him into the house and up the stairs.

"Billy, is that Eddie? You boys should come get some nog." Mrs. Denbrough called out to them, but Bill was quick. 

"N-no thanks, Mom. We're fine," he yelled over his shoulder as they hit the second floor landing.

"Suit yourselves," she sang back.

Inside Bill's room, Eddie sighed to the floor, long and deep. When he lifted his head, he noticed Stanley laying on the bed. "Oh. Hi. I didn't think you'd be here, Stan." 

Stan sat up a little and pointed at Bill. “Um hello, my boyfriend?” His hands swirled around indicating the walls. “My boyfriend’s bedroom?” He reclined to his original position. “I’m here a lot.”

Eddie rolled his eyes. “Yeah I know, Stan. Just it’s Christmas Eve, I figured—”

He broke in again. “Also hello: Jewish?”

“Calm down, snarky," Eddie groused, fed up with argumentative people. "I just meant Bill’s parents letting a bunch of people stay here tonight. Family holiday or whatever.”

Bill walked over to the bed and free fell onto his stomach next to his boyfriend. “Oh, w-well they don’t know St-Stan’s here.” He inched himself forward until his mouth was just next to Stan’s, whispering to him. “So sh-shut it.” He brought their lips together in a longer kiss than Eddie'd ever witnessed from them. Stan was left flushed and blooming, his love for Bill palpable and radiating outwardly.

It was sweetly tender, but Eddie wished he wasn’t present for it, awkwardly intruding on their intimacy. "Thanks for letting me stay over," he mumbled, just to remind them he was still there, in case they forgot.

"Yeah, of c-course. What h-happened anyway?" Bill was speaking to Eddie, but his attention was all over Stan's face. “W-was she mad over you st-staying at the hosp-pital?”

"Yeah. She told me I can’t see Richie anymore," Eddie answered flatly.

Stan glanced over at him. “Wow, Sonia’s taking a stand. What are you going to do?”

“I really don’t know, that's why I left.” Eddie rubbed his eyes with balled fists like an over-tired child.

"She can't st-stop you from seeing him at sc-school," Bill comforted, turning from Stan and sitting with his back leaned against the wall. He patted the corner of his bed. "Here s-sit down, Eddie. Try to relax."

Eddie hesitated a second before perching himself on the edge. He neglected to relax as asked, and started rambling; talking more to himself than to his friends. "I know she can't really stop me from seeing him. She doesn't get home 'til six every day. But she can nag me for the rest of my life, make me feel like shit whenever I'm home."

Stan sat up and crossed his legs like a pretzel. "Remember when Sonia said you could never play with me and Bill again?"

"Which time?" Eddie smirked in spite of his mood.

"The t-t-time I gave you chicken p-pox," Bill said, looking at Stan for confirmation.

"No, Billy, I meant the time he fell in the mud and cried because his yellow shorts got ruined," Stan corrected, rubbing Bills arm. "And then you went over there and told Sonia that he was our best friend and you were sorry."

"Y-y-yeah, and it worked. She accepted my ap-pology." Bill looked at Eddie. "Maybe when Ruh-Richie is better he can--"

"Richie shouldn't have to  say anything to her. He's hurt and she didn't even ask how he is." Eddie glared down at the floor. "No one has to go groveling over to her, she's totally unreasonable and doesn't care about anyone but herself."

"That all may be true," Stan replied sagely. "But if you want to be able to see Richie on the weekends you're going to have to do something to calm her down."

Eddie nodded down at the floor. He was tired of talking about it. “Bill this might be asking for a lot, but can I take a shower?"

"Y-yeah, go ahead. Towels in the hallway closet," Bill pointed over to the corner of his bedroom. "When y-you come back, the sleeping b-bag is in on the top shelf." . 

Eddie showed himself out. It was only when he was alone with the warm water rushing over his head that he allowed himself to cry.

****

 

He laid on the floor in Bill's sleeping bag, scrubbed clean and changed into warm pajamas. It was still early but the lights were low and Eddie only heard the soft wet smacking sounds his friend's mouths made as they explored each other. He felt creepy and voyeuristic, suddenly understanding all of Stan's whining about PDA. This wasn't public, but he was made a silent spectator to things that were normally kept very, very private. He didn’t want to listen but it was almost impossible not to.

Stan made hushed little breathy sounds. Every now and then he let out a low whimper. Eddie didn't know exactly what they were doing in the bed four feet from his spot on the floor, but he knew one thing for sure: Bill's lips and hands didn't stutter. They were deft and had an undeniable effect on Stan. "They make him "go gooey,"  Eddie thought, Richie-isms.  He blindly groped for his phone laying next to him. His messages from Richie had gone unanswered with all the drama of the evening.

 

-

 

baby <3

|7:43[ lemme know how it went ok? ]

|8:01[ if she does nething to u ill rip the iv out and come over there ]

|8:02[ real romantic stupid shit, like in a bad action movie ]

|8:33[ spaghetti :( ]

|8:47[ i miss u ]

_

 

As Eddie was typing his response, his phone rang. Richie's saved picture was a photo from their sleepover at Bill's: himself and Richie, asleep and spooning on the air mattress in the den. Richie's arms were wrapped around Eddie and his face was right up against the back of Eddie's neck. They'd kicked the blankets off of themselves and their legs were laced together. Bev'd taken the shot and sent it to him. He smiled at it and got up from the floor to quietly leave the room.

"Hi," Eddie whispered, sliding down the wall in the hallway to sit on the floor.

"Heyyy babydoll, everything good?" Richie's tone was gentle and sleepy. "Why you whispering?"

"Just trying to be quiet. Are you feeling any better?"

"Yeah all better, Eds... I had a miraculous recovery... in the two hours since you left."

"Funny," Eddie whispered, deadpan.

"How did it go with... the Demon Witch of Derry ?"

Eddie's eyes threatened to cry again. They stung and the inside of his nose prickled. "She told me she doesn't want me to see you anymore."

Silence. Richie breathing shallow breaths, his voice higher than normal. "What'd you say to her?"

"I don't even remember, I think I blacked out," Eddie whispered, eyes squeezed shut. "I'm at Bill's. I ran out of there." He felt the tears falling and they took over his voice. "What are we supposed to do, Richie?"

"Baby, okay first of all... she can't keep me away from you... it's impossible... I'll sneak into your window... every night if I have to."

Eddie sniffled, rolled his eyes to himself. "Richie you're on oxygen."

"I'm not saying tonight,  Eds... I'm saying if she keeps this up... after I'm out... so don't even worry." Richie was quiet for a minute, but Eddie still heard him breathing softly into the phone. The best sound in the world. "You still coming by tomorrow?"

"Yeah, I'm coming straight from here in the morning." He wiped his eyes, perking up a little. "I got to witness Bill and Stan hooking up tonight."

"No shit? Stan the Man isn't... secretly a eunuch like I thought?"

Eddie snickered under his breath. "Nope. He was like--" he lowered his voice even more, "--panting  and it was kind of hot but I felt like a creep listening."

"You are a little creep," Richie teased, breathy. "Hey, make me a movie of them... so I can feel like I was there."

"Gross, no," Eddie grumbled. "You're disgusting."

"Ah, my sweet angel baby," Richie hummed fondly, "calling me gross... it's like coming home."

Eddie smiled. The phone was a lifeline in his hand, tethering him to Richie, taking away all the stress he went through that evening. "Richie, I love you. I wish I could be with you right now."

"Same, kid. It sucks here at night... the lights are bright as fuck and... people are walking around. Hard to sleep."

"Maybe you could listen to music?"

"I don't have ear buds... I got yelled at by the night nurse... for playing it too loud before."

Eddie was struck by an idea and felt himself blushing. "I can... I mean, I can't,  I'm terrible, but I want to... like you did for me before."

"Are you sure you aren't the one... with the concussion? Was that sentence supposed to... make sense?"

"Oh, stop it. Shh okay?" Eddie closed his eyes, embarrassed but not caring. He sang so softly, a song he didn't know until Richie showed it to him, but one that was becoming one of his favorites. His voice wasn't really terrible,  but he was no Richie.  

"For you, there'll be no more crying. For you, the sun will be shining. And I feel that when I'm with you, it's alright. I know it's right. To you, I'll give the world. To you, I'll never be cold. 'Cause I feel that when I'm with you, it's alright. I know it's right. And the songbirds are singing, like they know the score. And I love you, I love you, I love you, like never before."

"Babyy," Richie cooed, and Eddie could hear him smiling. "Thank you. That was... so pretty. Now sing... All I Want For Christmas Is You.

"Mariah Carey?" Eddie squeaked, giggling. "No, it's too hard to sing."

"Okay, then sing the song... from the Grinch. Y'know when the... Whos are happy even though... the Grinch ruined their lives."

"I'm not singing any of that."

"Fine, you're the Grinch... Then just stay on the phone with me... 'til i fall asleep?"

"That i can do."

Chapter Text

Richie sat cross-legged on the hospital bed with a gigantic set of headphones on his head. He was jamming out--as hard as he could while his left arm was trussed up with an IV--with his glasses off and his eyes closed, and totally oblivious when Eddie entered the room. Eddie set down his bag and smiled at his boyfriend as he removed his coat. How did his mother possibly think she could keep him away from this adorably funny, cute, weird boy?

He must’ve been listening to a song that was well-loved and loud in equal measure, because his fingers were wiggling and tapping the air to a beat Eddie couldn’t hear. His hair was tied up; the puff of his bun just a big old curly mess. The bruises scattered around his pale face were deeper shades of purple and tan than they were the previous evening, and he had the beginnings of a five-o’clock shadow forming on his lower jaw. Impressive.  Eddie only needed to shave every four days.

Eddie climbed up on the bed and deposited his head directly onto Richie’s folded knee.

“Oh shit!” He exclaimed, too loud because of the music pumping into his ears. “Baby! You're here!”

Eddie sat up and smirked. He lifted the headphones off of Richie’s head, careful not to tangle the wire with the oxygen cable. “You know you’re yelling, right?”

“Sorry,” he stage-whispered, grinning. “My parents got me those… for Christmas. Pretty fuckin’ swanky… I looked ‘em up; expensive.” He waved grabby hands at Eddie, motioning him forward for a kiss.

Eddie pecked Richie’s mouth delicately, mindful of his now-scabbing lower lip. “Where is everyone?” He'd expected that all the Toziers would be there.

“They all left to find an open place to… get breakfast.” He leaned over to reach for his glasses on the table next to his bed and let out a groan when his hand grabbed a hold of them. “So... I told them ‘best of luck.’ Tiny town… Christian holiday… Doubt anything will be...” He trailed off, grimacing and holding the right side of his chest.

“Baby, are you okay?” Eddie soothed, rubbing his arm. 

“Yeah. I’m fine, Eds. Just my ribs... They don't like when I do that." He slipped the frames onto his face. "There's my cute boy. Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas." Eddie leaned in to kiss him again, lips parted and tongue searching. "You should text your mom," he whispered between kisses, "and tell her to pick you up some zinc and vitamin C."

Richie smiled against his mouth. "This is what you're thinking about right now?"

"Yeah." Eddie pulled back. "Hospitals are full of germs, Richie. The last thing you need is to catch a cold on top of everything else."

"I'm not worried about that, even... a little bit, Eds."

"Of course you aren't; that's why I have to."

"If you're that concerned about my well-being... run out and get me some smokes." He was dead serious. "I almost had a total mental breakdown this morning… fiending, but my new best friend Mary,” he sang the nurses name, lifting up the left sleeve of his tee to show Eddie a nicotine patch. “Gave me this bad boy.”

“Wait, are you going to quit?” Eddie asked, excited.

Richie puffed out an abrupt smug breath and furrowed his brow. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, Eds… I’m just trying to make it… through the next couple days.”

Eddie shook his head, pursing his lips. “If you can go five days without cigarettes, then you should be able to stop for good.”

“Is this… lecture-Richie-about-his-vices hour?” Richie asked solemnly. He grinned. “Or is it… two-cuties-exchange-presents hour?”

“It’s Richie-changes-the-subject-when-he-doesn’t-want-to-be-held-accountable  lifetime,” Eddie replied smartly, raising his chin.

“Bitch, you’re not getting… any  presents now.” Richie smiled brightly, but his eyes challenged Eddie. “Edward Kaspbrak  has been stripped…of all his rights to gifts.”

Eddie tipped his head, brought his face closer to Richie's. He lowered his voice. “Well then Richard Tozier’s  presents are getting thrown out the window.”

Richie's shoulders sunk a little. “Hey, I  threaten to chuck things… out the window. That’s copywrite, me.”

“I think you mean trademark,  and you don’t have a trade—"

Richie bopped a finger on Eddie's lips. “Eds, shush it.” He started to reach his arm out towards the table and stopped abruptly. Blinking sad puppy eyes at Eddie, he pointed pathetically at two boxes. One was a small square, the other a larger flat rectangle. “Those are from Mags to you, little one… Open ‘em, I’m dying to see what she got you.”

Eddie leaned over and grabbed them, placing them on the bed. “You don’t know what they are?” He picked up the smaller package first. It was heavy.

“Huh-uh.” Richie shook his head. “Get going, already. Let’s see.”

The small box contained a candle, exactly what he’d told Maggie to get. Anything wintery.  It was a soy three-wick candle in Creamy Nutmeg scent. He held it up to Richie with a shy smile. “She asked me what I wanted.”

“You wanted candles, baby?” Richie grinned back, teasing. “So basic.”

Eddie frowned down at his lap. “Shut up.”

“Open the other one,” he urged, impatient. “Come on.”

“God, you’re like a little kid,” Eddie grumbled good-naturedly. He tore the paper and opened the box. “Pajamas.”

Smiling softly, Richie cocked his head. “They’re Christmas  pajamas,” he mentioned, inflecting pointedly on the word Christmas, like it was important.

“Yeah,” Eddie hummed, not understanding the significance. He lifted them out of the box. They were soft long john bottoms and a henley top, both midnight blue with white accents and patterned with snowflakes. When they unfolded, a little envelope fell out. Inside it was a small handwritten card.

 

Merry Christmas, Eddie.

Please say you’ll join us for New Year’s Eve at home this year.

Love, Maggie

P.S. Come wearing these!

 

 

"What's it say, Eds?"

“She invited me over on New Year’s Eve.”

“Woah.” Richie bobbed his head back in a little double take of surprise. “She really loves you, kid.”

Eddie wrinkled up his forehead, his whole face one big question. “Why do you say that?” 

“The guest list for N-Y-E… es el exclusivo, man.”

“I still have no idea what you’re talking about." He flicked Richie lightly on the hand. "Use your words."

Richie rolled his eyes as a pretty flush began creeping its way up to the tips of his ears. He hesitated for a few seconds, and when he finally spoke his voice was reluctant and shy. “Every year on Christmas… my mother buys herself, me and Sadie new pajamas… And then on New Year’s Eve… we put them on, sit on the couch and stuff… our faces while watching the… Twilight Zone marathon ‘til we all crash.”

Eddie grinned, studying Richie’s face. Bashful looked beautiful on him. “You do that every year?”

“Since I was ten,” Richie mumbled, speaking down to his lap. "It's like the one thing we all do together."

"Your dad too?"

"Nah, Went has some end-of-year... accounting bullshit."

"How do you know when the ball drops, though?" Eddie asked, eyes far away. He and his mother watched TV on New Year's Eve, but it was usually a public television station that did a count-down. "If you watch a marathon, I mean."

Richie's head snapped up quickly. "Sades is like the midnight-police," he chuckled. "Watch, you'll see."

Eddie laughed quietly. "Okay. I still don't understand why you think your mom loves m--"

“We've begged her before, to let us… invite friends over and she always says no.” He gave Eddie a weak smile. “It’s true love baby: my mom likes you… better than she likes me.”

“Richie, that’s just a silly thing for you to say.”

“Feels true,” Richie stated quietly.

Eddie got up on his knees and gently cupped Richie’s face with both hands, planting a soft kiss on his forehead. “Baby, I watched your mother cry for hours  in the waiting room.” Leaning back to sit on his heels, he took Richie’s right hand. “I think she’s not good at words. But I know she loves you.”

Richie squeezed Eddie’s hand. “Well since she’s your best friend, now,” he said, mock-irritated and put-upon. “I’ll take your word for it.”

“You want your presents?” Eddie didn’t wait for an answer. He hopped up from the bed to pull the gifts he brought out of his back pack. “I wrapped these in a rush at Bill’s house this morning, so it’s not a very neat job.” He placed the packages on Richie’s lap. Two of them: a soft bundle with bad edges, and a flat hard one. Eddie hoisted himself back up on the foot of the bed.

Richie tore the bigger one open in a flash and one corner of his mouth turned up when he saw what is was. A sunny, slouchy, knit yellow hat and a matching infinity scarf.

“You don’t have to wear them together, if it’s too bright,” Eddie explained, embarrassed. “You just don’t dress warm enough, like ever.” He tucked his hair behind his ear. “And I think the color suits you.” Without uttering the words, Eddie said it.

Hannah was right about you. And it doesn’t matter that she said it because I believe it, too. You’re so bright and beautiful and sunny. 

“Thank you, baby,” Richie whispered, fingering the soft fabric. “It’s not too bright.” A smile curled his lips slowly. “You’ve seen my Hawaiian shirts, no?”

Eddie returned the smile and nodded. “How could I miss them?” He licked his lips, eyes flicking between Richie's face and the last gift. “Open the other one.”

Richie ripped the paper off, and a soft noise left his throat. It was a small framed photo collage that Eddie’d made himself. The photos were arranged in a heart, and most of the pictures were selfies they’d taken together (ice skating, apple picking, the dance), plus Bev's photo of them from the sleepover, a baby picture of each of them--Maggie helped him with that--and a picture of Richie in his Seymour costume. In the top right corner, it said R+E in Sadie’s beautiful handwriting.

"Eddie," Richie drawled softly, running his finger down the glass. "Why do you want me to cry on Christmas?"

"Baby." Eddie crawled closer, wrapping his arms around Richie as gently as he could. “Your mom and I are both kind of bad at the same thing, y’know: telling you what you need to hear. So I made this to show you.” He rubbed up and down Richie’s back. “I didn’t want  you to cry.”

Richie hugged him back with his unencumbered right arm. “Well, mission accomplished anyway,” he breathed sweetly against Eddie’s neck. “Fuck, your present isn’t meaningful enough,” he chided himself. He wiped under his glasses with his left hand. “I just got it because I thought... it’d look super cute on you.” He pointed at a much larger box than any of the presents they’d already opened. It sat on the chair in the corner.

“At least give me a chance to decide for myself before you tell me it’s bad.” Eddie pulled back from their embrace and got down to retrieve it. He could tell it was a square garment box before he even opened it. Tearing the paper, he pulled the lid off slowly, and raised his eyebrows. The gift was probably the most expensive thing he’d ever received in his life, and it was gorgeous. “Oh, wow, baby. This is beautiful.” It was a light-brown leather bomber jacket; buttery and soft under Eddie’s fingers. “Thank you.”

“It looked really warm and I thought you’d look… so cute. But I should’ve got you—"

“No, I love it, Richie,” Eddie broke in, slipping his arms into the jacket. It fit well in the shoulders and chest, but it was a little long in the arms. The ribbed edges of the sleeves hit him right on the heels of his hands. It was warm, with fluffy shorn wool inside, and Eddie had grown to love that leather smell; it reminded him of Richie. He sat on the edge of the bed and leaned forward to give Richie a lingering kiss. Leaning back, he struck a graceful model pose. “Do I look like I would ride a motorcycle?”

Richie replied honestly, with a grin.“You look super cute; like you’d ride... on the back  of a motorcycle.” 

He pouted and bobbed his head side to side. “That’s fair, I guess.”

A knock on the open door startled them both. “Hello, Richard. Hi Eddie-bear.”

“Ma?” Eddie scrambled off the bed and stood; his natural fight-or-flight response kicking in. He clasped his hands in front of himself. “What are you doing here?”

His mother's expression was veiled. She'd dressed up nicely in her church clothes and her best coat. “I wanted to wish Richard well before I left for your Aunt’s house.” Sonia didn’t come all the way into the room; she just hovered in the doorway. 

Richie’s eyes widened and slowly trailed from Sonia over to Eddie. “Uh, thanks?” It was one of those rare moments when Richie was as close to speechless as he possibly got. He stared at Eddie with confused eyes, and Eddie could almost hear him saying it: "What planet are we on Eds? Did someone spike my IV with LSD?"  

Eddie swallowed a nervous laugh and tried to keep his face serious. 

"I also wanted to come by to say Merry Christmas to you and your family." Sonia's tone was friendly enough, but Eddie watched his mother's face carefully. He knew it cost her something deep inside to swallow her pride, show up and speak the words. 

"Again," Richie hummed at her, pleasantly and phrasing it like a question, "Thanks?" He glanced at Eddie again, unable to contain himself. He muttered out of the side of his mouth as though Sonia wouldn't hear, "Eds, is this real life? Did I hit my head again?"

Eddie couldn't keep the smile off his face, muttering back in the same manner. "If you did, so did I. Good thing we're at the hospital."

Sonia looked like she was losing patience with them. “Can I talk to you in the hallway, Eddie-bear?” She walked out without hearing his response.

“Yeah,” Eddie said, eyes still on Richie. He mouthed  What the fuck is happening?  before he followed her into the hall.

 

She sighed when he stepped up beside her. Her eyes roved all over Eddie's face. “Where did you go last night?”

“Bill’s,” he said quickly. “Really, ” he added, when she gave him an incredulous look. His mother didn't seem angry, but he couldn't place her emotional state. Calm was what he guessed as the closest thing, and that was strange to witness. He was waiting for the catch.

“I’m leaving to go to Amy’s now," Sonia told him, like nothing had happened the night before. "I take it you’re not joining me, so I--”

"That's it?" He choked it out, looking at her like she'd been speaking Greek. “Ma, can you tell me what you’re really doing here?”

Sonia spoke quickly, reticent. “My Christian duty. It’s Christmas Day; he’s our neighbor.” She stared up at the ceiling and kept her shoulders stiff. "And after our talk last night I understand now that I can't--" Stopping, she took a breath and swallowed. "You're growing up, and I can't stop you from making choices."

Though he didn't quite understand exactly  what she meant by that, Eddie thought maybe he received the larger message. She was backing off. He nodded, fidgeting absently with the edges of the sleeves on his jacket.

Softening a bit, Sonia's face relaxed "Are you just going to stay here all day? It's Christmas, and you should be--"

"Yes, it is Christmas," he agreed lightly. "And I want to spend it with my boyfriend."

"Your Aunts will be disappointed. They didn't get to see you on Thanksgiving."

"Ma, you all just sit and eat pie and watch Christmas movies all day. They won't miss me at all."

"Alright, Eddie, fine." Sonia picked at invisible lint on the front lapel of her coat. “Well, when you get home tonight, your gifts are under the tree. There are some cards on the dining room table that came in the mail." She bit her lip a little bit, looking proud of herself. "I didn't open them."

"Okay. Thanks." 

Sonia was about to hug him goodbye when she took a closer look at Eddie’s torso. “Wait, where did you get that jacket?”

“Oh right.” He’d almost forgotten he was wearing it. “Richie gave it to me for Christmas.”

She raised her eyebrows, sounding impressed. “It must’ve cost a fortune.”

He fought the urge to roll his eyes at her. Always so dazzled by wealth. “I think Maggie is the one who actually bought it.”

“Well be sure to say thank-you to her.”

“I will, Ma.” Eddie's mouth dropped open. “Oh, before you go. Maggie invited me to come over her house on New Year’s Eve.” He gave his mother a little smile. “And since you said that thing before, about me making choices... I’m going, okay?”

"Edward," Sonia began, but then halted, pursing her lips. She looked into her son’s eyes and then away. “We’ll discuss it more when I get home tonight.”

“Fine, Ma.” He hugged his mother goodbye. "Merry Christmas."

****

 

[5:24 PM FR]

big bill created a group chat titled - hey losers

 

big bill added stan, eddie, richie, bev, mike, and ben into the chat

___________________________________________________

 

big bill: do whatever u want with ur names idc

big bill: just fig this is an easier way to talk

 

stan's name changed to - Stan

eddie's name changed to - this is too much pressure

richie's name changed to - eddies lover

mike's name changed to - jaguars baby

bev's name changed to - little RED corvette

ben's name changed to - ben the builder

 

this is too much pressure: really richie?

eddies lover: do you want me to lie to the children, angel?

eddies lover: hey guys, eddie and i really dont like each other at all. its a sham. a reverse sham

this is too much pressure's name changed to - shut up richie

shut up richie: <<<<<

eddies lover: clever

little RED corvette: this is exactly what ive been missing in my life tbh

jaguars baby: ^

Stan: Funny. I was thinking the exact opposite thing.

ben the builder: richie when do u get out?

big bill: the 28th. eddie wont shut up about it

shut up richie: hey >:\

eddies lover: <3 <3 my baby misses me smmmm

eddies lover: do u check off the passing days on ur wall with chalk like a prisoner?

eddies lover: bc thats really hot

shut up richie: i'm sitting right next to him. right this minute

jaguars baby: so neway... 

jaguars baby: how is everyones break?

eddies lover: everyone knows my answer so ill shut up

Stan: Wow, that's all it takes for you to shut up? My break is getting better and better.

ben the builder: my break -> too short

little RED corvette: so far so good

jaguars baby: mines been great too

big bill: awesome for me. how was xmas in the hospital?

shut up richie: some carolers came around and richie tried to get them to sing some song no ones ever heard of

eddies lover: if u havent heard of depeche mode then i dont know what ur prob is. it was funny

eddies lover: jesus s bday, personal jesus, come on

jaguars baby: funny sacrelidge

ben the builder: heh

big bill: eddie did u work things out w sonia?

eddies lover: monsieur spaghetti cant talk right now, his hands r busy iykwim

shut up richie: hes a fucking LIAR

shut up richie: i want to go back to one on on DMs, richie needs to put on a show when he has the attention of multiple parties

shut up richie has left the chat

ben the builder: wow that took like 40 secs to get ruined

Stan: It's not ruined; he's just being dramatic.

little RED corvette: whats he doing richie?

eddies lover: hes trying to tke my phne but hes scared to hur t me, so he's basclaly just being a lovebug rn

eddies lover: kinda lke a hybrid f cuddling and wrestling, and its realyl doing it for me

jaguars baby: hmm maybe i want to go back to dms too

big bill: no one HAS TO chat ok, i just made this to have it

big bill added shut up richie into the chat

shut up richie:<<<< preemptively 

eddies lover: :X  for the rest of my life promise

jaguars baby: thats the emptiest promise ever made

shut up richie: @bill my mother seems to have had a change of heart, or she's been taken over by an alien lifeform not sure

big bill: either one of those is an improvement tho

little RED corvette: merry christmas to all, my beautiful freaks

ben the builder: same

jaguars baby: ^^

Stan: Ahem.

big bill: happy hannakah even though it ended last week

Stan: It's Hanukkah but thanks, Billy. :) 

eddies lover: btw billy calling urself 'big bill' is really cocky. pun intended

little RED corvette: kajdcmowjdkqdwlw; richie. dead

big bill: stan n eddie have been calling me that since we were kids

eddies lover: yeah but stan n eddie r chronically gay

shut up richie: <<<<<

eddies lover: make me. u know how

shut up richie: .........

ben the builder: this chat is just an excuse for r&e to do some weird dirty talk shit with an audience, right?

Stan: *sighs heavily*

Stan: *prays for death*  

__________________________________________________ 

 ****

 

After he left the hospital that evening, Eddie came home to his empty house and felt comfortable in the quiet solitude. There were peaceful hours stretching in front of him, and he expected his mother to return well after eleven. He turned on the Christmas tree because he liked the soft and shadowy light it cast on the walls of the living room. Ignoring the presents Sonia mentioned, he made for the dining room table to view the cards she'd promised him. 

He got one from Bev, and from the Denbroughs - expected cards. There was also one from the Toziers--well from Maggie, he knew--a photo card of the family that must've been taken the previous summer. Richie's hair was shorter and he didn't smile. The sun reflected off his glasses so his eyes weren't visible. He wore a tank top and his shoulders were pink. The rest of the family looked elated to be at the beach, especially Sadie. She grinned so hard her eyes were slitted. The message box on the side of the photo said "Sunny wishes from the Toziers this winter."  He put the card down on the table and went for a hunter green envelope with no return address that piqued his interest. 

When he opened the card, a photo fluttered out. It was a picture of himself and Patrick, from someone's birthday party. They couldn't have been more than eight. It was a candid shot: Patrick tying a blindfold on Eddie so he could take his turn hitting a pinata. They were both smiling, and Patrick was whispering something into his ear. He felt that involuntary sticky nostalgia filling him up as he read the card. 

Eddie, I'm really glad you don't hate me. Merry Christmas

Eddie climbed the stairs to put his gifts away. He tacked both photos to the cork-board above his desk, leaving the Toziers card on prominent display, but hiding the photo of himself and Patrick behind a piece of looseleaf: a sketch of a turtle that Bev'd given him. "Merry Christmas," he whispered to no one. 

Chapter Text

"Oh well isn't that lovely, dear." Sonia hummed into her phone, as sticky sweet as a cinnamon roll. "Thank you." She'd been talking to Maggie for over an hour. Eddie's mother had a bad habit of taking her calls on speaker, so he heard their entire exchange in full. Listening from the stairwell, he understood with a sudden clarity where Richie got his charming nature: Maggie Tozier could sell a cape to Superman.

The entire tone of the conversation was Never fear, Sonia dear; your son is precious cargo.  New Year’s Eve was a tradition Maggie shared with her own parents, and spending it with her children’s significant others was something she’d looked forward to for years. Well, her children having  significant others that she liked well enough to want  them to come to New Year’s Eve was something she’d looked forward to for years, anyhow. And Eddie was just a joy to Maggie; a wonderful young man, truly. The Tozier parents would be home to supervise the entire night, though Went would be in his study working, as per usual. The family had an air-mattress and Eddie would sleep on it in the living room. Everything taken care of; all possible angles covered.

Charmed by Maggie’s thoughtful and heartfelt words, Sonia put up no resistance. She told Eddie to have a nice time, and that she and Ryan Seacrest and Dick Clark’s Rockin’ Eve  would all miss him. He doubted that very much, but thanked her nonetheless. 

Richie answered when Eddie rang the bell, and hid behind the door as he let Eddie into the foyer. Poking just his head around, his face--littered with healing bruises--was shy and pink, his hair done up in a carefully twisted and curiously smooth knot. “Don’t laugh at me.” He stepped from behind it to reveal that he wore a velveteen one-piece with a hood. It was black and had a pattern featuring different Christmas items: candy canes, mistletoe, gingerbread men, plus the phrase Bah Humbug printed here and thereThe hood had reindeer antlers attached to it.

Biting down on a smile, Eddie stifled his laughter as he kicked off his sneakers and took off his coat. “I’ll try really hard not to laugh, Richie. But come on.” They shared a slow kiss hello. “How do you feel?”

“Great. Fantastic.” Richie clicked the door shut and moved Eddie over, pushing him up against it and kissing him deeper. “Even better now that you’re here,” he whispered against Eddie’s lips. “Let’s dip upstairs real quick.”

“Baby,” Eddie sputtered, trying to look around Richie to see if Maggie was close by. “Wait until later. I want to say hello to your mom and sister.”

“Ughhhh little boy scout.” Richie groaned and laid his forehead on Eddie’s shoulder. “All pure and polite. Fuckin’ cock-block.”

Eddie smirked and gripped onto Richie’s bun. “I’ll drag you around by this all night if you don’t stop it right now.”

He growled hot breath into Eddie's ear. “Promise?”

Shivering involuntarily, Eddie whispered back, “You'd like that wouldn't you--”

“Eddie, you made it!” Maggie’s voice broke into their bubble, causing Richie to step back quickly, ducking his head and patting at the front of his hair. She came forward with her arms open to embrace Eddie. Her pajamas were classic fair isle bottoms and a ribbed red henley top. 

"Hi Maggie, Happy New Year." He hugged her hello, and she held him at arm’s length when they broke apart.

"I'm so glad they fit you." She nodded down at his pajamas and aimed a little smile her son’s way. "Come get a drink, make yourself at home." She motioned for both of them to follow her into the kitchen.

Sadie was at the island, placing frozen pigs in a blanket on a cookie sheet. Her pajamas were similar to Richie’s: a hooded onesie but the pattern was the face of a cat wearing a Santa hat along with the words Santa Claws. “Eddie!” She hopped up from the stool to hug him fiercely, almost knocking him over.

“Jesus, Sadie. Hi.” He squeezed her tight. “Nice PJ’s.”

“Thanks.” She made a sour face. “I love cats but we can’t have any because SOMEONE is allergic.”

“Get a cat if you want,” Richie replied easily as he entered the kitchen. He leaned against the island. “Fuck, get six of ‘em. Sneezing profusely really adds spice to my otherwise boring existence, y’know?”

“Sadie, leave your brother alone; your father can't tolerate cats either. Okay kids, let’s get all this stuff ready so we can get to the good part.” Maggie finished up Sadie’s task and placed the tray into the oven for her. She busied herself pouring chips from a giant bag into a serving bowl.

Richie listened to his mother and pulled a platter covered with foil and a couple of small bowls of dip out of the fridge. He stopped and stared up at the ceiling, looking like he was thinking really hard about something, before whispering "Fuck it," to himself. He took a container of ice cream out of the freezer.  

They settled down in the living room. The coffee table was covered with snacks, and timers beeped periodically to alert them that there were more on the way. Maggie didn't relax much, hopping up from her seat in the arm chair to deal with the oven and alarms. Eddie and Richie were on the couch, and Sadie sprawled out on her stomach on the air mattress that was set up as Eddie's bed for the night. 

Eddie couldn’t keep his eyes off Richie. He was adorable, and still on his I-escaped-the-hospital  high—a high he’d been on for the past several days. It was blatantly apparent that he relished in the fact that he had free-use of his left arm and at least three-quarters ability back in his lung. He looked like a kindergartener sitting on the couch cross-legged in those jammies eating a giant mound of ice cream out of a soup crock. Eddie watched him, shaking his head and trying hard not to laugh.

“Spaghetti, if I catch you laughing at my pajamas one more time I fucking swear,” he warned through a mouthful of butter pecan. “Don’t ruin New Year's by judging me.”

“He asked for that ugly thing, too,” Sadie teased, smiling at Eddie. “Mom let us pick.”

Richie put his bowl down on the coffee table, all the wind knocked out of his sails. “When I asked for it I wasn’t aware that I had to worry about being seen by anyone other than you  tonight, you little scumbag.”

“Richard, don’t call your sister a scumbag,” Maggie chided, face scrunching when she repeated the insult.

“She’s making fun of me.” Richie’s voice went higher, he practically squeaked. “Why the fuck do I always get blamed?”

“Because you’re the one calling names and cursing.” Sadie grinned toothily at Richie, looking almost exactly like him, and totally relaxed in the wake of his naked irritation with her. “All I did was tell Eddie some helpful facts about you.”

Richie grabbed his ice cream and dug around in it. He muttered down into the bowl, basically talking to himself. “When you get out of the hospital you think it’s gonna be a pleasant experience. Maybe like a welcome home banner or a pizza party or something. Nah, not for Richie. I just get made fun of and then told to shut up.”

“You get told to shut up when you’re perfectly healthy,” Eddie giggled, unable to control it. “All the time, by pretty much everyone.”

“That is so rude, Spaghetti Head.” Richie blustered, but he smirked down into his ice cream. “Uncalled for. Un. Called. For.”

“Okay, well both of you shut up because I like this episode.” Sadie made a show of raising the remote in the air and blasting the volume. 

Eddie’d never watched the Twilight Zone  before, so he didn’t know what to expect. He thought it would be reasonably scary--just based on the name and the hype surrounding it--but it wasn’t; not really. At least it wasn’t scary like horror movies were. The show was more cerebral than he pictured it being. Most of the episodes had twist endings that left him pondering things existentially, and he liked it more than he thought he would.

When the fourth episode into their marathon began, Sadie snickered at the title screen and craned her neck to look over at her brother. Richie released a puff of air, mumbling “Great, here we go,” under his breath.

“What?” Eddie asked, not sure which of them to look at for his answer.

Maggie spoke up on their behalf. “This episode used to scare Richie when he was a little boy.”

Richie sounded  exactly like a little boy when he whined his response. “Mom.”

“He cried the first time he saw it,” Sadie added joyfully, grinning ear-to-ear.

“Why did it scare him?” Eddie smiled slowly as he flitted his eyes back and forth between Maggie and his boyfriend. She grinned, her gaze warm on Richie who closed his eyes, ducking his head down to rest his forehead against his palm as his ears went pink.

“Let’s just watch it, and you can see for yourself.” Maggie was clearly reminiscing. Her eyes raked over the side of Richie’s face. 

“Okay.” Eddie wondered if Maggie was picturing Richie when he was small and sweet, before that first urge to be independent made the little boy that used to come to her for comfort roll his eyes at her instead. He sat back and watched the show. Like most of the episodes they’d seen that evening, he didn’t find there to be anything particularly ‘scary,’ about it. At least not the type of ‘scary’ that would make a person cover their eyes or jump out of their seat.

The story that frightened tiny Richie was about a man with very bad eye-sight who worked in a bank. He loved to read, but his life and his work prevented him from having enough time to pursue reading as a hobby. One day a nuclear blast killed everyone on Earth. The man was spared because he was inside the bank’s vault at the time of impact, and he was the sole survivor. At first, he felt distraught because everyone was dead. Then he realized that with the world coming to an end, he had enough time to read uninterrupted for as long as he wanted to, so he was overjoyed. Right as he settled down to begin reading, he dropped his glasses and they broke, and he couldn’t see anything anymore. So, he was trapped on Earth all alone; blinded and with no way to get new glasses.

Eddie smiled softly at his boyfriend, who was still hiding—or attempting to. He sat with his elbow on his knee, hand in front of his face, glasses off and avoiding eye-contact with everyone in the room.

Maggie watched him too. She looked over at Eddie. “He was afraid that he’d break his glasses and not be able to get another pair.” She got up from her seat on the armchair and sat beside her son. “And he said to me, ‘Mommy, what would happen if I couldn’t get new glasses?’”

“I never heard of Lenscrafters. ” Richie kept his head down but looked at his mother sidelong from underneath his eyelashes. “I was ten.”

She put her hand behind the back of his neck and played with the soft baby hairs that were too short to be collected into his bun. “I told him, ‘Richie, that wouldn’t happen, baby; I would get you a new pair. However many new ones you need, I’ll get them.’”

“And you did.” Richie chuckled softly. “You’re still  getting them.”

“Yep,” Maggie agreed, her voice feather-light. She curled her hand around the base of his neck and guided him over to hug her. Richie didn’t put up any resistance, he went right in and put his head on his mother’s shoulder. She whispered, barely audible. “I love you, baby.”

He whispered his response, equally quiet. “I love you, too, Mom.” 

She rubbed her hand up and down his back. “It’s so good to have you home.”

Richie didn't answer, he just nodded against her shoulder; so much bigger than her, but somehow smaller in that moment. Eddie had to look away because he felt like an intruder gaping at something sweetly intimate that wasn't meant for his eyes. He glanced over at Sadie, who was also watching her mother as she held onto Richie. She mouthed over at Eddie He’s her favorite, always has been.

Eddie smiled down at his lap, and in a flash the tender moment was over as quickly as it happened.

Out of nowhere, Maggie asked, “Eddie, do you want to try some prosecco?”

“Um, okay.”

Richie put his glasses back on. “Mother are you hitting on my boyfriend because you’re not his type.”

“No, Richard. It’s a holiday, I’m just asking if he wants to try a glass of sparkling wine.” She stood and walked towards the kitchen, calling back through the archway. “The drinking age used to be eighteen, you know. I always resented that they changed it.”

Richie leaned forward and yelled back to her. “Why are you offering him wine and not me?”

She came back with two glasses; one for Eddie and one for herself. “Because you’re on pain medication. I’m not feeding you alcohol.”

“Totally comfortable contributing to the delinquency of minors, but she still has a limit, kids.” Richie grinned at his sister. “Mother of the year, just like I said.”

 

At fifteen minutes to midnight, Eddie’d already had two and a half small glasses of prosecco. Sadie and Maggie went into the kitchen to prepare toasting drinks for everyone; sparkling cider for the kids and champagne for Maggie. Richie got a bright idea in their absence and grabbed Eddie's hand to take him outside. Shuffling into their sneakers, they slipped out unnoticed and stood side-by-side just in front of the garage where they were obscured by its shadow. Richie unzipped the front of his pajamas and pulled a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from the pocket of his under shirt. 

“You're smoking again?" Eddie was disappointed but tried not to be too harsh. "Where’d you even get cigarettes from?” He knew Richie hadn’t gone anywhere since he got home from the hospital. They released him because his lung was healing on schedule, but he was told to continue resting for an additional week. There was still a possibility that he’d miss the first few days of the new semester.

Richie stuck a smoke in his mouth and spoke with it in between his teeth before lighting up. “Red gai-me ‘em.” 

“When’d you see Bev?”

“She came over to see me yesterday with Mikey.” He took a puff, and must’ve noticed Eddie’s confused expression. Eddie came to the Tozier’s house every day since Richie got out of the hospital and he didn’t see Bev or Mike there once. “Early in the morning," he explained. "When your cute little ass was still dead to the world.”

“Oh,” Eddie huffed, brows tensed.

Richie exhaled smoke, mildly irritated. “I am allowed to have relationships with our friends that are independent of you, right?”

“Richie, of course you are.” He wrapped his arms around his chest. “I’m just sort of annoyed that she’d bring cigarettes to someone who still can’t take a full deep breath.”

“I’ll only inhale it on my left side, promise.” He winked at Eddie with a grin.

“Okay, you’re too smart to say something so dumb. Breathing isn’t like chewing.” Eddie leaned forward to glance at the front door. “We should go back in, we’re going to miss midnight.”

“If we don’t see it happen on TV,” Richie whispered, mock-frightened, “will the new year come, Mommy?”

“Shut up,” Eddie groused, slapping lightly at Richie’s shoulder.

“It’s pretty out; not even cold. Let’s just ring in the New Year right here; me and you.”

Right after Richie spoke, the motion-light on the garage went out, and Eddie looked up at the clear sky. It was pretty. Quiet and still with bright stars “How will  we know when it’s time, though? Did you bring your phone?”

“Eds, as soon as the clock hits midnight people are gonna be making loud-ass noises outside.” Richie pointed his cigarette at the houses bordering the property and across the street. “We won’t be able to miss it. Watch. People love to come out at midnight and yell, or shoot off fire-crackers, or bang pots."

“Okay.” Eddie shifted his feet, moving a little closer to his boyfriend.

“You remember what Parish said to you on the first day of school?”

Eddie snapped his neck back in surprise like a chicken. “I remember he gave me detention. Everything else is a blur.”

Richie took a shallow drag and exhaled the smoke slowly. “He said this thing like… ‘human beings can be so predictable’ or something?”

“You remember that?”

“Yep. And I remember how your little face looked." He shook his head. "So fucking embarrassed that everyone was looking at you. I just wanted to give you a hug.”

Eddie pressed his lips into a line to squish his smile. “Meanwhile, I just wanted you to be shipped back to wherever you came from.”

I know,” Richie sang out, flicking ashes. “You told me I was annoying, but what did you really  think of me when you first saw me?”

“You scared me," Eddie murmured. "I thought you were so beautiful, but kind of a cocky douchebag.”

"I could tell exactly what you thought on all counts." Richie snickered, blowing smoke. "Just wanted to hear you say it."

“Did you think I was an asshole?”

Richie's shook his head, smiling wide. “The first time I saw you we didn’t talk, so I didn't know what a little jerk you were yet.”

Eddie ignored the insult. He was confused about the time-line of events. “Really? When was it?”

“The day we moved in. You were sitting right over there, on the wall in front of the bush.” He pointed across the street and leaned closer, goading Eddie. “Y’know, your stalkin’ bush?”

“It’s not  my ‘stalking—'”

“Whatever, the first time I saw you, you were sitting right there.”

“I was waiting there for Bill to come pick me up that day. I forget where we were going.” Eddie stared unfocused across the street at his front yard. “I remember watching the movers for a while, but I didn’t see you.”

“Well, I saw you,"  Richie hummed fondly. "You had on flip-flops and these little shorts, and I was just like, ‘Holy shit; I’m in trouble.’”

Eddie grinned and nudged Richie with his shoulder. “Why were you in trouble?”

“Because you’re so cute and you looked shy. First impression? I thought it was gonna end up some sad story where I just pined for you from afar for the rest of my life.” Richie tossed his still burning cigarette butt into a dirty snow pile on the edge of the driveway.

Eddie glared disapprovingly at Richie’s littering, even though it was on his own property. “But you hit on me anyway.”

“Yeah. I watched you standing there staring at your phone, lookin' like if someone talked to you you'd run screaming out of the theater. I thought, ‘What the fuck does this cute, sweet kid have to be so nervous about?’” He stuck his tongue between his lips, and huffed out a tiny laugh. “Then I talked to you and you were such a little dick to me. And I was like ‘Oh fuck yeah, he's gonna be my dude.’”

“You called me Cherry Pie, did you expect me to not be a dick?” Eddie frowned down at the asphalt under their feet. “It made me feel like you could tell I was a virgin just by looking at my face.”

Cherry Pie,” Richie intoned, his face going dreamy. “I forgot about that. When I got to know you, I realized you’re more of a pasta dish than a baked good. Salty and savory and cheesy, y’know?”

Eddie shook his head, indignant. “You only call me Eddie Spaghetti because it rhymes. It has nothing to do with me perso—” There was a loud pop in the distance. The sky lit up briefly, far away. They heard someone yelling, the words inaudible but it was a happy tone.

“Happy New Year.” Richie stepped in front of Eddie and cupped his face, kissing him, chastely at first with little butterfly kisses, but Eddie parted his lips and licked into Richie’s mouth. He tasted exactly like an ashtray full of ice cream but Eddie didn’t care about it at all, because his boyfriend was safe and home and healing and happy. His taste was familiar, and Eddie wouldn’t ever ask for it to be any different.

Richie was his first New Year’s kiss, his first love, his first everything, and he wanted to capture the moment forever in his memory. Their tongues massaged against each other, catching the same rhythm and gaining momentum; melting together.

Someone down the block was banging on metal, probably a pot like Richie suggested. Eddie barely heard it; it was just a part of their kiss, all of it was a part of their kiss: the darkness and the stars, the cool air and Richie’s clammy hands and his erection pressed up against Eddie’s hip and his smell. He smelled like sandalwood cloaked in smoke, and the chemical smell of brand-new unwashed cotton. Eddie loved it all. 

When Richie pulled back, Eddie’s cheeks were hot and his breathing came in jerky puffs. He rubbed a hand over the side of his face, trying to cool himself down. “We have to go back in there now, you realize that?” He glanced at both of their fronts and choked on a laugh. “Richie, we can’t  go back in there right now.” The thin fabric of their pajamas left very little to the imagination.

“Shit,” Richie chuckled, staring at Eddie’s crotch. “My mom bought you the ultimate embarrassing boner pants. They’re way worse than sweat pants.”

“But not worse than basketball shorts,” he mused, suddenly thinking about gym class in eighth grade.

“Here I’ll help you calm down so we can go in.” Richie furrowed his brow, thinking. “Bacteria. The plague. Small pox. Baseball. Uh. Big honkin’ titties.”

Eddie howled with laughter. “Shut the fuck up.” 

“It’s working though, right?” Richie poked him in the ribs. "Riiight?"

“Yeah,” Eddie grumbled resignedly, still laughing.

The front door opened. “Richard, you better not be smoking out there. You two missed midnight.”

Richie smiled down at Eddie. “Nah, we didn’t,” he whispered. 

 

****   

Sadie fell asleep on the air mattress around two in the morning, and Richie tasked himself with gathering her up and carrying her upstairs. His mother was nervous because his ribs still had a way to go before they were fully healed but he insisted he was fine, grimacing only slightly when he bent to collect Sadie in his arms.

Maggie went to bed shortly after that, her speech slurry and her face wine-flushed. She tucked Eddie into bed and kissed his cheeks before shooing Richie up the stairs in front of her.

Eddie’s mind swum a bit laying in the darkness of the living room. He’d drank nearly four small glasses of carbonated wine, and he floated, the room not quite spinning but edging on the border of rocking. The house was quiet save the incessant ticking of a grandfather clock in the corner of the living room that he’d never noticed before. Only in the quiet stillness was the sound obvious. Eddie curled up on his side and lulled himself by counting the ticks. He was nearly asleep when he felt a nudge on the side of the mattress followed by Richie’s voice, soft and lilting.

“Baby, are you sleeping?”

“Mmhhmmn,” Eddie breathed, rolling onto his back.

“You wanna snuggle?”

Eddie sighed sweetly and nodded, holding his arms up to Richie without opening his eyes.

“Oh my God, you’re so soft right now.” The grin in Richie’s voice was audible. “About-to-fall-asleep Eddie is so much cuter than just-woke-up Eddie.” Richie slipped under the blanket on Eddie’s right side. “Come to me, sleepy angel.”

Eddie smiled in the dark but stayed put. “I don’t want to hurt you, though.”

“You can’t hurt me, Eds,” Richie replied quickly. He was quiet for a few seconds. “Well you can if you tell me you secretly hate me and want to break up.”

“Shut up,” Eddie whispered, with no bite behind it. “I can  hurt you, bones don’t heal in seven days.”

“Just stick to my left side, you’re fine, baby.”

Eddie rolled over and tentatively rested his head on Richie’s chest. He listened to the soft breathing sounds that intermingled with his heartbeat. “Good sound,” he whispered.

“What is?”

“Your heart.”

Richie kissed the top of his head.

“Mm love you, baby,” Eddie mumbled sleepily. “You can’t sleep down here though. Maggie said we can’t—"

“She loves you and she loves me. Remember?” Richie wrapped his arm tighter around Eddie’s waist. “And I love you and I’ll be goddamned if I’m sleeping upstairs alone when you’re right here.”

He slid his hand over Richie’s chest, feeling the velvety smooth fabric of his pajamas. His hand found its way up to Richie's hair, which he'd loosed and freed from the prison of that knot. It was soft and thick between Eddie's fingers. "Your hair, before, it was really nice."

"Sades did it. She wanted to give me a french braid but I told her to go pound sand. Then she suggested a knot."

Eddie hummed in response, his head heavy on Richie's chest, mumbling: “I think I had too much champagne."

“Prosecco,” Richie corrected. “You’re gay baby, you need to figure out the difference now or else everyone is going to laugh at you at dinner parties when we’re old.”

Eddie giggled and pushed his face against Richie’s side. “Teach me the difference.”

“Uh, well,” Richie said, uncertain. “I think  prosecco is sparkling wine from Italy. But I know  that champagne is only made in a certain region in France.”

“Hmmn. How do you know so much about wine, baby?”

Richie inhaled loudly through his nose before answering. “My mother is a lush, Eds.”

“She’s not that  bad--”

Richie interrupted, his voice quiet: “She’s not like get-drunk-and-break-things-and-be-abusive or anything, but she drinks almost every day.”

Eddie ran his finger over Richie's lips. "Nobody's perfect."

"Very true." He nibbled at Eddie's fingers playfully. "Did you have fun tonight?"

"Yeah," Eddie breathed. "Best New Year's."

Richie kissed the top of his head again. "Me too. Best New Year's kiss?"

"My first  New Year's kiss," Eddie admitted sweetly.

"Me too," Richie said, his voice impossibly tiny.

Eddie sat up quickly. "Really?"

"Yeah, Eds. I told you we do this every year. Mags never let me bring a date before."

"I get to be your first something?" Eddie was so excited that his voice echoed in the quiet house.

"Shhh, baby." Richie giggled, pulling him back down. He rolled on his side so they were facing each other. "You get to be my first something." He opened his mouth like he wanted to say something else, but brushed Eddie's hair back from his forehead instead.

"What?" Eddie asked, his eyelids going heavy on him and threatening to shut. He fought them valiantly, but he felt himself losing. "You were gonna say something," he mumbled.  He only heard Richie say one more thing.

"Nothing, Eds. I just love you."