Eddie Kaspbrak's parents were not soulmates.
He knows this because his mother did not cry at the funeral.
He remembers. She stood stoically beside the open casket, large and foreboding and swathed entirely in black. She accepted condolences and even openly mourned, her head hung as she touched her dead husband's cold hand for the last time. But she did not cry.
Eddie was seven years old, and he returned to school the following week with some questions. His second grade teacher, Miss Kramer, was young and bubbly, fresh out of college and still enthusiastic. She encouraged any and all questions, but even she looked taken aback when Eddie raised his hand and asked, "Are soulmates really real?"
Soulmates were kind of like the sky and the earth in that no one really questioned their existence. But Eddie had never touched the sky, and he had never been to the center of the earth, and he had some doubts.
"Of course they are," Miss Kramer said. "Don't you remember the book we read?"
The month before, the whole class had sat around the edge of the carpet and listened as she read a story about two people who met and felt such a great rush of love that they just knew they were destined to be together. But Eddie had missed a lot of school cause he was always sick, so he didn't read that well yet, and he wasn't entirely convinced. Miss Kramer was very good at making up stories.
"But I love a lot of things," he protested. "I love my bike."
Miss Kramer looked amused. "But you can't fall in love with your bike, silly."
Right. Soulmates were a people thing.
"Well, I love Bill!" Eddie pointed emphatically at his best friend across the room, who flushed a dark red and sank down in his seat at the sudden attention. He ignored the snickers and the way Miss Kramer's smile looked even more like she was biting back a laugh. "Does that make him my soulmate?"
Miss Kramer shook her head. "It's a different sort of love, dear. You'll know when it happens. So will everyone else."
"But how?" Eddie demanded. He wanted to stomp his foot. He didn't understand. "How will I know?"
Miss Kramer looked very sure when she said, "You just do."
When Eddie meets Richie Tozier, he does not just know.
Eddie and Richie have gone to school together since third grade, but by some miracle they have never had a class together, not in six years. Eddie does not like Richie on principle. He is loud, and obscene, and Eddie is pretty sure he doesn't even know what a comb is. He has huge front teeth and hideously thick glasses and he's gotten so tall so fast that none of his clothes fit right. He's annoying to look at, and even more annoying to be around.
So of course, because Eddie's life is some sort of sick cosmic joke, Richie is in Bill's freshman year homeroom, and Bill thinks Richie is the coolest guy ever. Bill, who is still Eddie's best friend. Bill, who Eddie always sits with at lunch. Bill, who has started inviting Richie to sit with them.
Richie has not accepted yet, and Eddie is pretty sure he's the reason why. Richie seems to dislike Eddie as much as Eddie dislikes him. That's fine by Eddie. It's not like he wants buck-toothed, blind Richie Tozier to like him.
It's just- Bill doesn't put himself out there very often. He doesn't even talk that much if he doesn't have to. His stutter is his biggest insecurity, and the fact that he opened his mouth and invited Richie to join them is a big deal. Richie doesn't seem to realize what an honor it is, and that more than anything makes Eddie's blood boil.
He corners Richie at his locker between classes. He only knows it's Richie's because there is a stupid smiley face sticker on it. It's huge and garish, but Richie got in trouble for defacing school property when he first stuck it on, so it makes Eddie pretty happy. Happier than it should, probably.
"What is your problem?" he demands. Richie looks at him, like he's surprised, then looks him over, like he's interested. Eddie's skin crawls. He stands at his full height. Richie slumps back against his locker and is still at least four inches taller. Eddie hates him.
"You're gonna have to be more specific than that, Eddie Spaghetti," Richie drawls. "I've got a lot of problems."
The nickname makes Eddie so suddenly angry his vision flashes white. "Clearly," he seethes, his teeth bared. He probably looks feral. He feels fucking feral. "Why won't you sit with Bill at lunch?"
Richie raises his eyebrows. "And get to enjoy your sparkling personality for a full forty-five minutes?" But he looks a little contemplative. "I didn't know he actually wanted me to."
"Why would he ask you if he didn't want you to?" Eddie demands, because honestly. Richie is a lot of things, but Eddie knows for a fact that he's not actually stupid.
Richie shrugs. "You guys seem like you've got your own thing going on." He says thing with a certain emphasis, and his eyes drop down Eddie's body again. Eddie feels that look down to the very tips of his toes, as hot and vivid as his own anger.
Eddie squints up at him. "You think... me and Bill?" It's almost laughable, except he doesn't want Richie to think he finds him at all funny. "It's not like that."
"But you like guys, don't you?" Richie looks a little bit like the words slip out without his brain's permission. Eddie does not care. It's not his fault Richie is a Neanderthal with no tact or social grace.
"Just sit with Bill," Eddie says, and turns away without glancing back. He does not want to see Richie up against his locker, long and lanky and effortlessly casual with his mess of curly hair and his faded leather jacket. Something squirms in Eddie's gut, thinking about it. It feels like anger, almost.
Eddie knows what anger is like. He feels it most of the time.
That's the thing he doesn't understand about the whole soulmate thing. All of the books say meeting your soulmate is like having your emotions dialed up to eleven. You suddenly feel things in a way you've never felt before. You don't feel differently, you just feel more.
Eddie is a small, mean ball of pure rage, and he is sure if he ever met his soulmate, his anger would burn down the world.
Richie, surprisingly, joins them for lunch the next day. The way Bill's entire face lights up is worth the annoyance. It's just Richie the first time, and the second, but when it becomes clear that Richie joining them is becoming a routine, Richie drags his other friends to their little corner table. Beverly is pretty and red-headed, and Eddie recognizes her from his third period history class. She moved to Derry from Portland the year before and brought all sorts of city habits with her, like smoking cigarettes and not caring about her studies. Stan is very quiet at first, and he always has been, which is why Eddie does not know more than his first name despite the fact that they've been in school together since they were kids. It takes a couple of weeks, but when he opens up, he is nothing like Eddie expects. He is clean and particular, and his sense of humor is wicked sharp. He has beautiful hair, and soft eyes, and his clothes are always pressed. He is exactly the kind of boy Eddie thinks he should be attracted to.
He doesn't feel anything when he looks at Stan.
It's like all of his emotions are muted. He looks at Bill and feels soft fondness. He watches Beverly smoke and feels only the vaguest disgust. Stan makes a joke that everyone laughs loudly at, and Eddie only smiles.
Everything comes roaring to life when he looks at Richie. He feels angry, and itchy, and uncomfortable to the core. He hates when Richie smokes, so much he feels his stomach roll and his throat close up. Richie tells stupid jokes, and it's all Eddie can do not to laugh out loud.
Eddie does not know what it means.
"I hate him," he sighs to Bill, in a rare moment of privacy. Ever since they extended their friendship to Richie and his friends, it's hard to find time just to be best friends again. Eddie doesn't really mind, but he does miss this sometimes, lounging on Bill's bed like they're the only two people in the world. Eddie knows Bill is not his soulmate because he feels totally, utterly calm in these moments.
"N-No, you duh-don't," Bill says. He does not ask who Eddie means. He doesn't have to.
Eddie rolls over onto his stomach, propping his chin in his hands. "He's annoying."
Bill smiles. It's a conversation they've had before, several times over. "He's n-n-not that b-bad."
Eddie hums, unconvinced. Richie is the worst, and he's apparently the only one who sees it.
It continues this way for a long time. Eddie actively dislikes Richie, and Richie sort of avoids him. They're friends, kind of, in that they share the same group of companions, but they hardly ever talk outside of that group because whenever they do, Eddie's chest gets all tight and he has to puff on his inhaler for ages.
The next year, Beverly meets Ben.
Ben moves to Derry in the fall, two weeks into the school year, and it's pretty big news for the small sleepy town. It's even bigger news because Beverly smiles instead of smirks and she gives up her smoke break to introduce Ben to the group and at the end of the day she's wearing his jacket.
"He's it," she tells them all dreamily, his collar popped up around her glowing face. "My soulmate."
"How do you know?" Stan asks.
"I just do," she sighs.
Eddie is so fucking sick of that answer.
He kind of gets it, though. Ben and Bev just work. It's not like they're finishing each other's sentences or having a conversation entirely through eye contact, but there is a sort of communication between them. Beverly is more enthusiastic about life. She cares more about her grades. Eddie didn't know Ben before Ben knew Bev, but he has a perpetual smile on his face and he talks freely, which is a far cry from the rumors of a new kid who didn't say a word to anyone.
They make each other better. They make each other more.
And it's great, until it isn't. There's a fight. Eddie isn't even sure what it's about. It's something stupid, something so insignificant that even Richie, who thrives on drama no matter how big or small, looks bewildered. Beverly yells at Ben in front of the entire cafeteria, tears streaming down her face, and Ben just stares at her, looking lost and helpless and heartbroken. Eddie tries to explain to them that they're being ridiculous, but Beverly retreats without listening. Richie follows her. Ben stares sullenly at the tabletop.
"Soulmates," Stan mutters disdainfully under his breath.
"That's not a soulmate thing," Eddie says, in a low murmur that Ben can probably still hear but doesn’t react to. "They're mad at each other."
Stan gives him a look that says so? "Soulmates can be mad at each other. That's worse, actually."
Something in Eddie's stomach squirms. Unbidden, he thinks of Richie. "Worse?"
"Yeah. You feel everything more, remember?" Stan waves his hand, dismissive. "They're just blowing things out of proportion.” He glances at Ben, who is still not participating in the conversation at all. “My mom says teenage soulmates have it really bad. Something about hormones."
Eddie blinks at him. "Are your parents soulmates?"
Stan grins. "Yeah. My mom has some pretty funny horror stories, actually. She hated my dad in high school."
The squirming in Eddie's gut gets sharper. That sounds familiar. "Yeah? I didn't know that was possible."
Stan rolls his eyes. "Who has been reading you fairy tales? It's not magic. Being soulmates doesn't automatically mean you don't fight. I mean, you're still human."
Eddie has stopped listening. He stands up. "I gotta go."
He finds Richie exactly where he expects to. He's sharing a cigarette with Beverly, their heads tilted together, talking in a low murmur. It looks intimate, almost romantic, but Eddie is not fooled. Beverly has a soulmate, and it is not Richie. Richie has a soulmate, and it is not Beverly.
"Hey, Trashmouth," Eddie calls, and they both look up. "I need to talk to you."
"Kinda busy, sweetheart," Richie says, and the nickname should be condescending, but now Eddie knows, and it makes his pulse race instead.
"Bev will understand," Eddie says confidently. She meets his eyes, and sees it: the sort of light, the spark of emotion, the kind of intensity that only a soulmate can bring out. She looks like that when she's thinking about Ben. Eddie stares at her, then at Richie, and then back. He wants her to understand.
She does. "Rich, you should go."
Richie very clearly does not understand, but he stands slowly, unfolding his long legs and dusting off his jeans. He's even taller than the year before, but his new clothes fit right. He looks mostly the same, but somehow better. Eddie leads him away by the hand.
When they're alone behind the gym, Eddie stops touching him. His hand against Richie's doesn't feel like a static shock, or a rush of heat. It doesn't feel like much of anything. It just feels like Richie. But Richie feels good.
"I think you're the most annoying person on the planet," Eddie says in a rush. Richie looks supremely confused, but he will never manage to say this if Richie speaks, so he doesn't stop. He needs to say this. He has to say this. "Your jokes are terrible, and I have honestly considered pushing you off the edge of a cliff."
Richie blinks at him and says nothing, for once in his life.
"You have no fashion sense, and you listen to music that gives me a headache. You seriously need a haircut, and you're obnoxiously tall."
Richie laughs, then, but it sounds kind of forced. "Jesus, Eds, tell me how you really feel-"
"And, God, I hate those stupid nicknames. My name is Eddie. It's Eddie. Not Eds. Not Eddie Spaghetti. I'm your damn soulmate. Don't you know my name?"
It's like Richie freezes. Eddie wants to say more, say anything, but his heart is in his throat and it's pounding, pounding, pounding.
He thinks it might burst before Richie reacts.
Richie comes back to life in slow increments. He blinks, and then he swallows, and then his mouth works around a sound that might be Eddie's name. His hand stretches out and he touches Eddie's cheek. His fingertips are burning hot. "I didn't think you'd ever figure it out," he says, voice shaky.
Eddie feels his entire world shift, just a little. "You knew?"
"Of course I did." Richie flashes a smile, the same smile that always precedes a bad joke. "I thought about you when I touched myself every night for a year. Gotta mean something, right?"
"It means you're disgusting," Eddie says sharply, anger flaring hot and sudden and intense. Richie grabs his wrist before he can storm off.
"It doesn't mean anything, you know," he says, voice uncharacteristically soft. "You can be happy with someone else. I mean, you'll never feel like you would-" Richie stops short, but Eddie still hears like you would with me. "Things won't feel the same. But you could do it. You could be with someone else." He almost sounds like he's trying to convince Eddie, and Eddie is almost sure he's read this all wrong, but then Richie smooths his thumb over Eddie's wrist, over his racing pulse, and says, "It doesn't have to mean anything, unless you want it to."
Richie's eyes are huge and glittering behind his glasses. Eddie is so hopelessly attracted to him in that moment that he just knows that no one else could ever do it for him. His entire being belongs to blind, buck-toothed Richie Tozier.
There are no fireworks when they kiss. He doesn't feel like things are falling into place, or that he is suddenly buoyed. Richie's mouth is clumsy and chapped, and he doesn't seem to know where to put his hands.
They return to the cafeteria together. They are not touching, but Eddie's lips are a little bruised, and Richie is staring at him like he hung the moon. Richie is apparently much more of a romantic than Eddie is, but that's okay. He kind of likes it.
Bill grins at them. Ben and Bev, apparently reunited, beam like proud parents, their hands laced under the table. Stan looks around the table and says, "I'm taking all the credit for this, you know."
Turns out, everyone knew, like Miss Kramer said they would.
He looks across the table at Richie. Richie stares back. Eddie finally, finally gets it.
Richie Tozier is his soulmate. He just knows.