Hearing his name caught his attention, Bill turning quickly. He was over at Stan’s house, the two doing homework up in Stan’s room. Bill had gone to the kitchen for a glass of water, Mrs. Uris stopping him at the edge of the stairs.
“I don’t know if Stanley’s told you about it yet, but it’s Donald’s birthday this weekend and we’re having a bit of a party.” Donald was Mr. Uris, and Stan hadn’t mentioned anything about a birthday party to Bill yet. “I just wanted to let you know that you were completely welcome to come if you’d like.”
“Oh.” The words were completely normal and fine, but something about Mrs. Uris’s tone was striking Bill as strange. Almost like she was trying a little too hard to be welcoming, which was weird, because Bill had been coming over to Stan’s house and participating in various family functions of his since they were in middle school. “Yeah, thanks.”
After another smile and a little bit of a nod, Mrs. Uris returned to the living room, and Bill took the stairs two at a time to make it back to Stan’s room. Stan was on his bed with a book in hand, evidently having put the finishing touches on his English essay in Bill’s absence, and Bill put his water on the bedside table before flopping down next to him.
“That was weird.”
“What was?” Stan asked without looking, but shifting a little, moving his torso so Bill would have more room, but then flopping his legs over both of Bill’s own.
“Your mom. She just invited me to your dad’s birthday party.”
“Really?” That got Stan’s attention, looking at him with a slight frown on his face. “She said it was family only, so I didn’t mention it; I was afraid of Richie gatecrashing the thing.”
“I can not go, if you don’t want me to.”
“No, I mean… Do you want to? It’ll be me, and my parents, and then all of my dad’s brothers or something. You’ll probably get bored.”
“Nah, I’ll come. We’ll get to hang out, right? So that’ll be fun.”
“Oh, okay.” Stan smiled, a smile big enough to reach his eyes and show his teeth. “Yeah.”
As Stan had said, the party was only family, consisting mostly of Mr. Uris’s brothers, their wives, and their children, none of which were over the age of seven. Bill and Stan kept mostly to themselves, stuffing their faces with the snacks and lemonade that Mrs. Uris had prepared. At one point they retreated to the kitchen, leaning against the counter and talking, when Mrs. Uris walked in.
She seemed almost flustered to see them, grabbing a bowl of fruit salad from the fridge as quickly as she could and backing out, apologizing and saying “I’ll leave you two alone.” Bill couldn’t figure out what that was supposed to mean, about to ask when his attention was stolen by a firecracker going off outside.
As it turned out, one of Mr. Uris’s brothers had brought a box of small explosives to set off in Stan’s backyard. That ended up being the most fun of the evening, Stan and Bill stealing an entire box of sparklers for themselves, using Bill’s lighter to catch them on fire and watch them spark to life. When recounting the party to Beverly on Monday morning in their shared Chemistry class, Bill found himself describing the sparklers, how pretty they’d been in the sunset of Stan’s backyard, how the lights had caught Stan’s eyes, his eyes so bright despite the way they were already curved into crescents by the smile in his cheeks. Beverly, with safety goggles on and hair pulled back, rested her elbow on the lab table and put her chin in her hand with a sigh.
“You two are so cute.” She told him, and Bill couldn’t do much more than laugh.
“Big ‘ol Billy Boy!” Richie caught Bill after school the following Friday, slinging an arm around his neck. “You free tonight?”
“Depends on who’s asking.” Bill answered, and Richie laughed.
“Wanna see a movie?”
“Oh?” For some reason, that wasn’t what Bill expected to hear. Not that he wouldn’t want to see a movie with Richie, but still. “I think Stan and I were going to hang out.”
“Sure, okay.” Richie shrugged, readjusting his glasses. Then, “Does he want to come too?”
“I don’t know.” Bill didn’t really see why not. He and Stan didn’t have any plans more concrete than “hang out”, but he didn’t want to speak on Stan’s behalf. He didn’t end up needing to; Stan was standing in the student parking lot with Eddie, the two of them talking, Richie and Bill coming up to meet them.
“Stanley, my wise old manley.” Richie said, a strange grandioseness to his voice as he slung an arm around Eddie’s shoulders. Eddie kissed his cheek in greeting, lifting up on his tip-toes to reach. “Eds and I wanna see a movie tonight, and I already invited Bill; you in?”
Stan glanced over at Bill, who simply looked back, unsure of how to convey “I didn’t say yes, but I also didn’t say no” with just a facial expression. After a moment, Stan shrugged.
“Yeah, sure. Sounds fun.”
“Yeah!” Richie shot his fist into the air with excitement. “Me and Eddie, and Bill and Stan! It’ll be a double date!”
And double date it was… Sort of. It was a date for Eddie and Richie, sure; they’d already been boyfriends for two years and going strong. For Bill and Stan, it was just any other time they’d gone to see a movie together in the theater--though Bill had a feeling that Return of the Living Dead III would not have been Stan’s movie of choice, which was what they ended up buying tickets to.
Richie liked to put his hand on the small of Eddie’s back as they walked, using it to steer him in the right direction when he was too busy arguing a point in Richie’s face and making sharp hand gestures at the same time. It was cute, a casual but intimate touch all the same, Bill barely noticing when Stan did the same thing as they entered the theater to help lead him to their seats.
Richie and Eddie had one giant popcorn between them, the carton half empty by the time the movie actually began, munching with open mouths as they talked in whispers about what was on the screen. Stan and Bill were also sharing a large popcorn, their hands brushing when they reached for it at the same time, Stan occasionally pelting pieces of it at Richie and Eddie when they got too loud. Stan managed to get five pieces to actually stay in Richie’s mess of curls, Bill laughing at each one.
The movie actually got tense towards the end, Bill pulled from the action on screen by the way Richie would squawk and curl into Eddie at loud noises and gruesome imagery. On Bill’s other side was Stan, gripping onto Bill’s arm rather hard, wincing and turning his head in Bill’s direction at the scares, only a breath away from pressing his face into Bill’s shoulder. Eddie was giving whoops and hollers, egging the zombie on to just eat everyone, while Bill was just pretending to be brave, wanting to be something for Stan to hold on to.
Eddie complained loudly about the end of the movie as they walked home, pausing at the crossroads where they all had to part ways. Richie leaned down to scoop Eddie up in a goodbye kiss, and knowing that it would take a few moments, Bill averted his eyes, directing his attention to Stan.
The moon was high in the sky, reflecting off Stan’s cheeks and the delicate curls in his hair. Stan glanced back at Bill, a resigned sort of expression on his face--Richie and Eddie had been dating too long for shared looks of pretend disgust to really be funny anymore--and his eyes caught the light, the same way the sparklers had the weekend before. Bill felt a sort of tug in his chest. Richie and Eddie were still kissing in the background, and a quick, unexpected thought crossed Bill’s mind--how he wouldn’t mind kissing Stan.
But as soon as the thought was there it was gone, Richie trying to pick Eddie up and knocking into Stan, nearly toppling all of them to the ground.
People around Bill were acting weird, and Bill couldn’t for the life of him figure out why. His parents always asked him why Stan wasn’t coming over, if he ended up spending the weekend at home, or why they weren’t going out to do something together. Even some of the Losers seemed surprised if they asked him where Stan was and he didn’t have an answer. As a result, Bill did end up spending more time with Stan, just because he was the only person actually acting normal. They did everything that they usually did, getting milkshakes and laying out on the grass at the park, Stan looking and pointing out the different birds he could see, Bill looking at Stan. Stan’s parents would go out on dates and Stan would invite Bill over, the two of them laughing through an attempt at making themselves dinner and watching stupid sitcoms on TV. Stan would sit close to him on the couch, their bodies becoming more and more relaxed as they sat there, reclining into a position that, more often than not, had them lying on each other and dozing off.
Eventually though, it got to a point that Bill decided to ask Ben about it.
“Why do people keep talking to me about Stan? I mean, we hang out a lot, but... It’s not like I like him more than I like the rest of you guys.”
“You--you don’t?” Ben asked, sounding both completely blindsided and curiously hesitant.
“I like all of you guys, Ben.”
“Yeah, but…” Ben frowned at him, then his whole face lit up in understanding, his mouth opening, his eyebrows going up. “Oh. Oh, oh no.”
“No, no, nothing. It’s nothing.”
“Ben, you have to tell me.” Bill stopped him, taking Ben by the shoulders. “What’s going on?”
“Well, we all…” Ben didn’t want to look him in the eye. “Bill, the way you look at Stan… Sometimes, it’s like the rest of us aren’t even there. And… He’s always looking at you. The Losers, we thought… We kinda thought you two were dating.”
“What?” Bill asked, thinking Ben was joking. But he sounded too serious for it to be a joke, and Ben never lied to him, so it had to be real. Even more surprising, Bill found his mind not automatically rejecting the idea. Going on dates with Stan, holding Stan’s hand, kissing him… Kissing him.
Bill wanted to kiss him. All he really had to do was figure out a way to ask.
Asking was proving to be difficult. He tried to think of something that would send a kind of a hint, a date sort of activity they could do together before Bill properly asked him out. The problem was, all of the things he came up with were things that they normally did, just as friends. An attempt to make those activities more romantic had them feeling over the top and sappy, and that wasn’t what he wanted either.
Realization came to Bill at Mike’s house, when he was supposed to be working on a history assignment and his mind was wandering. He sat upright in his seat, so quickly that Mike gave a start.
“Bill?” Mike’s voice was hesitant. “You okay? Is something wrong?”
“Mike, I… I’m stupid.” Was all Bill could think to say, Mike’s eyebrows going up his forehead.
“What do you mean?”
Bill began shoving his books haphazardly into his bag, not even noticing the papers getting bent every which way as he did so. He had to go. He had a question to ask.
“I’m--I’ve been trying to think of a way to go on a date with Stan, but, but…” Mike was looking at him with complete incredulity now-- “But I’m already dating Stan!”
He took off from Mike’s house as fast as he could, urging Silver down the street. He came to a screeching stop at Stan’s front door, knocking hard and hoping Stan was home.
Thankfully, neither of Stan’s parents came to the door. It was Stan, a pencil in his hand and a concerned look on his face.
“I saw you through the window, you look--is everything alright?”
“Stan, are we dating?”
Stan looked at him for a couple of moments before laughing. Then Bill didn’t laugh back, his face falling into something more serious.
“What are you talking about?”
“I… I didn’t notice it before, we went on the double date with Eddie and Richie that… That it was a date, right? We sat together, and we shared a popcorn, and you held on to me when you got scared. We do stuff--the stuff that we do all the time, like cooking together and marathoning TV reruns and going to the park after school--it’s things that couples do, and I really like you a lot, and then I was at Mike’s and I kind of realized--”
Bill’s flustered explanation stopped there because Stan had stepped close, reaching up with one hand to place it on Bill’s cheek, and drawing him in for a kiss. The kiss was sure and strong, Stan holding onto him tightly, the pencil in Stan’s other hand dropping with a small sound as Stan reached for one of Bill’s hands and held onto it. Stan kept a hold on Bill’s hand as he drew back.
“You finally realized it, huh? We can… We can be officially dating, if you want.”
Bill, unfortunately, was having a hard time finding words. Stan had stolen all the breath from his lungs.
“Bill?” Stan tried, his eyebrows drawing together, the expression so concerned and so cute that it brought Bill back in the moment. He could feel his face heating up from his neck to his ears.
“Oh. Oh! Yeah, yeah. I… I mean, I do.”
Stan smiled, the smile growing into a laugh, the laugh relaxing as he put his hand back on Bill’s cheek, drawing him in for another kiss. And this time Bill was ready for it, kissing Stan back. Stan took a tiny step closer as the kiss broke, humming in contentment, pressing his forehead to Bill’s own.
“Boyfriend, then?” He asked, and Bill beamed. Boyfriend. It had a nice ring to it.