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you guys aren't exacly uh, subtle

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"Asshole!" Eddie yelled, jumping backward as Reginald ‘Belch' Huggins howled with laughter and backed away into the crowd of bustling teens, buckled over in wheezing glee that he'd made the short, asthmatic loser jump.

Belch was wearing a clown mask. He had jumped out from behind a trash can in front of Eddie just as he pumped his inhaler into his lungs, causing him to fall backward and knock Greta Bowie into a locker. She'd scattered her books everywhere. The mask was stupid. Covered in fake blood and scratch marks, the plastic junk didn't even compare to the shit Eddie had seen. It didn't even look like…It. Eddie shuddered. Years had passed, but just the thought of Pennywise was enough to make him shove the inhaler into his mouth and pump once again, even as a small voice in the back his head that sounds a lot like Sonia Kaspbrak whispered ‘good boy, take your medicine Eddie, you know you have weak lungs…weak, fragile, lungs.' He shook away his mother's voice, shoving his inhaler back into his fanny pack.

"Sorry," he muttered, turning to Greta and kneeling to help her gather her dropped things.

She glared at him with disgust etched across her pretty face as she gathered up her school supplies, all name brand and clean and covered in glitter and images of ponies and kittens. She had probably gotten it all from Michael's, none of that cheap nonsense from Walmart. Her eyes were painted with pink glitter in a shade that reminded Eddie of Pepto Bismol, and she was wearing a sparkly dress that he supposed was meant to belong to a fairy. He had rarely seen anyone who reminded him less of something so innocent. Maybe if she had smiled, he could've seen it. As it was, she looked like she was trying not to puke. "It's fine," she said, snatching her pencil from him and shoving it in her Gucci bag violently, jerking away from him as if touching him would give her a disease.

Eddie watched as she and Sally Mueller flounced away, hurrying as if afraid to be seen near him. Sally's short, black witch's dress hugged her ass in a way that some guys probably found appealing. He'd thought he had a crush on her when he was younger, he remembered. Oh, Sally Mueller with her fancy house and her fancy garden where she and Greta played croquet. He supposed she was pretty, in a conventional sort of way, but there was a look she sometimes got in her eyes when someone was scared like Eddie had been when Huggins jumped out, that made Eddie sort of sick to his stomach.

Eddie was startled out of his thoughts by an arm around his shoulder and a sharp pinch on his cheek.

"Hey Eds, what are you staring at-" Richie stopped himself mid-sentence, noticing Gretta and Sally walking into a classroom down the hall, arm in arm. "Oh-ho-ho Eddie Spaghetti's got a crush, hey Bev-" he let go of Eddie's cheek and took his arm away, turning to yell down the hallway, "BEV! Get a load of this. I've got tea. It's hot. It's boiling. You're not even ready. Guess who our little Eddie Spaghetti-"

"Beep beep, Trashmouth," Beverly said, making her way towards them, hand in hand with Ben.

"Hey, nice costumes guys," Eddie said, grinning and swatting away Richie, who was trying to continue pinching his cheek.

"Thanks," Bev said, letting go of Ben's hand to turn around and show off her outfit. The halls were almost empty now. Only a few other students were lingering, chatting by their lockers and admiring each other's costumes.

Bev and Ben were dressed as Morticia and Gomez Addams, and Eddie had to admit, he was impressed. Bev was wearing a long, black wig and a perfect replication of Morticia Addams' dress. A few ginger curls were poking out, and Eddie leaned forward and tucked them back under the wig. Eddie wondered for a moment where she had gotten the money for a costume like that. Then he thought, Mrs. Hanscom had probably gotten it for her. Ben's mother, kind and big-hearted as she was, had become a sort of a second mother to Bev, Eddie, and Bill. Ben sometimes joked that she was just happy he'd made some friends and wanted to keep them around, but she didn't let Stan or Mike or Richie stay over even on school nights, or take them shopping or out to eat along with Ben almost every weekend. Eddie had a feeling Mrs. Hansom knew a little about the losers' home lives from Ben and did her best to be a kind adult in a world where there were so few of those. Ben was wearing Gomez Addams' black and white pinstriped suit and bowtie, and he had dyed his light brown hair black with what looked like spray-on stuff.

Eddie turned to Richie, who was wearing a black hoodie and jeans, along with the heelies he always insisted on donning. He frowned. "Where's your costume, Richie?"

"Might ask you the same thing," Richie pointed at Eddie's outfit, a tie-dye hoodie, a Pokemon beanie, and his usual light up sketchers which he wore despite constant groans from Bill, Stan, and Mike that they were not cool. Beverly, Richie, and Ben stood by the light-up sketchers and so did Eddie.

Eddie's frown deepened. "You know my mom won't let me wear a costume to school," he muttered. He didn't know why Richie was grinning, and he found himself getting annoyed even though part of him knew it wasn't that serious.

"Exactly, Eds, that's why I brought both of our costumes in my backpack. Let's go," he gestured to the boy's bathroom, grabbing Eddie's hand and tugging. The halls were deserted now, and it occurred to Eddie that the four of them were at risk of getting detention on Halloween if they didn't hurry to class. He yanked his hand away from Richie and unzipped his fanny pack and pulled out his inhaler, taking a puff.

"What? How did you even get my costume? It's in my-"

"Remember when I was at your house yesterday, and you told me to quit going through your closet…?"

"OH my gosh. You went through my closet and stole my Halloween costume. Richie, you are unbelievable, I swear to GOD. You are such-" a good friend? a thoughtful person? …boyfriend material? a sly voice in Eddie's head that Eddie hurried to silence suggested, "an asshole!"

"Listen," Bev said before Richie could open his mouth to retort. "I'm going to class, okay? I'll see you guys later," she kissed Ben on the cheek and hurried off down the hall.

"I should go too," Ben said, heading in the opposite direction. Eddie got the feeling Ben had been thinking along the same lines as him in terms of detention.

"We need to get to class too," Eddie said, turning back to Richie. "OK? I don't wanna get in trouble."

"Fine," Richie said, following Eddie down the hall. "But you know Eds, we're gonna be late anyway, we might get in less trouble if we just skip."

"Okay, first of all, don't call me that. Second of all, no, you know how strict Mrs. Douglas is about skipping. If she finds out we're dead."

"Yeah," Richie said, grinning and stopping next to one of the emergency doors. "Maybe we should just skip the whole day. She can't get us in trouble if we're not here."

"What? Are you crazy-" but Richie was already out the door and Eddie hurried after him.

Eddie continued his stream of protests as they crossed the football field towards the bleachers. He didn't stop or slow down as he followed Richie under the bleachers, but instead switched to pointing out the disgusting, germy, garbage surrounding them. There were hundreds of cigarette butts, empty slurpy cups, and sandwich wrappers.
"-not to mention all the nasty shit that people have probably done under here, DON'T fucking touch that, I bet you can get an STD just from-"

"Eddie," Richie finally interrupted, sighing and throwing his arms up. Eddie shut up, only because Richie had used his real name for once. "They're dissecting cats today in class, you do know that right?" Richie went on.

"I-" Eddie gagged a little. No, he had not known that. "What?"

"Yeah, man," Richie said. "So, tell me, would you rather be in there dissecting an adorable cat and playing with its guts, or down here, underneath these nasty diseased bleachers," he grinned "with me?"

Eddie shoved him and rolled his eyes when Richie slid backward on the heelies. "Whatever, if we're skipping you get one cigarette and then we're going to Starbucks and you're buying me a coffee."

"Anything for you, Eddie Spaghetti," Richie said, pinching his cheek. "You're just so fucking cute! Cute, cute, cute!"

"Stop," Eddie snapped, shoving Richie's hand away. "Don't call me that. Go, have your cigarette."

Richie obliged, pulling his pack of Winstons out of his pocket along with his lighter covered in pictures of marijuana leaves. Eddie was convinced Richie had bought the lighter specifically to give him an anxiety attack every time he used it on school property. "You're gonna get fucking arrested if a teacher sees you with that stupid lighter," he said, not for the first time or the last. The lighter was going to be a point of contention until Eddie got the chance to steal it and throw it away.

"Eds," Richie was shaking his head and laughing, "you don't get arrested for having things with pictures of marijuana on them like I promise you that's not how it works."

"Oh yeah, so you're telling me you don't have a bag of weed in your backpack right now? Have you ever heard of probable cause, asshole?" He chopped one of his hands through the aid above the other, probably looking like a manic crazy person. Eighteen years on this bitch of an earth and you still haven't figured out what the fuck to do with your hands when you're speaking, he thought to himself.

"You worry too much," Richie said, blowing a puff of smoke in Eddie's direction and causing Eddie to go into a coughing fit that he would never admit was a tiny bit exaggerated. He shoved the inhaler into his mouth again. "You're going to give yourself premature wrinkles, and that will be a real tragedy because hello, have you seen your face? Tiny kittens and puppies are jealous because they wish they could be so adorable. Why ruin that with stress lines?"

Eddie felt a flush of heat rise to his cheeks and tried not to smile. "Beep beep Richie," he said. He was pretty sure he failed at not smiling.

"Aw," Richie was delighted. Eddie glared. "You're blushing! Eddie Spaghetti is blushing ladies and gentlemen," Richie cried in a gameshow host announcer's voice, or rather, a bad impression of one. "Ten thousand points go to Mr. Richard Tozier for making the Spaghetti man blush!"

"Shut the fuck up," Eddie said, shoving Richie again.

"Cute, cute, CUTE!" Richie said, pinching Eddie's cheek. Eddie shoved him away, trying very hard to look angry. "You're so adorable when you're angry, Eds."

"Don't fucking call me that, Trashmouth," Eddie snapped. "I'm ready for my caffeine now," he added. "Starbucks, let's go." He grabbed Richie's hand and tugged.

"But I'm not done with my cigarette," Richie protested. "I need my nicotine like you need your caffeine, we all have our vices. Come on, pwease. Fow me. Owo."

"Ughhhhhh, fine," Eddie groaned. "Only if you agree to never do that voice again."

Richie grinned, and sat down on the cement, leaning against a pillar. Eddie grimaced. He felt awkward standing when Richie was sitting, but just the thought of sitting on the cold, dirty pavement made him pump his inhaler again. Weak, fragile, susceptible to disease. That was him, right? Weak little baby. He gritted his teeth and sat down next to Richie, their arms touching.

He yawned. "I seriously need caffeine," he said again.

"Soon, my love. And because you're indulging my nicotine addiction, I will even agree to get you a venti. Even if it is that nasty ass pumpkin shit you insist on guzzling."


Eddie leaned his head against Richie's shoulder. It was chilly, and he could see his breath puffing out like smoke. The warmth of Richie's shoulder felt nice.

"I don't like Sally Mueller," he blurted out. He wasn't sure where it came from. A deep desire that he was terrified of voicing but had felt for some time now that Richie might feel the same as him? A hope that Richie would understand that by ‘I don't like Sally Mueller' what he meant was ‘I don't like girls.'

"I know Eds, I was just teasing you." Richie swung an arm around his shoulder and pinched his cheek. "She's horrid." He said the last part in a British accent for some indiscernible reason.

"Stop it," Eddie said, sitting up and shoving him. "You've got gross cigarette germs on your hands. And don't call me Eds!"

"Alright," Richie dropped the cigarette butt on the ground and stomped it out. "Cigarette time is over. Let's go be basic bitches." He said the last sentence in what he clearly thought was a valley girl impersonation. Eddie giggled as Richie helped him to his feet.

They wandered out from under the bleachers and towards the edge of the football field. They each tossed their backpacks over the chain-link fence and then scrambled over. ‘Eddie, you shouldn't be climbing that. Do you want to get tetanus? What if you fall and break your arm? What if-' ‘Shut UP,' Eddie thought. Then he thought, ‘oh God, I'm arguing with my mother's voice inside my head. What's next? Taxidermy?' He was coming off a little too Norman Bates in his mind and he didn't like it.

Derry's only Starbucks was located about a block from the high school, which meant that it was the perfect spot for skipping. Richie ordered a caramel macchiato with extra whipped cream in a French accent that sounded like it belonged in a terrible cartoon and Eddie ordered a pumpkin spiced latte, ignoring Richie as he whispered ‘VSCO girl,' in his ear.

They took their drinks outside and wandered down the sidewalk in no real direction, appreciating the hot drinks as the cool wind brushed autumn leaves around their ankles. It was a sunny day, but it was still chilly. Eddie shivered and hugged himself.

"Here," Richie said, handing Eddie his macchiato and shrugging off his jacket. He was wearing a truly atrocious Hawaiian shirt with palm trees. "I'm legit, not cold. You know me. I never get cold. I'm like, hot-blooded or cold-blooded or whatever. Whichever one doesn't get cold. Like a lizard."

"Lizards are cold-blooded and they can't handle the cold dumbass," Eddie said, laughing. All the same, he shrugged the black hoodie on over his own, and Richie zipped it up to his chin. Eddie handed Richie his coffee back and unzipped the hoodie about halfway. "Thanks," he added.

"Look how baggy it is on you!" Richie said, apparently delighted. "You're so fucking tiny, Eds."

"I'm like, average height you fucking giraffe!" Eddie protested. "And don't call me Eds. It's Eddie."

They spent the rest of the morning bickering happily and sipping their coffee. At some point, they made their way back to Derry high school. After Richie Snapchatted a video of Eddie sipping his pumpkin spice latte and tugging at the drawstrings of Richie's hoodie around his neck as he complained about being kidnapped to Mike, they were rescued by a grinning Mike and a glaring Stan who let them in one of the side entrances that were locked from the outside.

"You two are so going to get detention, and then we're not going to be able to hang out, and we're not going to be able to go the haunted house, and it's all going to be your fault, and-"

"Hey, again, I was kidnapped," Eddie reminded Stan, trying to look serious.

"Give me a fucking break Kaspbrak, yeah you look real kidnapped with your VSCO girl drink and your boyfriend's hoodie-"

"He's not my boyfriend!" Eddie protested. He could feel the heat rising to his cheeks and he was sure they all noticed.

"Ah, so you admit it's a basic bitch ass drink, Eddie?" Stan asked with a smirk.

Realizing he'd fallen into the trap, Eddie glared. Mike laughed and clapped him on the back. "Nothing wrong with appreciating a classic," he said, taking Eddie's cup and taking a sip. "I'm personally team caramel," he handed Eddie back his cup, trading it for Richie's and taking a sip of that one too, "but hey, what would us losers be without our token basic white bitch?"

They all laughed at that and headed to lunch together. Bill, Audra, Ben, and Bev were waiting for them. Bill was whispering something in Audra's ear that made her blush. Audra wasn't one of the losers, and Eddie thought she probably recognized as much. Sure, she sometimes got a jealous glint in her eye when she saw Bill and Beverly deep in animated discussion, and she didn't always like the posts on Instagram that were just the seven of them together, on an outing she hadn't been invited to. Yet, she also seemed to understand, for the most part, that she couldn't be part of them, even if Bill had wanted her to be. That no matter what, no matter if all of them started dating outsiders, or if they all moved away, there would always be a certain something between the seven of them that no one else could penetrate. More, Eddie thought, than most outsiders would understand. She wasn't a loser, but she was their friend and it only took one look at Bill's face when he was looking at her to see that he was smitten. Anything that made Big Bill this happy, the other losers would accept.

The rest of the day was slow and boring. Eddie had his last class with Stan, and he tried to get Stan's attention by Snapchatting him pictures of himself in stupid filters, but Stan had studiously packed his phone away in his bag. He didn't even look up when Eddie through a crumpled up paper ball at the back of his head.

At the end of class though, as Eddie headed out to the parking lot where Mrs. Hanscom would be picking up all the losers and Audra in her minivan, he opened a Snapchat from Stan that was a picture of Stan giving him the finger with the caption ‘you're going to fail next week's quiz you dumb thot.'

‘nah fam, I'm friends with this rly smart kid who alwys hlps me stdy ;)' he smiled to himself. Only Stan Uris would type out ‘you're' instead of ‘ur' and ‘going to' instead of ‘gonna' right before calling him a thot. Also, he knew Stan would end up helping him study like he always did. He'd give Eddie shit for never paying attention in class the whole time, but Eddie had a feeling he didn't mind teaching Eddie the material. He always got this strong, confident vibe about him when he was showing Eddie how to do a math problem. Eddie sometimes joked that Stan was his surrogate dad since his real dad had died when he was young. Stan always frowned and patted Eddie on the hand when he made that joke.

"Ooh, a text from Sally Mueller?" asked Richie, slamming himself against Eddie's back and wrapping his arms around his neck.

"Nah, from your mom," Eddie said, tucking his phone into Richie's jacket pocket. He was not taking this jacket off until he absolutely had to. It smelled like Axe body spray and cigarettes, but it was very cozy and it gave Eddie a kind of thrill he would never in a million years voice out loud to wear it.

They headed out to the parking lot, Richie still hanging on the back of Eddie's neck like a koala and making it very hard to walk. The rest of the losers and Audra were already outside and piling into Mrs. Hanscom's van. Ben sat in the front with his mom. Richie double buckled with Stan and Eddie felt a sting of jealousy that he quickly reminded himself was really stupid. Bill and Audra were also double buckled, in the bucket seat across from Stan and Richie. Ben, Bev, and Mike were sitting in the back and Eddie scrambled backward, sitting between Mike and Bev.

"Seatbelts?" Mrs. Hanscom called, as Bill shut the side door.

Everyone offered affirmations and Eddie hurried to double the middle buckle around himself and Beverly.

The car ride was loud, as most things involving the losers club were. Stan and Richie were engaged in a loud argument over whether or not Richie's TikToks of himself dancing to Lizzo were valid. Stan was of the opinion that they were not. Bill and Audra were dissecting the new Joker movie in detail, in a hot debate as to whether it had been brilliant cinema or fake edgy drivel. Audra seemed to think the latter while Bill leaned toward the former.

"I can't believe we haven't seen your costume yet, Eddie," Ben said. "You and Richie should've put on your costumes when you were skipping." "What? Literally, no one else is wearing a costume!" Eddie cried, gesturing to the car. "I am," Bill said, turning back. He unzipped his jean jacket to reveal a maroon and green striped sweater. "I just need someone to do my makeup like a burn victim tonight, and I'll be Freddy Krueger."

"I've got my costume on too," Audra said. She was wearing a pink sweater over a button-up shirt and khakis. Everyone looked at her in confusion until she pulled up an image of Nancy Thompson from the original Nightmare on Elm street on her phone and showed it around.

"What about you, Mike? Stan?" Eddie asked after everyone was done complimenting Audra's costume.

"Oh, we couldn't have gotten away with ours at school," Stan said. "Too edgy." After that mysterious statement, everyone began debating what the two of them were going to be, all yelling over each other.

"Psst," Beverly whispered in Eddie's ear.

"What?" he asked.

"How was not dissecting cats this morning?" she nodded towards where Richie and Stan were sitting in front of them.

"Shut up," Eddie snapped, which caused Beverly to give him a smug smirk. She was the only one of the losers Eddie had trusted to talk to about his feelings when it came to Richie. She was the one he could talk to about certain things without it being weird. She'd been there to answer the phone when his mom had gone on an alarming rant about 'the gays' last Thanksgiving, and she'd been there when he'd called an important meeting for just the two of them in the clubhouse and he'd broken down and cried a little and told her about how he liked Richie as more than just a friend.

Beverly hadn't done that thing you always saw in movies, either, where the straight friend says they've known all along and acts all high and mighty about it. She'd just hugged him and told him it was alright, and when he'd stopped crying she'd suggested that maybe Richie felt the same way. Eddie couldn't believe that, but he was glad to have told her anyway. That was, until this car ride because she was about to blow his whole cover.

When they all piled out of the car his face was still burning and he knew it.

"Whoa, Eddie, what did my girlfriend whisper to you?" Ben asked in a mock angry voice.

Eddie could feel his cheeks burning even more. "Nothing," he muttered, shooting Beverly a look.

"Ooh, something's going down! Eddie Spaghetti is moving in on your woman Hanscom, what are you going to do?" Richie yelled as everyone followed Mrs. Hanscom into the house. "You're in trouble, Haystack," Richie continued as everyone sat down on the couch, tossing their school things to the side. "Spaghetti man over here can really turn on the charm when he wants to, isn't that right Eds?" He flopped down in the spot next to Eddie and pinched his cheek.

"Beep beep, Trashmouth," Eddie said, shoving him.

"Alright," Bill said. "So, here's the plan." He hadn't stuttered, Eddie thought, since that summer after fourth grade. It was an odd thought, but not an altogether surprising one. Sometimes thoughts like that, thoughts about Them, about That Summer, came to him and he didn't question them. "We're all going to get in our costumes and stuff. We're gonna watch horror movies on TV for a bit, then when it gets dark, we're gonna walk to the Derry Haunted House. After that, we come back here, eat all the leftover candy, then watch horror movies until we fall asleep. I assume no one is planning on going to school tomorrow?”

They all agreed that it was a good plan and no, none of them had any intention of going to class. Eddie asked Ben if his mom would be okay with them staying over and missing school, and he said that she didn’t care since Halloween only came once a year and she believed it was silly to make kids go to school the day after a holiday that almost always involved staying up late and eating lots of sugar. When Mike and Stan came out wearing matching blue dresses and dark grey makeup around their eyes, looking like the spooky twins from The Shining, everyone ooh'd and ah'd. They said they thought it was fitting with Doctor Sleep coming out and all, and everyone agreed.

Ben agreed to do Bill's burn victim makeup and got to work as the two of them sat on the living room floor.

Eddie and Richie were the only two left sitting on the couch, but they were still mushed together on the end. Mike and Stan were trying to create a TikTok of the two of them saying they wanted to play forever and ever. Ben and Bill were focused on makeup, and Beverly and Audra were sitting on the floor with them. Beverly was showing Audra trailer for the haunted house, which included videos of people inside screaming their heads off.

Eddie yawned and stretched. He flopped backward, resting his head on Richie's lap. He felt Richie running an unusually hesitant hand and through his hair and thought that really, he'd be fine if he never had to move again. The original Halloween was playing on the TV, and Eddie pretended to watch as Doctor Loomis gave a monologue about the evil he'd seen in young Michael Myers.

"You're like a cat," Richie said, still petting Eddie's hair, a little less hesitant now. "But more adorable." Eddie tried to think of something to retort, but it hadn't even sounded like a dig or a tease, so he couldn't think of anything. Instead, he shifted so that he was looking up at Richie and a very corny, very gay thought came to him. That this was, possibly, the best view in the world.

"Going soft on me, Trashmouth?" he asked.

"I'm always soft for you, Eds," Richie said. At last, it was Richie's turn to blush.

"Don't fucking call me that," Eddie warned.

"Hey, it's gonna be time to go soon," Mike said, shoving Eddie's feet out of the way so he could sit on the couch. "Go put your costumes on."

"But I'm comfy," Eddie complained.

"The man is comfy!" Richie said. "Isn't there a law against moving when someone so cute is comfy?"

"You'll have plenty of time to cuddle after the haunted house," Stan told them. "Come on, move." He and Mike moved in synchronicity that was kind of perfect considering their twin costumes, and scooped Eddie up, putting him right side up in front of the couch.

Richie grabbed his backpack and they headed upstairs together. "Alright," Richie said, dumping his backpack on Ben's bed. He had the Scoop's Ahoy costume from Stranger Things and he grinned at Eddie as he held it up. "I am Steve Harrington, on all levels except physical already, so I figure this works."

"Keep trying with the hair and you'll reach that physical level," Eddie said, grabbing his costume, a green onesie with a hood that looked like a T-rex.

Eddie put his costume on over his clothes, tossing his fanny pack onto Ben’s bed thinking that he would have to make sure he grabbed it before they left, and turned to go downstairs so Richie could change into his.
“I’m not getting my hoodie back, am I?” Richie asked.

Eddie shrugged. Part of him had hoped that Richie wouldn’t notice him leaving the hoodie on under the onesie. “You said you don’t get cold, remember?”

“Don’t ever believe a word out of my mouth, Eds,” Richie said. “You should know this by now.”

“It’s too late, I’ve already got my costume on,” Eddie said, and he turned and walked downstairs.

"Adorable," Mike said.

"Shut up Mike, only Richie can call him that," Stan said.

"Shush," Beverly said. Eddie shot her a warning look. She hadn't told them, right? Beverly wouldn't do that. Would she? No. She wouldn't, Eddie was sure. Still, he felt his stomach turn over. It wasn't like the guys would judge him or anything, but it would be, well, weird if they knew. Eddie didn't know how else to think of it. The whole dynamic of the group would be messed up. Besides, if they knew it would only be a matter of time before Richie found out and Eddie absolutely could not allow that.

Richie came down a minute later and everyone complimented his Scoop's Ahoy costume. Mrs. Hanscom insisted on getting lots of pictures of them all as if it were prom night or something. Ben protested, but posed for the pictures happily enough, pretending not to notice Richie and Beverly making faces and giving the others bunny ears in most of them.

At last, they all went outside, chattering excitedly. This was the first year that the group had decided to go to Derry’s one and only ‘haunted house’ even if it was definitely not the only one and the losers knew it. It was the only commercially haunted house, and it was, they agreed, about time they saw it. They were getting a little old for trick or treating, after all. The thought made Eddie a little sad.

“Hey,” he said, grabbing Beverly’s wrist and slowing her down. He let the others get a little ahead before rounding on her. “What the hell?” he snapped.

“What’s wrong?” Beverly looked genuinely confused. Eddie let go of her wrist and moved to follow the others, letting them stay a decent distance ahead of them on the sidewalk. The sun was starting to set and little trick or treaters were beginning to crowd the street.

“You didn’t tell Mike and Stan about…you know. Did you?” he asked. He hated how scared he sounded. Weak. Fragile. Like she could break him if she decided to tell. He supposed she could.

“Of course not, Eddie!” she said. “I can’t believe you would even think that.” She looked like he'd slapped her and his stomach twisted in guilt. Beverly was a good friend. He could trust her. He should know that.

“No, I know,” he said, ducking his head. “I’m sorry, Bev. I know you wouldn’t. It’s just…” he trailed off.

“What?” she asked.

“I don’t know. They keep saying stuff. Earlier Stan called Richie my boyfriend.”

“Well,” Beverly said. She sounded worried that he would start yelling if she said the wrong thing. Maybe he would. “You guys aren’t exactly uh, subtle, you know.”

“What are you talking about?” Eddie asked.

“Eddie.” She stopped in the middle of the street and gave him a look.

“Beverly.” He stopped and met her eyes, raising his eyebrows.

“Hey, come on, you guys are blocking the trick or treaters,” Mike said, grabbing both Beverly and Eddie’s hands and tugging them forward. “Also, we’re trying to get a spot in line before it gets too crowded, so let’s move.”

Eddie gave Beverly one last confused look before following Mike to where the rest of the group was waiting.

The haunted house was just around the corner, and, to their dismay, the line was already long. “It’s fine guys,” Mike said as they took their place in the long line made up of teens and young adults. “Waiting in line just adds to the fun.”

They all conceded that it sort of did, and settled in for the wait. There were creepy looking clowns wandering through the line, trying to scare the people waiting. Eddie reached for his fanny pack with his aspirator automatically but then groaned, remembering that he had left it lying on Ben’s bed.

“What’s wrong?” Ben asked, concerned.

“I left my fanny pack with my aspirator back at your place,” Eddie said. “I have to go back and get it. You guys stay in line though, I’ll hurry and then maybe-”

“Nope,” Richie said, producing Eddie’s aspirator from the pocket of the tacky blue pants. “I got you covered Eddie Spaghetti.”

“OH my gosh you’re a lifesaver, Richie,” Eddie said, taking the aspirator and pumping it into his mouth gratefully. “Seriously, thank you.”
He did something that he didn’t normally do and leaned in to kiss Richie on the cheek. It was normal for the losers to be affectionate with each other, none of them ever thought twice about hugging, or leaning on each other, but as soon as Eddie saw the flush in Richie’s cheek he felt awkward. “Don’t call me Eddie Spaghetti, though. Also, you should’ve grabbed my whole fanny pack because now how am I gonna carry this? I don’t have any pockets.”

“Calm down, I’ll just keep it in my pocket. Just stay near me and you’ll be fine," Richie said.

Eddie agreed with a certain amount of apprehension and handed the aspirator to Richie who stuck it back in his pants pocket.

“Nice catch,” Beverly mouthed to Eddie when Richie was sufficiently distracted by a discussion with Mike about who would win in a fight, Michael Myers of Ghostface.

“Ghostface is just a regular dude,” Mike insisted. “Michael Myers is like, superhuman.”

“Yeah but Ghostface technically is more than one person. It’s the persona that each killer takes, so if you really think about it, it’s impossible to kill him. Or her.”

“That’s a stretch. We’re talking about who walks away in a fight, Richie. Think about that throw down.”

Eddie shook his head and turned away from that conversation. He tapped on Bill’s shoulder.

“Yeah?” Bill asked.

“Okay, so I’ve never been to a haunted house. Also, I have asthma and if I breathe in too fast like if I get startled or something, I could have an asthma attack and I don’t want that. So you guys can’t make me go in the front or the back, okay, I have to be in the middle.”

“Sure, Eddie,” Bill said with a wink. “For your health, right?” Eddie rolled his eyes, but he knew Bill would make sure he got to stay in the middle.

At last, it was their turn to go in. Bill and Audra linked arms, and Bev stood behind Ben, hugging him as they walked. Stan grabbed Mike by the wrist and met eyes with him, and Eddie saw a little nod pass between them. They must have agreed to stick together.

“Alright, stay by me in case you need what’s in my pants,” Richie said, a teasing glint in his eyes.

“Beep beep, Richie,” Eddie said. He grabbed Richie’s hand as they stepped inside though.

The hallway leading into the house was dark and shrouded in mist that Eddie supposed came from dry ice. He found himself squeezing Richie’s hand. Nothing happened as they walked down the hall, but instead of relaxing, Eddie felt his heart rate accelerate. Nothing happening was worse than someone chasing them because he didn’t know what to expect and the buildup felt heavy with tension.

The group stuck close together as they made their way deeper into the hall. At last, they came to a door. Eddie stepped forward and pushed, even though he’d told Bill that he couldn’t be first. A manic looking girl covered from head to foot in gore came stumbling out and Eddie leaped backward, crashing into Richie who crashed into Stan, who crashed into Mike. Bill, Audra, Ben, and Bev who were all standing to the side howled with laughter.

The girl screamed at them not to go on as they slipped past her into a hallway with strobe lights blinking so fast they made Eddie’s head spin. He clung to Richie’s arm. The next section was set up like a schoolyard. Creepy little kids were seesawing and singing a quiet little nursery rhyme. A little girl was on a swing set, rocking back and forth with a vacant look in her eyes and holding the one-armed doll.

Eddie grinned. This was pretty great actually. They had to walk into and through a school bus with little kids dressed in old-timey clothes sitting in the seats. One of them jumped up and grabbed Stan by the wrist and everyone yelled with laughter as Stan cursed in alarm.

They were still laughing at Stan when they got off the school bus and made their way into a room set up to look like a graveyard. A giant monstrous-looking mechanical bird with red eyes snapped at them with an animatronic beak as they crossed. Mike let out a high yelp and practically wrapped himself around Stan when the beak missed him by inches, and everyone was still laughing at that as they crossed into the next room.

This room was filled with tables covered with plastic arms and legs covered in fake blood. A man dressed as a butcher with a bloody apron swung an ax at them as they hurried through.

"Oh yuck,” Eddie cried as they ran from the room.

“Yeah, I’m gonna be sick, those body parts looked too real,” Stan agreed.

They all paused and looked around. Circus music was playing softly. There were what looked like yellow-painted cubicle dividers covered in blinking lights of all colors set up to create the entrance to a mini hall within the room that Eddie hoped was not a maze. A loud, manic, giggle came from beyond the walls. Oh god, Eddie thought, there’s a clown section. Of course, there is.

The group moved a little closer together, and Eddie gave a nervous laugh. “Well, we paid good money to have the shit scared out of us,” he said. “Let’s go.”

With that, they all shuffled forward, none of them wanting to go first. Now it was Richie’s turn to grip Eddie’s hand more tightly. Eddie gave his hand a little squeeze and shot him a comforting look that he was too busy looking around to see. Maybe they shouldn’t have come, Eddie thought. None of the losers were huge clown fans after, well, after what they’d been through. But Eddie remembered that Richie had said his worst fear was clowns. None of them talked much about what Eddie thought of in capitalized letters as That Summer, but sometimes, one of them would bring it up. Usually in passing, sometimes in a serious tone and followed by a brief and unsmiling conversation. He knew now that they were all thinking about it though, remembering That Summer. Except for Audra, who was grinning.

They entered the space between two of the dividers. Again, nothing happened at first. They all made their way forward together, none of them saying anything. Eddie wished that stupid circus music would stop. Richie was squeezing his hand hard enough for it to hurt, but he didn’t say anything.

They turned a corner, and a man dressed as the clown from American Horror Story leaped out at them. They all screamed, and Eddie was yanked backward as Richie stumbled back. He pulled Richie forward, and they all ran past the clown. Audra was laughing as they ran past another clown, this one dressed to look like Ronald McDonald, but none of the losers laughed.

They exited the enclosed cubicles and came out into what looked like the last room. It was dark and creepy music was playing. Richie had loosened his grip on Eddie’s hand, and Eddie pulled his hand away and tugged Richie into a brief side hug before taking his hand again. Before they could relax too much, a man with a chainsaw came tearing out of the shadows, revving the chainsaw at them.

They all screamed and ran outside into the night. There were other people outside, laughing and watching as the group raced away from the chainsaw wielder, who followed them for a good fifty feet into the lawn.
They collapsed into the grass, all laughing their heads off.

“That was great,” Bev said, wiping her eyes.

“Oh ten out of ten,” Richie said, giving her a breathless high five. “I liked the part where I shit my fucking pants.”

They sat and watched a few other groups being chased from the house before deciding to head back.

The trick or treaters were mostly gone, and the streets were deserted. Eddie checked his phone and saw that it was nearing midnight. They tried to be quiet as they made their way back into Ben’s house, but they weren’t exactly great at that, as a group. Richie and Mike were continuing their argument about which horror villain would win in a fight, but they’d moved the discussion to the girl from the exorcist and the kid from the omen. They were trying to whisper, but, Richie had never had much of an inside voice.

“Hi all,” a smiling Mrs. Hanscom said, emerging from her room in a nightgown. “How was the haunted house?”

“Awesome,” Ben said.

“I’m glad. There’s leftover candy in the kitchen you’re all free to take some if you’d like. There are a few two liters of soda in the fridge too. Try to keep it down a little though, I don’t want the neighbors to be mad.”

“Thanks, mom,” Ben said. He ran over and kissed his mom on the cheek. “Goodnight,”

“Goodnight,” Mrs. Hanscom said, patting her son on the shoulder and heading back to her room.

Eddie felt a stab of jealousy that he knew wasn’t fair to Ben as they all watched Mrs. Hanscom close her bedroom door behind her. He loved his mom. He did. But he envied how close Ben could be with his mom. He had been closer to his mom when he was a kid, but he’d had to distance himself from her over the years. She could be suffocating at times, and the older he got, the more he understood that he hadn’t gotten a normal childhood for more reasons than the demon sewer clown. He supposed he resented her for all of the trips to the emergency room and the pills he had to take daily, most of which he was aware were just sugar. ‘The aspirator,’ a voice whispered in his mind. ‘All those gazebos…’ Eddie shook his head, jerking himself back to the present. He didn’t want to dwell on any of this right now.

They all went off to get changed into PJs and everyone wearing makeup took turns in the bathroom to wash it off. Ben had to rinse his hair dye out too. Eddie stayed in the living room, flopping onto the couch and grabbing the remote. He was going to brush his teeth after the candy but the dinosaur onesie was pretty comfy so he didn’t feel the need to switch to the matching plaid sweat pants and button-up his mom had insisted he pack.

Richie was the first one back, coming down in grey sweatpants and a blue T-shirt that Eddie couldn’t help but notice brought out his eyes. He flopped onto the couch next to Eddie.

“No PJs?” he asked.

“Nah, I’m gonna sleep in this,” Eddie said. He pulled off the hood and Richie immediately ruffled his hair.

“Good because you look so cute in it.”

“Whatever,” Eddie said. “Do you have my aspirator?”

“Yep,” Richie held it up. “I’m gonna put it on the TV stand, okay?” Eddie nodded at that and made a mental note of where Richie set the aspirator down. “I uh, notice you didn’t need it once in the haunted house.”

Eddie shrugged. “It’s random,” he said. “You know, there’s no rhyme or reason to when asthma attacks happen.”

“Right,” Richie said, not meeting Eddie’s eyes. They both knew damn well that Eddie didn’t have asthma. Eddie sometimes felt like he was almost daring the others to say it, but none of them ever did.

He flipped through the channels until he landed on Hocus Pocus. The rest of the losers and Audra hurried in when they realized what was playing. Bev sat down next to Richie on the sofa, holding the cauldron shaped candy bucket in her lap. She tossed handfuls of candies to everyone and they all fell into arguing and trading until everyone was happy with their selection and they settled in to watch the movie. It wasn’t long before everyone started talking again. Eddie had never hung out with this group and actually watched a movie for more than five minutes.

“Let’s play truth or dare,” Audra said after tiring of the debate about whether the T-Rex from Jurassic Park stood a chance against the Incredible Hulk. Beverly had joined the debate on Mike’s team in favor of the hulk. Stan had agreed with Richie that the T-Rex was a no brainer, saying that she would probably eat the hulk before he could even hulk out.

“Okay,” Bill said. Eddie had a feeling Bill would have agreed that they should all go jump off the bridge into the Kenduskeag if Audra suggested it.

“Ew no,” Richie said. “How old are we? Come on.”

“I’m with Richie, that game is so dumb,” Stan said.

“So? It might be fun. Nothing wrong with a little dumb assery,” Mike said.

“Ok fine I’ll play,” Stan said.

“I’m in,” Eddie said.

“Same,” Bev agreed.

“Ok but we just have to be careful not to make the dares too crazy, I don’t wanna make my mom mad," Ben said. Again, Eddie felt a stab of jealousy. He’d said that same phrase ‘I don’t wanna make my mom mad,’ a hundred times. But there was something different about the way he said it, wasn’t there? Ben didn’t want to make his mom mad because he was grateful she was letting them stay over. Eddie’s reasons were never so simple, were they?

“This is so lame. Okay fine,” Richie said.

Eddie shot Richie a confused look. Richie was usually into dumb shit like this. But Richie’s face was unreadable, and Eddie shrugged it off.

“Who’s going first?” asked Bill.

“I’ll go,” Beverly said. “Ben, truth or dare?”

“Truth,” Ben said.

“Okay, remember no lying. Did you or did you not spend your entire month’s paycheck from Chipotle getting this,” she held out her hand which was donning a gold banded ring “engraved for me even though you swore that it wasn’t that expensive?”

Ben flushed. “Oh not fair,” he said.

“Ben, you didn’t,” Beverly cried, throwing her arms up. “I told you I didn’t want you spending too much.” She was blushing though and admiring the ring. She had shown it off on Instagram and shoved it under all of their noses to make them look when Ben had given it to her for her birthday, so Eddie knew that it said ‘my heart burns there too.’

“Fine, I’m next,” Ben said. “Stan, truth or dare?”

“Truth,” Stan said.

“Lame,” Richie objected. “Is no one going to at least pick dare?”

“Settle down, you’ll get a chance to go,” Stan said, rolling his eyes. “I thought this game was stupid anyway?”

“It is, but lets at least make it interesting.”

“Have you ever,” Ben asked, ignoring Richie and looking at Stan. “Kissed a guy?”

Stan flushed. “Yes,” he admitted. Everyone sat up a little more and looked at him with curiosity. “No follow up questions though. That’s a rule or something.”

“I have so many follow up questions!” Richie said. “We’re talking about this later, Uris.”

“You fucking wish we were, Trashmouth,” Stan said. Eddie knew Stan would talk to Richie when the others weren’t around though, and he could tell Richie knew it too because he dropped it. “Okay, Mike,” Stan said. “Truth or dare?”

“Dare,” Mike said.

“Okay, come here,” Stan said. Mike hesitated, but stood up and walked to the chair where Stan was sitting. “I’m going to whisper it to you.” He whispered something in Mike’s ear that made Mike laugh. “Come on Stan,” he said. “That’s mean. I’m not gonna do that.”

“It’s not,” Stan insisted. “It’s not mean. I just wanna see. You said you wanted to play, so we’re playing.”

“Okay,” Mike still looked unsure, but he walked back across the room and this time he sat down between Eddie and Richie, shoving them apart.

“What did he dare you to do, Mike?” Bill asked.

“You can’t say,” Stan said. “That’s part of the deal.”

“Oh come on that has to be against the rules or something,” Richie said.

“I agree,” Beverly said. “And you said it was mean. Now it’s gonna bother everyone.” The whole room nodded in agreement but Stan just shrugged.

“Your turn to ask someone, Mike,” he said. “Fine,” Mike said. “Eddie, truth or dare?”

“Dare,” Eddie said.

“Good man, Eds! Keep it interesting.” He turned to Mike. “No more secret dares.”

“Shut the fuck up, my name is Eddie,” Eddie said, reaching across Mike to punch Richie on the arm.

“Like thirty seconds, dude,” Mike said to Stan. For some reason, Stan smiled and nodded.

“Huh?” Eddie asked Mike.

“Not important,” Mike said, “Eddie, I dare you to wear that onesie at school all day on Monday and see if any teachers say anything.”

“Done,” Eddie said. “But I’ll have to pack it in my backpack and put it on at school because my mom will never let me wear it to school.”

“Fair,” Mike said. They shook on it.

“Okay, Richie,” Eddie said. “Truth or dare?”

“Dare,” Richie said without any hesitation.

“I dare you to go the rest of the night without calling me anything other than Eddie.”

“Oh come on!” Richie groaned as everyone laughed. “That’s not fair."

“Them’s the rules,” Eddie said.

The game continued. Richie ended up daring Beverly to shove eight Snickers in her mouth at once which resulted in everyone doubling over in laughter. Beverly dared Bill to do the hokey pokey while everyone sang out the song, and that resulted in more laughter. Bill asked Audra which of the losers other than him he found the most attractive, and Eddie could practically feel the heat radiating off Mike when she said his name.

“Oh my gosh, look how much you’re blushing,” Beverly said to Mike. “This is actually adorable.”

After that, the movie ‘Shaun of the Dead came on and they watched for a bit, the game forgotten, talking amongst themselves or quoting the movie before the characters could get their lines out. At some point, Ben brought out eight sleeping bags and then more pillows than they could possibly need.

One by one, they ended up in the sleeping bags. Eddie went upstairs where his backpack was and got his toothbrush, then went back down to the bathroom to brush his teeth. When he went in, Mike was rinsing off his toothbrush and yawning.

“Hey, Mike,” Eddie said. “Will you please tell me what Stan dared you to do? I can tell it had to do with me.”

“Fine,” Mike said. He looked around. No one else was in the hall. “Look, he dared me to sit between you and Richie and see how long it took before one of you found an excuse to touch the other.”

“Okay, first of all, don’t say touch like it’s something dirty,” Eddie said, feeling the anger rise in his chest. “I punched him on the arm. Second of all, why? Why did he dare you to do that? And don’t give me any bullshit about not knowing, I can tell you know.”

“Okay,” Mike said. “Chill, Eddie. Look, it’s not a big deal but he and I just kinda think you two, I don’t know, maybe have, some tension between you.”

“I think all of us have tension with Richie,” Eddie said, rolling his eyes. “I love him but he’s fucking annoying.”

“That’s not what I mean,” Mike said. “I mean like, you know,” Mike was blushing now. “Well, do you remember what it was like between Ben and Beverly before the two of them finally got together? How we could all tell something was going on but they refused to acknowledge it for so long?"

“What does that have to do with-” Eddie stopped in horror. He was sure if he were looking in the mirror he would have watched himself get paler. “No! What? No. Come on, Mike. That’s crazy. Me and-” he couldn’t even say it, even if he fantasized about it eighty times a day, he couldn’t say it, now wasn’t that pathetic? “No,” he said again.

“Okay,” Mike said, seeming alarmed by Eddie’s reaction. “I didn’t mean anything by it, okay?”

“Whatever,” Eddie muttered. To his horror, he could feel tears brimming to his eyes. What the fuck was wrong with him?

“Hey,” Mike said, reaching out. Eddie shoved his hand away. “Hey, Eddie, can I tell you something? It’s not about this. It’s about me. And I really need to tell someone.”

Eddie wiped his eyes furiously. He could feel the familiar clogging feeling in his lungs, tight, and burning. He held up a finger and hurried over to the living room to grab his aspirator. He was breathing fast, hard breaths. He grabbed the aspirator and pumped, then hurried back to the hall where Mike was still standing. “Yeah, okay,” he said.

“Stan and I are a couple,” Mike said. Eddie felt his jaw drop. He had not been expecting that.

“Oh!” he said. “That’s great. You guys are really good together. Mike, I hope you know, when I said it was crazy that me and Richie would be a thing, I didn’t mean it like, I meant specifically, I’m not like, I’m not homophobic. I just don’t think that I mean, I’m not, I just-” Eddie couldn't seem to form a coherent sentence or get the words out fast enough but he needed Mike to know he supported him

“It’s fine,” Mike said, saving Eddie from his awkward rambling. “I know what you mean. Thanks, Eddie. It feels good to tell someone. We want to tell all of you guys, but we both agreed to just do it one on one with each of you when the time seemed right. I think Stan is going to tell Richie tomorrow, and we’ve both already told Bill.”

“I’m glad you told me, Mike,” Eddie said. He hugged Mike and Mike squeezed extra tight.

After Eddie brushed his teeth, he came back to the living room where everyone was already asleep. He stepped over Richie, who was still wearing his glasses and was surrounded by candy bar wrappers, and took the last empty sleeping bag between Ben and Richie.

Before getting into the sleeping bag, he reached over and took Richie’s glasses off, leaning forward to place them on the TV stand by his aspirator. After getting into the sleeping bag and situating a pillow under him, he lay back and stared at the ceiling, trying not to think of what Mike had suggested he and Stan both thought.

He couldn’t sleep, so he closed his eyes and gave the sleeping bag next to him a hard kick. He heard Richie curse loudly, and then sit up beside him. He tried not to smile when Richie shook his shoulder. “Wake up, you’re kicking me in your sleep,” Richie said. “And I can’t find my glasses.”

Eddie pretended to yawn and wake up. “Huh?” he mumbled.

“Have you seen my glasses?” Richie asked.

“On the TV stand,” Eddie said, pointing. “I put them there.”

“Thanks, Eds,” Richie said.

“Hey!” Eddie corrected sharply as Richie put on the glasses. “You just fucked up your dare, from the game. You gotta call me by my actual name and nothing else, remember?"

“Oh shit my bad,” Richie said with a laugh. He stretched. “Okay, now that I’m awake, I can’t go back to sleep. Wanna sit on the porch and watch Youtube videos or something?”

“Sure,” Eddie said.

“I uh, think I saw a few bottles of wine in the fridge when I went to get the soda.”

“Dude, I don’t wanna make Ben’s mom mad,” Eddie said, although the idea of a glass of wine was appealing.

“Nah, it’ll be fine,” Richie said. “She’s never gonna notice. And if she does, and she accuses us, we just play dumb, okay?”

Eddie hesitated. “Well,” he bit his lip. “Okay, but if she catches us I’m blaming you.”

“Oh, you wound me Eddie Spaghett-” Richie caught himself in the middle of acting like Eddie had just punched in the stomach. “Eddie,” he said.

“Whatever, go get the wine, I’m gonna sit on the porch,” Eddie said.

He slipped outside, careful not to step on any of the others. When he got outside, he shivered, hugging himself as he sat on the porch swing. He’d underestimated how cold it had gotten in the night. His phone told him it was nearing three in the morning. He texted Richie to bring a sleeping bag out with him and hugged his knees to his chest. The jack o’ lanterns across the street grinned darkly, no longer glowing, their eyes and mouths just gaping shadows that were somehow creepier than if they had been lit.

“Here,” Richie threw an unzipped sleeping back over Eddie as he came out, closing the door behind him. He was carrying two bottles of wine.

“Two bottles?”

“Homegirl has that fridge stocked,” Richie said. “Trust me, she won’t notice. Scoot.” Eddie scooted and Richie sat on the swing beside him, pulling the sleeping bag over both of them.

“So what were you dreaming about that made you kick me with way more force than should be allowed to exist in your tiny body?” Richie asked.

“I don’t remember,” Eddie lied, not feeling at all bad about lying. He was glad they were sitting out here. There was something adventurous about the two of them being awake when everyone else was sound asleep, and the cool wind and warm blanket made a nice combo. He unscrewed the cap on one of the wine bottles and took a sip before passing it to Richie. “Sorry for waking you up,” he added, not sorry at all.

“It’s no biggie,” Richie shrugged. “Now we get to indulge in miscreant behavior while the rest of those losers sleep.”

“Cheers,” Eddie said, opening the second bottle of wine and clinking it against Richie’s. They both took a sip.

After that, they watched Vine compilations on Youtube for a while, cracking up at ‘road work ahead? Uh yeah. I sure hope it does,’ way more than usual partially because of the wine, but mostly because of the late hour and the thrill of the evening.

“Hey, Eddie,” Richie said after awhile. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure,” Eddie said, but he felt himself tense up. He closed the vine compilation that he'd been about to play.

“Do you ever….Do you ever dream about That Summer?” Eddie froze. He didn’t want to look at Richie.

“No,” he said in a quiet voice, hugging himself. “I don’t. I think about it sometimes, but I never dream about it.”

“I do,” Richie said. Eddie turned to look at him.

“You do?” he asked. He wanted to change the subject, but he felt that to do so would be tantamount to betraying Richie, when he was being vulnerable, something he almost never did.

“Yeah. All the time.” It occurred to Eddie that this was why Richie has asked about his dream, probably why Richie had shaken him to wake him up now that he thought about it. Richie had thought Eddie might be dreaming of That Summer. For the first time, he felt bad about the lie.

“If you uh, if you ever have one of those dreams,” Eddie said, staring straight ahead. “And you wake up. You can call me. Anytime. I always have my sound on.”

“You mean that Eds-” Richie caught himself. “Eddie?”

“Of course,” Eddie said, finally turning to meet Richie’s eyes. “Yeah. Anytime, Richie.”

“Thanks, you’re a good friend,” Richie said. Eddie felt his heart do a backflip at the word ‘friend,’ but he ignored it and leaned in for a hug. It was an awkward hug because they were both holding the now half-empty wine bottles, and they were both trying to stay under the sleeping bag to stay warm.

“Those clowns today must have fucked with you,” Eddie said.

“Yeah,” Richie said. It was one of the shortest responses Eddie had ever heard from him.

“I mean, if you don’t wanna talk about it, it’s fine. But it’s fine if you do wanna talk too, just so you know,” Eddie said.

“I don’t know,” Richie muttered, picking at a loose thread on the sleeping bag. “I mean, yeah, they fucked me up. They fucked all of us up, I guess. Except for Audra,” he grinned now, remembering. “That girl was laughing like a loon while all of us losers tried not to piss our pants.” For some reason that got them both going and they fell into each other, laughing. Richie wiped a tear of laughter from his face. “I mean, I don’t think they fucked me up more than anyone else, though. I uh…I gotta tell you something.”

“What?” Eddie asked, nervous again.

“I lied, that summer. When you asked me what I was afraid of. Clowns were an easy answer. There was a clown in the park that day, and at that point, we’d all had our encounter with Pennywise and we knew he was a clown. It was an easy answer.”

“Wait,” Eddie said. “No, that’s not right. Not all of us had an encounter with Pennywise before that. You didn’t.” He looked at Richie with a question in his eyes.

“Okay, so there’s a slight chance that I maybe possible miiiiiight have lied about that too,” Richie said.

“Jesus Richie,” Eddie said. “How many things did you lie about?”

“Those are the important ones, I promise,” Richie said.

“So what did you see? When you saw Pennywise?” Richie hesitated, so Eddie continued, “I mean if you want to tell me. You don’t have to. I’m super curious, but I’d understand if you didn’t want to-”

“I saw a werewolf,” Richie said. Eddie had a feeling there was something else that Richie also wanted to say, but didn’t.

“Okay,” he said. He leaned over and put an arm around Richie. Richie leaned against him and Eddie relaxed into the pressure. “Okay,” he repeated, running a hand through Richie’s hair.

“It was wearing this jacket,” Richie continued. “And it had…It had my name on it, Eds-” he stopped. “Eddie.”

“Your name?” Eddie asked.

“Yeah. Tozier. My name was embroidered right on the arm.”

“It wasn’t you, Richie,” Eddie said. He knew how Pennywise could mess with a person’s mind, and he understood why the name freaked Richie out. He almost voiced this understanding to Richie, but something stopped him. Something about the way he had been about to phrase the comfort. He felt a shiver run down his spine as he realized that he still thought about Pennywise in the present tense. He hadn’t almost said ‘I know how Pennywise used to mess with us.’ No. He had almost said ‘I know how Pennywise messes with us.’

“I know,” Richie said. “Still. You know how he could get into our heads.”

“I know,” Eddie said. He was still running his hands through Richie’s hair in a methodical kind of way, leaning back on the bench. They sat like that for a bit. Eddie thought maybe Richie was asleep, otherwise, maybe he wouldn’t have been able to muster the courage to ask Richie his next question. He was almost banking on Richie not answering. “So what was your actual biggest fear? If not clowns, what?”

For a moment, Richie didn’t answer. Eddie hated himself for feeling relieved. But so much of him didn’t want to know, didn’t want to keep talking about this. “ Losing you,” Richie said.

“What?” Eddie took his hand away from Richie’s hair. Richie sat up and looked at him.

“I mean, losing any of you guys would be bad,” Richie said. “But you? You were – you are – my best friend.”

“I thought Stan was your best friend?”

“He is,” Richie said. “I mean, you guys both are. I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to either of you. But you’re special, Eds. I mean, Eddie.” He grinned as he corrected the nickname, but the grin faded into an uncharacteristically serious expression. “I mean, that. All of the losers are special, but you have to admit, you have to know, there’s something…” he trailed off. “Never mind,” he said.

“Why me?” Eddie asked. He was touched, but he was also overwhelmed. It felt like too much responsibility.

“Why was I so afraid of you dying?” Richie stared at him for a few seconds and Eddie squirmed under the scrutiny. “I don’t know,” he said. But he had a look as if he knew well enough.

‘Now or never, Eddie,’ said a voice in Eddie’s head that sounded a lot like Beverly. He thought about Mike, telling him that he and Stan, who were apparently a couple, thought that there was something between him and Richie. And wasn’t that what Richie was saying right now? Eddie had spent so much time thinking that Richie could never feel the same way as him, but what else could it mean that Richie’s worst fear, the thing he had been most terrified of during a summer when a demon clown from outer space who lurked in the sewers had been stalking them, had been Eddie dying?

He leaned in and kissed Richie. It was soft and quick and very, very sweet. For a moment, Richie stared at him, stunned. Then he said. “Was that for real?”

“No, Richie, I just kissed you as a big fake-out,” Eddie said. “Of course it was for real you asshole!”

Richie smiled and suddenly the night got a lot warmer. He leaned in and kissed Eddie and this time, the kiss was a lot longer.

They would have probably stayed out there all night making out and feeling each other, and occasionally stroking each other’s faces and staring at each other and Eddie would have thought that maybe he’d died and gone to heaven, but it started to rain after about an hour.

When they went back in, they tossed the sleeping bag they’d had on the porch to the side because it was covered in rainwater. Richie put the two mostly empty wine bottles in his backpack upstairs and when he came back down he and Eddie zipped the remaining dry sleeping bag around both of them.

They lay back on the pillows together, their limbs tangled. “This is literally the best night of my life,” Richie said.

“I’ve had one better,” Eddie said.

“Oh?” Richie’s face fell.

“Yeah, me and your mom, didn’t I tell you?” Eddie asked.

“Hey, that’s supposed to be my job!” Richie said, shoving him a little even though there was nowhere to go in the enclosed sleeping bag.

“You’re slacking, Trashmouth,” Eddie said.

“This is what I get for trying to be sweet,” Richie said. “Here I go, trying to be romantic or whatever-”

Eddie interrupted him with a kiss. “Hey,” he said, smirking. “This is gonna come in handy when I need to shut you up.”

“You little-” Richie was interrupted by another kiss, and this one lasted a while.

The next morning, Eddie woke up to the sound of Bill and Mike discussing a bicycle race they wanted to have after breakfast and Beverly complaining that she needed coffee before they could start talking about physical activity. Audra sided with Beverly, and Ben said he was going to start a pot and asked if anyone wanted frozen waffles. Everyone did.

“What happened to my mom’s other sleeping bag?” Ben asked, stopping on his way to the kitchen and spotting Richie and Eddie curled up in the same sleeping bag.

“It got rained on,” Eddie yawned. “We sat outside for a bit after you guys fell asleep.”

“Oh, okay,” Ben said. Wait a minute,” he leaned down and grabbed Eddie’s chin, tilting it upward. “Is that a hickey?” he mouthed. He didn’t say it so any of the others could hear. Good old Ben, Eddie thought. He grinned and felt the heat rush to his cheeks. Ben nodded at Richie, who was still sound asleep. Eddie gave him a subtle nod but put a finger to his lips. Ben mimed zipping his lips and continued to the kitchen.
Eddie curled back into the sleeping bag and lay on Richie’s chest. He felt Richie’s arms wrap around him and smiled to himself.

They all ate breakfast together. Eddie made sure to zip up the dinosaur onesie to his chin so that no one would see the hickey. He had several healthy helpings of Eggos and a cup of coffee with enough sugar to give him a heart attack. When they were done, they went outside to watch Bill and Mike race their bikes. Bill had piled his bike into the back of Mrs. Hanscom’s minivan, having ridden it to school, and Mike was planning to borrow Ben’s bike. Eddie privately thought that it was a little silly of Mike to keep trying. No one could beat Bill. Sure enough, it took Bill a minute to get his rusty old bike affectionately known as ‘Silver,’ going but once he did, he passed Mike in seconds. He sped past the Stop sign at the end that they were supposed to be going to and almost caused a full-on car wreck.

After everyone got done exclaiming over the almost-wreck, Beverly suggested that they go down to the quarry and maybe start a fire. They all agreed and headed back to Ben’s to get snacks and warmer layers. Eddie finally took off the dinosaur onesie to protests from Richie about how cute he looked in it, but he refused to take off Richie’s hoodie.

“It’s cold, Eddie,” Bev said. “He needs his hoodie.” They were standing on the porch, about ready to walk to the quarry. It was about a fifteen-minute walk, and they would have ridden their bikes but they didn’t all have them with them.

“I do,” Richie said. “Come on, Eds.”

“Nope, just for calling me that you’re not going to get it back.”

“Were you going to give it back before that though?” Ben interjected.

“Nope,” Eddie said. “I like it. I’m pretty sure it’s boyfriend rights to wear your man’s hoodie whenever and wherever possible.”

Everyone gaped at Eddie. He was frozen. How could he have said that? What was wrong with him? Richie started laughing. For a minute, Eddie was afraid it was because Richie hadn’t thought they were that serious. Just as he was starting to spiral and wonder if Richie hadn’t maybe thought of them that way, if it had really just been the wine that had made Richie kiss him, Richie stopped laughing long enough to speak.

“And here I was SO afraid I was gonna blow it and out us, and you were gonna be pissed and it was YOU. Hah! I’m never letting you forget this, Eddie Spaghetti, AND,” he added before Eddie could say anything. “Night’s over, dare’s off, I’m calling you anything I want.” He leaned in and kissed Eddie, who was fuming.

All of the losers and Audra cheered.

“Does this mean you two are finally got stop fucking bickering all the time?” Stan asked.

Eddie and Richie looked at each other. “No,” they said in unison.

Everyone groaned but they started walking. Eddie glanced at Richie in his Fortnite T-shirt and torn-up jeans. “Ugh, fine,” he shrugged of the jacket and tossed it to Richie. “Only because I love you and I don’t want you to be cold.” For the second time, Eddie froze. He, of course, told all of the losers that the loved them all the time, but this was different.

“I love you too,” Richie said without hesitating for a second, taking his hand. He kissed Eddie on the cheek and Eddie felt as if he were going to catch on fire.

After a while of walking, Beverly wrapped an arm around Eddie’s shoulder. “Richie, I need to borrow your man,” she said.

“No,” Richie said. “

“Just for a sec and you can have him right back,” Bev promised.

She tugged Eddie away and Richie was grabbed by Stan, who looked serious. Eddie had a feeling he knew what this was about. Stan was going to tell Richie about him and Mike. Eddie smiled. He had never thought about it before, but Stan and Mike were really good together. They got each other, in a quiet sort of way. One look and they could communicate entire coherent thoughts.

“SO?” Beverly asked. She still had her arm around Eddie and she was beaming. “How long have you guys been together? I need to know so I can slap you the exact amount of days for not telling me.”

“Last night,” Eddie said. “We got together last night?”

“And you’re telling each other ‘I love you?’” Bev asked.

“Oh yeah, and how long did it take you and Ben once you two decided to go together?” Eddie asked. "An hour?"

“Point taken,” Beverly said with a laugh. “I’m happy for you. I totally told you he felt the same way.”

“Wait a minute,” Eddie asked, slowing down. A thought occurred to him. Beverly and Richie were pretty close after all. “He didn’t TELL you that he felt the same, did he, Bev?”

“No,” Beverly said. “I didn’t know. Well, I had a feeling, but he never told me. Otherwise, I would’ve found a way to get you two idiots to talk it out. What made you guys finally open up and talk anyway?"

“Wine,” Eddie said. “Lots of wine."

“Are you kidding me, Eddie?” Beverly asked with a laugh. “You guys are too fucking much. I absolutely can’t deal with it.”

Still laughing she took her arm away and they walked for a while before Richie came over and grabbed Eddie’s hand. “Is borrowing time over?” he asked.

“It is,” Bev laughed. “Got any cigarettes?”

Richie reached in his pocket and brought out a pack of Winstons, passing her one. He lit it for her, and then put one between his own teeth and she lit it for him. Eddie made a big show of coughing, but when Richie reached for his hand again, he clasped it.

At the quarry, they set up a rock fire pit a little ways from the water. It took a while to get it going but after a bit they had a nice bonfire going.

Eddie ended up sitting between Richie’s spread legs with his head on Richie’s chest while Richie petted his hair. These were really the best friends anyone could ever have, he thought to himself.

It occurred to him that he'd left his aspirator back at Ben's. It was possible that Richie had grabbed it for him, but he didn't ask.

Instead, he listened to Beverly and Audra breaking down the trailer for the upcoming Birds of Prey movie and to Stan describing the kinds of birds they were seeing overhead to Mike, and to Bill and Ben complaining about the lack of Reese in the leftover candy they'd brought.

"Hey," he said twisting around to look up at Richie. "I love you." He didn't think he'd ever get over the look on Richie's face when he said that, and he made a promise to himself to never go too long without saying it.