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Seeing Richie Tozier

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At this point, after Mike’s call and the clown and the surgery, Eddie’s not sure any one thing can claim to change his life. But Richie’s text is a contender.

Texting Richie is weird. When you spend your formative years verbally ripping a boy to shreds, it simply doesn’t translate as well when you’re forty and traumatized and having a hard time connecting with the boy—man—who lives twelve hours and eight hundred miles west of you. More like fourteen or fifteen hours if you count rest stops and tolls. And realistically you’ll probably want to spend a night in Ohio or Pennsylvania because burning all that rubber in one go would be tough on the body, even if Eddie thinks he could make the trip in thirteen hours with one bathroom break if he drove through the night and skirted Indiana cops.

Eddie’s thinking of moving to Chicago. The text prompted this. It says:

Hey if you ever want to get out of NYC I have a guest room with your name on it

It’s followed by:

I mean Bevs using it right now

And finally:

But she keeps pissing on all the furniture so I’m gonna put her in the doghouse soon

Woof

Lol

Eddie’s going to uproot his life on a “lol.” Or, uproot it slightly more than it already has been. Eddie’s going to move to a sunnier spot in the living room, if the plant metaphor stands.

The uprooting happened sometime between getting stabbed and getting divorced. Eddie had a moment in the hospital—roughly a week after waking up with stitches in his chest, and a day or so away from his official discharge—when Myra finally flew up to Maine and Eddie found himself paralyzed with uncertainty. Bill and Stan had left, Mike was beginning to pack, and Richie, Ben, and Bev were hunkered down in Bangor, waiting around for Eddie. And Eddie had to call his wife.

He’d contacted Myra for the first time the day before; it was a sobbing affair as Eddie filled her in on the details: he was in an accident, he’s okay, his friends have been helping him, he will be home in a few days. The hospital? Oh, it’s in Bangor, Maine...

Of course he owed it to Myra to let him know where he was. Of course he had to tell his wife, his only family. Had he been on less pain medication, he might have been more tight-lipped—but as it stood, Myra coaxed the hospital name out of him, and told Eddie she’d see him tomorrow.

Eddie had a lot of delirious time to himself. He thought about what it meant to live despite a monster doing its best to kill him—a fact about himself which was true but didn’t feel true, not yet. He thought about what he owed not only Myra, but himself. What he owed Richie and Ben and Beverly, and the other Losers, too. He thought love in its conditional and unconditional forms. He thought conditional love was an oxymoron, or maybe a thing for morons. Eddie thought maybe he was a moron. Eddie didn’t want to be a moron any more than he wanted to be a victim or limited by the tug of his stitches against his healing skin.

Bev was visiting when Eddie heard Myra’s voice down the hall. His heart sped up at the thought of all the things Myra was about to unleash, all the Eddie I was so worried and Eddie you should have listened to me this was too dangerous way too dangerous and Eddie what were you thinking, honest to God what were you thinking leaving me like this?

“Please don’t let her come in,” Eddie said, and he wasn’t sure what his eyes were doing, but he suspected they were pleading.

Beverly entered battle mode, fierce and sudden. One moment she was at Eddie’s side, the next she was steely-eyed and blocking the doorway. Eddie closed his eyes as Myra and Bev’s voices drifted in:

“Eddie can’t see you right now.”

“What do you mean he can’t see me? I’m his wife, he needs to see me!”

“Eddie’s not feeling well, he needs to rest, Myra, I’m sorry.”

“Who are you? No, really, who the hell are you? Why are you keeping me from my husband? Eddie? Eddie, are you in there?”

A sigh.

“Listen—”

“No, you listen, you— you hussy—”

“Eddie doesn’t want to see you right now, okay, and I’m not going to let you into the room until he does, so you might want to back off,” a gasp, “and come back later when he’s feeling better. Got it?”

Sputtering.

“Pardon me, a little help here, please?”

A nurse: “Ma’am, I can’t have you disturbing any of the patients, I suggest you come back later or I’m gonna have to call security.”

Muttering. The word “insane.” Footsteps. Bev back in the room.

Eddie was so fucking embarrassed. He was flushed head to toe and a small, weasel part of his brain went Alert! Red alert! You have a fever! You have an infection! while the larger part of his brain was entirely focused on feeling mortified. He couldn’t handle Myra in that moment. He also didn’t want his friends fighting his battles. He wanted to be alive and well and not in a fucking hospital, not alive and unwell and stuck in a bed with a sore torso and legs he couldn’t scratch without ripping some vital part of his paper-maiched body.

“Thanks,” he said, eyes open again, doped up and upset and adoring completely the woman known as Beverly Marsh.

“Don’t mention it. I know what it’s like to want to get away from them, babe,” Bev said, and pressed a kiss to the back of his hand before leaving.

Alone in his hospital bed with only the buzz of machinery around him, Eddie knew with a startling clarity that he would kill for Bev. Not just an evil alien clown from outer space, either, but a person; like Richie killed Bowers for Mike, Eddie would take an axe to Tom Rogan’s skull. He’d throw a javelin at Beverly’s demons again and again and again.

He’d do that for any of his friends. He didn’t know that he’d do the same for Myra—in fact he doubted it very much. And that thought was horrid, it made Eddie feel like dog shit, because he should. He wanted to be the kind of person who could be faithful and loving and good. He couldn’t be any of those things in this marriage, if he could be faithful and loving and good at all. He’d known it for a while, even if he didn’t know why it was true until the reasons, all six of them, showed up in Derry.

He thought about this when the Kaspbrak household exploded around him.

“What will our friends think?” Myra said, the word “divorce” heavy between them. “Eddie, your friends like me so much.”

And they did. But not the friends who mattered. Not the friends who dragged him both in and out of hell. Not the friends who filled the empty spaces and made Eddie feel whole, or something like it. The friends Myra spoke of weren’t really friends at all. As if Eddie was going to take into consideration Rob from Accounting’s feelings on the impending divorce.

Eddie understood now in a way he didn’t before that he could be happy. Or, at very least, he didn’t have to be miserable, or stuck. And Myra could call him selfish, as she had a few minutes prior, for not putting the effort into this marriage that was required—because marriage is a partnership and marriage is work and marriage requires concession, not utter abandonment. But Eddie thought there was a difference between selfishness and suffering. He thought, inexplicably, of rolling his eyes at one of Richie’s mom jokes, and how at the end of the day he didn’t like Richie any less just because he annoyed the complete shit out of Eddie sometimes. Or how Bill could be so fucking obtuse it was like his brain was made of solid brick, or Stan was scathing in a way that actually hurt, or Bev was too wild and Ben didn’t speak up enough for himself until it was too late and Mike was goddamn inscrutable. The difference was marriage is a choice, and it was no longer Eddie’s.

“It doesn’t matter what they think. What matters is I can’t do this anymore. And I’m sorry, I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“Can you at least tell me what I did wrong?” Myra asked. Her hands were folded plump in her lap. Her nails were a dull mauve. Eddie could see the white of her skin around her manicure where her fingers clutched each other crushingly. He could see the small indent in her wrist where her thumbnail dug in, the way someone with a toothache would pinch themselves to trick their body into focusing on a different kind of pain.

Eddie considered Pennywise, the sewers, the way he saw his own blood burst from his chest and rain on Richie’s ugly yellow shirt. What the hell could he tell Myra? “It’s not you, it’s—”

“Eddie, I swear to God, if you say ‘It’s not you, it’s me’—”

“But it is!” Eddie was aware of the volume of his voice but did little to adjust it. His volcanic mouth spewed hot in every direction. He’d circled around the truth for too long, now it was flung into space by the centrifugal force of his own avoidance. “I can’t keep this up, Myra! I just can’t! I can’t be— fucking— I can’t be smothered anymore, okay, Jesus, I can’t have you needling me about what I eat and where I go and, fucking—fucking hydroplaning!”

Myra’s mouth went thin. “I thought that’s what you wanted. I thought you wanted me to take care of you. That’s all I’ve ever wanted, Eddie, I’ve only ever wanted to love you and to take care of my husband!

Oh, Eddie knew. Eddie knew how obsessively Myra followed the lives of her college friends on Facebook. How regularly she posted photos of the two of them, her smiling wide and Eddie smiling tight-lipped but still with dimples showing, the captions always something like “Wonderful evening with the hubs! Hamilton was great!!!” He knew there were parts of this marriage which were just as performative for Myra as they were for him.

“I thought that’s what I wanted, too,” Eddie said. He deflated the second Myra raised her voice, but he tried to remain firm. He couldn’t be cajoled. He wouldn’t be able to stand it if he was. “But sometimes the things you think you want aren’t what you need, or what’s good for you, Marty. And this—this whole relationship was just what I was used to, it’s not what I should have chosen.”

The thing Eddie didn’t say, the thing he managed to keep hidden away simply because it was too ugly to name was this: Eddie didn’t like a single moment of his relationship. It wasn’t something he actively understood in each moment. It was something only apparent upon reflection or comparison, like how as a kid he didn’t know he preferred strawberry jelly until he had a PB&J at Bill’s house. Sonia always bought grape. How was Eddie supposed to conceive of a world in which raspberry or apricot jelly exists? Eddie hadn’t had a reason to reflect, or, shit, maybe he had blinders on, the way race horses do, so focused he was on the finish line of nice job nice house nice wife. Nice life. He didn’t know any better. He didn’t know . It wasn’t until he spent an evening eating Chinese food with his best friends that he remembered what it was like to love other people.

So, divorce. And Ben and Bev helping Eddie move into a studio during a weekend trip. And now Chicago. There’s a part of Eddie that thrums like a live wire at the thought of moving to Richie; there’s a part that thinks moving to a remote island off the coast of the Atlantic to become a lighthouse keeper might be a better long-term investment.

So Eddie does what he always did as a kid when he was uncertain. He calls Big Bill.

“Hey Eddie!” Bill greets him. The stutter is gone, has been for a while. Magic, Eddie supposes.

Eddie doesn’t bother with formalities because he’s a bit of a monster on the phone and a lot of what business personality quizzes call a “driver.” “Hey, Bill, I’m hoping I can talk something through with you.”

“Of course, what’s going on? Something with Myra, or…?”

“No, God, no.” As if Eddie would come to Bill “Yeah, Audra and I are going through a bit of a rough patch” Denbrough for relationship advice. Idiot. “It’s just— I was— well, the thing is, Richie asked if I wanted to move in with him when Bev moves out.” If Eddie were to look again at his phone, he would discover Richie absolutely did not ask this. Eddie does not look at his phone.

“Uh. Okay?”

“I don’t know if I should.”

Eddie can hear the creak of Bill’s desk chair over the line as Bill asks, “Do you want to?”

“I don’t know. I moved into the studio not that long ago. I’ve had a lot of big changes recently.”

“I’m hearing a ‘but.’”

“But. I’m employable anywhere. I don’t have to be in New York. And now that Bev and Richie are in Chicago I thought, you know, it could be nice to see everyone regularly. I had a lot of fun when you and Mike were in town.”

They reminisce about that particular trip—when Bill took Mike to the Strand, and Eddie slapped a street vendor’s hot dog out of Mike’s hand, and Bill spent an hour in the bathroom because he ate four slices of pizza and forgot Lactaid pills. Bill’s noxious farts filled their Uber until all three men and the driver gagged and rolled the windows down, letting a full January night into the car. Fuck, Eddie needs to tell Richie about that, he’ll never let Bill live it down. Finally they circle back.

“I don’t really have any advice for you, Eddie, it’s kind of insane for you to go through everything you’re going through and still think about moving. You probably need, like, stability? But I know I miss the hell out of you Losers everyday. Seeing everyone everyday might be its own kind of stability. But try not to kill Richie, maybe?”

Eddie says he’ll make no promises as he hangs up and types “senior risk analyst” into indeed.com, location set to Chicago.

It’s a few days later that Ben announces he’s moving to the Windy City, and a week after that when Bev says she’s leaving Richie’s place for an upgrade to Ben’s swanky new condo. So Eddie sells his car, breaks his lease, and buys a plane ticket to Chicago. Then he calls Richie.

---

Richie has a gray sectional. Eddie’s pissed. He pegged Richie for a leather sofa kind of guy, but now that Eddie sees the sectional in all its heather gray fabricked glory, he knows it’s up to him to vacuum it, and he’s preemptively upset about the Dorito crumbs he’ll find crushed in the folds.

Except the whole condo is spotless. Did Richie clean for him? Maybe he has a cleaner. He probably has a cleaner. But Eddie’s going to tuck the idea of Richie wiping down the counters into his back pocket and save it for a rainy day.

The condo is modern with lots of sleek lines and one of those kitchen islands that looks like a granite box. Eddie’s seen bits and pieces of the place in the blurred background of Facetime calls, but now he has the full tour: a first floor with the open concept living room/dining room/kitchen, a laundry nook, an offshoot of the hallway with a desk that Richie generously refers to as an “office,” and a balcony complete with wrought iron patio furniture; the upstairs contains two bedrooms and two full baths. There’s a lot of gray. Color pops up in knick-knacks: a poster, a throw blanket, Richie’s chartreuse—motherfucking chartreuse!—utensil holder next to the stove.

On the whole, it’s kind of soulless. Not that Eddie’s complaining. He’s observing. Eddie knows Richie has lived in Chicago for a little over a decade now, but this doesn’t feel like the home of someone who’s settled; it feels like a showroom at a furniture store that just so happens to have someone’s personal Hawaiian shirts in the closet.

“So how long have you lived here, exactly?” Eddie asks as Richie hauls the last of Eddie’s suitcases into the guest-turned-Bev’s-turned-Eddie’s room. Eddie insisted on lugging everything himself, but his chest twinged painfully when he picked the first suitcase up. Unfortunately Richie noticed.

Richie ends his chivalry by catapulting the suitcase onto the bed, where it bounces twice. Eddie thinks about what kind of germs are on the floor of O’Hare and how many of them are currently crawling over the bedspread. He can see sweat at Richie’s hairline. “Uhhh, like, six years? Ish?”

“Cool. It’s a nice place.” It is, Eddie’s not lying about that, even if it’s not Eddie’s kind of place. Eddie likes crown molding and walls that come in shades other than gray and slightly less gray. He’s a fan of a good wallpaper. He likes a house with character.

“Yeah, I saw it and it just felt like home , you know?”

Eddie does not know. In fact, Eddie thinks Richie is full of horse shit, but he’ll save that particular observation for a couple weeks down the road and not a couple hours after landing in his new city.

Eddie settles into life with Richie alarmingly well after that. In between job hunting there are trips to the grocery store, brunches with Ben and Bev at their stupidly gorgeous condo, and late nights with Netflix on the sectional. Eddie’s taken to vacuuming the sofa once a week with his usual vacuuming schedule. Richie does, in fact, have a cleaner who comes once a month, but Eddie likes vacuuming. It calms him. Richie makes fun of him for this, but Richie also makes fun of him for running and for his protein smoothies from the comfort of the couch, so Richie can suck it.

On a whole, it’s nice. It’s comforting, even with Richie’s motormouth running at all hours of the day, and it’s familiar. Eddie doesn’t know how the pieces of his life arranged themselves without Richie Tozier. He knows, of course, that they never really did.

There’s just one little thing.

Richie’s going out again. Richie’s going out a lot, these days. And Richie can go out, if he wants, because Richie is a grown man and Eddie is not entitled to his company.

But.

It’s a thing Eddie’s struggling with. The thing about transplanting your whole life and moving halfway across the country to live with your recently-remembered best friend is that it is an incredibly isolating experience. With Ben and Bev in the same city, the four of them see each other at least once a week, but—Eddie doesn’t want Richie to be his whole world. He wants a job and a social circle and, yes, full, unfettered, all-access to Trashmouth, but he doesn’t want Richie to be someone he clings to or relies on for anything other than a friend on the couch and putting the dishes away after dinner. Eddie craves company. He wouldn’t be living with Richie if he didn’t. But he wants to feel free. There’s a way to have both, he knows you don’t have to be lonely to be independent, but he’s still figuring it out what that balance looks like. He’s still figuring out who exactly Eddie Kaspbrak is.

The Richie thing isn’t helping. Eddie knows Richie has a sex life. He can smell it on Richie some nights when Richie comes home while Eddie’s up watching the evening news—the fried food of a bar clinging to Richie’s jacket, or someone’s cologne, or the way Richie just fucking stinks after any sort of physical activity. Eddie’s happy for Richie, really—he knows it took a lot for Richie to come out, and it’s great to see his friend embracing something he kept private for so long. Live out loud, live proud, or whatever. It’s healthy, if you think about it! Just because Eddie never had a particularly active sex life doesn’t mean other people—Richie—can’t! Eddie just, you know, worries. He’s a worrier. He doesn’t know who these men are. He doesn’t know if they’re treating Richie right, because Richie never fucking talks about it, because he’s a fucking clam of a human being who keeps a lid on all his feelings even when Eddie’s right there and—

Holy shit. He’s jealous.

He’s like a possessive dog scrambling into his owner’s lap for attention. He’s fucking jealous. Of Richie giving his attention to other men. Of other men who can hold Richie’s attention.

Things rearrange themselves in Eddie’s mind very quickly after that.

Back in New York, when he was living alone for the first time in nearly a decade and remembering the benefits of privacy, Eddie rediscovered porn. Specifically, Eddie rediscovered gay porn, and that his feelings on the matter were less “I don’t need to see another man’s dick” and more “I want to see a lot of men’s dicks.” His libido, latent for so long, came back with a force. It did not escape his notice that it was exclusively gay porn that aroused him. It also did not escape his notice that the men who turned him on the most were large, and had soft, hairy bellies. Eddie learned a lot of himself that spring, in both the philosophical and biblical sense, and a lot about zoology, specifically that there is more than one type of bear in this world. This was the spring that Eddie downloaded dating apps on his phone which, to this day, have yet to be used.

Right now Eddie needs to evaluate. He’s gay, probably, he knows that much. He’s probably really gay for Richie in particular. But he doesn’t know with a bone-deep certainty, and, if he’s honest—which he’s trying to be, otherwise what’s the fucking point—he doesn’t trust his feelings where Richie is concerned. He feels something and he feels a lot of it. Overwhelming, roaring Kenduskeags of it, rock fights of it. He doesn’t want to give it a name. Not yet.

The thing about being a risk analyst is that Eddie can see the threat a company never saw coming. He can identify the gaps and how to mitigate them. He can point to a problem and say this is how you fix it, although he rarely gets his hands dirty in the actual fixing.

It’s time to start. How can he untangle his feelings toward Richie Tozier?

Yeah. Maybe start smaller. Can’t boil the ocean, as his old boss used to say. Need to break the project into manageable pieces. So. How can he untangle his feelings toward men? Dating?

Eddie opens Grindr.

---

Eddie needs help with Grindr. The porn only really got him so far on his sexuality journey. It didn’t prepare him for navigating uncharted gay waters. He figures this is something that happens to most men in their teens and twenties—he’s not sure how to go about this at forty-one, divorced, and a virgin in all the ways that now matter. That’s the part that aggravates Eddie the most—he wasn’t supposed to fumble through the mechanics of sex again like a dumb baby deer learning to walk, he was supposed to have it all figured out by now. Then again, he was also supposed to be dead. There are worse things than learning how to give a guy a blowjob.

Richie comes home and spots Eddie on the couch. He flops into the cushions, and Eddie gets a whiff of sweat and cigarettes. Eddie hopes it was the other guy who smoked; Richie has promised half a dozen times over the last few weeks that he’s quit. HGTV plays on the television.

Eddie should ask. It’s like ripping off a bandaid, only the bandaid is actually fused to a scab and by ripping it off he’d be reopening a small wound.

He should just ask. Now. He should say, “So how do I set up this Grindr profile?”

Oh. There it is.

Richie’s looking at him. Eddie will not look back. He can see Richie’s expression in the corner of his eye, it’s very “What, to like a woman?” Jesus, Richie saw Eddie for the first time in nearly thirty years and basically called him gay to his face. Was this obvious to everyone else? Is this a gaydar thing? Are there gay pheromones in the air? Fuck.

Eddie has a lot of catching up to do. This becomes more obvious as Richie flounders through a surprisingly sincere response to Eddie’s abrupt coming out, only to ruin it by running his mouth, only to win points when he helps Eddie take photos for his new dating profile since apparently Eddie needs a “Tinder.” Eddie’s getting whiplash.

He’s also getting an inkling. There’s a moment when Richie’s snapping photos—on Richie’s fancy phone with its fancy camera settings—when Richie playfully reaches out and takes Eddie’s chin in his hand.

“This way—yes! There’s the million dollar shot,” Richie says, adjusting the angle of Eddie’s face. He’s moved Eddie’s head to the right so that Eddie’s blemished cheek is on display. Eddie’s been avoiding that side of his face and quietly hoped Richie wouldn’t notice. No such luck. The thing is, Richie’s not being a dick about the scar. He’s grinning ear to ear, but it’s not shit-eating, it’s goofy and soft. His left eye is scrunched up in that infuriatingly endearing way.

The thing is, Richie doesn’t move his hand away. The thing is, Eddie’s whole face feels like it’s covered in fucking flames and he needs to guzzle a fire hydrant.

He jerks his chin out of Richie’s grip. “Asshole,” he says, and Richie tears his eyes away from where they’d been staring at Eddie’s—what? His chin? Jesus Christ, his lips? Eddie can’t be alone in these feelings. He just can’t.

He’s kept awake that night. He thinks about all the times Richie’s hands have found him. The way Richie never kept his nasty little paws off Eddie as a kid, how they were always sticky with Cheeto dust or sweat. The way Richie’s hand on his shoulder in the cistern felt grounding in a moment of unreality, even that slap on his cheek with its brief explosion of pain settled Eddie into his body. The way Richie pretended Eddie was too short to reach the Kashi cereal during this week’s grocery run and brushed his hand along the small of Eddie’s back before so valiantly retrieving the box. Finally, he sleeps, the memory of Richie’s fingertips like five hot coals speckling his jaw.

It’s two days later that Eddie secures his first date.

In a moment of textbook insanity before dinner, Eddie shows Richie a photo of Jason the data scientist over his growing pile of zucchini noodles. Jason is thirty-five and looks like he could be a recurring character in an obscure genre show on one of the lesser cable networks. He’s attractive. Even Richie admits it when he hands Eddie’s phone back. Eddie can feel the tension radiating off Richie. He’s tense himself. There’s a small part of him that’s ready to apologize, to say, hey look, no, I don’t mean it, Rich, Richie , c’mon dumbass, what are you stupid or something you gotta know he’s not really for me—but the larger part of him is determined. He still wants to go through with this. He still wants to know what his options are. He wants to try everything, every grape and strawberry and raspberry jam, every Jason and Tim and Jonathan. Richie’s feelings might get hurt. Eddie’s feelings might get hurt. But he has to try; he owes it to himself to try.

Eddie meets Jason over drinks at a fern bar three train stops north. The menu apparently has alcoholic milkshakes. Eddie’s disgusted. He orders a paloma.

Jason arrives in a button down with tiny polka dots under a trendy bomber jacket. He’s only six years younger than Eddie, but Jason’s entire outfit screams hip co-owner of a start up in the same way Eddie’s rolled up dress shirt sleeves scream washed up old fart looking for some action . Then again, Richie seemed to like Eddie’s outfit. In fact, Richie seemed to really fucking like Eddie’s outfit, if the way his eyes were glued to Eddie’s ass as Eddie walked out the door was anything to go by. It’s probably not appropriate to think of another man during a first date, but Eddie’s only human.

“Hey!” Jason says, spotting Eddie. “Eddie? I’m Jason. Are you a hugger?”

Eddie’s not sure if he’s a hugger. “Yeah, man,” he says, hopping out of the barseat. Might as well experiment with everything. Jason’s arms are snug and warm. It’s a good hug. A Ben kind of hug. When they part, Jason’s smiling at Eddie and Eddie notices his dimples for the first time. This guy is really, really cute. Eddie’s really, really going to sleep with him.

Then Jason orders the milkshake. Ugh.

Milkshake aside, they get to talking. Jason’s affable and easy going, generous with his “yeah, mans” and laughter. Throughout paloma number one, Eddie learns Jason’s been in Chicago for fourteen years; he stayed after graduating Northwestern. Paloma number two reveals they both jog, and they spend a good fifteen minutes discussing the 606, post-run stretches, and men’s fitness shoes. Eddie’s third drink brings warmth and the perfect amount of wooziness.

It’s nice. It’s really fucking nice.

It’s nice to get to know another person. It’s nice to talk to someone who isn’t a Loser or a cashier for the first time in weeks. It’s nice to go out drinking, it’s nice to try a bar he never would have otherwise tried, it’s nice to look at the scruff of Jason’s beard and think about what it will feel like dragging across Eddie’s skin.

“Hey, so,” Jason says, mouth hovering near Eddie’s ear. Eddie’s nerves spark at the heat of Jason’s breath on his neck. “My place is pretty close, if you wanted to get out of here.”

When Eddie turns his head to reply, he finds Jason looking at his mouth. “Please,” Eddie says, draining the last of his drink.

As they stumble into Jason’s apartment, Jason takes Eddie’s face in his hands and kisses him deeply. He kicks the door closed behind him. He doesn’t turn the light on. Is this supposed to be sexy or something? Eddie doesn’t know the layout of this place; he’s gonna stub his toe.

Jason’s fingers dig into Eddie’s waist, pulling his shirt out of his pants. It’s at this that Eddie breaks away and says, “Hey, uh, just so you know, I want to have sex with you. Definitely want to have sex with you. But I sort of had a bad accident last year, and the scarring is kind of gnarly.” Did he just say “gnarly?” Fuck, he needs to stop spending all his time with Richie. “I’m not really comfortable taking my shirt off. Is that okay?”

Jason blinks. “Oh. Yeah. Cool.”

“Cool. Thanks. Also, where the fuck am I going? It’s dark as shit in here.”

Jason leads Eddie to the bedroom, where he thankfully turns on a lamp before kissing Eddie again. The facial hair, it turns out, is kind of itchy. Then Jason moves toward Eddie’s neck, and the scrape of his beard along the line of Eddie’s throat opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Beards rule, Eddie decides as he tilts his head, savoring the friction of Jason’s jaw followed by the slick trail of his mouth.

“So, shirt stays on, but what about these?” Jason asks, tugging at the waist of Eddie’s slacks.

“Fuck the pants,” Eddie says, breathing hard.

Jason laughs. “You want me to fuck your pants?”

“Screw you, you know what I mean,” Eddie says as he takes initiative and unbuttons his own damn pants. Jason laughs again and follows suit, undressing himself and raking his eyes over Eddie’s arms, his thighs, his dick standing at attention.

“How can I make you feel good?” Jason asks.

“Fuck.” Eddie wraps his arms around Jason and places a kiss at his throat, at his ear. “Anything. Anything.”

“How about this,” Jason says as he backs Eddie up to the bed and drops to his knees.

Eddie’s first blowjob from a man does not last long. It’s short enough that Eddie thinks he should feel some sort of embarrassment. The problem is, Eddie can’t think at all, because holy shit, Eddie is gay, gay, gay , and he’s with a man just as he should be, and life is good.

“So, I’m pretty new to this, but I’d like to return the favor,” Eddie says once he comes back down to Earth.

“Yes, sir, please,” Jason replies.

Jason prefers to receive his blowjobs standing, so he offers Eddie a pillow for his knees. A gentleman! Eddie carefully considers what he knows about blowjobs, both from pornography and from his most recent example. He carefully wets his lips, tucks his teeth behind them, and takes Jason into his mouth.

“That’s good, Eddie, that’s—fuck—that’s real good,” Jason says. Eddie feels oddly patronized. He knows he asked for this, and being guided is better than being mocked, but like. Is there any way to go about this without feeling like a dog in obedience class? “Eddie, Eddie, Eddie,” Jason pants. Eddie can feel the muscles tense where his hands rest on Jason’s thighs.

On second thought, this is fine. This is great. Eddie can get used to cute guys chanting his name. The hand Jason lays on the back of Eddie’s skull isn’t Eddie’s favorite thing, but it is encouraging.

Eddie wants to be a champ and try swallowing, but Jason doesn’t let him. “Don’t overdo it, gorgeous,” is what Jason says before pulling off Eddie’s mouth and asking Eddie to stroke him to climax. Eddie does, and the result smatters itself across Eddie’s chest and hand.

“Fuck, let me get something for that,” Jason says and walks away into whatever mysterious corner of the apartment contains washcloths. Eddie looks at the load covering his hand before reaching out with his tongue. Yep! Tastes like jizz.

“Oh, shit, I didn’t even offer you anything to drink,” Jason when he returns. “Shit. Do you want something? Water, or like, I might have whiskey?” Eddie can’t believe he’s having this conversation with both their dicks hanging out. This is a dick in underwear conversation, or at very least a conversation he wants to have in bed, not on the floor.

“I won’t say no to a shot for the road,” Eddie says, grabbing his pants off the floor.

Jason does not have whiskey. Jason has Fireball, which Eddie refuses to recognize as whiskey. He still takes a shot, cinnamon washing away the semen on his tongue. He kisses Jason goodbye before heading out into the cool summer night.

Eddie takes his time getting home. He walks slowly to the train, the image of Jason’s face buried between his legs hot on his mind. He had a date. He had a thoroughly decent date. Of all the life changes he’s had—the physical therapy, the divorce, the move to Chicago—this one feels right and easy in a way the others didn’t. He’s not struggling to get his body to work again. He’s not struggling to be his own person. He’s filling out the shape of himself.

Richie’s on the sectional when Eddie comes home. He looks groggy and ruffled in a way that squeezes Eddie’s heart. Eddie tucks himself into the couch and Richie asks if he had a good time.

Eddie wants to keep his first Big Gay Date and a Blowjob to himself, but he’s so used to sharing everything with Richie that muscle memory kicks in and he finds himself saying, “It was really nice.”

Richie teases the shit out of him. Eddie doesn’t know why he even bothered with sincerity. It’s probably the lingering post-BJ endorphins. But it was nice. Eddie can’t remember the last time he had fun for the sake of fun. He can’t remember the last time he enjoyed a date. He can’t remember the last time he felt so loose in his body; it feels like a miracle that the first guy Eddie fucked was comfortable with Eddie’s boundaries and still wanted to suck his dick. Eddie doesn’t want to burden anyone else with his scars. The scars are a map: they are the landscape of Eddie’s journey from coward to hole-punched hero of Derry. They are discolored and puckered and tell an entire story that Eddie doesn’t want to share with the world yet. Sometimes when you survive something, you come out uglier for it.

So Eddie explains that he’s going to sleep around with his shirt on. Richie goes pale at the mention of sex. Some time to be a prude this is.

“Seriously, Richie, are you good?” Eddie asks. Is Richie sick or is he freaking out? If he’s freaking out, does that mean…?

“Bad burrito,” Richie says before hurling himself off the couch and upstairs. Eddie hears the distant slam of the bathroom door.

Well, okay then. Alone on the couch, Eddie allows himself the brief indulgence of imagining a future with Jason. He thinks about texting Jason tomorrow, thanking him for the night, asking when they’re going to do that again. They got along okay. They both work in analytics. They could be a couple of type-A problem solvers, the types of boyfriends who have no problem splitting a bill quickly. Jason could introduce Eddie to his friends. Eddie could introduce Jason to Ben and Bev. They could go to trivia nights and make out lazily on the couch and— and—

And he’s not Richie. Jason could look like George Clooney and have the tender heart of a Catholic saint but he’s not a person Eddie can imagine coming home to. He’s not the person Eddie wants to come home to. Eddie already lives with that person, goes grocery shopping with that person, argues about what’s good on Netflix with that person. There was a moment last week when Eddie began pan searing fish for dinner that Richie dug out a shallow pot and threw all the ingredients together for a white wine sauce. Eddie made some crack about not knowing Richie was a chef; Richie said something stupid that Eddie can no longer remember because all his attention was drawn to where their elbows knocked together over the stove. It pissed Eddie off. He wanted to make some comment about fire hazards. Their arms kept brushing until Eddie shoved Richie away, but once Richie was out of his space, Eddie realized that wasn’t what he wanted at all. Come back , he thought, but of course Richie didn’t. Eddie didn’t know at the time what it was like to hold a man’s body between his hands, but now that he does, he can only envision one person underneath his palms.

So, that answers Eddie’s question. He loves Richie. He’s in love with Richie. That’s the beastly feeling inside him. Love. It’s just love.

What the hell is Eddie going to do with that?

---

The answer is go on another date. In Eddie’s defense, he already agreed to the date before Jason’s revelatory blowjob, and, frankly, Eddie wants a few more tricks up his sleeve before he makes any movies with Richie. It doesn’t hurt to be over-prepared.

Plus: the spiteful part of Eddie’s heart is excited to see Richie get a taste of his own medicine. He’s noticed the way Richie reacts to Eddie’s dates—he’s noticed the avoidant behaviors and the deflecting jokes. See, Eddie has a theory that he’s not alone in his jealousy. But then, why would Richie sleep with other people like his life depended on it when Eddie’s been right here for weeks, lonely in this swarm of feelings? Eddie’s mad. Richie’s been flinging himself at everything with a dick, and Eddie’s had to wade through the muddied swipe-left-swipe-right waters, he doesn’t fucking understand why Richie hasn’t fucking done anything when it would have been so much easier if Richie took the reins here when Eddie has no fucking clue what he’s doing. He knows he’s being unreasonable; he knows Richie isn’t doing this on purpose; he knows he has no right to feel so upset if he isn’t taking any definitive steps to rectify his whole “being in love with Richie” situation. He knows he’s a lesser version of himself when he’s sick with jealousy. He has all the knowledge in the world and it doesn’t make his ugly feelings any less ugly.

And there’s a larger part of Eddie that’s not mad at all. Eddie knows the intricacies of Richie’s guilt—not quite as vast as Bill’s, but a near thing. The day Myra came to Bangor, Richie left—some issue with water entering the downstairs unit, which, now that Eddie’s met Richie’s neighbors, he’s surprised Richie didn’t bail sooner to appease the demonic tenants. Eddie won’t pretend he didn’t want Richie at his side after seeing Myra. He did. But Richie was there when he woke up, and Richie told him stupid, mindless jokes and snuck him non-hospital food, and Richie kept him sane by driving him up a wall because apparently Eddie only ever feels right and calm when he rides the buzz of mild annoyance. Richie wasn’t there the whole time, but he was there for when it mattered. He’s here now. He let Bev and Eddie into his home. Eddie’s already thanked Richie—multiple times—for letting him stay. But he also thinks he can work on his gratitude; he needs to show or tell or otherwise convey how incredible it is to have a friend like Richie who will give him all the time and space he needs to grow into himself and ask for nothing in return.

He just. He wants to be good at this. He trusts Richie more than he cares to admit outloud, and knows Richie would treat him well and gently and it would be sweet and good. Eddie doesn’t want to be sweet. He wants to fuck Richie’s brains out and know what he’s doing. He wants Richie’s eyes on him at all times.

Richie is it for him. He knows this. He doesn’t want to fuck it up. There are so many ways to fuck it up—Eddie’s loud, anxious, hotheaded. He’s aware that he’s a nightmare, aware that he should come with a warning label. He’s not known for holding back, but now, after everything, he can’t afford to. There’s no point. He’s held onto this love for thirty years, from before it even had a name. This is too big a thing to let go of.

And where else is he gonna find someone with shared life experience?

Certainly not with his next date, Eric the lawyer. The first thing Eddie notices about Eric is that he’s handsome. The second is that Eric looks a bit like Mike Hanlon. This leads Eddie to question, Oh shit, did I have a crush on Mike? before coming to the conclusion that’s stupid, everyone has a crush on Mike .

The brunch spot Eric takes them to offers bottomless mimosas and bloody marys, a fact for which Eddie’s grateful because he needs to loosen the fuck up. Eric is intense. He has a straight-forward way of speaking, a baritone laugh, and expensive taste in clothing. He’s kind of an asshole. It’s not until they get on the subject of work that segues into shitty intern horror stories that they fall into a groove; if nothing else, they have a hatred for absent-minded undergrads in common. That, and they sincerely want to fuck each other. Eddie doesn’t have a doubt about that, with the way Eric’s eyes keep travelling up Eddie’s arms and get stuck somewhere around his throat.

Eric takes Eddie to his converted warehouse condo. It’s very monochrome. The windows are huge and a little warped, and Eddie can feel the exposed brick dig into his back when Eric presses him into the wall. Eddie slips his fingers through Eric’s belt loops and rolls his hips up as Eric kisses him. Goddamn, he feels good.

When Eric gets handsy at Eddie’s waistline, Eddie gives him the shame rundown he gave Jason: I had an accident, shirt stays on, fuck me now.

And Eric does.

Eric is a fantastic kisser. Eddie doesn’t want to think of himself as someone who melts into a kiss, but he’s melting, melting, melting. Eric lowers to his knees and carefully peels away Eddie’s jeans. His hands cup Eddie’s exposed calves and travel slowly up Eddie’s legs to his ass. The way the sunlight slants across his face is a thing so beautiful it belongs in the Met. Eddie’s head thunks against the glass, which is when he realizes Eric has moved them away from the wall and against the large, warm window where Eddie’s ass is on full display for pedestrians.

“Jesus, Eric, people might see,” Eddie says.

“Let them,” Eric says, planting a kiss on Eddie’s thigh. Eddie’s beginning to think he was duped into some light exhibitionism. Thing is, Eric’s face, half-shadowed by Eddie, looks so fucking good in front of Eddie’s dick. Eddie’s half-hard, half-crazed, and learning a lot about sexual chemistry. He’s pretty sure he’d agree to anything right now if Eric asked, if only Eric would touch him.

Eddie feels electric. He feels like every cell in his body is singing to Eric’s touch, like he’s taken a first, gasping breath in a new world. Eric stands back up and Eddie goes for his belt buckle, trying to free Eric’s dick from his briefs where it’s beginning to strain. Eddie’s losing his mind, he needs this so bad, he’s never felt so horny in his life. He reaches for Eric’s cock as Eric reaches for his, moaning low and long at the first stroke’s promise of relief.

Why didn’t anyone tell him sex would be this good? Suddenly Eddie understands every love song, every poem, every dumb, horny kid who thought with their dick instead of their brain. This is how it was always meant to feel. It’s enormous, and gasping, and consuming. It’s groaning “Oh, fuck ,” because you’re made stupid, reduced to little more than a half-literate, writhing monkey. Screw the clown, Eddie’s going to die if Eric stops touching him, he’s sure of it.

Eddie chose this. Eddie chose a man—chooses men. It wasn’t something that was decided for him, or demanded of him, or expected of him. For once in his goddamn life he made a decision for him, and it was a good decision, and now he knows, with a clarity that he didn’t—couldn’t—have before, what his life will look like if he trusts himself. He will. Over and over again, he will.

For the first time in his adult life, Eddie comes with a shout.

Eric is polite and matter-of-fact in the aftermath. He tries to keep Eddie for a round two, but Eddie can’t—he has something he needs to do. He gathers his clothing, pecks Eric’s cheek, and leaves as quickly as he can without looking like a complete inconsiderate asshole. Outside Eric’s building, Eddie takes a moment to marvel.

He can choose now. He’s gathered the data, he’s evaluated his feelings, and he chooses Richie. He puts a hand to his chest.

He finally feels alive.

He walks to the train and takes the Blue Line home; it gives him time to draft a message in his head. On the train he shoots off identical texts to Eric and Jason:

Hey, I wanted to say thanks. I had a really nice time with you. I’ve given it some thought and I wanted to let you know that I think you’re great and would be happy to be friends, but I’m not interested in a relationship at the moment. Be well.

He goes home, where Richie’s waiting.

---

They sit down with beers on the balcony, enjoying the haze of late June. On their second beer, Richie wants to know how Eddie’s date went because Richie might be a masochist in addition to being an idiot. Eddie’s not going to tell him everything this time.

“He gave me a handjob that all of State Street could see,” Eddie says because he is also an idiot. Does love make you stupid or has he always been stupid? He needs to take a poll.

Richie makes a gesture that Eddie interprets as “nicely done” but might also be some pantomime gag for a new act, Eddie’s unsure. He’s a little busy feeling horrified at the words coming out of his mouth and the fact that Richie’s not meeting his eyes, but he’s still attentive, still asking question after question that Eddie answers and answers.

There’s a subtlety to the way Richie cares for him. It would be hard to miss if Eddie wasn’t looking for it so hawkishly. There are grand gestures—the offer to stay in Chicago, for one—but it’s the fact that Richie put a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer in the glove compartment after Eddie complained about how gross he felt touching shopping carts. It’s Richie knowing Eddie had a bad interview because “you unbuttoned the top button, Eds, that means danger” and taking out two tumblers without prompting. It’s the fucking sparkling countertops on Eddie’s first day in the city. He knows the cleaner’s schedule now; he knows Richie busted out the Lysol just for him.

Richie knows Eddie because Richie’s been looking at Eddie for so much of their lives together. Eddie’s been looking back. He can’t help but love what he sees.

“Being with men is good,” Eddie says at the end of his tale, “who knew?”

“Wow, it’s almost like you’re gay or something,” Richie says.

“I am. I’m super gay.” For you , Eddie’s brain supplies. He’s thinking it so hard he’s surprised it doesn’t manifest before him, that it’s not transmitted on air via brainy radio waves, that there aren’t aliens in outer space who can read Earthling minds and are very politely ignoring what every cell in his body is screaming.

“Jesus, fourteen-year-old Richie would have had a field day hearing that.” All right, this is it, Kaspbrak, don’t fuck it up.

Richie tries to deflect, but Eddie comes right out and asks: “Did you have a crush on me when we were kids or something?”

“Uhm,” Richie says, “Yeah?”

Holy shit. Eddie didn’t think Richie would admit it. Maybe Richie’s also braver than he thinks.

He teases Richie; it’s all he knows how to do. He thinks he’s reading this right. He wants to be reading this right. He spreads his legs wide enough so that his right knee knocks into Richie’s left.

Richie’s eyes are on him, as they so often are. The world sunsets around them, and it’s beautiful, with the way the trees look golden, the way the sky is aflame. There’s some couple walking their dog on the sidewalk and their conversation carries up to the balcony where Richie’s mouth is parted and for once in his damn life no words come out. The whole world has narrowed its focus to the patch of skin where their legs touch. If Richie got a dog and Eddie made a move, that couple on the sidewalk could be them, sometime, someday.

He kebabed a killer clown. He left his wife.

In what is the third bravest act of his life, Eddie kisses Richie.

As soon as it’s done, Eddie doesn’t know why he waited so long. Richie immediately kisses back, and they stay kissing as Richie’s stubble scratches at Eddie’s chin. It’s hot. Because it’s summer, and it’s a man, and it’s Richie. Richie’s hand, cold from the beer, is a spot of bright sensation on Eddie’s neck. Eddie shivers; he’s ice, melting between Richie’s fingers. He loses track of time. It is night yet? Is the moon watching this miracle?

“Not that I’m not loving this, Eds,” Richie says when he breaks away. It is not night. Richie’s lips are red from the kissing. From Eddie. “But what about Eric?”

Eric? Who’s Eric? Eddie’s never known an Eric. All he knows is Richie, Richie, Richie.

“I was trying to make you jealous, dumbass,” Eddie says when a few of his brain cells return to him.

“Well it sure as shit worked,” Richie says.

Fucking good! “Serves you right, asshole. Taste of your own medicine.”

Richie looks confused. “I’m confused.”

“What, like you weren’t trying to make me jealous?” Great, now Eddie’s confused. “With all those guys you’ve been going out with?”

“What? No! Dude, I was trying to get over you!”

Trying to get over— oh for the love of— Richie goddamn motherfucking stupid ass Tozier. He’s gonna drive Eddie nuts. He’s been driving Eddie nuts for this whole life, or at least the moments of it that have mattered; this is nothing new. And yet.

For all that he’s furious, Eddie’s also basking in the knowledge that he was right. He wasn’t misreading the signals, no wires were crossed; he is gay, Richie’s gay, and they’re seriously into each other. He fuckin’ knew it.

He’s not entirely sure what he says next, he’s only aware of jerking the sliding door open, and stairs, and Richie’s footsteps behind him.

Holy shit holy shit holy shit. This is happening. An excited buzz creeps through the warm haze of the alcohol. He has half a mind to be nervous, to feel underprepared despite his trial runs—but there’s a part of him that’s been waiting his whole life for this, so, fuck it.

Richie follows Eddie through the door of Richie’s bedroom and, Jesus Christ, Eddie can’t keep his hands off him. He’s at Richie’s shoulders, his hips, his everything. He needed Richie’s shirt off, like, yesterday.

Richie pulls away when Eddie’s halfway through his task of baring Richie’s pecs to the world. Well, to the bedroom. He asks, “What do you want, Eds?”

Eddie takes a moment to look at Richie’s chest, dense with hair. God, Eddie wants to rake his fingers through it, kiss it, come on it. What does Eddie want? Richie. Anything. Everything. “Blow me,” he says.

They make their way to the bed. Richie’s shirt is lost to the sea of the hardwood floor. Good riddance. Richie backs Eddie up to headboard and recaptures his mouth before settling into Eddie’s lap. You know what, they can raincheck the blowjob, Eddie’s perfectly happy with the weight of Richie on his dick and Richie’s hips hot beneath his palms.

Then Richie tugs at Eddie’s shirt and the whole world freezes.

Richie should fucking know Eddie doesn’t want to take his damn shirt off, Jesus, how many times did he mention it while recounting his dates? What about the time Richie saw him coming out of the bathroom and Eddie all but broke a world record for fastest sprint in shower slippers? His scars are his. He doesn’t need anyone else to see them.

Then Richie says, “Please.”

“Richie, I—”

“C’mon, man, I want to see all of you.”

Fuck. As if Richie doesn’t already see all of him. If this is a long-term thing—which it will be, it can’t be anything but, otherwise Eddie’s heart will give out—he’ll need to bare everything. It’s only a matter of time before Richie sees the scars.

Richie’s face is so unbelievably close to Eddie’s dick. He’s moved to Eddie’s waist, planting a soft kiss at the inch of exposed skin above his jeans. “Is this okay?” Richie asks.

Eddie keeps his eyes on the ceiling. He’s going to lose his mind if he has to see the look on Richie’s face again. How’s Eddie supposed to get anything done now that knows what Richie looks like when he’s sincere and tender and so thoroughly kissed? Is he honestly supposed to apply conditional formatting to a spreadsheet ever again? He might as well dump out everything in his brain filed under “agile project management.” He has to commit 80% processing power to this one look alone.

He nods. Richie begins the slow work of hiking Eddie’s shirt up and peppering kisses in its wake. Eddie feels each brush of Richie’s lips as a piece of floating ash lighting up his skin. Finally, Richie reaches the scarring. He asks Eddie to look at him. Eddie won’t look at him. He won’t.

And then he does. Richie’s hands run down his flank, and Richie’s eyes stay on Eddie’s face. They maintain eye contact as Richie places a small kiss over the scarring. Richie’s lips stay there. Then he blows a raspberry.

Eddie laughs. Richie fucking Tozier. Taking Eddie’s worries and making them small.

Richie gets serious after that; he makes quick but teasing work of Eddie’s jeans and underwear before throwing them to the abyss beyond the bed. Then he puts his mouth on Eddie’s dick.

On the train ride from Eric’s place, Eddie made the decision to fuck Richie. He had an ample thirty minutes to fixate on a number of worries: what if Richie didn’t want him? What if getting into bed with Richie didn’t feel as good as it did with Jason or Eric? Getting that which you’ve craved for so long—what if it’s a disappointment? What if sleeping with Richie was the erotic equivalent of lusting after a lemon meringue pie only to discover it’s barely tart?

Eddie had no reason to worry. Richie knows what the fuck he’s doing. Richie’s tongue might have a mind of its own; Eddie gets how Richie can so easily make a living with his mouth. It’s being put to good use. Eddie looks down at Richie—did he do that to Richie’s hair? Why does it look like it’s auditioning for the role of a Doc Brown wig? Eddie moves to flatten the curls, but instead his fingers tangle in Richie’s hair and tug. Richie groans low in his throat. His glasses are sliding down his nose. His lips are spread over Eddie’s cock, and fuck if that’s not the hottest thing Eddie’s ever seen.

God, he wants Richie all over. After this, he’s going to try so many things. He wants to lick Richie’s ass, which is a strange and unsanitary thing to want, like, what if Richie has butt acne? But—no, Eddie would still do it, he can see the curve of Richie’s ass at this angle and he wants to bite into it, leave little bruising reminders there, the type of small discomfort that will have Richie adjusting his seat at the kitchen table. He wants to see Richie’s glasses fog up. He wants to open Richie up with his fingers, with his mouth, with anything. He wants to make Richie feel so fucking good. It’s the thought of this future that has him coming down Richie’s throat as Richie swallows like a professional. He pops off of Eddie’s softening dick and grins.

“Good?” Richie asks. He’s smiling. He just finished sucking Eddie’s heart out through his dick and he has the audacity to smile.

Eddie kisses him hard. Was it good? Another kiss. It was great. Pulling Richie’s lower lip between his teeth, Eddie tries to tell him: amazing, fantastic, incredible, again again again let’s go again. With the way Richie sighs, Eddie thinks he gets the message.

Eddie flips them and grinds into Richie’s lap. “Eds,” Richie says, “I’m, like, ten seconds away from coming in my pants, just so you know.”

Well, they can’t have that. “Let me blow you.”

Richie tries to say Eddie is under no contractual, legal, or emotional obligation to suck his dick, but Eddie says, “What do you think those other guys were for? They were practice.” Foot-in-mouth disease must be orally transmitted because he continues, “I wanted to be good for you,” which is an incredibly embarrassing albeit true thing to say.

That shuts Richie up. Temporarily. When Eddie’s lips wrap around Richie’s head, Richie’s back to his usual self, though the words “Eddie, fuck, sweetheart, fuck ,” are new. The weight of Richie’s dick on his tongue is so damn satisfying. Eddie can get used to this. He can practice—in the shower, in the kitchen, anywhere Richie will have him, Eddie’s mouth will be waiting.

Richie, as promised, does not last long. Eddie pulls off and uses his hand to take Richie the rest of the way. Richie comes. Like, an obscene amount. Is this what porn does to people? Does it desensitize them so that they find this kind of thing sexy as opposed to medically alarming? Or is this the Tozier Effect? Eddie needs answers.

But first, he has to clean up all this damn spunk. He takes care of what leaked onto his hand by simply licking it clean and enjoying the way Richie’s eyes bug out of his skull. Then he reaches over to the nightstand where a box of tissues lays and uses them to haphazardly wipe at Richie’s chest. The effort is not his best work. He’s getting sloppy in his old age. The tissues go overboard off the bed; Eddie can’t bring himself to care. The tissues and the dust bunnies can befriend each other. It’s not Eddie’s problem. Eddie doesn’t have problems. Eddie is straddling the love of his life between his legs.

Richie pulls Eddie down; Eddie flops, landing on an elbow. He’s a little boneless right now. He pushes at Richie’s shoulder until Richie turns on his side where Eddie can wrap his arm around the fucker. He shoves a leg between Richie’s, feeling the coarse brush of leg hair against his calf. His hand travels up and down Richie’s hairy chest like he’s stroking an overgrown chia pet.

“So do you, like, wanna be my boyfriend,” Richie asks.

Jesus. Christ. Does Eddie want to be Richie’s boyfriend.

No! Eddie does not want to be Richie’s boyfriend! Eddie wants to get mad when Richie takes the wrong exit on the highway but fall in begrudging love all over again when he sings along to Elton John, loud and off-key. He wants to go to Crate and Barrel and find Richie the perfect office desk. Eddie wants to get a fucking dog with this man. Something small and scrappy, or a shepherd like Ben’s, or maybe one of those pitbulls that’s been at the shelter too long with a dopey name like Bruce. “Boyfriend” can’t encompass all that.

Eddie punches him. It’s instinct, deep seeded from a childhood spent in hammocks. Richie do stupid, Eddie do touch. Which he realizes isn’t really an appropriate answer when Richie says, “Ow! Shit, Kaspbrak, I’m pretty fucking sure you can’t do that to your boyfriend!”

“No, but I can do it to my roommate,” Eddie says because he’s the funny one in the relationship.

“Oh.”

Huh. Turns out a post-coital Richie is too fragile for jokes.

Eddie opens his mouth to say, “Richie. I’m fucking with you. I hope sucking your dick made it extremely clear how interested I am in dating you. I—”

Eddie doesn’t want to be the kind of guy who gets dick once and immediately professes his love. He already lives with Richie. He’s doing a lot of things backwards. He’s trying to live in the moment, but he doesn’t want to scare Richie away. He wants the bones of their relationship to settle. He doesn’t want the enormity of his feelings to leak everywhere and stain.

But also he’s definitely going to marry this man. If Richie will let him. If that’s even Richie’s thing. Eddie didn’t think he’d ever want to do the whole marriage thing ever again, but Richie makes him insane in the best of ways.

“...I care about you a lot, man,” Eddie finishes, and places a small kiss to the back of Richie’s sweaty neck in lieu of saying anything that can’t be unsaid. His lips come away salty. He buries his nose into Richie’s curls, smelling the warmth of his scalp and the faint mint of his tea tree shampoo.

Yeah, this is some “rest of your life” shit. Eddie’s a little crazy with the knowledge that he’s going to get to do this everyday. Years and years ahead of him of waking up to the sight of Richie’s gross fish lips smashed against the pillow. Of seeing where Richie’s hair grays first. Of getting mad when Richie puts the forks in the wrong direction in the dishwasher. It’s kind of perfect.

Well, almost perfect.

“If I’m going to sleep in here from now on, you’re going to need to get a new mattress, what the fuck,” Eddie says. “Seriously, how do you sleep on this thing? I want something with foam.”

“Anything for you, Eds,” Richie says, and Eddie can feel the rumble in Richie’s ribs as he giggles. Eddie holds himself to Richie, riding through Richie’s earthquake of a laugh, grinning at the impossibility of being in love.