Every few months Richie stops by New York, in a whirlwind sort of fashion, calling Eddie up out of the blue to invite him out to a themed bar or a weird off-Broadway play or a "friend of a friend" who does weird performance art with food. (Art culture: good or bad? Eddie's undecided.) Once he even took Eddie to a lecture at NYU about the transcendentalists, which was interesting if a bit dry, and no one was more surprised than Eddie that Richie hung on every word, and then ambled up to the podium to chat with the professor about it some more afterward.
He's a fountain of random, fascinating information like that - he likes art films, and art, and modern artists, and has a bunch of photos saved on his phone of sculptures and installations that he's seen, and will sometimes schedule shows specifically in certain cities so he can see Clear Domes On Red Base, 1968 in person because apparently that's better. He likes geocaching, even though he hasn't done it in "ages, since before I left New Mexico," and he's casual friends with Michael Chabon, even though he's vague about the circumstances. This is ironic because he reads non-fiction almost exclusively - big, thick history books about weird, niche subjects, like "oh, here's a deep-dive examination of the founding of a small town in Nevada and how they built their church" and "have you ever wondered about the cultural history of salt?" Just, unhinged shit. The kind of books Eddie would've made fun of him relentlessly for, if Richie weren't so stubbornly genuine about all of it.
He takes Eddie to the corners of New York that he never would've seen otherwise; restaurants that have been there for eighty years that he's never heard of before, tiny museums set up in buildings the size of apartments, book clubs and drag shows and one Mongolian guy in Brooklyn who performs traditional Tuvan throat singing by request at a specific bar, but only on Tuesdays. He took Eddie to a creative writing group that meets at a library in Manhattan every third Saturday that is run on the downlow by Janeane Garofalo, who greeted Richie with a shoulder punch and a bear hug that made Richie blush - actually blush (the first time Eddie had seen that since the late 80s). They go to a movie premiere for something in French, with German subtitles, that Richie seems, somehow, fascinated by ("Well, you know, I speak a little of both. You can put it together with context clues, Eds!") and on one Saturday, they went to the Met, and Richie spent half an hour talking about the provenance of the altarpiece Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints by Raphael, completely from memory.
He's a fucking freak. Eddie loves it.
"What's your IQ?" Eddie asks idly one day, as they're walking through a home and garden show in Syracuse, of all things. Richie insisted on going, because apparently there was supposed to be an exhibition of something called a "ghost orchid," which Richie rambled on about for fifteen minutes in the cab. That had been cancelled, as they discovered upon arrival at the convention center, but they already had tickets and there was food inside, so now they're just looking at lawn furniture. "Ballpark it for me."
"IQs are racist," Richie says, sitting down experimentally in a wicker rocking chair. His legs are so long he has to sprawl them out widely to fit them beneath the matching table. Eddie can see the tips of his sneakers poking out on the other side.
"I said ballpark," Eddie says defensively.
"Eds, my man," Richie says, leaning back in the chair and eyeing him through the fringe of his hair, which is getting long enough now to make him look like one of the absurdly bohemian modern artists he hangs out with all the time, "do you ever think that your compulsive need to quantify every element of your life is holding you back from true contentment?"
"Do you ever think about fucking your own face?" Eddie replies calmly.
Richie laughs. "Some logistical issues there. Can you specify for me - ow!"
Eddie punches his shoulder a second time, until Richie laughs again and gets up, brushing past him with his hands up to poke around at a display of outdoor hummingbird feeders instead. Eddie follows behind, his hands in his pockets, struggling against a fond smile as Richie gets excited about one of them in particular, and snags down the attendant to ask her a stupidly smart question about hummingbird migration patterns.
It's not just that he's smart. It's also that he's competent at everything he attempts, in a way that really gets Eddie's motor running, in an embarrassingly transparent way. He asked Myra out on a spiteful whim, after meeting "that nasty woman who lives in my building," as his mother had exclusively referred to her, but he kept dating her after seeing her in action at work, when he stopped by her office one afternoon to give her a ride home when her car was in the shop. Somehow, having been lukewarm at best towards her for months, it was overhearing her rip a subordinate to shreds for a technical error on a spreadsheet that really kicked him into high gear, so to speak. They got married eight months later, and Eddie managed to make it about seven more years on that one attractive quality, stopping by her office whenever he felt like he needed to remind himself why abandoning his wife and marriage and entire prepackaged life, complete with life insurance and a 401k and a summer home in Virginia, was a bad idea. He liked her. Didn't he?
He doesn't. He knows that now. He likes Richie, who calls Eddie up sometimes in the middle of the night to explain the entire plot of a novel he just read in two hours to him. Richie, who donates tens of thousands of dollars to a random film student every year to help them get their first movie made. Richie, who wrinkled his nose at dinner last Christmas and asked Bill what the fuck was up with all the Nabakov references in his new short story collection. He speaks not only "a little" French and German, but "a bit" of Spanish, and "I can order tequila in Latin. Dated a Classics professor for a while. Long story." Eddie cannot, cannot, fucking stand him. Was he built in a fucking lab? He does his own taxes, despite having so much money it becomes more like a high stakes math test with randomly changing parameters than a mundane task. (All the rest of their millionaire friends, for example, have accountants, because they're not stupid.) He knows how to hotwire a car ("learned for a movie!"). He named his pet parakeet Pyramus. ("It's from Ovid, Eds.") He once taught himself how to make a French souffle for the sole purpose of a bad Instagram joke. Eddie's gonna lose it any day now, and it won't be pretty.
In June of 2018, Eddie is still married to Myra, and miserably so; this was not a decision he made lightly, as one of the first things he said upon leaving the hospital in Derry two years prior was that he was gonna "dump her, so hard, you guys. Literally dump her out the window. Fuck. Dump her all day long!" (It's possible he was still on painkillers, at the time.) Their routine consists mostly of ignoring each other and then screaming at each other, periodically, et cetera ad infinitum, to the point where Eddie now no longer can keep track of what they're supposedly mad at each other about on any given week. The situation is both exacerbated and intensified by Eddie's fervent, angry hard on for his childhood friend Richie, who does his part as a good buddy to help relieve some of Eddie's stress by taking him on interesting, intellectual outings in the city, which often end up on the internet, since Richie is also really fucking famous. Myra is less than impressed by any of this, but particularly Richie, whom she calls "Bill Burr" in a snide, passive-aggressive attempt at insulting him. Eddie will probably never tell her that Richie knows Bill Burr, likes Bill Burr, and finds this extremely funny.
Some (Ben) have (Mike) accused (also Bev) Eddie of being "in love with his rut," with varying levels of disapproval and worry, but the truth is just a lot more mundane, unfortunately: Myra's father is a lawyer. Myra herself, as well, worked as a legal assistant at the family firm for several years after college, before she found her stride as a financial consultant for real estate development. Eddie had a mountain of medical debt to deal with after Derry, and most of their assets were in Myra's name. She controlled their credit cards, and all of Eddie's paychecks for the past seven years had gone into their joint account. She had a document of Eddie's erratic behavior (car accident, last minute trip, weird drunk texts in the middle of the night Eddie regretted sending, mysterious involvement in the death of a notorious serial killer, et cetera) and after the morphine had worn off, Eddie had grimly and reluctantly come to the conclusion that if he'd left her right away like he'd wanted to, she would've easily taken him to the fucking cleaners.
And so, here they are. Still married. Hating each other, in the grand heterosexual tradition. Eddie is miserable in a manageable way, meaning that he spends only as much time with her that is absolutely necessary, at their couple's counseling appointments (to demonstrate pointed effort towards fixing the marriage), at home (sometimes she waits up for him to fight), and at family events (Eddie's been dodging Thanksgiving at her dad's house for years and he hopes it isn't completely transparent that he's only started attending now, when he's laying the groundwork for divorce). He feels like an asshole about it, most days. But he can't exactly afford to start over, and he can't rely on his rich friends to finance his ("Midlife crisis?" Myra says snidely) new life. He has to do it on his own. He has to navigate it, and end it, and start over, in his own way, without help. It's fucking important to him. It is.
The most important thing, hands down, according to his lawyer, is that he doesn't commit adultery. That's the brick she can throw through his window, his lawyer says. Do you have Tinder on your phone? Grindr? Don't look at me like that, I don't care. Have you ever had any dating app at all? No? They can figure out what you've deleted you know. Not lying? Okay then. It's a surreal problem to have, exacerbated by the fact that Eddie's not really sure, altogether, how Richie feels, or if Richie would even be willing, once Eddie is through the tangled jungle of his divorce. Sometimes he looks at Eddie a certain way, a little too long maybe, his nicknames sometimes border on affectionate, but - just as soon as Eddie notices it, it's gone again, and Richie is back to normal, warm and supportive and friendly but frustratingly opaque when it came to himself.
And then the other thing that happens in June is that Richie gets a part in a movie.
"What the fuck do you mean, it's in Italian," Eddie says desolately.
"I don't speak Italian in it. I'm actually the only English speaker," Richie replies blithely, "it's a thing. Like a 'fish out of water' thing. I haven't even seen the script yet, it's just a favor for my old buddy from film school. But he described the basic concept to me last night."
'Old buddy from film school' could mean any number of things, coming from Richie, especially considering Richie never attended film school. Eddie has learned by now not to ask questions when he knows the answers will just make him horny. "So...the movie's in Italian, but you're speaking English in it? Is it set in Italy?"
"No, it's set in New York," Richie says.
"Okay." Eddie rubs his forehead. "Like, a New York where everyone speaks Italian?"
"There are plenty of Italians in New York City, Eddie," Richie says. "Tell me the truth: when was the last time you left Manhattan when I wasn't with you?"
Eddie nobly ignores the question. "I know there are Italians, I just - they're not native speakers. What the fuck. You know what I mean - "
"It's actually not Italian anyway," Richie interrupts, "it's like, an approximation of Italian that's meant to sound like what Italians hear when we speak English. Have you ever heard of Adriano Celentano?"
"Uh," Eddie says, "no."
"He's like one of the most famous Italian pop singers, Eddie."
"Oh," Eddie says, exaggeratingly patient, "that Adriano Celentano."
"Well," Richie says, scrambling for his phone and pulling up his YouTube app, "he sings this experimental pop song that's sort of intended to make fun of American English - but in an affectionate way - that's basically gibberish but it borrows enough sounds and vowels from English that Italian-speakers sort of get what he's going for. It's actually really interesting, linguistically speaking, like a good representation of how English sounds to non-speakers. My friend Jimmy turned me onto it - he's the one who does that Bernie Sanders impression I told you about - "
"The podcast guy," Eddie says.
"Right, the podcast guy. He sang it in character as Slavoj Žižek once. Anyway the director - different friend - really liked the idea of like, an interpretation of a language you don't speak that somehow still manages to convey some meaning, almost like language within a non-language, you know what I mean? Like a photo negative of English, but - you still kind of get that it's making fun of English, right? A cultural, or maybe visual, way of communicating that's both isolating and communal. Insulting but also commemorative. So he came up with this idea - or a concept, I guess - of an American protagonist in a movie who speaks proper English, but he's trapped in a setting where everyone around him is clearly not American, but they're not speaking real Italian either, they're just imitating English. And they all understand each other, but they don't understand him. And he doesn't understand them, but he knows that they're speaking English. So that's who I play."
Richie cues up the song for Eddie and sets it on the table between them, sliding it carefully between their coffee cups. Eddie listens for a few moments, real words replacing the gibberish ones, in Richie's warm voice: communal. Language within language. Slavoj Žižek.
"Catchy," Eddie says. "And surreal."
"Right? It's like he's speaking in tongues."
"Is this an arthouse film?" Eddie asks skeptically. "Like, is it in black and white? Philip Glass soundtrack? Do you play a sexually frustrated pianist who collects sugar packets?"
"No, it's actually a comedy," Richie says. "Think: Charlie Chaplin. I'm going to be falling down a lot."
Eddie breathes in through his nose, and out through his mouth. Richie's wearing a blazer this morning, and he ordered a dry cappuccino, and Eddie really, really wants him to say "Slavoj Žižek" again.
"We start principal photography next week," Richie says, completely innocent of the general direction of Eddie's dark and horny thoughts, "wanna come?"
"Um," says Eddie.
"Only if you want," Richie says breezily, "I have the easiest part, really. The other actors have to learn a whole new, fake language. Isn't that wild? Most of them are actually Italian, though. For authenticity, I guess. It's basically just like a regular script, right? Memorizing words. But when the words don't mean anything, is it harder?"
"This is why I hated philosophy classes in college," Eddie says.
"Really? I dug them," Richie says, because of course he did. "Is it - do you need to check with Myra, or?"
Eddie winces so violently Richie seems to flinch right along with him, yanking his phone back across the table like he regrets saying anything.
"I don't have to clear my plans with her before I commit to them," Eddie says. "She's not my - " he stops himself before he says mother, but Richie makes a face like he'd heard it anyway. "I just - my lawyer thinks I need to uphold the appearance of commitment so we can convince the judge that I gave it a good faith effort."
"Okay Eds," Richie says, in the aggressively neutral voice he always uses when discussing this issue. "Whatever you say."
An awkward silence descends. Richie pulls his phone back out and hits play on the song again, and Eddie drinks the rest of his latte and tries not to tap his foot to the beat. It is catchy.
"I know what everyone thinks," Eddie says. "About me. About Myra. Me and Myra."
"What does everyone think?" Richie asks, popping the top off his cup to gulp the last of the coffee. Eddie pointedly does not watch.
"That I'm stalling. That I didn't mean it all those times I said I wanted to leave."
"Eddie," Richie says, very seriously, "I believed you. I could see it in your face. I know you mean it."
Eddie looks down at the table. "Uh huh."
"It's your life, man. Your time." Richie shrugs. "You want my opinion? My opinion is that you seem really fucking unhappy. Bev left her husband, and she seems great now. Chilling in her hip Brooklyn loft, getting A-grade dick from Ben. Good for her. Mike's dating that actress friend of Audra's that Bill hates - "
"Oh God," Eddie says, "let's not even talk about that mess right now."
"Well, my point is he's happier than he was before," Richie says. "You? Every time I see you, Eddie, you look like fucking Droopy the Dog. With your big fucking eyes and floppy ears." Richie reaches out and tugs on Eddie's collar affectionately, and Eddie sits very still, and does not lean into the touch, nor does he make eye contact while Richie is touching him. None of these things seem very helpful for the overall situation he's in, unfortunately. "Everyone loves you. They love you so much it pisses them off, Eddie. They want you to be in a better place, somewhere you want to be, that's all."
"I'm trying," Eddie says, a bit desperately, trying not to sound defensive but knowing he does anyway, "it's complicated. I know it sounds like an excuse but it isn't. I have to do it in a way where I can't go back. You know what I mean? I can't give myself any excuse to backslide. I have to do it, and it has to be permanent, and I have to do it on my own. I need to know I can get away and stay away, without help from my fucking - my fairytale famous friends, swooping in in the last act to whisk me away on a white horse."
Richie looks faintly amused. "Is Bev fairytale famous?" he asks. "Or are you referring to Bill?"
"Obviously I'm talking about you, asshole," Eddie says sourly.
"I just thought, white horse, seems very Biblical. Maybe a little phallic. Napoleon, Frederick the Great, King William the Orange. Right up Bill's alley."
"Who the fuck is King William the Orange?" Eddie asks, perplexed.
"Orange was a feudal state in modern-day Provence," Richie says, maddeningly. "But he was also King of England. Married his cousin. Might've been gay. Spanked James II publicly at the Battle of Boyne, it was like a whole thing."
Eddie sighs deeply, thinking nostalgically of the mid 90s, when Richie dedicated his considerable brain power to memorizing Tom Waits lyrics and trying to build a Rube Goldberg machine that would play a recording of his voice when his mom knocked on his bedroom door so that he could sneak out after curfew. (He pulled it off once. Eddie wishes he could remember how he did it.)
"Anyway, my point is," Richie says, "I'm only gonna rescue you if you need rescuing. And the only way I'm gonna believe you do is if you ask. So."
Eddie feels oddly warmed by this sentiment. "What if I get in a car accident? Or I fall out of my office window and break both my legs?"
"I will then drive you to the hospital," Richie says graciously. "But again, I'm assuming your mouth didn't break. So you'd still have to ask."
This, somehow, is even more attractive than the history fact thing. That Eddie could visibly lose his shit right there in front of Richie, and all he would do is back away to a safe distance and wait to be asked - that's hot. Shit, that's just really sexy. Eddie has a problem.
"You drove me to the hospital in Derry," Eddie says, a small smile on his face.
"Didn't enjoy it at all, though," Richie says. "A traumatizing memory, really. So you understand my reluctance."
"I understand what you're trying to say, yes," Eddie says, smiling like he can't help himself, grinning like a fucking fool, at a six-foot-whatever comedian in a green blazer and mismatching pair of Vans with pictures of characters from Hey, Arnold! on them. "Thanks. Thank you."
"You're welcome." Richie folds his hands on the table, and Eddie continues to not look at them. "I do want you to be happy, though. Really it just fucking bums me out that you're not."
"I just have to get through another few months and then I can initiate proceedings," Eddie says.
"You're not worried about her filing first? Doesn't that like, fuck things up somehow? I saw that in a movie once."
"I already have a divorce team," Eddie says. "And we don't own property in any other states. New York's not a 50/50 state. So it doesn't matter much either way."
"Just long and nasty then," Richie says, grimacing. "You think she's gonna fight you?"
Eddie thinks about it a lot. What her face will look like when he serves her. What she'll say, or text him, or leave on his voicemail. Sometimes this is a vindictive, satisfying fantasy, and other times it's a guilty, self-flagellating one. But does he honestly think she'll drag it out? No. She's as tired as he is, and he knows it. He stopped being the husband she wanted the minute he picked up the phone two years ago, and now they both know it.
"I don't know," he says, at length. "I hope not. I guess I'll find out."
Richie toasts him with his empty Starbucks cup. Across the street, on the sidewalk near the subway entrance, Eddie catches sight of a guy taking their picture. He rolls his eyes, and ignores it. (This happens quite a lot.)
"Enough about me," he says. "Let's go back to talking about your pretentious movie."
"Pretentious!" Richie crows. "Eddie, it's a meditation on human communication."
God. "Okay," Eddie says, "I'm not sure using the word 'meditation' helps your case here."
"They want me to grow a mustache," Richie confides, with the tone of a gleeful secret. Eddie blanches at the thought. "What do you think? Handlebar? Je serais un trés bel homme, no?" He folds a stray napkin in a vaguely rectangular shape and squeezes it above his mouth with his upper lip, waggling his eyebrows.
"I hate you," Eddie replies, and means it.
Eddie wakes up the next morning with a hard on, a migraine, and a scathing text from Myra on his phone, which he registers in that exact order. He ignores the hard on and the text to do something about the migraine - hot shower, two ibuprofen, a self-inflicted and thus unsatisfying neck rub - and drinks half a pot of coffee before he feels up to tackling the text. It's a link to a celebrity gossip website with a picture of him and Richie from the previous morning, leaning towards each other across the table. Eddie's wedding ring hand is circled in garish red, the headline says: RICHIE TOZIER, HOMEWRECKER? and Myra's accompanying, bitchy text message says, you don't seem like his type!!
Eddie sighs, and takes another ibuprofen. He doesn't reply to the text, but screenshots it and emails it to his alt gmail account for his lawyer, who's been building a file she affectionately and viciously refers to as The Emotional Abuse Drawer.
Sorry, Richie texts, considerably nicer, didn't even notice them this time.
Well, Eddie had, and he hadn't done anything about it, so it's probably his own fault. Maybe he likes the rumors, just a little. Maybe it makes him feel better about himself, a bit. Maybe it hits him somewhere deep and selfish to see his name in black and white next to Richie's, in the possessive clause. He'll bring that up in therapy, eventually.
He writes and then deletes several text drafts of a joke about how he's not hot enough to improve Richie's reputation, pop culturally speaking, before giving up and sending a bland no worries message instead. The last time he was too self-deprecating via text Richie got worried and sicc'ed Ben and his earnest compliments on him, and honestly Eddie's not emotionally stable enough at the moment to handle that. (Even if what he said about Eddie's bone structure was admittedly very nice to hear.)
"Perez Hilton? Eddie, you're hip," Bev says, over their weekly salad-and-bitch session in Crown Heights, "grow out that goatee a little more and get yourself a podcast. You're gonna be a star."
"I don't listen to podcasts," Eddie lies.
"'I don't listen to podcasts,'" Bev imitates, dipping her voice into her annoyingly accurate impression of Eddie's voice, "'I hate fun and also carbs. I want to suck my best friend's dick so bad I talk to my therapist about it. Wah.'"
"Literally, I'm going to kill you," Eddie says, to cover up the unfortunate fact that he's about to laugh. Bev smirks at him anyway, triumphant. "I don't talk to my therapist about Richie, I talk to you."
"Oh, I thought I was your therapist," Bev replies, "my bad."
"That's not fair! You talk to me about Ben!"
"Okay, bitching about how early he gets up in the morning is not the same thing, and I'll stand by that," Bev says, and holds up her salad bowl, offering the little pile of discarded pepperoncinis. "You want? C'mon, I haven't even taken a bite yet, Eds, they're cootie-free." Eddie sighs and scoops them into his own bowl sullenly. "You should just talk to him about it."
"Pass," Eddie says.
"I said pass!"
"It's not fucking Duck Duck Goose," Bev says hairily. "You know where he's at. You know the kind of baggage he has. If you want something to change you have to be the one to change it, especially considering Myra. I know I've said all this before, but every time we talk about this it seems like you need me to say it again, so."
Eddie eats a pepperoncini and considers. She's right and he knows she's right, but that doesn't make the risk seem any safer. The considering Myra part is always where Eddie gets hung up. He's getting so sick of himself. "Who said I wanted anything to change?"
Bev kicks his shin lightly until he looks up at her face, and then she pointedly rolls her eyes.
"Fine," Eddie says sulkily, "but there's still - "
"Yeah," Bev says. "And like, I get it, but he's not going to just wait around for - "
"Okay. Yeah. I know that."
"Yeah." Bev crunches a crouton loudly and thoughtfully. "Or. Maybe he would. Which is, honestly Eds, what I'm worried about more. No offense."
Eddie sighs. "We don't actually know how he feels about me. I could be imagining things."
"Eddie, babe, he's been taking you out on dates for like, a year and a half," Bev says, in a tone of voice that indicates her opinion of him is somewhere between wilfully dense and just plain stupid. "It's the closest he's ever going to get to saying it. You know he's not going to be the one to say it first. He just can't."
Eddie looks up at the roof of the patio they're sitting on, thinking about the train wreck disaster journey of Richie's exit from his lifelong closet two years ago, which had involved a leaked audio recording of a private set he did at an Oscar charity event in 2015, an ex-boyfriend who published an anonymous essay on Medium, and a viral tweet from Richie's younger sister that was just a clip of a 1982 Dad, I'm straight! SNL skit with a caption that said: lol. (The period at the end of the "lol" had been particularly brutal, Eddie thought. But there's a thirty-year-long, complicated mess of reasons why Carrie and Richie don't really talk outside of major holidays and Eddie doesn't feel confident enough about the history to get into it.)
Richie had been stubbornly silent through about three weeks of this speculation before finally giving up the ghost and writing a cuttingly funny statement that he sent to Vox Magazine via email, at three in the morning, from the deck of Bev and Ben's boat as all five of them - Ben, Bev, Eddie, Richie, and Ben's dog - cheered him on. That had gone viral too.
("I can't even claim that it was an involuntary outing," Richie said at the time, "because it's not like I haven't been talking about it in my sets lately. I just sort of thought I could get away with nobody noticing for a little longer."
"Oh honey," Bev had replied, running a comforting hand through his hair, "that's so stupid.")
"He backs himself into his own corners, doesn't he?" Eddie says, and Bev huffs a small laugh, nodding. "It's like he has to trick himself into it. Not that I'm saying it wasn't still really brave - "
"I guess I'm just worried that's why. Like on one hand, maybe he really is just...hanging out with me. You know? Getting his sad friend in an unhappy marriage out of the house every month. That would be one thing, to get rejected, but whatever, right? I could handle it. But if he does feel the same way, and he's trying to, what, psych me into saying something? Fuck that."
"But it doesn't mean it would be any less brave," Bev says leadingly, "right?"
Eddie shrugs sadly.
"Okay," Bev says, "let's back up. Scenario one is that he just feels sorry for you because your marriage is fucking terrible, and he wouldn't touch you with a ten foot pole if you paid him. That would suck, but it would be livable. You tell him how you feel, he says 'no thanks,' it's awkward for awhile and maybe you stop hanging out as much, but you both move on. At least you would know."
Eddie feels like he's just taken an ice pick directly to his chest cavity, but sure, whatever. Livable. "Okay."
"Scenario two is that he does feel the same way, and he's not saying anything because he's a big coward who wants you to make the first move," Bev says, with a distinct tone of skepticism, "because he's...emotionally dishonest, or whatever you implied just now - "
"No," Eddie protests weakly, "I just - it feels like - "
"A cop out. No, I know," Bev says, "but Eddie, you're the one who's married. You remember that, right? Have you even told him that you're attracted to men?"
Eddie had implied, and had walked away from the conversations (of which there'd been quite a few, over the past year or so) not completely assured that Richie had picked up on the subtext. It was just that he was so hard to read - his response to emotional vulnerability was almost always a gentle joke, and sometimes Eddie couldn't tell if he was trying to give Eddie a convenient way to duck away from the intimacy, or if it was for his own benefit, a way to deflect away from himself and back towards whatever it was Eddie was revealing instead. Maybe both. Probably both.
"So you think I should tell him," Eddie says.
"Well," Bev says, waving her hand back and forth in a 'meh' gesture. "There's scenario three."
"He's sleeping with someone else?" Eddie asks tensely. "In love with Mike? Engaged secretly to a Russian model for green card purposes?"
"Those are scenarios four through 'calm the fuck down, Eds,'" Bev says patiently, "no. I was just gonna say maybe he does feel the same way, and he's not saying anything because he knows you can't do anything until you leave Myra."
Eddie sighs deeply. "Oh yeah."
"He's always five steps ahead. It makes sense."
It does make sense, and it's also the most optimistic option, Eddie notes. A wave of absurdity suddenly descends upon his head like a black rain cloud. Jesus, what is he doing? He still lives with Myra. Separate rooms, sure, and they hardly ever talk in person, but they're technically still married, and ostensibly faithful. "My lawyer says I'm not allowed to commit adultery."
Bev's mouth twitches. "She said that, huh?" She takes a big gulp of iced tea. "Bummer."
"So he's right. If that's what he's doing, then he's right, and I should just let it go and focus on getting my fucking divorce already."
"That is an option you have," Bev agrees, aggressively neutral.
Eddie looks out at the street, and sees another photographer. This is also par for the course when out and about with Bev, who is quite possibly even more famous than Richie nowadays, thanks to the double-tap effect of her new spring line and the YouTube sketch she did with Emily Ratajkowski for Vogue Italy. "Pap at four o'clock."
"Act natural. Don't look," Bev says, not even twitching. "I saw that gossip article that hit this morning."
"Do you have me on Google Alerts?!"
"No, Ben sent it to me," Bev says. "He has all of us on Google Alerts."
Eddie is trying not to look at the photographer, but it's hard. He looks like a pro, with an expensive-looking camera. Blatantly taking photos from across the street. "Well that's sweet. Tell him 'thank you.' I guess." A thought occurred. "Does he have one for me?"
"Of course he does," Bev says.
"Even though I'm not famous?"
"Eddie, you've been in the New York Post like six times this month already," Bev says.
"Because of Richie. Of my proximity to Richie."
Bev reaches out and pats his arm, and with the worst case scenario instinct that has guided his life for decades, Eddie just knows deep in his gut that that's going to be a photo that will get published somewhere. "Still counts."
It's what Bill had said, when Eddie woke up in the hospital, the morning after to end all other morning afters. Mike had said, incredulously, I honestly can't believe we all made it out of there alive, and Richie narrowed his eyes at the bandages on Eddie's shoulder and said, well, barely, and Big Bill squared his shoulders and said: still counts. And it did. Even Stan was alive, albeit fairly traumatized from his suicide attempt and not talking much to them, at the moment. But he sent them pictures sometimes, of Patty, of their house, of interesting books that he read. So yeah, it counts.
"Bev," Eddie says, after the somber moment passes, "can I ask you a weird question?"
"Sure," Bev says, smiling kindly.
Eddie takes a deep breath. "Have you ever heard of Adriano Celentano?"
Bev blinks at him for a second. "Who?"
Eddie smirks. "Fucking knew it," he says.
He and Myra don't eat dinner together anymore, which had been one of her dealbreakers, back when they'd been on somewhat better terms. Eddie had once thought it was charming, a lovely little Middle American detail about her that she'd clearly picked up from her family - eating dinner together. Saying grace, holding hands in a circle around the table. Laying out the tablecloth, using nice plates on Sundays and holidays. It quickly became annoying and unbearable, once Eddie came around to the realization that he didn't want to be married to her anymore. And now it was something she used vindictively - a bat to hit him over the head with when she wanted him to feel abused and hunted.
They spend most of their time in the house in strained silence now, nodding politely at each other, and exchanging terse conversations about the necessities of adult living: bills, neighbors, family events, et cetera. The resentment spilled out over text message, but it never seemed to explode between them in person - which doesn't surprise Eddie all that much, now that he's thought about it a little. Myra isn't confrontational - she's resentful. She lashes out when she has the safety of being far away from him, unable to see his face or hear his reaction in person. It's always been like that - even when things were good between them, she would save up her grievances and stew over them until they exploded, often in the middle of the work day, when Eddie was completely unaware that she was upset with him at all. Once, not even a year into their marriage, she sent him a long, essay-length email at eight-thirty in the morning on a Wednesday, the thesis statement of which was basically: Eddie, you are emotionally withholding and I don't think you know how to love other people. The catalyst for this - honestly one of the most haunting, hurtful things Eddie has ever read about himself, and he still thinks about certain lines and sentences sometimes out of the blue when he's in a low mood - was that he'd forgotten to take her car into the shop like he'd promised the week before. And instead of just asking him about it, like a normal human being, she'd done - well. That.
It's honestly incredible, the way Eddie had backed himself into his own corner - uniquely suited to his own neuroses, just like Richie's closet had been. A woman, a house, and a marriage, so eerily similar to his relationship with his mother, but with so many surface-level differences that he'd managed to trick himself into not believing it for so long? Brilliant. Cruel and unusual. Just a great hat trick, destined for the hall of fame. Did she lie to him, like his mother had? No. Did she tell him he was sick, did she guilt him into believing it? No. Eddie had thought he was mature, had thought he'd grown past his hangups - or what hangups he could remember, anyway. But all he'd done was swap out one sick room for another.
Myra isn't an evil person, by any means, and she's certainly not as vindictive as his mother was, but she's not healthy, either. Eddie goes to couples counseling with her every other Sunday, which mostly consists of sitting on a tweed couch and listening to her victimize herself for an hour and a half, bolstered into actual, in-person emotion by the presence of the therapist, who is six months away from retirement and seems to be mentally there already. Nothing is ever her fault, and everything is always wrong. Her emotions border on hysterical levels of intensity, and she takes offense over the tiniest things. Eddie's been used to her sensitivity for a long time - always asking if he's angry at her because he worded a text message wrong, reading into the smallest things, isolating herself in offended hurt because he didn't say "I love you" quick enough, or warmly enough, or what the fuck ever - but it's gotten so much worse, not just since Derry, but even before that. Since her mother died, really, and that's the short answer to a long, complicated question, isn't it? He used to explain it away, rationalize it, allow his sympathy for her grief to take precedence over the instinct, deep down in his gut, that he was being treated badly. Because he always knew, on some level, and that was the worst part. It wouldn't have felt half as terrible if he'd been ignorant of how he deserved to be treated.
Eddie does think he's alone in that feeling. The way the other Losers talk about it, it's as if they truly were sleepwalking, forgetting themselves as well as each other. Bev talks about Tom the way someone talks about a nightmare: a terrifying existence, but an ephemeral one, and she'd certainly slipped away from him brutally fast, as if waking up suddenly from a bad dream. It was never like that for Eddie, which is somehow worse. He always knew there was something wrong - it was just the courage to change it that was missing.
He doesn't like to talk about with Richie, even though Richie is often the only person in the world Eddie wants to talk about it with, because it feels like it would be crossing a line that he wouldn't feel great about crossing (even with all the other lines he's happily crossed so far already, showing Myra's text threads to Richie still somehow feels...worse). Mostly he talks to Ben, who is calm and kind and has a way of pointing out the ways in which Myra is wrong without making it sound like she's doing it on purpose, which is sometimes the only way Eddie can bring himself to agree with it. Other than the conversations with his lawyer, anyway, which Eddie often endures with the help of a trenta unsweetened cold brew and some aggressively compartmentalized thinking.
It's just that Eddie feels guilty, and that's the hard part. Maybe if he didn't, he would've left her already, skipped over a bunch of this nonsense bullshit, all the pretending and lying and enduring. He doesn't want this to drag out any longer, but he feels like a piece of shit whenever he considers just packing a bag, letting her have the condo, and escaping. What does he owe her, really? Myra, who is a difficult person, who is going to have a lot of trouble finding another relationship after this, who had married him out of her own sense of desperate loneliness and gut-deep fear that nobody else would put up with her - none of that is Eddie's fault. But he feels a sense of ownership over the mess of their relationship, a kind of responsibility that's hard to cut out from his greater sense of who he is, what kind of man he's become, the healthy adult he wants to be.
"The difference, Eddie," Ben has said to him, on several occasions, "is that Myra doesn't seem like she wants things to get better. Don't you think? She'd be happy just doing this - " he waved the phone, open to one of Myra's paragraph-long texts, which had devolved in both common sense and grammar as it went on, "forever. This isn't normal, this isn't how normal relationships are supposed to work. Maybe, if you both wanted to stay together, you could get to a point where it was healthier for both of you, but you've tried that before, haven't you? And she didn't want it."
"She doesn't like therapy," Eddie said, a little dully. The marriage counseling was convenient for her in that it was mostly just an hour where she was allowed to talk, and Eddie had to sit there, beholden, and listen. But the counselor didn't really say much during the sessions, it didn't feel productive.
"Right," Ben said, his mouth turning downwards in a gentle frown. "So maybe...yeah, of course she's in pain. All these hysterics - " Ben was strolling again, incredulously, shaking his head at the messages, "of course, probably, it's not all an act. But there's a certain point where it becomes self-indulgent. Do you know what I mean? She's not lashing out at you because she's hurting, Eddie, she's lashing out because it makes her feel a little bit better. And maybe you have to admit at some point that that's not going to change, because that's the kind of relationship she wants. Not a healthy one, where you support each other, and love each other. Just this." He shook his head. "Using you to comfort herself. It's not fair to you, Eds."
So what kind of relationship does he want? The logical follow-up question. Eddie thinks about this a lot nowadays, especially when Richie is in town, pulling up to Eddie's office in a flashy rental to personally escort him to a lecture on the cultural influences that inform modern-day German filmmaking, or an outdoor performance by some ballroom dancer that Richie once funded a scholarship for. It's a little too easy to get caught up in the fantasy that when they leave, they'll be leaving together - that their destination at the end of the night is the same, and always will be. Eddie thinks about that all the time, if he's being honest: an apartment in a cooler borough than the one he currently lives in, two bedrooms, wood floors (Myra always preferred carpet). Shared utility bills. Another pet to keep Pyramus company. Richie would still travel a lot for work, but he'd come home to Eddie. He'd invite his bohemian intellectual friends over for dinner, and they'd crowd around a bare wood table and eat Eddie's cooking. And those headlines in the Post? They wouldn't bother Eddie so much if they were true, he's pretty sure.
Secretly, Eddie worries: what if I only want him because he's not Myra? Maybe that's the real reason he hasn't said anything. Bev is right in that Richie will never make the first move; for better or for worse, Richie's graciousness and warmth almost never extends to himself. It's not about bravery for him - it's about kindness, about denying himself things, and that's why it will have to be Eddie. And maybe Eddie is worried that he's not healthy enough to be good for Richie in that way. Maybe Eddie thinks, on some level, that ten years with Myra have warped him into a person that's incapable of being good for anybody.
He's aware enough of his own mental state to know that that's not an objective thought, but it's still a scary one. During a rare conversation with Stan last summer, Stan said: Eddie, if you wait until you feel ready to do something, you're never going to do anything. Which was such a fatherly, grade A Stanley thing to say that it's stuck with Eddie ever since, even if it wasn't particularly helpful. In a practical way, anyway.
Summer in New York always feels like Eddie is trapped in a sauna with people he doesn't want to see naked; people are irritable and showy about it, harassed by the heat, the insecurities and pettiness spilling out obscenely everywhere he goes. Eddie's always been mildly annoyed by the vulnerability of a big city - he never signed up for this! He wanted to be in a good job market, not subjected to the vulgarities of human nature every day on his morning commute! - but summer seems to bring out the worst of it, in a way that's hard for him to ignore. People act like dicks on: the subway, in coffee shops, on the sidewalk, in taxis, on the phone. Eddie feels like he's walking through an obstacle course every day, dodging people's personalities. He doesn't care what deep-seated trauma is making the man in front of him yell at the Starbucks barista for forgetting his extra shot, the reality of the situation is still dismal and sad and makes Eddie want to move to the Himalayas and take up ice farming or something.
Richie, predictably, loves summer in the city. He talks a lot about the girl who lives above him in his sublet studio in Manhattan, who is working on a gigantic painting. They chat on their fire escapes about surrealism. (Eddie has overheard this on several occasions, during Skype calls, and the occasional nightcap in Richie's shabby-chic living room.) He gets himself invited to block parties. He meets old-timer New Yorkers who want to adopt him and teach him how to make tamales the traditional way. He buys a forty-quart steaming pot that he calls a tamalera and makes Eddie some fucking delicious breakfast thing with raisins and pineapples in it one dusky morning in July.
"I thought tamales were always savory," Eddie says, charmed and perplexed. "What the fuck. This is amazing."
"They can be sweet too," Richie says. He's on a strict diet for the movie, so he's eating honey-flavored chia pudding with granola. This is frustratingly sexy for Eddie on multiple levels: that he'd gone to so much trouble for a meal he wasn't ever going to eat, that he knows what chia seeds are, that he keeps licking the back of his spoon right in front of Eddie's face like a handsome asshole, that he buys organic granola with pistachios in it. "There was this amazing food truck in LA that used to park by my manager's office building that made like, vegan dessert tamales. But I don't know how authentic they were; it was this white girl from Portland who owned it."
"Probably not authentic Mexican cuisine," Eddie agrees.
"Did you know they're like, over ten thousand years old? We're talking like, pre-history. Olmec warriors, before the Aztecs were around, even. They think they were designed to be portable food for soldiers."
Eddie sighs heavily. "I really regret encouraging you to be true to yourself sometimes," he says, and Richie grins at him with the spoon in his mouth, his teeth clicking against the metal. "Remember when you'd make fun of Mike and Bill for being nerds all the time? Let's go back to that."
"They are nerds," Richie says.
"Okay, sure, tell me some more about pre-historical food then, cool guy."
"Eddie, I'm a nerd in like, a cool way," Richie says patiently. "I'm in the movies. Did I mention?"
Eddie does his best to be unflappable and noble, and ignores him. "What kind of weird corn husk is this?" he asks, poking at it with his fork.
"That's a banana leaf, you dumbass," Richie says.
"Where the hell did you find banana leaves in Manhattan?"
"Jesus Christ," Richie says, with deep despair, and sets down his bowl. "That's it. I'm taking you to a farmer's market."
"What? No, I was joking," Eddie says desperately.
"Put your fucking shoes on," Richie says, and looms over Eddie until he does. This whole day is going off the rails very quickly; Eddie should have just eaten the fucking tamale and shut up about it.
Richie makes friends with the Lyft driver because of course he does, and somehow they end up in Chelsea, at a small farmer's market in a park that seems to be on the verge of winding down. They've been rolled in with the late-morning crowd, which seems mostly to consist of couples on morning afters, strolling hand in hand through the stalls, flirting and poking at displays of pre-mixed cookie dough and handmade bamboo billfolds. Eddie feels itchy and very, visibly gay; he feels like the entire world can see it just radiating off of him, the profound desire he has to suck Richie's dick. It's not a comfortable experience.
"Honey," Richie says, and Eddie scowls, tensing up on instinct, but Richie is standing by some literal honey, brandishing his arms at a small stall with an elaborate display of hive-shaped jars. "Have you ever had honeycomb? Like eaten it raw?"
Has he ever eaten it raw. Eddie can hear Bev's phantom laughter, in the back of his head. "No."
"I'm buying you some," Richie says. "Oh look, pomegranate!"
It goes without saying, somehow, that Eddie cannot take any of this home; by the time they make to the end of the market, Richie has purchased Eddie: two jars of honeycomb, a wild garlic plant, some organic kimchi, and a bag of heirloom apples he's apparently only supposed to use for desserts, all of which is going straight back to Richie's apartment because Eddie lives with Myra, who would surely take all of this brand new, exciting produce as more evidence of how much Eddie hates her.
Richie is subtle and tactful about this, which is also (to Eddie's dismay) kind of sexy. He doesn't mention it at all, simply orders a car back to his studio, and makes Eddie try one of the apples in the back seat. It is, obviously, really fucking good.
"I start filming tomorrow," Richie says, with a hunted sort of tone that betrays how nervous he is, "rehearsals have been going well though, I think we're in good shape. Hey, we should bake a pie! Bev and Ben are coming over to see my place tonight."
"I can make pie," Eddie says, proud to have this knowledge at least under his belt.
"That doesn't surprise me. You were always the best cook."
"I was the only one who knew how to use Bill's parents's oven, you mean."
"Same difference," Richie says. "What do you need for pie? Fuck, I should've bought some of that goat butter."
"We're not using goat butter in a pie," Eddie says, rolling his eyes. "Not everything has to be pretentious, you fuck. Let's just go to Duane Reade."
"Eddie, you think I'm pretentious?" Richie says. "That's so cute. You're literally wearing Belgian loafers."
"They were a gift," Eddie says.
"From who, Bernie Madoff?"
"Go fuck yourself," Eddie says mildly, crunching on another bite of apple. They're deep, dark purple in color - almost blue - and the flesh practically melts in Eddie's mouth. They're going to be amazing in pie. The woman selling them had urged him to try making cider. Richie looks at him out of the corner of his eye every time he takes a bite, as if gauging his reaction, or maybe Eddie's just chewing too loudly. "Did I tell you about the time a guy from my office got turned away from the Christmas party one year because he wasn't wearing a suit jacket?"
"Sounds like a slut," Richie says. "No jacket in January? Obviously he's a whore."
His name is Martin and he left his mean wife six months ago, and is now living in Long Island and keeps posting pictures of the ocean on Facebook. Eddie's felt a deeply spiritual connection to his happiness, especially since they don't know each other outside of breakroom talk and thus, Martin's second chance at life can be whatever Eddie thinks it is, conveniently. "Well, he works in sales. So yeah."
Richie hits the back of his head against the car window, laughing.
Eddie takes another bite of his apple, and then holds the last quarter of it out to Richie, who stops laughing abruptly and shoots Eddie a weird look before he takes it gingerly, holding it carefully with both hands. Eddie nudges him with an elbow and so Richie takes a careful bite, holding his free hand underneath his chin like a bowl, like he thinks the structural integrity is at such risk that it's going to crumble apart in his hands like a croissant. Eddie feels a certain kind of way about the image of Richie's teeth cutting into flesh, about the sound of the crunch when he pierces the skin with his incisors, about the muscle in his jaw that flexes and bulges as he chews. This is weird, probably. Eddie's been married too long; he doesn't remember what normal people find sexy and now he's getting hard about famer's markets and apples.
"Good," Richie says, after a strange beat of silence. He looks over, not quite meeting Eddie's eyes, and hands the apple back. "You should eat the rest, though. I'm not really an apple person."
"Should we make a different pie then?" Eddie says, resisting the urge to ask, why did you buy these for me if you weren't gonna help me eat them? "It's your dinner party."
"No! They're fancy apples, let's make a fancy pie. Ben seems like an apple pie guy. No subtext intended, there, by the way - I went with him to that steak and potatoes restaurant he likes so much in Chicago a few months ago, and he went nuts over this apple turnover dessert. I swear to God he was masturbating under the table."
"Richie," Eddie says, "gross. Ben doesn't masturbate."
"Oh, doesn't he?" Richie says, doing a British Voice. Eddie thinks it might be intended to be the teapot from Beauty and the Beast. "He's all smooth down there, like a Ken doll?"
"No, he's just too nice," Eddie says. "He probably has wet dreams about like, holding Bev's hand as they watch the sunset, or something."
Richie doubles over with laughter again. There was, thankfully, no attempt to befriend this Lyft driver, who is going to get an extra big tip for ignoring their conversation, probably.
"Eddie, you're the cattiest motherfucker I know," Richie says. "Can I steal that joke for a set?"
"If you pay me royalties."
"You can afford Belgian shoes, you don't need my dancing monkey royalties, come on."
"I'm about to get divorced, asshole," Eddie says, feeling lightheaded for actually saying it like that, so offhandedly and casual. Richie snaps his head around to look at him, then seems to realize this is weird, and quickly looks away again, all within the space of a very long second. "I'll take anything I can get."
Richie swallows twice before he replies, tapping his knuckles fastidiously against the door handle. "I'll go halfsies on your lawyer fees if you want," he finally says, "just to get you out of that fucking depressing condo."
"Shut up," Eddie says. "It was a recession."
"Uh huh," Richie says.
Eddie practices saying it frequently, over the next few weeks: at Richie's dinner party with Ben and Bev, on the phone to Mike, in an email thread with Bill about housing markets, to his coworkers, even. At home, Myra seems to almost sense this change - which somehow is a change, even though Eddie didn't think there was much of a decision left to make, but apparently there was. She starts locking her bedroom door at night, which is a weird choice. She stops cooking him breakfast (which Eddie hadn't really eaten, anyway). She starts taking long showers that run up the water bill and buys some heinously expensive waterproof radio so she can listen to Shania Twain albums on repeat while she's in there, meditating or whatever.
Eddie doesn't say anything about it. He's not a complete asshole, after all.
"Mike," Eddie says, one morning on the phone. Richie's been filming for two weeks now - late night call times, thirteen-hour days - and Eddie feels weirdly bereft with no one to pull him out of his office and take him on weird cultural field trips around the city. Mike, recently broken up with Audra's beautiful, high-maintenance friend, is at a similar crossroads; they've started having Skype breakfasts. "Can I ask you a weird question?"
"Absolutely," Mike says. He's eating raspberries straight out of the plastic box and sitting on a patio somewhere in LA. Eddie suspects it might be Bill's house, but Mike hasn't said anything yet, and Eddie hasn't asked. "I live for weird questions."
"Okay, it's just a weird life question, not a weird question about ghosts or monsters or what the fuck ever."
"Well, less interesting, but I'll still take it," Mike says. "Hit me, Eds."
"Do you think I'm," Eddie cringes, as he tries to get the word out, "loveable? Like - " he rushes to qualify it, make that less vulnerable. " - not in a, I'm not trying to be like, 'oh I'm a horrible person.' But relationships are hard, right? Do you think I'm like, ruined?" He cringes again.
"I wouldn't call that a weird question," Mike says carefully, chewing a raspberry slowly. "What do you expect me to say? Of course you're loveable, Eddie. I love you."
"That's really not what I mean," Eddie says, leaning his face against one hand. He's having almond butter on toast, in his office, before anyone else has arrived, which feels extra sad. He forgot the blueberries in his fridge, so his mouth is dry and all he has is water, not coffee, because the breakroom espresso is still on the fritz. Pretty sad, all around. "I meant like, in a romantic way."
"You think nobody's ever been in love with you?" Mike asks, with a bit more incredulity than Eddie feels is warranted for the situation. "Eddie, man. Come on. Are you kidding?"
"No," Eddie snaps. "I just - "
"Okay, okay, that was harsh," Mike interrupts, "sorry, it's just - " something catches his attention off-screen and he goes silent, jerking his eyes back to the video feed like he's trying to ignore it. "Never mind."
"No, what were you gonna say?"
"Nothing," Mike says, unconvincingly. "Just, I saw you were in the Post again last week. You and Richie and Bev this time. Apparently you're in something called a 'throuple.'"
Eddie covers his face with his hands and groans. "That's not at all what I wanted to talk about, man."
"Well, what do you want to talk about?" Mike asks, laughing incredulously, but not meanly. "Eddie. You're not going to get the answer you want from me. You're thinking, oh, I'm about to be divorced, I don't know what I'm doing with my life, and you want me to, what? Tell you that Myra ruined you? Of course she didn't, Eddie. Of course you're not ruined."
To his dismay, Eddie feels tears prick at the corners of his eyes, and quickly looks away. "I don't know what I want to hear, Mike. I just wanted to ask the question, I guess."
"Because you wanted to hear the bad answer?" Mike presses. "Or - would you even believe me, if I told you the good answer?"
Eddie shrugs helplessly. He doesn't fucking know.
"Ask me another question, Eddie. C'mon."
Eddie swipes some crumbs angrily off his desk. "Should I get a divorce?"
"Yes," Mike says firmly, "for fuck's sake. Please do that."
"Alright, alright," Eddie grumbles. "I get it."
"I should hope so," Mike says.
The issue, speaking generally, is expedited by Myra's next move, which surprises Eddie only because he was under the impression that she was still too afraid of the consequences of actually doing it. One night in August, having trudged through the day in sticky heat and cloying bad humor, Eddie returns home to find Myra sitting on the living room couch, waiting for him. His first, panicky instinct is to apologize, his second is to run. Because Eddie is an adult, he does neither of these things. He takes off his shoes and attempts to walk past her to the bathroom, hoping if he doesn't make eye contact, the situation will resolve itself.
This does not happen. "Eddie," Myra says, firmly enough that he stops walking on instinct, "will you please come in here? I'd like to talk."
"I'm tired," Eddie tries, but she shakes her head, her mouth pursed. "Myra, really, it's been a long day. I don't want to fight right now."
"All we do is fight," Myra says accusingly, as if this is his fault and not a feature baked into their marriage from the beginning, "you don't have to sound so defensive."
Eddie sighs, and takes off his suit jacket. Myra eyes him as he throws it over the back of one of the armchairs, her hands twitching like she wants very badly to snatch it up and hang it up properly. "What do you want to talk about?"
"I read your email," Myra says, without preamble. Eddie gapes at her, his stomach seizing up, and then sits down hard on the chair, his hands clutching the arms. "You were logged into Chrome on my computer. I was trying to open up mine but it loaded yours automatically. I didn't break in, Eddie, it just - came up."
Eddie wants to ask, which email? which would thus give away the existence of his alt email account, which would be bad. He clutches the chair harder and says nothing.
"This woman you're friends with, Beverly," Myra says, her chin wobbling a little, "I saw the photos she sent you of herself. Are you having an affair?"
Eddie wants to laugh. "What photos?"
"Are you actually going to try to lie?"
"No, I'm just - what photos?" Eddie does laugh then, knowing it will make Myra feel worse, but not being able to help it. "Bev never sent me any nudes, Myra, Jesus. What are you talking about?"
"They weren't naked pictures, Eddie, they were - " Myra's voice breaks, and Eddie sobers, coming down from the surreal headspace he's in, back down to Earth for the first time. "Photos of you, of you and her, when you were little."
Eddie wracks his brain; he and Bev haven't really talked via email in ages, since they meet up in person so often, and talk over text quite a lot too. "The ones of - from middle school? That's what you're upset about?"
"Don't act like I'm crazy!" Myra demands. "Don't sit there and tell me I'm upset about nothing!"
Eddie holds up his hands, soothing. "Okay. Sorry."
"You're in love with her," Myra says, sounding defeated. She's already crying, in a way that almost seems genuine, unlike the dramatic hysterics she usually spirals into when they fight. Eddie feels his stomach twist with real emotion for once, sharper and more painful than the dull misery he's felt around her for a long, long time. "She's beautiful and rich and of course, you're in love with her. You've known her since you were ten. Why didn't you tell me? When we met?"
Eddie wants to laugh again. "I'm not in love with Bev."
"Please. I read the message she sent."
Eddie honestly can't even remember what Bev had written; not that it matters. Bev is affectionate, overly so in writing, dropping pet names here and there like a Southern grandmother. They're all used to it, they all know it's just the way she talks, but Eddie can only imagine how it looked to Myra, who would've read into something as small as a heart emoji, or a too-affectionate salutation. She'd done all that before, with women Eddie worked with. This isn't the first time Eddie's come home to Myra on the couch, waiting to confront him about an affair that never happened. "Nothing's going on, Myra." It was no use trying to explain Ben. Myra wouldn't believe him, no matter what he said.
Myra doesn't say anything, she simply sits there and cries. It would almost have been easier if she'd snooped through his phone instead, seen the text threads about apartment hunting with Mike and Bill, the texts from his divorce lawyer, the conversation with his boss about transferring offices. Of course what Myra found had been the one convenient thing that enabled her to keep him in the same pattern they've been in for years: Myra finds a message from another woman, Myra accuses him of having an affair, Eddie sits there while she cries and feels like shit, wash, rinse and repeat.
It feels, suddenly, absurd. That they're going through the motions of a marriage that was never about love in the first place, and yet screaming at each other for a decade about its absence anyway. Do you even love me? Do you respect me? Eddie's exhausted. Eddie wants to live his life already, instead of planning it.
What does he owe her? Bill asks him that question a lot: Eddie, do you owe her that? Do you need to call her back right now? The complex question of obligation and how it relates to human relationships is a bit above Eddie's pay grade, but sitting there as an unwilling bit part in Act Who The Fuck Knows Anymore of Myra's little misery play, Eddie finds to his own surprise that he doesn't care. He'd thought, for a very long time, that it was his obligation to stay with her, to keep her safe against the vulgarities of the world. No, maybe he didn't love her passionately, crave her company. But what was marriage, anyway, but a promise to keep each other sheltered? Myra had always been a bit fragile. Temperamental in a tremulous way. Eddie realizes, for perhaps the very first time, that the responsibility is one he can put down whenever he wants to. Because you don't just fall into love with people - you choose them.
"Myra," he says, raising his voice to be heard, "Myra. Listen. Myra, I'm going to leave. Okay? I'm gonna go stay with a friend of mine tonight."
"What? Why?" Myra asks. She grimaces. "If you think you're going to go see her, right now, I don't even - "
"I'm gonna go stay with my friend Richie," Eddie says, and laughs incredulously at the sad, sad irony. "Myra, this is ridiculous. Can't you see it?"
"What are you saying?" She's stopped crying, her voice is small.
"I'm saying - what am I saying? Myra, what are either of us saying?" Eddie laughs again, rubbing his hand through his sweaty hair, not even noticing it beyond the initial discomfort. "I'm saying, are you happy? Do I make you laugh? When's the last time we laughed together, Marty? Was it before your mom died?"
"Don't talk about my mother," Myra says, in a brittle voice.
"Sorry. I won't, I'm sorry," Eddie says genuinely, meaning it. It's just - "but that's my point. You never talk to me about things, you just - you yell at me, and then we do this, and then we go to bed. What's the point? I don't want to live like this anymore. If you ever loved me at all, you wouldn't want this to continue either, for both our sakes."
"Are you leaving me?" Myra says, her voice rising in hysteria. "After all these years - I forgave you so many times, Eddie, and I never once - "
"Forgave me? For what?" Eddie spreads out his hands, like a poor supplicant offering up some sorry, stale bread at an altar. "I never cheated on you. Not once. Not with Michelle or Lisa, or with that friend of your cousin's - whatever her name was - and definitely not with Bev. And I know you don't believe me, but it's the truth."
"You're in the tabloids, Eddie! I see you on the front page of these gossip magazines almost every week, having lunch with her when you know I asked you not to!"
"She's my friend," Eddie says, yelling now. It feels too similar to arguments with his mother, the old defensive pride welling up inside of him whenever Sonia would cast her eyes to the side and sneer about that girl Beverly Marsh. Even at age thirteen, Eddie had known what was being implied. Everyone knew, and the only ones who saw how much it hurt Bev were the Losers, who couldn't do anything to change it. "I don't want to talk about her. You don't want me to bring your mother into this, fine, but don't bring Bev into it, then. She has nothing to do with it."
"Unbelievable," Myra spits, slamming the coffee table back with her knee as she stands, "I can't even look at you right now - "
"Then don't," Eddie calls at her back, as she slams her way into the kitchen. Sighing, Eddie listens as she starts to angrily cry again - loud, furious sobs that sound more frustrated than anything else. He's tired, is the thing. He's just so fucking tired.
If he walks away now, in the middle of the fight, he'll pay for it later. He's done that before - walked out. Myra sends threats to hurt herself if he doesn't come home right away, although she's never followed through when he ignores her. He supposes that's one thing he did wrong - ignored that, never pushed back on it, never cut through the drama to get her into some real therapy. If there was anything he ever owed to her, it was better care, not just as a husband but as a friend. Maybe things went off the rails so badly because Eddie always felt so absent and miserable; if he'd loved her a little more, been more invested in her mental health, maybe it could've been avoided. But maybe not. Eddie can't picture a universe where they didn't end up here, one way or another. Dragging each other over a dusty finish line, hating each other, miserable in cages of their own making.
"Myra," he calls again, waiting to see if she's going to come back in and yell some more. He can hear her ranting to herself in the kitchen, slamming doors and drawers loudly enough to rattle the vases on top of the cupboards. "Marty," he tries again, hearing it come out sadly. He liked her, once upon a time. What would he even say? I'm sorry you're in pain. I'm sorry I made it worse. I'm sorry I'm not what you need. I'm sorry you're not what I want. None of that would make it better. Maybe it's not ever going to be better.
So what are you waiting for, Eddie? Bev asked, the last time they talked about this. Your forty-fifth birthday? For Richie to meet the man of his dreams, move on without you? The sky to fall? You're not happy. She's not happy. What the fuck are still doing there?
A good question. Eddie can't answer it with anything that doesn't sound absurd, so he stands up, wipes his face, packs a bag, and walks out.
Eddie doesn't think of himself as gay, exclusively, although he does think of certain things he does as gay: Crossfit, matching tube socks, floral aftershave, farmer's markets. Maybe that's homophobic - what does he know. He's slept with women and enjoyed it, but the intense, stereo-sound sex dream he has about Richie, on his first night crashing on the futon in Richie's apartment after leaving Myra, feels pretty homosexual in nature. Eddie wakes up frantic that he's come in his sleep and gotten it all over the throw blanket Richie loaned him, and spends the rest of the night in a frenzied, fugue sort of state, too paranoid to sleep but too exhausted to just get up and make coffee.
"Well, Eds," Richie says, slapping down some whole-wheat crepes in front of him - made from scratch, because why not - "first day of the rest of your life. How do you feel?"
"Nauseous," Eddie says. "Is this apple pie? Did you put a slice of literal pie inside of my crepe?"
"Okay, I warmed it up, I'm not a monster," Richie says. "Just try it. That vanilla bean crust you made gets all mushy in the microwave, I figured it was sort of like a sauce, at this point."
Eddie tries it. It's predictably - ridiculously - delicious.
On Richie's schedule for the day: tickets to a kabuki performance in Midtown, which is apparently supposed to be a retelling of The Brothers Karamazov. "I know the director," Richie says. "I could get you a ticket if you wanted to tag along."
"They're not sold out? Wild," Eddie says dryly.
"I am detecting some sarcasm, and that's fine," Richie says, "but what better way to celebrate your impending divorce than Japanese dance-drama? I can't think of anything better suited."
"Can I ask you a question?" Eddie says. "Do you ever do anything normal? Like when you go to the movies, do you ever just say fuck it and get a ticket to a James Bond flick?"
"Dude, I love James Bond. What are you even talking about."
"If you're about to tell me you went to film school with Daniel Craig, I'd really rather you didn't."
"No. But I did have an audition with Cary Joji Fukunaga once."
"No idea who that is," Eddie says, waving his fork violently in the air, "please don't tell me."
"Well, he thought I was too tall for the part anyway," Richie says graciously.
So, they go see some kabuki. Eddie doesn't process much of it. Myra is probably texting him, but the first thing Eddie did was block her number, so that's one issue avoided, at least. But he has to step out of the theatre to take a call from his lawyer, and then his boss, in rapid succession, and after that they won't let him back in since he got scolded like three times by the usher for talking too loud.
Richie joins him, not even half an hour after Eddie had stepped out, joining him on the steps of the lobby. Eddie's been sitting there for ten minutes, his head in his hands, and the moment Richie flops down on the stairs next to him, his anxiety unrolls into a sort of eerie calm, like the feeling of electricity that sometimes falls upon you right before a storm.
"Bad idea, maybe," Richie says, pulling out a pack of cigarettes. Eddie doesn't say anything, rolling his eyes in response when Richie waves it at him, asking permission. "Shoulda saved the dance-drama for after you served her papers, at least."
"It just happened," Eddie says dully, staring at the ground. He can hear Richie inhaling as he lights his cigarette, the weird, paper-curling sound of flame meeting tobacco. It feels weirdly intimate. "This morning. My lawyer called to tell me. Myra freaked out and showed up at my office, so then I talked to my boss. They called the cops; she's not allowed within ten feet of the building."
"Jesus," Richie says, choking on smoke. "Isn't it Saturday? It is Saturday, right?"
"A bunch of us go in on weekends. Plenty of people were there." Eddie laughs without humor. "Not gonna live that one down for a while."
"God, that's depressing." Richie doesn't touch him, but Eddie wants him to. He looks over and sees Richie's hand twitch, his arm moving in a strange, aborted motion, like he was about to wrap it around Eddie's shoulders but then changed his mind. "Eds, I'm sorry. Really. I was trying to distract you, but it was a bad idea. Do you just wanna go home? We could watch TV or something, order in. Mope."
"Christ," Eddie says, his heart twisting at the concept. Does he wanna go home? "No. I don't know what I want."
Richie grimaces in sympathy. "Sure."
"I want to," Eddie grasps for something weird, something unique. Jump off a bridge? Too morbid. Get on a plane? Richie might take him seriously. "What's the last museum you went to? One that you really liked."
"Uh," Richie says, nonplussed, "I liked the Walt Whitman exhibit at the Morgan Library. Ben and I went to see that last weekend."
"Let's go there. Let's go see it."
"You don't like poetry," Richie accuses. He makes a face and kicks Eddie's knee. "I believe your exact words, when I tried to get you to read that Patricia Lockwood book, were: 'get a job at Hallmark and fuck off.'"
"Okay, well," Eddie says, floundering, "that's just my sense of humor."
Richie barks out a loud laugh that earns them a side-eye from a passing pedestrian.
"It's supposed to rain today I think," Eddie says. "Let's take a cab. Put your phone away. This is Manhattan, we're going to fight for a taxi and get annoyed about it the old-fashioned way, no fancy apps."
"Eds, are you sure?" Richie looks painfully earnest, his unbrushed hair swept weirdly to the side from the wind. Eddie's hand twitches; he wants to touch it. Brush it back from his face, settle his palms over the fringe above Richie's glasses and coax it into sitting straight. "We can do whatever you want. We're always doing stuff I like, it's frankly kind of shitty of me. I really just want to make you feel better, that's all."
"Is that why you drag me to these things?" Eddie asks, squinting at him. They're standing now, almost the same height since Richie is down a few steps further than Eddie is. The cigarette smoke makes Eddie think of Bev, of the Barrens, getting hotboxed in the clubhouse and complaining loudly about it, but not really mad enough to climb out of the hammock, either. "Because you want to make me feel better?"
Richie shrugs nervously, not meeting his eye. He holds his cigarette like an old Hollywood star, between his thumb and pointer finger, his wrist loose, leaning against the guardrail on the stairs in a long, lean angle. "I guess I wanted you to try out some things, Eddie. See what the world had to offer, you know." He shrugs again, definitely nervous. "I didn't mean anything by it."
"That's not why I asked," Eddie says, wondering if he'd sounded angry, and about the way Richie was gripping the guardrail, like he was about to flee. "Did I sound mad?"
"No. Just - you know."
"I don't know."
Richie laughs again. "Eds, come on. What are we even talking about?"
"I don't know," Eddie says again, perplexed. What was he even trying to get Richie to say? I was trying to woo you? He turns on his heel abruptly and starts walking towards the street, knowing Richie will follow. "Let's just - let's go see some poetry. C'mon. I want to."
"Have you ever read Song of Myself?" Richie asks, carrying the cigarette in his mouth as he bounces down after Eddie. "'I celebrate myself, and sing myself, and what I assume you shall assume, for every atom belonging to me as good as belongs to you - '"
"What the fuck, was that from memory?!" Eddie demands. "Fuck you. I hate you."
"No, I swear it's not about jerking off, Eds," Richie calls, jogging faster to catch up. "Trust me! I dated a literature professor once!"
Richie shows him the poetry in the taxi, while Eddie slowly goes bonkers, squirming in the seat and trying to subtly lean away from Richie's aftershave, which is altogether too much to handle when Richie is reciting lines like I believe you refuse to go back without feeling of me, we must have a turn together, I undress, hurry me out of sight of the land.
"'Cushion me soft, rock me in billowy drowse' - now that's a word that's not used enough in modern day, drowse - 'dash me with amorous wet, I can repay you.' Eds, do you get it? It's the ocean."
"Yeah, I get it," Eddie says miserably, leaning his forehead against the window. It's raining already. Eddie sort of wants to stick his head out and offer his skull up to be struck by lightning - it might help.
"You know he was gay, right," Richie says, pulling Eddie through the late Saturday boring tourist crowd, past displays of yellowed paper beneath thick glass. Eddie stops at each one, dutifully trying to decipher the aged handwriting, reading the little plaques, but Richie is distracting enough all on his own that Eddie has been losing track mid-sentence and following whatever wild train of thought Richie is onto, instead. As usual. "Or bisexual, or not-straight, or whatever the historically correct term is. He lived with a man for like, twenty years. Almost definitely had sex with Oscar Wilde once. Oh hey look! It's the gay part of the exhibit, see?"
Sure enough, they've reached a display with photos of Whitman arranged next to the same portrait of Oscar Wilde that Eddie remembers from his freshman seminar British literature class, leaning over in black and white, his chin cradled in a lazy hand. The block quote on the display reads: This empty dish, gallantry, will then be filled with something. This tepid wash, this diluted deferential love, as in songs, fictions, and so forth, is enough to make a man vomit [...] I say that the body of a man or woman, the main matter, is so far quite unexpressed in poems; but that the body is to be expressed, and sex is. Of bards for These States, if it come to a question, it is whether they shall celebrate in poems the eternal decency of the amativeness of Nature, the motherhood of all, or whether they shall be the bards of the fashionable delusion of the inherent nastiness of sex, and of the feeble and querulous modesty of deprivation.
"Rock out with your cock out," Richie murmurs, right in Eddie's ear. Eddie jumps, and scowls at Richie's snicker. "In not so many words."
"What the fuck does 'amativeness' mean?" Eddie asks.
"Horniness," Richie says blithely. At Eddie's look, "no, seriously. It means, you know. Sexual arousal."
"He's saying nature is sexy?"
"He's talking to Ralph Waldo Emerson," Richie says, leaning over Eddie's shoulder to point to a smaller paragraph on the display, "about the founding of American literature, basically. He was very aware that he was famous, and that people would talk about him after he was dead. He didn't want American letters to just imitate the conventions in Europe at the time, especially since he thought they were mostly a bunch of boring prudes. He wanted poets to talk about sex because it was part of human nature - and because he was always interested in breaking down boundaries. He called himself 'the poet of the woman the same as man.' The 'poet of the body and of the soul.'"
"Thought kinda highly of himself, huh," Eddie says, reaching up to tug at Richie's wrist to move them along, moving to the next glass case so an elderly couple behind them could inch up to read. "So he and Oscar Wilde?"
"Definitely fucked," Richie says, waving his hand at a long paragraph on the display. "You don't even need to read all that. They got down and dirty."
Eddie feels breathless as he pauses to read the stanza on the wall, painted directly on the plaster and lit up by a small spotlight:
Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch'd from,
The scene of these arm-pits aroma finer than prayer,
This head more than churches, bibles, and all the creeds.
If I worship one thing more than another it shall be the spread of my own body, or any part of it,
Translucent mould of me it shall be you!
Shaded ledges and rests it shall be you!
Firm masculine colter it shall be you!
"Head," Richie says meaningfully, knocking his knuckles against Eddie's shoulder. Eddie can feel his breath on the back of his crown, warm air that ruffles Eddie's hair. "Finer than prayer? He's talking about dick, Eddie."
"Just because you have a hard-on for some dead poet doesn't mean he's talking about sex organs," Eddie says, rolling his eyes, "in the, what, most famous poem of all time - "
"Why do you think it's famous?" Richie asks, laughing incredulously, merrily. "Eddie, Allen Ginsberg wrote 'Howl' as a direct homage to this poem. This stanza, specifically. It's not even the gayest part of it. 'Root of wash'd sweet-flag' - that was a plant that looked like a dick - 'nest of guarded duplicate eggs' - helloooo, balls! - 'mix'd tussled hay of head, beard, brawn, it shall be you!' Eddie, the guy was in love with his own cock. And other cocks. But mostly his own." Richie laughed at the slow-spreading blush on Eddie's face, reaching around to squeeze the apple of Eddie's cheek, like he used to do when they were kids. "Sorry, too vulgar? Too gay? I'll pull it back. Let's go look at this giant display of Frederico García Lorca's love letters to Dalí instead - "
"Shut up. Richie," Eddie says, pulling them out of the gently-moving line of museum-goers, into the darker center of the room, "don't say that. Don't say that like it's a joke."
"What?" Richie says, pretending not to understand. He's looking over Eddie's shoulder still, at the illuminated glass case with a two-hundred-year-old notebook inside.
Eddie pulls him down by his collar and presses their foreheads together, before he can change his mind. Richie inhales sharply and then freezes, his hands going tense on Eddie's arms. "Rich," Eddie says, low and heartfelt, trying to make his voice sound like Richie's, when he'd been reading the poem to Eddie in the car. My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing of blood and air through my lungs. "It's not a joke. None of this is a joke."
Richie inhales, and then exhales. The crowd around them moves slowly, almost like they're moving in half-time, dragged into slow motion by the significance of the moment.
"Eds," Richie says, sliding his hands up Eddie's arms to his face, pulling away enough to cradle Eddie's face in his hands carefully, thumbing the line of his cheekbones. Eddie keeps his eyes closed, afraid of what he'll feel if he looks at Richie's face. "I wasn't making fun of you."
"I know who you were making fun of," Eddie says, finally brave enough to look. Richie's staring at him, wide-eyed. "Don't do that around me, please. That's all."
Richie opens his mouth, and then closes it. He seems utterly lost for words, holding Eddie's face like he's about to go in for a kiss, but of course he isn't going to. It wouldn't happen here, like this, in public, where there might be phone cameras. Touching each other like this in public is risky enough; Eddie's heart is about to beat right out of his chest. He imagines it leaping through his breastbone and out of his shirt like the lovesick wolf cartoon.
"Come on," Eddie says, pulling Richie's hands down by his wrists. Richie ducks suddenly into the movement and presses his mouth against Eddie's forehead, kissing the side of his temple, and Eddie falters a little, his mouth going dry and his pulse spiking. "Let's - let's get some coffee or something. Shit. Is everyone looking at us?"
"Just the old people," Richie mumbles, his mouth warm, still pressed to Eddie's forehead. "They probably think we're drunk."
Eddie feels drunk. "I want an oat milk latte," he decides, out loud.
"Okay, now that's gay," Richie says.
If pressed, Eddie would probably say that Richie didn't go to college because he didn't think he needed it, but now Eddie thinks: thank God he didn't. All this nervous energy, the spiky intelligence that makes conversation with him feel like a rollercoaster - it would've been rolled over, flattened like a pancake by four years of traditional liberal education in the late 90s. Eddie himself did a year of an MBA at a community college before dropping out at the first half-decent job opportunity that floated his way. Neither Richie nor Eddie had ever been good at school people, but that was a very different thing from being smart.
"Who else was gay?" Eddie asks, on the subway. It's an empty car - they lucked out - but sitting next to Richie makes it feel like it's full, anyway. So much energy in one person - even after thirty-something years, Eddie's still amazed. "Poets, I mean. Or novelists too, I guess. Artists."
"Rimbaud and Verlaine," Richie says. He's got his feet up on the seats opposite, one arm sprawled across the back of Eddie's seat. He'd ordered a triple espresso with honey at the bougie museum coffee shop and showed Eddie how to drink it: water first, then skim the crema. Drink it slow, hold it on your tongue. Don't be afraid to slurp! "Shakespeare."
"What? No way."
"Way. Most critics have admitted it by now; there are some pretty obvious lines in his sonnets."
Eddie drinks his latte, still amazed. "The more you know."
Richie nudges his arm with his elbow. "Some people think Emily Dickinson was, but I think that's more conjecture than anything else. Unless there's something I don't know, anyway. Jack Kerouac? I might be making that up. I don't know much about the Beats. Aphra Behn, wrote one of the first novels ever published by a woman, and tons of lesbian poetry, too. Virginia Woolf - "
"Oh, I knew about her," Eddie says.
"And Willa Cather," Richie says. "Have you ever read O Pioneers?"
"Can't say that I have," Eddie says patiently.
"God, she was good. I'll loan you my copy, Eds. You'd like it - emotional isolation, farming, sexual repression. There's a few sexy scenes in it, but I'll censor them for you if you want. I'm great with a Sharpie."
"Thanks," Eddie replies dryly. "She was gay?"
"Yep. Lived with her 'editor,'" Richie makes air quotes, as if Eddie would fail to pick up on that subtext, "for like, forty years. Oh - T. S. Eliot, too. I always forget him, dunno why. I love The Waste Land. 'April is the cruellest month.'"
"That's from a poem?" Eddie asks, surprised. "I always thought it was like, from a movie or something."
"Everything's from a poem, Eds," Richie says, cavalier and loose-limbed in the seat. Eddie could feel the heat of his thigh through their jeans, pressed up together each time the car hit a rough bit of track. "John Milton was. Proust, too."
"They were poems?" Eddie asks, trying to joke, breathless.
"Gay," Richie says, laughing. Eddie shakes his head, sips his coffee with a shaky hand. "Or, at least - not straight."
That's what Eddie is, he thinks. Not gay, not straight. It would feel dishonest to claim a title that didn't really belong, not when he knows, deep down inside, that he could've found happiness with someone else, a woman healthier than Myra, who cared for him more genuinely. But the fact that it was possible somehow makes what he feels for Richie all that more precious: that it's a choice he's been making, over and over, every day now for a long time. Destiny doesn't exist, and Eddie believes that, but that's alright. The power is in Eddie's hands, their hands, every day. To look over and think, yes, you. You're the one I want. I'm going to build a home in you and stay there, for as long as you'll have me.
Now, if he could only say it. "Richie," Eddie says, and Richie looks over, wide-eyed and vulnerable. Eddie takes a deep breath, and then thrusts his latte in Richie's face. "Hold this," he demands.
Richie blinks. "Sure, pal," he says, saying it in a deep Brooklyn accent, for some reason. He gets a grip on the cup and holds it steady, resting it against his knee. "What else can I do for you?"
Lots of things, Eddie thinks, and then reaches over and pulls him close again by his collar (which is a very useful tool, Eddie has discovered), and kisses him. Richie makes a shocked noise, almost like a squeak, and Eddie pulls away briefly to remind him that he's holding Eddie's coffee.
"Jesus, Eddie," Richie says, incredulous, "then why'd you hand it to me?"
"Well, I was definitely gonna drop it," Eddie says darkly, and kisses him again. Richie squawks indignantly into it, and then settles, his free hand curling around Eddie's shoulder warmly, the length of his body curling and contracting with the movement of the car. Eddie likes: the stubble on Richie's chin, the way his lower lip feels between Eddie's teeth, the weird shake in his stomach, the sound of the car rattling so loud it drowns out the sound of their breathing.
"Eddie," Richie says as they pull away, sounding like he's quoting poetry again.
"I wanted to do that," Eddie says dumbly, "for such a long time."
Richie makes a miserable, happy sound. "Me too."
"I'm divorced now," Eddie blurts in the next second. "Well - separated. Impendingly divorced."
Richie's hand tightens on his shoulder. "Eddie, I know that. But I didn't want you to think - that's not why I've been doing this, taking you out so much - "
"Okay, but it is, right?" Eddie says hopefully, and Richie blanches. "Was I reading it wrong? Bev and I talked about it a lot."
Richie closes his mouth and laughs through his teeth, still nervous. "I wasn't like, waiting for you," he says, and then winces. "That sounded bad. It's not like, this is the only reason I wanted to spend time with you. Is what I meant. I just wanted to spend time with you." He grimaces even more deeply, pushing his glasses up the ridge of his nose to rub his eyes. "Shit, why can't I talk. I mean, I wanted to - to respect your marriage, your choice, I really did - "
"Oh, God," Eddie says, laughing now, "why?"
"Because I respect you! Fuck you, that's why. I fucking respect your autonomy, asshole, don't laugh at me."
"You're my favorite person in the whole world," Eddie says earnestly, and kisses him again. Richie makes another one of those overwhelmed, surprised noises, and melts into it, scraping his teeth across Eddie's bottom lip and opening his mouth for Eddie's desperate tongue, mumbling something incoherent as Eddie leans in closer and closer, pulling at the collar of his shirt, nudging his knee onto Richie's lap. Richie finally drops the coffee cup and it splatters against the floor - very politely far enough away from their feet to avoid collateral damage to Eddie's Belgians - and the cup rolls sadly down the car and hits the edge of the door, rolling messily under one of the seats as the car pulls into yet another station.
Eddie pulls away momentarily to watch the doors open and close, the bored New Yorkers waiting for trains on the platform, staring at phones or children or dogs wrapped up in backpacks. A few people file in, avoiding the coffee - and Richie and Eddie - with the practiced, blank ease of seasoned commuters. For the first time in years, Eddie feels endeared towards them: the sprawl of humanity. He's one of those annoying people now, he realizes. The weirdos who make out on the subway and drop their coffee cups and spill their shambolic emotions all over the floor.
"I told you you shouldn't have let me hold it," Richie says.
"Where were we going again?" Eddie asks. "We missed Lexington."
"We can change trains at Grand Central instead."
"Yeah Rich, we missed that too," Eddie says with a laugh. "I think that was Bleecker Street. We're gonna end up in Brooklyn."
"So? Who doesn't like Brooklyn. We'll visit Ben and Bev."
"It's almost five; I'm starving, and besides, Ben's in Europe or something."
"I thought it was Asia?"
"Who cares? Let's get off at Canal," Eddie says. "Find somewhere to eat. I'm going to need another latte, also."
"Well geez, Eddie," Richie says, sprawling his knees wide and grinning at a toddler on the other side of the car, staring at them from over her mom's shoulder and waving a stuffed pig in the air. "You could've asked me to dinner before all of that. Now I just feel disrespected."
"No you don't," Eddie says fondly.
Richie's movie premieres to limited audiences six months after filming is wrapped - "Does editing usually take longer - yes, Eddie, yes! Of course it does! But this is indie filmmaking, baby, we only get the studio for as long as we pay for it!" - to some very glowing, hip reviews; personally, Eddie thinks it's mostly dogshit aside from a funny sequence in the middle where Richie tries to order gelato at a black-and-white ice cream parlor and accidentally gets arrested by the black-and-white police for black-and-white indecent exposure.
"It's supposed to be sad," Richie says. "A metaphor for emotional isolation. You just don't get it."
Eddie nods exaggeratedly, turning to Bev. "We don't get it," he says sadly.
"Stupid Bev and Eddie," Bev says, pulling her mouth down into a frown with her fingers. "We only watch Borat movies. If it doesn't have fart jokes, we don't get it."
"You know what," Richie says, and steals the slice of quiche lorraine they'd been splitting. "I get the rest of this. It's my big day and you're both ruining it."
"Hey," Ben says weakly, not making a single move to rescue the quiche on Bev and Eddie's behalf. "It's Eddie's big day too."
"Oh yeah! Getting deposed day!" Bev toasts him with her coffee cup. "Myra's appeal to refile in Westchester county failed day!"
They all toast. Richie, as is his usual when the subject is brought up, simply wraps his ankle around Eddie's beneath the table and nobly doesn't make a joke. Eddie feels warm about it, inside and out.
"I feel mostly okay about it," Eddie announces. "Richie forgot what 'melatonin' meant and got me some weird vitamins instead, and I took like eight hundred of them, so I'll probably drop dead before I even get there, it's fine."
"We'll remember you fondly," Bev says, toasting him again.
"Just don't forget," Ben says kindly, "you have a solid case. Trust your lawyer. Don't let Myra catch you in the lobby, or in the lunch room. Don't talk to her at all without the lawyers there."
"Can't believe they're deposing you together," Bev says, shaking her head. "I would've fought that - "
"I owe it to her," Eddie says solemnly, because he does. He owes her that much at least, to look her in the eye, and to see what he's doing to her as he does it. "I was joking, guys, really. It's gonna be fine."
"Eddie's being very brave," Richie says, in his Yoda voice. "Eddie deserves his breakfast pie back." He slides the plate back over, a smile cracking. He clears his throat, trying to hide it. "Sorry. That was kind of weird."
"Yeah it was, you freak," Eddie says, over Bev's incredulous laughter. "Can't you just say 'I love and support you,' like a normal boyfriend?"
"I love and support you like a normal boyfriend," Richie says dutifully. Ben snorts, hiding his grin by turning suddenly to signal the waiter. "Since you're not coming to my movie premiere though, I don't know why I should have to - "
"Your movie premiere is literally you, the director, and the director's girlfriend having drinks at that poetry slam bar nobody can ever find."
"Eddie," Richie says, with deep feeling, "you're the only one who can't find it, and it's because you're fucking allergic to the East Village. It is literally one of the most famous bars in New York. It has its own literary magazine."
"Oh," Eddie says, rolling his eyes at Bev, "it has its own literary magazine."
"I love live entertainment," Bev says, off-hand to Ben. "It's like improv theatre, performed daily for our enjoyment."
"Funny," Richie says, waving his hand to indicate all of them, apparently, "very funny. Just for that, Eds, you have to come with me to see the Hollywood movie poster thing at the MoMA."
"Is it literally, just, what," Eddie demands, "movie posters? Literally just a bunch of movie posters? At a museum? Twenty-five bucks to see movie posters?"
"There's also a film series," Richie says, mostly for Bev and Ben's benefit, as he and Eddie have argued about this before, at length. "It's actually about marketing. You know, how Hollywood manipulates the public's understanding of sexual identity, morality, and gender."
"Oh!" Bev exclaims. "I heard that was good."
"Don't say it," Eddie says, pointing at Ben.
"Can we come?" Ben says, ignoring him entirely. "Aren't they screening a John Waters movie with it? My assistant was talking about it."
"Female Trouble," Richie says, nodding eagerly. "Only one night, though. I hope we didn't miss it."
"I gotta go," Eddie says, defeated. "I gotta go get divorced."
Bev cackles, and Richie grins, pulling him in quickly across the table for a kiss. "Knock 'em dead, babe. Call me later."
"It's not a baseball game," Eddie grumbles, but he can't help but smile foolishly as he slides out of the booth, reaching over Ben and Bev's heads to clasp Richie's hand as he walks by. Richie squeezes his palm once, then twice, a quick double-tap burst of affection, and then their fingers slide apart. Eddie flexes his hand over and over as he walks out of the coffee shop, feeling the warmth of Richie's hand long after it's gone, a phantom touch he wants to carry with him through the entire day.
As he hits the sidewalk, the door behind him opens again, and Bev jogs out quickly, her hair blowing back up in her face from the sudden burst of wind. "You left your jacket!" she says, carrying it over one arm. She comes to a stop in front of him on the sidewalk and insists on putting it on for him, fussing over him for a long minute, readjusting the lapels, tucking his scarf in properly. Eddie stands there patiently, a half-smile on his face, and wonders if she does this to Ben, too.
"Hey," she says, holding him still by his arms. Eddie feels a paranoid tickle on the back of his neck, and silently resigns himself to another round of TOZIER OUT, MARSH IN: WALL STREET ROMANCE BACK ON AGAIN? Richie, in one of his more sentimental moments, revealed that he'd kept the more poetic headlines featuring him and Eddie, most of which are now featured prominently in an artful collage shellacked together by Richie's "friend from art school" Mai, who does papier-mâché sculpture. And no, Richie never went to art school, either. "Just a quick check in. You're good? Look me in the eye when you answer."
Eddie does. "I'm good."
"Call me if you want. Or Richie, of course. You know we were just kidding in there; we're not gonna do anything but wait around to hear from you all day."
"All of you have so much money," Eddie complains, "go take Richie to see a bad movie. Make him do the tour at the Statue of Liberty, or something. Take him for ice cream in Times Square, wear him out so he's ready for his afternoon nap by the time I get back."
"Eds," Bev says fondly, shaking her head, "we're not gonna do that. We love you. We're gonna worry all day, and there's nothing you can do about it."
Eddie ducks his head, momentarily overwhelmed. He still forgets, sometimes, what that feels like. He says to Richie all the time that it shouldn't be a joke, scolds him for poking fun of himself, and then turns around and does the same thing. It's a never ending slipslide of self-deprecation.
"Are you happy?" Bev asks seriously. "Look me in the eye again."
"I'm happy," Eddie says, feeling like he's realizing it all over again, each time he says it. "You were right. I'm happy now."
"Good," Bev says, and shakes his jacket one last time. "Then stay that way. Go finish it, Eds."
"Okay," Eddie says, hoping some of her determination and surety will settle in through her hands on Eddie's arms, worm its way into his heart and make him brave. But wasn't that what Stan was always telling them? Brave isn't something you feel, it's something you do. Numbnuts. "Hey Bev."
"Hey what?" Bev says.
"Don't let him got to the MoMA without me," Eddie says.
Bev smiles warmly, and pats Eddie's cheek. "I knew you dug it."
"Don't tell him," Eddie says. "Seriously, I'll kill you."
"Yeah, pretty sure the boat's sailed on that one, shortstack," Bev says. "But I'll let him know you said that. Maybe he'll do something romantic to thank you."
"God," Eddie says, disparagingly. The last time Richie tried to be romantic, he took Eddie to the opera and blew him in the coat room. They got kicked out, and now they're persona non grata at the Bronx Opera Company. "I hope not."
"You're a bad liar," Bev says, grinning out of the side of his mouth.
"Yeah, I know," Eddie says, resigned.