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“You’re late,” Stan says as Richie enters the back office of The Falcon Punch, Derry’s first and only combination bar and arcade. Richie prefers barcade; Stan thinks portmanteaus are a bit silly.

“Oh no,” Richie says, “Please don’t tell the boss man!” He pauses. “Oh wait. I’m the boss man.”

Stan rolls his eyes. “When are you going to give that up?” 

“So never?”

“Yup!” They make their way out front, Richie surveying the front of house, the bar, and the kitchen as they go. “Whoever closed last night could’ve done a better job.”

“Again, that was you, Richie,” Stan says.

“Damn. Do you think we should fire me?”

He thinks about it. “Well, if we did, we could probably pay the rest of us better.”

“Hmm. I’ll consider it,” Richie says, beginning to tidy up what he’d left undone the night before. “How are our numbers, Stan the Man?”

“Pretty good, but it kind of looks like you put all your tips in the till again, Richie. We talked about this.”

Richie shakes his head. “I don’t wanna hear it. I’d rather put it back toward the business if it’s not going to anyone else – I’ve got my eye on a new cabinet my friend dug up online.”

“I get it, but you also need to be able to do things like eat and pay rent. Seriously, what does your savings account look like?”

Richie doesn’t hear him, having wandered off. He didn’t get a chance to look at his phone before he left his apartment, and he’s got some notifications to check – some Facebook reviews of The Falcon Punch, some emails – but mostly what he’s looking for is Reddit DMs. 

Yankeesfan89: I get so sick of living in New England in the fall. All the tourists swarming the place just to look at differently-colored leaves, the pumpkin-spice traffic of it all. Good morning, by the way. 

Richie smiles to himself as he types. 

Dickjokeswasmyfather: good morning – good to learn you’re not a leaf-peeper, although i guess that’s not surprising. hey is it just me or has that term always sounded kind of pervy, you know? like we’re creeping on the trees in the middle of changing clothes or some shit. who the fuck decided to call it that? 

Dickjokeswasmyfather: i also kind of dislike fall but it’s mostly because it reminds me of school starting back up, which makes my stomach hurt. so does pumpkin spice tbh, i’m a basic bitch as they say but I always forget starbucks’ PSLs have dairy in them. whoops. anyway i always hated school, I was always getting my ass absolutely kicked by kids older than me. 

Richie carries on with his morning opening tasks, pausing to check DMs out of sight of Stan. He doesn’t feel like explaining himself today. 

Yankeesfan89: Why am I always hearing about your stomach issues? Of course the pumpkin bullshit has dairy in it and OF COURSE you drink it anyway. Jesus Christ. If I had your address I’d send you Lactaid in bulk, but I have a feeling you’d forget to take it. You’re such a pain in the ass.

Yankeesfan89: Can’t say I’m surprised you got your ass kicked in school considering your love of riling people up. I’m sure you were a pleasure to have in class. I was bullied too, though, if we’re sharing childhood trauma. I was a tiny kid, asthmatic – built to be slammed into lockers, you know how it goes.

Yankeesfan89: Also, Google says “leaf peeping” probably originated as a phrase in Vermont in the 1900s. The more you know. 

--

“Knock knock!” 

Eddie looks up from his phone in his office in Bangor’s corporate Player One offices to see his coworker Myra at the door. She always does this, which drives him insane. Just knock on it normally, he thinks, instead of literally saying knock! He resists the urge to roll his eyes.

“What, Myra? What do you need?” He bites his tongue. He really needs to work on his tone, he knows this, but she’s his least favorite coworker and it brings out the worst in him. 

She takes this as an invitation to enter his space.

“I just heard they’re sending you out to Derry to oversee the opening of the new location – congratulations, Eddie!”

“Thanks,” he says curtly. Opening new locations is literally part of his job, so it merits no congratulations.

“I just wanted to stop by and see if you needed anything. I know you’ll be in and out of town for a while, do you need someone to water your plants or check on your house while you’re gone? It’s just not safe to let your place sit empty,” she says.

Eddie hates when she pulls this shit. She does it every time – he doesn’t know what she sees in him in terms of neediness or an opening for romance or what, but he’s made it abundantly clear he’s not interested. Or as clear as he can without getting called up by HR for making Myra cry.

“I appreciate it, Myra, but like I said last time, I'm fine.”

“Alright,” Myra says, clearly disappointed. He wonders what she sees in him, what about him makes her want to get involved in his business so badly. “I only wanted to check just in case.” 

“Well, I'm covered,” he says. “Do you need anything else?” 

“No…” she says. Unable to come up with any more excuses, she lingers in his doorway. 

“Okay, well—I have some more prep work to do, so please close the door on your way out,” Eddie says with as much patience and grace as he can muster, which isn’t a lot. 

She gives him a little wave as she closes the door behind her. Eddie’s glad to be left alone again. 

--

Yankeesfan89: Have you ever had someone you don’t like want to be part of your life so badly that it just annoys the shit out of you? Like, they’re technically not  doing anything wrong, but every time you see them you just get irritated that they’re breathing near you and wish they’d just fuck off? Or am I just an asshole? 

Dickjokeswasmyfather: jesus, yankee, if you want me to shut up you can just say so lol

Yankeesfan89: Oh my god no sorry, Jesus, I definitely didn’t mean you. You’re…I mean, you’re probably one of my closest friends at this point, Dick. Is that pathetic? If it’s pathetic just pretend I didn’t say that. There’s just this woman at my work who’s like, obsessed with me and always wants to be helpful or find some excuse to be near me and it makes me feel insane. I think she’s trying to hit on me or something but I don’t even like women, let alone workplace romance. Why the hell is she so stuck on me?

Dickjokeswasmyfather: well with a charming attitude like that….no i’m kidding there’s nothing more awkward than someone having like a crush on you when you’d literally rather them leave you alone. not that it’s really ever happened to me lol i’ve probably been more on the other end. but that’s been ages, i’m basically married to my job now.

Dickjokeswasmyfather: and don’t worry, it’s not pathetic. or if it is pathetic we’re both pathetic. does that help?

--

It’s still kid-friendly hours at The Falcon Punch, so instead of tending bar, Richie’s wandering the arcade cabinets making sure the teens are taking turns and being at least marginally polite to each other. He tries not to interfere much unless it’s needed. It’s funny, he thinks, how much he wishes someone had paid any attention to what went on around the arcade when he was their age. Then again, who knows if that would’ve helped? He probably would’ve resented it anyway. 

Luckily, the kids who come into the barcade during its dry daylight hours at relatively well-behaved, too busy living their 80s aesthetic dreams (thanks, Stranger Things, for the boost in traffic) to start shit with each other.

Regardless, Richie’s in a good mood, humming to himself as he supervises.

Ben, who works the front of house, catches him. “‘I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight’? You’re in a good mood.”

“Hm? Oh, I guess so,” Richie says. “Huh.”

“What’s up?” Ben asks. “You’re never this chipper.”

“I don’t know,” Richie says. “I guess – okay. You have to promise not to make fun of me.”

“Never,” Ben says. “I – sorry, to clarify, I mean I’d never make fun of you. Probably.”

“I got you, Benny Boy,” Richie says, leaning against the counter. “Okay – so have you ever, like, met somebody online?”

“Oh my god,” Ben says, leaning back toward him to whisper conspiratorially. “Are you trying the apps again?”

“Ugh, god no,” Richie says. “Not that shit, I hate answering personal questions and trying to figure out who’s worth messaging. Nobody’s ever found love on Grindr anyway, dude.”

“It could happen! So where have you found love then?” Ben asks excitedly. 

Stan catches them as he walks by. “What are you two gossiping about? Did you catch Don and Adrian making out behind the TMNT cabinet again? I’ll talk to Adrian.”

“No, Richie’s in love,” Ben says dreamily. Richie forgot he’s like that, a slut for any whiff of romance.

“NO! Nobody said anything about me being in love, Benjamin, I just – I’ve been talking to someone,” he tells Stan. 

“Really,” Stan says, raising an eyebrow. “Who is he? Where’d you meet him?”

“I met him on Reddit talking about old cabinets,” Richie admits. “I don’t...know his name.”

Ben and Stan both groan. “Richie!”

“What!” He says defensively. “He’s a real person, he’s just really private so we don’t know many personal details about each other, not even real names...I call him Yankee, from his username.”

“Yankee,” Stan repeats. “And he calls you…?”

“Dick,” Richie says.

“Of course,” Stan says. “Is he even gay, Richie? Let alone single?”

“Yes!” Richie says triumphantly. “He was just complaining about a female coworker hitting on him and said he’s not into women, so!”

“No wonder you were humming ‘I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight,’” Ben says. 

“Oh god, not that,” Stan says. “You’ve got it bad, man.”

“I’ve got it a normal amount! Can’t you just be supportive?” Richie whines.

Stan sighs. “I’m just trying to be realistic. Do you even know where this guy lives?”

“New England!”

“So he could be anywhere in a group of multiple states. Not ideal, but not, like, Nevada-far, I guess,” Stan says. 

“I think it’s kind of romantic to talk online,” Ben says. “Writing back and forth like long-distance lovers.”

“You think Reddit DMs are romantic?” Stan says. “With a guy I’m betting Richie’s never seen a photo of?”

“Sure,” Ben says. “Getting to know him heart-first.”

“Oh my god,” Richie says, pretending to gag. “You make it sound so gay. I’m homophobic now, actually.”

“Richie,” Ben protests.

“Well, there goes your grand romance, then,” Stan deadpans. “Hey, if you’re straight now, I hear Adrian’s mom is single.”

“My mom’s what?” Adrian says as he walks in for work early. 

“Nothing!” Ben says, blushing as Stan and Richie laugh. 

--

Dickjokeswasmyfather: do you ever feel jealous of the kids these days? like the gay ones, i mean. i spent my whole adolesence trying as hard as possible to hide i was gay by telling “your mom” jokes and hitting on milfs or whatever and other kids still made my life a living hell. like they could smell it on me. now i see kids around with trans and gay flag buttons on their backpacks or like pink hair or piercings or whatever and no one gives them shit. one of the younger guys i work with is always talking about his boyfriend... it’s sweet, but i just can’t imagine being like that at his age. 

Yankeesfan89: No, I get what you mean. Kids are so brave now, I can’t imagine. I mean, I was too afraid of my mom to do anything she wouldn’t approve of, and being gay was like – the ultimate sin for her. Not, like, literal sin, she wasn’t like that, it was just. Never mind, it’s complicated. Honestly, I’m even a little jealous of you for knowing so young. It took me a long time to figure myself out and even longer to be okay with it. These kids seem to have it all figured out so fast. Good for them, I guess.

Yankeesfan89: Fuck, sorry, that felt too real. Didn’t mean to be a bummer. Anyway, can you fucking believe what they’re asking for this cabinet on Craigslist? Do they even know what they’ve got?? [LINK]

--

Normally when he’s assigned to open new locations, if they’re far enough away, Eddie stays in a hotel on the company’s dime for a while – easier than going back and forth for ages, and probably less liability for Player One, too. But Bangor’s not too far away from Derry, so he plans to commute most of the time, even if it’s a longer drive than usual. 

Some nights, though, he’ll get off too late to want to drive all the way home – Player Ones are usually open till 2 a.m. on the weekends – and for those nights, he’ll be staying with Bill, his friend from college, and his partner, Mike. He called Bill when he found out he’d be working at the Derry location, and he was kind enough to offer a guest bedroom. 

When Eddie arrives in Derry his first day, he heads straight to Bill’s to unpack a small amount of necessities in case of emergency overnight stays. 

“Where to first, once you get settled in?” Bill asks as he watches Eddie unpack an extra set of toiletries, a few spare shirts and sets of slacks. He’ll be working out of Derry for a while – like hell he’ll get caught living half-wrinkled out of a suitcase the whole time. 

“Don’t know yet – anything worth checking out?”

“Nope!” Bill says cheerfully. “But you already knew that.”

“Ah, yeah,” Eddie says. “Small fucking towns. Anything new show up since I last came through, at least?”

“Actually, yeah,” Bill says excitedly. “Somebody bought the old arcade and added a bar, it’s all vintage cabinets, it’s pretty cool.”

“Damn, that does sound cool,” Eddie says. 

“Too bad you're specifically opening a business that’ll kill it,” Bill says. 

“I’m not trying to kill a small business, Bill, Jesus!” Eddie protests. “You make me sound like a villain.”

“Well…” Bill says. “I mean, how many small-town arcades has Player One run into the ground on your watch?”

Eddie hesitates. “A few, but fuck, it’s not like I’m doing it on purpose!”

“You kind of are, if you think about it. Like, if you’re doing your job right, everyone’s going to the shiny new Player One to play the fancy new games and all the tiny little mom-and-pop arcades and laser tags and whatever else will fall by the wayside and grow dusty, forgotten...skeletons of the joy they once gave…” Bill trails off dramatically, giving way to his writer tendencies. 

“You done?” Eddie asks, unimpressed.

“I’m just saying, I’ve seen it happen.”

“You’ve seen me run – what was it, mom-and-pop laser tag establishments out of business?”

“Basically,” Bill says. 

“What the fuck do you think I do for a living, Bill? Kill dreams?”

Bill shrugs. “I think it’ll be a little harder this time, though.”

Eddie pauses hanging up his shirts. “What? Why?”

“Well, Derry’s a little different than the other places you’ve opened Player Ones in.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, we’ve got that small-town suspicion of shiny new things, man. For all their faults, the people of Derry prefer to preserve the quaint, old-school vibe. That’s why The Falcon Punch does so well, it’s vintage, authentic, low tech.”

“The what?”

“The Falcon Punch, it’s the barcade I was telling you about. I’m saying, we ran a Subway franchise out of town after they tried installing one on the downtown square.” 

“Shit,” Eddie says. “Really?”

“Yep,” Bill says, a little proudly. Eddie doesn’t quite appreciate it, given the context of whether or not he’ll be able to do his damn job. 

“Not that I want you to fail,” Bill clarifies. “But I think your work might be cut out for you this time.”

“Damn,” Eddie says. “Well, at least I like a challenge. Give me time, I’ll win them over. Maybe I’ll even let this little barcade live while I’m at it.”

--

Yankeesfan89: Do you ever fuck around with newer arcade cabinets, like the techier ones, or do you stick to the ones from our childhood?

Dickjokeswasmyfather: i mean i mostly stick to 80s/90s machines but if i catch a newer cabinet out somewhere i’m not necessarily gonna turn it down, you know? plus me and my buddy Ben can absolutely throw down on dance dance revolution...mostly Ben but you should see that guy dance across both pads, it’s insane

Yankeesfan89: Oh god, rhythm games. You ever see the kids lined up for those? The kind of weirdos I’d probably have hung out with as a kid.

Dickjokeswasmyfather: damn are you sure you weren’t an asshole growing up? if you beat the shit out of me as a kid you gotta tell me or else it’s entrapment 

Yankeesfan89: I told you, man, I was tiny! I was getting thrown into trash cans constantly. One time I broke my arm and a girl wrote LOSER on the cast in huge letters, it was humiliating. 

Dickjokeswasmyfather: haha holy shit that’s rough dude how do you recover from that

Yankeesfan89: You have to swear not to laugh.

Dickjokeswasmyfather: i make no such promise. tell me

Yankeesfan89: I added a giant V over the S so it said LOVER. I was 14 and had never so much as been on a date.

Dickjokeswasmyfather: hahaha oh my god dude that’s adorable. i’m picturing like doogie howser but smaller and less smirky, walking around for what, six weeks? with LOVER on his arm in huge letters lol no wonder we get along, we were both fucking losers 

Yankeesfan89: Fuck you, dude! I was doing the best I could with what I had! Like you could’ve come up with anything better.

Dickjokeswasmyfather: oh i already know what i would’ve done

Yankeesfan89: What, genius?

Dickjokeswasmyfather: drawn dicks. Loads and loads of dicks.

Yankeesfan89: Oh my god, I can’t fucking stand you.

--

“You see that coming-soon sign on your way in today?” Richie asks Stan later that week, when it’s just the two of them in the back office.

“Yes,” Stan says. “Player One.”

“Big old shiny fancy gaming complex, with all the laser tag and crane games anyone could want,” Richie says. “And a bar.” 

“And a bar,” Stan echoes. “And bowling, and other things we can’t provide.”

“Fuck it,” Richie says. “People have never complained about our lack of a bowling alley before, and you know how people hate new shit around here anyway.”

“That’s true,” Stan says. “We did get lucky using the same building as the old arcade.”

“Exactly,” Richie says. “I’m not too worried. People love us.”

“Still,” Stan says, “Good will only goes so far. I think we should keep an eye on this Player One place, just in case.”

“Got it. We’ll be fine, though, don’t you think? People crave the old-school vibes.”

“Fingers crossed,” Stan says. 

--

Yankeesfan89: Oh hey, did I tell you my birthday is coming up?

Dickjokeswasmyfather: oh shit, and i didn’t get you anything! what do you want for your birthday, yankee? i could pop out of a cake if i knew where you lived

Yankeesfan89: ha ha Dick. Thanks. I don’t know what I want for my birthday, really, I just can’t believe I’m this old. And I still don’t feel like I have any idea what I’m doing. Is that stupid? It feels ridiculous to say, but I still don’t feel like an adult.

Dickjokeswasmyfather: If it makes you feel any better i definitely don’t know what i’m doing. my “real adult job” is barely real OR grown up. i still feel about seventeen. what do you do, if you don’t mind me asking

Dickjokeswasmyfather: wait you don’t have to tell me lol you can like obviously lie or whatever

Yankeesfan89: I’m a regional manager. Exciting, right? Definitely a job for boring adults, maybe mildly evil? I don’t know. I don’t even know if I want to do it anymore.

Dickjokeswasmyfather: well it’s never too late to change your mind. you could go from CEO of kicking puppies to kindergarten art teacher, if you really wanted

Yankeesfan89: Okay, I know we try to keep things relatively anonymous but it’s suddenly very important to me that you know I don’t kick puppies. 

Dickjokeswasmyfather: sure thing cruella lmao

--

Eddie takes a wipe out of the pack of antibacterial wipes he keeps in his pocket and wipes down the buttons and joystick on the cabinet before squaring up with Bill.

Bill and Mike wanted to take him out for his birthday, and since there’s not a whole hell of a lot to do in Derry, they ended up at The Falcon Punch. Eddie tries not to make a habit out of patronizing establishments in competition with Player One unless he’s in business mode, scoping them out, but he’s trying to turn his work brain off for once. He wants to just enjoy the place. It is his birthday, after all, and it’s nice in a nostalgic sort of way to spend it playing the games of his youth. Plus, he just kicked Bill’s ass at PacMan Battle Royale.

“Fuck yeah!” he says. 

“Okay, sore winner,” Bill says. 

“It’s my birthday!” Eddie insists. “Nobody can tell me shit today.” 

He and Bill laugh. “Mike, you up next?”

“No thanks,” Mike says. “I’m gonna go get another drink. You want anything, babe?”

“I’ll go with you,” Bill says, and he and Mike head to the bar hand-in-hand. Eddie’s a bit jealous. Not of either of them specifically, but of their having found their person already and settled down. It’s been a long time since Eddie even dated, and he’s lonely, he realizes. He’s 35, and he has friends, sure, a career, but he misses romance, envies those who already know their partner, who don’t have to be alone, who have someone to say good morning and good night to.

Here he is, spending his birthday single and at a barcade. If it weren’t for work sending him out to Derry, he wouldn’t even have Bill and Mike around to celebrate with – he’d probably be sitting alone at home, tooling around Reddit and trying to entertain himself. Maybe talking to Dick, at least. 

As it is, he’s standing at the Super Street Fighter II Turbo cabinet, wishing he had someone to play against. 

He starts to select a one-player game against the computer when he hears a voice behind him.

“You looking for a Player 2?”

Eddie turns around to see a tall man with glasses wearing a patterned buttondown open over a staff shirt. He’s not bad-looking, if a little scruffy – he’s got one Superman curl falling over his forehead and a certain sort of nerdy charm. 

“Are you allowed to play against patrons, or will your boss get mad? I’d hate to get you in trouble, dude.”

The man laughs with his whole body. “I don't think the boss will have a problem with it.” 

“Alright then,” Eddie says. “If you’re sure.” 

He makes space for the guy at the cabinet next to him, a bit of a squeeze. He hadn’t realized just how broad the man was, but they’re shoulder-to-shoulder. He can feel it as the stranger scrolls through the selection screen.

“Take your pick,” the man says. He scrolls through the characters, selects M Bison. 

“For you, the day Bison graced your village was the most important day in your life,” the man says, in a remarkably good Raul Julia impression. “But for me? It was Tuesday.”

Eddie laughs. “God, I haven’t thought about that movie in years.”

“Don’t worry, it’s still bad, but I love it,” the guy says. “Come on, pick your fighter already.” 

“Okay, okay,” Eddie says, selecting Cammy. He’d always liked her dramatic backstory, and her kicks.

“Alright,” the guy says, “Ready to get your ass kicked?”

“I don’t know, are you?” Eddie says.

The game starts. Eddie’s rusty from lack of practice, but he remembers enough from muscle memory to get a few combos in. Unfortunately, it’s not enough. The guy wins all three rounds and absolutely whips his ass. 

“Yes!” He says loudly, triumphantly. “Hell yeah.” He turns to Eddie with his hand outstretched. “Here, I’ll try not to be too much of an asshole. Good game. Shake on it?”

Eddie takes his hand. It’s a little sweaty, but he figures his must be, too. 

“Eddie Kaspbrak,” he tells the guy. “Nice to meet you – less nice to lose to you, but I’ll admit I’m out of practice.”

He laughs. “Richie Tozier,” he says. “And to be honest, it’s a little unfair of me to go up against you, since I get as much practice as I want.” He gives a winning smile. “I own this place.”

Eddie immediately feels he’s made a mistake.

“Oh, there you are,” Bill says, coming up behind them. “I was wondering where you’d gone!” He pauses to take in the scene, notices Richie. “Ah, checking out the competition, huh?”

“Hm?” Richie says. “Competition?”

“Bill,” Eddie mutters through gritted teeth. “Don’t – “

“Oh,” Bill continues obliviously, a few beers in. “Eddie here’s helping open that new Player One in town. He’s the best at it, they send him to open all the new locations in the region.” 

Eddie sighs. He chances a glance at Richie, who’s gone stiff. His warm, jokey demeanor seems to have gone cold.

“Is that right,” he says. 

“Uh – well, yes,” Eddie says. “But I don’t, I don’t really see The Falcon Punch as competition, you – “ He tries to keep explaining, but Richie cuts him off.

“Huh!” Richie says. “Well, that’s great. I do. We’ve got a great stock of cabinets for old-school gamers, and people like us a lot. I’m proud of my place, even if you think it’s too small and too old for you, Mr. Kaspbrak.”

“That’s not – that’s not what I meant!” He protests. 

“No, I can pretty much guess what you meant. Look, you can do your little corporate espionage thing tonight all you want, I’m not going to kick you out. But I wouldn’t be so confident that you’re such a big competition for us – people might find shiny new toys exciting for a while, but they’ll return to their old favorites eventually.”

“I’m not – “ 

“Goodnight,” Richie says and disappears. 

“Shit,” Eddie says. 

“Sorry, Eddie,” Bill says. “I didn’t realize you’d hit it off.”

“Maybe we should head out?” Mike suggests.

“No,” Eddie says, “No, I want to find him and clarify, I mean, apologize.” He scans the crowd for Richie, who should be easy enough to find given his height, but he doesn’t see him anywhere.

“I think it’s best if you let it lie,” Mike says. “Come on, let’s close out our tabs and go home.”

Eddie burns with embarrassment, but follows Mike back over to the bar. He hates being misunderstood, hates that he’s hurt this virtual stranger’s feelings, or at least come off poorly. He might be imagining it, but he suspects the bartender glowers at him while running his card. He makes sure to tip extremely well, and then they’re gone. 

--

Yankeesfan89: Do you ever accidentally make an ass of yourself in public?

Dickjokeswasmyfather: dude i’ll make an ass of myself anytime anyplace. often on purpose lol

Yankeesfan89: No, I mean like in a real way. I was out for my birthday the other night and hitting it off with someone I’d just met when I fully made myself look like a fucking dick. Maybe that’s the real me, though. What if I’m an asshole, and the moments when I’m being nice are me just faking it? Fuck! Dick, am I an asshole? You’d tell me if I was the worst person alive, right?

Dickjokeswasmyfather: whoa, whoa, slow your roll there, yankee. i don’t think you’re an asshole. sure, you can be a dick sometimes, and you’re kind of cranky, but it’s in a fun and charming way, it’s not like you choose to be actively cruel. hell, you probably didn’t mean to be an asshole to whoever on your birthday either, i bet it just slipped out. happens to the best of us

Yankeesfan89: But what if it happens to me too often? If I can’t control my temper or my tone, am I just inherently the worst possible version of myself all the time? At what point do I just give up on the idea of being a good person and lean fully into being a jackass?

Dickjokeswasmyfather: okay so i’m gonna need you to take several deep breaths

Dickjokeswasmyfather: are you doing it

Yankeesfan89: Don’t tell me what to do.

Yankeesfan89: But yes.

Dickjokes: ok. look i know i don’t know you as well as people who like know your real name or whatever and it’s hard to read tone over text too tbh. but i don’t think you’re a bad person. i mean the fact that you’re freaking out about this means you feel guilty about it which i think is a sign that you’re a normal guy who just makes mistakes sometimes. you’re better than you think, yankee

Yankeesfan89: Are you sure? What if I’m somehow tricking you into believing I can be kind and friendly?

Dickjokeswasmyfather: well you're doing a damn fine job pretending then. seriously i think you’re doing okay. honestly i could probably stand to take a page from your book, stand up for myself more. wanna lend me some of your asshole energy?

Dickjokeswasmyfather: wait

Yankeesfan89: Oh my god. 

Yankeesfan89: Well, I was going to ask if you think we should meet, but now I’m not so sure.

Yankeesfan89: ...That was a joke, Dick. Do you want to try to meet up?

--

Eddie looks down at his phone as he stands in the middle of the arcade floor at Player One, surrounded by blinking lights and the sounds of people having fun. 

It’s opening night, and things are going perfectly – the bar, kitchen and prize center are well-stocked, he’s got a full staff, and there are a wide variety of people of all ages enjoying the games, bowling, and laser tag. By all reports, he should be well pleased.

And he is, he’s glad that things are working out, he’s just. He hasn’t heard from Dick in a minute, and he’s nervous. Should he not have suggested meeting up? Was that too far, too forward?

He wonders whether he’s too invested in this whole online thing. After all, they’re just...anonymous friends, right? That can’t amount to much, not in the real world. But there’s something about Dick that matters more to him, he thinks. He talks to Dick about things he doesn’t even tell Bill, and doesn't know how to talk about with anyone else.

Hell, he hasn’t even told Bill about Dick. He’s not sure where to start, either, or whether Bill would understand. His writer-brain would probably take over, build up this whole thing into something more than it is, more romantic, more sensitive. 

Maybe he’d be right, though. Eddie likes talking to Dick more than he likes talking to anyone else.

He needs to break out of the thought spiral, he realizes, and makes his way over to the bar. He doesn’t drink on the clock, but he could use an ice water.

“Hi there,” he greets the redhead bartender. He hired her, but he suddenly can’t remember her name. He’s pretty sure it starts with a B. “Bailey?”

“Bailey’s?” she asks.

“Oh! No, no,” he says, “I just want ice water.” Bev, her name tag says. “Sorry, I couldn’t remember your name.”

“No worries,” she says, and hands him a tall glass of water and a napkin. “Do you want lemon or anything?” 

“No thank you,” he says, and takes a few sips. “How’s traffic been tonight?”

“Pretty busy, decent tips,” she says. “How’s it looking out there?”

“Good to hear. It’s pretty packed – I was a little worried.” He wonders if he should be telling her this. 

“Worried?”

“Oh, yeah, just – wanna make sure our numbers are good,” he says awkwardly. “I’ve heard Derry can be rough on chains and new places.”

She laughs. “Ah, yeah, you heard about the Subway thing. No, Derry’s kind of a weird town, but we don’t get new stuff very often. I’m sure people will stay excited about this place, we’ll be fine.”

“Hm,” Eddie says. “Here’s hoping.”

--

Dickjokeswasmyfather: i don’t know if meeting is the best idea, yankee. i don’t even know where you live, i’d hate for you to waste a ton of money or gas just to come say hi to me, i’m nothing special in person

Yankeesfan89: It wouldn’t be a waste. And Maine. I live in Maine. 

--

Richie’s driving home from work late one night that week when he runs over something in the road, sees his tire pressure indicator light go off in the dash, and barely manages to pull over before he loses control of the vehicle. He’s as far over on the shoulder of the road as he could manage, but still nervous about cars passing by, so he turns his emergency flashers on and carefully exits his car to see what’s wrong. 

His back left tire is shredded to bits.

“Fuck!” he says with feeling. “Shit.” 

He’d closed by himself tonight, so he knows Old Man Stan and his wife Patty are probably asleep by now, and he hates to call Ben, but – 

Cars keep passing by, quickly, before one slows down and pulls over, carefully coming to a stop and parking behind his disabled vehicle.

He doesn’t recognize the car, but he recognizes the driver as soon as he gets out. That Eddie Kaspbrak asshole from Player One. Fuck. 

“Could this night get any worse?” he mutters under his breath. “Hi, Kaspbrak. Can I help you?”

“It looks like you’re the one who might need help,” he says. “You okay?”

“Do I look okay?” Richie says. “No! My tire apparently exploded and it’s the middle of the night, and who knows how long roadside assistance could take?”

“Do you have a spare tire?” the asshole asks.

“What?”

“Do you have,” he says, rolling his sleeves up. Richie would be lying if he said it wasn’t sexy. “A spare tire?” He sighs. “Can you pop the trunk, please?”

“Uh, sure,” Richie says. “Yes. Hold on.”

He opens the trunk, which is full of assorted cords and thrift-store finds that haven’t made it indoors yet. To his credit, the asshole says nothing, just digs through until he finds the spare tire and what Richie assumes is the jack. He’s of course never used it. 

“You know how to change a tire?” Kaspbrak asks.

“You start by jacking off, right?” says Richie, who can’t help himself. 

Kaspbrak rolls his eyes. “Here, I’ll show you.”

He grabs a random towel from Richie’s trunk and lays it down on the pavement, kneels on it as he removes the hubcap. Richie watches silently as he pulls the shredded remnants of his old tire off and puts on the spare in its place. 

All in all, it takes him about 10 minutes, not including putting the torn-up remains of the destroyed tire in Richie’s trunk.

Richie has to admit, as much as he hates the guy, it’s pretty hot. And he didn’t even get his slacks dirty.

Eddie wipes his hands on Richie’s towel, then uses hand sanitizer he pulls carefully from his pocket, then wipes them again. 

“Ah, I’ll have to get the grease off at home,” he says, using his forearm to wipe off his forehead. “You should be okay now – just to drive home, I mean, don’t spend a lot of time on that spare, that’s not what they’re designed for. I’d get to the tire place first thing in the morning and get that thing replaced, you can show them what’s in the trunk and they should do it for free if you’ve got a good warranty. Any idea what you ran over?” 

“Uh,” Richie says. “Nope, no clue.”

“Well, I’m glad you didn’t get hurt,” Eddie says. Richie thinks that’s generous of him.

“Thanks,” Richie says. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“It’s no problem,” Eddie says. “I’m just glad I was driving by and caught you so I could help. Get home safe, okay?”

“Yeah, you too,” Richie says. 

He watches as Eddie gets in his car and doesn’t leave. He realizes Eddie’s waiting to make sure Richie takes off okay. Stunned, Richie turns his car on and heads home. 

--

-WINTER-

One day while waiting for Dick to message back, Eddie checks the Derry subreddit on a whim. He’s back in town, staying with Bill and Mike, and is curious about what they might be saying about Player One, how it’s being received weeks past its opening, and what else could possibly be going on in town.

He regrets it as soon as he navigates over to the sub. There aren’t a lot of active users, it seems, but there are at least a couple of scattered posts over the last few weeks, including one that claims to be a space for open debate of the merits of Player One versus The Falcon Punch.

Eddie clicks through. He sees some comments in support of both, some taking a side, but the top-voted comment is solidly in support of The Falcon Punch.

HistorianMike: Look, do I think there’s anything wrong with Player One? No, not really. It seems like a clean, safe place for adults and children to play modern arcade games and hang out. That’s great, but we already have an arcade in town. What’s wrong with the one we already have? I’m not calling for a boycott of Player One, but I just think we should appreciate what we have in The Falcon Punch. The owner has worked to renovate the existing arcade so many of us grew up with and takes great care in refurbishing old cabinets so the games we grew up with don’t die out. And it’s cheaper than an arcade where you have to play per game – you pay one rate and get to play basically anything as long as you’re there. I think that’s cool. There’s something exciting about seeing a dad show his daughter how to play Burger Time, you know? It’s more grounded than the touchscreen newness of modern arcades. All this to say, I don’t think it’s a dichotomy, I’m not anti-Player One, but I’m strongly in favor of The Falcon Punch.

He takes a deep breath and closes the app so he can’t go back through any of the comments. He makes his way to Bill in the living room.

“Hey, have you seen people talking about Player One online?” he asks. “Because I’m pretty sure Mike is one of them.”

Bill shrugs. “I don’t really look at the comments on shit like that, and you probably shouldn’t either, it’s like the number one rule of being online. And I can’t and won’t control what Mike thinks, dude.”

“I’m not asking you to do that, Jesus,” Eddie says, “I just – Hey Mike?” he calls out to the kitchen. “I just want to talk to him,” he tells Bill.

“What’s up?” Mike says. He’s wearing an apron. “I’m in the middle of making dinner.”

“Babe, did you post about The Falcon Punch online? Eddie saw some comments on the internet and it’s freaking him out.” 

“I’m not freaking out!’ Eddie says unconvincingly. “I’m not, I just wanted to ask you if you’re seeing a lot of people agree with your take that Derry should appreciate The Falcon Punch more.”

Mike nods. “I’ve had a handful of upvotes and replies, but like I said, Eddie, I’m not rooting against you or your business – you know that, right?” 

“No, yeah, I just –” Eddie sighs. “Sorry. You’re obviously allowed to say whatever you want and I appreciate your support. I’m just on edge because of the way people keep talking and what some people have said about running other chains out of town.”

“What, the stuff about the Subway?” Bill asks. 

“I think that was different,” Mike says. “They tried to move it into a historically important building, which is what people really had an issue with. I don’t think anyone is genuinely upset about your Player One, Eddie.” 

“Oh,” Eddie says. “Are you sure?”

“Well – the barcade owner Richie probably is,” Bill says. “And maybe the people he works with.”

“Don’t be helpful, dear,” Mike says. 

“I’m just saying.”

“Stop saying,” Mike tells Bill. “Listen, Player One is a successful chain with tons of locations, right? I wouldn’t worry about it too much.”

Eddie sighs. “Okay. Thanks, guys.” 

--

Richie and Stan are in the back office looking at numbers for the last week.

“How are we doing, Stan?”

“Ehh,” Stan says. “Not bad, but not as good as it could be.” 

“Damn,” Richie says. “Have you seen the posts online about us? I saw some stuff on r/Derry, people are tweeting...a few more positive reviews on Facebook lately.”

“Richie, I thought we agreed you’d let Adrian handle the social media so you’re not bogged down in it.”

“I know, I know, but – I’m worried. Can you blame me?”

Stan sighs. “No, I guess not.” 

“And it’s nice to see people in support of us, right? Has it affected our numbers any?”

Stan clicks through some spreadsheets Richie can’t parse. 

“It’s made a little bit of a dent, but not a huge jump,” he says. “We really need to drive traffic these next few weeks to see if that helps.”

“What do you think about some specials? A couple half-off days?”

Stan shrugs. “It’s worth a shot, but – Richie, I don’t want to psych you out, but if this starts killing our numbers….I don’t know how we’ll stay open.”

Richie swallows. “I know, Stan. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that.”

--

Dickjokeswasmyfather: do you know anything about running a business lol because i could probably use some help

Yankeesfan89: A little bit, depending on what it is. What's up?

Dickjokeswasmyfather: i don't really wanna get into the whole thing but long story short i've gotta get more people in the door at my...place where i work, do you have any ideas

Yankeesfan89: Well, it depends on what kind of place it is, but I guess I'd try posting on social media or something? That's usually where I'd start, that or increasing other advertising, depending on your budget. I can go more in depth if you want, but it's hard to know how to help if I don't know what it is you do, you know? Not that I'm pushing you to tell me. I want to help, I just don't know what the best advice is without knowing what your place of business is, if that makes sense.

Dickjokeswasmyfather: no yeah, i get you. yeah we're trying the social media thing to see if that makes a difference. some price changes, discounts based on random stuff, just hoping it makes enough of a dent in everything to be worthwhile

Yankeesfan89: Fingers crossed for you, Dick.

Dickjokeswasmyfather: thanks, we could probably use it

Dickjokeswasmyfather: i just realized i never told you, but i live in maine, too. derry, if we want to be specific. i don't mind being specific, i actually...what do you think about meeting up? if derry's not too far from you i mean

Yankeesfan89: Derry's definitely within range, it's not a big state, Dick. I think I would be down to meet up if you still are. I don't know that much about Derry, though – where do you want to meet? When?

--

"Richie, I just don't know if this is a good idea," Stan says.

"I think it's a great idea," Ben says optimistically. "I know you said it wasn't romantic, but if it could be or you want it to be eventually, well...meeting in person seems like the next best thing to keep it moving forward!"

"Yeah," Richie says. "Yeah...I don't know if it'll actually be romantic, because I mean, look at me, but I'd at least like to get to know him better. We spend all this time talking, and what do I really know about him? He likes the Yankees and he lives in Maine. That's not exactly a life story."

"Do you even know how old he is?" Stan asks. "Like, what if he's too young or too old for you?"

"He just turned 35," Richie says. "He did at least tell me that, so it's not like he's out of my age range."

"Oh good!" Ben says. "All the signs seem to keep pointing in the right direction."

"But," Stan says, "What are you going to do if he shows up and he's a creep? Or you don't click in person? You know people can be different online than they are in real life."

Richie rolls his eyes. "Yes, grandpa, I do know about the stranger dangers of cyberspace. I won't tell him my address or my mother's maiden name, and I won't let him follow me home. I'm an adult, can you please just trust me with this one thing? I might know what I'm doing."

Stan sighs. “I trust you, Richie, I just don’t know this guy. People meeting online friends always makes me nervous, it could go so sideways.”

"You've really never even talked to him on the phone?" Ben says, mystified. "Like, you never exchanged numbers or anything?"

"Nope," Richie says. "He's kind of a neurotic guy, so I just haven't pushed the issue. It was bad enough I barged into his inbox to fight about Street Fighter, I didn't want to make him more uncomfortable. But then he suggested meeting up, so I figured he must be more comfortable with me than I thought."

"What made him change his mind, do you think?" Ben says.

"Ben, you're really giving me sleepover energy right now. Tell me more, tell me more, does he have a big dick?" Richie sings. "And before you ask, I don't know. I haven't seen it."

Stan rolls his eyes. "Have you seen any of him?"

"Not yet," Richie says, "But I will tomorrow."

"Tomorrow," Ben says dreamily. "You're only a day away," he sings.

"Damn, Benny, we need to get you out to karaoke again soon," Richie says. "Stan, you can come too. I know there's a superstar in you just waiting to get out."

"Stop changing the subject," he says. "Do you have a contingency plan?"

"For what, if he kidnaps me?"

"No, smartass, for if he's a weirdo. I just want to make sure you stay safe."

"Uh, I'll get in my car and take off, I guess," Richie says. He shrugs. "Really, guys, I appreciate your concern, but I'm not too worried about it. If you knew how worried this guy was about being a good person, you'd know I'm not in any danger."

Stan raises an eyebrow. "Alright," he says, "But if you need us, call us."

"Of course,” Richie says, “Always.”

--

“So you don’t even know what this guy looks like?” Bill asks as he parks. Eddie was both too nervous to drive and too paranoid to let Dick see what his car looked like on their first – well, not date, but meet-up – so Bill gave him a ride.

"Nope," Eddie says. "Not one picture."

"I don't understand you, but okay," Bill says. "Wait, how are you going to recognize him, then?"

Eddie checks his phone for the millionth time to confirm what he already knows, to make sure Dick hasn’t changed his mind. "He says he'll be wearing a shirt with red roses on it."

"Dramatic and romantic," Bill says. "Eddie, I'm going to ask you something and you have to promise not to freak out on me."

"Bill..."

"Promise!"

"Fine! I promise!" Eddie can feel the anxiety mounting.

"Is this a date?"

"What?" 

"Are you and this Dick guy meeting up for a date?"

"Uh," he says. He'd be lying if he said he hadn't considered the possibility. "No, not as far as I know, no."

"Okay," Bill says. “Then are you hoping it's a date?"

"Um," Eddie says.

"Uh huh?"

"I..." he pauses, trying to choose his words very carefully. "I wouldn't be upset if it were a date, I think." A beat. "Oh god, is that freak behavior?"

“I don’t think so,” Bill says as Eddie begins to panic. “I think it’s normal to feel that way about somebody you’re close to, you know?”

"But –"

Bill stops walking and grabs Eddie by the shoulders, wheels him around. "You're fine, Eddie, seriously," he says, making direct eye contact. "If you want this to be a date, that's okay, you know that, right?"

"Oh god, I really don't need the 'it's okay if you're gay about it' speech right now, Bill, I'm already nervous enough."

"Nervous is okay! Nervous means it matters, man."

"Shut up," Eddie says. "It's just me meeting somebody from the internet, it happens all the time, it's not that big a deal."

"It's okay if it feels like a big deal, dude, you've been talking to this guy a long time, right?"

"Yeah," Eddie says, "A while."

"So it's nervewracking and exciting to meet someone you've been friends with that long! So it's okay if you're anxious, just try and breathe. Just remember you guys know each other and get along, so all you have to do is be yourself and it should be fine."

"What if who I am is different from what he expects or wants?" Eddie stops and turns around. "Maybe I should go home."

"No!" Bill says, grabbing him by the wrist. "We're already here, anyway. What'd you say he was wearing? I'll scope out the shop for you."

He and Bill stand just out of the way of the door to the coffee shop. Through the big glass storefront, Eddie can see a few people inside, moving around, but nothing specific, no clear faces.

Bill moves over to take a closer look through the window. "Roses on his shirt, right?"

"Yeah," Eddie says, too nervous to look too closely. "You see him?"

“Hold on,” Bill says. He squints, and then – “Oh boy.” 

“What?”

“Well, I see a guy in a shirt with roses on it, but you’re not gonna like it.”

“Oh god,” Eddie says. “How bad is he?”

“It’s not that he’s bad,” Bill says as Eddie rounds the corner to stand with him and look for himself. “It’s just that he’s…”

“Richie,” Eddie says. “Fuck.” 

“Yeah, that’s Richie, alright,” Bill says. “He looks nervous.” 

“Shit,” Eddie says, moving out of sight.

“Did you know your mystery guy was Richie?”

“Obviously fucking not!” Eddie says. “You really think I’m that stupid?”

“I just thought it was a weird coincidence!” Bill laughs a bit. “This is insane, I can’t wait to tell Mike–”

Eddie glowers at him. “You absolutely cannot tell Mike! Fuck! What the hell am I supposed to do now?”

“Uh, you could just go in there like you planned? It’s not like anything’s changed – if nothing else, you just know each other twice over now,” Bill says.

Someone walks past them and gives them a weird look. Eddie supposes they must look suspicious, lurking outside of the coffee shop, arguing.

“Nothing’s changed – Bill! A lot has changed! He fucking hates me!”

“Richie? Richie doesn’t hate people, he just, uh – well, now that you mention it, you might be right. He’s probably not your biggest fan right now.”

Eddie throws his hands up in the air, frustrated. “What do you suggest I do, then! What’s the point of meeting up if he’s just going to see me and realizes he never wants to speak to me again?”

“I think you’re overreacting,” Bill says. “It’s just Richie, I doubt he’s going to cause some kind of scene.”

“Damn it,” Eddie says.

“Look, why don’t you just go in there and explain yourself? He can’t be mad that you two became friends without realizing you’re working against his business.”

“He could!” Eddie groans. “God, this sucks.”

“Do you wanna just go home, Eddie? I’m not going to lie, it’s getting a little weird just standing here.”

“No,” Eddie says. “I’ll – I’ll go in. I can at least apologize for what happened on my birthday.”

“Great,” Bill says, “Because I’d like to get home to Mike. Good luck, call me if he tries to kill you or anything!”

“Thanks, thanks for your support, it means a lot,” Eddie says as Bill vanishes.

He takes another look through the glass. Richie’s sitting at a table by himself, reserving a second chair. He keeps alternating between checking his phone – presumably for news from Eddie, he realizes – and looking hopefully in the direction of the door.

Eddie feels guilty. He feels like he’s wasted Richie’s time and friendship by turning out to be – well, himself. 

But strangely, he doesn’t feel disappointed by Dick being Richie at all. Surprised, sure, anxious at the reception he’ll get, but not disappointed.

With Bill gone, he has two choices – go inside or chicken out and call Bill to come back and pick him up. Something in him refuses to back down, so he chooses the former.

When he enters the coffee shop, he goes to the counter first, orders his usual. They don’t have blueberry syrup, so he settles for a caramel macchiato instead. He’s nervous, so he hangs back by the counter until he has his drink and the muffin he panic-ordered without thinking and doesn’t really want. 

He makes his way over to Richie’s table. Richie looks up from his phone and frowns at him.

“Can I help you?” he asks.

“Is this seat taken?” 

“Yes, actually,” Richie says. “I’m waiting for someone, so if you don’t mind –”

“Please, I just wanted to apologize for the other day,” Eddie says. “Can I sit? It won’t take long and I’ll leave as soon as your friend gets here.” 

He takes a seat without waiting for Richie to respond.

“Sure, fine, whatever,” Richie mutters. 

“Listen, I didn’t mean to imply that I don’t think the Falcon Punch is worthy competition for us, Richie, and I’m sorry if it came off that way.”

“Oh?” Richie says. “Then what exactly did you mean by 'I don't really see The Falcon Punch as competition,’ then, if not ‘The Falcon Punch isn’t good enough to compete with us’?”

“I just think we’re serving two different audiences,” Eddie explains. “That’s all – Player One has the new games, imports from Japan, your rhythm games, your bowling, prizes, shit like that. And The Falcon Punch has the classics, the games that really matter, you know? It’s two entirely different crowds of gamers.”

“You really believe that?” Richie asks.

“I do,” Eddie says. “Honestly, if I didn’t work for Player One, I can’t imagine I’d go there. Your place is much more my speed – those are the games I grew up with, I could give a shit about whatever new version of DDR is out now.” 

Richie chuckles. “I’d like to see you try to keep up with some of those kids,” he says. “I play sometimes myself, but I’ve got terrible rhythm. My buddy Ben, though, he can dance across both pads if you give him the chance and plenty of room.”

“I know,” Eddie says. Richie’d mentioned it before.

“What?”

Eddie suddenly realizes his mistake – Richie hadn’t mentioned Ben playing DDR, but Dick had. He backtracks to cover his footsteps. 

“I mean, you don’t look like a guy with a lot of rhythm,” he says. “Or style, for that matter – does your shirt have roses on it?”

“Shut up,” Richie says, but not unfriendly. “I needed to wear something distinctive so –” he pauses, reddens a bit. “Never mind.”

Eddie can’t resist the urge to tease him.

“So what? Who are you meeting again?”

“None of your business, dude,” he says. 

“Wait, have you never met this person before?”

“Fuck off,” Richie says, drawing out the f. “Okay, so I haven’t met him before. So what! Plenty of people meet online.”

“Oh, you met him online,” Eddie repeats. “So how do you know he’s not some creep?”

“I just do,” Richie says. “Maybe I’m stupid, but I trust him, you know?”

Eddie’s heart does something he’s not interested in interrogating just yet. He presses on.

“That’s sweet, Richie – I hope he doesn’t kidnap you,” he says. “Didn’t you ever learn about internet stranger danger?”

Richie flips him the bird, then checks his watch and the door again. “He’d have to show up to kidnap me,” he says. “Shit. It’s like twenty minutes past when we said we’d meet – and I showed up early and everything.” He sighs. “I should probably give it up, huh.”

Eddie feels miserable. He hadn’t really considered that Dick – that Richie might be as nervous and excited to meet him as he was to meet Richie. He briefly curses himself for his cowardice, for chickening out of being honest and meeting Richie as yankeesfan89. But he’s too far in now, it’s too late for the truth tonight. 

“I’m sorry, Richie – maybe he got caught up in something,” he says. “If you want, I can hang around a little longer, wait with you?”

Richie shakes his head, then checks his phone again, presumably looking for a message from Eddie. Eddie wonders if that’s what he looks like when he’s waiting for Richie to message him back – hopeful.

“Nothing,” Richie says. “I guess I’ll call it.” He scoots back in his chair and stands up. Eddie does the same.

“You heading out too?” Richie asks. 

“Yeah,” he says. “Just gotta call Bill – he gave me a ride here and took off.”

“You know,” Richie says. “I can drop you off if you give me the address, I don’t mind.”

“Oh,” Eddie says, surprised by the gesture. “Are you sure?”

“Totally,” Richie says. “It’ll save you the wait, and keep me from having to be alone with my thoughts just a little bit longer at least.”

“When you put it that way,” Eddie says. “I’m really sorry your date didn’t show.” 

He watches Richie out of the corner of his eye, curious as to what he’ll say – if he’ll confirm or deny. He wants to know how Richie feels about the idea – hell, he’d like to know how he feels about it himself.

“It wasn’t a –” Richie sighs as they exit the shop and head toward his car. “Thanks.”

“How’s your tire? Everything running okay?” Eddie asks.

Richie regales him with a full rundown of the tire replacement experience, complete with voices. It’s actually surprisingly entertaining, and by the time they make it to Bill’s Eddie almost doesn’t want to get out of the car.

“Thanks for the ride,” he says. 

“Thanks for the pity company,” Richie says, “And the apology.” 

Eddie doesn’t hear him drive off until he’s inside Bill’s place.

--

"What happened?" Ben asks the next day, before The Falcon Punch opens.

"He never showed up," Richie says glumly.

"He stood you up?"

"I guess," Richie says. "I just don't understand what I did wrong," Richie says. "Why didn't he show up?"

Ben leans on the front counter. "I don't think you did anything wrong, Richie. Maybe he just got nervous."

"I was nervous, too, but at least I showed up!" Richie says. "I didn't think he'd be the kind of guy to just ditch without saying anything."

"He hasn't said anything?"

"Not one message since we agreed on where and when to meet," Richie says. "I followed up a couple of times just to try and make sure nothing went wrong, but nothing."

"That's so weird," Ben says. "I'm sorry, bub."

Richie sighs, leans down, and places his forehead on the counter. "Maybe Stan was right."

"I probably was," Stan says, entering the room. "What am I right about?"

"The guy didn't show," Ben says. "He stood Richie up."

"Aw, Richie, I'm sorry," Stan says. "Any idea what happened?"

"Nope," he says miserably. "Not even an apology, which is unlike him."

Stan pats Richie on the shoulder. "Well, at least he didn't show up and turn out to be a criminal.”

"Great, Stan, thanks, that really makes me feel better," Richie says, lifting his head from the counter. "You know how to help a guy out."

"I'm just saying, it could've been worse," Stan says.

"How long did you wait for him?" Ben asks.

"Not super long. That Kaspbrak guy came in –"

"The one from Player One?"

"You got it. I don't wanna talk about it," Richie says. "Let's get this place ready for customers."

--

Dickjokeswasmyfather: not to be dramatic, but i've been thinking about you a lot since last night. it fucking sucks that you didn't show up, man. i'm not going to lie. i don't know what i did or why you didn't come – maybe you came and saw me and didn't like what you saw so you left. maybe you showed up and saw me talking to someone else – this guy i don't get along with showed up and kept me company while i waited. turns out he's maybe not so bad. but the point is, i showed up early for you, yankee. you're my friend, and i'm really fucking bummed you didn't come. just wanted to be honest.

--

Eddie sits in his car, staring at his phone. He’s read Richie’s DM dozens of times, and still has no idea what to say. He’s typed and deleted a handful of flimsy excuses – car trouble, traffic, a family emergency, alien abduction – but none of them feel right. 

He feels ashamed of himself. He shouldn't have stood Richie up, should have been honest about who he was and why he was there. It sucks that he let Richie down. He hopes he can make it up to him someday.

--

Yankeesfan89: Dick, I can't explain myself, but I'm so, so fucking sorry I wasn't there last night. I'm hoping you can forgive me for not showing up. I don't have a good enough excuse. I'm sorry you were expecting to see a friend and saw an enemy instead – that's my fault. I'll explain everything someday, but in the meantime, I'm still here, and I'd love to still keep talking. Please.

--

"How bad is it, Stan?" Richie asks after another quiet week.

Stan sighs. "Richie…”

“Lay it on me, I’m a big boy,” Richie says. “I can take it.”

Stan turns around in his chair to fully face Richie.

“Barring some Hanukkah miracle. We’re not making enough money to justify staying open, Richie. Not only that, rent is increasing – we’re losing money.” He scoots across to Richie at his desk, places a hand on his shoulder. “I hate to say it, but the most logical, responsible thing to do…”

Richie sighs, leans back, and stares at the ceiling. “I know.” He takes off his glasses, wipes at his eyes – he’s not crying, but he’s thinking about it. He’s just so fucking tired. “God, I wish this weren’t happening.”

“I know,” Stan says. “But we were always taking a risk, and with Player One moving in, it just – the math can’t work out, I’m sorry.”

“Yeah,” Richie says. “I am, too.” He looks at Stan. “I know we need to plan, figure out how to tell the staff – all the responsible adult business owner shit. Can you just give me a day or so? I just – I need to process.”

“Okay, Richie. Of course. You tell me when you’re ready to talk about the end.”

--

Dickjokeswasmyfather: well my barcade is closing. did i ever tell you i owned a barcade? i guess not, that would’ve been too personal. well, i own one, but not for much longer. our business got sniped by a new place in town, and my co-owner says it’s time to call it. game over, man. lol

Dickjokeswasmyfather: maybe this was immature of me – shocking i know – but it was always my dream to run an arcade. i bought the same building my childhood one ran out of and renovated it, figured i’d give the kids the same space i loved as a kid. i mean i got bullied there don’t get me wrong but at least there was street fighter. no i’ve always been a loser i guess, now i’m just taller and slightly better looking. still a failure though. couldn’t even keep open a place with beer and video games – what more do people want?

Dickjokeswasmyfather: anyway sorry if i’m not my usual dick-jokin’ self for a while. I think my heart’s a little more broken than usual. 

--

Eddie stares at his phone, unsure of what to say. It’s his fault, he knows – but he can’t undo it. He can’t do anything about it, really, other than be there to listen to Richie online. He finds himself wishing, again, that Richie knew who he was in real life, so he could – what? Give him a hug? Let Richie punch him in the face, get out all his heartbreak on Eddie?

He doesn’t know what to do, what could possibly help Richie feel better at a time like this. But he knows he can’t just leave him hanging, so he replies. 

Yankeesfan89: God, Dick, I am so, so sorry to hear that. I’m sorry for your loss – don’t discount the real grief you must be feeling. I wish there was something I could do. Would distraction help? Would talking more about it help? Let me know. In the meantime, I’ll say that I’m sure you did a kickass job of running the place, and you’re not a loser. You achieved your dream, dude, that’s not loser shit. What’s cooler than having a ton of games at your disposal for free? Very fucking little, in my opinion. Do you know what your next steps are? Let me know if you want or need any advice. I’m here for you.

He sends it, but he doesn’t feel any less guilty. He knows Player One is at least partially to blame, if not wholly – take that blame, run it up the ladder and it’s his. All he can do is carry on, then. Try to be a good friend to Richie online, and maybe, if he’s able, try to be a good friend to him offline, too.

--

After the new year, Eddie sees a FOR SALE sign on The Falcon Punch’s windows and goes inside on impulse. He’s greeted by Richie, who looks dead on his feet, but not unhappy to see him. There are a few other people around browsing what looks to be the majority of everything the place had that wasn’t bolted down, including arcade cabinets. 

“Hey, Eddie. Come to gloat?” Richie says, no real fire behind it. “I guess you heard the news.”

“I did,” Eddie says, “But I’m not here to gloat. I – I’m really sorry, Richie. It’s a fucking shame.”

Richie looks surprised. “Oh. Well, thanks? I guess. Yeah, thanks.”

They stand there awkwardly, neither of them sure what to say. Eddie looks around the room.

“Oh!” he says. “I meant to ask – are you...are the cabinets, are they for sale?”

“Yeah, why?” Richie says. “Not like Player One needs them.”

“No,” Eddie says, “I mean – I was going to look for me. I guess you wouldn’t think it, but I’m a little bit of a collector, actually.”

“Huh,” Richie says. “In that case, yeah, go ahead and take a look. Let me know if you’re interested in anything specific.” 

Eddie wanders the aisles of games, admiring what’s still there. Part of him wishes he could take them all home for himself, selfishly – most of him wishes they weren’t for sale at all.

He checks his bank account, the prices – Richie’s got them priced pretty fairly, based on what they both know from online sales. He does some mental math to see what he can justify, settles on one cabinet, waves Richie over.

“Super Street Fighter Turbo II,” Richie says. “Who knew you were a man of taste?” 

“Yeah, I’m hoping if I practice enough, I’ll present a better challenge for you next time we play,” Eddie says, not thinking. 

“Next time?” Richie shakes his head and lets it go. “I’m glad it’ll be in good hands, at least.”

Eddie pays and Ben helps him load the cabinet into the back of his SUV. Richie gives it a longing look.

“How are you holding up?” Eddie says. “If you don’t mind me asking.”

“I’m hanging in there I guess,” Richie says. “Listen, I appreciate you coming by. Thanks for not being a sore winner.” He extends his hand for a handshake.

Eddie takes it. “Of course,” he says, shaking it. “And I really am sorry. The Falcon Punch seemed like it was something special.”

“Yeah,” Richie says. “It really was.”

--

When the machines are all sold off or moved into storage to try and sell online, and all the rest of the place has been cleaned out, Richie takes one last look at the shell of the former Falcon Punch. 

It breaks his heart to see it dead. All the hours and savings he sank into his dream, gone in what felt like an instant, and for what? So some modern place with no history or character could thrive? It’d make him fucking furious if he weren’t so upset. He wonders what they’ll fill the space with next – maybe another damn coffee shop. 

He decides to wallow in the hurt, drives over to Player One and goes inside.

Richie’s never actually checked it out before, and it’s a sensory overload at first, the lights and sounds and people almost overwhelming. He wanders for a moment, past the crane games and digital arcade versions of phone games, wondering how this is what the people really want. 

But everyone seems to be having a great time. He feels like crying. A kid runs past him to go refill whatever card thing lets him play games, and Richie snaps back into his body, feeling someone’s eyes on him from a distance.

He looks over to see Eddie, who gives him a quizzical, almost concerned look and an awkward wave. He turns around, walks out, and goes home.

--

Yankeesfan89: It’s been a few days, Dick – where have you been? Are you okay?

Dickjokeswasmyfather: i don’t feel very good. i have a cold and my dream is dead. sorry. 

Yankeesfan89: I wish I knew how to help, Dick. Tell me how to help you.

Dickjokeswasmyfather: i don’t know what there is to do, yankee. i can’t stop thinking about the future. i thought i had it all figured out and now i’m like – what future lmao. what the fuck am i going to do?

--

“Have you seen Richie around at all lately?” Eddie asks Bill over the phone one day. “I’m just a little concerned.”

“No, not in a week or so,” Bill says. “Why? What’s got you so worried?”

“He hasn’t been saying much online,” Eddie says. “I just want to know that he’s okay.”

“Aw, you’ve got a crush,” Bill says. “Cute, but complicated.”

“No!” Eddie says. “Maybe. I just, you know, I feel responsible.”

“If you feel so guilty, why not offer him a job?” Bill asks.

“Are you kidding? Why would he want that?” Eddie says. “He deserves more than to work for the people who poached his business!” 

“It was just a thought,” Bill says. “If you’re so worried, you could always find another excuse to come up here, drive by his place, see if he’s okay.”

“I can’t drive by his place, Bill, that’s an insane person thing to do.”

“Again, just a suggestion,” Bill says.

“But I might come up there and see if I run into him.”

“Sure,” Bill says. “Because that’s less insane.”

--

Richie’s sitting at the bar at Player One, a habit he’s developed over the past few weeks. He doesn’t drink much, just orders something to nurse for a few hours before he goes home. It’s bizarre, he knows, but it makes him feel better, sometimes, to feel miserable, surrounded by familiar sounds in the place that killed his dream.

Someone taps on his shoulder. “Richie?” says a familiar voice.

He turns around. “Eddie?”

“What are you doing here?” Eddie asks. 

“It’s a free country,” Richie says. “Why are you here?”

“I was checking on the location to see how things were going, but I’m a little more concerned about you right now,” he says, taking a seat next to him. 

The bartender, Bev, brings Eddie some water. Richie likes her – she’s fun, and she never judges him too hard for sitting there in silence. 

“Why?”

“I mean...you’re sitting alone at the bar in my place,” Eddie says. “Doesn’t seem like your usual type of thing.”

“Yeah, well,” Richie says. “My usual place closed down.”

Eddie grimaces. “I know. I’m sorry. Look, I know you hate me –”

“What? I don’t hate you,” Richie says.

“I put you out of business. You’re definitely within your rights to hate me.”

“Well,” Richie says awkwardly. “I don’t, so.”

“Oh.” 

They pause.

“Eddie, don’t you have things to do? What do you want?”

Eddie looks at him. “To be honest? I wanted to be your friend.”

“Oh,” Richie says. “You did?”

“Yeah,” Eddie says. “I wasn’t sure it was possible or even a good idea, but I thought it might be worth a try. And you seem like you could use a friend right now.”

“Oh. That’s...nice of you. Thank you. I think.”

“Of course,” Eddie says. “Look, can I ask you something?”

“I guess?”

“What happened with the guy at the coffee shop that one time? Did you ever end up meeting him?”

“No,” Richie says. “We still talk, but we haven’t met up yet.”

“But you’re into him?” Eddie says. “Sorry, I guess that’s none of my business.”

Richie pauses to think about it. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah. I’m into him.”

“Why don’t you try again?” Eddie asks.

“Huh,” Richie says. “You’ve got a point. I guess I could ask him again if he wants to meet up. Maybe this time he’ll show up.”

“Fingers crossed,” Eddie says. “Look, I’ve gotta get back to work, but do you wanna get coffee sometime soon? I don’t know if this would help because I don’t know what your plans are for your next steps, but I’d be happy to look over your resume or something if you wanted.”

“That’d be helpful, yeah,” Richie says. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do, but it couldn’t hurt.”

“Cool,” Eddie says. “Sunday? At two?”

“Sure, Eddie. See you then,” he says as Eddie gets up, goes back to doing whatever it is he does. 

“What was that all about?” Bev asks Richie.

“I don’t know,” he says, “But I think I just made a friend.”

--

Dickjokeswasmyfather: ok yankee i’ve been thinking about it again and i think we should meet. i think we should meet soon. 

Yankeesfan89: I agree. I’m in the middle of some life stuff right now, but I really want to meet you soon. I’ll let you know?

Dickjokeswasmyfather: yeah. okay. cool. 

--

Eddie spends the next couple of weeks running into Richie as much as possible – half on purpose, making excuses to come into town to check on Player One, but half accidentally, too.

He meets Richie at the coffee shop to go over his resume, pointing out places that could use edits, rewording things to make it sound more appealing to recruits, and talking about his options.

“If all else fails,” he tells Richie, “I’ll find you a job with us.”

“Jesus, thanks but no thanks,” Richie says. “Uh, no offense.”

“None taken,” he says pleasantly. “I just thought I’d say.”

He passes a garage sale one day only to see Richie on his knees, digging through a box of old VHS tapes. He parks and gets out, joins Richie to see if either of them can find whatever it is he’s looking for.

“How are things with your online guy?” Eddie asks as they wander the tables of tchotchkes. 

“They’re okay, I think,” Richie says. “Took your advice and said we should meet soon, but he says he’s in the middle of some ‘life stuff’ and will let me know.”

“Life stuff,” Eddie says. “Maybe he’s getting a divorce.”

Richie pauses. “He’s not married, he’d definitely have mentioned if he was married.”

“You never know,” Eddie says.

--

Dickjokeswasmyfather: ok random question but you’re not like, married are you

Yankeesfan89: That is random. And no, I’m not married – what makes you say that?

Dickjokeswasmyfather: just trying to figure out what you meant by “life stuff”. i thought maybe divorce or something.

Yankeesfan89: No, nothing that dramatic. Just getting some things in order, life maintenance stuff, you know. 

--

“What the hell does life maintenance mean?” Richie asks Eddie over lunch one day. 

“Who knows,” Eddie says. “Maybe he’s writing a will in case you axe murder him, needs to get it notarized or whatnot first.”

“Do you think I come off like an axe murderer online?” Richie asks. “Do I seem like the axe murder type?”

“What the fuck is the axe murder type,” Eddie says, laughing. “Richie. Come on. He’s probably just finding a good time to come to Derry or something.”

“Oh, maybe,” Richie says. 

“And anyway, what if he’s the axe murder type?” 

“Oh god,” Richie says. “Well – I mean, it’s not like I’ve got anything important going on.”

“Richie!”

--

Dickjokeswasmyfather: hey you’re not gonna like murder me with an axe or anything right

Yankeesfan89: Dude. Do I seem like the axe murderer type?

Dickjokeswasmyfather: i don’t know! what if axe murderers seem really funny and normal online and that’s how they lure in their victims!

Yankeesfan89: Dick, I can promise you I’m not going to try to kill you with an axe. A knife is much easier to carry around inconspicuously. 

Dickjokeswasmyfather: jesus christ

Yankeesfan89: You’re not the only one with jokes, you know.

--

“Well, at least he’s got a sense of humor,” Eddie says over lunch one day. 

“I could never love a man without jokes,” Richie says. 

Eddie raises his eyebrows, his heart pounding in his chest. “You love this guy?” 

“I don’t know,” Richie says. “Maybe. I could, I think.”

“And you haven’t even met him,” Eddie says. “He must carry on one hell of a conversation.”

“Yeah,” Richie says. “He does.”

--

Yankeesfan89: Are you free Saturday? We could meet at Neibolt Park, there’s a place by the fountains. 3 p.m.? 

Dickjokeswasmyfather: yeah! yes. i’ll see you there.

Yankeesfan89: Looking forward to it, Dick.

--

“Today?” Eddie asks Richie as they browse the small selection of games at the used bookstore.

“Today,” Richie says. “I’m nervous.”

“Wow,” Eddie says. “He’s from Maine, right? What if I know him? Maybe I’ve seen your guy around and I didn’t even know it.” 

“Maybe,” Richie says. “Fuck, maybe I have, too. I don’t know where in Maine he’s from, so any of us could’ve run into him at any time.”

“Timing is everything, though,” Eddie says. “I guess he wanted to wait until he knew he had you, knew you were into him.”

“Maybe,” he says. 

“Can I say something crazy?” Eddie asks. 

Richie pauses. “Okay,” he says hesitantly.

“I wonder sometimes. If I hadn’t worked for Player One and you hadn’t been The Falcon Punch and we’d just met –”

“Eddie.”

“I would’ve asked for your number and I wouldn’t have texted, I’d have called you immediately and asked, ‘Hey, you wanna get coffee, or drinks, or dinner, for as long as we can stand each other?’”

“Eds…” Richie says.

“And then we never would’ve been at war.”

“No,” Richie says. “We wouldn’t have been.”

“The only fight we’d ever have is...well, knowing us, we’d still fight.”

“We would,” Richie agrees. 

“If only,” Eddie says. 

Richie looks at him, then his phone beeps. He looks at the time. “Fuck. Eddie, I have to go.”

“Right,” Eddie says. “You wouldn’t want to be late.”

--

Richie’s waiting at the park, right where Yankeesfan89 said to, and practically vibrating out of his skin. He doesn’t know what the fuck to think about what Eddie said earlier, but he has to see this through first, at least. He keeps his head on a swivel, trying to see anyone approaching before they can see him. 

He sees someone coming from a distance. They’re wearing a Yankees cap, he realizes – and then he realizes it’s Eddie. His heart clenches in his chest. 

Eddie makes his way toward him. Richie’s frozen as he gets closer. 

“Hey, Dick,” Eddie says with a smile.

“Well, you don’t have to be rude about it,” Richie says, smiling back at him. 

“Yeah, well,” Eddie says. “What did you expect?” 

“You,” Richie says. “You like the Yankees?” 

“Sure,” Eddie says, “Big fan.” 

Richie gathers his courage, sure of what he wants now. “Look, are you going to kiss me or not?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” Eddie says. 

He goes in for a kiss but botches the angle, the brim of his cap in the way. Richie, impatient, grabs the hat and tosses it to the side without looking, then leans down to catch Eddie’s mouth with his own.

He closes his eyes, drinks the moment in. It’s a good kiss – the first of many, he hopes.

They pull apart, resting their foreheads against each other.

“We should probably –” Eddie says.

“Talk,” Richie finishes. “Yeah.”

“My place? I’ve got Street Fighter,” he says.

Richie says. “You are the perfect man.”

Eddie shakes his head. “Perfect man wouldn’t have run you out of business.”

“Alright, so really good man,” Richie concedes. “My favorite, how about that?”

“We can talk about it over Street Fighter,” Eddie says, a light blush pinking his cheeks. “I’ve been practicing – I might be able to hold my own now.” 

Richie could swoon. He picks up Eddie’s cap and places it backwards on Eddie’s head just to be annoying. Eddie rolls his eyes fondly, then leans up to kiss him again, hat brim out of the way.

“I really do wanna talk,” he says. 

“Me too,” Richie says. “I wanna hear your side.”

“Same,” Eddie says, taking Richie’s hand, stroking it with his thumb. “Yeah, we should probably fill each other in.”

Richie waggles his eyebrows suggestively. “Well then,” he says. “Lead the way.”