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January ~ Richie

****

 

 

Richie sat naked in the wooden desk chair with his lean body pulled taut as a newly strung guitar string. He leaned his neck back over the curved top rung letting his long hair spill behind him. The lengths hung down in loose dark waves and the tips bounced; impossibly curly little corkscrews of lighter brown. He meant to get it cut a hundred times, but Eddie protested, wrinkling up his nose and huffing like the cute little grump that he was. Eddie loved running his fingers through it, and he swooned over the way Richie looked with it tied up, so it kept growing. Whatever Eds wanted, Eds got.

"Fuck.” Richie panted, clapping one hand against his flat stomach to keep himself in check. He wanted so badly to grab onto Eddie's hair and yank, but that was a big no-no. A one-way ticket to Dry Dick Gulch; Population: Richie.  He focused instead on the hot suction enveloping him and Eddie's velvet tongue caressing the head of his cock. 

Eddie relaxed his throat muscles and took Richie in deeper, his wet lips sliding down, down, down, almost to the base. He used to be afraid to go that deep, that he'd gag on it because it was too big, Richie thought feverishly, and now he's so fucking hungry for my dick that he doesn't give a shit. You're. So. Fucking. Hungry. For. My. Dick. You. Wanna. Swallow. It. Whole. Richie bit down hard on his lower lip to keep himself from mouthing off, because if he said the wrong thing Eddie would stop everything. And he couldn't  let Eddie stop, because he wanted it all the way inside his mouth, he needs it in there don't you baby? 

"Fuck yes, Eds." Richie forgot himself and growled from deep in his throat. "You're a little fucking python and my dick's a whole turkey."

He heard a wet pop and Eddie raised his head, immediately irritated. "Are you fucking serious?" He stroked Richie's dick primly with one hand, slowly, gooshing up and down on it with the gummy wetness left behind by his spit. "You know I don't like it when you say dumb shit while I'm doing that." He used the tip of his middle finger to create the lightest, most tickly friction across the spot on the head that drove Richie crazy. He fucking did that shit on purpose. 

Richie shuddered and the muscles in his lower belly twitched involuntarily. He sucked in his lower lip and squinted down at his boyfriend. He couldn't make out Eddie's exact expression, but his lips looked like they were turned up. Always so happy when he teased. "Eds, don't-- it's-- Fuck." Richie couldn't form words properly when Eddie did it, and that was the whole point. He knew Eddie counted on that.

His little twitchy finger relented. “Are you going to be good?”

"I'm gonna shut the fuck up right now," Richie whispered. "Promise." It was a totally fucking empty promise, and they both knew it. Once Eddie was tonguing him and looking up at him with those doe-eyes, he wasn't in control of anything coming out of his mouth. "Keep going? Don't just tease me for ten minutes and then decide we're done."

Running his tongue around the perimeter of the head of Richie's cock slowly, Eddie's blurry face looked Richie right in the eye. He raised his head again. "Don't tease you?" He asked, his tone innocent and joyous. Then he licked one slow, wide stripe from Richie's balls all the way up the shaft, hardening his tongue to give that same sensitive spot an extra jiggle as he passed it. 

Moaning and dipping back in the chair, Richie babbled an uncontrollable string of nonsense and expletives. "Fuckin-baby-cock-mother-shit-fuck." He squirmed his ass restlessly on the uncomfortable wood. Eddie was ridiculously hot but terrifying at the same time. His baby, who used to be all innocence and light, too fucking bashful to say 'I'm gonna come,' was now a dirty little deep-throating sadist. Well maybe that was taking things too far, but he knew deep in his soul that Eddie wanted  him to beg for mercy; that he so giddily longed to see Richie desperate. "You like doing this shit to me," he choked out, breathy and a little woeful.

Eddie blinked his big eyes. All Richie saw were the dark smudges of lashes fluttering against golden cheeks. "Yeah, but you  like it, too," he stated simply, still blinking. "Don't you?" It was painfully true. Richie did like it. He couldn't help how much he loved it, and that was the scariest part.

"Yeah," he admitted huskily. "I fucking love  that you get off on torturing me. What's that say about me?"

Rolling his eyes, Eddie rocked back off his knees and plopped onto his ass on the floor. "Okay, I wasn't looking for this to get existential or anything."

"Fuck, we’re not going to move towards anything that involves me jizzing today, are we?"  Richie's voice was the resigned, pathetic whine of someone who'd already given up. "Just let me know that it's hopeless now; I'll go rub one out in the shower." He reached back to the desk on his side of the room to grab his glasses.

Eddie was smaller and said less words, but he (and his temper) had all the control in their relationship, and they both knew it. Half of the time their sex consisted of Eddie riling Richie up until he was about to explode, and then backing off--pissed--because Richie accidentally compared him to a snake or a roomba or a four-door Cadillac or some other shit that he didn't even remember saying three seconds after he said it. The rest of the time they made love, sweet and lazy; candles-lit-on-the-dresser and you're-my-one-and-only-I-would-die-for-you perfection.

It was a set of absolutes that were exactly like Eddie himself: either fuzzy, soft and sweet, or jagged with barbs underneath that could prick and wound without a second thought, and Richie had always been easily wounded.

"Baby, I got on my knees because I wanted to taste you." Eddie sighed, folding his arms defensively across his bare chest. "I really wanted to. I didn't do it to fuck with you, even though I know that's what you think." His eyes were on Richie's shiny cock, which had begun to go flaccid during all their chatting about pointless bullshit. Eddie stood up and adjusted his briefs before straddling Richie on the chair. "Do you want to fuck me instead?" He wiggled his ass around playfully, rubbing against Richie's dick, and it hardened, twitching up and pulsing at him. Always ready for him.

"It would appear so, huh?" Richie plunged his tongue into his boyfriend's mouth, smoothing his hands up and into Eddie’s recently trimmed hair. He stood, easily lifting Eddie, who wrapped his legs around Richie's waist. 

Eddie balked as they approached Richie's bed. "Wait, I'm not having sex on your bed." He pinched Richie's nipple, hard.

"Oww, Jesus. Why not?"

Eddie puckered up his face like he just ate a lemon. "Because you haven't changed the sheets since a week before we left for winter break."

He shifted Eddie's weight in his arms. “Do you have like a spreadsheet where you mark this shit down to nag me later, or…”

Rolling his eyes, Eddie half whined half demanded, “Richie, just go to my bed.”

Richie stood there holding his boyfriend in the gap between their beds, looking back and forth across the space that separated their respective sides of the room. The differences were glaring. Eddie's side was neat, clean, everything was put away. A place for everything and everything in it's place  or whatever other hokey Good Housekeeping life-rules Eddie subscribed to. Richie's side was a total wreck. Bed unmade with a ton of pillows thrown every which way; books and papers and empty coffee containers all over the bedside table.

He could have just listened to Eddie and gave in, plopped the little guy down on his own bed and gone to town plowing him, but it was the principle of the thing that bugged him. "Eds, we're just gonna get jizz all over the bed anyway. Who cares?"

"I care. It's full of over two weeks’ worth of germs, and sweat, and  jizz and who the fuck knows what else you're doing over there." He pointed down at the rumpled-up bedspread. "Fucking cookie crumbs and gummy worms and coffee creamer probably all over it. We should get a black light."

"Y'know when I pictured having a dorm room with you I thought it was going to be so fun." Richie shook his head, looking down at Eddie's chest. "Living with my best friend who also happens to be my love; fucking and cuddling non-stop. Real happily-ever-after type shit." He brought his eyes up slowly to meet Eddie's. "But instead, I get lectured by Martha fucking Stewart about gummy worms and jizz stains."

Eddie stiffened in his arms. "Put me down."

"Fine." Richie deposited Eddie onto his feet. He grabbed his boxers off the floor and tugged them on. "I knew the second you put my dick in your mouth how this shit would go." 

“Richie, I don’t want to waste today by fighting." Eddie softened, resting his hand on Richie's bicep. “Everything is going to get so stressful tomorrow.” The spring semester began in the morning, and both of them would be immediately busy with classes. Their differing majors made it so their schedules rarely overlapped. They were teetering on the edge of ruining their last full free day together by being stubborn assholes. "I wanted to have a nice day with you.”

“You think I didn’t want that, Eds?” Richie cupped the back of Eddie's neck and pulled him face first into an embrace.

Eddie chuckled, muffled against Richie's chest. "Calling me Martha Stewart really doesn't scream 'let's have a good day.'"

"You don't like that, baby?" He planted his face against Eddie's neck, teasing. "I thought you were her number one fan."

"Oh, fuck you," Eddie moaned, trying to squirm away, but Richie leaned forward and knocked them both back onto Eddie's bed. He took off his glasses and let them sail across the room. They landed with a soft plop on his mattress.

Richie kissed Eddie gently, open-mouthed and full. He wasn't attempting to urgently drain his nuts anymore; he was apologizing with soft, deep kisses that made Eddie's face pink and his breathing shaky.

The things he’d said to Eddie about lamenting their living arrangement were instantly regretted. He spoke aloud painful truths neither of them wanted to acknowledge, because the first couple months at school undeniably were  an absolute fuck-and-love-fest. They were both over the moon back then, and staring wide-eyed at their future. So fucking happy, not only to be away from their parents, but to be together. The proximity was the best part. They fucked on Richie's bed and slept in Eddie's; spooning every night. But slowly, little nagging realities crept in and got in the way of their joy.

Richie left wet towels all over the floor, and he habitually used two of them every time he took a shower. "Who does that?!"  Eddie'd yelled at him more than once, so frustrated his eyes bugged out of his head. 

"People with long hair, you little shithead,"  Richie'd clapped back. "You won't let me cut it. Enjoy fifty dirty towels."

Eddie bitched because he was alone in his belief that cleaning the microwave and coffee pot were necessary chores. Richie got fall-down drunk every single night the week before Thanksgiving break, and Eddie had to both put him down to bed and drag him out of it the following mornings. Eddie was a cranky little crab upon waking more often than not, and hurled insults like he was giving out candy only to take them back ten minutes later. Richie vehemently refused to get a flu shot and then simultaneously burdened and terrified Eddie by being gravely ill during midterms.

It wasn't easy. Richie thought it would  be easy, that love was an entity that would guide them through and shine down like a guiding star or a guardian angel. Love would check in with them to sporadically remind them of what was important. Unfortunately, that was a ridiculous fantasy. Life was fucking tough, and human beings were predictable: once they got comfortable, they stopped acting on their best behavior and shit got fucked up. He and Eddie were both guilty of it a million times over.

Though they had their ups and downs, inside that exact moment they were kissing on the bed. Eddie was solid between Richie's hands, his tongue pressing back, wet and engaged. He tugged on Richie's hair, and hooked his leg over Richie's hip to press their crotches flush. Even if they didn't fuck that afternoon, even if Eddie teased him for fun and kicked his dick into the dirt and laughed at him, they were there together. They loved each other and they were both trying.  

 

****

 

May ~ Beverly

****

 

 

It was like an oven in Richie's bedroom; way too hot for the last week in May. The central air was shut off and the front window opened wide. Beverly sat close to Richie on the floor; close enough that their elbows touched. Both of their backs were leaned up against the wooden body of the window seat, and they were smoking cigarettes; carefully holding their hands up above shoulder height so the smoke would blow out the window behind them.

Richie had fans set up in his room, an entire system really, involving incense sticks and a dryer sheet stuffed inside the cardboard skeleton from a roll of paper towels. It was sort of clever, but Bev ultimately knew that they were stinking the place up, and probably destroying his carpet. Summer break was only a week old and his mother was already going to murder him.

The kid was an absolute mess: his long hair a frizzy, knotted disaster; his unshaven face pink, and puffy as a baseball glove. He didn’t have anything on but a pair of boxers and a gigantic pullover hoodie, and sat with his skinny legs tucked in front of his chest, folding as small as he got. 

Bev didn’t know how he stood the heat with that sweatshirt on because she was dying in her overall shorts and tank top. She kept her voice soft and skated her fingernails light along the crease of Richie’s upturned knee. “When was the last time you saw him?”

“A million years ago.” Richie sniffled and rubbed at his left eye with the inside of his forearm. “I don’t fucking know, Bevvie. Last month.” His voice was stuffy and hoarse like he had a cold but Bev knew it was just from crying.

“Not at all since you got back?” She peeked over her shoulder through the open window.

Eddie’s house sat there across the street. It was small and squat; sort of homely compared to Richie’s house, but the fleshy, ripe azalea bushes in the front of the Kaspbrak yard were in full, gorgeous bloom. Within a week the season would be over for them, and the flowers would wither and fall to the ground.

Mental note: go over and cut some of them to take home before I drag Richie out of the house.  

Richie didn’t answer her. He kept his bare eyes downcast and puffed on his cigarette, blowing the smoke at the ceiling through his paper towel roll apparatus. Bev tried again. “I mean you haven’t even seen him walking out of his house or coming home from somewhere?”

“I’ve been in here the entire time.” Richie grimaced and thoughtlessly tossed his half-smoked cigarette over his shoulder out the open window. "I try not to look over there; I'm not a fucking masochist." He was fully crying again, silently, and without warning. It was the third time he’d started up since she got to his house.

It hurt Bev to watch his tears, but she wasn't sure why he was so sad. She’d broken up with Mike just before spring semester ended and she didn't cry at all, because it was the right thing to do. If it hadn’t been, she wouldn’t have done it. 

Her love for Mike didn’t go away, but their relationship wasn’t working anymore. They went to different schools, they were always missing each other’s calls and video chat invites. It just made sense to pull the band-aid off and try to be happy in the present where they were, not wrapped up in the past. They were in love in high school and it was easy--even through the bad times--because they lived two blocks away from one another.

She sighed because she knew what she was about to say wasn't going to go over well. Placing her hand tentatively on Richie’s wrist, she came out with it. “Richie, don’t take this the wrong way, but why are you crying? You broke up with him.” 

Richie glared at her when she said it, his bare eyes swollen and wounded. “I should’ve called Stanley over here. At least when he’s an asshole to me it’s expected.” He sniffled and put his glasses back on.

“I’m not trying to be an asshole. I’m trying to understand what you’re feeling.” Bev knocked the cherry off her cigarette butt and sent it falling into the open lip of the can they’d been ashing into, waiting to hear the hiss of it being extinguished. She dropped the rest of the butt in after it. “I broke up with Mike around the same time you guys did. He and I are both okay, I think. We have plans to hang out soon, as friends.”

“Well, you and Mikey win, okay? You’re perfect human specimens. So mature.” He rubbed at his eye underneath his glasses. “Or no, fuck that, you’re goddamned androids.”

Bev snickered and shook her head. “I’m not a robot. I have feelings, Richie.”

“Could’a fooled me,” he mumbled, leaning his chin on his knee.

She turned her body a little bit to face him. “You want me to give you a french braid?”

Richie snickered in spite of his mood. “What’s with you and my sister thinking that playing with my hair is gonna make me feel better?”

“I dunno.” Beverly shrugged. “What would  make you feel better?”

“Being able to touch him. And having like a magic button to just erase the past month and start over. I want to climb up into his window and just bury my head in his lap.” Richie’s eyes welled up again. “I’m such a fuck-up, Red. Colossal. A dumb motherfucker.”

Richie.”  Bev smiled wanly at him. “Maybe you could just go talk to him?”

Richie threw up his hands and looked at her incredulously. “And say what exactly?”

“That you made a mistake," Bev offered, searching Richie's face. "That you love him, and you want to work things out.”

He got up from the floor and threw himself down onto the bed on his stomach. His voice was muffled against the mattress. “He doesn’t want to hear that shit Bev.” He dragged his pillow underneath his face.

“How the fuck would you know?” Bev stood up and joined him, sitting on the edge of the bed. She laid her hand on the exposed small of his back. “You said you haven’t seen him in a month.”

“I saw his face when I told him I wanted to break up," he whispered, sniffling. "He looked relieved."

“Yeah, but what did he say ?” She shifted to lay down beside him, rubbing a slow circle on his clammy skin. “Assuming what people are feeling based on how their face looks can be a big mistake.”

“He said… not a whole lot.”

“He was being dumped.” Bev laid her chin down on Richie’s upper back, still petting him. “What did you expect him to say?”

“I don’t know.” Richie let out a shuddery sigh. “Something. Anything.” 

“You know Eddie’s not big with the emotional words.”

“He used to be, with me. When it was just us.”

“This is kind of beside the point,” she cautioned lightly, “but, you both didn’t have to leave the group chat.”

He rolled onto his back abruptly, causing her to lift her head. “I left it because I figured he had dibs on you guys. He knew most of you before he even met me.”

Clutching onto the thick fabric of his hoodie pocket, Bev shook him, grinning. “Well if you respect dibs, then I bet you’ve also heard of a little thing called finders-keepers-losers-weepers?”

His lips curled into a smile, and Bev could tell he didn’t want to. He tried to stop it in its tracks, raising a hand to press knuckles up against his mouth.

She reached out and took his hand, pulled it away from his face. “Don’t fight it, let the joy flow through you!”

Richie cracked, chuckling. He let go of her hand. “I really hate you.”

“You don’t,” she whispered. “At all.”

“I don’t,” he agreed. He held out his arms wide to invite her in, looking very much like a sad little boy who needed someone to kiss his knee after he’d skinned it.

Bev accepted, cuddling up to his chest and laying her arm across his middle. “I’m sorry you’re sad.”

Richie wrapped his arm around her and exhaled loudly. “You’re sorry, I’m sorry, everybody’s sorry.” He squeezed her tight. “Thanks for coming over.”

“No problem.” She stared up at the ceiling, wondering if Eddie was across the street in his bed, feeling the same way Richie did, only going through it all alone. “We should go out and do something. Get your mind off of things.”

She felt Richie shaking his head, shaking both of them. “I’m not leaving my room until I have to go back to school.”

“Richie, that’s really unrealistic.”

“Bevvie, it’s a solid plan.”

Bev sat up and sat cross-legged, facing him with her knees pressed against his side and hip. “Bill’s having a Fourth of July party. You have to at least come to that.”

“Uh, yeah and it’s going to probably end up being Eddie’s unofficial birthday party, too." Richie took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes with balled fists.  "Not going.” 

“You can’t even exist at the same party as him?" Bev scrunched up her nose. "Richie, how are you going to handle next semester?”

“He’s taking mostly social science classes." Richie sat up and faced her, leaning his back against the wall. He attempted to run his fingers through his hair and loosen up the knots. "The only reason we saw each other at all last semester was because we lived in the same room.”

She smirked up at the mess on his head. "What's the living situation going to be like next semester?"

"For him, I haven't a fucking clue." Richie gave up on trying to untangle his hair and just gathered it and tied it up into a tornado of a bun. "I'm basically homeless now but I have multiple off-campus crashing options."

Bev nodded at him. "You sure you don't want to go do something?" She grinned, teasing, her cadence bobbing, "If you come to the movies with me I'll buy you popcorn and twizzlers."

"Nah. I'm not going anywhere." Richie shook his head vigorously. "Check back with me in a month. Maybe I'll be ready to face these Derry streets by then." He slipped his glasses back on his face. "I mean if I don't die of the broken heart I gave myself or starvation first."

"Dramatic," Bev deadpanned. She got up on her knees to kiss his forehead before she stood up. "Everything is going to be okay. I know that sounds vague and cliche, but I just know it is."

"I'll take your word for it. Thanks, Red."

 

 *

 

Bev made a beeline across the street to get her hands on those flowers she coveted. The only sharp object in her purse was a pathetically dull sewing scissor clipped to her key chain, and she set to methodically sawing off a few blooms. She heard the front door to the Kaspbrak house open and shut with a creak and a hiss of air, but Beverly kept her attention on her task. It was frustrating as all hell; like cutting steak with a butter knife.

"What are you doing?" Eddie's soft voice carried across the yard.

"Stealing flowers," she intoned sweetly. "What's it look like I'm doing?"

"Stealing flowers," he echoed flatly, coming closer. 

Bev lifted her eyes to appraise him. Wearing shorts and a too-big teeshirt, Eddie was a little bit taller than she remembered and a whole lot thinner. He was pale and had dark circles under his eyes, but he didn't look like he'd been crying. She wanted to hug him hello, but his body language didn't invite it. "How are you?"

Eddie crossed his arms over his chest. "Been better."

She nodded, looking back down at the flowers. The stems were massacred, but Bev was determined to have the puffs of magenta in a vase in her bedroom that evening. "The been-betters are going around, I think." She smirked down at her working hands. "Airborn or something, maybe."

"I take it that means you just came here from across the street," he mumbled, his eyes carefully fixed on his own bare toes. 

"Mmhmmn," Bev hummed, twisting and pulling until she was rewarded with her prize: a crooked woody stem dotted with several bright puffs in a haphazard pattern. "In all honesty, you look like you're doing better than he is." 

"I don't want to talk about him," Eddie mumbled, his eyes flashing up to Richie’s bedroom window for a second and back down.

Bev fiddled with the branch in her hand. She wanted to tell him that Richie was laying over there, feeling like a fool and aching for Eddie to just come tell him they could stop being stupid and love each other. But she couldn’t say it. She didn’t meddle in other people’s relationships. "We don’t have to talk about it."

Eddie blinked rapidly, his eyes narrowing and focusing. If Bev didn’t know better, she’d have thought he was staring at her crotch. He took a deep breath before he spoke. “Have you seen anyone else since you got back?”

“Nope. I’m supposed to see Mike soon.” Bev tucked the stem of the flowers in between her purse and her side and it hung there like a sword in a sheath. “We broke up,” she added casually.

“Really?” He raised his eyebrows. "And you're okay?"

“Yep. It was the right thing to do,” Bev stated resolutely. “The distance was getting to be too much.” She watched Eddie’s expression shifting, and could almost see the thoughts forming in his head and projecting out of his face. He and Richie lived together, practically on top of one another, and they couldn’t make it work. Bev thought he would open his mouth and mention that, but he didn’t.

“I’m going to the movies tomorrow." He said it with zero emotion and apropos of nothing, licking his lips and studying his toes again.

Bev tensed her eyebrows. "Who are you going with?"

Eddie looked like he really didn’t want to tell her. Either that or he suddenly got nauseated. "Patrick."

“You are not!” She squealed it, immediately cringing after the words left her lips. Richie’s bedroom window was open across the street and he could look out and see them. “How did that happen?”

“It’s just a movie Bev.” He shifted his feet so his right hip stuck out. “Things are different with him now. Richie and I…” Eddie trailed off and closed his eyes, as though saying his ex-boyfriend’s name was too much for him to bear. “Patrick was the only person there that we already knew, y’know?” He swallowed and looked briefly into her eyes. "He's my friend."

“Yeah.” Bev’d heard the story before. Patrick picked the school because it had a good theater program, and Richie’d applied when he graduated the following year. Eddie was interested in becoming a counselor or a social worker, and he could get that sort of degree anywhere, so he followed Richie there.

I wonder if he regrets it. If he and Richie’d gone to different colleges maybe their break up would've been a simple 'distance doesn't work' situation, and it wouldn't have been so monumentally devastating to them both.

“I should go back in. I just wanted to see what the hell you were doing out here.” Eddie backed up a few paces, eyes still on Bev. “See you on the fourth?”

Bev nodded. “Yeah. Call me or text me if you want to—”

“Yeah.” Eddie cut her off, soft and blunt. “I will.” He shrugged. “If I want to do anything, I doubt--.”

“Yeah,” Bev agreed. “I know.” She stuck her thumb over her shoulder, bopping it towards Richie’s bedroom. “Same story.”

“Why is he even sad— I mean, he was the one who—”

“I thought you didn’t want to talk about it?”

Eddie rubbed his eyes roughly with both hands. “I don’t.” He turned and walked back to his front door, shutting it behind himself.

 

****

 

September ~ Eddie

****

 

 

"Fuck." Eddie grunted, stretching his arms up as high as they went, attempting to nudge the textbook he needed off the top shelf. He knew his polo was riding up in back but he didn't give a shit. 

The campus bookstore was a madhouse as it always was during the first month of the fall semester. All the student workers were occupied by other patrons, and there wasn’t a step stool anywhere in sight. Eddie was going to get that book down by any means necessary. He'd rented his other textbooks online, but he was painfully broke and had to use his book credit for this one. It was already the second week of classes and he'd put it off long enough. 

Fuck why'd I have to wear sandals today?

Eddie glanced around briefly to make sure no one was watching him. Squatting down bit to gain momentum, he popped up in an impressive vertical leap--impressive for his short legs, anyway. His fingertips grazed the book and pushed it further back on the shelf. "Cocksucking-shitbag-motherfuck!"

A mellow, deep, and mildly amused voice came from right behind him. "Well Howdy to you, too."

All the muscles in Eddie's body tensed at once as a familiar big hand attached to a bare, skinny arm reached up easily and grabbed the book he'd been struggling with for five minutes. The hand swung the textbook down and deposited it against Eddie's chest, releasing it unceremoniously. He scrambled his arms around it so it didn't slip down to the floor and crash into his exposed toes. 

"Don't say I never gave you anything," the voice said softly before Eddie heard his feet padding away.

Swallowing hard, Eddie steeled himself. He spun around to lay his eyes on his ex-boyfriend. Took a couple steps forward. "Hi."

Richie turned back and smirked, the skin around his bare eyes crinkling as they roved over Eddie's thighs. "Cram a stick up my ass and call me a blowpop, he speaks. All tan and showing some leg, too." 

Eddie stared down at his own tiny khaki shorts, and then peered over at Richie's battered black skinny jeans, all covered in slices like someone took a razor blade to them. He opened his mouth to speak, but couldn't form words; nothing previewed as the right thing to say in his head. Fuck, but Richie was still so beautiful. Eddie tried hard not to stare openly but he couldn't help it.

Everything Richie wore that day was a size too small for him and a swatch of his pale belly poked out below the hem of a vintage-looking salmon teeshirt. The sleeves were torn off, and Eddie wondered if it came like that or if Richie did it himself. There were a bunch of bracelets on his right wrist and forearm; hair ties and metal bangles and colorful thick rubber bands. His hair was loose, and longer than ever. It was well past his shoulder blades, and he looked like he hadn’t shaved his face all summer.

"Uh-oh,” Richie huffed softly. “Have I rendered you speechless, kid?"

Trailing his eyes down to the floor, Eddie focused on the carpet slightly to the left of Richie's chucks and shook his head. Then he nodded. Then he tried to force himself to give Richie eye contact. "No."

“Cool, so you can still say ‘hi’ and ‘no.’” Richie bobbed his head back and forth as he spoke. “How about ‘Byzantinian Fresco.’"

Eddie furrowed his brow at that comment. "A who now?"

"They’re inside that book,” Richie said casually, rubbing a hand over his budding beard and pointing at the gigantic textbook he’d helped Eddie acquire. “Y’know, old-ass paintings?”

"Oh. Uh, yeah," he mumbled, clearing his throat. "Art History. Filling humanities credits this semester."

"Me too." Richie nodded and licked his lips. "I'm taking music appreciation. Y'know, 'cause I appreciate music."

"Fun," Eddie whispered to the floor.

“You betcha.”

Richie’s eyes were confident, and raking all over him. Not like Eddie hadn’t just done the same thing to his ex, but he felt exposed. He tugged self-consciously on the hem of his baby blue polo. “So, uh. I probably should go rent this--”

“Yeah-yeah-yeah. True. But anyway. Look,” Richie rattled quickly as he brought his right hand up to fluff at his hair, sending those bracelets clacking. It was a Richie-tell: I’m nervous, so I’m going to play with my hair. Eddie still knew him so well, even after months apart. Standing there staring at him in the bookstore was more painful than the day they broke up. It was like accidentally scratching at a scab he thought'd healed, only to feel that sting and see the blood flow again. “I just want to tell you something before you hear it from someone else.”

Oh God he's being so flirty yet weirdly shy I-just-met-you Richie right now. "Hey Eds, can I ask you something?" 

Eddie shifted his feet, squared his shoulders. "So just tell me."

"Yeah, okay." His hand was still in his hair.  "I started seeing someone else."

“Oh. Um, well I am, too—”

“I know,” Richie cut him off, nodding. “I know.”

Eddie nodded back, eyes on the floor. “So what’s your boy— I mean, what’s his—"

“Her name is Heather."

His heart plunged down into his stomach when he heard the name. “You’re with a girl?” He tried to keep the hurt out of his voice, but it was there, plain as day. The bitter taste in his mouth was immediate and sickening. “Of course you are," Eddie deadpanned. "What the fuck am I even saying.”

Richie nodded and scrunched up his face, sarcastic. “Yeah, that’s the BI  part of bisexual, interesting concept.”

“Great,” Eddie hummed brightly, unable to hide his irritation. “Happy for you.”

“Thanks, little buddy.” Richie finger-combed his long curls up, twisting and pulling them into a bun with one of the bands on his wrist. Pointedly,  Eddie thought, on purpose, to tease me, the fuckhead. “Last time I was with a boy—” He looped the little purple tie around his hair and tugged at the tufts of the bun to fan them messily. “--he kinda fucked me up, y’know?" His big ears stuck out, as endearing to Eddie as ever, but there were new things to see: an undershave at the nape of his neck and a black barbell stretching across the shell of his right ear.

"He  fucked you  up?" Eddie huffed a bitter laugh, hugging the text book tighter to his chest. "That's the funniest shit you've ever said. Are you taking improv classes?"

"Ah, there's the snarky little shithead I know," Richie said fondly. "I wondered where he went." He sighed and shook his head, mockingly mornful. "I'm with her because I have bad associations with penis. Gotta work things out, y'know?"

“Sorry to hear that,” Eddie moaned, falsely sympathetic and clapping a hand to his chest. “I love  dick, personally." He poked his tongue out to lick at his bottom lip. "Can’t get enough of it.” 

Richie’s eyes were on Eddie’s mouth. His voice got quiet. “Oh, I know, dear. I know very well.”

Eddie ducked his head--smacking his forehead into his hand—and rubbed down the side of his face. He glanced belatedly around them. The two of them stood there acting obscenely dramatic in the middle of a store while other students milled about shopping and probably listening. What the fuck were they even doing? It was petty and stupid and more importantly, it fucking hurt.  “Fuck, Richie. Is this how it’s going to be every time I see you because I can’t—”

“Nah, it’s not. I gotta jet anyway.” Richie snapped his fingers and popped double guns Eddie’s way. “Have fun loving dick or whatever. Build it a shrine." He yelled over his shoulder as he left, "GET ONE OF THOSE JESUS CANDLES BUT PAINT A COCK ON IT INSTEAD.”

Heads turned, their eyes settling on Eddie and his little shorts. “Lovely,” he called after his ex-boyfriend, as his face went beet red. “Will do.”

 

*

 

Seeing Richie edged Eddie towards a funk. He tried his best not to let himself fall into one, and attempted to get some work done with his new textbook. His plans got interrupted several times by knocks on his door.

Signing up to be an RA seemed  like a good idea at the time. Not only did it afford him a single room—which for a second year student was a rare and beautiful treat—but it gave him helpful real-world experience that aligned with his career aspirations. Eddie'd blossomed in his junior year of high school, and learned to cope with his stress and anxiety in healthier ways. Though he owed some of the credit to Richie, he also had his guidance counselor Judith to thank, and he planned to show his appreciation by paying it forward. Every time he felt himself getting annoyed with a crying freshman, he tried to remind himself that it was for the greater good. Sometimes everyone could use a little guidance.

Eddie scribbled a note on the white board stuck to his door.

"Unless this is life or death, please do not disturb. But if it IS life or death, maybe call 911?"   

He settled down to get some work done. Hoping to take his mind off of everything, he went through his music library looking for something to study to. His hopes were short-lived when he scrolled past his Spaghetti Songs  playlist and was immediately dragged back to his encounter with Richie in the bookstore. 

The first thing Richie'd done when they broke up was delete that playlist. Eddie didn't know if he did it as a vindictive move or if it was an act of self-preservation. Either way, Eddie was pissed off. He loved that playlist and every song on it. So he went ahead and created his own copy: all the same songs in the same order, just saved privately on his own account. 

He scrolled past Spaghetti Songs  and tapped the search field. There was a specific song he wanted to listen to, one he liked when he was a little boy. One that Richie--all long hair and bearded face and skinny arms--made him hum involuntarily that afternoon after he left the bookstore. He listened to the song with only on ear bud in, just in case.

 

You sit there in your heartache

Waiting on some beautiful boy to

To save you from your old ways

You play forgiveness, watch him now, here he come

He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus, but he talks like a gentleman

Like you imagined when you were young

 

Richie was the exact opposite of what the Killers promised him when he was eight.

The Skype jingle sang out of his laptop speaker and Eddie knew immediately who was calling without having to check. His studying would have to wait. He hit the answer button and Sadie’s bright smile came into view. He was elated to see her face, though his joy was interlaced with longing.

Sadie’s most recent growth spurt shot her up to an even five-foot nine, and she'd dropped baby fat while surpassing Eddie’s height by two inches. Her slimmed-down facial structure had revealed a secret: both Tozier children had the same delicate high cheek bones. She looked more and more like her brother every time Eddie saw her. Despite her entire state of being reminding him of bad memories, he loved her. Eddie's best friend was his ex-boyfriend's seventeen-year-old sister, and she lived in a different state, so what?

He grinned at her. “Hi Boo-boo.” 

“Heyyyy my best buddy!” Sadie sat at her computer desk in her bedroom. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too, so much. How’s junior year?”

“Fucking stupid," Sadie groaned, shaking her head. "I don’t even wanna talk about it. How’s school for you?”

He shrugged. "So far, so good, but I can't get any work done."

"Your boy nagging you for sex too much?" Sadie asked cheekily, making a little hole-in-one motion using her looped index finger and thumb as the hole.

"I wish that was the problem," Eddie chuckled, rolling his eyes. "It's the first-years. They keep knocking on my door looking for Advil, Band-aids, Nyquil, or just wanting me to like braid their hair and rub their backs while they cry about their relationships."

"I don't know why you wanted to be an RA in the first place.” Sadie made a sour face. “I would tell every single one of them to go cry to their mamas."

"Well, your compassion is unsurpassed," he intoned sagely. "Being an RA isn't easy, but getting a single as a second year is kind of impossible? So I'm lucky, too."

"Yeah, I guess having your own room is probably amazing. How's your new boy?"

“Good, he’s good. He's very sweet.” Eddie paused, not wanting to say it, but it came out anyway. “You talk to your brother, at all?”

“Not since he left to go back there." She widened her eyes behind her glasses. "Mags is still distraught  over the break-up, son. Calling hotlines.”

Eddie snickered. Sadie was Richie incarnate. “She is not,  stop it.”

“Okay, she isn’t," she concurred tiredly. "But she’s kind of upset. It’s like she used to believe in love, and you guys crushed all her dreams.”

He  crushed her dreams,” Eddie corrected her softly. He breathed in deep and exhaled slowly. “Did you know he got a barbell pierced in his cartilage?”

“Oh yeah, I saw that shit on snapchat.” Sadie laughed loud, wheezing. “I was like ‘All that metal in the way, how’re you gonna flap those ears now, Dumbo ?’” She laid her head down on the desk. “Fucking BLOCKED Eddie.”

“Oh shit,” Eddie howled with laughter. “He blocked you?”

“Yes, what a goddamned cry-baby.”

“He is.” Eddie just looked at her, happy to have her as an ally and a friend. A sister, even if things with Richie were ruined. “I love you, Sadie.”

“Mutual.” She leaned and smacked a kiss right up on the camera lens.

Eddie licked his lips, looked down at the desk. “I saw him. Today.”

“Did he say anything fucked up to you?” Sadie was immediately protective. “Because I’ll kill him. I’ll go into his room right now and snap all his vinyl in half.”

“He said a lot of things,” Eddie reported vaguely. “But he’s Richie, so, I expect that.”

She leaned her forearms down on the desk, bringing her face closer to the camera. Pleading him. “Eddie, you are doing amazing right now. Don’t start that self-loathing, what-if, fucking sad boy bullshit back up again. Please, just don’t. You don’t deserve it. He’s the fucking idiot.”

“But that’s the thing. I know everything is good for me right now. I’m happy.” Eddie blinked fast, wishing Sadie couldn’t see him. He wouldn’t look at the screen. “But looking at him, I kept wanting to tell myself that I used to be happier. Even when things weren't great, I was happier just to be close to him. Is that so stupid?”

“Eddie look at me.” He did. “No,” Sadie shook her head, her voice subdued. “You aren’t stupid. You love him, and I’ve been fucking baffled by it since I was in eighth grade, but it doesn’t make you stupid.”

“He didn’t cut his hair.” He gave Sadie a weak smile. “He used to say all the time that the only reason he kept it long was because I liked it. But he still hasn’t cut it.”

“He does have really good hair,” she admitted begrudgingly. “Did he tell you about—

“The girlfriend?” Eddie nodded. “Or whatever she is to him. Yeah.”

“She’s a groupie,” Sadie said easily. “She only likes him because of the whole band thing.”

“Is it a thing  now? That was like… the beginning of the end for us, you know. When he auditioned.”

“Yeah, I know. He was a fucking wreck last summer, Eddie. He told me everything.” She glanced down into her lap, probably at her phone. “Look I’m sorry, but I gotta go, I just wanted to give you a little love.”

Eddie smiled at her. “It’s fine Sadie. Thanks for it. Love you.”

“Love ya, Eddie.” She blew him a kiss. “Bye.”

He sat there staring at the screen for several minutes after she'd ended the call. Sadie was right; he was happy where he was, and things were going great. Thinking about Richie, and how fucking gorgeous he was, and how cute he could be when he was tentatively poking to make conversation--it didn't lead to anything productive. It just confused him. He'd start idealizing the way things were and comparing the present to the past. His current relationship didn't have to be as intense or as meaningful as his first love. Things were fine and good. 

Eddie opened up his text book and got to work. 

Chapter Text

February ~ Richie

****

 

Richie was ecstatic; jazzed to the teeth. He raced home to his love-nest of a dorm room, eager as fuck to tell his baby the fantastic news.

The halls of the dorm were a blur as he jogged through them, all the doors looked the same—whiteboards, pictures of kids in high school graduation attire, cut out construction paper words and magazine clippings that reminded him of ransom notes from bad serial killer movies. Their door was the last one on the second floor. The one with the rainbow stickers and the Watchman  poster and the picture of Beverly riding Mike piggyback, hysterically laughing and giving the lens the finger. Their white board had a quote from Caddyshack  scrawled in Richie’s chicken-scratch. ‘Hey everybody: we’re all gonna get laid!’

“Baby!” He burst into the room and hurried up to the desk where his boyfriend sat.

Eddie was hard at work, studying furiously as usual. He sat cross-legged in the chair with nothing but Richie’s largest hoodie and a pair of underpants covering him. There were multiple open books spread across the flat top of the table, and a plethora of sticky notes in varying shades peppering the pages.

Richie burrowed his lips into the crook between Eddie’s neck and shoulder, kissing him on his trap with a loud smack. “Baby, I'm dying, I have something amazing to tell you."

Shivering, Eddie shoved Richie’s head away. “Richie, you’re freezing cold. Do you always have to come in like a tornado?” He gestured at the mess in front of himself. “I’m in the middle of something here.”

He backed up, removing his yellow scarf and leather jacket. “Sorry, I’m just like, super fucking excited.” Tossing the shed articles of clothing in the general direction of his bed without bothering to look behind himself, he stared hard at the back of Eddie’s head. He wished the kid could pull himself away from the stupid books to give him thirty seconds worth of attention. This was big; huge. Ginormous. Tremendous. Other really big, exciting words. “I did something tonight that I’ve wanted to do for pretty much forever, Eds.”

“Hmmn.” Eddie kept his voice even, his neck still bent over his books. “If I turn around and your hair is short I’m going to flip the fuck out.”

Richie chuckled and fiddled with his glasses. “I didn’t cut my hair, kid. Calm down.”

“I’m perfectly calm, Richie.” Eddie turned around, his expression not quite a glare, but getting there. “Telling me to calm down when I’m already relaxed is basically an invitation  for me to flip out, though.” His eyes traveled across Richie’s face. “What are you so excited about?”

“I’m glad you asked.” He held up both his palms to Eddie, preparing him in dramatic fashion. “I had an audition,” he announced, beaming like he’d just told Eddie they won the lottery.

“An audition?” Eddie blinked, confused. “For what?”

“To sing…” he hummed smugly, drawing it out for effect, “…In a band.”

Eddie furrowed his brow, his cheeks puckering. “Isn’t that like a huge commitment?”

Backing up a few paces, Richie’s smile blinked off his face and he plopped down onto his bed. “Uh, I guess?” He should’ve expected the reaction, but he held out hope that Eddie would surprise him one of these days by not immediately shitting all over him. “I don’t know if I’ll even get it.”

“It’s just that you’ve been slacking off with classes already.” Eddie clasped his hands in his lap, twisting them together. “Your grades last semester were way worse than what you’re capable—”

“Listen, I got straight A’s my entire life.” He wouldn’t look Eddie in the eye. It felt like reliving every phone call home to his mother since they’d moved into the dorm. She bitched about his midterm warning letter and threw out accusations that he must be drinking every night, like she had room to even lecture him about that shit. Mags was a big, alcoholic pot calling the mini-me-alcoholic-in-training kettle black. “So what, I got a fucking C in English comp, Eddie. I hate writing papers.”

“Yeah, I don’t think anyone likes  writing papers.” Eddie patted his hand on the largest open text on the desk top. He let out a long breath and rubbed his hand over his eyes. “How are you expecting to balance this new thing with all your other stuff when you don’t even have time to study right now?”

“I don’t know, Eddie,” Richie sighed. He scoffed and looked up at the ceiling. “I’m just stoked over having a fucking really great audition that impressed the band. I haven’t thought that far into it.”

“Of course you haven’t. That’s my job.” Eddie turned back to his books, shaking his head. “And then you’ll end up telling me I’m a nag because I just want you to—”

Fuck. I was so pumped to tell you this shit, too.” Richie stood up abruptly. He got smacked by a wild urge to leave the room and just start running as fast as he could in any direction. His energy scalded him from inside--hot and bright--and Eddie was a bucket of cold water, ready and willing to extinguish it in a moment’s notice. “I really must be stupid, man. I don’t learn anything.” He picked up his jacket, pointedly leaving his scarf behind. “I’m going out for a drink.”

“What? You just got here.” Eddie picked up his phone. “It’s only seven o’clock. Where are you going to get a drink?”

“There’s a party tonight. Off campus, on Haviland. Y’know, that old house over by the sushi spot? If you can manage to get that stick out of your ass so you can wiggle some pants on, maybe come meet up with me.” He walked out of the room, slamming the door over Eddie’s whiny protesting shouts.

*

 

Richie leaned up against the wood paneled wall of a room that was supposed to be a dining room--at least that’s what he wagered it was meant to be based on the layout of the first floor. The house was rented by four or five students and it was basically just a party house. There was zero real furniture to speak of in the downstairs area, and the upstairs bedrooms had padlocks on the doors.

Gulping from his cup, Richie surveyed the room. He foolishly wanted to get into a fight and it didn’t matter who with. That weird, prickly and aggressive urge hadn’t hit him in at least three years. All the fights he got into when he lived in Derry were reactive, his actions fueled only by his instinct to be protective of Eddie.    

It was really early, and the house was barely half-full. The crowd was mostly made up of a bunch of already wasted first-years, and the music was something popular and loud. That half rap-half rock type stuff that Richie just didn’t understand and couldn’t get behind.

Over by the keg, talking to a tall girl with hair that reminded Richie of Bevvie, Patrick stood sucking on a cup of beer. There was a time when Richie would’ve gladly selected him as an I-wanna-punch-someone-and-it-might-as-well-be-you  target, but he had no ill-feelings towards the guy, at least not anymore. They had several classes together, and Patrick didn’t act like he still wanted to fuck Eddie, so all was good between them. Good gravy.

Richie rocked himself off the wall and headed over. “Hey dude,” he yelled over the music.

Patrick’s eyebrows went up when he saw Richie. “Hey man. Early for anyone besides freshies to be here.” He grinned and tipped his chin towards his friend. “This is Heather, she’s one of the dirty degenerate first-years thirsty for bad beer. Heather, this is Richie. He’s in the drama program with me.”

She smiled shyly at Richie. “Hi.”

“Nice to meet you.” He drained his cup and went for the keg, pumping vigorously before he used the little hose to fill himself back up.

“You okay?” Patrick was squinting over at him. “You’re too quiet.”

“Yeah, just relationship drama.” He shrugged it off. “You can probably tell by my lack of a short-stack escort.”

Patrick nodded slowly, his expression inscrutable. “I noticed. What’s the problem, now?”

“I’m not allowed to do things that make me happy?” Richie groused, holding his cup close to his lips but not drinking. “I’m just supposed’ta study, and clean my sheets a hundred million times, and fuckin’…” He trailed off, his eyes widening. “Oh shit.” His dick twitched of its own accord, and suddenly his pants were too tight to accommodate it comfortably.

Patrick tipped his head to follow Richie’s gaze through the archway of the room and his mouth dropped open.

“Who is that?” Heather asked them, her eyes flitting from Patrick to Richie and then back over to the foyer.

“That’s Jean Gray,” Richie whispered dreamily.

Eddie was fucking beautiful; all decked out in his Halloween costume from high school--wig and boots and all--with the leather jacket Richie got him draped over his shoulders. In the tight spandex it was obvious that he’d grown thicker around his chest, and Richie didn’t realize it before that moment because it’s fucking hard to notice things like that when you see someone every single day. Eddie didn’t stray far from the front door, peering around the party tentatively and pivoting on the front of those boots gracefully; his cheeks a little bit pink and his lips a little bit wet because he kept licking them nervously. Richie smiled slowly and walked away from Patrick confidently without saying a word.

He saw Richie approaching and sucked in his bottom lip, his Bambi eyes apologetic. “Hi.”

“Yeah, Hi. ” Richie chuckled, blinking his eyes and bobbing his head around in shock. “That’s the understatement of all time.” He put his hand up to Eddie’s waist and pulled him closer, whispering. “You coulda just said you were sorry. But this is… fucking great,  too.”

“Let’s go,” Eddie whispered, grabbing Richie’s hand and quickly leading him towards the stairs.

They weren’t in the bathroom but two seconds before Richie was ripping Eddie’s jacket off and pressing him up against the door. “You’re so fucking hot, Eds,” he growled, sucking behind Eddie’s ear and moving down the curve of his jaw.

Eddie whined, high and urgent when Richie sunk his teeth into the soft flesh of his neck. “Baby, I need you inside me,” he breathed, desperate.

Moaning and pressing his whole body against Eddie’s, Richie cupped his face and kissed him hard, mumbling up against his lips. “Can I fuck you while you’re still wearing this?”

Breath heaving, Eddie nodded, reaching his hand down without breaking eye contact with Richie. “I didn’t wear underwear,” he whispered, barely vocalizing. The bodysuit had a crotch zipper, probably put in for practicalities-sake, to make it easier to use the restroom. Richie doubted that the people at the sporting goods store Eddie bought it from imagined that the little doe-eyed nugget would someday be getting bent over in a bathroom while wearing it.

Richie looked down at the gap made by the open zipper. “Baby, you’re ready for me, huh?” He wrapped his palm around him, stroking, kissing Eddie’s ear open-mouthed.

“Always... ready... for you.” His small hands began unfastening Richie’s belt, the soft brushing of his knuckles sending tingles across Richie’s lower belly. Eddie breathed in little hitching gasps, making quick work of the button on Richie’s pants, peeling them and his boxer-briefs down past his hips, just enough so he was exposed.

“Did you bring lube,” Richie whispered into Eddie’s ear, still tugging on him.

“Oh shit,” Eddie huffed. “Uh, no.” He laughed quietly, from his belly, putting his hand up to Richie’s cheek. “Fuck, I’m an idiot.” They kissed languidly, the frenzy they’d flown in on settling into something softer.

Richie chuckled, breaking their kiss. “It’s okay. There has to be something in here we can use.” He gathered Eddie up with both hands, rubbing across and down his back, kissing him tenderly and accidentally knocking his head back into the door. “Oh, Eds, sorry.” Richie rubbed a hand against his soft hair. He’d been keeping it shorter since they graduated and it was fluffy and inviting to Richie's fingers. Richie held him, one hand on his head, the other wrapped around his shoulders, just looking at his face and appreciating him. “I’m like in shock over you doing this tonight.”

Eddie pouted his lips and looked down. “When you said to get the stick out of my ass it kind of made me want to show you that I’m not some boring loser who only cares about school.”

“Baby,” Richie cooed, squeezing him. “You’re not boring, just kind of too bossy and mean.” He kissed Eddie’s nose, grinning wolfishly. “But you’re definitely  a loser.”

“Oh, great,” Eddie rolled his eyes, his face falling a fraction. “Okay.”

“No, no, no. Uh-uh. Pause.” Richie moved away from him, hopping along because of his half-removed pants. He made his way over to the sink and opened the cabinet underneath. “Hmmn.”

Eddie crossed his arms over his chest. “No lube?”

“Not in the traditional sense, but we can improvise I think.” He pulled out a bottle of baby oil. “Is this safe to use?”

“I would assume so. It has to be gentle; they use it on babies.” Someone pounded on the door, jostling Eddie and making his eyes go wide.

An obnoxious, frustrated voice screeched, “WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING IN THERE?”

“I’M FUCKING YOUR MOM,” Richie yelled back. “SHE SAID GET THE FUCK OUTTA HERE. GO PISS OUTSIDE.”

Richie,” Eddie hissed, mortified. He cringed and covered his eyes. “You just made my dick shrink up like a frightened turtle.”

“Good thing I know how to get him to come back.” Richie fell to his knees and shuffled over.

Eddie grinned down at him. “You want to taste me?”

“Always.” Richie slid his hands all the way up Eddie’s shiny spandex sheathed legs until they found his bare ass. He cupped and squeezed, and Eddie breathed sharply out of his nose, gripping onto Richie’s hair, tugging up, his fingers fumbling like he couldn’t control them. Richie sucked him slowly, feeling him immediately expand and harden inside his mouth. “And we’re back,” Richie reported, sounding like a TV news anchor. He stood up and squeezed a little oil onto his hand, stroking himself with it. “You ready for me?” He passed the bottle to Eddie.

“Yes." He transferred a bit of oil onto his fingers and put his hand behind himself, his face a little nervous. "How should we— I mean, we’ve never—” Eddie stammered, flushing a a darker shade of pink. They’d only ever had sex in bedrooms before.

Richie gently pulled Eddie away from the door and turned him around so he was facing the tub. “Bend over baby,” he whispered, still touching himself.

Gracefully bending down, Eddie placed his hands on the lip of the tub, tilting his hips back subtly so his ass lifted.   

A little sputtering noise left Richie’s throat and his dick throbbed in his hand. Just looking down at Eddie bent over in that outfit--being spontaneous and adventurous just for him--he knew he was going to explode almost immediately. They were about to fuck in the bathroom at a party, where other people might know about it and hear them. It was impossibly hot and unexpected.  

Richie bent his legs a bit to get the right angle and entered Eddie slowly, pushing his hips deep until he felt Eddie tense, his back arching. Drawing back, he rolled his hips gently, pushing slowly. Richie didn’t trust himself to thrust any faster, or else it would be over before it started. “Eds, you feel so fucking good,” he rasped, his hands trailing around to hold onto Eddie’s trim hips as he rocked, the skin there warm and silky. “I don’t think I can hold out.”

Eddie's response was a strangled whisper. “Richie; harder. I’m close, too."

He took it as a challenge and sped up his movements, clenching his jaw and focusing, staring at the cool blue tiles in the bathtub to make himself last.

“Oh God, Richie,” Eddie whined. He let out a barely restrained whimper--an Eddie-has-left-the-building  whimper--and his ass jiggled and danced as his hips bucked.

"Fuck, Eds." As soon as he heard Eddie make that noise, Richie lost it too, biting back on his own shuddering moan. He leaned over to lightly rest his weight on Eddie's back, breathless. “Fuck, baby.” Richie planted lazy kisses against the shiny spandex covering Eddie’s shoulder. “This was, like… the hottest thing.” He pulled out slowly, and wrapped his arms around Eddie to draw him to a standing position, kissing the back of his neck and squeezing him around the chest. "I love you so much."

"I love you, too." Eddie turned, flushed and satisfied; looking proud of himself. He glowed, like there was a votive candle somewhere inside him emanating soft light. They kissed gently, both struggling to breath naturally and exhaling hot against each others lips. Eddie looked down, and his face abruptly crumpled up in horror. He pointed at the floor. “Oh fuck. Richie!”

Richie’s face scrunched up to match Eddies, but he laughed when he looked down by their feet. Eddie’s stain was on the bathmat. “Oh, who fucking cares, I’m sure much grosser things have happened in this bathroom. Your nut tastes like pie filling anyway. You’ve blessed them by christening this shithole.”

 

*

 

Laying behind him in bed that night, Richie couldn’t stop kissing Eddie’s ears and squeezing him tight. He tried not to think about the way their evening began, because when things were soft and sweet between them, the rest of the bullshit didn’t matter. But right when he'd almost knocked out for the night, Eddie broke into his bliss to bring it up. 

“Richie?”

“Hmmn?”

“I’m sorry if I was harsh before--the way I said things, I mean—but I still don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be in a band.”

Richie sighed against Eddie's hair. “I heard your opinion loud and clear, kid. But if I get it, I’m gonna at least try it out.”

Eddie was quiet for a few minutes, and Richie was close to drifting off again when he heard, “I think it’s a big mistake.”

“I thought I was bad at… Professor X,” Richie mumbled sleepily. “Sounds like… y’r predicting the future wrong.” He kissed the back of Eddie’s neck one more time before he fell asleep. 

 

 

June ~ Mike

****        

 

 

Being a Lyft driver must be the loneliest job,  Mike thought absently as he spun the wheel a cool one-eighty to make the turn onto the gravel path. He might have missed it because the spot was well hidden, especially while summer overgrowth was in full-swing, but he’d been there so many times he knew where to go on pure instinct. He glanced into the rear-view, and adjusted it slightly to see Bevvie. In the dark, her skin looked porcelain; her hair was strawberry punch.

“Where the fuck are we going?” Richie muttered, locking eyes with Mike in the mirror. Lacking the bounce and sparkle he normally had, he was quiet and sort of gloomy that night.

“If you haven’t figured it out by now, you’ve been out of Derry too long.” Mike grinned at him. “There aren’t that many places to go around here.” He watched Richie’s head tip down until it leaned on Bev’s shoulder, and her small hand came up, gently petting his hair and cheek. There was a pang of jealousy and a split-second’s worth of longing, but Mike knew it wasn’t anything to even stress about: Beverly was an affectionate friend, and Richie was not in the head-space to see her touch as anything more than comfort.

“We’re going to do something fun,” Bev hummed delicately. “You remember fun, right, Richie?”

“Vaguely,” he answered, deadpan and soft.

The ride got rough and bumpy, and Mike jerked the brake, his four-wheel-drive coming through for him like it always did. He eased up on the gas, pulling the truck behind the bumper of the last car in the line. There were only three of them already parked that night. Slow night for horny teenagers; too hot out.  “We’re here.” He shut the engine and popped the parking break.

“Oh, fuck. We’re in the woods.” Richie exhaled loud. “Look, normally, I just kind of power through things and act like I’m game for whatever. But I’m a city kid, okay? The smell of trees and the sounds of rustling woodland creatures are kind of creepy to me.”

Mike turned to face the backseat. “We’re by  the woods, but we didn’t come here for them.”

“Hot damn.” Richie grinned wide, the first time he cracked even a hint of a smile that night. “Are things about to get really kinky, Mikey? I didn’t peg you for the type.” He wiggled his eyebrows at Bev and elbowed her in the side. “Is this the plan to cheer me up? Threesome?”

Mike and Beverly both cracked up laughing, and she slapped at Richie’s shoulder. “I love you, but never in a million years. Sorry.” She opened her purse and retrieved a small metal tin that was once used to hold mints. Opening it, she pulled out something small, concealing it in her curled fingers. “How do you like this smell?” She waved her hand in front of Richie’s face. “Better than the woods, right?”

He raised his eyebrows and pouted a little. “Not bad.”

“C’mon, let’s get out of here.” Mike tossed his phone and his wallet onto the front seat. “Leave your phones here.”

“Leave my phone?!” Richie asked, incredulous. "Okay so is this going to be like an All the Boys Love Mandy Lane  type scenario, or what?”  

“I have no idea what you’re talking about." Bev climbed out of the backseat, holding the door open for Richie. “Up and at’em, soldier!”

“Fuck, fine.” He tossed his phone onto the front seat and followed them.

They walked together down the dark path and passed by the line of cars. Their windows were foggy and soft music drifted out into the still night. Low moaning came from the car at the head of the line-up and Richie stopped walking to lean his shoulder against the slightly ajar passenger-side window. He whispered, “It’s all going to end in misery. Love is a lie.”

“Richie,” Mike laughed, tugging on his arm to force him along with them. They walked further down the gravel until the footing underneath them changed to softer, rich earth. The water crested and came into view, shiny and still with the moonlight bouncing off of it.

Bev walked ahead of them and stood at the lip of the cliff, raising her arms in the air. The breeze off the water made her hair dance and fluttered the silky fabric of her top. Hanging her head back, she smiled at her friends upside down. “It’s a beautiful night, you guys.” She unbuttoned and whipped off her shirt quickly, tossing it aside. Her light-blue bra was lightly lined and the fabric hugged her small breasts.

“Okay, really. What the fuck are we doing?” Richie adjusted his glasses as his eyes bounced off of Bev’s chest and then settled on her hands, which were fumbling around the front pocket of her denim skirt.

“We’re gonna smoke this and then jump off,” Bev mumbled, rolling her eyes. She held the joint up to the small fire her lighter produced until it took flame. Taking a few sippy puffs of it, she grinned at Richie. Her voice was all tight and full of smoke. “You really know how to suck the mystery out of a fun time, Tozier.” Exhaling, she passed the joint off to Mike.

Richie hung his mouth open. “Mikey, no way. Aren’t you a big football hero in college?” He finger-combed his hair up to tie it back, most likely preparing it for the jump. “Don’t they drug test?”

Mike took a couple short drags, shaking his head. “I’m a bench-warmer, Rich. Second-string alternate quarterback.” He stared into the burning ember of the joint. “I was a hero around here, now I’m just some dumb kid sitting on the sidelines.”

“Well that’s depressing,” Richie muttered. “We all have nowhere to go but down. Not only in life, but off of this cliff, too.” He moved closer to the edge and took his glasses off, squinting over the side. “Did Eddie Spaghetti really jump from up here?” He winced a little after he said the name, like he’d been pinched by an unseen force.

“Hey Rich, you want?” Mike held out the joint.  

Richie accepted it and inhaled deeply, holding the smoke in for a good forty seconds. He spoke as he exhaled. “Fuck dudes. I’ve never done anything like this.”

“You’ve never smoked weed?” Bev asked, distracted. She was seated on a rock with her head bent down, unbuckling her sandals.

“Hey pothead, we smoked together last summer. You forget already?” Richie sucked another equally large drag and leaned to pass it back to Bev. He unbuckled his baggy jeans first, letting them drop to the ground and linger there around his ankles as he pulled his shirt over his head. “I meant jumping off’a here. Never did anything like this.”

“I’m a virgin, too,” Mike said absently, pulling off his shirt. Realizing what he'd said, he smirked, blinking. “A jumping-off-the-cliff virgin, not a--.”

“I was about to say,” Richie laughed, shaking his head. “I could tell when you and Red started getting crotchy. Like midway through junior year it was way obvious.”

“Hi, still here.” Bev waved at Richie. She was down to just her mismatched underpants and bra, standing with her hands on her hips and the joint planted between her lips. She inhaled, and brought her hand up to pluck it out of her mouth. Blowing the cloud of smoke up above her head, she passed the joint back to Mike and answered Richie’s question belatedly. “Eddie jumped. More than once.”

Richie stood there in his boxers, his clothes in a messy pile on the ground next to his feet. “Have you— Did you talk to him about—”

“I saw him,” Bev answered softly. “But he didn’t want to talk about anything.”

Mike passed Richie the joint one last time. He could tell Bev wanted to jump. She stood at the edge clapping her hands softly, the way she did when she was anticipating something exciting and couldn’t contain it. Fighting the urge to grab onto her hand, he turned back to Richie. “You ready?”

He nodded, exhaling and holding up the joint. “Where should I…?”

Bev motioned roughly for him to put it down on the large rock she’d used as a seat, impatient. “Come on, let’s do it already.”

“Jesus, bossy no-pants.” Richie snuffed the joint and placed it down. “You can jump at any time, y’know.”

“Okay, bye!” She squealed and leapt, disappearing from their view. A few seconds later there was a loud splash. “Let’s go!” Her voice echoed from below.

“Shit-fuck, see ya Mikey!” Richie ran to the edge and jumped after her.

Mike walked slowly to the edge and looked down. His friends were down there, safe and paddling. He sucked in one sharp breath and stepped off, letting out an involuntary little scream. On the way down he realized that he’d somehow forgotten to take his stomach and heart with him, they were still suspended above the edge of the cliff--they had to be; he couldn’t feel them--but his body fell down, skimming through the thick, humid air until he hit the water with a SMACK.

It was so quick, but the adrenaline spike lasted longer than anything he’d experienced before. Longer than the thrill of running out of the tunnel onto a football field in front of an engaged crowd and longer than after a ride on a roller coaster.

Maybe it’s because that little voice is telling you might not make it. Falling down, into nothing, or onto something …maybe the water won’t catch you. Maybe the water could dry up in the time it takes you to fall from the top to the bottom. Shoot. I’m toasted.

They swam in silence through the cool, slippery water until they hit a shallow patch where it came up to their waists while kneeling.

“Too bad we didn’t think to recruit one more loser to come with.” Bev’s voice was soft, but it reverberated over the expansive surface of the dark pool. “We could have done chicken fights like when I was a kid.”

“You and Billy and the boys?” Richie’s voice was mellow and sweet.

“Yeah. We used to hop off the cliff and swim down here all day during the summer.”

“Who beasted in chicken fights?” Mike asked, grinning because he thought he already knew the answer.

“Eddie and Patrick were an unstoppable duo,” Bev recalled wistfully. “They used to massacre Stan and Bill.” Her eyebrows went up and she focused her attention on Richie. “Oh my God. I shouldn’t have said that. I’m stoned and not thinking and I was just like reminiscing and—”

“Bevvie, it’s okay.” Richie leaned back and ducked himself under the water. Just his head and the tips of his toes were visible and he bobbed in tandem with the residual ripples caused by their movements. “I feel better than I have in a while. I think it was jumping off. Fuckin’ rush.”

Mike dipped under the water, matching Richie’s level of coverage. “You sure it wasn’t partially the weed?”

“Nah,” Richie replied easily. “Well maybe.” He looked at Bev. “Eddie was a good fighter? Not surprised; he’s a tough cookie.”

She gave Mike a hopeful look before she slowly slunk down until her body was submerged up to her neck. “He’s always been tough.” Bev smiled and leaned back to float so her ears were covered. Her face was the only part of her showing, pale and sweetly reminiscent. “Stubborn. Bossy. Sometimes he’s a pain; sometimes he’s the best.”

“You don’t have to tell me,” Richie affirmed quietly. “I broke up with him because the worst parts of him were like… magnified. We had no space to let each other breath, even though we barely got to spend time together. It was just… a fucking mess.”

Bev popped her head up and opened her mouth to talk, but Mike slipped a hand up out of the water to shush her. Richie needed to get it out. Whether it was stoned ramblings or the truth, he didn’t need anyone to give him a pep-talk, which was exactly what his sweet Bevvie was about to do. Always trying to help.

“He makes me feel like a total failure with one look.” Richie was oblivious to them, his eyes wet and reflecting off the water. “I know I wasn’t trying my best all the time, especially with school, but it seemed like he was waiting for me to screw up so he could bitch. Felt like I was living with my mother.” He snickered, shaking his head quickly, laughing at himself. “Except sometimes he fucked me, so I mean, yeah not really my mom.”

Bev screwed up her face and shook her head along with him. “Gross, Rich.”

“You guys should just talk about it,” Mike offered Richie, optimistic. “Come to Bill’s party with us on the fourth.”

Richie exhaled loudly. “I dunno. If he’s been running around with Billy and Stanley for a month, spilling his guts and making it out like I’m just some asshole who—”

“I don’t think he’s talked to anyone about it.” Bev piped up, stopping Richie’s negative train of thought in his tracks. “He’s pretty famous for imploding when something bad happens.”

“Kid wants to be a counselor but doesn’t seek any council,” Richie mused, turning over to float on his stomach and do crawls in the shallow water. “Irony in action, folks.”

"So will you come?" Mike grinned and splashed Richie. "We'll show up fashionably late. When everyone is already drunk."

"Yeah, fine, God,"  Richie mumbled, trying not to smile. "You guys have continuously fucked up my plans to be a hermit for the entire summer."

"What can I say, except, YOU'RE WELCOME!" Bev yelled, standing suddenly and rushing Richie to duck him under the water. 

 

 

September ~ Eddie

****

 

The bar was a hole in the wall, but it was also Patrick’s favorite spot. Eddie didn’t particularly care for beer. He hated dirty bathrooms and he loathed crowded, narrow passageways--and strangers touching him accidentally in crowded, narrow passageways--but he went anyway. He went because Patrick wanted to go, and because Patrick was cute; all blue eyes and short dark hair and smoldering glances.

From the minute he and Eddie began spending one-on-one time together, Patrick was gentle and soft. He reminded Eddie of a person attempting to coax a wild bird to land on his hand. Someone with soft eyes and a steady limb, the fleshy valley of their palm spread with seeds. Come birdy. Perch here. It’s safe.

Eddie’s natural inclination wasn’t to be quite  as flighty as a bird, but when it came to the tentative dance of a fledgling relationship, he was inexperienced and clumsy. Quick to misjudge signals and equally quick to judge himself. He tried his damnedest to let go and relax with Patrick. They’d known each other since they were children, after all. What was there to even be nervous about? After watching each other change and grow from afar, they were closer than ever by some strange twist of fate. Their relationship was barely two months old, and so far, Eddie was having fun.

Patrick held onto his hand as they entered the bar and walked down the dark narrow stretch that led to the back room. They were headed towards loud, live music; something high-energy that Richie would probably like. Eddie blindly double stepped through; he couldn’t see anything beyond Patrick’s body and the strangers double stacked next to the bar. Shoulders brushed against his, rubbing up on his jacket.

Once they passed through the archway at the far end of the bar-room, the space opened up into a seating area. They stopped at a small table in the middle and Eddie hopped up onto the pub stool. “I’m gonna get us drinks.” Patrick was nearly screaming, but the music was so loud that Eddie barely heard him.

“Okay,” he mouthed back, and Patrick retreated to the bar they’d passed on the way in.

Eddie took off his scarf, glancing around at the closer tables. The place was always crowded and that night was no exception. He laid his phone down in front of himself and anxiously fidgeted with it, looking at the screen but not actually checking anything. Just trying to appear like he was too busy to invite any conversation. The band finished up a song and Eddie clapped his hands absently to join the scattered applause without looking up.

“Hey thanks. Uh, we’re Mellow Blue, and we mostly play covers. This song is dedicated to someone I used to know.”

The cold stab in the center of Eddie’s heart the second after he heard that disembodied voice was jarring. It reminded him of how he felt the first time he jumped off the cliff at the quarry. One fast hard jab, and then his stomach flipped and flopped, like he was on a roller coaster. His hand groped at his hip, looking for his phantom inhaler—the one he hadn’t carried in two years. Eddie focused on his breath. He didn’t look up; he couldn’t move his eyes even if he wanted to, because they were frozen and locked on his phone. The song started, and Richie’s voice was immediately present; beautiful and rich.

 

Speak dumb like every other one

Don't want to let you down

I'd rather let you fall apart

And so you back off

A bit less obvious

Oh, you forgot I called?

Won't take it personal-personal honey

I know you've just been busy or

You need to be alone

Well you can call me if you're bored

I’ll sing a song low

Over the telephone

In lower decibels

So you can hear it-and hear it-and hear it-and hear it

Lost it though

You've lost that privilege

With a hundred more

Hold his hand now

Out on the mission field

Your hearts’ compatible

Mine breaks alone-alone-alone

Your new boyfriend

 You got your new boyfriend

 You got your new boyfriend

You got your new boyfriend

 

He saw me, didn't he? He had to have. Dedicating this song to 'someone he used to know.' Oh God, fuck fuck I can't look I can't look I can't look.  

Patrick came back into the din of the room to find Eddie pale and washed out. “Are you okay?” He yelled immediately, making a motion with his hand like he was using an inhaler.

Shaking his head, Eddie held up his hand, mouthing I’m fine.

Based on the way his face looked, Patrick didn’t believe Eddie in the slightest, but he shrugged. “They’re good,” he yelled, motioning at the band. He glanced up at the stage, and his eyebrows went up. Turning back to Eddie, he yelled “Oh, now I get it.”

Eddie sighed, rubbing a hand down the side of his face and taking a long swallow of the drink Patrick got him. It was sweet and light, sparkling clear with a little lime wedge dropped in. He chugged from it until it was half-gone before cautioning a tiny glance up at Richie. 

He was gorgeous--always gorgeous when he sang--and lithe, eyes closed and throwing his body into the music. His long arms were bare, both holding onto the mic, those bracelets still on his wrist. He had on tight pants and an even tighter tank top, everything black. Hair up in a smooth bun, no glasses, probably killing every single girl in the room slowly.

Glancing around, Eddie tried to figure out of which of the women with their soft eyes planted on Richie was Heather. He shook his head at himself, feeling a little nauseated. Leaning towards Patrick, he yelled, "Can we just get the fuck out of here?"

"Yeah, sure." Patrick drained the rest of his beer quickly and held out his hand for Eddie to take. They walked back the way they came and Eddie didn't look back. He couldn't.

 

*

 

“Get your clothes off. And don’t make me have to say it twice.”

Eddie tried not to smirk as he began shimmying out of his jeans and unbuttoning his shirt at the same time.  

It was a game Patrick liked to play, he was in charge, and Eddie was in big trouble. His sharp blue eyes watched Eddie for a couple seconds--to make sure he was hurrying—before he went into the bathroom and shut the door.

Making quick work of his clothes, Eddie laid down on his stomach naked. He swished his arms around, breathing in Patrick’s smell off the sheets. Patrick smelled like clean laundry and a cool blue day at the beach. It was refreshing and light, and a glaring contrast to Richie, who was earthy and smooth.

He waited there, his heartbeat speeding, pulse thumping in his neck as he listened for Patrick’s approach. The anticipation was exciting and fresh, and did what it always seemed to do to him. His dick pulsed involuntarily, twitching up against his belly. He heard the bathroom door creak open but no other sounds. His heart thumped harder; waiting, waiting, and Eddie gasped as Patrick gripped onto the front of his throat suddenly and roughly, pulling his head back and up.

His face was right against Eddie’s ear, whispering. “I thought I told you to lay on your back.”

“I didn’t hear you,” Eddie replied, soft and apologetic.

“You’re a liar,” he growled low.

“Maybe I am,” Eddie whispered, “What are you going to do about it?”

Patrick softened and leaned his cool forehead on Eddie’s back. He sighed, puffing out warm breath that gave Eddie the chills. “Sweetie, you sound like you’re having too much fun. I want you to--”

“I know, P. But you’re not scary.” Eddie tried to keep the grin out of his voice. "I just want you to get it out of your system so you can fuck the shit out of me.”

“And yet, I complain," Patrick hummed into Eddie's neck. "Okay fine.” He kissed his way down Eddie’s spine, slowly, slowly, all the way to the plump swell of his ass.

"Hey, uh, if you're planning on making a snack out of me," Eddie warned, sheepish. "I should take a shower first."

"You're always so concerned with being clean," Patrick whispered. "What if I like you dirty?"

Eddie rolled his eyes and shifted uncomfortably. "Ugh, I'm not even dirty,  like you're trying to insinuate. I just want to be courteous." 

"You always taste like honey." Patrick's hot breath was right up against Eddie’s left cheek, his face close but not touching. "Even when you think you need a shower."

"Yeah?” Eddie whispered, his dick going hard against the mattress. He tensed the front of his thighs, putting pressure on it. “Do you want to taste me?"

"Maybe," Patrick hummed noncommittally, his warm hands sliding softly over Eddie's cheeks. "Not sure."

Eddie felt a soft wet flicking, tentative and teasing, slightly to the left of where he really wanted it to be, and he choked out a moan. "Don't tease me; fucking do it." He heard Patrick chuckling, felt his lips fluttering.

"You're so bossy," he whispered. He spread Eddie's cheeks and laved his tongue against the edge of him.

Whining immediately, Eddie rocked forward onto his knees to allow Patrick easier access. He reached down between his legs and stroked himself as Patrick's tongue entered him, firm and poking. "Oh fuck, P. Deeper."

Patrick slowed down his movements, pulled back to lick light strokes that were slightly out of reach of where Eddie wanted him to be. "Oh," he growled, "Deeper?" He fluttered his tongue, barely connecting with Eddie's skin in little feathery pulses.

"Fuck, fuck," he whined, desperate, his dick hard as cement. Eddie was a little tease for sure, but he hated being  teased. He was too impatient and it made him want to explode. "P, please. Stop teasing me.”

"If you're good," Patrick intoned like he was telling a child how to behave, "I'll put it in as deep as you want." He rubbed his thumb back and forth against Eddie's hole, roughly.

Eddie gasped, and laughed at himself when his hips bucked involuntarily. “Seriously Patrick. if I come from you just playing around back there, I’m going to be really pissed.”

"You'll come however I let you," Patrick informed him, always playing at some dominance thing, but they both knew it was bullshit. Just like in his relationship with Richie, Eddie was the one calling the shots.

*

It didn't take long for either of them to come that evening, and Patrick held him afterwards as they laid in his bed. It was sweet and comfortable, but Eddie knew he didn’t love Patrick. It was early though, right at the beginning. He didn't have to love him. Not yet.

Eddie could objectively say that he cared about Patrick very much. He was sweet and sentimental and kind of serious in a way that was reminiscent of Bill. And Patrick was hungry  for him all the time. Their sex was rough and hot and unexpectedly satisfying, but they’d never made love, not once. And though Eddie could only categorize types of sex  based on his own embarrassingly limited sexual experience, he knew one thing with complete certainty: he’d only ever made love with one person.

He’d done the one-night stand thing shortly after he and Richie’d broken up. A particularly liberating encounter involved getting fucked by a bear of a senior who coincidentally reminded him very much of his friend Ben Hanscom. He was blond and stocky with sensitive hazel eyes, and he’d inadvertently ushered Eddie into a new level of experience by gently coaxing the smaller man into riding his fat cock. It was Eddie’s first time agreeing to do anything like that; he’d always been too afraid to flounder or fail up there. With a near-stranger, he felt free to make a fool of himself and went for it, letting out an embarrassing laugh-shriek hybrid as he came that night. 

If Richie could see me now. Overall, the sex they'd shared during their relationship was vanilla--having make-up sex one time in a bathroom was the most daring thing they ever did, by far. Eddie'd had no idea that there were even flavors to be sampled until after they'd broken up, but the blandness never mattered to him back then, because Richie's love was all around him when their bodies interlocked. It seeped into his pores as if by osmosis.

That was what he missed the most, what was lacking in his relationship with Patrick. The way  Richie loved him, back when they were happy. He treated Eddie like he was precious; something rare that deserved to be protected. He'd pushed thoughts of Richie out of his head all night since they left that bar, but as he lay next to Patrick, he pictured Richie up on that stage: beautiful and talented and joyfully doing something that obviously came naturally to him. Eddie ached inside, because he’d discouraged Richie from getting involved with the band, and it was for purely selfish reasons. He ruined their relationship.

"Hey, everything okay?" Patrick's deep voice broke into his thoughts.

Everything wasn't okay, not really. Eddie smiled tightly, tried to look happy. "Fine, P."

Patrick curled a lock of Eddie's hair around his finger. "That smile, does not  say 'fine.'"

"Oh yeah?" Eddie breathed, trailing his eyes down to Patrick's lips. "What does it say?"

“It says ‘I’m preoccupied with something unpleasant.’” He furrowed his brow, playfully studying Eddie’s face more closely. “Or it might say, ‘I was lying when I said I liked Breaking Bad. “

Giggling a bit and rubbing at his eye, Eddie felt himself misting up, and it was a totally fucking inappropriate time. Crying about his ex while his current boyfriend was close and gentle. “Breaking Bad  is good,” he whispered. “Jesse would be hot if he wasn’t such a dumb-ass.”

“So what’s wrong? You can tell me.” Patrick skated his finger against the inside of Eddie’s forearm. “Is it Richie?”

Eddie sighed deep, nodding. “Yes. Every time I see him… It’s just hard.”

“You mean like literally… or figuratively ?” Patrick grinned at his own joke.

“Come on,” Eddie snickered, rolling his eyes. “It’s emotionally  hard. Pervert.” 

“Hey, I’m secure enough to say that Richie is hot.” Patrick played with his hair self-consciously. “I mean, I wouldn’t let him bend me over a chair or anything, but I can admit that he’s a good-looking guy.”

“It wasn’t even that,” Eddie shook his head, his face pained, looking for the best wat to say it. “He’s happy,  he’s doing what he wants. And back then, before, I was totally unsupportive and made him feel like shit when he told me he wanted to be in that band.”

“Why’d you do that?”

“I said it was because I was worried he’d fuck up in school, but it was really because I didn’t want to lose the little time we had together.” Eddie grimaced, disgusted with himself. “Like I didn’t want to have to compete with a whole band full of people for his attention.”

“Did you ever tell him that?”

“Other than telling you right now, I haven’t talked about this at all except with Bill and Sadie when I was obliterated.”

Patrick whispered against his hair. “You mean, that  night?”

“Yeah,” Eddie whispered back. “That night.” He willed himself not to start crying, leaning his head against Patrick’s shoulder.

“Look, I know it’s got to be hard for you to see him, especially if you’re blaming yourself for the way things played out.” Patrick hugged Eddie tighter. “But why torment yourself over it? It's over. You’re happy; he’s happy. Everything is okay now, right?”

Eddie nodded, staring down at their bare legs, poking out under the top sheet and close together on the bed. He compared Patrick’s legs to Richie’s, like he did with everything. Richie’s were longer, and hairier, and skinnier. And his feet were bigger. “Everything is okay, P.”

Chapter Text

March ~ Richie

****

 

There was a week to go before spring break started, but Richie was already off the grid. Wasted or faded or trashed didn’t properly describe where he was at; it was a whole new level for him. It was his birthday, so it should’ve been expected that he’d be partying hard--at least that’s what he told himself while he downed another shot that tasted curiously like lighter fluid infused with licorice.

Spinning like a top without moving a muscle, the environment around Richie shifted on its own and the brightness inside the room vibrated like a faulty florescent light bulb. He could barely remember what he was doing or whose apartment he was standing in or the words to his favorite song, but he knew one thing with total clarity: Eddie Spaghetti was not having a good time.

He looked adorable in his tight jeans and bomber jacket, and his golden skin was complimented by the super gay rainbow mishmash of an infinity scarf Sadie knitted him for Christmas, but Eddie was tense in the face. His eyes nervously danced back and forth at the action happening around them: half-dressed first-year girls being extra, a table full of drunk townies playing Asshole, and loud-ass music coming from a shitty pop-punk band on a makeshift stage made out of pallets.    

They stood sequestered off to the side near an ancient looking wet bar on the second floor. The party wasn’t specifically for his birthday, it just happened to fall on that day. Though they’d both made casual acquaintances with classmates, neither Eddie nor Richie had formed any connections that might resemble true friendships since leaving Derry. They didn’t really know enough people locally to throw him a real party.

At Richie’s insistence, they ended up at the loft in town that served as the practice space for multiple local bands. He’d been there a few times since he got the gig as a singer. Their band wasn’t a real band yet, at least not in Richie’s eyes. He barely knew the other guys, and they’d yet to perform in front of anyone but a few wannabe groupies and the aforementioned townies.

“Richie, you know that you’re supposed to get ridiculously drunk on your twenty-first  birthday, right? Not your twentieth.” Eddie kept himself tucked close to the wall with one hand latched tightly onto Richie’s forearm. “If someone starts a fight with you, I’m going to be no help.”

The place was too crowded, and Richie was loose as a goose. He’d had already accidentally stumbled into a couple of huge, bro-looking monsters, and Eddie’d apologized profusely to keep things civil. “Darlin’.” Richie placed both his palms on the sides of his boyfriend’s head. “Babycakes. Angel of my heart.” Eddie’s face was small and slightly pinched in between his hands. It looked like he’d just smelled something bad. “My sweet… lil… Eddie boo.”

“Okay,” Eddie whispered, placing his hands on top of Richie’s hands, so both sets framed his face. His cheeks slackened and his eyes lost their fire, cooling into something closer to concern. “You’re past the point of being able to have a conversation with me.”

“ ‘m talkin’,” he insisted. “Y’hear me talkin’, ‘m sayin’… things.” Richie let go of Eddie’s head, his fingers splayed and hovering in the air. He inhaled slowly, closing his eyes. “What am I suppos’ta be talkin’ ‘bout ri’now, Eddie?”

Eddie spoke, but the sound of his words lost focus in Richie’s mind half-way through the sentence. “Do you know where any---..?”

The light cadence of Eddie’s voice got eaten up by the noise-wall made up of voices’n’music surrounding Richie’s head, and he would’ve sworn that his brain was what needed glasses but he’d just forgotten to wear them. He opened his eyes, blinking rapidly. “Gonna needa repeat, Eds.”

“The band, Richie.” Eddie took hold of his arm again, gently. “Your band people.”

“I just met ‘em; couldn’t pick‘em outta line-up.” He scrunched up his nose, thinking hard. “One’uh’ems named Reagan.” Right after the words left his mouth, he stumbled suddenly, like he was trying to maintain his balance on a boat during rough seas.

“Fuck. This is bad.” Eddie groaned under his breath, tight and contained. “How am I going to get you home without help? I can’t carry you.”

“One of those guys y’know, comes ‘n a car.”

“A Lyft?”

Richie didn’t answer. He stood up a little straighter and looked around frantically. “Oh shit, Eds, nononono we can’t go ‘nywhere.”

“What? Why not?”

“ ’Cause I’m f’sure gonna ralph. Pr’bly soon.”

“Oh God, okay.” Eddie hoisted himself under Richie’s arm and walked quickly, essentially dragging him across the crowded floor to get to the restroom. There was a long line, and he marched them to the front of it confidently, addressing the person at the head of it without bothering to look at her. “We’re next.”

Richie’s eyes were googling drunk, but he saw her. She was definitely a student from their school, and her high school graduation sweatshirt gave her away as a freshie. Not that we aren’t too, but we don’t fuckin’ go around advertising it.

“You’re funny,” was her flat response to Eddie. “You’re not cutting me; I’ve been waiting for ten minutes.”

Eddie propped Richie up against the wall next to the bathroom door before he let her know what was what. His eyes went super-nova, like someone’d sparked a fuse inside him. “Yeah, well this is an emergency.” He gestured back at Richie. “I think the people who rent this place prioritize keeping puke off their carpeting over the comfort of first-year groupies. Find another bathroom.”

Richie hung against the wall taking deep breaths through his mouth in a feeble attempt to stave off his nausea, but he couldn’t help but snicker at Eddie. His little Eds was such a spit-fire: protective and no-nonsense and ready to clamp his little chihuahua teeth onto ankles in a moment’s notice. He’d probably forget it in the morning, but he took a second to appreciate that Eds was in his corner  

The girl blustered, backing off. “Fine, whatever.” She glanced at Richie. “Maybe he  needs to learn how to drink.”

“Maybe y’need to learn howta not be a bit--”

“Richie,” Eddie cut him off. “Just… can we not.”

“’Kay, baby.” He carried on breathing deeply and looked down at his new birthday sneakers: deep purple high-top chucks that Eddie’d given him to replace the black ones he’d been running into the ground for four years. I hope I don’t get any puke on them. Eds’ll have a coronary.

The bathroom door opened and Eddie rushed them inside, walking Richie over to the toilet and helping him kneel in front of it. He immediately went over to the cabinet beneath the sink. “They don’t have any wash cloths or cups or anything under here.” Eddie grabbed a small hand towel off the rack on the wall and moved directly behind Richie to remove his glasses and help him out of his jacket. “Do you still feel like you need to puke?”

“Yeah, m’spitty,” Richie mumbled, pulling his arms out and looking down. He tried to focus on his hands, but they were moving on their own.

 “Spitty?”

“Like when y’r mouth fillsup with spit b’fore ya puke?”

“Yeah, okay.” Eddie sat down on the floor and put his hand on the small of Richie’s back. “Are you spinning?”

Richie nodded, squeezing his eyes shut tight. “Been spinny.”

“Lay down on the floor for a minute,” Eddie directed, turning his body a bit to give Richie space.

“Eds, I’m too drunk to do ‘nything w’you,” Richie chuckled, picturing the last time they ended up in a bathroom alone together.

Smiling back at him, Eddie whispered sweetly. “No, dipshit. Just lay down and look up at the ceiling for a couple minutes.”

Richie did what was asked of him, laying on his back and squinting up at the water-stained stucco above the bathtub. There was a brownish ringed circle that must’ve been a leak from the roof, and it moved on its own, spiraling around the cream paint surrounding it. Just looking at it made him sea-sick and the teetering nausea abruptly peaked. “Fuck.” He sat up quickly and hung himself over the toilet, losing mostly alcohol as he retched.

Blood pounded in Richie’s head, and the pressure behind his eyes was unbearable. Eddie was close with him the whole time, pulling his hair back and whispering something that he couldn’t make out. Soft encouraging words delivered light as whipped cream, a little hand on his upper back, another one on his hip.

Someone banged on the bathroom door but neither of them responded to it. Richie lost control of time. Was he puking for three hours? It seemed to be an accurate guess, because he emptied the entire contents of his stomach until there was nothing left. The warmth from Eddie’s body moved away from him, and the tap water hissed.

Leaning both his hands on the rim of the toilet, Richie breathed in little hiccupy gasps, afraid to move back because he wasn’t sure if it was over. It was like waiting for an aftershock tremor after an earthquake. One dry heave could come out of nowhere and end the comfortable relief that’d just begun to wash over him.

“Are you okay now?” His boyfriend’s voice came into focus as a wet cloth wiped at his face and hands. “Do you think you’re done?”

“Yeah, I dunno, Eds. Maybe.”

Eddie already had his phone out. “Then I’m going to call a Lyft.” He gestured for Richie to move back and did a rough job of cleaning off the rim of the toilet with an enormous wad of toilet paper and closed the seat; flushing it one last time for good measure. “Let’s go wait for the car outside.” He held his hands out to help Richie up. “Fresh air might help you feel better.”

“You help me feel better,” he mumbled, pulling Eddie close and leaning his cheek on the top of the smaller man’s head.

“I try baby.” Eddie’s voice was low and a little sad. “I try my best.”

 

*

 

Before they went to sleep, Eddie made him drink Gatorade and take a vitamin b12. They laid down in Richie’s bed and Eddie did his duty as the big spoon; his little hands snaked around Richie’s waist and his warm head pressed up against Richie’s bare back in between his shoulder blades.

Richie was wrecked. The vomiting had sobered him up, but he was totally pulverized. He felt like he’d been dried out laying in a salt brine and then forced to fight ten rounds in a cage match with a sumo wrestler. “Eds,” he whispered sleepily. “I know I should’ve laid off the drinks at like midnight. Thanks for not lecturing me.”

“It’s your birthday, and you don’t feel well.” Eddie squeezed him a little tighter. He brought one of his hands up to card through Richie’s hair and massage at his scalp. “I mean, you don’t need me to tell you fucked up. You’re not going to be able to go to class tomorrow.”   

“Shit. Fuck.” Richie groaned softly with his hands covering his mouth. “Why’d I register for a Friday morning class? I have to email my professor right now or it’s gonna look suspicious.”

“It’s going to look suspicious whether you do it now or wait til the morning. It’s four AM.”

“This guy hates my guts already, too. I email him all the time for extensions. Why the fuck do I have to take gen-ed courses, anyway?”

“Because that’s how college works, even in specialized programs.” Eddie loosened his hold on Richie and sat up.

He was completely aware that his whine was utterly pathetic when he asked, “Where are you going?”

“Baby.” Eddie planted a series of tender kisses on his neck, whispering against his skin. “I’m not leaving. I’m going to email your professor. Be right back.”

Richie drifted off to the sound of keys clacking and he woke up only once before the morning: when Eddie’s warm body returned to press flush up against his back, that soft voice close to his ear “I love you. Happy birthday.”

 

****

 

July ~ Bill

****

 

His parents went on a cruise for their twenty-fifth anniversary. They were gone for two expensive weeks on a huge ship that left Florida and docked in every major island in the Caribbean. Bill was tasked with looking after the house and his little brother—who was about to be an eleventh grader, and really didn’t need anyone to look after him anymore.

The night was supposed to be just for his best friends, but both the house and the backyard were crammed with people. The guests ranged from former classmates—now college students home for the summer--to kids from Derry High who heard about the party from Georgie. It was a mess in the making but Bill wasn’t worried about it at all. In the past they’d always managed to take care of anything that needed to be cleaned or repaired before his parents got back, and this time they had an excessive amount of time to get things done.

The living room was in shambles, and Stan stood nervously in the corner with his eyes all over the mounting mayhem. Bill crept up next to him and latched onto his elbow. “I haven’t seen you all night. Come to the den with me.”

Bobbing his head dramatically and widening his eyes, Stan gestured at the room with his free arm. “Uh, take a look around you. We can’t go anywhere.” He pointed at a teenager from Georgie’s grade who looked a little wobbly standing next to Bill’s mother’s fern. “That kid over in the corner is gone. He’s going to puke all over the living room.”

“Stan, I don’t care about any of this. We have a whole week to clean before my parents get home.” He crisscrossed his hands behind his boyfriends back and pulled him closer so their lips were only a few inches apart. “Come on, just give me twenty minutes. It’s all I need.”

“That’s a really beautiful offer,” Stan hummed, grinning as he tried feebly to push himself out of Bill’s arms. “Not insulting at all.”

“We are on a limited-time-engagement right now.” Bill brushed Stan’s hair back. He was keeping it shorter since he left town, and it waved with blond highlights that set his hazel eyes closer to green. “I only have enough space in my head to worry about two things. One of them is you and me.”

Stan’s face melted from tense to something sweeter. He placed both his hands on Bill’s chest and curled his fingers into the fabric of his threadbare baseball shirt. “We still have two months together, Billy.”

Bill looked up at the ceiling, incredulous. “That’s so short, Stanley, and you know it.” In two moths they’d leave Derry for their respective colleges and wouldn’t see each other again until November. “We’re wasting precious time.”

Leaning forward to kiss him, Stan whispered against his lips. “What’s the other thing?”

“What’s what other thing?”

“You said you’re worried about two things.” Stan rolled his eyes, and scoffed. “One is approximately twenty minutes  worth of my love, the other one is…”

“Eddie,” Bill said gravely. “He’s a mess.”

“Where is he now?”

“Sadie’s got him; they’re up in my room.”

Bill was shocked that Eddie showed up to the party in the first place, because he hadn’t responded to the Happy Birthday texts they’d all sent him, and he’d basically been a ghost all summer. It had to be difficult for him to be cooped up in that house with his mother on top of everything else. All of their friends knew about the break-up—at least the basic information—but unsurprisingly, no one’d spoken to Eddie about it in detail.

He came into the house in seemingly good spirits, dressed up cute in little red shorts and a saccharin smile. It was early when he got there, only Ben, Sadie and Stanley came before him. They put candles in the cupcakes Sadie’d made for him and he took a long, quiet pause before blowing them out. As the house started filling up, Eddie stuck to the kitchen, drinking in relative silence.

After about four drinks, Eddie’s eyes took on a strange expression. It was lost and melancholy, something similar to what Bill thought an abducted child might look like. Sadie kept him calm by cracking jokes and steering him towards neutral subjects, but Eddie kept veering back to his sadness like he was a lost ship in the night and his grief was a lighthouse. When he started crying, they corralled him upstairs, mostly just to save him from a lot of embarrassment in the morning.   

“Well instead of hooking up, why don’t we go be with him.” Stan wriggled his way out of Bill’s embrace and took his hand, pulling him away from the living room. They walked together up the stairs to Bill’s bedroom, knocking but receiving no response. Stan hesitated, stammering and conflicted. “Should we— I don’t want to just intru—”

Bill reached past him to turn the knob and let the door creak open softly. Eddie knelt on Bill’s bed. He was weeping, red-faced and in the middle of what seemed to be a long, incoherent, venting monologue. Ben and Sadie were sitting in there with him, just silently witnessing his pain up close.

“—I just always do it. And I can’t stopit when I do it. But Richie… he doesn’t either—stop it. Sadie, he didn’t want to try. He said he couldn’t anymore. And I didn’t… I wouldn’t—” Eddie dropped down suddenly and pushed his head into Sadie’s lap and cried silently. “It’s my fault,” he whispered, kept repeating it.

Sadie stroked his hair and just let him cry. She didn’t say anything, but she aimed a beseeching look over at Bill. You probably know what to say better than I do.

They’d all been doing a lot of growing—both up  and apart—but Bill still saw Eddie as his small and delicate friend who needed protection. Stan knew it, and Sadie knew it, too. She was a quick study, and had spent enough time around them during senior year to figure them all out.

Bill joined them on the bed, sitting right beside Eddie. He placed his hand on Eddie’s bare knee and squeezed it gently. “You can’t totally blame yourself. There are two people in any—”

“Billy, I know-I know, okay?” Eddie sat up quickly, wiping his eyes. He took a long shuddery breath. “Relationships. Two-way street. Blah Blah.” He hiccupped. “Blah.”

“Yeah,” Ben piped up softly. “I find it really hard to believe that either one of you is completely at fault.” He stood up and moved towards the door. “I’m going to head down and play bouncer since you guys are up here.”

“Thanks, Ben.” Stan sat in the empty space he’d left on the bed. “Check out that kid with the neon orange shirt in the living room. Boot him to the yard if he looks like he’s going to puke.”

“Aye-aye,” Ben saluted as he walked out of the bedroom door, shutting it behind himself.

“Eddie, what actually happened between you guys?” Stan laid longways across the bed and leaned his chin on his hand. “If you tell us, maybe we can offer some—”

“ ’m not, okay? I’m not,” Eddie mumbled to himself. “I don’t wanna.”

“You don’t have to,” Sadie whispered, opening her arms to him. He moved closer to her and laid his head on her shoulder. She looked remarkably like Richie sans glasses and with her hair tied up, and Bill wondered if that was some sort of strange comfort to Eddie within itself.

“Maybe you should just stay up here for the rest—” Bill started, but the door opened abruptly, and Ben was back, hovering there in the doorway looking nervous.

“Hey uh, maybe you should come downstairs.” He addressed Bill, but his eyes kept trailing over to Eddie.

“Okay, I guess I have to play host. Sadie, you have this?”

Sadie nodded and flapped a hand at all of them. “We’ll be fine; you can go. Hurry, your house could be on fire.” She smirked and rolled her eyes. “Just make sure if the house is on fire that you let us know, okay?”

In the hallway, Ben kept his voice low. “Richie just got here with Bev and Mike. He wants to know where Eddie is.”

“Eddie’s not talking to him,” Bill stated resolutely as he strode down the stairs. “He’s not in the right frame of mind.”

Stan shuffled down the stairs just behind Bill. “Maybe we should just mind our own business.”

“I’ve never seen Eddie this drunk, and I’m making a decision.” Bill got to the bottom of the stairs and saw Richie standing in the living room with Beverly. He was pale and disheveled, his clothes rumpled and mismatched. It looked like Bev was giving him a pep-talk: patting his arm and holding onto one of his hands. “I’ll talk to him,” Bill told Stanley. They shared a quick kiss. “Go find Georgie, would’ya? I told him to hold off on the fireworks until later but I have a bad feeling he’s dicking around with them in the yard already.”

“I will. Don’t be too hard on Richie.” Stan rolled his eyes when Bill pointed a silly exaggerated double-take in his direction. “Don’t look at me like that. They’re both sad and messed up. Just be nice, okay?”

“I make no guarantees. You saw Eddie.”

“Yeah and I see Richie,” Stan mumbled sadly, pointing his chin towards their tall friend. “He looks like shit on a shoe rolled up in a Hawaiian shirt.”

“Fine.” Bill tipped his head to each side, cracking his neck. He walked away from Stan into the living room, straight over to Richie, and he pulled no punches. His voice was soft, but his words unfriendly. “What are you doing here?”

Bev stepped in front of Richie, meeting Bill face-to-face. “Are you serious, Denbrough?”

“Bevvie, thanks, but I can handle it.” Richie gently pushed her back. “Nice to see you too, Billy,” he said sarcastically. “I take it this means you’re team Eddie and I’m S-O-L?”

“I’m not team anyone,” he replied evenly, not really believing his own words. “I just don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be here.”

“What do you think I’m gonna do?” Richie’s face was drawn, but his eyes were miserable behind his glasses. “I just want to talk to him.”

“He’s too drunk right now, Richie. I’m just doing what I think he’d want.”

Richie was visibly losing patience. He took a deep breath and shook his head. “Bill, I know you’re just in hero-mode—and I appreciate how hard it is for you to break out of that, trust me—but I’m not here to fight with him.”

Bill sighed and looked down at the floor. He wasn’t going to budge on it, and he didn’t know how Richie was going to react. “I don’t care if you want to stay at the party, but I’m not letting you see him.”

“Is he okay?” Richie’s voice was trembly but he kept his expression veiled. “I came here to try to—  I don’t know, Bill, it’s just so fucking—"

Beverly slung her arm around Richie’s waist. “Is Eddie okay, Bill? That’s the main concern here, I think.”

“Eddie’s safe. He’s with Sadie,” Bill softened, putting his hand on Richie’s arm. “If you really want to talk to him, save what you have to say for the morning. He won’t remember anything you say to him right now, anyway.”

“Fine,” Richie breathed, relenting. “I’ll just stand in the yard and chain-smoke with Bevvie ‘til the cops come.” He gave Bill a little smile. “It’ll be easier to run.”

“Way to jinx it,” Bill grinned back at him.

“Hey it’s a Denbrough party. I expect cops, punches, crashers, heightened drama and explosions.” Richie started backing away, pulling Bev into his chest as he entered the kitchen. “Your parties are like a movie starring Jason Statham except way less hot.”

*

While the rest of his friends and his brother were gathered in the yard to start messing around with firecrackers, Bill headed back upstairs to check on Eddie. He shut the door to his bedroom behind himself and approached the bed. “How’s he doing?”

“He’s okay.” Sadie stroked Eddie’s hair. He sat with his head on her shoulder and his ear buds in, eyes closed. “He just kept repeating that it was all his fault, and now he’s at the point where he wants someone to hug him while he listens to Lana Del Rey.” She muttered out of the side of her mouth like she was telling Bill a secret but there was no one else in the room to hear it. “Honestly, he stopped making sense like fifteen minutes ago, so this is good.”

“Your brother’s here.” He sat down on the bed facing her. “He wanted to come up here to talk to Eddie.”

“Oh great,” Sadie hummed sarcastically. She cocked her head towards Eddie’s face. “That’s the last thing he needs.”

“I know, that’s why I told Richie to stay away.”

Sadie gazed at him like she was in the presence of royalty. “You’re basically a wiser, taller, cooler version of your dumb brother.”

Bill grinned. “I know, but it’s always really gratifying when someone says it.” He looked at Eddie, who seemed like he was asleep “We can just lay him down in here. Me and Stan will find somewhere else to sleep.”

“You’re also a really good friend. Like the best one.” Sadie backed up a little and let Eddie fall gently onto Bills pillow. He made a little grumbly noise, but didn’t open his eyes.

“Bev might have me beat for best friend of the year,  but thanks.” Bill pulled Eddie’s sandals off and set them on the floor next to the bed. “Think we can just leave him wearing that? I don’t know if he’d want me to undress him.”

“I think he’ll be fine. Maybe put a trash can on the side of the bed, in case.” Sadie left the room to go back downstairs.

“Good call,” Bill said, reaching for the waste can next to his desk and setting it beside Eddie’s head. He shut the lights and closed the door over before joining the rest of the party for the big show.

****

 

October ~ Eddie

****

 

The library was nearly desolate, despite the date being painfully close to midterms. Eddie sat at a table in the farthest back study section facing the wall, hunched over his phone. Coming there to get his work done had been the only thing that made sense because the interruptions in his room were near constant. He popped in his ear buds and searched for something ambient and mellow to use as background noise.

His scrolling finger paused and his entire body clenched when he heard a harsh sneeze—so loud it echoed in the quiet library—coming from somewhere behind him. He didn’t freeze up because of the germs; he’d gotten over that fear, and it’d been years since that sort of thing bothered him. In direct opposition of his mother’s beliefs, Eddie’s immune system had proven time and again to be strong as an ox. 

Lifting his head slightly, Eddie waited with his eyebrows tensed in anticipation. He’d taken pause because he knew who the sneezer was without having to see their face, and it was a strange realization for him; the possibility of knowing someone that  well. A second one followed, and it was a more insistent-sounding, desperate sneeze; squelched in a failed attempt to silence it. Eddie sat up all the way, tugging out his ear buds and quickly gathering his books.

He headed towards the front-end on legs made out of jelly, tiptoeing forward until he had a view of the study section on the opposite side of the reference desk in the center of the library. In the corner, at the furthest back table, his ex-boyfriend sat with his head propped on his hand and hanging over a research text. Eddie inhaled sharply when he saw Richie’s pale face on full display. He’d shaved, and he was lovely as ever, but Eddie could tell that his nose and cheeks were a little bit pink from a healthy distance.

It was the first time Eddie’d seen him since that night at the bar in September. Richie’s hair was up in a sloppy, curly bun; full and dark. He must’ve gotten a new pair of glasses, and they were a mature choice for him: rectangular tortoiseshell frames. Even with messy hair and dressed down in a hoodie and sweats, Richie looked elegant; pretty. The strong curve of his jawline, the gracefulness of his long neck, the length and fullness of his eyelashes: he was still the prettiest person Eddie’d ever seen in real life by far.

He walked forward to pass the reference desk and watched as Richie’s face went funny, his jaw slackening as he wound up for another sneeze. His eyes squinted and his mouth dropped open, panting, until his head snapped down into his hooked elbow. He sniffled immediately afterwards and shook his head with a sigh of frustration.

“Bless you,” Eddie whispered.

It carried in the quiet room and Richie’s head yanked up. He glanced over at Eddie briefly with raised eyebrows before lowering his eyes back to his book.

“What are you doing?” Eddie walked closer to the table but kept a comfortable distance between them.

“Trying out for the archery team,” Richie deadpanned, his voice rough and congested. He gestured down at the books in front of himself with both hands. “The fuck’s it look like I’m doing?”

Eddie rolled his eyes. “Mature.”

“Boo fuckin’ hoo.” Richie rubbed at his nose roughly with the heel of his hand and sniffled. He met Eddie’s eyes with his bleary ones. “Can I help you with something?”

“When I asked what you’re doing, I meant why are you at the library when you’re obviously sick?”

“Work is still due, even when I’m sick,” Richie said simply. “I have to write a whole-ass play.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Did you take medicine? I bet you didn’t.”

Richie exhaled loudly and shut his book. “Eddie, what the fuck do you care?”

“Asshole, you dumped me; I didn’t stop caring.” Eddie winced as soon as the words left his mouth. He wished he hadn’t said it.   

“I didn’t take anything, no. Lookit how smart you are.” Richie brought his hand up to his hair, but he couldn’t play with it because it was tied up tight. He just patted and slid his hand over the smooth front of it. “I came here because I had work to do, but also because no one wanted me hanging around the loft coughing all over the couch.”

“What about your girlfriend?” Eddie addressed his textbook. “How come she isn’t taking care of you?”

“She’s just a friend that lets me see her naked.” Richie’s shoulders slumped a bit at his admission. “I only told you about it in case you saw us out somewhere. Figured it was rude not to mention it.”

Someone far away shushed them. Richie held up both his middle fingers and swung his arms around, aiming them haphazardly around the library at no one in particular, and Eddie let out a soft laugh. Hesitating only slightly, he reached out and placed his cool hand against Richie’s forehead.

Richie shut his eyes at the touch and exhaled almost imperceptibly. “Feels nice,” he mumbled.

“You’re way too hot to just have a cold,” Eddie reported softly, all business. “You shouldn’t be in here spreading flu germs around.”

“Yowza.” Richie’s voice went up an octave, strained and gravely. “The germ police showed up to bust me. Y’gonna gimme a summons and banish me fro--” He coughed suddenly, covering his face with the neck of his sweatshirt. Clearing his throat, he choked out, “I’m not walking all the way back home right now because you think I shouldn’t be here, Eds.”

Eddie tried to ignore the little ping in the center of his heart. He hasn’t called me Eds in seven months.  “You look like you’d pass out in the street if you tried to walk there, anyway.” He shifted the pile of books on his arm. “I have medicine in my room.”

Scrunching up one eye and glaring at Eddie sidelong, Richie looked like he was trying to figure out whether or not he was being lured into a trap. “So I’m supposed to get you and your roommate sick instead of everyone in the library?”

“I have a single. And I got a flu shot.” He smirked smugly. “Y’know, like responsible adults do?”

“How the fuck did you snag a single?” Richie squeaked, impressed.

Eddie looked down at the flat carpeting beneath his feet, hit with a twinge of shame. The reason he was fortunate enough to have a single was the same reason he was hiding in the library. “I’m an RA.”

“Oh. Wow.” Richie sighed. He was caving. “Your boyfriend won’t get jealous that you’re taking home strays?”

“No, he won’t,” he replied easily. “My boyfriend trusts me.”

Richie furrowed his brow. “I never didn’t trust you, Eds.”

“I didn’t say  you didn’t, Richie,” Eddie whispered, with a little smile.

“Okay, fine. You win.” He stood up and started to gather his things, but Eddie pushed his hand away and collected them for him.

On the walk to Eddie’s dorm, Richie had to stop them in their tracks three times to cough, doubled-over and gasping breathlessly. Eddie just stood there patiently waiting for him, arms loaded up with both of their belongings. He didn’t even scold Richie for not wearing a coat, or remind him that if he didn’t smoke the cough wouldn’t be so bad, though he wanted to.

When they got to his room, Eddie made Richie take his chucks off at the door before shooing him towards the bed. He wrote a quick do not disturb note on his whiteboard in capital letters.

Richie reclined gratefully, closing his eyes and sighing as soon as his head hit Eddie’s pillow.

The entire afternoon had taken on a surreal quality for Eddie, and his head swum as he stared at Richie laying there on his bed. Dropping everything to take care of him felt natural and right, though they had barely spoken at all since April. He couldn’t help his train of thought. Would I do the same thing for Patrick?

He went digging around in his cabinet, where he had an impressive stock pile of varying medicines and pain relievers, plus a small first aid kit and an ear thermometer with disposable covers for the censor. The younger students on his floor saw him as their surrogate mom, though he never wanted or expected to be anything resembling that.

“For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve gotten the flu every October,” Eddie mused as he sat primly on the edge of the bed. He tried not to touch his ex-boyfriend at all as he placed the thermometer censor into his ear.

“I’m consistent,” Richie whispered, eyes still closed.

“You’re a dipshit. Think you’d learn to get a flu shot by now.” The thermometer beeped and Eddie removed it to view the display screen.

“So how hot am I Doctor K? Really  hot?”

Eddie heard the sweetly teasing grin in his voice but didn’t look at him. It was a running joke that Richie made any time he was sick. “Just over one-oh-two.”

“Is that on a scale of one to ten?” 

“You think you’re so funny.” He rolled his eyes as he pulled the wrapper off the top of the brand-new bottle of cold and flu medicine he had on hand. “But you’re about to cry like a little brat.”

“Liquid?” Richie whined on cue, taking off his glasses to rub his at his eyes. He looked and sounded exactly like a petulant child, in that way only Richie could pull off without being obnoxious. “God, Eddie it tastes so bad.”

“Yeah, but it works faster.” He poured a dose into the cup. “Drink that and take a nap. When you wake up you’ll feel less-shitty enough to walk back to your own place. You can take the bottle with you so you’re not coughing all over the living room and they’ll let you stay.”

Richie took the cup and stared at it for a few seconds, working himself up to drink it. He slammed it back like it was a shot and made a disgusted face. “Ugh,  it makes me want to puke.”

Please  don’t.”

“I’m not gonna, I just…” He waved the cup away from himself and Eddie took it. “This is really nice of you, to let me—”

“It’s okay, Richie.” Eddie stood up and picked up the glasses, placing them on the night table. Grabbing a folded fleece throw from the foot of the bed, he shook it open and draped it over Richie.

Settling down on his side, he snuggled up with the blanket. “Mmmn. You always had the softest blankets.”

He looked so cuddly and sweet that Eddie just wanted to climb onto the bed, hug him from behind, and hold him till he fell asleep. It seemed like such a natural thing for him to do. But instead of crumbling and letting even a hint of his sentiments show, he went with an old stand-by: snark. “They’re soft because I actually wash them,” he stated pointedly.

“Thwack-POW,” Richie chuckled and it tapered into congested coughs. “Holy gut-punch, Batman.”

Eddie ignored him, reaching his hands out to gently loosen his ex's bun and untie it, earning himself a wide-eyed stare in the process. He fluttered his eyelashes sheepishly. “You’ll be more comfortable,” he explained, gingerly combing his fingers through Richie’s hair just enough to let it settle. He placed the tie over his own wrist without thinking about it.

“Feels good, kinda hurts.” When Eddie returned an equally perplexed look, he added, “Y’know when you’re sick and like, your hair hurts? My hair hurts.”

“I’m sorry you feel that bad.”

“Not your fault, I apparently should've been expecting this to happen.” Richie yawned and covered his mouth. “Fucking mark my calendar next year, all of October will say ‘probably flu .’”

“Since you’re settled, I’m going to get back to work.” Eddie tipped his thumb over his shoulder towards his desk.   

“Good because I’m about four seconds away from loops-ville.” Richie smiled at him softly. “Maybe two seconds.”

Eddie grinned back. “Well you don’t have to say anything to me.” They both knew that administering a dose of Nyquil was like giving Richie truth serum. “I’ll put my music on.”

“Which by the way, what’d you think of us?”

“Of who? The band?”

Richie sniffled and nodded. “What little you heard, I mean. Sorry that I— I shouldn’t have—"

“You guys sound really good.” Eddie cut him off, answering honestly and ignoring the attempted apology about the song choice.

“Thanks. We got some paying stuff lined up for Thanksgiving break.”

“You’re not going home?”

“Nah. Every time I go there, Mags is a total pain in my ass.”

“She just worries about you taking care of yourself and being responsible.”

“Yeah,” Richie sighed, mocking him. “It seems like worrying about that is more contagious than the flu.”

Richie.” Eddie joined him on the bed and his hip leaned up against Richie’s leg through the blanket. The touch was warm and fuzzy, and it sent a familiar buzz rocketing across his lower body. He hoped he wasn’t blushing. “I yelled at you so much because it seemed like you needed someone to keep you on track. The more I had to remind you to do things, the more frustrating it got until I was just angry all the time…So I understand where Maggie is coming from.”

“I get that.” Richie’s leg moved under the blanket so more of it was flush against Eddie. “But in my own defense, I haven’t failed out of school yet and I’m balancing being in a band with everything else just fine without your bitchy voice to guide me.”

“Good. All I ever really wanted was for you to be doing okay.” He paused and opened his mouth to speak again, but thought better of it.

“Oh shit, nonono!” Richie lifted his arm in the air quickly to point. “You were just about to say something, and you stopped. Not fair.”

Eddie inhaled deeply and ducked his head. “I wanted to say that I was sorry.”

“Oh, yeah?” he grinned and wiggled restlessly under the blanket, clearly enjoying where the conversation was going. His knee playfully nudged Eddie in the hip a few times. “What are you sorry for, huh? Huh?”

“A lot of things.”

Richie sat up a little and leaned his head on his hand, still amused. “So, is this like a game where you want me to guess?” He ran his pinky finger over his eyebrow and squinted at Eddie. “Are you sorry that you got really drunk on the fourth of July and we couldn’t have this conversation then?”

God,  I’m sorry about that to everyone, I was a total mess.” Eddie covered his eyes with one hand. “It was so embarrassing. I’m glad that Bill didn’t let you see me; I couldn’t be trusted to talk to anyone.”

“Yeah, well. I was planning on, y’know, trying to fix things that night.” Richie turned on his back and closed his eyes. “Or at least get the ball rolling.”

“It was too soon.” Eddie shook his head slowly, inhaled deeply and looked up at the ceiling. “I’m sorry that I was so hard on you last semester,” he blurted, saying what he should have said the day they broke up, the day he saw Richie in the book store. Words that he should've had taken out on a billboard; emblazoned in the sky with hot smoke from the back of a plane.

“Hmmn, hard on me. ” Richie smirked and squinted, obviously unable to help himself. “Is that supposed to be one of your double entendres?”

Richie,  could you not?” Eddie rubbed his hands together slowly, smiling through his irritation with Richie’s ill-timed joke. “I’m trying to say things that are hard for me to say.”

“Yeah I know, Eds,” he sighed, and his eyes stopped crinkling. “You’re sorry for being a big mean jerk to me about school, right?”

“Yes. And for—”

“And for being a big mean jerk to me about the band?”

Eddie nodded down at his lap.

Richie’s raspy voice was small. “Why couldn’t you have just said that back then?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t want to admit that I was wrong.”

Richie spoke slowly, his cadence bobbing. “Well I guess to be fair to you, sometimes you weren’t wrong. When I was getting stupid drunk and missing classes I deserved a kick in the ass, but you didn’t yell at me those times.”

“When you’re sick or otherwise incapacitated I can’t bring myself to do anything other than comfort you,” Eddie admitted, his arms stiffly crossing in front of his chest. “Consider it my weakness.”

“Sounds like I shoulda faked sick all the time, then,” Richie hummed wistfully. “We’d still be together.”

Eddie grimaced at that. He kneaded against his mouth with one hand and pulled on his lips. “It’s better that we broke up. For your sake.”

“Why would you say that?” Richie’s eyebrows tweaked together.

“Because it’s true. That morning, when you said you were done— I didn’t try to stop you because you were right.” Eddie tucked his knees up into his chest, shaking his head. “I’m an asshole, and I spent most of the summer blaming you but I knew the whole time it was my fault.”

“Eds, it’s not all your fault.” Richie put his hand on Eddie’s foot and it felt brand hot through his socks. “I heard you say stuff to me a million times and ignored it on purpose. I made it so you had to wrangle me drunk as fuck over and over and over. We’re both kinda assholes.” Taking his hand back to rub at his eyes, he yawned openly, looking sleepy and soft in the rapidly dimming afternoon light.

“You should get some sleep.” He squeezed Richie’s knee briefly through the blanket. “I actually have work to do, so I’m going to get to it.”

Richie’s half-lidded eyes were on Eddie’s hand that’d just touched him. “You know what would really make me feel better, Eds?”

“What?” Eddie asked softly, unsure that he really wanted to know the answer.

“Snuggles.”

Richie. ”

“Totally platonic snuggles,” he insisted with a little grin.

“I don’t think I’m capable of that with you.” Eddie’s words hung in the air between them for a solid minute.

“I don’t think I am either,” Richie whispered, turning over to face the wall. “Just wanted to see if you’d go for it.”

Eddie stood up and went to his desk. His mind was whirling, and there was no possible way he could actually pay attention to his work anymore. He sat at his desk just staring at the pile of books with his eyes unfocused. Richie’s breathing evened out and got rhythmic—loud and a little wheezy—and Eddie unconsciously slowed his breaths to match the speed. He shook his head at himself and stuck in his earbuds, his fingers working on autopilot to urgently pump the song he’d been listening to for days into his head. It reminded him of Richie. Everything reminded him of Richie.

 

If I’m butter, if I’m butter

If I’m butter then he’s a hot knife

He makes my heart a cinemascope screen showing a dancing bird of paradise

 

If I’m butter, if I’m butter

If I’m butter then he’s a hot knife

He makes my heart a cinemascope screen showing a dancing bird of paradise

 

He excites me

Must be like the genesis rhythm

I get feisty

Whenever I’m with him

 

I’m a hot knife; I’m a hot knife

I’m a hot knife; he’s a pat’a butter

If I get a chance I’m gonna show him that

He’s never gonna need another never need another

 

You can, you can, you can relax around me

 

Maybe he can teach me something

Maybe I can teach him, too

Even just to reach is a triumph

And now, I’ve even got a hold on you

 

When the song ended, Eddie stood abruptly. He walked over to the bed and watched the back of Richie’s head for a minute before cautioning to whisper, “Richie are you awake?” The sleeping man didn’t stir, he just breathed softly out of his mouth in the same patterned wheeze.

Eddie continued whispering as quietly as he could, barely vocalizing. “What I really wanted to say before, was that I didn’t want you to be in a band because I was scared you wouldn’t have enough time for me.” He paused and inhaled deep. “I thought if I was a dick about it you’d listen, but instead you left. The stuff you said about me that morning? You were right. Maybe I’m just fucked in the head. And I’m really sorry.” Pausing for one more second, he added, nearly silent, “I love you.”

He returned to his desk a bit lighter after his admission, even if it fell on deaf ears.

Chapter Text

April ~ Richie

****

 

The band’s first real gig was ninety miles out of town and fell on a school night. They hadn’t even come up with a name for themselves yet, but Richie was stoked to have the chance to perform. In the van on the ride there, his excitement was interspersed with little anxious stabs in the center of his heart. He wasn’t nervous about singing in front of people, that was no big deal to him. It provided a rush similar to the one he got from acting in a play, but he didn’t have to deal with all that pesky line memorization and blocking.

Singing six cover songs that he knew like the back of his hand while flailing his limbs was easy peasy, and he thrived up there on the stage, bantering with the band and the audience alike. So no, his case of the nerves didn’t have anything to do with stage-fright. The only thing left to be nervous about was coincidentally the one thing in his life that used to  make him the happiest: his baby.

Eddie didn’t want Richie to go at all; he said it point blank. “You’re going to get back late, probably drunk, and miss class in the morning. This is exactly what I was talking about when I said it was a bad idea for you to be in a band.”

Obviously, Eddie wouldn’t come with him. Obviously, Eddie cared more about getting enough sleep and going to fucking PHIL 102 at eight in the morning. It seemed like a zillion fucking years ago and in another galaxy, but there was a time when the kid wouldn’t have missed a performance of Richie’s if his life depended on it. In fact, there was a specific time when he’d called in reinforcements to rescue him out of a tower like goddamned Rapunzel so he could be there for Richie.

Richie’d listened to the negativity, calmly letting it hit him straight in the face, and kissed his boyfriend goodbye. He promised Eddie he’d be home by one, but he didn’t factor in that Reagan—their lead guitar player and resident van driver—was going to get totally hammered and not be able to drive back. After their set was over, nobody else could step up to drive in his place because everyone in the band was blitzed to the same degree. They had to just wait it out until someone was sober enough.

While the rest of the band killed the time in the van jamming acoustic, Richie sat outside alone in the cool air of the early spring night, looking at the stars and smoking cigarettes. One o’clock came, and then two. Eddie blew up his phone and it buzzed incessantly against his hip, but Richie ignored every single text and each little chirp of his voicemail notification. He left the messages unopened and unread.

This was going to be bad, he knew; a fuckin’ huge fight, and his silence would probably make it exponentially worse, but Richie couldn’t bring himself to answer a single text. The truth was that Eddie scared him. His small body contained some of the largest anger that Richie’d ever seen up close. Sometimes it seemed random: rage that appeared out of thin air like the world's least sought after magic trick. Yet other times it was caused; focused and deliberate and aimed straight for Richie. In either case, all Richie could do was take his lumps and wait out the storm ‘til Eddie got it out of his system.

Seeing Eddie used to feel like coming home, even before they lived together. Holding him close, smelling his hair, tasting his tongue, feeling the size difference between their clasped hands; even listening to him harp about vitamins or how Richie needed to eat more vegetables was comforting. They’d bicker back and forth but it was good-natured. Eddie’d slap at his chest and tell him “shut up,”   but he didn’t mean it, not truly.

Early in the semester, everything took a hard left towards Shitsville, USA. If he really thought about it, Richie figured that the evening when he came home and told Eddie about the audition was when the real, honest-to-God trouble started. At first Eddie wouldn’t elaborate why, but it was abundantly clear he hated that Richie wanted to be in a band, and ramped up his normal nagging from a six to a solid nine-point-five.

To be honest and fair, Richie wasn’t just an innocent bystander to the destruction of their bliss. He drank way too much and missed classes. Goading Eddie while he scolded was like poking the worlds tiniest bear and he did it again and again. He also blatantly ignored his agreed upon responsibilities for cleaning up his half of the room. Sometimes he made it messier on purpose just to spite his boyfriend.

They’d have stupid arguments and Richie’d bail when it got too heavy, heading for the nearest party or the bar in town that didn’t ID. He’d come home and crawl into bed beside Eddie, and they went on the next morning as if nothing happened. Their problems never got solved, and each little fight stacked behind the next like a trail of dominoes lined up inside Richie’s chest. He knew that eventually, something would knock them over and he would snap. One of those nights when the itch inside told him to bail and run from Eddie, he wasn’t going to stop running.

 

*

 

Richie entered the room as quietly as he could. He silently cursed himself for having the loudest, least stealthy shit-pile of a key chain full of useless garbage that jingled and knocked against the door as he turned his hand to open the lock. It was so early that it was still pitch dark, and he attempted to get away with sneaking in without waking his boyfriend up. Richie needn't have bothered. The bedside lamp was on, and Eddie sat there on his bed staring at the door. Dark smudges near the tops of his cheeks set his big eyes larger, and his eyebrows were tensed and low.

“Eds.” He didn’t recognize his own voice. It was small and strangled; his fear of Eddie raw and nakedly present. “You didn’t have to wait up.” The air in the small room was stale, yet charged. To Richie, it felt like they weren’t alone in there.

Eddie’s tone was as cold and hard as his stare. “That’s all you have to say?”

“I didn’t really prepare a speech, Eds.” He dropped his bag on the floor and didn’t venture further than a few steps from the door. “I thought you’d be sleeping. It’s five thirty in the—”

“I fucking know  what time it is, Richie,” Eddie cut him off, his anger swelling and bobbing. His little hands were clenching out pulses in his lap.

Richie sighed and swept his hair up to tie it. He tried to maintain his composure. With the right attitude he hoped that he might talk Eddie down and buy them the chance to get some sleep. “You just been sittin’ here all night long staring at the door?”

“What did you expect me to do?” Eddie’s eyes flashed at him. “You told me you’d be home four and a half hours ago.”

“Yeah, well, sometimes shit gets fucked up, Eddie.” He took a tentative step forward. “Everyone was drunk. We got stuck waiting it out ‘til Reagan was sober enough—"

“And you couldn’t text me to let me know that?” Eddie’s face twisted up; that face he always made that made him look like he was eating lemons. It was obvious that he was dead-tired and impossibly frustrated; a bad combination. “I’ve been calling and texting you since one in the morning.”

“Eddie, you think I need you to tell me that you were blowing me up all night?” Richie let out a growl of a sigh and shook his head. “I know.  I didn’t fucking answer you because I was afraid you were gonna yell at me.” A strange expression blinked on Eddies face for a few seconds. His eyes shifted from that enraged look to a glimmer of something soft and pained. “What? Why does your face look like that?”

Eddie shook his head, staring hard at the floor and licking at his lips nervously. “Nothing.”

“Looked a hell of a lot like something,” Richie shot back, impatient.

“You don’t get to change the subject here,” Eddie snapped, recovering from his momentary lapse. He stood up and faced Richie. “I’ve been sitting here for hours waiting for you.”

“That’s not my fault at all.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “You could’ve just gone to sleep.”

“You don’t—I fucking—” Eddie stammered, about to blow his top. “I thought you were in a car accident, fucking DEAD Richie,” he spat finally, his voice shaking.

“Oh my GOD.” Richie lost it. Whatever patience he had left, it flew out the window. “You’re so fucking paranoid and you want to make this about me, when this shit is all about YOU!” He dropped his arms to his sides and stepped forward, yelling right in Eddie’s face. “You’re so full of shit! You would’ve been mad whether I got home on time or not!”

“That’s complete BULLSHIT, Richie!” Eddie yelled back, staring hard up at Richie’s face; eight inches shorter, but ready to go toe to toe with him.

He’s still fucking cute when I want to kill him.

“I’m SORRY that I didn’t answer, but I pictured you acting JUST LIKE FUCKING THIS and I didn’t want to deal with it.” Richie backed up a step and rubbed a hand over his mouth. That sad look was back on Eddie’s face.

It looks like recognition. Or maybe shame. What the fuck is he THINKING. Fuck. Fuck. I have to get out of here.

“If this is what’s going to happen every time, you can’t be in a band, you just can’t be.” Eddie’s voice broke into his thoughts, low and cool; talking to himself. “This is ridiculous.”

“What the fuck, do you think you’re my mother, Eddie?” Richie shook his head, his entire face clenching up. “As much as it gives you a boner, you can’t control my life.”

“I’m not trying to control you!” Eddie was high-pitched screeching. Everyone on their floor was probably up and listening to them. “I’m trying to KEEP YOU FROM FUCKING EVERYTHING UP!”

“Jesus fuck,” Richie whispered, holding his head in his hands. “Eddie, I’ve been up all night and I just want to sleep, but you’re making me want to turn around and run as far the fuck away as I can get from you.”

“What a surprise, ” Eddie scoffed sarcastically. “Running away from me is like your specialty. I’m surprised you didn’t major in it.”

“You know what? I’m fucking done.”  Richie backed away, picking his bag up off the floor.

“What?” Eddie’s voice weakened. “What do you mean?”

He took a deep breath, and the words came out easily—he was venting issues he’d had fleeting thoughts about for months—but Richie didn’t feel like he was the one saying them. “You’re fucking smothering me and treating me like I’m a kid.” It was like he was suspended above his body watching it happen without control over it. “I shouldn’t have to DREAD coming home, Eddie." 

Eddie backed up until his calves bumped against the frame of his bed, and he sat with a plop. He wouldn’t look at Richie. His eyes were locked on the floor in the space between their beds.

"This whole thing is a fucking shit show.” They weren't having a fight anymore, the fight had its own momentum and was swallowing them both whole. “I get home and you’re fucking sitting here waiting to fight with me?” Richie just kept going, rambling more to himself than to Eddie. “What the fuck even is that?” He opened his dresser and stuffed a few articles of clothing into the bag. “This doesn’t make sense anymore for either of us. It’s too fucking much drama.”

“You’re breaking up with me.” Eddie’s voice was flat; he wasn’t asking. When Richie pictured how their breakup would go he thought tears would be involved, but that morning Eddie didn’t cry. He didn’t seem surprised, or even sad. "You're breaking up with me," he repeated, softer, with finality. 

“Yes,” Richie answered uncertainly. He didn’t really want to say goodbye forever, but he already said it, and he couldn’t turn back now. If Eddie begged and cried and pleaded; if he said, “No, don’t, we can work it out. I’m sorry, I love you, don’t leave me,”  Richie might have changed his mind. But based on Eddie’s body language and the way he'd gotten quiet, he must've been expecting it. Maybe he even wanted it.

“Okay.” Eddie sat with his hands clasped tight in his lap. His eyes were jumpy and blinking but they wouldn’t give Richie direct contact. “If that’s what you want, okay.”

“This is the fucking last thing in the world I wanted, Eddie.” Richie took one last look at his boyfriend before he walked to the door. He stopped with his hand on the doorknob. “I’ll come back for the rest of my shit when you’re in class.”

 

*

 

Richie walked the length of the campus quickly but he wasn't entirely sure where he was going. He guessed he could go to the loft and they'd let him crash there. His heart threatened to beat its way out of his chest and he stopped walking when he reached the bus stop near the front gate of the school's property. Plunking himself down on it, he caught his breath and stared at the quiet street. The world hadn't woken up yet, and he'd never even been to sleep. He was numb inside; he thought he'd feel something. Maybe what he'd done hadn't sunk in yet. Then without warning, he started to cry.

 

****

 

August ~ Ben

**** 

 

Seven packets of sugar. Richie put seven packets of sugar into a cup of coffee the size of one of Ben’s mother’s quilting thimbles. He stirred the sweetener into the small volume of dark liquid with his eyes unfocused, looking sort of like a werewolf with his long unruly hair and budding beard. A werewolf, but a handsome one, Ben supposed.

They sat in a booth at the diner loading up on caffeine at nine at night—a terrible idea, but it was the only place they could agree on as a destination. All summer long it was like pulling teeth getting Richie to leave his house, and he agreed to come out that evening on one condition: they weren’t actually going to do  anything at all.

I wonder if the spoon would stand straight up if he let go of it.

“Why don’t you have a little coffee with your sugar, Rich?”

Richie rolled his eyes. “Why don’t you have a little shitty overused joke  with your shitty-dumb overused joke, Benjamin?”

“Good one,” Ben deadpanned with a smirk.

There was no bite behind Richie’s response. “Fuck you.” He stared down into his cup, laying his cheek upon his hand and setting his glasses askew in the process.

Ben didn’t like seeing Richie so down. His (usually) cheery, teasing, goofy self was the very first person in Derry to give Ben the time of day. That fact was a little embarrassing, because Ben’d lived in the town an entire year before anyone deemed him fit to bother with, and the person who ended up taking a chance on him was the next newest kid to come along. But that could probably just be chalked up to the nature of people. They were mostly all stuck in their ways and resistant to change. The instinctual human craving for familiarity was exactly why Richie was still so beat up over his breakup. After two years of intimacy with someone, five months apart was barely a fraction of the healing time required to get back to normal, especially when the person lived across the street.

Holding his mug up to Richie in a one-sided cheers,  Ben took a sip of his unsweetened coffee. He stared out the window beside their booth to search for something of interest on the main street of their sleepy town. There was absolutely nothing of note out there, save the remnants of a spot of weather. The streets were slick from a flash thunderstorm brought on by the stifling humidity of early August.

“It’s a good thing we don’t actually have anything to get up for in the morning,” Ben mused. He only had to work three days a week at his summer job at the library. “I’m going to be up all night with caffeine jitters.”

“I wish I had something to do tomorrow,” Richie mumbled, following Ben’s gaze to the street. “All I got on the agenda is listening to the Smiths on vinyl, fighting over the remote with my sister, eating hot pockets, and wondering what Eddie’s doing across the street.”

“We could go out and do something if you want t—”

“Oh, sweetie, no.” Richie shook his head, a condescending smile on his face. “You thought I really wanted to go anywhere. That’s cute.” He clapped a hand over his heart. “I like wallowing in my misery, Benny. It’s all I have left.”

“Saying ‘I wish I had something to do tomorrow’ would lead a person to believe that—”

“Hi, boys.”

They both whipped their necks towards the voice of their server. Veronica. She must’ve been bored to death. Their thrilling order of two waters and two coffees didn't exactly challenge her memory or the dexterity of her hands, and the occupancy of the restaurant that night was sparse enough that Ben heard the humming of the florescent sign plain as day. It buzzed louder than the scattered conversation of the kitchen crew. 

“Hey, Roni,” Richie hummed, a totally phony smile plastered on his face. “What time do you get outta this shit hole?”

Their thrilling order of two coffees and two waters didn’t exactly challenge her memory or the dexterity of her hands.

“Eleven. Closing time.” Veronica settled into Richie’s side of the booth, aiming a thousand-watt smile in his direction. Her eyes raked over his curly hair and settled on his face, probably admiring those freckles, which were somehow more prominent sitting there above his dark facial hair.

Ben studied the flirty, open way she leaned towards his friend, who matched her posture in a way that managed to be both natural and a fraction insecure. It appeared as though Richie wasn’t certain if his own magnetism was real, but he was willing to take a chance on it nonetheless. His confidence was enviable, even if it was false.

Veronica grinned at Richie with her tongue pressed up behind her teeth. “Why do you care when I get off, anyway?” She cocked her head towards him. “You want to do something now that you’re single?”

Richie’s face fell and he looked down at his lap. “How’d you know?”  Just the mention of his breakup was enough to squash the flirty facade he was attempting to power through. It was like someone had just reminded him that he was supposed to be miserable and he said, “Yeah, sure, okay. You’re right.”

“It’s a small town?” Veronica asked uncertainly. She seemed to realize that she’d messed up by bringing up Richie’s relationship, or lack thereof. Belatedly looking across the table at Ben, she changed the subject. “I heard you idiots almost burned down the tree in Denbrough’s yard blowing off M80s.”

Ben rolled his eyes. “That’s a gross exaggeration.”

“Emphasis on GROSS,” Richie added, bouncing back from his brief teeter towards the edge of a funk. “Y’shoulda been there, Roni. Only thing blowing up were the stomachs of eleventh graders. Puke all over the yard. You ever see Stand By Me ? It was just like that.”

Veronica smiled sweetly at him like he’d just said something incredibly romantic, and patted self-consciously at her tied-back dark hair. “Sounds like I missed an epic night.”  

She was a pretty girl, but working at the diner all summer took a toll on her. Her hair lacked luster and her hands were rough and dry. She also smelled vaguely like french fries. Veronica was no Bevvie, but Ben had to admit that if her warm gaze was turned his way instead of Richie’s, he’d be blushing.

Richie leaned to his right and pulled his pack of smokes out of his pocket. He put on some weird accent that made his s’s whistle through his teeth. “ ‘Shcuse me shweetheart; gotta feed the beasht.”

Veronica hopped up and let him out. She returned to her seat absently, her eyes following him as he exited the diner. When the bell on the door signified that he was gone, she turned back to Ben. “The little one was in here earlier.”

“Little one?” Ben blinked, confused. “Wait, you mean Eddie?”

“Yeah. He came in with—get this—” She leaned across the table like she was telling Ben the most interesting thing she’d ever heard. “Patrick Hockstetter.”

“Oh shit,” Ben breathed, eyebrows rising. He looked out the window and watched Richie smoking on the curb. His back was to them and he balanced on the edge like it was a skateboard, blowing thick clouds up into the night sky. “What were they doing?”

“Eating dinner. They said they were going over to the Aladdin after. I don’t know if it was a date or what, but it seemed like it.” Veronica nudged her chin towards Richie’s back. “That’s how I knew they broke up.”

“Well, great. Now I have to tell him.” Ben pulled out his wallet and tossed a ten down on the table. “Keep it,” he told Veronica, getting up quickly to meet Richie outside.

“Thanks,” she called to him as he approached the exit. “Hey, tell him if he wants to take his mind off things, he knows where to find me.”

Richie spun around when he heard the bells on the door jingle. “You callin’ it Benny? We’re done-zo?”

“I don’t know about done-zo.” Ben came up close to him, wincing a little at the news he had to deliver. “I have to tell you something and it’s probably going to go over better while you’re doing that,” he stated, pointing at Richie’s half-finished cigarette.

“Well that’s not fucking ominous at all.” Richie took a puff and looked through the window of the diner. Veronica was watching them as she cleared their cups off the table. She aimed a sad little smile Richie’s way. “Spit it out Benny. I have a feeling I already know what it is.”

Ben took a long breath. He didn’t know if it was better to finesse it or just blurt it out, so he went with the latter.  “Veronica just told me that Eddie was here tonight, with Patrick. They’re over at the Aladdin right now.”

Richie licked his lips and nodded. “Yep, figured it was something like that. How else would Roni know I was single?”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” Richie kept his voice light but his shoulders slumped. “I didn’t expect that he’d become a monk or anything like that.”

“You’re not mad that it’s, y’know, him ?” Ben widened his eyes, thinking about all the high school drama surrounding Eddie and Patrick.

“Eddie liked him way before he even knew I existed.” Richie sat down on the curb and leaned his elbows on his knees. “I’m not mad, but I think maybe I’m ready to stop being sad.”

Ben hunkered down to sit beside Richie on the damp curb. “Does that mean you want to do something tomorrow?” He nudged Richie with his shoulder. “We could drive to Bar Harbor or something.”

“No, I’m gonna just leave town earlier than I originally planned to.” Richie took another long drag on his smoke. He sniffled and cleared his throat. “There’s someone back at school, she made it obvious she was interested just before I left but I—” He tossed his burning butt into the middle of the street and ran a hand through his hair. “I thought maybe we’d try to fix things this summer. I guess I’m a fucking idiot for even—”

“You’re not an idiot,” Ben assured him gently. “You don’t even know if they were actually on a—”

“Oh I know they were,  okay, Benny?” Richie shook his head and pulled out another smoke. “Holding out hope isn’t smart anymore. It’s time to get lean and mean.”

“Mean?” Ben watched him light up. “How so?”

“Apathetic is maybe a better word, but I can’t make a rhyme out of it.” Richie was quiet for a minute. “It’s time to get belligerent and indifferent.”

Ben chucked. “Diuretic rhymes with apathetic.”

Richie grinned. “Okay, ‘It’s time to piss and not care.’” He flicked ashes and his face got serious. “You wanna come with me to go stalk them at the Aladdin?”

“That seems like the opposite of what an apathetic person would do.”

“Yeah, well I’m more of a ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ type person,” Richie admitted, leaning forward to stare down the block at the awning of the movie theater. “I'll start tomorrow. I mean if we just keep sitting here, they might come out and we won’t even have to stalk  them it’d just be like… happenstance.”

"Good word." Ben stood up and moved so he was blocking Richie’s view. “Do you really want to witness it, though?” 

“Not especially but I’m gonna have to get used to it.” Richie dipped his head down. He wasn’t even smoking the cigarette, it was just burning between his fingers as he stared down at the asphalt. “I’m gonna see them all over campus. They’re just sitting over there in the dark like fuckin’ ducks on a pond and I could go over and check for myself what’s goin’ on, y’know? But fuckin’ Benny—Mr. Logic over here—he thinks it’s a shitty idea.”

“Richie, think about it. We’re going to pay full price for a movie that’s probably half-way done just to look at the back of Eddie’s head. And what if we get there and they’re like...you know, doing something  that you don’t even want to picture them doing?”

Richie’s face was somber. “Like cutting holes in the bottom of their popcorn boxes to give each other covert hand jobs?”

Ben laughed abruptly, wheezing. He struggled to get it under control quickly because Richie didn’t look like he was joking. “No, I meant making out.”

“Oh.” He looked at his cigarette like he just remembered it was there and took a puff.

“Did you and Eddie do that at the movies?”

“No.” Richie exhaled smoke. “I suggested it once as a joke and he told me I was an unsanitary pervert.”

“So why would you think he’d be willing to do it with Patrick?”

“I don’t fucking know, Benny, because I’m imagining the worst possible thing I can think of.” Richie snuffed the cigarette out on the curb. “Didn’t you picture that kind of stuff with Bevvie and Mike?”

Ben sighed and crossed his arms. “I guess so. Not really since senior year though.” Beverly was still the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, and it was always hard for him to be around her, but he’d given up on pining. It didn’t get him anywhere. “If you really want to go in there, I’ll go. I just think you’re setting yourself up for misery.”

“Nah, you’re right. Let’s get the fuck out of here before they come out.” Richie stood up and shook his arms out, like he was trying to get something off of his body. “I gotta start packing.”

 

****

 

November ~ Eddie

****     

 

“You have to come Eddie. It won’t be the same.” Sadie’s face was clear and bright on his computer screen. She’d taken to wearing her contacts all the time it seemed, and her eyes and smile were just like Richie’s. They even had the same shape eyebrows. “It’ll just be me, you and Mags. We’ll drink dry white, and eat brie and green apple slices like some swanky ass bitches.”

“I’m not  a swanky bitch." Eddie laughed and shook his head. "I mean, I guess I would be if I could afford to be, but I wear Keds, Sadie.”

“Oh who cares, Eddie. Fuck. If you don’t come I’m gonna TP your mom’s house.”

“Oh, GOD. No. Don’t. Please. ”

“Mags said he's not coming,” Sadie assured him, leaning her face closer to the camera. “He didn’t come to Thanksgiving, and he’s already dropped hints that he’s bailing on us for Christmas, too.” She cracked her knuckles and leaned back in her chair. “This’ll be your third New Year’s Eve with us. It can’t just be me and Mags; it'll suck SO MUCH. We need you. We’re desperate.”

“Okay, fine, shut up. I’ll come.” He wanted to be with them as much as they wanted him to come.

“Yes! Great. Perfect. Awesome.” She grinned wide and tipped her head to the side. “You can’t back out now. I don’t want to hear you tell me that P guilted you into changing your mind.”

“Oh, fuck.” Eddie bit his bottom lip. He hadn’t even thought of Patrick once while making the decision. “What if he gets offended that I made plans without him?”

“Bro, this is our family tradition. You’re a part of that now.” Sadie stuck up her middle finger and pointed at it with her other hand. “This is what you tell him if he tries to make you feel like a dick about it.”

“I’m at his place right now,” Eddie whispered, looking behind himself to make sure he was alone. He was using his laptop in the bedroom of Patrick’s tiny apartment. “I think I should go tell him. Get it out of the way.”

“Okay. Remember: fuck him. You belong with us on New Year’s Eve. Now and forever.”

“My future husband is going to really resent that one day.”

“Fuck him, too, whoever he ends up being,” Sadie shot back smartly. “He don’t own you.”

“Okay, you fucking little provocateur. Hanging up on you.”

“Bye! Love you-love you-love you.” She ended the call before he got the chance to.

 

*

 

“Wait a minute,” Patrick held up both of his hands, his face crumbling with confusion. They were seated side by side on the couch in his small living room. “You’re telling me that you’re going to your ex boyfriend’s parent’s house for New Year’s?”

Eddie sat primly with his legs crossed, twisting his hands nervously. “Yes.”

Nodding down at the floor, Patrick kept his voice measured. “And I take it that means I’m not invited.”

“Well, no, it’s a family thing—”

His eyebrows crinkled up. “They’re not your family, though.”

Eddie cocked his head. “Yeah, I can tell they aren’t, because I actually like them,  Patrick.”  

“Look, I’m no expert on relationships, but I’m pretty sure that when someone makes holiday plans with their ex-boyfriend, it’s fucked up.” Patrick appeared totally calm, but there was a finality in his voice that Eddie recognized. “Eddie, I know it has to be hard for you to see him around everywhere, but it’s been eight months.”

“This isn’t about Richie, Patrick,” Eddie promised, clutching a hand over his heart. “I love  the Toziers—completely independent of him. And he isn’t even going to be there, so—”

“This is entirely  about him,” Patrick insisted, nodding. “Everything’s  been entirely about him this whole time, and I’m getting sick of it.”

Eddie suddenly felt exhausted. “That’s a ridiculous statement for you to make.” He knew Patrick was right, though. Every little thing Patrick did, he compared it to the way Richie would have done it. Even sitting there, listening to Patrick complain, Eddie found himself comparing their argument styles.

“Don’t dismiss my feelings." Patrick shook his head. Still calm; still patient. "Don’t call me ridiculous.”

Richie would’ve been raising his voice by now.

“I’m not dismissing you. You’re sitting there telling me  what I’m thinking and feeling. Insinuating that I’m like obsessed with Richie after eight months apart.”

“I didn’t say obsessed, but I think you think about him a lot, and it makes it so you can’t get serious with me.” Patrick sighed and rubbed his eyes. He looked as tired as Eddie felt. “I like you, but I’m not about to let you keep stringing me further along.”

Is he about to dump me? Dumped twice in one year.

“Wait. Are you—”

“Yes, I am. I think we should go back to just being friends.” 

“Just like that?”

“Looks like it, right?”

Eddie waited for a feeling to wash over him. Sadness, loss, despondency, desperation, regret, fear of being alone—but nothing came. Instead there was a strange sense of relief. He was devastated when Richie broke up with him. Devastated and ashamed, because Richie inadvertently shed light on a worry that Eddie had about himself for a long time. The underlying fear that he was going to turn out to be just like his mother: stultifying and controlling and self-serving.

“So—" Eddie started and stopped, unsure what he wanted to say. “It’s that easy for you to—”

“It’s not that easy for me;  I’ve been thinking about this for a while.”  Patrick sat up a little straighter and looked into Eddie’s eyes. His blue ones were soft and a little lonesome. “Preparing for it. I knew this was a bad idea from the beginning. On the rebound from your first love? That shit can’t last.”

“Who was your  first love?” He didn’t know why he asked it; it just kind of slipped out.

“I haven’t met him yet,” Patrick said softly with a shy smile. “I just figure it’s hard to get over, that’s all.”

“It is  hard.” Eddie agreed with him. “I thought I was doing okay, but I guess if you’ve been feeling like this from the beginning…”

Doing okay."  Patrick snickered. "Eddie, you love him. Right now, right this second, you love him.”

“Yeah,” Eddie whispered to his lap. “I do. I’m sorry.”

“You don't have to be sorry, I knew it back in August when we started…I just thought you’d get over it eventually.”

“I thought I would, too.” Eddie sighed loudly at the ceiling. “How long does it even take?”

“Maybe instead of trying harder to get over it, you should talk to him.”

“Richie?”

“No, Ronald McDonald.” Patrick grinned and shook his head. “Yeah. Richie.”

“Ha-ha.” Eddie rolled his eyes. He stood up and pointed his thumb towards Patrick’s bedroom. “I’m going to get my stuff and get out of your space.”

“You don’t have to leave if you don’t want to. I meant it when I said we could be friends.”

“Yeah, I believe you. I just have work to do and—”

“Sure. I get it. No problem,” Patrick waved a hand at him. He hit play on the show he’d been watching before Eddie entered the room. “Don’t think you’re taking my hoodie with you, though,” he called over his shoulder as Eddie entered his bedroom. “Boyfriend privileges revoked.”

Eddie grinned as he unzipped and shed the thick, black garment. He smelled it one last time before he folded it and placed it neatly on the foot on the bed.

 

*

 

After collecting his belongings, Eddie left Patrick’s apartment and walked home slowly. His second time being dumped was barely painful. He wondered if that was just the way everything would go in life. First time heightened; every subsequent time muted.  Or maybe it didn't hurt because it was delivered gently. Patrick hadn’t tossed out accusations or criticisms of Eddie, he was simply stating the obvious. “You’re still in love with your ex, and It’s not fair to either of us.”  It was a fact, and so ridiculously true that it was sort of embarrassing.

As he walked, Eddie pulled out his phone and made the call without thinking. It rang five times before Richie’s voicemail picked up. His voice on the message was loud and bright: "If you called to sing me a lullaby: leave it at the beep. If you called for any other reason: hang up and text me like a normal person."

Eddie dropped the call without waiting to hear the beep. He should never have called him. Why didn’t he call Sadie? Bill? Fucking 411? Only a totally pathetic loser would call their ex-boyfriend the second they got dumped.

While he was silently berating himself, the phone—still in his hand—began to buzz. Eddie hadn’t gotten around to changing the saved photo for Richie’s number. It was one of his favorite pictures of his ex, too; a candid photo from the summer after senior year--a time in their life when they were hopelessly in love and excited to go away to college together. They were in the den at Bill’s that night playing a card game. Richie sat on the floor with his back leaned against the couch and his knees upturned, red-faced and giggling uncontrollably with the knuckle of his index finger pressed against his mouth.

Eddie tapped the green box on the screen.

“Eddie? Are you okay?” Richie sounded concerned, yelling over loud music in the background.

“Yeah, I’m okay." He cringed hard, and he hoped it didn’t show in his voice. "I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have called you.”

“Nonono, it’s fine. We’re just practicing. I’m goin’ outside so I can hear you better, okay? Just hang tight.” The music stopped abruptly, and Eddie heard the unmistakable sound of rushing traffic, like Richie was near a highway. Then the click and hiss of a lighter. Richie exhaled loud, probably smoke. “Spaghetti, you still with me?”

Spaghetti. “Yeah. I’m here. It was really stupid of me to call you,” Eddie repeated his regret, embarrassed.

“I’ll be the judge of that.” The smile in Richie's voice was unmistakable. “Are you calling to borrow money? Because that is  stupid. Hint: I’m broke”

“No, Richie,” Eddie chuckled. “I didn’t call you to ask for money.”

“So, what then? You can’t be drunk dialing me. It’s only like four.” Richie’s voice got fainter. “Oh shit, wait it’s six? Goddamn.” He mumbled, “We’been practicin’ fer four h’rs,” his words garbled because there was a cigarette in between his lips, Eddie knew it without having to see him.

“Where are you right now?”

“Somewhere in Connecticut. I forget the town.” He exhaled loudly again. “Are you gonna tell me why you called, or should I keep guessing? Lemme see. You’re trying to get me involved in a pyramid scheme selling essential oils.”

Eddie rolled his eyes but couldn’t keep himself from smiling hard. “Oh my God, you’re so—” He inhaled sharply and blurted it out. “I just got dumped. I wanted to talk to someone.”

“I’m sorry, kid.” His voice was gentle. “Bummer.”

“No, it’s okay. I’m not even—” He stopped walking and sat down on the bench of the bus stop just outside campus. “You were the first person I thought of to call.”

Richie was quiet for a few seconds. “I’ve been thinking about calling you all the time, too. Since last month.”

“So why haven’t you?”

“Uh. I think you know why I haven’t, Eds. Starts with a P. But I guess that’s not an issue anymore.”

He didn’t reply, he just listened to Richie’s breathing and the traffic behind it.

“Listen, I’m only coming back for a couple days during finals week,” Richie continued softly. “Really just to bang out the last of my papers and take exams. And after that we’ll be on the road until way after winter break.”

Eddie didn’t know why Richie was telling him all that. Is he trying to hint that he wants to spend time with me?  A fuzzy, hopeful feeling filled up his chest. “You’re not going home for Christmas? Sadie said you probably wouldn’t.”

“Nah, I’m not. Being away for Thanksgiving was kind of good, but I missed the stuffing.”

“Your mother is going to be really sad.”

“None of them will miss me at all, Eds. It’s a big front.”

“Richie, you say shit like that when you know it isn’t true. They love you.”

“Do they?” Richie’s voice had a lilt to it. It sounded like he was asking something else. (do you?)

“Yeah,” Eddie replied softly. “They do.” (i do)

Richie took another long pause. “You gonna be okay, kid?”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” Eddie answered quickly. “I’m not even sad; just kind of surprised that it happened. It was quick and civil. We agreed to just be friends.”

“Hmn.” There was no discernible emotion in his voice. “Way it goes sometimes.”

“Uh huh,” Eddie hummed, not sure what else to say.

“How long was it?”

Eddie felt his face split into an uncontrollable smile. He knew what Richie was asking, but he just set up a perfect  joke. “Do you really want to know how long it was, Rich?”

Richie's hysterical laughter came from deep in his belly. “Fuck. I walked myself into that. Jesus, I’m crying. The relationship,  smart ass. How long was the relationship?”

“Three months, barely.”

“That's nothin'. You’ll be over it in no time.”

“I don’t think I was ever in deep enough to need to get over anything,” Eddie admitted, his voice soft and shy. “I spent the entire time comparing him to you.”

“Well, once you try the best, fuck all the rest. Or something.”

“Still such an egomaniac.”

“Hey, you  just said I was better than him.”

“I said I compared  you guys. You inserted that you’re better.”

“Oh, please,” Richie scoffed, “I know the dude, now. He has nice eyes but he’s boring as shit.”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Hey, listen, it was nice talking to you, but I should get back to practice, kid. They’re probably in there cursing me out.”

“Yeah-yeah, of course. I’m sorry for bugging you, I really shouldn't—”

“No, don’t be sorry,” Richie broke in. “It’s good to hear your voice. You can call me any time, Eds.”

“Okay, thanks.” Eddie squeezed his eyes shut. “You can, too.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“You just opened a big ole can a’ worms. I’m gonna be blowing you up at four in the morning every night.”

Richie.”

Richie laughed again, but it was one of those almost-silent ones that Eddie liked the best. “I’m not gonna call you late at night, Eds. I really only said it so I could hear you say my name just like that.”

Eddie chuckled and shook his head at himself. “I guess I’m pretty predictable, huh?”

“Nah, you’re great," Richie said fondly. "Okay, I really gotta go, my drummer’s out here giving me a death stare.”

“Alright. Bye, Richie. Talk soon?”

“You bet. Bye.”

After he hung up, Eddie stayed seated on the bench. He wished Richie was in town so they could've seen each other. Was that what Richie wanted, though? It seemed like it, but maybe it was foolish or too soon. Rebounding off a rebound with the person who incited it all. Eddie watched the evening traffic: commuter students in their beat-up old cars inching out of the main gate and honking, all of them trying to merge into the chaotic traffic on the small street. He scrolled through his phone to bring up Richie's contact photo, smiling to himself.

Chapter Text

April ~ Richie

****     

 

 

The couch that sat wedged in the back corner of the loft smelled like sour beer and its brown upholstery was as scratchy as raw burlap, but it was a free place to sleep. Not that Richie was getting much sleeping done. In theory, if Richie was still physically and mentally capable  of sleeping, it would’ve been a free place to sleep.

Every single night, he stayed awake late enough to witness the subtle change in the sky when dawn approached. It crept up on him; a gradual shift from black to blue that he might not have noticed if it wasn’t announced by the squeals of hungry baby birds. If he used the time to his advantage he could’ve read every page of his Acting for Life  textbook. Instead, he blasted music directly into his ear canals, dicked around online, and thought about Eddie.

He thought about calling  Eddie and telling him that every bit of it had been an awful, terrible mistake. Thought about telling him that they should pretend like it never happened, and start over. He couldn’t do it, though. Richie missed Eddie with his entire heart, but he’d made up his mind. He needed  Eddie to say the right words to him this time; heartfelt, remorseful words. Holding his breath waiting for that outcome would be a fatal mistake, because Eddie was not one to cave on his side of a dispute. Richie learned that lesson the first time they’d broken up.

They were apart for less than half a week during twelfth grade after a particularly heated argument—the exact topic of which was so fucking pointless  that Richie couldn’t remember it if someone put a gun to his head. All that mattered in the grand scheme were the catalyst chemicals and how they mixed.  

Wentworth, infinitely humane specimen that he was, forced Richie to sell his motorcycle before he left for college. That debacle ruined his mood for an entire week. One of those edgy nights, Eddie decided to wrinkle up his face and push buttons over some inane bullshit and it was just a harsh bit of bad timing. The evening concluded with a blow up and a real split—one that only lasted as long as Richie could stand the radio silence that emanated from a scorned Eddie. In real time that ended up being three days.

When he reached his breaking point, he pulled out Went’s ladder and walked across the street on autopilot. Eddie was awake and reading with his bedside lamp lit. It seemed like he was expecting Richie to show up, and he took him back with open arms. Neither of them needed to say anything. They pressed their wet faces together desperately; sniffling through their kisses and folding into one another. Eddie clutched onto Richie all night, like he feared someone might come and steal him away.

That felt like a lifetime ago, but it was one year exactly, almost to the day.

Richie tried to shake those thoughts out of his mind. He wasn’t alone in the loft—he rarely was—and spending the afternoon crying in front of his bandmates and a bunch of groupies didn’t exactly appeal to him. At the far end of the space Reagen was fucking around on the guitar by himself while a few girls fawned; watching and whispering. One of them looked familiar and her attention kept creeping Richie’s way. Despite her obvious attempt at being covert, he knew what a peripheral-check-out  looked like.

She wore boldly printed leggings and a fuzzy, oversized baby blue sweater. They’d met once at a party, and he’d seen her hanging around the loft, but they hadn’t interacted much. What was her name? Patrick said it… it was…

Oh shit; that’s right.  “Hey, I know you,” Richie called out. “What’s your name? Feather?” He curved his lips into as much of a smile as he could muster up.

“Good one,” Heather bit back, sarcastic. She crossed her arms and walked closer to the couch. “Bet it took you a whole week to come up with it.”

“I wasn’t trying to be original or anything,” he admitted casually, shrugging.

“Good ‘cause you’re not.” Heather cocked her head. “You’re derivative as fuck.”

Richie’s face broke into a real grin; momentarily soothed by that take-no-shit attitude.  “Nice vocab. You sure you’re a first year?”

“Wanna see my driver’s license to make sure?” She didn’t look anything like him at all: tall and kind of thick with long strawberry blond hair. But the contrast in her body language: the way her big eyes zeroed in warm on Richie’s hair while her mouth was busy shitting all over him. It was eerily familiar. 

“I might ask to see it later,” he informed her, like he was doing her a favor, “but we’ll use the honor system for right now.”

“Okay,” Heather chuckled, smirking. She sat down on the opposite side of the couch. “You’re a lot stranger of a person than I thought you’d be.”

“Takes one to know one,” Richie hummed, intentionally sounding every bit like a snarky fifth-grader.

“I was saying it as a compliment.” Her eyes hovered, landing on the folded blanket and pillow by Richie’s side. “Are you sleeping here?”

“Uh, yeah.” He felt his confidence wavering, and pretended to busy himself with cleaning his glasses. “Temporarily, I think.”

Her voice got soft. “Did something happen between you and Jean Gray?”

Richie laughed in spite of his mood when he heard her use the name. “His name is Eddie." Heather’d seen them together at that party months ago but she wasn’t formally introduced. "That was a costume.”

“Well no shit, but you didn’t tell me his real name then. You barely spoke to me, in fact,” she grumbled, looking down at her short blue fingernails.

Cute.

“I’m sorry if I was a rude dick when I met you.” He hooked his glasses over his knee and squinted at her. “We were in the middle of a shitty fight. He showed up looking like a birthday cake and ready to plow. I was distracted.”

“But now things are bad?” She waved both her hands around at the space surrounding them. “I mean, you’re sleeping on a couch in this shit hole.”

“He was—  We were—  Shit.”  Richie leaned his head back over the top of the couch and closed his eyes. “I can’t trust myself to talk about it right now.” He peeked at her with one eye. “I’m gonna start bawling if I do.”

“Aww,” Heather whined, inching a little closer towards the center of the couch. “Are you okay?”

“Not even remotely okay, no,” he whispered huskily, squeezing his eyes shut.

“It’s gonna get better someday,” she hummed brightly.

Just a soft platitude that people say when someone feels bad. After a friend gets dumped; while they’re grieving a loss. But the words didn’t help Richie, because the road ahead of him was long and full of reminders. The looming summer. Three months in hell, with that fucking house across the street just sitting there. Even his own stupid bed! No longer safe, just a reminder of their first time. All  their first times…

“Richie?”

He blinked over at Heather and returned the frames to the bridge of his nose. Her face was awash with concern, and it provided Richie with a flash of a balm for his hurts. A momentary relief from the bullshit dread. “Yeah, Feather?”

“Are you fucking serious?” She squeaked, crossing her arms over her chest again. “I’m sitting here being totally empathetic and you’re still calling me Feather?”

Richie chuckled. Feels completely right. “I’m sorry, doll. It has nothing to do with your name, promise. You just look like a Feather is all. Ever see a dreamcatcher? It’d be like looking in a mirror.”

“Such a jerk.” Reaching out to shove his shoulder with a firm hand, Heather scowled. “You’re one of those guys who think because they’re hot they can go around being dickheads.”

“You think I’m hot?”

She rolled her eyes and looked down at the floor. “You think you're not?”

“I feel like a pile of dogshit and I’m on the verge of crying every second of every day.” He ran a hand through his hair self-consciously. “So right now, no. I don’t think there’s anything hot about me.”

“God, I’m sorry.” Her eyebrows crimped together and her face crumpled. “Can I give you a hug? I know we barely—”

Richie was across the space in a split-second, wrapping his arms around her. She was warm and soft, but above all she was there. “Sorry,” he mumbled, muffled against her shoulder. “I’m a huge mess.”

“It’s okay. I know what it’s like to be where you are.” Heather's hand stroked the back of his head tenderly. “If you want to totally vent to me, you can.”

“Maybe later,” he whispered, breathing in her smell. It was lavender and baby lotion and something spicy. Ginger. “This is helping enough for right now.”

“Fuck, you’re so cute,” she muttered and shook her head, shaking both of them in the process. “Why am I always falling for boys in distress? Boys who like boys on top of it.”

Richie pulled away so he could look her in the face. “You make a habit of laying it all out on the table like that?”

“Not usually.” Heather averted his eyes, sucking on her lower lip. “I tend to over-share when I’m nervous.”

“Do I make you nervous?” He snickered humorlessly. “I’m totally pathetic. I live in a den of despair.”

Heather gave him a pinched little ashamed smile. “Vulnerability just ups the hot factor to me, unfortunately.”

“Well, then, for future reference: I don’t  just like boys.” He blinked down at his lap, struggling to say what he needed to. “Right now, though, I’m not in the right— I can’t just—”

“Obviously, you’re not. I know. But you’re saying—”

“I’m bi. Yeah.”

“Cool.”

“Cool,” he agreed, checking out her eyes. Big green ones with flecks of gold, framed by pale, baby-fine lashes. She wasn’t wearing any eye make-up, which was refreshing. “Do Feathers listen to music?”

They sat on the couch together talking about music and movies; majors and life-goals; professors that they loved and hated. She had an easy-going, sweet way about her and when she giggled Richie almost forgot that he was supposed to be wallowing inside of a pit of sorrow like a pig in mud. It was just the right amount of comfort and it happened to come in a pretty package. Heather provided a distraction that helped him forget something that’d been previously all-consuming, and he was grateful for every second of her attention. They exchanged numbers and she told him to call her, “Whenever, even late.”

“The day might come when you regret saying that,” Richie informed her, raising his eyebrows. “I’m sort of annoying.”

Heather smiled. “Sort of?” It was exactly the kind of response Eddie would’ve given him.

“Shot through the heart, dear,” he deadpanned. “Pain; unimaginable agony.”

“I think you’re going to pull through.” She stood up and held out her hands to him. “Let me buy you a slice of pizza.”

Richie gripped onto her wrists and laid almost all of his weight onto her, grinning while she struggled to lift him off the couch. “So, you hugged me, told me I’m hot, and now you’re gonna feed me?” He stood to his full height, and observed the way she was right there face- to-face with him; he didn’t have to look down at her. “Holy shit, you’re really tall.”

Heather rolled her eyes. “Thanks for noticing?”

“Sorry. I get told I'm tall all the time, too. I know it’s annoying.”

“Well, as long as you know you're annoying.” She started walking towards the front door without him, and he trailed behind.

Heather wasn’t Eddie (not by a long-shot) but she was a reasonable facsimile. She had enough qualities similar to his ex-boyfriend to be soothing in the wake of his loss. Richie'd felt like a train careening on a track that was headed straight for a brick wall, and Heather was the lever that diverted him over to a course that didn't end in utter destruction. He didn't think it'd go anywhere beyond friendship, but he'd take it. He'd take anything that helped him forget.

****

 

August ~ Stan

****

 

 

 

“You’re going to get skin cancer,” Stan stated confidently. He leaned back on his arms like they were a deck chair, spreading the skin on his bony chest taught. “Do you really need a tan that badly?”

Tilting his head to the side, Eddie shielded his eyes with one hand. “I just want to get a little color before I go back to school.” The rays hitting his exposed skin were basically cooking him. He was sprawled out on his back and visibly sweating in nothing but a pair of red swimming trunks. “Stop judging me; I know the risks.”

Stan shifted his butt a bit to sit cross-legged on his towel. The giant boulders that made up the ‘shore’ of the lake at the base of the quarry were about as comfortable as fast-food seating. “I’m not  judging you, Eddie, I’m looking out for you.” He took a deep breath and carefully planned his next words. Pointing out that Eddie’d been a ghost since school let out felt petty, yet necessary. “It’s been kind of hard to do this summer; you haven’t been around.”

“Every time I’m around you guys, you try to force me to talk about Richie.” He sighed so hard it sounded like he was gargling. “It’s a nightmare being back home with her,  but at least when I stay in the house she doesn’t ask about him. ”

“Yeah, because her manipulative ass is probably giddy  that you got dumped.” It was completely unhealthy for Eddie to shut them out, and to be exposed to her influence alone for the three months they'd been home.  “We’re only asking because we care.”

“I know all of that, Stan.” Eddie flipped over onto his stomach and steepled his fingers under his chin. “I already said I was sorry for being distant. What else do you want?"

“I want you to listen to me whine about my own drama sometimes. You and Richie aren’t the only people that exist.”

“Wait. Are you and Bill okay?”

Stan leaned forward towards the water to check if Bill was listening. His boyfriend’s head was a dot in the distance. It bobbed along the surface like a buoy. “He’s been really clingy since we got home, and constantly talking about how hard it’s going to be when we go back.” 

“It sounds like he’s just stating the obvious? I mean, it is going to be hard.”

“Yes. It’s very hard. That’s why I’ve sort of been thinking we should take a break or something. At least until we’re both living in the same place again.”

Oh!” Eddie’s mouth dropped open. “Fuck, Stan.”

“It’s not about Bill.  Not really,” he insisted, shaking his head. “I love him. But we’re both so busy with school, and when he calls me now…”

Eddie brought his hands up slowly and clapped himself on the forehead. “When he calls you now,  what?”

“It’s hard for us to find anything to talk about.”

“That’s not a problem I can imagine having,” Eddie said sadly. He was probably thinking of Richie, and his motor-mouth. They always had plenty to talk about. 

“Yeah, well, different majors, a lot of distance…Plus he’s going out to parties all the time and I’m mostly just studying.”

Eddie turned on his side. “Are you really going to do it?”

Stan peered out across the water at the waves radiating from Bill’s swimming strokes. “I don’t know.” He’d gone over and over the points in his head, and the only logical answer he’d been able to settle on was that it wasn’t working anymore. “I still care about him, but I want a boyfriend that I can see whenever I want. It’s too hard to keep saying goodbye.”

“Just from my personal experience, distance can be really good.” Eddie pushed himself into a sitting position and reached for Stan’s bottle of sunscreen. “If we  had some space I don’t think things would have gone the way they did.” He slathered the white substance onto his arms and chest.

Stan nodded slowly, and braced himself, expecting Eddie to snap at his question. “Do you think he’s doing okay after everything?”

He stopped applying lotion and glared. “I don’t want to talk about Richie at all.” There were little creamy dollops on his cheeks that he’d yet to rub in.

“You brought him up,” he reminded Eddie gently.

“I was giving you an example to help you with YOUR issue.” He rubbed at his cheeks roughly, forehead folding and eyes squinting. “It doesn’t mean I want to start spilling my guts.”

“Do you think that’s healthy? To hold it in all sum—”

“I don’t care if it is or it isn’t,” Eddie cut Stan off, eyes fixed on Bill’s head out in the water. “Talking about it doesn’t change anything. He wanted to get away from me, and he did. I don’t want to keep thinking about it.”

“Fine, Eddie,” Stan groused, irritated. “Just keep it in the center of your gut until it turns into a diamond.”

They were both quiet for a couple minutes, until Eddie’s soft voice dropped a bomb. “I’ve been spending time with Patrick.”

Stan’s eyes widened. He laid down on his side, suddenly wishing he had some popcorn. This was going to be good. “Wait, do you mean spending time…like that?” He raised his eyebrows, unable to keep from smirking.

“Not yet, but probably eventually, yeah.”

“Holy shit.” He blinked rapidly; processing it. “Is the twelve-year-old that used to inhabit your body squealing and arm flailing?”

“Sort of?” Eddie exhaled loudly and his facial features waged war against each other. It seemed like he was trying to smile and frown at the same time. “There’s a part of me that’s excited, but the rest of me is sad. If I go ahead with it, it means it’s really over.”

Stanley pressed his lips into a line. “You just exactly described how I feel about wanting to break up with Bill.”

“Then I’ll say this  and it’s all I’ll say about it: I thought about breaking up with Richie when we were fighting all the time, but I still wasn’t prepared for how bad it would actually feel when it happened.” Eddie hugged his legs and rested his chin on his knee. “You should really think about it before you decide anything.”

“Obviously,” Stan muttered, rubbing at his eyes. He wasn’t really going to do anything, he knew that. Talking about it with Eddie helped him get closer to the truth. Breaking up was too final; too undecided; too scary. He’d probably sit still in the same spot for the rest of his life if it was safe and comfortable.

Sometimes, though, he wondered what it’d be like to kiss this blond guy in his World Civ class. Stan’d stare at him from behind, studying the nape of his neck and the little triangle edge of his haircut; the way his forearm bulged when he scribbled down notes, and how he always raised his hand with two fingers only. That guy was a blank slate. He was a beautiful, sprawling mystery to Stan, while Bill was a novel he loved, but one that he’d already read a thousand times over.

“Do you think I’m an asshole for thinking about it?”

Eddie’s head jerked over at the question. “No, Stanley. I don’t.” He sighed and cleared his throat. “Bev said something to me once a long time ago. I forget exactly, but it was basically…that relationships can’t last forever, because people are always changing.”

“But I haven’t changed,” Stan said immediately, grimacing. “I’m exactly the same.”

“We’ve all changed since high school. People aren’t like appliances, Stanley.” He narrowed his eyes over the water. “Bill looks like he’s headed back this way.”

“I think I’m going to go join him.” Stan stood up, straightening his trunks. “Will you be okay here by yourself, or—”

“I’ve been alone all summer,” Eddie stated quietly. “I think I can handle it.”

Stan didn’t reply. He carefully stepped his way down the rocks until he reached the edge of the water. It was freezing as per usual but he walked into it anyway, dunking his body quickly underneath to get it over with. His doggy-paddle was pathetic, but he chugged along at a good pace towards Bill, who saw him coming.

“Hey, you’re actually going to swim with me?” Bill grinned over at his slow arrival.

“Yeah,” Stan sputtered, water getting into his mouth. “I wanted to tell you something before you got out. Eddie just laid a big one on me.”

“Oh yeah?” Bill reached for him as he got closer and pulled them together. Stan settled his legs around his boyfriend’s waist and Bill carried on treading water for the both of them. “I might end up drowning if we do this,” he admitted, smiling as he struggled to keep his mouth above the surface. “You’re small but not that  small.”

Stan leaned his head back to let his upper body float but left his legs wrapped around Bill. “There, happy?”

“Yeah,” Bill whispered, allowing himself to float in the same manner with their bodies loosely connected. He fumbled his fingers over Stan’s waist underneath the water, the touch light and slippery. “What did Eddie tell you?”

“That he’s been spending time alone with Patrick.”

“No shit? You mean like naked  time?”

Chuckling, Stan pulled himself up to give Bill a kiss. “You’re such a dork.”

Bill slung an arm around Stan and paddled with the other one to spin them both, creating a tiny whirlpool. “I know I am, but you love it.” His auburn hair was sticking up in the front and he had pink swatches of a light sunburn forming at the tops of his cheeks.

“I do,” Stan agreed softly, gripping onto Bill and closing his eyes as they spun.

“So, are they?”

“Are they what? Getting naked?” Stan shook his head. “Not yet. Eddie’s words. Yet.  Meaning that sometime soon they probably will be.”

“Wow,” Bill breathed, blinking. “I guess he’s getting over it.”

“Do you feel bad for Richie?” Stan already knew what the answer would be, but he asked anyway.

“Not really. He’s the one who dumped Eddie. Why should I feel bad for him?”

“Because it’s a hard decision to make, and he was probably hurting.” Stan pulled his legs back and stroked his arms to sideways-swim in a small circle around Bill. “He probably still is  hurting.”

Bill puffed air out of his lips. “He should have thought about that before he went through with it.”

Stan tried to keep the irritation out of his voice, but it was nakedly present. “Don’t you think he did  think about it?” He wasn’t talking about Richie anymore, not really. He was talking about himself, and his own thoughts about ending a relationship with his first love. Would Bill hate him if he did it? Would he think that Stan hadn’t  gone over it for hours until he wanted to knock his head against a wall? “Don’t you think maybe he felt like he had no other choice?”

“What the hell are you getting all pissy about?” Bill cupped his hand and splashed a stream of water in Stan’s direction. “You hate Richie.”

“I don’t hate  Richie. He’s annoying and loud and gross, but I don’t hate him.” Stan sniffed, bobbing in the water a few feet away from Bill.

“Woah,” Bill whispered suddenly, pointing over to the rocks where Eddie remained. “Look.”

Stan spun himself around and looked. He saw someone sitting with Eddie, someone with dark hair. It wasn’t Richie, he could tell by the clothes. “Fucking Patrick is here?”

Bill hooked his arm around Stan and guided him over towards the rocks bordering the edges of the lake until they were in a spot where they could stand with their shoulders above the water. “You think it’s a coincidence he’s here? Or do you think Eddie told him to come?”

“I don’t know. It’s not like it’s out of the ordinary for any of us to come here.” Stan’s earliest worry of the day was that Bev would bring Richie to the quarry at the same time they’d managed to convince Eddie to leave his house, and that the awkwardness sure to ensue would swallow them all whole. That hadn’t happened—yet—and Stan hoped to G_d that it wouldn’t happen with Patrick present.

Bill pressed himself flush against Stan’s back, dragging him from his worries about awkward social situations among exes. The water wooshed  between their lower bodies, and Stan melted, leaning back against Bill’s chest and letting his arms bob out weightlessly. He felt like he was drinking Bill in through his skin. Being close to him was so comfortable and right, but he’d be taken away in two short weeks and Stan would be back to missed calls and quiet nights alone.

“We’re trapped out here, now. We can’t back go over there and interrupt them,” Bill reported, as though he were being charitable and not just interested in ravaging Stan in the water. “Let’s go to an even shallower spot,” he whispered, soft against Stan’s jawline.

“Hate to burst your bubble.” He tipped his head back, smiling against Bill’s throat. “But I’m not hooking up with you in here, Billy.”

Bill chewed gently on the hollow between Stan’s neck and trap, sending chills down his spine. “Give me one good reason why not.”

“One good reason,” Stan murmured breathlessly, “is because it’s daytime and we’re in public. Another one is that this water probably feeds into reservoirs. It’s gross enough to get our spit and sweat into it.” He’d felt badly about that fact every time they swam down there since they were kids, but he got into the water anyway because his friends wanted to.

“Who says it’s gotta be like that, though?” Bill’s voice was soft and sweet. He hung his chin over Stan’s shoulder. “Maybe I just want to kiss you.”

Stan watched Patrick and Eddie. They were too far away to hear or see clearly, but they looked cozy. It reminded Stan of that exciting time in a new relationship when everything was tentative and cute, but also scary and uncertain. He sighed and leaned his head against Bill’s. “We only have two weeks left.”

“Right, and that’s exactly why I want you to come over there with me,” Bill whispered against the shell of his ear and pointed towards a shaded spot where the rocks curved over the water. “Want to?”

“Yes.” Stan turned to face his boyfriend and kissed him languidly, allowing himself to be pushed backwards towards the rocks. Bill was right. There was almost no time left for them to waste.

 

*

 

 _

Stan the Man

|4:45[ Do you regret breaking up with Eddie? ]

 

Trashmouth

|4:47[ hi richie ru having a good summer? ]

|4:47[ no actually its been terrible thanks for asking ]

 

Stan the Man

|4:49[ Sorry. Are you okay? ]

 

Trashmouth

|4:58[ not ok. and i regret it every day ]

 

Stan the Man

[4:59[ :( ]

 

Trashmouth

|5:02[ ok who the fuck is this, its not stanley he doesnt use emojis ]

 

Stan the Man

|5:04[ It's me. You helped me figure something out. I hope you feel better. ]

 

Trashmouth

|5:06[ shit did u hit ur head? ur being so nice to me ]

|5:06[ be aware that im scrnshotting n sending this to everyone we've ever met ]

_

 

****

 

December ~ Eddie

****    

 

 

"Openitopenitopenit!!"  

Sadie’s squeal was so loud it stabbed Eddie in his eardrum. "Sadie, calm down."

“You calm down.”

Maggie watched them from the arm chair, rubbing at her temples. “Both of you calm down.” The holidays seemed to take a toll on her; she looked like she could use a week of uninterrupted sleep.

“I’m perfectly calm, Maggie; she’s the one yelling.” He gently tore the paper off the small box that Sadie’d thrust into his lap. It was filled to the brim with colorful spheres that resembled the gigantic jawbreakers that were sold at bulk candy stores. “Uh, thanks for the…”

“They’re bath bombs,” she said softly. “I made them myself.”

“You made them? That’s amazing. Thanks, Sadie.” Eddie furrowed his brow and picked one up to study it. There were swirls of pink and blue and purple and white, laced with a twinkling shimmer. They looked so fancy she might have bought them from a boutique. He placed the box on the coffee table next to the gifts Maggie gave him: a rather expensive cookie scented candle and mildly embarrassing Rudolph  onesie pajamas that Sadie picked out. “How did you make them?”

“Baking soda and Epsom salt and oils and cornstarch and a bunch of shit mashed up together.” She shrugged and averted his eyes, unusually shy. “I figured you could use some relaxation in your life. Just as a disclaimer though: they’re probably going to stain your bathtub rainbow as fuck.”

Maggie pinched the bridge of her nose. “Sadie, watch your mouth.”

“You don’t ever tell Richie to wat—"

“My mother will love  a rainbow bathtub.” Eddie grinned, leaning forward to give her a hug and kiss on the cheek. “I’m so sorry that I didn’t have the money to get you two anything. Or the time to make something like this.”

Sadie shook her head quickly. “It’s okay, we know that you’re busy with school and stuff.”

“Your being here is a present to us,” Maggie added softly. “I’m just glad that you still want to come tomorrow night, even though you and Richard…” she trailed off, her eyes unfocused on the still-standing Christmas tree near the front windows. She stood abruptly and tipped her head towards the kitchen. “I’m going to fix us some snacks.”

“Maggie, of course I want to visit you,” Eddie called after her as she left the room. He looked at Sadie with a little pout. “You two make me feel like I’m actually wanted.”

“My brother is a stone-cold idiot,” Sadie spat out of nowhere, her eyes going hard. “And so’s that other one. I don’t even want to say his name.”

Eddie rolled his neck to alleviate the tension building up in it. “They had valid points, though.” Sadie was always so ferociously on Eddie’s side, but his two ex’s did what they had to do out of self-preservation. Eddie’d figured it out and made peace with it. “Both breakups were learning experiences for me. Seriously,” he added when she gave him an incredulous look.

“I can’t relate to that at all. Team single  all day long.” Sadie shrugged, tucking her legs up underneath herself. “You’ve been talking to him, right?”

Eddie didn’t have to ask her which him  she meant. “Yeah. We’ve talked on the phone a couple times since I broke up with Patrick.” They’d spoken about Richie’s band, and how Eddie was dreading spending winter break at home with his mother. Richie’s mood during the calls was mildly flirty and light. He hinted at making plans to get together but their availability never seemed to align. “Have you  talked to him?”

“I called his stupid ass FIVE times to try to beg him to come to Thanksgiving for my mother’s sake, and he ignored every single one.” She scowled, leaning forward to check if Maggie was listening. “It’s on him to get at me  now. Ball in his court. Done deal.”

Eddie followed Sadie’s eyes, looking towards the kitchen. “Do you think she needs our help out there?”

Sadie shook her head and talked under her breath. “She’s probably just standing in there chugging wine. He doesn’t know how much he’s hurting her by not coming home. The fucker.”

“The last time I talked to him he said he wouldn’t be around until Spring semester starts back up.”

“Oh yeah?" She raised her eyebrows and the pitch of her voice. "Are you going to run back to him?”

“Don’t say it like that. I don’t even know if that’s what he wants.”

“I think I know better what he wants than you, no offence.” Sadie shifted in her seat, her reluctance to relay the information plain on her face. “I shit on my brother a whole lot, but I keep his secrets pretty well, even from you. All he did last summer was cry and listen to crybaby 80’s music and write poems about tears.”

“Okay, now you’re just lying.” Eddie chuckled and rubbed at his eyes. “He didn’t write any poems.”

“No, but if he had any sort of talent to do it he would have.” Sadie nodded solemnly. “Bet.” She fidgeted with her hands and took a deep breath. “I didn’t tell you this, but he made me police him, like to make sure he didn’t run across the street and climb into your window.”

Eddie frowned down at his lap. “Why would he ask you to stop him?” If Richie’d climbed through his window at any point last summer, Eddie would have gotten back together with him, no questions asked.

“He wanted you to be the one to come to him.” She scrunched up her nose and pushed the words out. It looked like it hurt her to say them out loud. “On the fourth of July, he cracked and came to Bill’s party to get back together with you. But you were too drunk for us to let him talk to you, and he gave up.”

“Yeah, I know. He told me that the last time I saw him.” October. Richie sick, all cute on his bed, looking cuddly and soft and asking for snuggles. Eddie, conflicted as all fuck, still with Patrick and feeling stupid and regretful. The timing wasn't right. “I didn’t think he even wanted me back at all last summer. I was too busy punishing myself for being the literal worst to think about—”

“You’re not the worst.”

“Maybe not, but I know I did shitty things. I don’t know if we can just go—” He covered his face with both hands. “Like I’m just sitting here assuming that he wants to get back together, and I don’t know if he even does.”

“I think he does. I know I haven’t talked to him in a month, but he’s always been pretty transparent to me.” Sadie laid a hand on Eddie’s knee and squeezed. “If it’s what you want, just talk to him.”

“That sounds way too logical.”

“Then maybe instead write down: do you still like me? Y N M  and give it to him in study hall.” She smiled Richie’s smile and stood up. “I’m gonna go save Mags from herself.”

“I hate you,” he hummed at her retreating form, but he didn’t. Sadie was probably the smartest, most emotionally mature person he knew. If she thought Richie needed him to make the move, he’d have to be prepared. 

When he entered his house that evening, Eddie expertly avoided getting sucked in by Sonia. He gave her the briefest Tozier gift review possible and retreated up the stairs to take a bath, using Sadie’s gift as an excuse to buy himself solitude. He told his mother that his intention was relaxation, but left out the rest. What better way to relax then to jerk off while hiding in the bathroom? That was Eddie’s go-to solution when he was a young teenager, and his mother’s hovering presence brought him right back to that stage of life even at a mildly self-sufficient twenty-one.

He filled the tub with warm water and placed one of the balls into it, watching as it erupted into a swirl of colorful foam that settled into a deep opaque blue. It bubbled and fizzed, and a familiar smell permeated the room, probably from the ‘oils’ Sadie said she’d added to the mixture that molded the gift.

It smells exactly like Richie’s aftershave. Fuck.  

Eddie reclined in the warm bath, listening to the sound of his fingers dipping in and out of the water, plink plink plink.  He wanted to think about something sexy, to touch himself and feel a release—that was the whole reason he’d drawn the bath in the first place—but the thoughts that came to him were sentimental and filled him with longing instead.

Junior year. A week after the first day of spring. Kissing on Richie’s bed and the taste of stale cigarettes and jolly ranchers. That afternoon light that’s sort of pink and golden and dreamy; the kind that filters into a room and sets the dust in the air shimmering. Sandalwood aftershave and coconut shampoo. Richie’s wet lips, all over his throat and moving downwards.  Curly hair getting longer every minute in between his fingers; springy, dark and full.

The two of them on their sides, front to front on Richie’s bed and playing around like always. They were up to mouths and hands by that point, but that was as far as it ever went. Kiss, grope, and suck; rinse/repeat. Then out of the blue, he whispered it against Eddie’s collarbone. “I wanna be inside you.” 

As the words left Richie’s lips a surge of heat painted its way slowly across the lower half of Eddie’s body. He wanted to, he knew he wanted it. His body told him he did; it practically screamed for it, but he was afraid. Worried.

Afraid that it’d hurt. Worried that it’d be messy. Ashamed that he wouldn’t be good at it.

But it didn’t, and it wasn’t, and it didn’t matter, because it was too quick to judge.

The entire process wasn’t sexy, it felt like an experiment. Eddie’d tensed because he anticipated that Richie’d make a joke out of it, but he didn’t. For once he was serious and taking his time, asking instead of telling, going at Eddie’s pace.

Cold lube. One finger-two finger, in-out. “Is that okay? Can I try one more?” 

Richie himself was larger—so much  larger than a finger, or even three—but it didn’t hurt.  Not really. It felt strange at first (of course it did) but then Richie hit something deep inside, and there was a shock of intense pleasure. Just a blip of it. Eddie’d always tried his best to keep quiet when something felt that good. Chalk it up to years of pathetic, ashamed masturbation in a house where he was under constant surveillance.

He’d learned to clamp his mouth tight, his sighs and whines muffled by the sheer force of his will. But when Richie thrusted and hit him in that spot, a sound he couldn’t control slipped out of his diaphragm. It was embarrassing and desperate, but it made his boyfriend growl and shudder. Almost an entire year had passed since Richie had sex with anyone, and Eddie was tiny, he said, he couldn’t hold it back. Eddie didn’t come, but he thought he finally understood how he might be able to if they kept trying.

Afterwards, they laid together, naked and sweet. The condom shed and clean,  in direct opposition of Eddie’s paranoia. 

“I’ve never taken anyone’s virginity before,” Richie admitted shyly, petting Eddie’s hair and kissing his temple. 

“Really?” Eddie turned on his side to look up at him. “Not even Hannah? You were both so young.” 

“Yeah, well. She took mine. But Hannah was pretty busy in tenth grade.” 

Eddie swallowed his shock, berating himself instead. “I’m so old to be losing my virginity, aren’t I?” 

“Oh yeah. Definitely.” Richie’s voice was full to the brim with a goofy grin. “When you check into the retirement home next month you’ll look back on this time fondly, if you can even remember it.” 

“Shut up,” Eddie laughed, smacking feebly at his boyfriend’s bare chest. 

Richie caught his hands and pressed kisses against his knuckles. “No, but seriously Eds, was it okay?” He laced their fingers together, squinting down at them in the darkness of the room. They’d been laying there long enough for the moon to come out and had yet to turn on a light. “I’m not asking for my ego or anything, just what did you think of it in general? Sex.” 

“I don’t know,” Eddie whispered honestly. “I had it all built up in my head, what it’d be like, and it wasn’t anything like that.” 

“Cryptic,” Richie deadpanned. 

Eddie sighed. “I’m not trying to be cryptic. It was okay?” 

“Encouraging,” he stated in the same tone, but his lips curled up after he said it. 

“Oh, come on. What do you want me to say? Tell me.” He brought his face closer to Richie’s, studying him in the dark. He said it wasn’t about his ego but his cheeks were pink. There was something he wanted to hear and Eddie knew it. He whispered and gave himself a little thrill to speak the words, because they felt dirty but true in his mouth. “Three fingers wasn’t enough to get me ready for you.” 

Richie looked down at him sapily with heavy eyelids. He combed his fingers through the front of Eddie’s hair. “When we get married, are you gonna take my name?” 

“Are you proposing?” Eddie grinned and curled up closer, laying his head down on Richie’s shoulder. “I think we need to finish high school first.” 

“See, the only cool thing about my entire name is that it has a Z in it,” Richie continued, ignoring Eddie completely. “I’d be Richie Kaspbrak, no problemo, but it just doesn’t pack that punch, y’know?” 

“We could always hyphenate them,” Eddie mumbled, and then shook his head quickly. “Are you being serious right now?” 

“I don’t ever want to be without you, Eds. I can’t even picture what that would be like.” He bent his neck and kissed Eddie slowly, sucking at his lower lip a little extra. “Obviously marriage can wait, like a long time. But someday, yeah.” 

“I love you, you know that, right? I don’t think I say it eno—”

Richie shut him up with a lazy kiss. It was soft and gentle and quiet, but it spoke louder than any words he’d ever said.

Eddie was pulled out of his memories by the sound of his phone vibrating and rattling around on the tile next to the bathtub.

Incoming call: Richie. The picture that he loved filled up the whole screen.

He dried his hand on the bathmat and picked up. “Hey.”

“Heyy there, yourself. Whatcha doing?”

“Uh.” Eddie grinned, unsure if he wanted to tell Richie that he was laying naked in the bathtub. Part of him did, but once he went there he couldn't go back. “I’m using the present your sister gave me for Christmas,” he said coyly.

“Why are you using a sexy voice? Did that sassy little broad get you a butt-plug?”

“Eww. God, I hate you so much.”

“Just like old times,” Richie sang with an audible smile. “What’d she get you for real?”

“Now I’m not telling you.”

“Withholding little jerk,” Richie grumbled.

Just like old times, ” Eddie echoed back, sing-songing his words in sugary sweet snark.

“Fuck,” Richie sighed. “I miss you, Eds.”

Eddie closed his eyes and sunk a little lower in the water. “I miss you, too.”

“How’re you holding up with being home and everything?” Richie knew how difficult it was for Eddie to go back to being trapped in the house with his mother.

“Okay, we've been hiding from each other all week. That’s kind of what I’m doing right now.”

“So, you’re hiding  and using a gift Sades got you. It has to be a butt-plug. I can’t see any other possibility.”

“She gave me bath bombs,  you impossibly gross loser.”

“What the fuck is a bath—  Wait, hold up, does that mean you’re naked  right now?”

“You’re really perceptive, y’know?”

“Well well well,” Richie whisper-growled. “Eddie Spaghetti is naked and he answered his phone anyway. He didn’t have to tell me he’s naked, either. So what could that mean, hmmn. Let me think.”

“It seems like you can have the conversation you’re having right now without me. So maybe I should let you go,” Eddie threatened, big smile plastered on his face.

“This IS  just like old times!” Richie declared triumphantly. “Oh, you little…Cock tease. Cock tease!”

Eddie fumbled and almost dropped the phone into the tub with him when he started giggling. “I’m not trying to tease you; I’m just telling you what I’m doing.”

“Fuuuuck, that giggle. Killing me. You’re so cute.” Richie’s tone got soft. “If you really want me to know what you’re doing Eds, use descriptive words.”

His reply came out smaller than he intended it to. “What am I supposed to describe?”  Timid and shy, asking Richie to tell him what to do, just like when he was a virgin.

“Well, you could tell me what the water's like. So’s I can decide if I’d want to join you in there.” Richie scoffed. "I just said that like I wouldn't get in with you even if it was filled with piranhas."

“The water's…warm,” Eddie whispered. “Kind of blue-ish, ‘cause of the bath bomb. No piranhas. ”

“Does it smell like anything? Pretty flowers in a rolling meadow, maybe?”

Eddie was quiet for a few seconds, breathing in the earthy fragrance, picturing Richie and his dark eyes. “It smells like you.”

“Like me?” Richie’s grin was louder than his voice. “Do they make bath bombs out of cigarettes and regret?”

“No dipshit. It’s sandalwood oil, I think.”

“Ohhh," he breathed, low and throaty. "I do smell like that, huh?"

“Mmhmn." Eddie released his words slowly, letting the truth flow. "It had me thinking about you, just before you called.”

"Yeah?" Richie whispered, his voice childishly soft, like he was marveling at a magic trick. "No Bullshit?"

"No bullshit," he hummed delicately. "I've been thinking about you a lot."

"I’ve been thinking about you all week, Eds.” Richie inhaled loudly, the same way he always did before saying something that was difficult for him, but he didn’t follow it up with any words.

“There’s something you want to say, I can tell." Eddie licked his lips, feeling bold. "Say it.”

“Nah, it can wait ‘til I see you in person," 

“That’s like a whole week.”

“It’ll seem quicker than that,” Richie promised brightly. “School will start before you know it. And you’ll be busy like a beaver tomorrow night.”

“Not really. We’ll just be watching Twilight Zone  episodes I’ve seen before.” He grinned to himself, picturing his favorite part of New Year's Eve: when Richie got shy and embarrassed about his childhood fears. How his big ears would get pink and he'd shake his head and deflect by teasing Sadie. "We won't get to make fun of you when Time Enough At Last  comes on."

Richie made a noise that was half-laugh, half-groan. “You'll all make fun of me plenty. And you'll be getting plied with wine by Mags Tozier. You’re not going to be able to see straight for a week after that, anyway.” It was probably true, especially now that he was legally old enough to drink.

Eddie cleared his throat. “They’re both really upset that you didn’t come home for the holdays. Sadie won’t admit it outright, but you know how she—”

Richie cut him off, cheery and cryptic at the same time. “I’m gonna make it up to them, watch.”

“How, though?”

“So nosey and snoopy, little snooper," he chided sweetly. "More things for me to tell you when I see you. Listen kid, I gotta go. Um, I hope you enjoy your bath thoroughly. Think of me when you’re cleaning your special purpose.”

“Richie, wait—” The call dropped, and Eddie plunked his phone back on the floor. He dipped down in the water until his ears were covered, ignoring his mother's voice inside his mind telling him that it was dangerous to get bath products into his ear canal. Listening to the hollow sound of his knuckles knocking against the ceramic of the tub, he closed his eyes and pictured Richie's face, close to his. Waiting a whole week to see him felt impossible, but Eddie'd already waited almost nine months to get what he really wanted. His heart had a bit more patience left to spend.

Chapter Text

Eddie

 

“Bumbles BOUNCE,” Sadie cried out for the fifth time of the night, her mouth full of artichoke dip. It was barely nine o’clock and Maggie’d already let her have a glass of chardonnay.

Throwing a long-suffering head bob her way, Eddie scolded her for her inaccuracies. “You aren’t Yukon Cornelius; you are  the Bumble. A Bumble wouldn’t be saying ‘Bumbles bounce.’ They can’t even talk.”

She’d gone hokey with a theme for their pajamas that year, and they were essentially Halloween costumes that could be slept in. Both of their onesies had hoods with faces on them: she was the Abominable Snow Monster and Eddie was Rudolph. His was baggy and too long for him, and he felt incredibly silly sitting with the knowledge that he looked exactly like a reindeer—complete with belly markings and a tail and antlers—but it was just for one night.

They were only two episodes into their marathon. Eddie carried on trying to pay attention to The Twilight Zone,  but Sadie was as distracting as her brother when she wanted to be.

“They didn’t have too many options for Rudolph  PJs, otherwise I would’ve been Yukon and you would’ve been Hermey the gay elf.” Sadie shifted a little closer to him on the couch. “Or maybe you’re more the Jack-In-the-Box from the island of misfit toys,” she mused, reaching out to play with his hair.

Eddie ducked back, grinning. “You’re so annoying. We’re watching something right now.” He pretended to pay attention to the television for a few seconds. “I’m the boat that can’t stay a-fl-fl-fl-float, if I’m anything though,” he giggled, shaking his head.

“Noooo,” Sadie moaned, hugging onto him. “You’re a cowboy who rides… AN OSTRICH.”

“Children,” Maggie chided, eyes on the screen. “This is my favorite episode.” She fiddled with the silky arm of her crimson two-piece pajamas. “I’d let the pigs in a blanket burn to a crisp just to see the ending. Zip it.”

“Mother, you’re aware that we live in the future-times and you can just pause TV, right?”

“Yes, Sadie, I’m well aware of—"

BINGBONG

The doorbell rang, startling all three of them.

Maggie sat up straighter in the arm chair and blinked over at Sadie. “You didn’t invite anyone else here tonight, did you?”

“Ew, of course not.” Sadie grabbed for the remote to pause the show. “Maybe it’s a Mormon trying to convert us.”

Ducking down on the couch and gripping his glass of wine for dear life, Eddie clenched his cheeks. “If it’s my mother, tell her I died.”

BINGBONGBINGBONGBINGBONGBINGBONGBINGBONGBINGBONG

“Jesus, okay. CALM DOWN.” Sadie got up from the couch and flung the door open so fast it barely creaked. “Sorry, but we’re atheist—  Oh, holy shit, ” she breathed, with an audible smile. “You fucking idiot!”

“I love you too, Sades.” There was a thunk  noise, then the swishy sounds of an embrace.

Eddie widened his eyes and tried to move, but he couldn’t get up. His limbs didn’t seem to function anymore. He watched Maggie, who was already out of her seat and heading towards the front door, squealing, “Oh my God; you didn’t tell us!”

“That’s the whole thing about surprises,” Richie intoned, like he was explaining quantum physics to a room full of kindergärtners. “They don’t work when you tell the whole neighborhood.”

“I was ready to put a hit out on you,” Sadie mumbled, her voice muffled. “Mother,  Jesus! Stop pushing me.”

“Then get out of my way,” Maggie urged her with a watery laugh.

“Don’t cry, Mom,” Richie cooed in the sweetest tone he was capable of, and Eddie melted a little deeper into the couch listening to it. “Happy surprise. Right?”

“Yes, baby. The best happy surprise.” She made a contented little noise. “And you cut your hair!”

“It was getting to be a pain in my ass,” he admitted quietly. “So uh, where’s… Is um…”

Slowly, Eddie turned and stretched his neck so just the top half of his face reached above the back of the couch. Richie caught his eyes and smiled as he wiggled the fingers on one of his hands—which were still wrapped around his mother—in a tiny wave hello.

Somehow managing to slip the tips of his fingers in the air, Eddie returned the gesture, eyes googling and drinking in the sight of his ex.

Richie’s hair was the same length it was when they met, just below his chin, and the cut left it extra dark and curly. He had on a silky-looking, brightly patterned long-sleeved button down under his leather jacket and the yellow scarf Eddie bought him for their first Christmas together was tufted over his chest. Glasses-free, his eyes crinkled with joy but underneath that they were exhausted.

Maggie kissed his cheeks and pulled back to hold him at arm’s length. “I can’t believe you’re really here.”

“Believe it, shweetheart.” He kicked off his purple chucks, leaving them in a heap in the middle of the marble floor of the foyer. ”Listen, I’m just gonna throw this shit in my room real quick and then we can party for serious.” Grabbing his bag, he moved towards the stairs. ”Is the father-shaped parental unit in his study?”

“Where else would he be?” Sadie asked rhetorically, her voice only mildly disdainful towards her father’s chronic absence from their family tradition.

“Okay,” Richie said. Glancing over at Eddie, he muttered, “I’m saving bests for lasts,” quickly as he ran up the stairs two at a time.

Eddie’s face broke into a slow smile. He chugged the last of his wine and found his legs, standing shakily. Richie was there; he came. They’d been talking on the phone for a month and hinting and getting closer to something and they were finally in the same place. Eddie gestured with his empty glass, first at the stairs and then at Sadie. He struggled to find the right words. “He’s— He’s actually here right now.”

“It’s not an illusion,” Sadie agreed. “He’s fuckin’ lucky  he did it, too. I was gonna kill him.”

“You were not,  young lady.” Maggie wiped her eyes and smiled over at Eddie like she just won the lottery. “He’s such a good boy sometimes, isn’t he?”

Eddie grinned at the ‘sometimes.’ He glanced belatedly down at his clothes. “Oh, fuck Sadie. Why did you make me wear this?!”

“Don’t worry, he’s going to have to put his pajamas on, too.” Maggie busied herself with digging around the few packages still left underneath the Christmas tree. “You look adorable, by the way.”

“I look  like a reindeer,” Eddie moaned. He padded into the kitchen and Sadie followed behind. “He’s going to make fun of me.”

“You like that shit though; don’t deny it.”

Eddie turned from her to avoid the question, busying himself with filling his glass full of Shiraz. “What am I supposed to do?” He asked, more to himself than to her.

“I don’t know, man. Just live your life.” Sadie giggled, and flipped up the hood of his pajamas. She bopped him on his Rudolph nose. “Make a move! Just like a sexy little red-nosed reindeer would.”

 

*

Richie

 

Richie’s heart jack-hammered on his way up the stairs. Those big brown eyes peering at him over the top of the couch sent his brain swimming in a sea of urges. He wanted to kiss Eddie, talk to him, fuck him, smell the skin on his neck, sit really close to him on the couch just barely touching and feel the way the cushion dipped slightly towards his weight when he squirmed in his seat; anything and everything all at once. He took a second to breathe deeply in his bedroom, hands shaking as he set his bag down on the floor.

The air inside the room itself felt different; it seemed less like a prison cell than it had during the summer. The last time he’d been in the space, he’d convinced himself that he didn’t know how to exist without Eddie. His sister tried to tell him that wasn’t true. The friends he let into his bubble showed  him it wasn’t true without using words. But Richie didn’t really believe it was a fact until he gave himself permission to move on.

He’d thrown himself headfirst into distractions at the beginning of the semester, reasoning that if he kept going through the motions of moving on, that one day, eventually, he would.  Seeing Eddie in October made him realize he’d been a fool to believe that. It was like being reminded that he’d been living without an organ. Eddie’s nature: the way he could be tough and sweet at the same time, the way he called Richie a dipshit like it was a term of endearment; it felt like home.

Moving on wasn’t a real thing, at least not from the kind of love he felt for Eddie. It would always be there lurking under the surface. When he couldn’t act on it, he’d get angry, or petty, or jealous, and that hurt both of them more than the breakup had.

Richie’d spent the entire train ride home preparing himself for the anticipated sensory overload that would come along with seeing Eddie, but it hadn’t been enough. He buzzed all over, like he’d drank seven espressos. It was anticipatory excitement about what the night might amount to. They’d been talking on the phone regularly and letting feelings creep out naturally in conversation. Both of them were inching back towards something, he knew it.

He stopped in his bathroom, taking a few minutes to remove his contacts so he could rub at his burning eyes and splashing water on his face to calm himself down. There was no way he could barge into his father’s space with his blood pumping an Eddie’shereEddie’shereEddie’shere  high through his veins.

When he was sufficiently mellowed out, Richie pounded on the door to Went’s study.

“Mags, I’m in the middle of something crucial,” came his father’s muffled and impatient voice.

“Is it so important that you can’t spare a minute for your favorite child?”

“Rich? I’ll be damned; come on in!”

Pushing the door open slowly, Richie peeked around it dramatically as though something terrifying were inside the room.

“There he is.” Went grinned, standing and rounding the desk with no hesitation to embrace his son. “I thought you’d forgotten our address.”

Richie gave up the scared act and hugged his father, clapping him on the back. “Went Tozier gets off a good one,” he deadpanned. “It’s not New Year’s Eve, it’s the Event Horizon.”

“Oh, Enough,” the old man groused good-naturedly, pulling back from their hug faster than Maggie had. “Where on Earth have you been?”

Where have I been ? Hmmn.” Richie rubbed roughly at the back of his head, expecting a lecture about the importance of family time at Thanksgiving. “Do you mean in a physical or a metaphorical sense?”

“Either/or?” Went studied the edges of his son’s face. “I see you found a barber somewhere in your travels; that’s good news. Could’ve gone a little shorter, though.”

“Yeah, win some-lose some, no?” Richie chewed on the inside of his lip. “I was in Connecticut for a while, and New York and New Jersey.”

Went nodded, leaning his ass against the front of his desk and crossing his long legs at the ankle. “Ah, the illustrious tri-state area.” He ran a hand over the lower half of his face, visibly pondering. “And you’re singing, are you?”

“Learning to play guitar, too. A little bit.”

“What about school? I’m still getting stubs to pay your tuition, so I assume you’re sticking with it. The bill for Spring was through the roof.”

“Yeah, uh, I’m moving back into the dorm, so that makes sense.” Richie hadn’t even thought about how the change in his living situation would impact his parents. “You guys saved a bundle last semester then, right?”

“Oh sure, yep.” Went nodded down at the carpet. “Shame you boys couldn’t work it out though.”

Richie raised his eyebrows. “Yeah,” he agreed, because it was all he could muster up. He didn’t think his father even had an opinion on the matter.

“He’s here, you know.”

“Uh-huh, I know. Couldn’t miss him if I tried.”

“Your mother and your sister are pretty fond of him,” Went stated super casually, like he was talking about the weather outside.

“Evidently. He told me Sades begged him to come tonight, and she didn’t even call me.”

“Richard, when you make it as difficult as possible for people to get through to you, they will  eventually give up.” Went sighed and walked around the desk to pull a bottle of scotch and two small crystal glasses out of the bottom drawer. “Your sister has never been one to grovel.” He glugged a generous two fingers into each glass and handed one of them to Richie.

“Am I a man today, Papa?” Richie grinned and sniffed the brown liquor, trying his best not to make a face. “Jesus, this is like fucking turpentine.”

“Sip it. Barely kiss it.” Went demonstrated, tipping the glass back and allowing just a tiny bit of the alcohol to touch his lips.

Richie mimicked his father, again attempting to keep his face neutral but he couldn’t handle it and grimaced. “Ugh, wow. Not the best kiss I’ve ever had.”

“You get used to it.” He shrugged and took a larger sip. “How long are you sticking around?”

“Until I have to leave for school. Next week.”

“Good, we have some time then.” Went pulled out his desk chair and returned to his seat. “Why don’t you get back to it, they’re probably waiting on you.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Okay.” He started to move through the doorway and turned back. “Hey, Dad?”

“Hmmn?”

“I think Mags would like it if you came out of your cave at midnight and gave her a little how-do-you-do.”

“Are you giving me the talk,  Rich?” Wentworth snickered, taking off his glasses and rubbing at his eyes tiredly. “It’s coming about thirty-five years too late.”

Richie chuckled and shook his head. “Nah, just sharing secrets of the trade. Wisdom I picked up on the road. The New Year’s Kiss  is important. To some people.”

His father nodded slowly. “I’ll keep it in mind.” He shuffled some papers in front of him on the desk. “Throw an ice cube in the glass, it’ll make it more tolerable. Shut the door behind you, please.”

“ ’Kay.” He closed the door and turned to find that Sadie was waiting for him in the hallway, leaning against his bedroom door. “Hey Bumble.”

At first Sadie squeaked, the jealousy plain in her voice, “He gave you some of his scotch?” But she composed herself quickly, shaking her head and crossing her arms over her chest. “Tell me for real: did you come here for Eddie or for us?”

“I’m here for everyone, Sades.” Richie couldn’t take her seriously with that goofy monster face hovering above her own, and grinned down at her. He held out the glass for her to take. “Don’t worry, there’s plenty of me to go around.”

“That’s disgusting,” she stated, sniffing the liquor tentatively. “Oh God, people actually drink this?”

“Sip it; don’t chug it.” He watched her attempt to taste the alcohol. “Have you been talking to Eds?”

Sadie coughed and leaned back against the doorjamb. “I talk to him all the time,” she choked out, her voice strained.

“Has he said anything about, like, I don’t know, us trying to—”

“I really hate doing this monkey-in-the-middle bullshit with you guys, because you’re both equally stupid.”

Richie furrowed his brow and walked towards the stairs, purposely knocking his shoulder into Sadie’s as he passed her. “If you were actually  playing monkey-in-the-middle with two stupid people, wouldn’t that make it easy for you to win?”

“You know goddamn well what I mean,” she barked, following him. “You’re both asking me the same questions. Just ask each other.”

He stopped moving when he hit the top step. “What did Eddie ask you?”

“Exactly what you just started to?” Sadie pouted her lips and played with her dark curls, putting on a sheepish act. “Like do you think he, like, wants to, y’know, I don’t know, maybe—”

Richie cut her off with a light shove to her shoulder. “Okay, fuck you.”

“You both want the same thing.” She shoved her brother back, gently, and left her hand on his arm. “Just do the flirty bullshit. You know how.”

“I know exactly what to do, Sades.” He rolled his eyes and hung his head towards the floor. “I’m just nervous.”

She held out the glass of scotch. “Have some courage juice.”

 

 *

Eddie

 

Eddie didn’t know what he was supposed to do. So he hid.

He didn’t hide to conceal himself, because anyone could’ve walked into the kitchen and seen him standing there slightly behind the kitchen island and watching the doorway. He did it to have a vantage point; to see Richie coming and minimize the possibility of being caught off-guard again.

I hope Went gave him a nice welcome, and I hope his pajamas are as embarrassing as mine are.   

Unexpectedly, Richie’s head poked around the doorway of the kitchen. “Hi.”

I love those glasses. Grey tortoiseshell. They suit him.

“Hi,” Eddie echoed quickly. He was grateful that the kitchen island blocked Richie from seeing all of him. It obscured part of his ex’s view, but it didn’t stop his mouth from commenting.

“Nice jammies,” he said with a smirk. He went straight for the freezer and pulled out an ice tray. Turning back, he pointed the tray at Eddie. “Put your hood up so I can get the full effect.”

I will not. Your sister picked these out.” Eddie crossed his arms over his chest. “I thought it would just be her and your mother tonight or I wouldn’t have agreed—”

“You’d deny me this view?” Richie walked up to the opposite side of the island and worked on popping out a piece of ice. He’d shed his jacket, but he still wore the scarf on his chest, and that spoke silently to Eddie’s heart. “That’s incredibly rude. I’m offended, Eds.”

“Oh, shut up.” Eddie leaned his front against the counter between them. “You’re supposed to be wearing pajamas, too. Rules are rules.”

Richie grinned as he dropped a cube into a fancy glass full of mystery liquid. He leaned against the opposite side of the island and lowered his head so they were eye to eye. “Is the boy scout gonna bust me?”

Maggie came bustling into the kitchen, and strode up to Richie. She pushed a wrapped gift into his chest, forcing him to lift his arms to fumble for it. “Put them on,” she hummed, kissing his cheek and exiting as quickly as she entered.

Eddie tried to bite back his smile but it was uncontrollable, and smug. “You just got pajama’d so hard.”

“I fuckin’ did,” Richie giggled, shaking the box. “That was a total drive-by pajamaing.” He started tearing the paper. “If this is a onesie I’m gonna start flipping tables.”

“If you flip the table with the brie on it, you’re dead meat.” Eddie shifted his hips to square them and stood a little taller. “We’re going to settle it out in the yard.”

“Yessss.” Richie quit his ripping and set the box down on the countertop. He leaned across the island, stretching his waggling fingers towards Eddie. “Hello, flirty Eddie who wants to fight me. Where have you been?”

Eddie suddenly felt shy and ducked his head. “You know exactly where I’ve been.”

Richie pulled his arms back and leaned his cheek on his hand, looking Eddie up and down with fluttery lashes. “Damn. So cute.”

“Go put your pajamas on,” Eddie grumbled. He turned away to hide his smile from Richie under the guise of pretending to refill his already-full glass of wine.

“Cuuuuute,” Richie bellowed, like he couldn’t contain it. “This little wild animal wants me out of my clothes. Already. Just pointing it out for anyone keeping score.” 

Sipping his wine, Eddie listened to the shuffling sounds Richie made as he left the kitchen. When he was sure he was alone, he bent at the waist to rest his cheek against the cold marble of the counter top. His entire body was on high alert, even the hairs on his neck stood up.

“You gonna make it?” Sadie appeared out of nowhere and laid her blissfully cool hand on the back of Eddie’s neck. He sighed involuntarily at her touch. “Maybe lay off the wine.”

“I’m not drunk or anything.” He righted himself and faced her. “Just overwhelmed? I didn’t expect him to be here, and he is  and everything is different since the last time I saw him. Is he still—”

“Talk to him.” She took the glass of wine out of his hand and drank deeply from it. “Tell him that he’s the bees knees or whatever the fuck kind of stuff you say to him—I’m not asking to hear what you actually say when you’re alone, okay? Gross—but yeah, just like—  Oooh, tell him you like his haircut.”

Eddie took the wine back from her and scowled. “Sadie, I don’t need you to tell me how to flirt with my ex-boyfriend.”

“I think maybe you do.” Sadie nodded sagely. “I think you need a coach.”

The stove timer went off, and Maggie was in the kitchen in a flash to open up the oven and remove the tray of snacks. She was oblivious to Eddie’s discomfort, outwardly riding a wave of pure bliss. All of her children were home for her favorite holiday. “When Richard is in his PJ’s we’re getting back to the marathon, right?”.

“We’re getting back to the marathon, Mom.” Sadie kept her eyes on Eddie as she answered her mother. “Just think of all the commercials we’ll be able to skip. I’m like high over it.” Grabbing Eddie’s hand, she pulled him into the living room. They sat down on opposite ends of the couch. She held her fingers up in a cross formation at Eddie like he was a vampire. “Stay on your side.” Pointing at the glass Richie left dead center on the coffee table, she brightened. “See, he wants to sit in the middle.”

“Stop it,” he chuckled, turning his neck to check behind himself, so he’d see Richie coming. Eddie didn’t need to worry about that though, because they heard him creaking around through the upstairs hallway way before he was visible.

“You have terrible taste in pajamas, Sades.” Richie glowed his way down the stairs; a tall drink of radioactive-neon-green water. When he reached bottom landing, he pulled the hood over his head. “The Grinch? Really?”

“Next year—I mean, if you’re ever home—you can pick your own.”

Richie plunked himself down in between them. “Are we doing this, or what?” He stretched his long arm over the top of the couch behind Eddie’s head.

“We were waiting for you and Maggie to be ready to watch.” Eddie glanced down at Richie’s legs, just inches away from his own and fought the urge to squirm around in his seat.

“I was born ready,” Richie stated confidently.

“To watch The Twilight Zone ? What a loser.” Sadie rolled her eyes at him and stood. “I’ll make Mags come back.” She was looking at Eddie when she warned cheekily, “Try to behave yourselves.”

Richie called after her, “You were right to direct that at him. He’s shifty.” He smirked at Eddie’s tiny glare and leaned back to lounge against the couch. “How many episodes deep is this shindig?” That silly Grinch hood still covered his hair and his eyelids were droopy. He looked like he could fall asleep right there.

“Two.” Eddie brought one knee up onto the couch and pivoted a bit to sit sideways. “Did you get any sleep last night?”

“Is that your way of telling me I look like shit?” He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, as though Eddie’s mention of his state of being gave him permission to act on it.

Lay your head down in my lap and take a nap. I’m just happy you’re here; you don’t have to be conscious. “You don’t look like shit, but I don’t think you’ll make it to midnight.”

“I’ll make it.” Richie returned his glasses to the bridge of his nose and smiled. “I’ve gotten good at functioning on no sleep this semester.”

The small ping of guilt in the center of Eddie’s chest was painful. That’s my fault.  “I like your glasses,” he offered, not trusting himself to say anything else.

“Thanks.” Richie’s eyes were warm all over him. “I like your face.”

“Is that supposed to be a line?” He grinned down at his lap.

“Just bein’ honest.” Richie shrugged and leaned over to grab his glass off the table. “I’m also dead tired and slamming back brown liquor, so I expect the honesty train might run off the rails tonight.” He sipped from the glass and stiffened his jaw immediately afterwards. “Fuck, I don’t know how the old man does this shit.”

Sadie and her mother came back into the room loaded up with snacks that they set out on the coffee table. “Okay, we should be set,” Maggie practically sang, unable to contain her joy. She sat in the arm chair and surveyed the rest of them. “Everyone has drinks, right?”

Nodding, Eddie swirled his nearly-full glass of red. He’d taken Sadie’s good advice and had been nursing it since she’d told him to slow down. He didn’t know where things would go with Richie that night but he didn’t want to risk being a mess. “We’re fine, Maggie. Just relax.” He grinned, teasing. “If we need anything we’ll make Richie get it.”

Richie’s mouth dropped open and he clapped a hand to his chest. “I get here and everyone is weepy and hugging me; twenty minutes later I’m a servant.”

“Welcome home,” Sadie hummed sweetly as she pressed play on the remote.

 

 *

Richie

 

Richie fidgeted his way through three episodes. Sitting next to Eddie without touching him was basically torture of the highest order. He spent more time watching the ice cube slowly melt in his drink and Eddie’s crotch in his periphery than he did watching the same old shows he’d seen a billion times. The others watched the TV in relative silence, with Maggie absolutely engrossed, as per usual.

When the fourth episode’s title card came up, Richie popped up out of his seat and gave them all a little bow. “Okay, that’s my cue to get gone. Please, try to go on without me for a little while.”

“Nuh-uh.” Sadie paused the show. “This is my favorite part.”

“No shit, making fun of me for ten years over one fucking thing is your favorite part? Who woulda thunk.” He picked up his glass and walked into the kitchen to grab himself a soda. When he shut the fridge door, Eddie was standing right behind it and Richie jumped. “Jesus Christ, Rudolph. Sneaky.” He opened the can and meandered over to the small breakfast table in the back alcove of the kitchen, taking a seat. “No wonder no one wants to play any of your reindeer games.”

“Stop calling me Rudolph.” Eddie followed and sat beside him. “I convinced them to watch the episode without us.” He placed his wine glass on the table and spun it from the base, grinning down at it. “I’m taking a loss on this one. It’s my favorite part, too. Not the making fun of you part…you’re just cute when you get shy.”

“I’m cute a lot of the time,” Richie insisted. He took off his hood and sipped his scotch, chasing it with the soda.

“You cut your hair,” Eddie remarked, apropos of nothing, and Richie could tell he was playing nonchalant. “I saw it before, but I didn’t say anything,” he finished quietly.

In spite of his anxiety—which Richie knew tore the little guy up inside—Spaghetti Man had always been good at the outward fake-out. Back when they first started talking, Richie second guessed himself constantly. (Does he even like me? Is this pointless? Am I going to end up crying to people in gas station parking lots and holding up a boom box?)

Over time Richie learned that Eddie was just a tough nut to crack. His ability to hold things back and play off a good strong front was unrivaled, but he was melty in the middle like a caramel-filled chocolate bar. Or maybe that was just how Eddie was for him.

“Eds, I thought about you before I did it,” Richie admitted softly. “I thought, ’Eddie Spaghetti is gonna blow a micro chip over it.’”  It wasn’t bullshit; Richie’d put off cutting his hair for months. He’d only done it because the band wanted to get pictures taken. 

“It looks good on you.”

Richie chuckled to himself, and felt Eddie’s eyes glaring at him. “I’m not laughing at you, kid. Just thinking about Rudolph trying to hit on the Grinch. The best gay love story that no one’s ever heard about.”

“I’m not hitting on you; I’m just being honest.” Eddie threw Richie’s words back into his face. He sipped his wine and tilted his head to the side as he returned the glass to the table, elongating his neck. His lips were pouty and wine-stained, and Richie couldn’t stop staring at them. It’d been so long since they’d had any real time together that Richie didn’t know if Eddie was trying  to be sexy or if he just was. “I liked it better long, but you look good no matter what you do. It’s ridiculous.”

“Please go on,” Richie purred, tucking his hair behind his ear.

“Shut up.” Eddie pinched up his face and shook his head. “You always make me regret saying nice things to you.”

“I’m going to let it grow back, Eds. I miss buns.” He pulled up the sleeve of his Grinch-suit to reveal a bunch of brightly colored bands. “Good thing I like using hair ties as bracelets. I have about a billion of them.”

“I know it’ll grow. Everything grows and changes. Reap what you sow, blah blah.”

“How many glasses of wine have you had?”

“This is my third, in…” Eddie squinted up at the ceiling. “Four hours?” The glass was still half-full.

“So you’re not drunk, you’re just randomly philosophizing?”

“It’s not random. I’ve been thinking a lot about life, and relationships.” He leaned his cheek against his fist and sighed. “Like the ways that people can change, and also the ways they can’t  change. I don’t know which is more tragic.”

“Deep thoughts.” Richie made his face as serious as he could. “Can I tell you something?”

“I don’t know.” Eddie tried to squish his smile and failed. “Can you?”

Richie inhaled deeply before he spoke. “I started hanging out with Heather because she reminded me of you.”

“Really?” Eddie’s eyebrows tensed and he sat up straighter. “How?” 

Richie chose his words carefully, speaking slowly. “She’s mouthy but still kinda shy.” He took a sip of scotch and couldn’t keep his face from struggling afterwards. “And she really liked my hair."

“Huh,” Eddie hummed, visibly contemplating. “I spent time with Patrick because he seemed like the opposite  of you. But I was constantly wishing he could be more like you.”

“That’s just your intelligence shining through. I’m superior.”

“And modest.”

“Yup, and I bet my dick’s about a mile longer.”

“Okay, NO, let’s end it there.”

“We’re done-zo?”

“No, I just don’t want to talk about our rebounds or  their anatomy anymore tonight.”

“Fair enough. One last thing before we shut the vault on that one: I haven’t seen Heather in a month.”

“Really? Why did—”

“Richie?” Maggie’s approaching voice penetrated their privacy. “I just realized something.” She appeared in the archway that connected the kitchen to the dining area and clasped her hands in front of her middle. “I already made up your bed for Eddie to sleep in tonight, but now that you’re home we have to figure something else out for him.”

“Well isn’t this a tragedy of epic proportions?” Richie watched Eddie’s face change from his natural golden complexion to a shade more similar to the wine he sipped. Was he picturing them both sharing Richie’s bed? Is that what he wanted to happen? “This poor, sweet orphan child has nowhere to sleep. Who will rescue him from the cold, dark—"

“Richard, enough. Just blow up the air mattress.”

Eddie found his voice, but it was rougher than it’d been a few minutes before. “I can blow it up myself, Maggie.”

“Settled then.”  Maggie came forward to kiss each of them on the tops of their heads. “Time Enough At Last  is over, Richie, it’s safe to come back. We’ve only got forty-five minutes ‘til next year.”

“Thanks,” Richie replied to her retreating form. “I don’t really want to go back in there, though,” he whispered to Eddie conspiratorially. “Wanna be able to keep talking to you.”

“What else do you want to talk about?”

“Nothing and everything. Status quo for us.”

Eddie nodded, glancing at the patio doors. “We could go outside.” His smile and the light in his eyes were completely transparent to Richie. They’d rung in the new year outside together the past two years, but usually only spent about fifteen minutes in the frigid air. Eddie wanted to go out a half-hour early.

He does want the same thing as me; Sades was right. But you gotta make the first move ‘lil buckaroo.

“You want to go out there this early?” Richie unzipped his pajamas halfway and pulled out the pack of cigarettes and lighter he’d been concealing. “It’s pretty nipply out there, Eds. You’re gonna freeze your cute little tits off.” He stood and held out his hand to Eddie to help him up. “We might have to share our body heat to survive.”

 

 *

 Eddie

 

The night air wasn’t as cold as Richie made it out to be. Standing outside in nothing but pajamas and socks made it seem colder, but Eddie didn’t care. He felt inherently alive standing close to Richie, and he didn’t want it to come to an end. Going into the living room to get their sneakers before going outside hadn’t been an option, because Maggie would’ve stopped them dead in their tracks. She wanted everyone to be together, and while Eddie respected that, he also felt a little too feral to do the right thing.

The lighter flashed and lit up Richie’s face for a second. He spoke with the cigarette between his teeth. “Are your feet turning into popsicles, yet?”

Eddie sipped his wine in a feeble attempt to warm himself from the inside.  “A little, but they’re okay,” he lied casually. They were half-way numb.

Nodding towards the sky, Richie puffed smoke up above their heads. He held his glass of scotch a little higher and just swirled it. It seemed like the two of them were both going for the slowest drinker of the night  award. If such a thing existed, Richie would be victorious. He’d been nursing that scotch and melted ice cube for three hours. “It smells like it’s gonna snow tonight.”

“Mmhmn.” Eddie followed Richie’s gaze, tipping his head back to stare at the thick, billowy cloud coverage. “Looks like it, too. No stars.”

“Oh, they’re up there,” he whispered. “Just hiding.”

“Richie?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m really happy you came.”

Richie grinned and scrunched his eyes closed tight. “That’s the same thing your mom said to me when I made a pit stop over there this afternoon.”

“You fucking dickhead!” Eddie snapped, unable to control it. He turned quickly to bash the sharp edge of his shoulder into Richie’s chest. He wasn’t really sure what he was trying to accomplish, but he did it anyway.

“Jesus, kid,” Richie giggled, holding his cigarette hand high above his head and nonchalantly letting Eddie pummel him a bit. “Okay, truce: no more mom-jokes tonight. It was just too obvious; I couldn’t help it.” He enveloped Eddie in a one-armed hug as best as he could with his hand loaded down with a glass, and it was like he’d just slathered aloe on a sunburn.

Relaxing immediately, Eddie gave up his struggle. He pressed his head firmly into Richie’s chest and sighed. His limbs flushed warm and the entire contents of his stomach cavity turned into a pile of mush. He was surprised it didn’t leak out and soak their feet. “Fuck.”

“Yep,” Richie agreed softly, rubbing his forearm up and down Eddie’s back. “Fuckity fuck-fuck-fuck.”

“I’m so sorry,” he whispered.

“What?” The touch on Eddie’s back slowed and stopped. “Why?”

Eddie pulled back and moved away a bit to place his wine glass down on the patio table behind them. “For being a dick to you, and for trying to control you.”

Richie managed a teensy sip of his scotch without making a funny face. “You already apologized for that.”

“Yeeeah,” Eddie drawled, disgusted with himself. “But it was too late and not enough.”

“Chill Goldilocks.” He grinned at his own stupid joke as he chucked his cigarette butt into the grass. “Papa Bear thinks it was just right.”

Between the goofy (and borderline creepy) nursery rhyme reference and the littering, Eddie couldn’t hold back his disapproval. “Why can’t you just stub those and throw them in the garbage can?”

Shaking his head, Richie put on a booming voice like a gameshow announcer. “Eddie: ‘I’m sorry for trying to control you.’ Also Eddie: ‘Richie, why can’t you JUST.’”

Eddie snickered, licking his lips. “Valid. I’m sorry.”

“No, you don’t get it.” Richie blinked down at the small slab of concrete under their socks. “From the minute I met you, I liked that you were a little shithead, okay? I still  like it. I love that you challenge me.” He gave Eddie a sidelong, under-lashes glance. “It was just sometimes, when I was having a bad day or I was excited about something…I needed your shithead side to pull on the reins and be a little sweeter to me, y’know?”

He knew that, but he couldn’t go back and fix all those times he’d neglected to rein it in. “Yeah,” Eddie whispered. He wanted to touch Richie again, to push their bodies together until they went clean though one another, but he stood still.

“That’s all I ever wanted.” Richie shivered a little and pulled his hood up over his head. “Maybe I went a little overboard with the cut and run, but I was desperate.”

“It was a good thing,” Eddie mumbled, hoping Richie wouldn’t take that statement the wrong way.

His head turned sharply and he zeroed in on Eddie’s eyes. “Say what now?”

“Being apart was good.” Eddie cringed as he said it. “It hurt. It still hurts. But it helped me figure out some stuff, too.”

“It still hurts?” Richie’s tone was higher, rating somewhere between empathetic and hopeful.

“Maybe it doesn’t exactly hurt… It feels like something is missing.” His feet were fully numb, so Eddie danced a little in place. “Remember our first New Year’s?”

“Nah, all my memories of our relationship have been wiped.” Richie smiled toothily at Eddie’s dirty look. “Of course I do, Eddie Spaghetti. I remember it better than you  because I didn’t get drunk.”

“I wasn’t drunk.”

“Oh God, so  drunk,” Richie recalled fondly. “When you found out that you were my first New Year’s kiss, you squealed like a little piglet loud as fuck at two in the morning.”

Eddie fought his smile, still two-stepping. “You’re making that up.”

“I’m simply recalling events, which are like sand in the hour glass of our lives.” He looked down at the concrete. His lips parted a fraction and he inhaled one sharp breath before closing his mouth suddenly, his eyes changing their focus and blinking rapidly.

Stopping his movements dead, Eddie pointed at Richie and blurted, “You were about to say something,” quick like a hawk.

“How do you do that?” Biting down on a grin, Richie adjusted his glasses. “Even on the phone.”

“Because I know you,” Eddie whispered, “better than I’ve ever known anyone.”

“You knew that night, too, drunk as a little skunk.” When Eddie gave him a quizzical look, Richie exhaled loudly through his mouth and placed his glass down on the table. He turned to face Eddie. They were only a few inches apart. “First New Year’s. I wanted to tell you something and held back, and you called me out. You see right through me.”

He swallowed thickly, watching Richie’s eyes. They were staring at him so intently that he wanted to look away. Instead, Eddie studied Richie’s face right back; his long, freckled nose and the soft curly hair framing his jaw. The bright green fabric on the hood of his pajamas made his deep brown eyes appear brighter, even in the dark. “What did you want to tell me?”

“I wanted to tell you,” he intoned softy, and Eddie could tell he was shy-dallying. “That you were my first love.”

His hands had their own agenda. They reached up and held onto Richie’s warm cheeks. “Really?”

He tilted his face downwards to peck a kiss on the heel of Eddie’s left hand. “I never loved anybody ‘til I met you, Eds.” His eyes moved over Eddie’s lips. “Not even close.”

Without thinking, Eddie stretched up onto his tip toes to push his mouth into Richie’s. Their cold noses bumped and their lips dryly fluttered, brushing against each other like they forgot how kissing was supposed to work. That mushy feeling was back inside Eddie’s abdomen and it moved lower, overtaking him, the heat so intense that he thought steam might rise out of his entire body into the air.

This is happening. Does it mean something? Fuck, I should’ve put on chapstick.

Richie’s mouth moved away from his, kissing a trail along his cheek towards his ear, and Eddie gasped softly. A little noise escaped the back of Richie’s throat in response and he breathed shakily against Eddie’s face. “Eds, we were supposed to kiss at midnight.”

Laughing softly, Eddie wrapped his arms around Richie’s middle. “Was that the plan?”

“Didn’t have a plan.” He traced his finger along the apple of Eddie’s cheek, sliding it down over his lower lip. “I just knew I had to be here to kiss you at midnight.”

Eddie squeezed tighter, pressing his head against Richie's chest and listening to his heartbeat. “How much time do you think is left?”

“I dunno.” Richie rested his chin on Eddie’s hair and sighed deeply. “I vote that we just keep doing this ‘til we hear all the neighborhood goofs yelling outside.”

They stood silently holding onto one another, and Eddie felt his eyes well up without warning. The tears weren’t happy or sad, they were relieved; a product of reaching the end of a journey down the longest road in the world. He blinked them back, hoping that he might get away with composing himself quickly in the darkened yard, but when he sniffled, Richie tensed.

“Eds, are you crying?”

“No,” he lied, letting go of Richie to rub at his eyes roughly.

“Baby,” Richie breathed, the term of endearment natural but a little husky. “Please don’t make me cry.”

Trying to calm himself down, Eddie took measured breaths. “I don't want either of us to cry.” He reached his hand up to caress the side of Richie’s head, and his hand fumbled over something hard. “Oh.” That barbell. “I forgot about that,” he whispered, running his fingers over the metal and the velvety skin at the top of Richie’s ear.

“Yeah, that was impulsive.” Richie nuzzled his head against Eddie’s hand.

"Did it hurt?"

"Are you kidding? It fuckin' killed."

Chuckling, Eddie wiped his eyes again. He opened his mouth to ask Richie why he’d gotten it done, but he heard the nearby whistle of a firecracker and the anticipated boom that followed. “Happy New Year.”

Richie nodded, seemingly speechless. A New Year’s Miracle.  He bent his neck and kissed Eddie slowly, lips parted.

Opening his mouth, Eddie whimpered as their tongues touched for the first time. Placing his hands on either side of Richie’s face, Eddie pulled him lower, their kiss deepening, tongues curling together with equal pressure. He tasted spicy, like scotch, and sweet, like Richie.

“Fuck.” Richie broke the kiss, pressing their foreheads together and fumbling his fingers over the back of Eddie’s neck. “I missed you so much, Eddie.”

“I missed you every day,” Eddie whispered quickly before bringing their lips together again. He snaked his hands up inside Richie’s hood and ran his fingers through the hair he waited almost an entire year to touch. It felt thicker with a fresh cut; soft and springy as ever before. They stopped kissing, both a little breathless and holding onto each other’s heads. “Does this— I mean what are we—”

“Not sure.” Richie glanced behind him at the sliding patio door. He slid his hands down around Eddie’s shoulders. “You wanna compose ourselves and put in a little more time with the fam OR  would you rather do some total Batman shit and get upstairs without anyone knowing?”

Eddie laid his hands against Richie’s chest and grinned up at him. “Can you describe what the Batman shit  entails before I agree to it?”

“That was kind of just my way of seeing if you’re down to clown tonight, and now I know. I have no fucking clue how to get upstairs from out here.” He kissed Eddie’s forehead softly.

"Down to clown,"  Eddie echoed and shook his head, but he couldn't knock the smile off his face. "You're a tool."

Richie ignored Eddie's insult, talking to himself. “We can't just go back in all cuddly because they're gonna have a bunch of stupid questions. Sades and my mom will be up until at least two, so we also can’t just bail, even if you clearly need it so bad that you're willing to scale the house." He ducked away from Eddie’s half-hearted swipe expertly, backing up and grinning. He picked up both of their drinks. “C’mon, let’s go back in. How’s Rudolph’s boner doing?”

“You’re so fucking juvenile.” Eddie followed him to the back door. “It’s gone now that you called me Rudolph.”

Richie chanted, “Rudolph has a boner for the Grih-inch. Rudolph has a boner for the Grih-inch,” nodding his head towards the door. “Rudolph better open the door for the Grinch, because while the Grinch’s dick is mighty, it can’t open a door.”

 

*

Sadie

 

It would probably go down in history as the most eventful New Year’s Eve party they’d ever had. Not only had Richie come home unexpectedly, but her father—Dr. Wentworth Tozier, D.D.S—managed to wrestle himself away from his work to come downstairs and give his wife a kiss at midnight. Her mother glowed over the romantic gesture, and while Sadie wanted to puke at the sight of them, she also had to admit that it was nice to see her parents happy together, even if only for a minute.

She wanted to spill everything she’d witnessed to Richie and Eddie as soon as they came back, but her brother was extra animated and making hella Rudolph jokes. Eddie’s cheeks were pink and he kept licking at his bottom lip. Something had happened when they went outside together; Sadie knew it deep in her gut.  She wished she'd had a bird's-eye view of exactly what'd occurred between them because she was entirely nosy and most of the time her life was so fucking boring that she could scream.

The two of them returned to the same seats, not touching, but Eddie was squirmy. He kept crossing and uncrossing his legs. Neither of them were drinking, which didn’t necessarily mean anything, but Sadie figured it was a move to keep themselves from getting sloppy. She wasn’t going to ask them point blank, at least not in front of a half-lit and giddy Mags, so she watched them from the corner of her eye.

Eddie cleared his throat before speaking. “Did we miss the one with the doll?”

“You missed quite a few.” Maggie answered without taking her eyes off the screen. “What were you guys doing?”

“Talking,” Eddie said quickly, at the same time Richie said, “Plotting a bank robbery.”

“Well we missed you,” Maggie replied, sipping her champagne.

“No we didn’t,”  Sadie mouthed at her brother.

“Sades just whispered that while we were gone, Mom farted really loud.”

“I did not!” She darted her hands straight for Richie’s throat and he caught them, spreading his arms to hold her still “Mom, he’s being physically violent.”

“I’m restraining you,” Richie laughed. “This is non-violent resistance. Eddie taught me it.”

“Kids, don’t ruin New Year’s Eve.” Maggie didn’t turn to look at them “It’s shaping up to be the best one.”

“That isn’t non-violent resistance, like at all,” Eddie added, grinning at them.

“I’m gonna spit on you if you don’t let go of me, Richard.”

“Les’see your cajones, man.”

“Fine.” Sadie hocked like she was going to spit, and Richie let go of her frantically, grimacing.

“You’re the grossest,  and now you have to swallow that.”

“Worth it.”

Eddie got up from the couch, laying his hand on Richie’s thigh to hoist himself. “I’m going to get a glass of champagne while it’s still there,” he muttered out of the corner of his mouth.

Sadie watched her brother’s eyes unabashedly follow Eddie’s ass out of the room. She elbowed him, whispering, “Did you guys make up?”

“I have no fucking clue where we’re at, Sades.” Richie barely vocalized, glancing at their mother to make sure she wasn’t listening. "It’s none of your beeswax anyway.”

She made an incredulous face and leaned closer. “As soon as you got home you were trying to get information out of me, and now it’s none of my business?”

Richie rolled his eyes at her, relenting. He pantomimed a passionate kiss on his fist, pointed towards the kitchen and followed it up with a shrug.

“Oh shit,” she hissed, smacking his arm. “Dad came down and kissed Mom at midnight and I thought she was gonna bust a tit.”

“That was all me,” he whispered smugly as Eddie returned to the room.

Eddie mouthed, “Why are you guys whispering?”  as he sat in the corner of the couch.

Richie leaned towards him, gently cupping the side of his head. Sadie watched Eddie’s eyes close when Richie’s mouth came close to his ear. His reindeer chest hitched just slightly. She didn’t know if it was her brother’s words or proximity affecting Eddie. Either way, it was painfully obvious.

“I’m going to go up and fill the air mattress before it gets too late,” Eddie blurted in a rush as he stood up, his voice high and a little shaky. He edged towards the stairs. “The motor’s loud, and um, I’m kind of tired, so—”  

“Go ahead, sweetheart,” Maggie waved him off. “I don’t think I can last much longer tonight, either.” She paused the show to stand and stretch. “I should start cleaning some of this mess,” she groaned, grabbing glasses off the coffee table and heading into the kitchen.

“I’ll help you, Mom.” Sadie gave her brother a pointed look. “Richie should go help Eddie with the mattress. His closet is a very scary place.”

He raised his eyebrows and grinned. “A lotta thinkin’ Sades. You’re not as dumb as you look in that outfit.”

“You owe me,”  Sadie mouthed, picking up one of the trays and backing towards the kitchen. “Big.”  Her mother already had the water in the sink running and the dishwasher door open.

“Are they going to work it out?” Maggie asked the question casually without turning around.

Shocked by both her mother's perception and  her discretion, Sadie stood for a minute, her mouth opening and closing. When she could speak, she managed a soft, “How did you know?” 

“I’m just hoping.” Maggie rinsed small plates and glasses, loading them into the top tray of the machine. “I didn’t want to pressure either of them so I kept my mouth shut about it.”

“That was insanely chill of you.” She laughed at herself, because she’d been the opposite of chill. “I’ve been trying to push them together all night.”

“Good. It’s better coming from you. If I did it, it’d be too much like a lecture.”

“Since when do you care about lecturing Richie?” She didn’t think her mother was actually concerned with coming off as a nag. Every sentence she’d spoken to Richie over the course of his life could probably be categorized as either an order or a criticism.

“Lecturing your brother about school or his attitude or his future is completely different.” Maggie shut off the water and turned around, drying her hands on a dish towel. “Relationships involve two people. They both have to decide if it’s the right thing. Nothing I say about it matters.”

Sadie came around the island to hug her hard. “You’re a pretty good mom.”

“Thank you, baby.” Maggie rocked them side to side as they embraced. “You can go on up to bed, too. I’m going to leave most of this for the morning.”

“Okay. Happy New Year.”

“Happy New Year.”

 

*

Richie

 

Eddie and Richie brushed their teeth together at the small sink in Richie’s bathroom. Neither of them spoke, and they avoided each other’s eyes in the mirror. The time they spent in the living room playing nonchalant around his family had caved in the bridge that’d been built between the initial awkwardness and the heat they’d ignited outside. Richie didn’t know what Eddie really wanted, what he expected, where it was going—if it was going anywhere at all—and he didn’t want to ask.

“Déjà vu, huh?” Was all he could manage as they sat side by side on the edge of his bed, watching the air mattress fill up. They’d been in the exact same position once before, only that fateful night Richie’s face was pounded in and his glasses broken.

“Yeah,” Eddie whispered, barely audible over the motor. “Weird.”

Richie chuckled, glancing sidelong at Eddie. He felt oddly shy; shyer than he’d felt during that first sleepover when they barely knew each other. “I made you wear Sadie’s clothes.”

“I couldn’t fall asleep that night,” Eddie recalled, fiddling with his folded fingers. “You're such a loud sleeper.”

“I’ll keep it down tonight.” The motor stopped buzzing and Richie got up to shut it off. “Scouts honor.”

“That’s an empty promise.” Eddie crossed his arms over his chest. “You can’t control what you’re doing while you’re asleep.”

“Fine, then I give you permission to beat me to death with a pillow if I don’t.”

“That’s impossible. Give me permission to suffocate you with the pillow.”

“Jeez, Eds, tell me how you really feel.” Richie pulled a sheet onto the mattress and tossed the spare pillow down on top of it. “Okay, so, I guess we’re going to sleep?”

His face didn’t give anything away. “If that’s what you want.”

Richie sighed and threw himself down onto the rubber bed. “I want so many different things I couldn’t fucking begin to explain them.” He tucked his hands behind his head, elbows splayed.

Eddie got up from Richie’s bed and propped himself on the foot of the air mattress. “Tell me one thing you want.” His face was sweet and open; his lips still wine-stained.

I want to fuck the shit out of you, smell your hair, sink my teeth into your neck, rip that fucking reindeer suit off you with my teeth, make fart noises on your skin with my mouth, spoon you naked, build a time machine and go back to the day we broke up and do it differently, listen to you complain about how shitty your Christmas was with that nut-job of a mother you’ve got—

“Richie?”

Richie patted the space beside him. “I just want you to lay down next to me.”

Crawling forward, Eddie laid on his side with his head propped up on his hand. “Now what?” There was a wild glint in his big brown eyes and Richie got lost in them for a few seconds.

“Are we playing Simon-says and I’m Simon?” And is it sexy-time-Simon-says?

“Maybe.”

“ ‘Kay. Sexy Simon says: you need to go turn off the light, and then come back and lay closer to him.”

“I didn’t say anything about Simon being sexy.” Eddie pushed himself up and slowly walked over to the light switch. His pajamas were adorably too big for him, but the plump swell of his ass was unmistakable and that little reindeer tail swung side to side with each step. The room descended into darkness and Richie’s eyes widened involuntarily. He felt the mattress wobble and suddenly Eddie’s warm body was flush against his side, mouth whispering near his ear. “Now what?”

Letting out a shuddery breath, Richie swallowed and blinked. He hadn’t expected Eddie to get that  close, and his dick bobbed in response. “Sexy Simon says: put up your hood.”

Eddie’s mouth dropped open. Richie barely saw it in the dark, but heard the pop  of his lips. “It’s too dark for you to even see it!”

“Then what do you care?” Richie chuckled at Eddie’s indignation. So fucking cute. “You wanted to play this game, and I’m telling you I want the full-on Rudolph experience.”

“I think you’re legitimately deranged,” he grumbled, though he complied with Richie’s demand. He was cute as a fucking button, even when he was pissy and irritated.

Richie turned on his side and their chests touched. “Best pajamas ever.”

“Are we still playing Simon-says?” Eddie’s breathing came out ragged. He smelled like honey and mouthwash.

“Sexy Simon says: do whatever you want to do.”

“Whatever I want?”

“Yup.” Richie licked his lips, expecting a kiss. Instead, he felt Eddie’s knuckles up between his collar bones and heard the unmistakable sound of the zipper on the front of his pajamas being opened. The tang moved down slowly and stopped at his naval. Eddie’s warm hand snaked inside and slid up under his teeshirt, setting his flesh on fire everywhere it touched. It circled around his chest and passed over both of his nipples. He squirmed a little, his smiling voice coming out shy. “What are you doing?”

“Checking to see if you got anything else pierced.”

Richie raised his eyebrows, teasing. “Check lower.”

Bringing his grinning face impossibly close, Eddie whispered, “You didn’t say Simon says.”

“Sexy Simon told you to do whatever you want,” Richie whispered back. “That’s an open invitation.”

“Okay. I’ll do what I want.” Eddie slid Richie’s glasses off his face and reached over him to drop them onto the carpet on his side of the mattress. Then he planted a soft kiss on the tip of Richie’s nose. “Now you do one thing you want.”

“You’ll regret saying that,” Richie whispered quickly, lunging forward to blow the loudest raspberries against Eddie's throat, making him fall backwards, giggling and flailing his arms.

“Richie, whyyy,” Eddie moaned, but didn’t make any move to push him away.

He relented, whispering, “Told you,” against Eddie’s neck, making him tremble.

“I don’t regret it.” Eddie’s hands came up and his fingers combed through Richie’s hair. “I missed that.” His touch was magic on Richie’s scalp, and Richie melted, letting his head go heavy on top of Eddie’s chest.

“You missed me blowing farts on you?”

“I missed everything.” He gently guided Richie’s head up to bring their mouths together. The kiss was softer and less desperate than when they kissed outside. Lazy and meandering and comfortable; their tongues grazing each other in a familiar rhythm. Eddie’s hands explored everywhere: in his hair and down the nape of his neck and inside the open zipper of his pajamas.

Richie kept his hands still, cupping the sides of Eddie’s face and stroking his thumbs over those chubby little cheeks. He moved to lay on top of Eddie and deepened his kiss as he stretched his body out long, feeling Eddie’s hardness push against his hip. “Rudolph still has a boner for the Grinch,” he heavy-breathed his silly shit into Eddie’s ear, getting a rush from the shiver it produced.

“I despise you,” Eddie whispered with zero malice. He hooked his legs around Richie’s waist. “Shut the fuck up and kiss me.”

He did as he was told, but Eddie hadn’t specified where, so he sucked his way down Eddie’s neck and worried over his clavicle, making him whine. “Oh fuck, please keep making those noises.”

“We can’t be loud. I don’t want everyone to hear.”

“Oh shit, you’re right. Sadie’s probably got a glass cupped to the door right now like the little freak-show she is.” Richie pecked at his lips. “What do you want to do, anyway?”

They’d reach the most awkward part and he hated it. Were they going to fuck? Was Eddie even ready for that to happen at that exact moment? Richie’d brought condoms and lube but it’d all been wishful thinking. He’d imagined different scenarios, including one where they ran upstairs to tear one another limb-from-limb the second they locked eyes but he knew it was unrealistic for both of them. They’d needed to talk first and feel each other out, and they had,  but Richie still wanted to know what it meant. If they were going to fuck but ultimately not get back together, he didn’t think he could handle it.

Eddie released his legs from around Richie and gave him a little shove, whispering, “Lay on your back.”

Richie complied, centering himself on the mattress as Eddie moved out of the way. “You think we should take this to the real be—” Like a gymnast mounting a pommel horse, Eddie vaulted himself up to straddle Richie, and between the darkness and his lack of magnification, Richie was startled by the sudden movement. “Woah. You are  a wild anim—”

Eddie cut him off with a crushing kiss, his minty sweet tongue moving rapidly and his hands tugging on Richie’s hair.

Rolling his hips from beneath, Richie arched up into him, unable to control his breath. He released a half-stifled whimper into Eddie’s mouth. It was too much all at once. “Eds,” he gasped, “don’t make me cream my pajamas, okay?”

“Why not?” Eddie chuckled and sat up tall, rocking his lower body in a slow figure eight. “Making you come in your pants on the air mattress. It’s like a trip down memory lane.”

Richie laughed silently, running his hands up and over Eddie’s knees and thighs to settle on his hip bones. His voice came out strained. “It’s not gonna take much is all I’m saying.” No sex for a month; no privacy to jerk off in shared hotel rooms. He was basically a born-again-virgin, ready to pop from the wind blowing at his dick the wrong way.

Quickening his gyrations, Eddie seemed to be taking that statement as a challenge. “You’re full of shit.”

“Fuck,” Richie whispered, squeezing his eyes shut. His dick throbbed, and Eddie felt so good on top of him, he didn’t want it to stop. “I’m not,” he choked out, his own hips twitching up on their own accord.

Eddie showed a bit of mercy, slowing down until he stopped moving. “Do you want me to fuck you?” His voice was polite, like he'd asked if Richie wanted the window seat on a flight. “Ride you, I mean.”

“Uh, fuckin’ yeah?” Richie squinted up at his eager face. “Who are you again? I’m Richie; nice to meet you.”

“Ha-ha,” he mumbled humorlessly. “A lot can happen in nine months.”

“Word. Whole human beings can be created.” Richie felt his boner deflating for the fourth time that night. If Eddie was really planning to ride him and nakedly bob up and down on top of him after all that build up, he’d come like a fire-hose and send the kid flying into the ceiling.

“Do you have stuff?” Eddie was off of him and standing in an instant. “Lube and a condom?”

“Yeah, I brought them.”

“Presumptuous,” he hummed as he unzipped the front of his pajamas.

Excuse  me,” Richie protested, whiney. “Well prepared.” He reached for his glasses so he could watch Eddie undress down to briefs and a white teeshirt. His thick thighs were the palest part of him that Richie could see and they glowed in the moon-lit room. “So you’re like, ready to go, or um…” 

Eddie was bent over, digging around through the front pockets of Richie’s bag. “Yeah. I mean, it’s been a little while since I—  But it’s not like, a bad time  or whatever.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Where’s your sense of urgency, Mr. Grinch?”

Grinning, Richie didn’t have to ask what he meant, but did anyway. “You want me to get naked?”

“That’s usually what people do when they have sex.” He let out a frustrated little groan, which came across to Richie as nervous and frantic. “Where the fuck is this shit?”

“Relax baby, it’s in there.” He stood to remove the velvety green monstrosity from his body and let it drop to the floor. Gently moving Eddie aside, he reached into his bag and found the coveted items easily. “Boom. In business.” He chucked them in the general direction of the air mattress.

Unexpectedly, Eddie hugged him fiercely around his waist.

“Is everything okay, Eds?”

“Yeah,” he drawled, high at the end of the word, like he asked a question.

“That ‘yeah’ sounds like a ‘no.’ What’s wrong?”

“It just feels like we’re going to fuck and then that’s going to be it,” Eddie whined quickly, and Richie couldn’t see his face, but he knew it was scrunched up and embarrassed.

He kissed the top of Eddie’s head, breathing in the honey smell of his hair. “Eds, all I’ve been thinking this whole time is that if we fuck right now and don’t get back together I’m going to hurl myself off a cliff.”

The response was tiny, with a slight tinge of disbelief laced into it. “Seriously?”

“Well, maybe not that  dramatic, but yeah.” He tipped Eddie’s chin up to see his eyes. They were shiny in the dark. “I love you. I never stopped.”

 Eddie squeezed tighter, curling his head against Richie's chest. “I love you, too.”

“Good,” Richie breathed against the back of his neck. “Best news I ever heard.” They stood there holding each other for a couple minutes.

This is the moment. The one I pictured when I bought the train ticket. We’re going to be okay.

Eddie’s voice broke the silence. “Things can’t go back exactly like they were.” Their living arrangements were already set for the Spring and they couldn’t go back to cohabitating. Richie saw it as a good thing.

“Nor should they,” Richie hummed softly, as delicately as he could. “They sucked before.”

Eddie nodded against his chest. “I know.”

“We’ll figure it out, Eds.” He hauled Eddie up off the floor and hoisted him over his shoulder, making him squeak. “I’m gonna be so much less annoying to you, promise.”

Richie. What the fuck,” he hissed, slapping feebly against Richie’s upper back. “You think this isn’t  annoying?”

“Shut it. Let me have my moment.” He walked over to the air mattress and tossed Eddie down into it, grinning at the way he bounced and frantically flailed his limbs when he hit the deck.

“You asshole. What if you popped it doing that?”

“What-if what-if. I didn’t  though,” Richie sang, feeling lighter and more comfortable in the wake of their confessions. He whipped off his shirt. “Let’s see them nips.” Snapping his fingers at Eddie, he pointed at the floor. “Off with it.”

“Fucking great,” Eddie grumbled, pulling off his shirt. “This is how you act when you know I love you.”

“This is why  you love me.” Richie dropped to his knees on the mattress, the inertia of his movement jostling Eddie again. “Don’t fight it. We’re all best friends here.” He took in the sight of Eddie shirtless, his solid little chest and his belly, which seemed trimmer and more defined. “You been working out, kid?”

“No,” Eddie chuckled, ducking his head. “I grew an inch and everything spread around.”

Crawling over, Richie bopped Eddie in the chest with his head, knocking him onto his back. He made sloppy gobbling noises, running his face all across Eddie’s abdomen. “If I eat you alive right now, can you still ride me?”

Eddie was breathless and giggly. “Yes.”

“Groovy.” Straddling Eddie, Richie kissed him hard and gathered him up behind his shoulders. Fifth boner’s the charm.  He felt like he was drunk; drunker than he felt when he was actively drinking at the beginning of the night. It was a combination of being over-tired and over-stimulated.

Eddie’s hands were cool and soft on his hips and back. His little fingers dipped inside the waistband of Richie’s boxer-briefs, reaching for and finding his ass to pull up on and squeeze.

Gasping, Richie broke their kiss and brought his mouth down to chew up Eddie’s neck.

“Baby,” Eddie rasped, tilting his head to give Richie easier access. He slid his hands around the sheet on either side of himself. “Where’s the—  Oh, here.”

“You called me bay-beeee,” Richie purred, unable to contain it. He laid all his weight flat on top of Eddie and closed his eyes. “Eddddssss.”

“Richie, cut it out.” There was the unmistakable sound of the cap of lube opening.

“Oh damn, you mean business.” He rolled off of Eddie and laid beside him, peppering little kisses on his shoulder. “Want me to do it?”

“No.” Eddie slid his briefs down. “Lie down on your back and take off your underwear.”

Shucking them in record time, Richie positioned himself in the center of the mattress, watching Eddie intently. “Are you going to do a magic trick?”

“Yes. I’m going to make your dick disappear.” He knelt beside Richie, spreading himself and prepping them both in tandem. He stroked Richie with one hand and dipped his other hand’s lubed fingers inside himself, looking into Richie’s eyes and licking at his bottom lip all the while.

Richie’s voice came out shaky. “Do you like getting ready for me?”

“More than you like watching,” he replied, breathy and hoarse.

“Eds,” he choked out, writhing a bit. Eddie’s hand was firm and familiar, tugging on him just right. Watching him finger himself was over-the-top hot. “I’m just…I wanna warn you…I’m not gonna last.”

“I know you’re not,” Eddie whispered, breath heaving. “It’s going to feel so good when I’m on top of you. That’s why I’m—” he whimpered and bit down on his lip, “—touching myself. So I’ll… be close.”

Holy shit.

Richie lost control at that, desperately searching the bed and growling, “Okay, where the fuck are the condoms?” One hit him in the chest and he made quick work of it. “Get over here.”

As lithe as a jungle cat, Eddie crawled over on all fours and swung his leg over to straddle Richie. He reached between his legs to gently guide Richie in, and fuck, but it was tight. Richie’d gotten used to putting his dick into a much less constrictive space in the months they’d been apart. He exhaled heavily through his nose as Eddie slowly slid all the way down, taking all of him inside.

Richie glided his hands up the back of Eddie’s thighs, over his ass and up to his hips, thumbing circles over his hipbones. “Eds, you feel so fucking good.” Once Eddie started to move, it would be a wrap before it started.

“Remember,” he whispered, tilting his hips and flexing his thighs to lift up a bit. “We have to be quiet.” He rocked unhurriedly and shallowly up and down, easing them both into it.

Tightening his abs to sit up, Richie circled his arms around Eddie’s back, smoothing his hands around. “If I want to scream I’ll just bite you instead,” he managed, voice cracking. Eddie smiled softly at him and began pulsing his hips, setting a quick pace. His mouth was slightly open and the only indication of discomfort was a little furrow in the center of his eyebrows. Richie'd never seen him so beautiful and confident and in control.

Fighting the urge to cry out, Richie sunk his teeth into Eddie’s pec gently, a string of little moans spilling out of him. He felt a sick, delicious pressure building up in his lower back and radiating outwards. His hips bucked involuntarily and he took control of them, matching Eddie’s rhythm.

Eddie rested his head against Richie’s shoulder, whining softly. “You fit inside me so perfectly,” he whispered, his voice soaked in emotion. “I missed you so much, baby.”

“Sweet pea, I missed you too.” Richie sped up his movements, gripping onto Eddie’s hips and rocking them together. “But…don’t make me cry...during sex.”

“God, Fuck,” Eddie gasped, pressing his face against Richie’s and grabbing onto his hair. “I’m gonna come, Richie,” he whispered, begging. “Harder.”

Thrusting up as hard as he could, Richie clenched his jaw, trying to hold off the inevitable. He was close, and he didn’t want to fuck it up. Just let Eddie come. Just let Eddie come. 

A noise came out of Eddie that was half a sigh and half a strangled shriek, and Richie felt the warm wetness on his belly. Just a few pumps more and Richie followed him. He held his breath and came without making a sound, absently hoping he didn’t give himself an aneurysm. Gasping to breathe afterwards, he pressed his forehead against Eddie’s shoulder, blood pounding through his head.

“Baby, did you come?” Between the condom and the silence, Eddie was left in the dark.

“Yeah,” he panted, wheezy. “Silently, like a good boy.”

Chuckling softly, Eddie petted over Richie’s hair. “You didn’t have to be dead silent. Just quiet.” He reached for his teeshirt and wiped up the mess between them before easing himself up and off, his thigh muscles visibly shaking from the effort.

Richie free-fell back and lay prone with his eyes closed, letting the exhaustion he felt all night take over. He was completely immobile, and both felt and heard Eddie remove the condom from him. There were a couple of other noises, a click and a beep, the toilet flushed, and then a soft breeze blew over his naked body before a blanket settled over him. His glasses were lifted off of his face.

“Baby, roll on your side so I can spoon you.”

“ ‘Kay.” He felt Eddie’s warm body press up behind him. “Love you, Eds.” Soft kisses against his spine.

“Love you.”

 

*

Eddie

 

Eddie woke up alone, sore and cranky. It was late, he could tell by the angle of the sunlight filtering into Richie’s front window. The Toziers were probably all awake already, and they would tease him for sleeping late. Everyone always  teased him for sleeping late. It was already annoying, although it hadn’t happened yet.

He stepped off the air mattress on wobbly legs, realizing belatedly that he was still naked. The events of the previous night filtered through his brain in waves. Standing outside together, teasing, talking, flirting, kissing. Everything was perfect. They’d made love in a new way and they’d spooned all night long. He tried to cling to those feelings and spread them around inside himself like a protective barrier because he knew that once he stepped onto the first landing, if someone said anything similar to ‘hey, sleepy head, why ya’ sleepin’ so late,’ he was going to snap.

He stepped into his clothes from the night before—sans dirty undershirt—and quickly brushed his teeth. Steeling himself before opening up the door to Richie’s room, Eddie breathed deeply and willed himself to keep it calm.

The smell of cinnamon wafted up through the stairwell. He heard the sounds of cooking, and Sadie’s loud voice as he passed through the living room. “He’s not going to get up until ten thirty,” she insisted, and Eddie felt his blood begin to simmer.

He stepped into the kitchen and cleared his throat.

Sadie spun around quickly with a sheepish smile on her face. “Heyyyy buddy.”

“Fuck you.”

“Oh noooo, he’s grumpy.” She cringed and turned back to the stove. “Richie, what did you do to him?”

Richie’s indignant voice filtered out from the back alcove of the room. “Me?  Why’s it always gotta be me?”

“Because I know you,” Sadie replied easily, flipping the squares in the pan. “Eddie, don’t be grumpy,” she urged sweetly without turning around. “It’s New Year’s brunch! Get your french toast and mimosas before they’re destroyed.”

“Maybe later,” he rasped, voice still sleep-thick. Walking past Sadie, he made his way into the dining area.

Richie sat at the table playing with his phone. He raised his head when Eddie entered, smiling brightly. “Baby, it snowed last night.” Bright and cheery, hair a wild mess, beautiful in the pale sunlight that peeked through the opened venetian blinds. His face fell a fraction. “Are you gonna be mean to me? You have crabby face.”

Fuck baby, I’ll never stop being sorry.

Eddie stepped beside Richie and pressed a kiss to his forehead, lips lingering and producing a smacking sound. “I’m not going to be mean to you.”

“Rudoooolph,” Richie cooed, wrapping his arms around Eddie and pulling him down into his lap. “You’re the best. Because I know you totally want to be a little asshole crab right now.”

“I do,” Eddie admitted, trying not to smile.

Richie pecked kisses all over his neck. He stopped and fingered over a spot near the front of Eddie’s throat. “Damn you got mauled, huh?”

Shivering under Richie’s feathery touch, Eddie smirked. “Some neon-green monster bit me last night.”

“Shit,” Richie exclaimed, wide-eyed with false concern. “I hope you don’t start turning into one of them. Werewolf type shit, y’know?”

“I think I’ll be okay.” He kissed Richie on the mouth languidly, and the orange juice taste in his mouth didn't mix well with toothpaste, but Eddie didn't care. “Wait. Where are your parents?”

“Still sleeping. Sades has a theory that I won’t talk about because I don’t want to ralph up my juice.”

“They boned,” Sadie called from her spot at the stove.

Eddie and Richie both screwed up their faces in disgust at the same time.

“Shut up  Sades.”

She came into the dining area, obviously ready to argue about it, but stopped short when she saw how cuddly they were. “Oh shit. And they weren’t the only ones, I guess.”

“New Year’s Kiss magic,” Richie insisted. “It works.”

“So, you guys are back? No more moping and crying and constantly bugging me with questions about each other?”

Eddie felt his face heating up. He glanced at Richie to find him similarly embarrassed, and kissed him on his rosey cheek. “You’re free, Sadie. And we’re sorry.”

She grinned and spun around to leave them. “Just don’t let it happen again.”

“Never ever,” Richie whispered into Eddie’s ear. “It was so stupid.”

Leaning his weight back against Richie’s chest, Eddie’s lingering morning-induced irritation floated away from him. He didn’t know what exactly the future held for them but they were going into it together, both on the same page, both regretful of their roles in the downfall of their relationship, and both willing to try harder. “It was a learning experience,” Eddie replied, stroking his fingers under Richie’s chin. “We’re smarter now.”

Richie nodded and smiled, running his eyes all over Eddie’s face. “Wanna go on a date with me tomorrow? Dinner and a movie?”

“Why not today?”

“It’s New Year’s Day; everything is closed.”

Eddie looked out the patio door at the fluffy snow. “We could go play in the snow.”

“As a date?” Richie grinned and pushed Eddie’s messy hair back from his forehead. “Yeah, okay.”

Hoisting himself off Richie’s lap, Eddie stood and stretched out his back. “I’m going to take a shower.”

Richie made a little discontented noise. “I’ll miss you.”

He cocked his head, playing coy. “I might need help, you think—”

“Yes.” Richie was up out of his seat in a flash and slinging a giggling Eddie over his shoulder, running into the kitchen. “Rudolph only eats oats Sades, we can’t have breakfast with you.”

“You guys are cute,” she called after them as they quickly passed through the room, “but kinda gross.”

Cute But Kinda Gross: A Love Story,” Richie panted on the way up the stairs. “Save that one in your memory bank, Eds. It’s a keeper.” He placed Eddie on the floor outside his bedroom door and pressed him up against the wood, kissing the daylights out of him.

Eddie curled his fingers into the fabric on the front of Richie’s pajamas, getting lost inside his mouth and between his arms, thinking about the past few days: the bathtub call and how far removed he felt from who he was at that moment. It was a collective rebirth, and he never wanted them to go back.

A door opened down the hall, and Richie pulled his mouth away. They were both flushed and shaky. Oh fuck we’re in the hallway.

“Happy New Year.” Maggie smiled at them brightly, the giddiness plain on her face. She wrapped her robe tighter around herself and went quickly to the stairs. “Don’t mind me; just passing through.”

Richie rested his forehead on Eddie’s shoulder and laughed. “Everyone was rooting for us, Eds. Even Went, I think.”

“They’re all smarter than we are,” he whispered, blindly reaching behind himself to turn the doorknob.

“Cute But Kinda Gross, and Also Dumb: The Greatest Love Story of Our Time.”

Rolling his eyes, Eddie smiled as he groaned, “Will you shut the fuck up?”

“I’ll give it my best shot,” Richie whispered as he shut the door behind them.