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Angels in Outfields

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Richie Tozier is bored. He’s got his music cranked up, his phone on his lap, and some mindless show playing on his television. All things a normal seventeen-year-old boy should be easily entertained by. But no matter what song he plays, what show he puts on, or what position he’s lying on his bed, he’s still bored out of his mind. His homework sits in a neatly stacked, pile on his desk already completed and his room, while disastrous, is impeccably organized. He knows where to find everything and despite what his parents may say, it’s exactly to his liking. His voice is low as he sings along to the music, moving his fingers in time with the signature.

Some days I lie wide awake 'til the sun hits my face
And I fade, elevate from the Earth
Far away to a place where I'm free from the weight
This whole world, this whole world

The clock reads 4:45 on the wall and on cue a car door slams, followed shortly by the slam of the front door and a distant call of his name. He knows they can hear his music so he’s more than equipped to feign ignorance of their arrival. He’s just genuinely not in the mood right now.

He’s bored. He’s been laying in the same position for the past two hours listening to everything and anything that came onto his Spotify. The current song beats in his heart like a monitor, kicking his pulse and making sure he hasn’t wasted away into nothing on his own bed. There’s a kind of lost, restless energy humming in his body right now but the lethargy of existing consumes him. Despite how much he wants to do something, he’d much rather just lay in bed. It’s easier, simpler.

Some only live to die, I'm alive to fly higher
Than angels in outfields inside of my mind
I'm ascendin' these ladders, I'm climbin', say goodbye
This old world, this old world

“Richard Tozier, I swear to god,” comes cutting through the music as soon as his door is opened. Maggie steps into the room with a frustrated tick in her step and she crosses the room, not even sparing a single glance at her son, and throws open the blinds. “We only get so much daylight right now; do you have to spend all your time with these curtains drawn?”

Her voice is louder than the music and Richie can’t find it in himself to shout. Or to turn the music down. Instead he just gives her a half assed shrug. This is obviously not the right choice.

“I’m sick of this shit, Richie,” she says and her voice is sharp and accusatory. That gets him to sit up and turn his music down.

“What shit, mom?”

“This!” She says, arms sweeping the layout of his bedroom. “Every single day I come home and you’re up here in the same position, rotting away in your bed while some shitty pop music plays in the background! Richie, you’re young! I need you to go outside, go make some friends, go do something.”

Richie fucking gapes at her for a moment. Her eyes have shifted from something angry to something borderline sympathetic and her arms have fallen down to her side. She looks somehow defeated. Exhausted. “Okay, first? This isn’t shitty pop music. I don’t even know how you function. Second, I have friends.”

“Yes, Stan and Bev. I’ve met them. But come on Richie! You don’t have to be best friends with everyone but I haven’t heard you talk about someone new in almost four years.”

“Yeah, that’s because everyone else sucks,” he scoffs. He likes to think himself above petty passive aggression, but he can’t help the way he rolls his eyes at his mother.

“Or maybe it’s because you don’t put yourself out there, Richie.” Oh god. Now her hands are on her hips. The urge to tell her to go fuck herself is so strong but Richie bites it back. He’s proud of himself. Really. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s told Maggie or Went to go eat a dick, but it never really goes over well. Went says its teen angst. Richie says it’s annoying parents.

Whatever. Differing viewpoints, he guesses.

“What do you want me to do, ma? Want me to stand in the hallway and shake everyone’s hands as they walk by?”

“No, Richie. I want you to care about something. Go do something with yourself. You’re wasting away,” she repeats and boy is it grinding down on him. Yeah, sure, he’s bored. But wasting away is such an exaggeration. He’s not wasting away. He’s just restless and bored. School is too easy and every single person in the study body sucks besides Bev and Stan. It’s not worth getting to know people who will just let you down later.

“Don’t you roll your eyes at me, Richard,” Maggie scolds and fuck, he didn’t even realize he did that. She almost looks like she’s mad again, something very Tozier simmering beneath the surface of her skin. They all have it, this knack for blowing up when they really don’t need to. “Get a fucking life, Richie.”

“Fuck you, mom.”

Well. There it is. No going back now.

“That’s it!” she screeches. “You’re not allowed in this house until after 5:30 Monday through Friday. You have until the end of the month to find something to do after school, Richie. Better look fast – I hear the sidewalk is way less comfortable than your bed.”

And then she’s gone. She slams Richie’s door so hard the entire house shakes. Richie almost chases her. He gets as far as putting his hand on the doorknob before he thinks better of it. Instead, he settles for flipping her off as if she can see it. His blood boils as he paces back and forth. He runs his hands through his hair several times, taking deep breaths to calm himself down. Dinner will probably be ready in a half hour and he can’t go downstairs like this. Maggie will be calm by then and if he isn’t they’re just going to have the same fight over again, probably making Richie’s punishment worse.

He doesn’t even get it, anyway. He’s not hurting anyone by coming home and doing nothing. It’s not like he’s out on the streets dealing cocaine or roughing up middle schoolers for their lunch money. He’s just listening to music on his bed and zoning out, dreaming of a town that’s not Derry filled with people who aren’t assholes. It’s not a fucking crime, for Pete’s sake.

He spends the next thirty minutes letting his playlist run through at an even higher volume than before. It’s probably only making things worse but he doesn’t care. It helps him. He can feel the bass in his chest, beating its harshly soothing rhythm. He pops the screen out of his window, leans halfway out, and smokes a Winston. Soon, his breathing evens out and the redness drains from his face. By 5:30 he determines he’s acceptably calm and he turns his sound down, flicking the stereo off entirely and opening his bedroom door.

The silence rings in his ears as he makes his way down the hall. He can hear his parents idly chatting in the kitchen but he doesn’t pay them any mind. He pads over to the fridge, pours himself some water. He knows they can smell the smoke on him but for once they don’t comment. Went simply hands Richie three plates and a handful of silverware.

They eat in relative silence at first. There’s still a tension in the air but it’s mostly dissipated. Richie spins his spaghetti on his fork, avoiding eye contact with his mother and praying that his father says something instead. He doesn’t. Richie isn’t even sure how involved in this whole feud his father is. Is Maggie just being bullheaded or are they in cahoots?

“So, Richie.” Yep. Definitely cahoots. “Your mother tells me that she wants you to be more involved at school?”

It takes every single ounce of self-control to not roll his eyes. It’ll only make things worse. “Yeah.”

“I think she has a fair point,” Went goes on. “I don’t think it’s healthy for a young boy to sit in his room all day.”

“I don’t think it’s fair that she’s trying to force me to do something I don’t want to do by kicking me out of the house,” Richie shoots back. Any venom his voice might have had is lost to the sauce dripping out the side of his mouth.

“Richie, don’t be difficult,” Maggie chimes in. “There are so many after school things. How do you know you don’t like them all?”

Went doesn’t even give Richie the chance to respond. He raises one quick hand and gives a warning honey before continuing on. “I also don’t think that’s fair, Richie.”

Richie feels something akin to hope. His father is always the fair king of the house. He rules with reasoning and compassion, something Richie has always loved. He loves his mother, too. He really does. But he’s acquired all of her worst traits when he was born. They’re both stubborn, they’re both loud, and they’re both emotionally charged. Sometimes Richie’s so charged he feels like he might explode. His parents say that’s good, he’s got passion and fire.

Richie doesn’t really agree, but he’ll take what he can get.

“We talked about it and came to a middle ground. You have until the end of February to find something to get involved in. If you can’t find something you like at school, we’ll figure something out in town. But you have to try Richie. Actually try. No half assing. We wanna see you put out some effort. If you don’t, we’re not kicking you outside for several hours in the dead of winter,” he levels Maggie with a look when he says this, “but we will take your phone away. And your game machines.”

“Dad!” Richie cries, “Come on!”

The hand goes up again and Went simply says, “Just put some effort in and you won’t lose anything. I promise.”

Fuck. There’s no talking his way out of this with their minds made up. Maggie seems satisfied and Richie is relieved to see no smug grin on her face.

“What’s in it for me?” Richie asks. If he has to do this he’s at least going to get something from it.

“The continuous use of your cell phone,” Maggie says, “and the satisfaction that comes with being involved in something.”

Richie must look unimpressed because Went chimes in, “We’ll go on vacation this summer if you follow through with it. You’ve always wanted to go to California. We can check it out, maybe tour some schools. Go to the beach. Sound like an even trade?”

Richie smiles then, big and wide. California. His dream is California and everyone knows it. UCLA, baby. He’s on his way there, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. He can’t say no to this offer. It’s too big, too good. Something Richie has always wanted, ever since he was a kid. It’s touching the ends of his fingertips as he smiles and says, “Yeah, you’ve got a deal.”

How fucking hard can it be, anyway? All he’s gotta do is meander around the school for a few weeks, go to some club meetings, and then end up back in his bed by March. Plus, the weather will start to turn at that point and maybe he can go outside, fuck around with Stan and Bev in the sun instead of being cooped up by his lonesome. That should get them off his case.

The biggest issue would probably be finding something worth spending his time on.

“I don’t see what the big deal is. Just pick something,” Stan says between bites of his pizza. It’s practically cardboard and Richie can hear the unnatural ripping of the crust, but it’s something.

“I can’t just pick shit all willy nilly Staniel, they’ll know. And then there goes California. Whoosh, out the window,” Richie says, making a dramatic swooping with his hands.

“Not really? You can just say you’re really interested in Anime, like, you’re a closet Naruto fan or something,” Stan says, tone of voice completely dry.

On the other side of the table, Bev busts out laughing. She covers her mouth to avoid her apple spewing all over the table as she howls. “Richie! Richie! Please! Go to anime club, please. Infiltrate them. I need to know if the rumors are true.”

“First of all,” Richie starts, only mildly amused by the turn of events, “the rumors are definitely not true. Second of all, fuck you guys. I’m not going to anime club. I’ve never seen a single anime in my entire life.”

“Fullmetal Alchemist counts,” Bev says and Richie shoots her a glare from across the table.

“I’ve never seen more than one anime in my entire life.”

Bev laughs and Stan just rolls his eyes. “We all know how this is gonna end, Richie. You’re not gonna commit to anything and then you’ll get to go to California. It’s a win-win no matter what.”

“Yeah,” Bev agrees, “Richie Tozier, king of noncommittal engagements.”

Richie tries to interject, defend himself, but they go back and forth too fast.

“He’d sooner lose his phone than get involved in the school somehow.”

“Yeah, I’ve tried to get him into the music department so many times.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen him talk to another person in two years.”

“He talks to us!”

“We’re not people, Bev.”

“Hey!” Richie all but shouts, gaining the attention of several surrounding lunch tables. “I can to commit to things!”

“Video games don’t count, Richie.”

“Yeah, neither does, sleep.” Bev bursts out into laughter again and the corner of Stan’s lips upturn ever so slightly. “I bet he couldn’t last the entire semester in anything.”

“Fuck you guys, I can.” Richie says. He’s got his arms crossed, now, and he’s practically staring daggers down the table. Fuck them. Fuck his parents. Fuck all of them!

“Prove it.”

“Fine! I will!” God dammit. Stan and Bev laugh like this was their plan the entire time and it probably was. But fuck if Richie Tozier is anything except proud. And stubborn. So, fucking stubborn.

Between his parents and his friends, this semester was going to kill him.

“But if I win, you guys have to clean Betsy for the entire fucking summer.”

Silence settles over the table for a brief moment. No one talks, no one moves. Bev and Stan lock eyes, no doubt some kind of secret, silent words passing between them.

“Deal.”

It wasn’t hard to find things to go to. There was plenty of bullshit happening after school that he could do. What there wasn’t, however, was plenty of bullshit that he thought he could stomach for four months. Anime club was already off the table. Nothing against those kids, it just wasn’t Richie’s scene. So was chess club and track and field and poetry club and student government and Odyssey of the mind and practically every other flier Richie came across. He had until the end of next week, but as the days crawled by he became more and more anxious about his ability to find something he liked. It wasn’t until Thursday during free period that he began to resign to his fate: lose his bets or suffer. Neither seemed ideal to him but maybe he could suffer through anime club. FMA was pretty boss, after all. He’s sure the others had to be good, too. Right?

Right?

He slams his locker shut just in time to see Stan walking over, smug look on his face and something clutched in his left hand.

“I think I might have found the perfect thing for you,” he says. His voice is smooth and easy and his eyes read trouble. He raises his hand and holds a flyer in front of Richie’s face

           Derry High School Baseball Tryouts
           Week of February 25th
             
Please come with running clothes, a baseball mitt, running shoes, and cleats.

“Oh, fuck no,” Richie says. He doesn’t even need to read the whole thing to know that this isn’t his jam. Nothing about this has is name on it and no. Fuck no. This isn’t happening.

“Come on, Richie! You’re running out of time and you say no to everything else. At this rate you’re gonna lose,” Stan says, shoving the paper at Richie’s chest. “This is your last chance. Tryouts are on Monday. Plus, I have a mitt and cleats you can borrow. Your Nikes will be fine for running and I know you have sweatpants and a baggy shirt. It’s all you need.”

“It’s official. You’ve gone crazy, completely all the rails, all loco-loco-locomotive on me!” Richie cries, throwing his body into his locker and clutching the flyer to his chest. “God, save the queen, Stan has gone bonkers!”

Stan stands there for a moment, a challenging glint in his eyes. “You’re gonna pussy out, aren’t you? Take the easy way out?”

The smile falls from Richie’s face immediately and he knows Stan’s got him. Stan knows it, too, because he doesn’t back down. If anything, he steps closer and gets into Richie’s space. “I knew it.”

“Whatever.” Is all Richie says and then they’re walking down the hall, shooting the shit about their upcoming calc exam. Stan’s words didn’t hurt, per say, but they didn’t fade away, either. They nagged him, burrowed into his brain and wouldn’t leave him alone. Over the weekend, Richie found himself bitterly thinking, I am not a pussy to himself. Stan’s voice bounced and bounced around in his head and before he knew it, he packed a small duffle back and threw it in the back of his truck on Monday morning.

Richie [6:42am]: Fine. Bring the stuff.

He was less than pleased to find Stan waiting for him at his locker, a Walmart bag in hand that contained a pair of immaculate cleats and a well-loved baseball mitt. “They’re from travel,” he says as he hands them over to Richie.

“Gee, Stan, I would hate to ruin such perfect sport bullshit,” Richie says. It’s half sarcasm, half genuine concern. When he looks into the bag he finds a pair of Nike cleats that had to have given Stan a run for his money. The glove didn’t look cheap, either, and Richie worries about wrecking them like he does with everything else he touches.

Stan doesn’t say much, he simply shrugs and offers Richie a, “they’re old,” before turning and walking away. As if that makes it better. Old things in good condition aren’t exactly worthless.

Still, though, Richie takes them and walks to the front office to scribble his name of the try out sheet, as per Stan’s suggestion. He could walk in, but it shows more initiative and through to have signed up beforehand.

He skips his lunch period and eats in his car. It’s not worth the aggravation of listening to Stan and Bev talk about this whole ordeal.

The day passes quicker than he wants to and Richie finds himself in the boy’s locker room. He feels out of place and awkward. Everyone else talks, they smile and laugh and fuck around and then there’s Richie. Entirely out of his element and uncomfortable. It takes a lot to make him uncomfortable, but being surrounded by about fifty boys he doesn’t know, about to do something he doesn’t want to do, has him twitching in his skin.

Richie takes solace in his inability to play any kind of physical sport ever. He knows he’ll hate this, but he also knows he won’t make the team. Not in a million years.

“Alright! Welcome to Derry High Cardinals baseball tryouts!” The coach bellows. His voice is deep and his arms are thick and Richie is honestly not sure he’s ever seen this man before. He’s been going here for three years and suddenly there’s a new fucking gym teacher? What the fuck? “We’re excited to see so many young men out today. I see some familiar faces and some new ones. Hopefully we get to know each other a little better of the next week.”

Richie half listens to the coach. For the most part he looks around at the boys next to him. They’re all sitting on the ground together; some look more eager to get going, some look nervous. Others look comfortable, like this isn’t their first round. It probably isn’t. Richie is an outlier here, he’s an anomaly. A high school junior trying out for a sport he’s never played outside of gym class.

What has the world come to?

Before he knows it, two boys are standing up out of the crowd and stepping forward. The apparent coaches step back and let the boys talk and oh fuck. Richie forgot about this part.

In front of him, next to some boy Richie doesn’t know, is Eddie Kaspbrak: high school legend. Eddie tried out for the team as a freshman and made varsity. He then proceeded to tell off his mother in cold blood on the diamond in the middle of a game. It was legendary and Eddie took it all in stride, climbing to the peak of the social ladder in a matter of weeks. He should have known Eddie would be the team captain.

Richie can’t blame him. Eddie wasn’t much before that. He was treated worse than Richie. Maybe even had less friends. He remembers Henry Bowers breaking Eddie’s arm in the sixth grade. Hell, Richie’s had the shit kicked out of him more times that he can count but at least he never had a bone broken.

And it isn’t even that Richie hated Eddie. He doesn’t. He’s happy for him. Richie isn’t sure what he felt. There wasn’t much to identify anymore. Some kind of distant nostalgia in the back of his brain. Eddie looks good, though. He looks happy. He looks exactly how Richie remembered him. That same smile, those same eyes. He even still talks with his hands. Always animated, always has a story to tell.

“We’re gonna start off with two laps around the gym to get our blood pumping. After that we’re gonna stretch, so everyone grab a partner and stand in front of him. You’ll need someone to help you with arms and legs. Then, we’ll transition into some more running and some endurance training. Finally, at the end of the day, we’ll grab some baseballs and you’ll get to show us what you guys can do.”

The second boy talks a little bit about the structure of tryouts. How everything works and what’s gonna happen. Sometime around the end of the day on Monday, the team lists will be posted in the front office where sign ups were. Roughly fifteen boys will make each team, maybe one or two more based on skill or need. Then, they’re wished luck and they get to it.

Richie keeps up fairly easily for the first part. He’s proud of himself for maintaining his spot in the middle of the pack, not falling behind like some of the other guys do. By the time he finishes he feels pretty good. Yeah, he’s out of breath but that wasn’t so hard.

By the time he’s supposed to pair up, it’s almost as if the entire gymnasium has a buddy system going on. There are only a few stragglers left and unfortunately for Richie, he’s one of them. Fortunately for him, so is the guy he makes eye contact with across the room. They both nod and meet in the middle, Richie sticking his hand out first and introducing himself as Sir Richard, Asshole Who Has No Idea What He’s Doing Here.

The other boy just laughs and introduces himself as Jake. Jake is a sophomore who apparently tried out as a freshman and didn’t make the team. Now, he’s back and ready to try again. Richie admires that. Kid’s got spunk. He tells him as much as he pushes his arms up behind his back. Jake tells Richie he likes his sense of humor as he stretches his hamstrings. The two bond quick in the ten minutes they spend together and Richie thinks to himself, looks like we’re in this thing together. Maybe I’ll make him look good. If anyone’s gotta make that team, it’s him.

When they’re done, Richie’s feeling good. Too good, almost. He’s got energy thrumming through his veins and he’s almost ready to take on whatever they throw at him. This whole thing was a snapshot so far. It was easy. Richie could do this shit all day. He almost fucking liked it.

“Alright boys, on the line! It’s time for suicides.”

Richie didn’t know he could be so wrong.

They split up into groups of three, lining on up group at a time. Richie just smiles to himself, watching the first group of boys go while holding two fingers by his side so he’ll remember his own group. They steady themselves and on the mark, they run. And come back. And run again. And come back again. And they do this two more times. By the end of it, Richie isn’t sure if he feels sorry for the boys who went first or for himself. He lines up and brushes his hair out of his face. 

I am not a runner, he thinks. This is it. This is the moment I get kicked out.

Jake stands panting by the wall and cheers Richie on. He’s got a goofy smile on his face and when the whistle blows, they’re off. Richie touches the first line and doubles back, touches the base line and runs again. By the time he’s halfway through his lungs are burning in his chest. He doesn’t look around, he just keeps going. The pack of boys around him keeps him motivated, keeps him going. If he were doing this alone, all bets would be off. Richie would fall over dead in an instant. But he doesn’t. He hears his name being called and he runs the final stretch back to the base line.

He doesn’t collapse like he thought he would. Instead, he stands doubled over with his hands on his knees. He can hear his own wheezing breaths, he can feel the tightness in his throat and the pain in his legs and stomach. He feels a clap on his back and Jake smiles. When Richie stands slightly he’s pleased to see he wasn’t the last one in his group to finish. Five or so more boys straggle in a decent time after Richie did, meaning he must not have done that bad. They go back to the wall together and the third group goes. When they’re done, Richie has his breath back and he’s chatting aimlessly with Jake, pointing out the boys who made the team versus who didn’t. As the cramp in his side fades, Richie smiles lightly until he hears, “Group one, again!”

Oh, what the everloving fuck. Each group runs suicides two more times and by the end of it, Richie really does collapse. He throws his back against the gym wall and slides down, hands in his hair. It’s a wild mess, going every which direction and Richie thinks he might drown in it. For a second, he thinks he might shave it off. Who’s fucking idea was it to have long hair, anyway? He can’t see with this shit flopping all around with absolutely no abandon. Fuck his hair, fuck these suicides, and fuck baseball. They haven’t even touched a baseball yet! Isn’t this supposed to be tryouts? Shouldn’t they touch a fucking baseball?

When the running is over, they still haven’t. They do five-minute wall sides, burning holes in Richie’s thin, pixie stick thighs. They do rock climbs, re-stitching the cramp in his side. They fucking plank, which he can’t do to save his life. He drops to his knees more times than he wants to. Richie thinks he’s going to die. No. He knows he's going to die. This isn’t worth it. This fucking bet will kill him before he has the chance to brag or collect his prizes.

By 4:30 they’ve only got an hour left and Richie doesn’t know how much more he can take. He’s covered in his own sweat, baggy clothes clinging to his skin in the worst kind of ways. Finally, finally, the coach stands in front of them and says, “Alright boys, grab your mitts, a ball, and a partner. Let’s see what you can do.”

Jake gravitates toward him like a natural magnet.

“Hey. Not to be a fucking moron but how the fuck do you throw and catch that thing?” Richie asks, motioning to the ball in Jake’s glove. Jake just laughs, fucking laughs right in Richie’ face before stepping forward and showing Richie how to hold his glove up and how to throw the ball. Arm over your head, 90-degree angle, push. Richie tries it a few times and he’s fucking terrible. Jake has to move his glove in a thousand different directions to catch Richie’s wildly inconsistent throws. Richie, on the other hand, has the privilege of holding his glove practically still as Jake hits his mark every single time.

They line up against the long edge of the gym and toss the ball back and forth. They stand about 3 feet apart, moving back a step every time the whistle blows until they’re throwing across the width of the gym. Richie knows he’s not impressive but he’s also catching more than some of the others. The sounds of balls hitting linoleum echo nonstop. His throwing gets better with distance, too, which he finds weird as fuck. Jake throws him a couple of wild cards and he manages to catch them.

He can’t shut his fucking mouth, either. The entire time they’re throwing he’s making jokes and comments, making all the other boys around him laugh. At one point he’s got Jake wiping his eyes from laughing so hard. Richie knows he’s beaming a stupid fucking grin on his face but he’s not just in it for the laughs. When Charlie standing next to him drops a ball Richie cracks a wise one, but when Charlie catches it Richie’s the first to clap him on the back and tell him, “I knew nothing could keep your hand off a solid ball, my boy,” which does make Charlie laugh but it also makes him throw better. Makes him catch better.

Richie knows he’s not here to make the team. He’s here to make others make the team.

When it’s over, Richie changes and slips out of the locker room. His entire body is on fire and despite the small smile that lingers on his lips he wants nothing more than to get the fuck out of there. He tosses his bag into the back seat and leans against the side of his truck. He’s got a Winston out of the pack in no time and he inhales the sweet, dirty taste of nicotine.

“Like a cigarette should,” Richie says to himself, pulling out his phone and scrolling through twitter. He’s got texts from Bev and Stan asking how the first day went. He’ll answer them later. He’ll lie straight through his teeth about almost passing out and being unable to throw in a straight line. They don’t need to know that. They don’t need to know shit. All they need to know is that he went, he’s going again tomorrow, and this whole ordeal will be over in a week’s time.

“You know, you’d probably have less trouble running if you quit. I could hear you wheezing from across the gym,” comes from beside him and he’s so startled he almost drops his phone. He doesn’t, thank fucking god, and he turns around to find no one at all. The side of his truck is devoid of human life and fucking hell, he must be more exhausted than he thinks he is. Except he isn’t just hearing things. Instead, he must be a fucking idiot because when he turns back he realizes that the voice didn’t come from beside him, it came from behind him. When he turns he’s face to face with the one and only Edward Kaspbrak. Team captain, varsity legend, and hot shot.

Richie doesn’t say anything back. Partially because he has no idea what to say to that. He can be an asshole but he doesn’t really want to. Eddie might be the epitome of high school’s worst features but he’s not a bad dude. Richie knows that. So instead of being mean he just stays quiet, takes a drag from his Winston, and smiles sweetly at Eddie. Eddie laughs gently and turns to leave. As he does, he looks over his shoulder and says, “I never pegged you as the baseball type, Tozier. Gonna come back tomorrow?”

Richie nods once and Eddie smiles, “Good work today.”

And then he’s gone, walking across the parking lot and onto the sidewalk with a duffle bag slung over his shoulders. Richie watches him go as he smokes his cigarette down to the nub.

By the second day of tryouts, Bev gives Richie a bright pink scrunchy. It holds his hair back in a pristine bun and, fuck it, he looks damn good. He walks into that gym, every muscle in his body burning. He runs and he stretches and he runs some fucking more. They throw short and long distance, Jake showing him different throwing techniques. The coach pulls him and several other boys aside, showing them a hop-throw method of throwing balls across the gym. He stands on one side as each of them throw down the gym.

When it’s Richie’s turn, he’s surprised to see that the ball makes it all the way down without hopping. He’s not surprised to see that he doesn’t hit his mark. The coach has to run several yards to the left to catch it. Richie can’t tell if he looks upset or impressed. He shoots him a quick wink and a thumbs up from across the gym and jogs to the back of the line.

Pitchers and catchers break away on the third day, as well as the varsity boys. No one says its varsity, but it’s all the same boys being pulled out for separate training. Maybe one to two new ones. Richie is pretty sure the varsity team was cemented before tryouts even began. Not that he cares. What he notices more, though, is how the crowd seems to have thinned out overall. There are significantly less people here than there were on the first day.

After their warm ups, running, and endurance training the coaches hit them grounders they have to field and line drives they have to catch. Richie, as predictably as ever, cannot catch line drives to save his life. Instead, he practically runs from them, flinching and screaming and catching maybe one of them. They’re not even coming fast, he just doesn’t want to get hit in the face with one. Jake tells him to just put his glove up and he’ll be fine. Richie decides Jake is crazy. Why the fuck does anyone like this sport?

He can’t field the fast grounders either but when they’re coming from a distance and slightly slower, he manages to grab them.

Eventually, they get pop flies, which he’s much more comfortable with. He’s got time with them, he can figure them out. They’re not hard. He catches the majority of the balls hit to him and does that little skip hop twist thing to throw it back to the coach. It still isn’t accurate but it as it flies down the gym Richie can’t help but smirk.

On the fourth day, Jake hands Richie a bat. Well, he hands Richie bat after bat. If there was anything he didn’t know before he stepped into this gym on Monday is that every bat is a different fucking weight. Depending on the strength of the batter and blah, blah, whatever. Richie doesn’t get it. Jake makes him swing a couple bats, though. Test them out. He picks one that’s yellow and blue and sets it aside. After warm ups they set up tees with balls attached to them. They hit those balls and they bounce around and then they hit them again. Richie thinks it’s stupid as fuck but the coach ambles around and watches them.

Then, they get inside of a long fucking net which is apparently a batting cage? When Richie pictured the word batting cage he didn’t think of something that could be used to mass capture crabs off the coast of Maine. He pictured a big metal fucking cage, you know, like a normal person.

He watches guys file in. Everyone gets ten hits from the pitching machine. Some of them hit every ball, some of them hit nothing. The majority of the guys hit at least a couple. Some balls are tipped as fouls, some hit the side of the net. It’s all over the place, really. Jake goes in and it’s a no brainer for him. Richie counts. He hits 7 balls, tips one, and misses two. Overall, he seems proud of himself as he steps out. He gives Richie one of those high five one armed hug things that dude bros do and Richie is strangely proud.

He’s less proud when he steps in. The coach is standing behind a thin net and he tells Richie the same thing he’s told everyone before him. You get ten pitches, do your best and don’t overthink it.

Richie over thinks it the way he overthinks everything. The first pitch flies past him and he swings too late. He can hear it hit the net and fall to the ground. He swings too early on the second pitch, knuckles white as they grip the blue handle. He swears he hears the sound of metal clanging but on the third pitch, the ball connects with the back net yet again.

He steps out of the batting box for a second and takes a deep breath. The gym is silent as they watch him, Richie Tozier, take his helmet off and shake his head, his bun wiggling slightly with the motion. Jake calls out to the coach to pause for a second and he slips under the net and walks up to Richie, one hand on his shoulder.   

“Just see the ball connect with the bat,” Jake says and Richie steps back into the box. The coach nods at him and he nods back. Then, he’s putting a ball in the machine and it’s slipping through the rubber spinner and out of the front. Richie watches it, brings his arms back, and swings. He isn’t ready for the way the bat reverberates in his arms when he hits it. The coach isn’t ready, either, because when the ball sails through the cage and connects with his safety net he flinches, nearly falling over from his place at the machine.

He looks at Richie and Richie looks back, both equally shocked. From outside the cage, Jake screams and cheers and others look mildly impressed.

Richie gets six more pitches. He hits 4 of them, all sailing either into the safety net or directly past it. He misses two of them but when he exits the cage he feels good. Jake brings him in for a hug and tells him that he did great. No fouls and less strikes than hits. Richie isn’t really sure what any of that means but he smiles. They spend the rest of batting cheering on the other boys. Richie tells batters to swing before they’re even in there and Jake tells him to shut up. Richie cheers and encourages and yells and even though he’s the only one doing it he doesn’t stop. He’s high on the thrill, high on the excitement.

Day five is probably the hardest of them all. It’s the final day and Richie twitches in his seat for the entire day. Bev and Stan don’t say anything about it but he knows they see it. They know he’s been tired and sore. But they know he’s been happier, sleeping a little better, a little less out of his head.

Richie won’t even say it out loud but maybe this experience has been good. Maybe he’ll actually find something to get involved in once this whole thing is over.

They run through everything, and they do it fast. They stretch, run suicides, and then they’re off. Richie watches himself keep up, he watches the others around him. He runs and fields and catches and throws. He’s not good, his aim still sucks short range and he can’t field anything for shit, but he bats strong. Him and Jake cheer each other on, as well as some people around them. They’ve formed a small pose over the past week. Charlie and Rudy are part of it and their constant morale, constant encouragement. Richie can’t wait to see them play, he can’t wait to see them in their uniforms. He’s like a proud father duck with his three little ducklings.  

To end the day, they go outside to the field in the bitter February cold and run the bases. The faster they run, the faster they get back inside. And oh, does Richie run. He runs and runs and rounds that diamond. His feet connect with the frozen sand and he feels the wind on his face. His lungs burn and freeze at the same time and he rounds second, rounds third. Home plate is in front of him and run, steps onto that base, and comes to a stop. He looks out to the field, catches his breath, and walks away.

When it’s over and he’s changing in the locker room, they all shoot the shit and wonder if they’re going to make it. Richie stays quiet, watches them as they talk and laugh. He’s stupid, he knows he is, but he thinks he might miss this. He thinks he could have come to enjoy this stupid fuckery of a sport. He could have enjoyed these ridiculous people. He tosses his stuff in the back of his van and texts Stan.

Richie [5:58pm]: I’ll bring you your cleats and glove on Monday.