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What's Funny

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They’ve banged through the door of the Derry Townhouse when Eddie suddenly remembers Richie slipping his tongue in his mouth. The taste of soy sauce and beer has left his lips and there’s only the very vivid memory of Richie’s mouth from a very distant summer.

The summer they tried beer and kept laughing and falling all over the place and Eddie didn’t care about germs from sharing a bottle. Something made it feel good that wasn’t from alcohol. The company at the Kissing Bridge was stronger than any phobia.

And he’s snapped out of it by the cloud of Axe body spray that gusts past him, with the rumble of grumbled cussing like thunder on its way.

“Gotta get the fuck out of here. Fuck Derry. Fuck Maine. No wonder I skip this shithole and only stop in Vermont.”

It’s not even the shitty smell that came from high school when boys would spray it over their clothes after gym, and wander around the building with that medicinal stench that repelled more women than it attracted.

“Bullshit asshole shitstain of a state deserves Paul LePage and all the other morons who live here…”

But he’s put it right on his skin and it’s working the way it’s supposed to and even if their tray of fortune cookies hadn’t turned into monsters, the scent and memory of his body alone is enough to make Eddie falter.

Richie stops on the stairs and looks back to Eddie.

“You coming?”

Oh, the connotations of what all of that means. Both the vulgar and the literal.

“Yeah, just – shit.” Eddie looks at his phone and the pissy little bitch is yelling at him for draining the battery to 9%. And go fucking figure the car rental up here wouldn’t have anything built after 2003. So much for charging it on the escape out of Derry.

“What?” Richie snaps. “That fucking clown sending blistered dick pics through WhatsApp now?”
“No, my phone’s dying.”
“Well, charge it so we can get the fuck out of here.”

We? Who’s we? But Richie’s already upstairs and in his room across from Eddie. Does he remember?

Eddie goes to his room, finds one of the three chargers he packed (among zero car adapters) and plugs it in. Knowing the construction of the bed and breakfast with the latest OS update, this will take hours.

“Am I going with you or something?”
“What?”
“You said ‘so we can get out of here’. What do you need me for?”

He read something in college about Freudian slips and he forgets exactly what it is, but for some reason it pops into his head. He doesn’t hear Richie, except for the clamoring of packing.

“Did you hear me?” Richie suddenly calls.
“What? No!”
“There’s a Friendly’s near Palmyra-”
“I can’t hear you!”
“Well, charge your fucking phone in here!”

It feels like an eternity for Eddie to stand up, unplug his phone, and take the short steps across the hall into Richie’s room. Maybe he’ll finish packing and be out of the room and out the door by the time Eddie walks in. Maybe he’s in the bathroom under the showerhead with dribbling water pressure, or on the toilet taking a shit.

No, he’s sprawled out on the bed, phone plugged into the outlet behind the bed, one leg hanging off the frame, the other jiggling on the end board, and that ugly mustard shirt is rucked up just enough to give Eddie the slightest glimpse of hair that continues under his belt and all around the inside of his legs.

Motherfucker.

“I said there’s a Friendly’s near Palmyra if you want to grab something to eat before the airport,” says Richie.

He didn’t answer Eddie’s question, but he doesn’t want to push it. Eddie waves his phone around.

“Where’s the outlet?”
“Under here.” Richie nods to the back of the bed.

Double-decker motherfucker.

“Move.”

Eddie doesn’t have to push him out of the way, but he wants Richie’s presence to just not be there because it’s like standing next to a radiator. He jams the plug in, leaves the phone on the floor, and almost snaps away from the bed like an elastic. He doesn't want Richie to think about it. Or he doesn’t want to think about it.

“It’s gonna take fucking hours. The building was probably wired by Edison. Whole place is a fire trap.”
“So sit down. Wait it out.” Richie is so fucking nonchalant about it.
“Where?” Eddie gestures wildly around the room. “Where am I supposed to sit?”
“There’s a chair right over there!”

Richie points at a wicker rocking chair that looks more like a rice cake than a piece of furniture.

“That? Great. Great idea, Richie. If I farted, I’d blow that thing into matchsticks.” Eddie gingerly sits on the edge of the bed between Richie’s legs, but he’s so annoyed with him he doesn’t even notice that’s where he’s sitting.
“Yeah, wind up walking around like that Carvel cake with the porcupine ass.”
“There’s no porcupine Carvel cake.” Eddie corrects him. Richie actually puts his phone down.
“There isn’t?”
“There’s one at Corrado on 70th in the city, but not Carvel.”
“I’ve got to get the fuck out of L.A.” Richie grumbles and returns to his phone.
“Where would you go? New York?” Eddie is suddenly very conscious of how hopeful he sounds.
“I don’t know. Maybe. Can’t deal with the fucking UCB people.”

Eddie has no idea what a UCB is. Some kind of bank? Richie is back on his phone, scrolling through something. Might as well try again.

“Why did you want me to leave with you?” he asks.
“What?”
“Before, when you said so ‘we’ could get out of here.”
“I don’t know. I just figured you’d want to leave too.”

Asshole.

“And Friendly’s? What am I, twelve?”
“Still dress like it, you walking pocket square.”
“Fuck you! This is Brooks Brothers.”
“Well, hey big spender. Don’t blow all of daddy’s money on those threads.”
“And all that fast food shit is full of so many toxins.”
“Toxins. Jesus. The wife got you on the anti-oxidant pyramid scheme?”
“It’s not a pyramid scheme! There is real nutritional-“
“-junk science bullshit-“
“-fuck you hack asshole-“
“-pseudo naturopathic hocus pocus-“
“-spend all your time with anti-vaxxers-“
“-probably shove crystals up your ass-“
“-shut the fuck up-“

The two keep yelling until they hear thumping. For a pants-shitting moment, it’s Pennywise come to eat them, until they hear:

“I’m sorry, but could you guys please keep it down?”
“Sorry, Ben,” calls Richie.
“Sorry,” says Ben for no reason other than he’s Ben and he only knows how to be sweet. Eddie tries not to think about if Ben would put out.
“Think they’re fucking?” Richie asks.
“Who?” Eddie completely missed something at dinner. Richie shakes his head to dismiss the idea.
“Nothing. So what are you listening to?” Richie asks.
“What, like podcasts?”
“Sure, why not.”
“Joe Rogan?

Richie grimaces like Eddie cut an eye-watering fart instead of answering a question.

“Oh Jesus Christ…”
“You don’t like Joe Rogan?”
“No! That guy’s an asshole! Of all the comedians who will eventually kill themselves, he needs to get bumped up the list.”
“He tells the truth!”
“He’s an idiot. He should try being funny. Or just die on AM radio with Carolla.”
“Carolla doesn’t suck.”

Richie makes another strangled noise. Eddie’s almost shocked at how self-conscious he feels about Richie not liking something about him.

“Are they all assholes?” Eddie asks.
“Most of them. Just easier to glad hand all the jackasses who haven’t been funny since the Clinton administration and pick up their writers who are desperate for a change of scenery.”

Eddie doesn’t know what to say. He’s well out of his depth and Richie doesn’t seem to want to talk about it any further. The silence gets to him. Twenty-seven years is too long to let Richie sit in silence.

“Why don’t you write your own jokes anymore?”
“What do you mean?”
“You said you don’t write your own material. Why the fuck not?” Eddie insisted.

Richie looks like all the usual retorts flew through his head and he decided on none of them. He lifts his right leg from the floor and swings it over his left.

“Because - fuck your mom. I don’t know. I’m tired. It’s just easier.”
“’It’s just easier.’” Eddie mocks. “Chickenshit. You’re the funniest person I’ve ever known.”
“Just remembering that now?”
“Remember it? I’ve watched all your specials.”
“On Netflix?”
“On Netflix, Comedy Central, even the shit on UPN. When they’d need to put something on at 2am before the South Park and Golden Girls reruns. “Here’s a bunch of coked out losers who didn’t want to put out for the WB so that’s why they’re on UPN.”
“WB wanted fisting. UPN was fine with a dry hand job.”
“Seriously. How the fuck did I forget about this? I worked as a parking garage attendant then and we had this little piece of shit black and white TV from PC Richard’s, and it was that or the radio which had to stay at 660 or the old farts from the Bronx lose their fuckin’ minds they might miss some of the Yankee Stadium drama. Seriously! You’re one of my favorite comedians! I’ve been one of your biggest fans - shit, I’m your first fan. Holy shit.”

Eddie is happy. He claims he is when people aren’t being assholes or he isn’t being threatened with infection or disease. But this is actual happiness, remembering how even though the memory of Richie drifted when he left town, he still found him on the radio, the TV, and the internet, like it was a map to bring him home.

And Richie’s staring at him over his glasses with a look that could melt ice.

“You my number one fan, Eds?” Richie purrs. Eddie claps that happiness away in a vault and drops it to the bottom of the sea.
“No. My mother’s pussy is, remember? After you took her all the way to Beaver Town.”

What the fuck is that even supposed to mean? No wonder Richie became the professional and Eddie settled for shit talk at the bar.

But for some reason Richie cracks up.
“Beaver Town. I forgot I said that.”
“Shit wasn’t funny.”
“I know, but you know what was? When we had to go to church to “pray for our troops in Kuwait” and when the priest said ‘let us pray’, I farted?”

And the two of them are crying laughing like they’re still outside church and forgetting about the beating coming both their ways. Richie is inconsolable and Eddie is remembering this is what it means to laugh.

“I love it,” Richie says.
“What?” Eddie asks nervously.
“That was just my favorite thing.”
“What? Farting or me being your first fan?”
“Nah, just making you laugh. It was my favorite thing in the world.”

Eddie says nothing. He had no idea anyone had ever looked at him like that in his life. All thoughts of the wife go out of his head like she was a Derry memory too. And Richie goes on.

“Oh just like the way your eyes would clench shut and you couldn’t breathe and then you’d just laugh like a sea lion. You couldn’t talk for two minutes, you’d just be laughing and crying and wheezing and waving that inhaler around.”
“How do you know how I laugh?”
“I’m just remembering now. It was –“ Richie keeps laughing at the memory and gasps, “It’s my favorite thing in the world.”
“Really?”
“Yeah, just sucks to know you think I’m like Rogan or Carolla.”

There’s something Eddie couldn’t put into words, but suddenly makes sense now. All the usual stuff he listened to was something that he thought made him happy, but none of them ever made him laugh until his chest hurt. He might chuckle here or there, but he usually felt righteously angry or vindicated at the shared inconvenience one of them felt from their cushy satellite radio job. But Richie’s the only one to make him laugh so hard his wife wanted to call an ambulance.

“No, you’re definitely better than them,” Eddie says softly.
“You sure?”
“Yeah, you’re the only person on Laugh Out Loud who wasn’t talking about getting fucked up or here’s why my wife’s a bitch or what’s the deal with PC culture?”
“Well, crossed that bridge soon enough.”
“What was the Monty Python thing you did?”
“Silly Walks? Yeah a couple of us did that at an autism benefit. The producer wanted us to do the Gumbys, but that would have been a stupid fucking idea.”
“You couldn’t do your own stuff then?”
“Didn’t feel like having the argument and it got me on HBO. And hey, sometimes the tribute’s better than the original. Like Beyonce when she did Kings of Leon.”
“Beyonce did a porno?”
“No, fucking asswipe. She covered a song at Glastonbury.”
“Oh.”
“You haven’t seen Beyonce’s cover of “Sex on Fire”?”
“No. I’m just not into that kind of thing.”
“Black chicks? I fuckin figured you racist Joe Rogan loving piece of shit.”
“Shut the fuck up.”
“You’re not into what?”
“I don’t know. Music.”
“What – who the fuck isn’t into music?”

Richie suddenly types something into his phone and turns it around to show Eddie. He doesn’t even sit up, the lazy bastard. Eddie has to lean over, and squint. He assumes the woman in the video is Beyonce, and the song is familiar. He really recognizes it from a car commercial, but never remembers the brand. And it’s fine. He knows Richie wants him to be excited about it, but it’s just a song.

“It’s good.”
“Right? It’s so fucking incredible. The original’s great, but the way she holds back and then lets go in the chorus? Fuckin’ amazing.”
“Yeah, it’s fine.”
“Caleb Folowell said the cover was so good it made him masturbate to his own song.” Richie looks up at Eddie. “You ever masturbate to my jokes?”

Eddie doesn’t even flinch.

“You. Fuckin. Wish.”

Richie laughs anyway, glad they’re back to shoving each other around. He makes no effort to fix his bad posture and untucked shirt and the scratchy ungroomed hairs Eddie only handled once.

“Seriously, who isn’t into music? What are you?” Richie wonders.
“Boring. Fine. I’m boring.”
“You are not boring, Eddie. A lot of things, but you’ve never been boring.”

There’s something about the knowing way he smiles when Richie takes the phone back to look at something else. He’s not even doing it on purpose this time. But the way he smiles is fucking infuriating.

Eddie shoves himself across the bed and turns around so he’s flat against the headboard and directly next to Richie.

“Move over,” he declares.
“What?” Richie wasn’t expecting this reaction either.
“My back hurts. I can’t slouch anymore. And I’m not sitting in that Madame Alexander shit.”

Eddie jams Richie over so he’s squished between him and the wall, but he doesn’t protest. He never did once Eddie was next to him.

“You smell like a locker room,” Eddie grumbles, trying to beat down any thought he’s having of Richie’s cologne, the must of his body odor, and how much he likes it.
“A day to blow or get blown?” Richie wonders.
“What?!” Eddie panics.
“Nothing. Nothing. Someone else’s joke,” Richie lies.

Eddie takes the phone and tries to open YouTube, but it just opens a whole other menu.

“How do you work this thing? I have a Samsung.”
“Here.”

Richie takes it and watching his fingers fly across the screen makes Eddie’s shoulders scrunch up. His body seems to feel if he makes himself smaller, Richie won’t know, but oh he already does.

“What?” Richie wonders.
“Nothing. Jesus Christ,” Eddie grumbles.
“What are you looking for?”
“Look up the – I don’t know where you were, but just type in your name and I’ll find it.”
“What? Did my hair look good?”
“No, I could tell you wrote your own stuff there.”

Richie scrolls through a bunch of videos about him: a whole life that Eddie suddenly feels sick to have never been part of. There are the morning shows and the late night hosts, the SNL guest spot, the Comedy Carhole, the 40 Watt, bootleg recordings and DVD rips, and Eddie has seen them all.

Eddie invites himself to scroll through and the phone goes too fast, the screen is too sensitive and a clip loads of Richie on Graham Norton with Frankie Boyle and Joan Rivers. It’s chaos and it made him laugh until he cried when he watched it back in the parking lot booth.

And he doesn’t need to look, but he hears that brief inhale of Richie’s mouth opening to a smile, and the rattle as he adjusts his glasses like he always does when he’s nervous.

Neither one of them moves, but Richie talks about what each taping was like and where Eddie was when he watched it and why doesn’t he write his own material anymore when he’s always been the funniest person alive.

They’re not young anymore. No matter how he sits, his back hurts. No matter what he takes, his joints creak. And he falls asleep like he’s twenty years older than he really is. And he’s never able to fall asleep this easily at home.

Eddie wakes up with a crick in his neck, with the smell of expensive shampoo and the touch of soft, familiar curls under his cheek. It’s still the middle of the night. No-one else awake or moving in the building. No asshole clown turning into lepers or mummies or witch paintings. Just the sound of Richie breathing, head curled against Eddie’s cheek, like he was trying to make himself smaller so he’d fit.

It’s a phobia, Eddie tells himself. He knows it’s an irrational fear, occasionally rational fear, of germs. He barely dated he was so terrified of STDs. Even went through a gloves period when he went off his meds. And then believed he didn’t need his prescriptions, got back on the hypochondria cocktail, found someone in group to enable him, and everything seemed normal. The way he always grew up.

And it didn’t count when he met someone at the gym. Woke up early to hit the weights to make up for his height. Wouldn’t even go near the pool with all the nasty shit in there, but there’s that blonde with the curly hair jerking off behind the partition as he watches him lift. If you go to the gym early in the morning at the start of the week, he’ll be there. And he waits for Eddie in the locker room to nudge him to the wall and go down on him, swallowing every trace of what Eddie’s tried to deny. Because blowjobs don’t count, right? If he scrubs and takes all his medication, then he’ll be fine and everyone will think he’s normal.

But there’s Richie’s scalp against his skin, his breathe against his body, unwashed hands somewhere, even shoes on the bed, all of it should be enough to send him flying off the bed and screaming and fussing and scrubbing his hands under the hot water tap until they’re raw and red. To say nothing of the fact that this is Richie, his friend, his favorite comedian, and a GUY, in his bed, sleeping right next to him, sleeping right up AGAINST him, and for the first time in his life, he feels totally fine. Because he remembers all the times they did this before. It is fucking infuriating the curse of this place made him forget.

Until Richie stirs in his sleep, stretches, and rolls over so his face is tucked into his neck, his leg slides across Eddie’s, and he exhales so deeply Eddie’s afraid it’ll wake everyone in Derry. He sighs like it’s the first night in months or maybe years that isn’t coming from a night of drink or pills or after keeping company with shitty people at the Cellar or returning to bed after sending a hook up to their Uber or Lyft. He breathes like this is the only place he can come up for air. And this is where he wants to be.

“Oh –“ Eddie startles as Richie’s arm moves up, and his hand rests on his shoulder. Just curled up enough to have something to hold onto, to keep him anchored in sleep.

“Okay…” Eddie breathes out and in and he’s confused because he isn’t nervous, because a lot of the anxiety suddenly makes sense and memories return like they were walking into a room instead of crashing over a floodgate. Like they were always supposed to be there.

“…okay…”

He remembers the hammock. They always sat across from each other. They would kick for space, or without knowing why, and he can’t remember which one of them called it scissoring to get the other to knock it off. Until one day he just told Richie to move over and he laid down next to him. And they’d just read and shit talk. And the excuse was it was easier to talk to each other and share comic pages that way and there wasn’t the stink of his feet in his face.

And one or the other would fall asleep. For minutes or for hours and the bugs in the earth or the grime of the soil had put their weapons away. Eddie could just exist in the space with Richie beside him and the only fear that took control was wondering if Richie felt the same way. Until they shared a stolen beer at the bridge and Richie was drunk on Michelob and good decision-making and stole that kiss from Eddie. Why the hell did they ever stop?

And it feels fine. A tiny, small little voice somewhere tells him he should get up, he’s supposed to get up, but it’s barely an echo in the complete chasm of calm he feels. For once in his life, the noises and panic are gone, and he’s calm like he was always meant to be.

Richie still has his glasses on. Maybe he’s fine sleeping like that. Maybe he gets drunk and falls asleep, or stays up working on material and falls asleep, or he’s just one of those psychos that can just fall asleep anywhere. Maybe he’s fine.

Looks uncomfortable though. Even though Eddie can remember all the times he’d fall asleep like this. But he still reaches out to put his fingers on the frames and very gently slide them off his nose and ears. There’s that smallest voice that knows it’s just an excuse to touch him.

And Richie opens his eyes.

It’s only a little, but Eddie is in a panic. All that calm turns into a pin straight shot into his stomach. He’s frozen with the heavy frames in his hand and the slight weight of it is suddenly as heavy as the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room.

So do something about it.

“Hey, just taking your glasses off.” Eddie says. Richie blinks and closes his eyes again, but then he moves closer to him, eyes closing in comfort and cheek resting on his shoulder.

“Okay…thanks, man…”

His hand shifts from his shoulder and wraps around Eddie’s arm. Like he’s saying don’t go anywhere. It’s been twenty-seven years and it’s been too long.

Eddie gingerly places the glasses on the nightstand. The small wicker table barely has enough space for the lamp, let alone the hipster frames Richie’s still wearing from 2012. If it tips over, they’ll definitely clatter and there’s no recovering it because Richie’s got him anchored to the bed. It reminds him of that Onion article about shit that falls off the nightstand and the grown men who will deal with it in the morning.

Richie sighs. Eddie’s attention turns back to the more important matter. He’s asleep, but looks so happy.

“You want me to turn the light out?” Eddie asks.
“Noissokay...” Richie mumbles.

And he moves just a fraction, just a hair, so Richie’s body is closer, just a quiet way to invite him to move closer, if he wants…

“You comfy?”
“...yeah mmokay...”

If he takes his hand it’ll be too much. If he moved his arm he could wake up and this would all be a bad dream. It’s been twenty-seven years and maybe it’s just enough to let Richie cling to the side of him like he’s driftwood bringing him back to shore.

Eddie lets his face rest in Richie’s hair. His heart’s supposed to be pounding from terror because of the carcinogens in hair product, from dust mites on his skin, and bacteria everywhere on everything. But it’s gone. Like the om they always talked about when he tried yoga, here was that inner peace. And all feelings of terror went away like a memory of Derry. Except the good ones like this.

“I missed you,” Richie murmurs.
“Missed you too…” Eddie says, almost in a whisper

Maybe he’ll kiss him when he wakes up…

Chapter Text

It starts with the breath.

Breathing out and breathing in. Finding your center. Remembering where you are in the universe. He’s not in class, but he's somewhere safe. It gives him peace. He didn't know he was allowed to have that.

He finds his lips in half-sleep, feels his breath above his mouth as the body realizes this isn’t something dreamed up and it’s moving too quickly out of sleep into action because he needs to pull at his lips and feel the wetness of his tongue and his mouth and know that he’s there.

And it’s the sensation of lips against lips and a moan from someone’s throat that Eddie realizes Richie is awake because Eddie started kissing him.

--

“Are you fucking kidding me??”

It was almost ninety degrees out. The humidity of a northeastern summer was like a phonebook to the face and everyone in Derry had been taken a beating all morning. The Losers were dispersed to summer plans across the country, to the coast, or within the neighborhood. The Kaspbraks would never leave the safety of Derry, and all Eddie had was the seclusion of the clubhouse. The air was stale, it smelled of cigarettes and ass, but Ben’s construction meant the space was insulated and the temperature would drop by ten degrees. It was enough to make Eddie believe he was sitting in front of the fridge; without his mother bitching at him about freon poisoning. He just wanted to peel off his clothes and read comic books in the hammock until the sun went down.

Except the heat wasn’t making him hallucinate. That was definitely Technotronic coming from the clubhouse.

Richie Tozier, that smug son-of-a-bitch, was supposed to be in Portland with his parents doing god knows what. He wasn’t supposed to be in the hammock with his sister’s ghetto blaster playing eurotrash techno, and a six pack of Coke in a melting bucket of ice. Richie looked at Eddie with a bemused patience, like he was Dudley Moore in his top hat and bubble bath, while Eddie stood fussing like a cat fed a new kind of kibble.

“You’re supposed to be in Portland!” Eddie snapped. “Or the Cape! Or wherever the fuck middle class retards spaz out in water wings!”
“Aw, Eds. That’s no way to talk about yourself. You and your off-brand water wings are differently-challenged.” Richie grinned. “And I got here first, so choke on a fat one.”
“Bullshit!” Eddie snapped. “Everybody’s out of town and I was supposed to have the clubhouse to myself instead of sharing the fart sauna with the rest of you! And –“

Eddie marched over to bitch him out, but he recoiled just as fast when he realized Richie was in the hammock wearing nothing but his glasses, an issue of New Mutants, and a layer of sweat.

“And – why the FUCK are you naked?” Eddie shrieked.
“Because it’s summer, Eds. Take a chill pill.”
“A – what??”
“Something from that fucking maraca of a bitch purse to get you to shut the fuck up! I’m trying to read and it’s like a billion degrees! I’m not gonna wear the Looms when it’s this hot out and there’s not supposed to be anyone else here.” Richie scooted down in his seat. Eddie almost fainted.
“You said you were going to Portland!” Eddie squawked.
“I said my parents were going to Portland,” Richie said cooly, snapping a page of his comic book over.
“So?”
“So they were taking my sister to see colleges and there wasn’t enough room for me in the car. Deal.”

Your parents have a station wagon, Eddie wanted to say, was about to say, almost very nearly let slip out of his stupid mouth, but the other 97% of his brain caught up and slammed the door shut on that remark.

“Well, that’s fucking stupid,” was Eddie’s erudite retort. “So where the fuck am I supposed to sit?”
“On your balls. Not my problem.”

Richie loved to wind him up. It made him smirk like the Cheshire Cat, but Richie wasn’t even looking at him. He was studying his comic like there was going to be a test in an hour. Like the goddamn heat of the goddamn pissant asshole Maine summer heatwave was going to stay forever. Like Richie always existed without a scrap of clothing and an allergy to underwear.

Eddie tried to ignore how dizzy he was feeling from the heat, the hike to the clubhouse, and how he and Richie were already yammering like a pair of dogs blocked by a chainlink fence. That was it. The heat. He’d soaked through the heavy polo shirt his mother insisted he wear to keep cancerous UV rays off his skin, his arms were greasy from sunblock, and he was convinced he’d sweat through his shorts so bad it looked like he pissed himself.

“Didn’t Mike leave one of the patio chairs here?” Eddie asked, rooting around the Losers’ repurposed trash, and casually patting his butt to be sure his shorts were dry.
“Yeah, with a Funfetti cake and a popcorn machine.” Richie replied. “I don’t fucking know.” Technotronic went out and C+C Music Factory came in. Gonna make you sweat, indeed. Eddie was sure he saw Richie smirk.

“So what –“ Eddie almost swooned. “JESUS Christ. Fuck it. I don’t care.” Eddie reached up and yanked his polo shirt over his head. Why the fuck did his mother swear by the LL Bean catalogue instead of letting him shop at a normal store? And it had to have been the heat, because Eddie could have sworn Richie had looked at him like he’d dropped his shorts instead of his shirt. But nope. He was studying that comic book like a nun with a Playgirl.

Eddie had a little hair on his chest, but not as much as the other juniors, and he’d finally grown taller, only to cap at five foot eight and three quarters. Richie though…

Richie had cleared his father’s height of six feet. He was staring to look like less of a string bean and more of a default human male, which was helped by how he was all swagger and smiles when he’d get people laughing. He also had more hair on his arms and legs than Wentworth had on his head. He wanted to cut off his hair when one of the girls said he reminded her of Screech, but he settled for a trim when Eddie said he looked more like Keanu Reeves, if he had a decent perm. Richie decided to serenade the school with “Soul Glo” to wild approval and change the conversation from Saved By the Bell.

Richie’s hair was dark, thick, and curly, like clusters of black grapes. He once said if he went swimming, he’d get paint thrown on him by the PETA people. He had hair up his arms, down his legs, and the darkest hairs crept up from under his belt, to around his navel, and up his abs to leave the slightest trace of hair around his nip-

“GodDAMNit. Why won’t the sun go down??” Eddie whined.
“Because all known entities in the universe hate you, Eds.” Richie said.
“What’s your problem?” Eddie asked. “Period come late or early?”
“Nothing.” Richie said.

Eddie hung his shirt up on one of the hooks Ben put up so Eddie would stop having a stroke about the nails that had been there before.

“Weren’t you supposed to be at the arcade blowing your laundry money on Street Fighter?” Eddie asked.
“Street Fighter’s for fags.” Richie snapped another page of the comic. “Bowers’ cousin’s a fag. Video games are bullshit.”
“Jeez, what’s up your butt?” Eddie asked.

Something flapped and smacked Eddie in the ear. It was the comic book. A prized possession of the clubhouse, traded like cigarettes in prison, and lovingly stored after each read, now crumpled and dusty at Eddie’s feet.

“Bitch!” Eddie snapped.
“Shut the fuck up,” Richie snapped back.
“Don’t fucking throw the comics at me! I was just asking you a question!”
“You don’t have to ask it like that.”
“Well, don't leak through the hammock because Bowers’ cousin got on the leaderboard and you didn’t. I didn’t know I was supposed to bring you maxi pads because your cycle went haywire.”
“I said shut the fuck up,” Richie snapped. “And give me back my comic book.”

So come get it, almost very VERY nearly slipped out of Eddie’s mouth, but if Richie stood up, he’d see everything, and being in the room was enough, showering after gym class was already too much, and if Street Fighter, Richie’s absolute favorite video game was for fags, then what would that make –

“Fine.” Eddie snipped, and flicked the comic book back at him so the $1 worth of mutant drama in halftone hit him in the face. Eddie helped himself to one of the soda cans and sat on the milkcrate by one of the clubhouse posts. He held it to his temple and let his hand slide to his neck, holding the ice cold, sweaty can to an artery to bring his temperature down. It seemed to work. He was breathing hard, but at least he could feel air in his lungs instead of feeling like a goldfish out of water. He cracked it open for a sip and the snapping bubbles of the cold, sweet soda burned his tongue. Suddenly the earth wasn’t moving so fast and the sun wasn’t so offended by his existence. The drink was just what he needed. Eddie ran the can back to his head, and then his neck, and he looked up to see Richie was staring at him.

“WHAT?” Eddie snapped.
“You owe me $.50 for that.” Richie said.
“Oh, fuck off. I didn’t blow my load on video games. You could spare a soda.”
“That’s rich coming from you. You could squeeze a nickel until Lincoln shits.”
“Lincoln’s on the penny, butthead!” Eddie laughed.
“Oh my god WHO CARES?” Richie groaned. “It’s too fucking hot!”
“You fuckin –“ Eddie couldn’t breathe he was laughing so hard, “You think Lincoln’s on the nickel? You fucking dingus…”

Richie was finally looking at him. He was smiling. He wasn’t sulking about whatever was pissing him off. He was smiling and embarrassed and turning the pages of his comic normally.

“Shut up. I know Lincoln’s not on the penny,” Richie mumbled as he tried to stop smiling.
“On the nickel!” Eddie laughed.
“Not on the nickel! Okay! Okay!” Richie laughed. “Too fucking hot. And I’m not at school. I don’t have to be smart today.”

Eddie slurped the last of the soda and threw the empty can in the bucket.

“They didn’t have any Ecto-Cooler?” Eddie asked.
“Tell your mom. I’ll get some next time I’m over to go down on her. If I don’t suffocate first.” Richie was back in form.
“It’s alive!” Eddie screeched. “Alive!”
“Oh hallo doctor,” said Richie in his Teri Garr inspired German accent, “vould yoo like a roll in ze hay? Roll! Roll! Ah!”

Richie grabbed the post behind him to stop the hammock. Something creaked and Ben wouldn’t be back until September to repair any damage done to the clubhouse. He somehow stopped the hammock from swinging and bent his knee at the right angle for an alleged attempt at modesty. It was like a burlesque.

More than anything, Eddie just wanted him to move. Richie did move his leg down, but flopped the comic over his junk.

“Hey!” Eddie snapped.
“It was my $1, so it’s my comic. Buy your own copy,” Richie said, waving a hand at him. Didn’t he normally entice Eddie to come and get it? Instead he just closed his eyes and seemed concentrated on something.

“Who are you writing about for summer reading?” Eddie asked.
“You mean who am I CliffNotesing?” Richie clarified.
“Duh.”
“I dunno. What are you doing?”
“Moby Dick?”
“That’s like a billion pages.”
“The Cliffnotes isn’t.”
“Can I copy it?”
“My $1, my Cliffnotes,” Eddie mocked.
“My sister said Melville was gay,” Richie said out of nowhere. That was weird.
“Bullshit,” said Eddie.
“Yeah, he dedicated Moby Dick to his boyfriend. It's in the front.”
“Nathaniel Hawthorne?”
“I guess.”
“The guy wrote about pilgrims. Why would he have a boyfriend?”
“Beats me.”
“If you’re going to go walking around looking like a penguin for Christ, no wonder you’ve got a Pride parade under your dress.”
“Melville was a pilgrim?”
“No,” Eddie sighed. “Shut the fuck up. I can’t think.”
“Why are you thinking about homework?”
“Because it’s too fucking hot!”

They kept coming back to that like it was circling the drain. The cicadas continued to bang on outside the clubhouse, and as long as they were out, the heat wasn’t going anywhere. Eddie tried to breathe deeply, but the soda just made him feel heavy. Richie didn't say anything. Eddie couldn’t stand the silence and decided to fill it with the question that’d been on his mind since Richie’s fit.

“What’s the difference between gay guys and fags?” Eddie asked.

Eddie expected something a punchline from Richie. He didn’t expect Richie to shrug. Why the fuck was he flying off the handle before and completely uninterested now?

“Your parents really left you alone for two weeks?” Eddie asked.
“I guess.” Richie said.
“That’s fucked up.”
“Whatever.”

There was that damn silence again.

“How many times are you going to read that?” Eddie asked.
“Until the ink bleeds or sweats out of the paper into my balls and I forever have Jean Grey tattooed on my junk. I don’t know.”
“Are they still drawing her jugs like cantaloupes?”
“Jugs?” Richie gave Eddie a look. “What are you, from Michigan? Who calls them jugs?”
“Oh, excuse me, did the Titty Gazette put out a press release?” Eddie put on what he thought was a funny voice. “Jugs is very 80s. We’re heading into a whole new century and shall henceforth only be referring to jugs as hooters, boobs, or – what?”

Richie wasn’t even listening to him, or tolerating his one note range of voices compared to his coloratura of cartoon noises. Richie’s eyes were closed, his head tilted back, and he had the lilt of a smile.

“There’s a breeze,” Richie murmured.
“Move!”

If anyone at all was in the slightest range of the clubhouse, they would have heard the unmistakable sound of two Chihuahuas screaming at each other to go fuck themselves. Even after breaking through the walls of puberty, the two gangly idiots continued to sound like hysterical lapdogs ignored by their alcoholic handlers on a hot summer day.

And Eddie would be damned if he wouldn’t get a break on the hottest day of the year. He managed to get one foot in the hammock as Richie punched him in the shin.

“SINCE WHEN ARE YOU SUCH A GODDAMN PRUDE!! GET THE FUCK UP! YOU’VE HAD ALL DAY AND I’VE BEEN SITTING IN MY HOUSE LIKE AN ASSHOLE IN AN EZ-BAKE! GET UP! I DON’T GIVE A SHIT! FUCK YOU, RICHIE –“

“YOU CHEAP GODDAMN ASSHOLE! THERE’S AIR CONDITIONING ALL OVER TOWN! DON’T BITCH AT ME BECAUSE YOU WANTED TO SIT IN THE FOREST’S BUTTHOLE INSTEAD OF THE PHARMACY WITH YOUR GIRLFRIEND!”

“SHE’S NOT MY GIRLFRIEND! SHE’S A BITCH!”

“YOUR DEALER, THEN! FINE!”

“MOVE!”

Eddie grabbed the back of the hammock, shoved his leg under Richie and hoisted the rest of himself in before Richie could shove him out.

“Ah, shit. It’s gone,” Eddie moaned. He flopped his head back in the hammock, which creaked again. At least he was off the floor. He looked up at Richie to see if he was annoyed.

Eddie always won the hammock. By hook or by crook, Eddie got his way, but how was the heatwave bothering Richie so much it gave him such a sour look? They’d shared the hammock plenty of times. Even slept in it side by side. It didn’t mean anything.

Why was Richie so fixated on gay shit today? It wasn’t like he had anything to worry about. It was only that one time they stole a beer from his dad to toast their victory over It. They went for a long walk, laughing and shit talking, all the way out to the bridge. How it was too bad Beverly was moving away, how Bill and Ben had gotten kissed but their loser asses would be single forever. How they should just kiss now and see what the fuss was about because it didn’t mean anything. It would probably feel wet and fatty like slugs.

It felt electric. Like something had brought Eddie to life after a stagnant thirteen years of taking his pills and following orders and trying to wake up something in him by raging against the world. He was drunk and it felt good, and it didn’t mean anything. In the evening, he was sober, and it wouldn’t go away. He spent each year of high school aware of this feeling that curled from his chest to the tips of his toes and the ends of his hair and it made him feel alive. As long as it stayed in his mouth and he never said the words or asked for it again. As long as he remembered it meant nothing. He’d be fine. He’d be normal. He’d be clean.

Richie just looked miserable.

“What are you so fucking nervous for?” asked Eddie.

If Richie was going to be this fucking quiet forever, it was going to make Eddie’s head split open. He reached for the comic book folded over Richie’s junk. It was almost standing upright.

“Give it.”

With one hard swing, Richie swatted Eddie in the arm. Eddie yelled, the hammock creaked, and it crashed to the ground with the two on top. Eddie held his aching head and rolled on his side to see the bottoms of Richie’s feet, the slender cut of his heels into his calves, the back of his thighs, and Eddie found air in his lungs again as he looked up.

Taylor Dayne was blaring out of the radio without a care in the world. But Richie didn’t want to move. He was fine staying on his side, hiding something from Eddie.

“Get out.” Richie said.

For once, Eddie didn’t argue. Whatever was bothering Richie, he didn’t want to talk about it. They talked about everything and Eddie never felt so immediately aware of his surroundings, like he was in the greywater slurry of the sewers.

Eddie walked home through the flesh eating bacteria in the soil and the mold on the trees and the spores in the air, all the way back through all the poisonous toxic shit of New England wanted to kill him until he stepped through the kitchen door of his mother’s clean, pristine home.

He could boil his clothes three times in the washer and burn them in the dryer until every last bit of dirt was gone. And after a very thorough, cold shower where all he touched was soap, he made sure to scrub the hand that reached until it was raw and red and almost bleeding.

It didn’t mean anything. He just wanted to read a comic book.

Fucking hammocks.

Chapter Text

“Oh, fuck…” Eddie moans into Richie’s mouth, which just makes the burly, hairy, middle-aged and still-so-fucking-gorgeous top kiss him again, and wrap his hands around Eddie’s wrists.

What a way to wake up. Maxwell House, Mornings on 1, and the dulcet racket of a finely tuned phone alarm had been the day in and day out for too much of his life. How could he get this instead? Did he need to persuade, plead, or pester Richie into going with him to New York? Or back to LA? Anywhere, just as long as this wasn’t the only time Richie would crush him into the mattress, pin his wrists to the bed, and grind his erection against Eddie’s leg.

"He should choke me with it," Eddie thought, and that one fleeting image of Eddie gagging on Richie’s dick made him whine involuntarily and Richie groan in reply. He wanted Richie to throatfuck him until he was blue in the face. He wanted his cheeks to be stretched sore, wanted to be struggling, drooling, and screaming for air at Richie’s mercy. It was a better cure than any inhaler, the only guaranteed way to get Eddie to shut the fuck up, and he’d make him come so hard he’d go blind.

“Where the fuck have you been?” Richie moans, turning Eddie’s thoughts away from filth and back to sentiment. Oh God, he missed him too. He lets Eddie’s wrists go, drags his hands down to cup his head in his hands. He only looks at Eddie for a moment before kissing him again. The sight of him is too much to bear. How much he’s remembering, and doesn’t want to forget.

Eddie keeps his hands under the pillows and grips the back of the mattress like Richie tied him up with cuffs. No-one’s making him stay there except for him. He wants to be told what to do, to be taken care of, and told everything will be okay if he just follows the rules. And there’s nowhere else he’d rather be than here with Richie, rutting like they were teenagers.

When was the last time they did this?

--

The heatwave broke, the school year started, and the Losers were reunited for the drama of college application bullshit, extracurricular sign-ups, and mandatory D.A.R.E. presentations. The poor well-meaning college students who were there to keep kids off drugs thought Richie wanted a t-shirt to show his commitment to the program.

At least one of them had to have known Richie wanted to wear it to smoke his first spliff of the school year behind the dumpsters for the pure irony of it.

“This shirt means nothing if I can’t get it smelling like Tommy Chong’s shorts,” said Richie as he picked a seed off his tongue. “We’ve got to hotbox something. Stan, you have a car.”
“Don't even think about it,” said Stan, as Richie puffed and passed to him. “I’ve already got my dad on my ass for not applying to Brandeis. I’m not about to give him a reason to send me on a kibbutz.”
“Oh come on. Rabbi Donald doesn’t even use your car. And your mom smokes so many cigarettes she might as well have Joe Camel’s balls in her mouth. She won’t smell anything.”
“Shut the fuck up, Richie.”
“You’re going to let it go out. Are you smoking?” Richie fussed.
“No. Pass.”

Stan passed it to Richie who passed it right on to Mike.

“Pass. My granddad’ll beat my ass if I go to work stoned,” said Mike.
“I thought it was illegal for farmhands to go to work sober,” said Richie.
“For adults, maybe. For me, I better graduate with all As, get back to work, and play bones ‘til I die. Wife optional.”
“Does he make you give Aunt Bunny a kiss?”
“For the last time, not everybody has an adult’s Blockbuster card.” Mike had had this argument with Richie before, but to be fair, Richie had proselytized ‘Delirious’ to everybody.
“How have you still not seen it??” Richie whined.
“Because some of us have to work for a living instead of getting fucked up.”
“I don’t think Eddie Murphy’s that funny anyway,” Eddie said.
“Racist,” said Richie.
“What??” Eddie bellowed. “Mike, come on!”
“I mean…” Mike shrugged with a smirk and left to get to work on time. Although it was mainly to get Eddie all wound up so everybody else would have to deal with him. Sometimes it was the little things.

“That’s bullshit!” Eddie snapped. “I even saw Beverly Hills Cop 3 before school started and it sucked, but I didn’t walk out because I’m not a racist!”
“Oh my god, Eddie. Shut the fuck up,” Stan groaned.

Richie offered him the blunt. Eddie shook his head.

“You sure?” Richie asked.
“That shit smells like a skunk. What happened to your sister’s dealer?”
“Back in college. I think they’re dating, but I don’t know when she’s coming back anyway.” Richie tried not to sound too forlorn, but Eddie always picked up on when he tried to mumble the feeling away.
“Richie, that shit does smell like skunk weed. Whoever you got it from is ripping you off,” said Stan.

Richie spat out another stem and found no motivation to argue, which meant it was working.

“I gotta go,” said Stan. “See you losers later.”

Ben and Bill were tied up with after school sports. Stan had volunteer work at the church to show goyisch colleges he was “well-rounded”, while Mike did in fact have work at the farm.

Richie took another drag on the skunk weed. It smelled fucking terrible, like the shit that got pawned off on freshmen who were lucky enough to not get sold a bag of oregano.

“You just going to spend the day getting fucked up?” Eddie asked.
“Got nothing else going on,” Richie mumbled.

It fucking bothered him. Ugh.

“So what’s Delirious about?” Eddie asked. And it made Richie’s face light up.
“It’s the funniest shit you’ll ever see in your life.”
“Is it still funny when you’re not zonked out?”
“Zonked out. Jesus. What’s up, Gerald Ford?” Richie laughed, and stubbed the blunt out. “Yeah, you’ll like it.”

They went back to Richie’s to get one last play out of the video before having to bring it back to the store. The empty house disturbed Eddie as much as how stoned Richie got by the dumpsters. It made him feel so repulsed by what Richie’s state of mind must be like when there was no-one to welcome him home. But Richie grabbed a bean bag chair for Eddie, returned to the kitchen to get snacks, and it almost felt like home, without the poisonous motivation of his mother’s concern.

“Hey,” Eddie said as Richie sat next to him on the floor.
“What’s up?” Richie asked.
“Are we cool?” Eddie didn’t want to elaborate any further. Richie gave him a look that could have been stoned, confused, or reluctant to say anything further. He hesitated for a moment, then looked away to open the huge bag of half-eaten Doritos.
“Yeah.”

If Richie didn’t want to talk about it and make it clear Eddie shouldn’t have said anything, he would have eaten the bag without another word, instead of offering it to Eddie.

“Got any Ecto-Cooler?” Eddie smirked, treading lightly into their past conversation.
“Your mom’s a fucking prude, Eds. Nothing I can do.” Richie smirked, and hit play on the remote.

True to Richie’s word, ‘Delirious’ was pretty fucking funny, and somehow without having ever seen the special, Eddie discovered they weren’t the only kids who knew the ice cream song. It must be part of playground lore like the Cool S they all drew, or whatever popular trend was commercialized for their parents.

As the video was rewinding, they talked about going to Blockbuster to pick up Wayne’s World or Lethal Weapon 3. Until the phone rang. Richie looked surprised as he reached for it, which only told Eddie he was not expecting anyone to call, even his parents.

“Ah, hello?” Richie asked, in a flawless Jimmy Stewart. “Oh, hello there. No, I can’t say I have seen the young fella…”

Eddie cracked up as Richie used one of his most improved voices to lead on the other caller for as long as he could, until he stared at the dial tone coming out of the earpiece, and hung up.

“Mrs Kaspbrak wants to know when her boy will be home from the war,” Richie said. It was a joke line, but said with such disappointment.
“Shit. Sorry, it’s past dinner time.”
“Edna Turnblad won’t let you stay?” Richie asked as Eddie stepped over him.
“I’d invite you over, but I think you melted into the floor.”
“Oh, don’t say that. My face feels like candlewax.”
“Well, get your sister’s boyfriend to hook you up again.” Eddie put his backpack down and walked back to Richie. “You need a hand?”

Richie rolled his head around. “Nah, I’m good.”
“You sure?”
“Mmhmm.”

Eddie didn’t believe him, but he trusted Richie as much as he trusted his mother’s fit to be right on time if he didn't get his ass home.

“I’ll be around this weekend,” Eddie called from the front door, trying not to sound too eager for Richie’s company after their fight at the treehouse.
“Give Aunt Bunny a kiss for me!” Richie called back. Eddie wailed from the door and Richie wailed back until they burst out laughing. If there was a contact high from happiness, Eddie was feeling it. It carried him all the way back to his front porch, where the silhouette of his mother took shape in the doorway.

“You need to call me if you’re going to be home late,” she said, trembling and shaking her head as Eddie walked inside. “I didn’t know where you were. You could have been kidnapped. You could have been raped. You abandoned me here to think God knows what.”
“Sorry. We were just hanging out.”
“Doing what?”
“Watching a movie. Geez.”
“You smell like funny cigarettes.”
“I’ll smoke a serious one next time.”
“Don’t you dare take that tone with me!”

The contact high of happiness came with side effects of emulating behavior of the one who made you smile, up to and including the person’s flavor of sarcastic remarks. The stuff said by Richie in hopes one of his parents would notice him, only got Eddie a furious verbal ass kicking.

But the perks of illicit feelings of joy meant the usual Kaspbrak venom dispersed in guilt trips only had antivenoms waiting for it. Eddie gave her all the apologies she wanted to hear, kissed her on the cheek, and said he was going to go do his homework. He felt fine.

Until he remembered Richie was all alone in that house and it made Eddie feel sick.

Despite the guilt trips of Mama Kasp, the new title bestowed on her by Richie who was now on a 60s music mood for some reason, Eddie tried to keep his after school time open to keep Richie company. He was Richie’s closest friend after Stan, but even he was too busy with college prep to hang out. They went to Blockbuster and Eddie let Richie indulge him with all sorts of shit from Criterion Collection to slasher movies. And true to form, they bitched furiously with each other about every disagreement like one of them would get a prize for most persuasive “eat shit, fartknocker.”

Autumn arrived with its usual bluster and unnecessarily cold wind to remind everyone they should have been grateful for the heat while they had it. Here began the season of corduroys, cable knit sweaters, and layers of wool against the impending Maine winter. By some good fortune, Ms Kaspbrak made her last schlep into town before hibernating in the house for the rest of the year and commanding Eddie to run her errands. He found himself alone at home, and decided to make good use of the time.

The walls were made of paper in the Kaspbrak’s Sears Catalog Home. If he ever got a moment to himself, he had to be damn sure his mother was on a rare venture out of the house. The older they got, the more she wanted to grow into her chair and never move. Eddie had to make excuses for abandoning all errands, or drop hints of lottery numbers or church gossip to get her up and out of the house. It was just his luck she was out for hours today.

He slipped into the bathroom as quiet as a mouse, like the place was bugged and the FBI would page his mother at the supermarket that her boy was engaging in self-abuse. Sometimes he would just sit and enjoy the silence without a nagging question of what he was doing in there. No matter how many times he was taking a shit or taking a shower, there would come the suspicious whining of “are you okay? Do you need any help?”. She probably didn’t even think he was whacking it. She was likely more concerned he was trying to crawl through the bathroom drain and into freedom. Lucky for her she didn’t know why Eddie never wanted to set foot in the sewer again. He peeled off his jeans and shirt for a quick shower and easy alibi, and grabbed one of the magazines off the toilet reading shelf.

Between the Redbooks and Better Homes and Gardens, there was a lone Vogue. An impulse buy when his mother was feeling particularly down about her looks and life, or at least suddenly conscious of how it was just downhill for her from here. The September issue was the size of a phonebook and for a second, Eddie was surprised to see a guy on the cover. Only to see the cover said it was Linda Evangelista. Jesus, everybody was looking like boys when they were girls and girls who looked like boys. It was like that Blur song Richie kept listening to.

Eddie looked at himself in the mirror fixed to the back of the bathroom door. He was never going to be one of those bulky guys on the football team. Even if he ate pizza, steak, and protein shakes three times a day, he’d stay rail thin and a girl’s height. It was complete and total bullshit. No wonder he was still a virgin at seventeen. He flipped through the magazine to see if there was anything interesting in the ads. Only to be startled by the smirk of:

‘do you have Calvin Klein underwear on?’

“No, I don’t, Marky Mark.” Eddie thought to himself. “I’ve got drugstore jockeys that I wear until the first shitstain and then mommy buys a new pack because fuck my life.” The white trash rapper from Southie wore enormous white boxer-briefs. They didn’t even look like underwear. It looked like that shit Mormons wear. What was the point of being in an underwear ad if you weren’t even wearing something you could jerk off to?

Why the hell did he think of that?

Kate Moss wasn’t much to look at either. Never thought supermodels could get gigs like that if they didn’t have tits. She was skinnier than Eddie.

“You look like a whippet,” Richie had said. Apparently it was a kind of dog, like a smaller version of a greyhound, but more neurotic. He had no idea what that was supposed to mean, but Eddie didn’t think he was ugly. If she could be an underwear model, so he could he.

Eddie hooked a thumb in the band of his briefs and edged it past his hips. A pelvic bone stuck out, almost suggestively. He wasn’t skinny like a dork, all knobby joints and bad posture. He was kind of slender, more sinewy muscle and long limbs. Jesus, his neck was probably longer than his legs. His eyes were too dark and deep, much like his hair, which was flopping around his face. Richie said he looked like someone called Hugh Grant, some British actor who did those Merchant Ivory movies. Eddie was wondering if Richie had more friends inside a video cassette than he did outside the Losers Club.

Ben just said Eddie looked like a silent movie actor from the Weimar Era. That got a positive reaction out of Richie, so it was probably a good thing, even if he thought Caligari was a pizza place.

Eddie stared at his reflection in the incandescent light of the puke green bathroom tile of his mother’s house, and wondered if he’d ever have any friends after high school. Would he ever have a girlfriend who liked that he looked like an old movie actor and didn’t know what he was doing? Somebody probably got off to that. God knows who.

Eddie flipped through the magazine. Christy Turlington, Stephanie Seymour, Cindy Crawford…she did have that spectacular Pepsi ad that made Richie squawk from glee. Was he still dating that chick from geometry? Probably not if he was spending so much time with Eddie instead of making excuses for why he couldn’t hang out. Cindy did have a great head of hair, but apart from that, it wasn’t doing much for him. Nothing in there did.

So much for private time. At least he got the house to himself. It wasn’t as awful as Richie’s place because at least he was glad to have his mother away. As he put the magazine back, his thumb slipped and it fell open to the naked chest of a man. His arms were stretched above and out of frame with his head, dark nipples framed text reading ‘for the body’, and his Adonis belt dipped lower and lower past the end of the page, with short dark hairs that trickled down from his navel to his cropped out cock.

‘Obsession for Men’

Well, Jesus, Calvin Klein, if you were going to put it like that…

Eddie put the magazine on the toilet lid, dropped his briefs, grabbed a small pump of hand lotion, and stepped into the shower, half-hard.

It didn’t mean anything. Sometimes you just got turned on by weird stuff. There are guys who are into feet or getting pissed on or getting a diaper changed. There’s all kinds of weird shit people get turned on by. If it really bothered him, he would close the magazine, and go do something else until the feeling went away.

Eddie just wanted to get off. He didn’t give a shit at this point. She was going to be home soon, he never got any privacy, he was going to die a virgin, and it didn’t mean anything if he had to look at a picture of an aftershave ad to get an orgasm.

It felt better to sit down. If you had to concentrate on standing, it took time away from enjoying yourself. Eddie sat down in the tub and jerked faster. You weren’t supposed to rush it, but he just wanted to get it over with. He told himself that, but he also wanted to slow down, take his time, shift his grip as he moved up and down his dick so it wasn’t just one hard motion. For someone who was too short, too skinny, he was pretty hung. His erection grazed just below his navel, and he almost couldn’t touch his finger tips to each other when he had his hand around his cock.

What did it feel like to get your dick sucked? Why did his mind always go to that? Never pussy or tits or what it must feel like fucking a girl. Probably all squeals and weird faces and noises like the chick in that porno they found in Bill’s parents’ stash. They probably all didn’t look like that, but if that’s what guys were into, he didn’t want any part of it. He didn’t know what else his options would be.

Well, this was annoying. He was getting soft. Eddie focused on just jerking off. No moving his hand slower or faster or massaging his dick in different ways. Just get off and go do something else. Think of something so it’s over and done with. Like what if that guy in the ad was getting his dick sucked and that’s why they cut the picture off.

Common sense could have told Eddie no publication that didn’t want to be sold on the top shelf and in a brown paper bag would ever show someone getting their dick sucked, but any blood left in Eddie’s brain had drained to his cock. He groaned and the noise echoed in the army tile bathroom.

Precome drooled onto his pelvis and the cut of his hips made Eddie realize he may not have been as thick and ripped as the model, but he had that V-shape cut into his pelvis that drew eyes to his groin, and the jut of hip bones in his slender body.

“Handlebars,” Richie had called them.

Eddie tilted over so suddenly he almost hit his head on the faucet. He crawled onto his knees and bit his lip as he pulled faster. He wanted to be on all fours. Lying back wasn’t enough. He needed to be on his hands and knees with his burning cock in his hand, moaning noisily in the echo of the bathtub, rocking slightly like someone else was making him move. Like there was a mouth on his cock, or someone behind him with hands on his hips, holding onto him and deciding how fast they were going to go and what direction he’d be taken.

He could get to where he was going if he was willing to think about it. If he thought about whoever that was in the picture, stretched out, casually, sweaty, on a hot summer day.

Like Richie in the hammock, wearing nothing but a layer of sweat as he looked at Eddie and didn't want him to see what he was hiding under the book, like he had been hard the whole time waiting for him.

Eddie cried out so loudly as he came he didn’t care if someone came bursting through the door. Any remaining doubts in him were exorcised with each gasp, shudder, and moan as come spat out of his cock and drizzled over his fingers. He was thinking of his tongue cleaning it up, like an ice cream cone. A tongue and lips and a smile to swallow. There was one lingering doubt that tried to hold onto his mind.

It doesn’t mean anything.

“But I want it to…” Eddie thought.

Well, shit.

He was alone, in his house, on all fours, in the bathtub, with a raw, red dick and a puddle of jizz underneath him. It was easy to clean up, hide what he was doing, and send her suspicions on another track when she got home, but now Eddie only had himself to answer to and he wanted more than an adolescent kiss fueled by beer.

The question was if Richie could give him that answer.

Chapter Text

Richie is 6’2”, pale from working the night shift of comedy clubs and talk shows, paunchy from surviving off carbs both solid and liquid in his early 40s, and his long curly hair was starting to thin. And his smile made Eddie’s heart burst. Eddie ignored aching joints and sore shoulders from sleeping two to a twin bed to push himself up to sit against the headboard so Richie could straddle his lap. He’s got these brown eyes you could drown in and his smile could set you on fire.

“Jesus, I fucking missed you,” Richie murmurs, so love sick and delirious with joy it numbs any feeling of regret for the last twenty-seven years.

Eddie doesn’t know what to say, too overwhelmed by what’s coming back to him that he goes limp as a kitten when Richie holds him and kisses him and won’t stop.

--

Eddie hadn’t said anything. It was so much easier to imagine how the conversation would go in the privacy of the bathroom during a screaming hot shower, in the quiet moments of the morning before school with a handful of tissue, and if anyone asked, he just wanted to keep his hands moisturized before winter made them as chapped as a crocodile’s ass.

Richie’s parents resurfaced in mid-September. Things had gotten better since they were around more often. Sometimes they would dip out to Portland for his sister’s track meets, or elsewhere in the state to support her, but for the first semester of school, they’d been home more often. They even bought Richie a TV and VCR for his room to make up the absences to him, and because they said they wanted to support his film studies.

He wasn’t smoking as much, which was nice, and he was more fun to be around when he was all there. The Losers said so too and Richie reminded them it meant he would be more mentally agile at verbally kicking their asses. But no matter which one of them he roasted, they all fell apart laughing and lauded him for more. They pestered each other about college applications, or who they were taking to prom when they all knew they’d wind up renting suits to go to the movies. Sometimes in the breaks between school shit and Richie’s jokes, Ben read letters from Beverly or Stan and Mike yammered away about something they found in the library. Even Bill could be persuaded to read pages of what he was writing. The really dark stuff stayed in his drawer, but they knew when he was comfortable enough to share what Georgie’s death inspired, they’d be ready.

What remained routine was Eddie in lock step with Richie. He didn’t like feeling like he was paddling after him like a dog, but it felt better to be in his company than leave him alone to do who knows what. The trips to Blockbuster had become a regular thing until Richie would just go without him and have the stuff ready to go. Sometimes there were tapes in other languages or from the library or from branches Eddie had never heard of. It was early into December when Eddie was over at Richie’s. Winter had settled into its familiar ass-biting cold, and they were watching one of those Criterion Collection flicks that always took weeks to show up. Eddie was stretched out on the bed, which should have been enough to make him pass out from want. Except Richie was sitting in his desk chair, fixated on the film, and hadn’t looked at Eddie since he sat down.

Sometimes Eddie would tell himself he had to say something or he could never talk to Richie again. Other times it didn’t matter and it didn’t mean anything. Only for Richie to look at him or mention something and that pit of longing opened up in him again.

Eddie was totally not into the movie, but he wasn’t in a rush to go home. There had been a few other movies he didn’t think he’d like, but Maurice wasn’t about to join that list. M sounded cool, looked boring, but it turned out to be pretty intense for a black and white movie. He expected to be bored to death by that Italian movie in French about Algeria, but he had to pee the whole time and couldn’t get out of the chair until the whole three hours were over. Meanwhile, for all of Richie’s assurances this was a super controversial movie, there wasn’t much going on.

If this was how gay guys acted, maybe he wasn't one of them. Were they supposed to go to highfalutin colleges, lounge around on couches in tweed suits, and look longingly at each other? Didn’t any of them get horny? Eddie couldn’t imagine having to date people out of a PBS murder mystery if he wanted to get his dick sucked. Maybe he could just be like those guys who had girlfriends, but just for appearances? He didn’t need to get his dick sucked that bad if it meant he had to learn about cricket.

Richie hadn’t moved from his desk chair. He was slouched so far in his seat, his neck had disappeared into his shirt, and his ass was almost at the edge of the chair. His hands were folded on his stomach, and he wasn’t moving a muscle. The only signs of life were when he’d scratch his nose or exhale suddenly.

What was the point of Eddie being stretched out on the bed if Richie wasn’t going to look at him? He had to do something about it.

“Are all these fuckin’ fairies gonna do is hug or are Scudder and Maurice gonna bang?” Eddie bitched. Richie shrugged.
“I dunno. I’ve never seen this one.”

Eddie had a sneaking suspicion Richie had broken with his one-and-done rule about movie rentals and seen this more than once. He was silent as the grave from the first scene on the beach. No commentary, no discussion about school, no reaction to anything on screen, leaving Eddie to nervously laugh when that one guy had hugged the other one in the squeaky chair. Eddie pressed on.

“It’s like why give an R rating for something if they’re just hugging with their clothes on? The Lion King had a fuck scene and that still got a G rating.”

Richie didn’t say anything. If Eddie was talking too much they would have started bickering by now, or he would have been shushed. What the hell did he say to go too far? But Richie finally turned to look at him, his glasses illuminated by the TV. The only sign of his reaction was the crook of his mouth and eyebrows.

The Lion King had a fuck scene?” he asked. Eddie gave him a look.
“Yeah. Obviously.”
“Obviously where? Were Timon and Pumbaa going down on each other when I went for Skittles?”
“No, when the, what’s her name, Nala?”
“Yeah.”
“Yeah, during “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”. When Nala and Simba are running around and then they’re making out by the waterfall.”
“And what? ‘The love’ is his penis?”
“Duh.”
“You jerk off to some weird shit, my dude.” Richie turned around just in time to not see the pillow Eddie belted at his head. It hit him so hard he almost tipped out of his chair, to Eddie’s delight. Richie grabbed the pillow and threw it back at Eddie. But it didn’t go any further.

Wasn’t Richie supposed to see how skinny and cut Eddie was from growing up eating healthy and moving shit around the house? He was all long legs and slender arms and finally in jeans and t-shirt that fit? Didn't Richie want to crawl all over him, pin him to the bed, and make Eddie come untouched?

He didn’t know how the hell that was supposed to happen. The adults of Derry couldn’t give two farts about the safety of Derry’s children, but they for damn sure knew their names, where they went to school, who their parents were, and they always lunged to outdo each other with gossip and tattling and keeping each other informed until the parent was last to know their child was a deviant.

Suffice to say, finding gay porn to look at in Derry was im-fucking-possible for poor, horny, desperate Eddie. The general stores would never carry the stuff, there was only one shop that had titty magazines and they were all behind the counter, and Eddie had already spent so much time at the library looking at everything from reproductive health to ancient Greek art, he was sure Ben and Mike knew what was up.

The extent of Eddie’s sexual education, outside of the blue insults hurled back and forth on the playground, was a fervent lecture from teacher, principal, and priest about how it was dirty, awful, sinful stuff. And once you left for college, you’d better find yourself a girlfriend, get married, and have kids, or everyone will think you’re light in the loafers. What a goal in life to grow up to be one of the fatass ugly alcoholic jerk-offs who got married so they’d have someone to bitch about at the bar.

Or he could grow up to be one of these British weirdos.

“Why’d you want to watch this anyway?” Eddie asked.
“Because not everything has to be bloody knives and big titties, r-tard. Get some culture,” said Richie.
“R-Tard. That’s real cultured. Are you into this stuff or something?”
“No. It’s just a movie.”
“You sure you don’t want to make out or something?”
“Ew. No.”

WELL, FUCK.

Eddie felt every inch of his body start to calcify. For someone who was so furiously judgmental of the guys in this movie for doing something he wanted to do, it felt like someone had turned him into glass and dropped him on a hard floor. What was the fucking point of spending all this time with Richie if he didn't even want to look at him or think he was worth looking at?

Richie said nothing further. Neither did Eddie. Scudder and Maurice did in fact, bang, and actually went on to live happily ever after. Credits rolled and Richie sat up to rub his eyes.

“Shit.” Eddie had looked out the window and saw it had been snowing for some time. The ground was covered in a few inches that was sticking pretty quickly. Nobody had started shoveling so the whole of Richie’s neighborhood looked like fondant on a wedding cake. Everyone must have been eating dinner or watching TV.

“My mother’s going to kill me if I get stuck in the storm,” Eddie said.
“I’ll walk you,” said Richie as he ejected the video tape.
“What? You sure?”
“Yeah. It’s no biggie.”

Richie left the room before Eddie could pry any further. He walked downstairs and pulled his jean jacket from the coat hook where he had tossed it on his way in. Richie gave him a look as he looked for his own.

“That’s all you’re wearing?” Richie asked.
“It wasn’t that cold when I came over,” Eddie said, as he pulled a scarf and hat out of the sleeve.
“You want to borrow a pair of boots?” Richie asked.
“I’m fine,” said Eddie.
“You sure?”
“Yes!”

Richie pulled on a winter coat in royal purple, teal, and magenta triangles. Even after watching the Merchant Ivory TV-friendly homo porno, it was the gayest thing Eddie had ever seen.

“Jesus. Didn’t know Cosby had a ski jacket line,” Eddie grumbled. “Or is it the Magic Eye collection?”
“Aw, Eds, your mom got it for me for Christmas. She’d be heartbroken if she never saw me wear it.”
“You need new material,” Eddie grumbled.
“Bye mom,” Richie called to the distant sound of the living room TV and the clatter of dishes in the sink.
“Bye Mrs Tozier.” Eddie called. A full head of blonde hair swung out of the kitchen.
“Bye Eddie! It was nice seeing you!” she called back.

Eddie really hated the look on Richie’s face, that Eddie got more attention in that parting than Richie probably got all year. The thoughts got swept away as Richie pushed the patio door open and they stepped into the furious cold of the first storm of the season.

“Fuuuuuck me,” Eddie whined, shoving his hands into his pits. It kept him a little warm, but he knew the further they walked, the less it would do.
“Come on,” called Richie. He was already at the gate to the sidewalk.
“Don’t fucking ditch me!” Eddie snapped. “There could be ice on the stairs! I’m not about to crack my head open.”

Richie turned and waited by the gate as Eddie gingerly took each non-icy but potentially secretly icy step to the path.

“Let’s go. I don’t want your mom to think I was getting you pregnant.”

The supposedly-hypothetical-could-have-entirely-have-been-there-black ice didn’t knock Eddie on his ass and smack his head open, but the sudden mental image of Richie’s huge hard dick, slick with lube, fucking him in the ass in the privacy of his bedroom, almost made him topple over. They were up there for hours and Eddie could have been face down, ass up, hands twisted in the sheets and whining for more as Richie wrapped a hand in his hair and pounded him in the ass until Eddie begged him to come.

Richie, fully dressed, waiting at the gate, and having spent the whole time in his room pointedly not even looking at Eddie, rolled his eyes and loudly sighed.

“I’m fucking kidding! Let’s go, Eduardo! Ándele!”

Richie swung the gate open and walked down the sidewalk.

“Wait for me!” Eddie whined, and immediately wished for death on hearing how stupid he sounded.

Eddie scurried to catch up to Richie’s long legged gait. A few people were out throwing down salt and kitty litter to deal with the snow. There was already about four inches on the ground, and a plow appeared from the road to Eddie’s neighborhood, pushing the snow to the side with plumes of diesel smoke for effect. Maine did not fuck around with inclement weather. They’d find any excuse to make sure the kids had to go to school tomorrow. Hell, they’d probably summon Pennywise to cancel a snow day.

Eddie shoved his hands in his pockets. It did nothing. The wind went through denim like it was linen, and cut into his bones with a razor’s finesse. It was a short walk, and a decent walk, but twenty minutes in the cold and snow was going to colossally suck. They walked in silence through the neighborhood, too cold to talk, until Richie made the first move.

“So you want me to lay off your mom?”

Eddie didn’t exactly care about that, but he shrugged.

“Well, if you’re going to do comedy, you can’t exactly go on stage and do ten minutes about her if nobody in New York knows who she is.”
“Sure they do. She’s in the Macy’s Parade behind Charlie Brown every Thanksgiving–“

Richie didn’t expect Eddie to shove him so hard he’d land ass first in the snow, but the look on Eddie’s face made him laugh his ass off.

“Shut the fuck up, asswipe!”

Eddie stormed on ahead without him. He really didn’t give a shit about what Richie said. Just that it was so fucking old hat. Maybe it always felt like a jab at him instead of her. Why couldn’t he just say something nice? Didn’t he like anything about Eddie? Was he just the one loser who agreed to hang out and that’s why they were friends?

“Hang on. I’m stuck.”
“Good.” Eddie stopped and saw Richie try to pick himself up with one hand. His right hand was still in his jacket pocket.
“What’s in your pocket?” A dildo? Eddie almost said. He wouldn’t ever dare to say anything suggesting Richie was gay, because it almost always made him fly off the handle, shut up into silence, or say something nastier in return.
“I gotta bring the video back.” Richie said, pushing himself to his feet, brushing the snow and dirt off his pants.
“To Blockbuster? That’s like three miles. You’ll freeze your ass off.”
“Nah, I borrowed it from Ben. He and Mike work at the library, hook me up with the arthouse stuff from other branches that Blockbuster doesn’t carry, I get them weed, and –“
“Those two dingleberries smoke?” Eddie barked. “They’re such goody two-shoe squeaky clean Rod and Todd Flanders fuckin’ dorks. No way they smoke weed.”
“Well, they’d have to get high to put up with your shit,” said Richie.
“Put up with our shit,” Eddie involuntarily corrected.
“Pretty much,” Richie laughed.

Eddie wanted to explain himself, why he even bothered saying ‘our’, but he just felt guilty about shitting on two of the few decent people he knew in Derry.
“They’re not dingleberries,” Eddie said. “They’re nice. I don’t know why I said that.”
“Because you’re an asshole,” said Richie. “And they know you’re an asshole, but they like you because they’re nice.”
“And I’m cute cute cute?” Eddie asked.
“Sure,” said Richie. Well, that felt fucking lousy. He used to say it all the time and barely said it anymore.
“You think they just put up with me?” asked Eddie. “Cause we’ve known each other for so long, like it’s just easier to deal with it until they go to college?”
“Nah, they think you’re funny. And you’re a good friend. They’re not like my parents,” said Richie.
“Your parents aren’t that bad,” said Eddie, trying to persuade himself as he said it. Richie just got that same miserable look on his face he had when they left the house, and too many times before.
“I don’t know,” Richie said. “Sometimes you can just fucking tell when they’re counting down the days until I’m out of the house and they don’t have to listen to me anymore.”

A number of things just made sense. It repulsed Eddie, but he understood why his parents were so often gone. With his sister at college, they’d be around more in Derry to spend time with Richie. Instead, Wentworth went to dental seminars and Maggie went with him. It’d be the perfect excuse for him to have an affair and for her to start drinking, but instead they wanted to be together and away from their son. Richie had every kid’s dream of a free rein, unsupervised house. And it made Richie so fucking miserable from loneliness Eddie couldn’t believe he was still alive. No wonder he wanted to walk with Eddie instead of stay at home.

There were maybe six months left before they all left town for college or a dead-end job or whatever else was in store for the rest of their lives. There was prom on the horizon, essays and financial aid to stress over, even the last moments of “our little boy is all grown up.” Instead they couldn’t wait to start living life like he was already gone. Richie must have spent so much time alone he didn’t think he deserved to be with someone. Eddie just happened to be the one who always made time for him, no matter what.

Eddie should have kissed him in the warm solitude of Richie’s room. He wanted to kiss him right there in the snow. He wanted Richie to realize he would always be here and he could have used words to say it, but why not do it by kissing the guy he could spend hours, weeks, days, maybe even years with?

“OOF – fuck!”

Except Eddie slipped and got his leg stuck in a snow bank. The shit was packed in so deeply he was scared it already ate his sneaker. His cursing echoed through the trees and into the sky and nothing replied.

“Goddamn fucking bitch ass bullshit Maine and goddamn New England snow,” Eddie growled as he tugged on his leg.
“Told you you should have wore boots,” said Richie.
“Will you stop gawking at me like an asshole and help me?” Eddie barked. “I’m gonna get frostbite and-AAGH!” Eddie slipped and landed on his ass. “God DAMN it!”
“It’s the fastest, nicest way to die, lying in the snow,” said Richie, as he took his time wandering over to Eddie. “Just think nice, relaxing thoughts, and you’ll get sleepy, veeeery sleepy…” Richie grinned and waved his hands at him.
“You’re a fucking broken record, Richie! Nothing but yo mama lines and old Jewish comedian jokes! UPN would love you as their token white guy!” Eddie snarled. Richie grabbed Eddie’s hand and pulled him to his feet.
“Keep bitching. You’ll freeze to death if you get comfy,” said Richie.
“My ass is soaked. There’s nothing comfy about dying with a cold, wet ass,” Eddie grumbled as he slapped the snow off his ass.
“You could be like those guys who die on Everest and everyone finds their way to the top by following the color of the clothes they wore when they died.”
The thought made Eddie shudder, as well as the wind snapping through the wet spots on his jeans.
“So fucking glad I didn’t know about those things until after that goddamn clown went away.”
“The Borscht Belt?”
“No, the Everest corpses.”
“Good. I was gonna say…”
“Don’t you dare.”
“Fuckin’ racist.”

Eddie shoved Richie again, but the taller of them was prepared and knocked Eddie down again. He landed hands first in the snow and his hands were so cold they almost burned.

“Okay seriously, this isn’t funny. I’m fucking freezing,” Eddie griped. Richie helped him up again, but Eddie didn’t let go, and he shoved both of their hands into Richie’s coat pocket.
“What the hell?” Richie said.
“I’m fucking cold. I’m not going to freeze to death and if this is the only way I stay warm, so fucking be it,” Eddie snipped.
“Why? Is it your jerking off hand?”

Richie tried pulling his hand out of his pocket, but Eddie grabbed it.

“I’m letting you have the pocket for yourself!” Richie snapped.
“Keep yours in there and it’ll stay warm and then I won’t lose my fingers and my mom won’t have to sue your ass.”
“Yeah, for all of my parents’ credit card debt and a never ending mortgage. Enjoy putting out for Bangor Savings. They love ornery little bitches like you.”

Eddie yanked Richie by the pocket and he walked forward. They went side by side, burrowed against the cold, with Eddie’s hand against Richie’s in the purple puffy jacket’s pocket.

“So how’s this gonna look?” Richie asked.
“Like you’re walking your girlfriend home and Richie Tozier’s finally getting some action. You’re welcome.” Eddie snapped.

Richie didn’t argue. It probably would have worked. Eddie’s hair was getting so shaggy he looked like he belonged in a grunge band. Richie could have told Eddie The Sugarcubes or Depeche Mode or Madonna were grunge, and Eddie would have just nodded. He just thought grunge meant he looked like he needed a shower and a haircut, but if Richie liked it, he wasn’t in any real rush.

“You think I could make it in New York?” Richie asked.
“Well, yeah,” Eddie said. It was a fact as obvious as The Lion King fuck scene. “You’re the funniest person in school, and when you don’t fall back on easy shit to make fun of, your jokes get better.” He shrugged. “Like, you’re always funny, but when you really come up with something new, it’s like hearing you invent a new word that’s going to go right in the dictionary.”

Eddie was startled his arm was pulled, but he looked back to see it was because Richie had stopped walking. And he was looking at him like Eddie had told him he loved him. Eddie was certain he turned scarlet as he racked his brain make sure he hadn’t said anything like that.

“What?” Eddie grumbled.
“Really?” Richie asked, almost breathless.
“Really – what? What really?”
“That it’s like I’m inventing new words.”
“Well, yeah, basically. It’s like we don’t know how to put something we do every day into words, and the way you can make a sentence out of it is like, oh fucking duh. Put that in the dictionary.”

He’d fucked up. He hadn’t explained it right. Richie looked at him like Eddie had dropped to one knee with a diamond ring or cufflinks or whatever it is dudes give to each other if they want to be together forever. It couldn’t be words or feelings or something true. It definitely couldn’t be an observation that made Richie stare at him with something that seemed like love. That all the noise that poured out of his mouth was heard and absorbed and someone could tell him why it mattered. He kept staring at Eddie. Why wasn’t Richie talking??

“WHAT?” Eddie screeched. He wasn’t even annoyed with Richie. He was just fucking terrified he’d broken something in him. Richie blinked a few times, looked away, and smiled softly.
“Nothing, Jesus. Just didn’t know I was any good.”
“What do you think everybody’s laughing for at lunch?”
“I don’t know. I do a really good superintendent?”
“Well, yeah, but all the other voices, and the observational stuff, which I know is hard, and your imitations are good, but you’re like really funny.” Eddie laughed nervously. Why didn’t Richie know all this already? He was the smart one and the funny one. Eddie shrugged. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life.”

It finally didn’t seem weird they were still holding hands. It felt like something they’d always done. They were made for it. Just like it made sense for Eddie to declare his uncertainty about his future into the cold of winter and to the confidence of his best friend.

“You’ll find something,” said Richie. “It’s just high school. They’ve got to get on your ass about it so you don’t get someone pregnant during prom and wind up pumping gas for a living. It’s bad for property values.”

“I won’t. I’ll– aaaHH FUCK this wind!” Eddie recoiled from the wind that kicked down the road and into the back of his neck.

And before Eddie could react, Richie had pulled him into a hug, took his hand out of the pocket with the video cassette, and wrapped it around Eddie’s neck so the wind wouldn’t make him so cold anymore. Eddie wanted to vomit from terror. Did he know? Why the fuck was he doing this? When had they ever hugged like this? Okay, they’d hugged before, plenty of times, over all kinds of things, but now that Eddie knew what he felt, then that meant Richie would definitely know. Right?

Was this why those English fruitcakes in that movie were always hugging? Because it felt pretty good. It felt like home. It didn’t feel like rigidity and control, or smell like PineSol and bleach. It felt warm, and safe, and it smelled like Richie’s deodorant. The stuff smelled like a spicy, medicinal inhaler on other idiots who sprayed it on their clothes, but Richie always put it right up against his skin. Why would anyone want to smoke weed when the smell of Richie’s body could make anyone high?

“Promise me I won’t die in this fucking town,” Eddie murmured.

Richie was silent. All Eddie could hear in that moment was the soft fall of snow.

“You won’t,” Richie said softly. He sounded almost moved by Eddie’s confession.
“I mean it,” said Eddie. “I don’t want to be one of these fucking toe suckers who gets a job selling cars or stocking shelves because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to be until I was forty.”
“You could work at the pharmacy. You’ve already got intimate knowledge of everything on the shelves.”
“Yeah, peddling placebos to the next loser.”
“Gazebos,” Richie grinned.
“What?” Eddie looked up at Richie. He was smiling. His glasses were starting to fog, his cheeks were flushed from the cold, and there was snow in his hair.
“Gazebos, remember?”

And they burst out laughing.

“I’ve got to get the fuck out of here,” said Eddie.
“So come with me,” Richie said.
“Bullshit.”
“I mean it. I’ll need an assistant.”
“So I can swish around in a French maid’s outfit in some crackhouse in the Bronx while you’re out with the boys instead of working on your set?”
“You got the legs for a French maid’s outfit.”
“You fucking wish.”

They were laughing. They weren’t worried about the tension, or the unsaid shit about implying one or the other was gay.

“You wouldn’t be so bad to come home to,” said Eddie.
“That’s not what the song’s called.”

Well, that just sucked the air out of the moment. Eddie pulled back to look up at Richie.

“What?”
“Sarah Vaughan. It’s “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To, not ‘you wouldn’t be so bad’,” said Richie. Eddie rolled his eyes so hard he thought they’d pop out of his skull.
“Fucking Rain Man over here!” Eddie bitched. “Jesus! Way to blow the one nice thing I have to say about you a year!”
“I’m trying to get some culture in you so you don’t go to college talking like a sped!”
“You think Lincoln’s on the nickel!”

Richie just laughed at him and nudged Eddie so they could keep walking. And it was kind of annoying. The bickering was familiar, but there was something new and safe about the comfort of a hug. Like there wasn’t something bad about being soft. It was a revelation like the originality of one of Richie’s jokes.

He didn’t want Richie to always swat at him. Eddie felt he only knew how to be snippy and caustic because it was the only way he could breathe outside of his mother’s grip. The Losers were great guys, but there was something solid about how Richie would always be there to take what Eddie dished out and fling it right back at him. Because he knew Eddie was strong enough to handle it. He wasn’t weak or nervous or delicate from all the medicine his mother shoveled into him. He was still fighting.

But damn it, he really wanted Richie to just stop him and kiss him. He wanted Richie to pull him back into his chest, face tilted up towards his, snowflakes falling on his eyelashes, as he’s kissed in the silence of the snow.

Eddie kept waiting for it to happen. The moment was perfect. It would happen with this step, now this one, maybe a few more and then he’d stop and pivot and do it.
As he obsessed, his fingers moved reflexively. And a hot streak passed from his fingers to his arm and slammed into his chest to the rest of his limbs when Richie’s fingers grabbed his. Eddie’s hot, sweaty hand was holding Richie’s in the pocket of his coat.

“So fucking fidgety,” Richie laughed.

The lights of town were just enough to light their way. The clouds pulled in all the orange light of Derry streetlamps and returned it to touch the snow and trees and rooftops. It was a dull country road. No cars passed. The only sound was the crunch of snow, the swish of their sleeves, and short, harsh exhales that punctuated the air, like it would put more warmth in their lungs, beneath the overcast violet sky.

It was almost romantic.

And it was so goddamn quiet.

Well, fuck this.

Eddie stepped forward and around towards Richie. He shoved his other hand in Richie’s other pocket so he could get a better angle to look at him, even if the VHS wasn’t much use keeping him warm. His ass was still damp, his sneakers were almost soaked through, and they were standing in six inches of asshole bullshit middle-of-nowhere Maine snow.

“I have to do fucking everything around here, don’t I?” Eddie snapped.
“Wha?” Richie was genuinely confused.
“Fucking idiot,” Eddie grumbled. He pulled both hands out of Richie’s pockets, grabbed Richie’s face and shoved his lips against Richie’s.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Richie screeched, stumbling back from him.
“What the fuck do you THINK?” Eddie snapped. “We’ve already kissed before, you spend all summer with Bowers’ fruity cousin, only to decide he’s a fag and you don’t like him anymore, while you hang out in the clubhouse naked and don’t exactly say or do much to cover that up or get rid of me, and then I’m spending all my time at your place, and normally I can’t shut you up with a shovel but we’re going to watch a movie about a bunch of British homos hugging and shit and you freak out ALL the fucking time if I ever insinuate ANYTHING –“
“Keep your voice down!” Richie hissed, looking around at the empty road in case someone was coming.
“I’m not done!” Eddie snapped, jamming a finger in his chest. “Shut up! If I insinuate anything that suggests you might like that stuff, but I think you do and if you don’t like it, then, well, fuck you. I just kissed you. So deal with it. You’re stuck with me.”

It felt good to get all that off his chest, but the reality of his decisions were crashing in on him. The early 90s were a more enlightened time than a decade or so earlier, but any trace of gay shit that existed anywhere in Derry, let alone Maine, hell, even anywhere in America except maybe three or four major cities, meant there was grounds for getting your ass killed.

And he really didn’t like the look on Richie’s face.

“Bullshit!” Richie laughed. He actually couldn’t believe what Eddie was saying. “Are you serious?”

Oh, maybe this was a bad idea. Maybe this was a really bad idea. Maybe Richie had been sending the wrong signals this whole time and he was just into artsy films. Maybe Richie liked him and wasn’t ready? Maybe they were just really close friends and that was it and oh Eddie fucked up on a colossal level.

Maybe Richie learned a thing or two from Bowers’ cousin and was going to beat the shit out of him and leave him for dead? Who would miss him on the road? And he’d lose consciousness in the soft comfort of the snow long before Sonia’s search party found him.

Richie pulled his glasses off to wipe the fog off the lenses. He was red as a tomato, and for some reason, he couldn’t stop smiling. And there was only one word he could get out of his stupid, trashy mouth.

“Really?” Richie asked, breathless and hopeful and happy.

Eddie wondered for a moment if he really was that stupid. Until he remembered the household they just left, and was reminded Richie really was that lonely.
Eddie really should have worn the boots. His sneakers were soaked standing in the snow, but it didn’t feel as bad as he walked towards Richie, put his freezing hands around his head and pulled him in for a deep, longing kiss. In all the times he thought about Richie with his dominant hand, why had he forgotten Richie had such big soft lips? Eddie ran a thumb across his sharp cheekbone, exhaled, and looked up into Richie’s beautiful brown eyes. They were surrounded by the snow and the dead of winter, but it was warm as summer in Richie’s eyes.

“Why the fuck didn’t you say something at the house?” Richie asked.
“BECAUSE YOU WERE FUCKING IGNORING ME FOR HOURS WHILE YOU MADE ME WATCH A PORNO FOR PBS!”
“Shut the fuck up!!” Richie hissed, but he couldn’t stop laughing. He wasn’t just laughing, it was his smile. He couldn’t believe Eddie had done that.
Eddie couldn’t believe it either.

 

“Eddie.”
“Hm?”

Eddie looked up at Richie.

“You okay?” Richie asked. He was smiling so kindly at him. And the sudden realization Richie’s hand was wrapped around his was like a different, larger, colder hand had wrapped around something in Eddie’s chest and pulled him back to reality.

Eddie shook his head and stepped away, taking his hand out of Richie’s pocket. He hadn’t said or done anything. He was fidgety, his mind wandered, and Richie pulled him back in.

“Think I’m starting to hallucinate,” Eddie mumbled.
“Gonna be a trailmarker on the mountain if we don’t keep moving,” Richie chirped in a posh British accent.
“Just shut up,” Eddie said, and stumbled forward in the snow. What had that guy said in Gone With the Wind? ‘You need kissing, Scarlett, and by someone who knows how.’

Richie hadn’t done anything, and more importantly, Eddie hadn’t done anything or said anything stupid. He’d only thought of what he’d said once he was in Richie’s arms, but god damn it felt so good to be there. Maybe he would do it now. His imagination had gotten so vivid it was a pretty good rehearsal.

But then there came Sonia like the dreaded sun. The lights of Eddie’s neighborhood looked like one of those paint by numbers Kinkade paintings, but he didn’t think the hack painter ever put the silhouette of his mother in a doorway like that. So much for getting one last touch of Richie’s hand.

“Don’t forget to bring that tape back,” said Eddie. “You wanna stay here until the storm blows over?”
“Nah, I could use the walk,” said Richie. “I might get stuck here forever. And much as I like you, I think Mama Kasp would eat my corpse. For food or because she hates me.”
“Hack. Hack!”
“I’m not going for the cheap seats! I mean it! She hates me!” Richie laughed. “She’d be listening at the door for any suggestion you were listening to someone who wasn’t her.”
“Or a PBS porno,” Eddie offered. Richie cracked up.
“PBS porno. I love it. Can I steal that?”
“Go for it.”

Further confirmation Eddie hadn’t said or done what had felt so damn real. And it made him sick with longing. In the sight of his insane mother, the neighbors, and god, he wanted to seize Richie in his arms and kiss him.

“You sure you’re okay?” Richie asked, patting a hand on his back. Eddie nodded. Jesus, was he going to cry?
“Yeah,” Eddie said. “Just cold.”
“Well, get inside. I don’t want your death on my hands.”
“Don’t want deal with the paperwork?” Eddie asked as he climbed the stairs. “Or would you be too miserable without me?”
Richie laughed awkwardly. “What do you mean?”
“Well, if you understand then I don’t have to explain,” Eddie said in his best British accent, before switching back to his normal one. “Or however the fuck that guy said it.” He wasn’t sure he said it like that floppy haired guy in the movie, but the look on Richie’s face seemed to assure him he’d gotten it right. He had definitely watched the movie more than once.
“Language, young man,” Sonia snapped from the door. “Just because you spend time with trash doesn’t mean you need to be behaving like it. And what are you waiting for?”

Eddie turned. She wasn’t talking to him. She was talking to Richie, who was staring at Eddie with a crooked smile, and foggy glasses. He looked at Sonia.

“Just making sure my guy gets home safe,” said Richie. He sounded almost threatening when he said it. Like he wanted Sonia to fight him for it.
“He’s perfectly safe here. You don’t need to wait around for table scraps.”
“You’ve gotta to let him out of the house sometime, Sonia. And then he’s all mine. Stay warm, Eds. See you at school.”

Eddie didn’t move. He wanted every last moment of Richie. He waved. He would be okay. He walked outside all the time.

“Go inside, Eddie. You’ll catch your death,” Sonia glowered.

Eddie obediently followed, but when he turned to look outside, Richie was still there. He waved again, he hadn’t stopped smiling, and even through the fog of his glasses and the porch door, he had to know Eddie was smiling as wide as him. They knew each other too well. As he went upstairs to draw a bath, he was sure he heard Richie singing “Velouria” down the street at the top of his lungs.

The soak in the hot bath warmed him up fast enough, but it was a cheap substitute for Richie’s arms. Eddie should have kissed him. Richie was never going to take the initiative as long as the people who were supposed to love him most found reasons to stay away from him. Eddie just wanted a minute he wasn’t in a rage and knew it was okay to take the day off, but for now he was always going to have to be the bossy one. If he wanted to get out from under everyone’s grip, he had to make his own decisions.

But there’d be time for that next time.

Of course this would be the storm that lasted two weeks into Christmas vacation.

Chapter Text

Eddie watches Richie’s head rise and fall as Eddie breathes in and out. He’s resting his head on Eddie’s chest and wants to hear his breath to know he’s really there. The making out was fantastic, but the intimacy of Richie just wanting to be in the space with him moved Eddie in a way he never knew he’d felt before.

Something bothers him, and it scratches at the back of his mind, like the legs of a bug treading lightly on your skin in hopes it will avoid being slapped when you realize it’s there.

But Eddie has to get it off his mind.

“Hey, what happened with you and Bowers’ cousin?” Eddie asks. Richie turns his head to give him a bemused look through his thick, ugly glasses.
“You want to talk about this now?” Richie asks. The tone suggesting, ‘please don’t ruin the mood.’ Eddie shrugs and looks away.
“I’m just asking. I just wanted to know.”
“It was nothing.”
“Yeah?”
“Don’t worry about it.” Richie holds Eddie’s sides in his hands. He gently kisses Eddie’s chest through his shirt. “Why?”

--

“I heard you suck dick for a dollar.”

Connor Bowers turned around to see Eddie standing at the door to the workroom of the Tracker Brothers Depot. The fellows who ran the place were out on a run and Connor was trusted with the shop in their absence. He turned right back around to continue cleaning a rim for a commercial rig.

“You the Kaspbrak kid?” he asked.
“I’m the same age as you, dickhead,” Eddie snapped.
“I heard your mom sucks dick for nickels,” Connor replied.
“Very funny. You open for business or what?”
“Ten.”
“What?”
“Ten bucks.”
“Ten bucks?? Are you insane??”

Connor turned back around. Eddie really fucking hated how casual and cool he looked about something that was so secret it didn’t even make it into Derry’s usual gossip.

“You could get anyone to suck your dick for free. Takes a real loser to have to spend money for it.” Connor turned back to his work. “Must need something pretty bad if you need a discount. Go to Bangor if you’re on a budget.”

He picked up the spotless rim and walked it back to the shelf. Eddie followed him just to be sure Connor could see him slap the money on the counter. Connor looked at the bill like it was little more than a baseball card. He held out his hand. He really wanted to be sure, didn’t he?

Eddie slapped the bill in his hand and startled when Connor grabbed his fingers in his. Just to see the look on his face. Eddie knew just how startled and stupid he looked by the smirk on the guy’s face. Fucking asshole.

“Not here,” said Connor.

There was something exceptionally shitty about what Eddie was doing, but he tried to convince himself he didn’t give a fuck. If he was going to make a move on Richie and have it go somewhat okay, he wasn’t about to go without practice. And the Bowers’ family pastime was beating the shit out of anyone and everyone in the neighborhood. They carved up Ben, stoned Mike, and humiliated Richie. Maybe it was time for the shoe to be on the other foot.

As reasonable as Eddie found that logic, he couldn’t ignore the fact that the Bowers gang had been dispersed, impaled, or pulled limb from limb some time ago. If the fucking clown did any good, it was putting an end to that. Connor was the only one left in free society and he’d kept such a low profile it still surprised everyone to see him at school.

The blizzard had fucked up the Losers’ plans to hang out, and the phone lines had been down for a week. By the time things were back to normal, school was sure to dump extra homework on all of them. Eddie and Richie could barely do more than wave in the hallway as they scrambled between classes. But at least his parents were around more and Richie seemed to be in a better mood. They hadn’t talked any further about the last time they hung out, but it was fine. They didn’t need to. There was an understanding. Except Eddie still had an itch he couldn’t quite scratch.

Eddie had been shooed away by the tricks at Bassey Park and a well-meaning queen in cheap drag had told him to find someone his own age. He’d probably find someone if he knew where to look. The only person he could think of other than him and maybe Richie was Connor, only because of Richie’s complaints. Richie didn’t want to say anything else about the kid who beat him at Street Fighter, so Eddie fell back on the best reconnaissance available: the shit talk of the lunch room. And if enough kids who didn’t like each other were all saying the same thing, then it was probably true, that Connor had moved out of his parents’ place into a spare room at the truck depot.

And all it took was one suspicious drunk at the park to confirm Eddie’s questions: Connor put out, but not for cheap.

Ten bucks. So much for getting lunch after this.

“So what do these guys expect you to do?” Eddie asked as Connor locked the front door of the shop and flipped the sign over to say ‘Out To Lunch!’

“Bring home good grades, get eight hours of sleep, and help out around the shop.” Connor gave him a cold look. “That’s it. They’re good guys. And they don’t need to know about this.”

Eddie felt all of his retorts retreat down his throat. His mother always sneered the brothers were actually queers living in sin under a common surname. There was something in Connor’s tone that persuaded Eddie to shut the fuck up and take his word for it. Maybe they were just nice old guys who took in runaways, especially if there were queens looking out for the young and the curious in the parts of town where the desperate ones turned up. What were the odds Derry actually had adults that cared? No wonder they had to hide under assumed names and move in the shadows.

Eddie followed Connor into a storage room with stacks of printer paper, order forms, rags, and broken tools. There was a desk with a lamp and a yellowed pleated lamp shade. No-one went in here unless they remembered they already had spare supplies, and usually only after they’d already been to the store. It was Connor’s to make use of as he saw fit, and Eddie wasn’t sure if he was more repulsed by the unwashed everything in the room, or jealousy that the Trackers trusted Connor.

Eddie pulled his headphones off his neck and his Walkman out of his pocket. The expensive bribe came from the Christmas after they defeated It when Eddie was still in a rage at his mother’s medical lies, and she just wanted him to like her again. He borrowed tapes from the library, took Bill and Richie’s recommendations, and fiddled with the radio until the Duracells drained, but he didn't get the appeal. He had been fidgeting so much this morning he needed something to keep his hands busy, and this was the best he could think of. Eddie put it on the desk behind him.

“How do you know I’m not gonna beat you up or something?” Eddie asked, suddenly uncomfortable with the situation. There was the unsavory layout of the room, the isolation with a known associate of neighborhood assholes, and the impending possibility of no longer being a virgin.

“Well, you’re maybe ninety pounds soaking wet,” said Connor as he turned on the desk lamp, which threw a dim light around the musty wooden room “and unless you studied with Bruce Lee or Jeffrey Dahmer, I’m pretty sure you’d be in bigger trouble walking out of here with two black eyes and another broken arm. Since you’d have to explain what you were doing all the way over here in the first place.” He gave Eddie another one of those looks to make sure he understood they were on his turf.

Oh. That wasn’t the look of someone who thought he was untouchable. He just didn’t fucking care. Boys like them took the odds of trusting an adult who wanted to treat them as an equal with beer and a good time, and they just wound up strangled and chopped up in the freezer, and usually after being raped. Better odds to be with someone who would just humiliate you in school, or be an easier fight to win or lose. How lucky Connor had been to land on his feet, and it wasn't any of Eddie’s business what he did with that stable ground.

“So what’s the money for?” Eddie asked.
“The fuck do you care?”
“I’m just asking.”

Connor took a moment to read the body language of the squirrelly eighteen year old in front of him who was starting to realize how much he was in over his head, and decided to opt for sincerity.

“First Greyhound out of Derry. Right after I get my diploma. Never coming back to this place.”

Even without meeting them, Eddie felt almost certain the Tracker guys would buy Connor a plane ticket to anywhere he wanted to go if he asked. He could go by Radio Flyer or the Concorde, just as long as Connor didn’t think he had to turn tricks to pick up extra money. But weren’t all the Derry kids so fucked up they couldn’t trust goodness anymore? Even when it was in the home where they lived?

Connor closed the door, walked over to Eddie and grabbed his belt buckle.

“Wait, wait –“ Eddie stammered. Connor gave him an impatient look.
“If you want me to kiss you, that’s another five, and I don’t feel right taking all your lunch money, stringbean.”
“Fine,” Eddie grumbled. “Whatever. Don’t you have a condom or something?”
“Don’t you?”
“How the fuck was I supposed to know!” Eddie wondered if all first times were this fucking ridiculous. He had spent more time in the pharmacy than in his own home. How the fuck was he supposed to get condoms out of there without anyone noticing? They’d known him since he was in diapers, for Christ’s sakes! Connor was starting to look like he was regretting this use of his lunch break.

“Well, let me ask you this. You been raw dogging it for anyone else?”
“No! Ew!” Eddie squirmed.
“Anyone else come between you and your red right hand?”
“No…” Eddie racked his brain trying to think if he had, miraculously, gotten laid before this moment.
“Anybody.” Connor said. “Neighbor. Teacher. Parent–”
“Ew! No!” Eddie snapped too suddenly. Connor looked almost bored with him, and then so much older. Oh. There was a reason he needed to ask. It wasn’t just in case there was a chance he was carrying something.

“You’re not getting your ten bucks back,” Connor said. “First time?”

Eddie didn’t want to answer. It would make the situation so much more pathetic for him, and for once in his life he needed to be cool.

“I’m not gonna get you sick,” Eddie said. Connor snorted.
“Well, we’re all taking our chances, aren’t we?”

What the fuck did THAT mean? Eddie felt his knees buckle, and not from what he was hoping for.

“Forget it,” he stammered. “Gimme my ten bucks back.”
“No way. Fuck you.”
“Come on!”

Eddie tried grabbing it, but Connor was faster and stronger and had Eddie pinned to the desk with just his legs and a smirk. That was unnecessary, especially if it was going to be that fucking smooth. Connor kept the ten bucks in his fist, put his hands on the desk, and leaned into Eddie.

“You’re more than welcome to walk out of here, but consider the ten bucks gone towards a learning experience. Or stay and get your dick sucked. I’m not keeping score.”

Connor was wearing something that made Eddie hard just from inhaling it, and it was only on the second breath that he realized it was the same deodorant as Richie. He had nice teeth for someone who grew up in a family of drunks, and his lightly tanned skin was flecked with freckles that framed warm brown eyes. Eddie found himself saying something he never would have dreamed of saying out loud to anybody, even to someone like Richie.

“You’re really fucking hot,” Eddie mumbled.
“I know,” Connor smirked, which made Eddie scowl.
“Geez. Take a compliment, asshole.”
“I just did.”

Connor glanced at Eddie’s lips, which did not go unmissed.

“What do you want me to go down on you or something?” Eddie asked. Connor snorted and stepped back.
“That’d cost you a lot more money, and me a lot more time. I’m not getting my dick chewed on because you don’t know how to stop talking and I don’t feel like teaching.” He glanced up and down Eddie again, which just made him feel like he was undoing every button and zipper with his eyes.

“What?” Eddie wondered. Connor shrugged.
“You filled out.”

Eddie wondered if that meant he got fat, but looking down at his body, he realized he probably meant he grew up. He was actually wearing clothes that fit, which showed off the cut of his body. His mother wouldn’t let him get baggy jeans like the “dopeheads” who were into grunge. The one pair of jeans he still had were getting tight and pretty worn out. He had to keep them hidden in his school locker so she wouldn’t find them when she snooped. It was dweeby fucking khakis and polo shirts for him while he was still in school. He had to look presentable.

His EMF shirt was a gift from his cousin who had out grown it. They’d managed to persuade Sonia it was a souvenir from church camp that stood for Eternal Messiah and Faith, instead of Ecstasy Mother Fucker. All his clothes fit, which was extremely out of fashion, and he’d thrown on his only plaid shirt to stay warm and look cool.

It was the first days of spring, but the spare room was still way too chilly. There’s no way he could be the only person to have this awkward of a first experience.

Connor held up the money, nodded at the door, and then back to Eddie.

“Up to you,” he offered. Eddie wanted to say something suave. He only managed to shrug and look away.
“Whatever.”

Connor smirked, shoved the money in his pocket, and grabbed Eddie’s belt again.

Jesus. He was so unceremonious about undoing his belt, dropping to his knees, and pulling his jeans and shorts down to leave Eddie naked below the waist. There wasn’t anything sexy about it. Eddie didn’t look desired. He looked like a kid who didn’t know how to pee without dropping their pants. Except he had a forest of dark hair growing around his junk and all the way down his legs.

Connor gave Eddie’s half hard dick a bemused look.

“What?” Eddie grumbled. He was doing a lot of that for a situation that was supposed to be fun.
“Just a lot…” Connor murmured, spat in his hand, and wrapped it around the base of Eddie’s dick. “Didn’t know you were packing heat.” He took a moment, like he was a cat measuring the distance between the kitchen counter and a book case. Eddie peacocked with other guys about dick size, without any real frame of reference. He had to be damn sure everyone knew he wasn’t gay by not looking at anybody in the locker room. That was how they would know, for sure, definitely, without a doubt, that he wasn’t gay.

But Jesus, was he really hung?

Connor opened his mouth. Eddie barely swallowed a cry and grabbed Connor by his hair. Blonde wire curls wrapped around Eddie’s fingers and poked through his knuckles. Connor looked surprised, but not that opposed to the idea. He even grinned a little. Eddie somehow thought of something to say that didn’t reveal this was just a panic grab for the pause button.

“What the fuck are you in such a rush for?” Eddie murmured. He liked how Connor looked, on his knees, mouth open and underneath Eddie’s dick. The moist warm air from his mouth resting and evaporating on his dick, over and over. He liked the sight of his eyes looking into him. He needed to feel like he wasn’t a loser. He wanted to be sure Connor knew.

“I used to jerk off over you,” Connor said.
“Funny,” said Eddie. “I don’t remember washing your cumstains out of my clothes.”
“You used to be that short kid running after Tozier and those losers,” which made Eddie tighten his grip. Connor only smiled from the feeling. “Always had that mouth on you. Always wondered what it could do, or what I could do to get you to shut up.”

The idea that anyone thought of him that way was enough to loosen his grip on his hair, and Connor swallowed him whole.

“oh FUCK,” Eddie gasped.

So much for looking cool.

Connor knew what he was doing. Oh fuck, he really knew what he was doing. There wasn’t a trace of teeth, just a wet hot vacuum seal around his dick as Connor dragged his lips down Eddie’s dick, and pushed back up again. Eddie felt his cock drag against Connor’s tongue, as his hand worked with the rest of his length to jerk him off. He was sucking the life out of Eddie. He let out a moan and Connor pulled away.

“Keep your fucking voice down,” Connor snapped, and got back to work, drooling on Eddie’s dick and jerking him off.
“Sorry – sorry…” Eddie stammered in a soft voice. He was hard as a bone and was stupidly more nervous about knocking Connor’s teeth out than what disaster would lie in store for him if there was teeth involved.

Oh god, what the fuck was the appeal of getting your dick sucked standing up? He’d let go of Connor’s hair to grab the end of the desk so he wouldn’t fall down. He didn’t want to get a Darwin Award because he’d gotten his dick sucked so good he fell on Connor’s face, broke his neck, and had his dick snapped off by Connor’s clenched jaws because he was a skinny little pipsqueak who couldn’t handle head. Darwin Awards were funny, as long as they happened to someone else.

Or if his dick got mangled and Connor died, then wouldn’t Connor get the prize?

Connor twisted his grip and hummed and snapped Eddie’s attention out of his pinball machine of a brain, and back to the moment.

At least he wasn’t a creep, Eddie told himself. They were classmates. They probably could have gotten to this point naturally if Eddie wasn’t in such a rush. The money was more persuasive than any stupid shit he could have said to get this to happen.

What was it like between him and Richie? Did they finally clear the air about that Street Fighter shit? Richie never would have gone to him. He shut down at rejection. Comedy was the only thing that could make him get back up and fight another day. Did this guy go back to Richie once he was free of his cousins, or was he just as lonely as the rest of them once they were gone?

Did they fuck? Did he blow Richie? Did Richie bend him over the table and fuck him until he came and left this guy unfinished and wanting more? Did Richie wrap his legs around his waist and his arms around his neck as Connor fucked him against the wall? Did they kiss? Or did they find comfort for a summer, lonely and wondering if they’d ever find something happy, or if this was all they’d get for the whole of their lives? There was a plague going on outside Derry that went after boys like them and it didn’t take the shape of a clown in the sewers that could get beaten into remission. It was something that ate up all your guts until you died alone with your family making excuses for how much you just wanted someone to hold you.

God, what would it feel like to have Richie do this to him? If this was Richie’s mouth on him…

And that seemed to do the trick. Eddie gasped and groaned, clapping a hand over his mouth as he came, hard. Connor didn’t react except to let go, run his lips over the head of Eddie’s dick, and take a deep breath when he sat back. Eddie was convinced his eyesight had gone all blurry, but maybe he just couldn’t bring himself to look at Connor as he gasped for air.

“You good?” Connor asked.

Eddie came so hard he thought his whole skeleton had shot out of his dick. He was gripping the desk with white knuckles, trying not to fall over, and was probably looking like he’d just run laps for the President’s Fitness Challenge. He wasn’t getting his dick sucked so hard he temporarily went paralyzed. He was just getting his ass chased around the track by his gym teachers who left their second pack of cigarettes at home and wanted to take it out on someone.

He was definitely not getting his loss of virginity notarized in the back of a truck depot for highway robbery. Jesus, did fucking always feel this good?

“Fuck…” Eddie wheezed.
“You’re welcome,” said Connor. He stood up, knocked the dirt off his knees, and opened the door, leaving Eddie all alone with his pants around his ankles.

And that was when he stared to feel sick. Hormones had always been good guidance in Eddie’s life. The impulse, the rage, the absolute need to get off in any available time or place, but there was always the shame, fear, and good old American guilt inflicted on him by the guardians of adult life. They were there to prepare him for everything that was going to go wrong, everything that would make him sick, everyone that wanted to hurt him, all the mistakes he would make deliberately to hurt them, and that’s why he needed to follow their rules. Because the only way to be loved was to be forgiven.

The room was coated in a layer of grime that made Eddie’s skin crawl. There was oil and grease and so much filth in the small space that he could feel the place vibrating. Like every bit of bacteria was clattering like a cicada, taunting and mocking Eddie for doing something so disgusting as wanting sexual contact.

Eddie opened his eyes and realized it was just his legs shaking. The jolt to his circulation and the cold temperature of the room were to blame. He still felt sick and guilty, but hurried to pull his pants up, tighten his belt, and grab his Walkman. Eddie turned the light out and left the room.

Connor was in the small kitchen, gargling from a can of Dr. Pepper. The kitchen would probably never be rid of its 70s wood paneling that smelled of decades of wet coffee grinds. Eddie invited himself to wash his hands in the sink and tried to act like he was using hot water because he was cold. The copious amounts of soap were because it was a pretty dirty room. And he wasn’t looking at Connor because what else was there to say?

Connor nudged him over to spit the mouthful of soda into the sink.

“That shit’s nasty,” Eddie said, pointing at the can.
“I know,” said Connor. “Only time I have it.”

I know. Some catch phrase. For a Bowers, he sure tried to act like he had dominion over the family brain cell. Even if he ran a pretty flawless operation that Eddie couldn’t have pieced together with a map, a compass, and an unauthorized strategy guide. Connor took two heavy swigs, swallowed both, and tossed the half-empty can in the trash.

“You want me to flip the sign over?” Eddie asked, pointing at the door.
“Oh.” Connor snapped back to reality. “Shit, yeah. Hang on. Go out the back, would you?”
“Why?”
“Because how’s it going to look if I’ve got people waiting out there and two of us come waltzing out of a locked store. Go out the back.”

Connor strode into the front room, waved at someone, and unlocked the door. He leaned his head out.

“I’ll be right with you!”

He closed the door and returned to the kitchen, grabbing Eddie by the arm. Eddie jerked his arm out of his grip, and it was only the look on Connor’s face that made him realize he’d done it involuntarily. For someone who just had his dick in another guy’s mouth, Eddie was feeling really cagey about being touched.

Connor lead him back through the workroom. The place was lit by the sun illuminating the garage’s high placed windows. The only noise was their sneakers scuffing on the concrete.

Connor peeked out the back door’s window. There was a clear blue sky, the yellow grass of the outfield, the first few buds of spring on the trees, and not a soul to be seen. He looked at Eddie in the darkness of the workroom.

“Go out to the baseball field and walk to Kosuth Lane from there. It’ll look like you were just wandering around. Do you smoke?”
“No,” said Eddie. “I’ve got my Walkman, but the batteries are dying.”
Connor nodded. “That’ll work. Put your headphones on and anyone who sees you will think you were just screwing around by yourself. Okay?”

Eddie thought for a second Connor wanted to keep him safe, until he realized it was just an alibi for the both of them.

“You don’t have to do all this,” Eddie said. Connor knew perfectly well he wasn’t talking about the side exit. He scoffed and rolled his eyes.
“You want to rescue somebody, go be a firefighter,” said Connor. “All I know is I already got my bus ticket out of this dump. This was just extra money for Soundgarden tickets.”

Eddie couldn’t wrap his head around someone who’d put himself in so much danger. His jaw felt like it’d been wired shut, and his legs turned to lead. This place gave him the creeps, but his body wouldn't let him leave. Like he deserved to be in a place that made him sick for what he had just done.

He always thought it would feel good to take revenge on the Bowers, especially by humiliation, but it just made him nauseous. Jesus, was he as bad as Beverly’s father?

“Geez. Who knew all it took to get you to shut up was a guilt trip,” said Connor.
“Fuck you,” Eddie griped.

Suddenly, Connor gripped him by the chin to look at something.

“What are you doing?” Eddie fussed, jerking his head away.
“You’re pretty flush. Good thing it’s cold out.” Connor was still looking at him. He bit his lip, and said, “come here.”

Eddie didn’t know why until Connor had put his hand around his head and pulled him in for a kiss. Holy shit, he was really good at kissing too. It wasn’t like when Richie kissed him. The beer inspired kiss made an electric pulse pass so hard through Eddie, he was sure it punched a second hole in the atmosphere and summoned Greenpeace to put a bounty on him.

Still felt pretty damn good though.

Eddie leaned into Connor and kissed him back, letting himself grab small pieces of his shirt. He felt Connor inhale and step back. He smiled a little.

“On the house,” said Connor.
“Cool.” Eddie croaked. “Thanks.” Where had all that dominant shit come from before? How come he was able to be bossy for a half second with Connor’s hair in his hand and a whipped little bitch for the rest?

For some reason getting kissed only bothered him more. That was supposed to be from someone who mattered. Connor didn’t know Eddie only wanted Richie to kiss him. Was he ever going to get that from Richie again? Was that first time the only time?

He needed to get the fuck out of this greasy, dirty shithole. His skin crawled and it had to be from grazing something with tetanus. It couldn’t be from longing.

“Hey,” said Connor, as he undid the padlock on the door. “Go be happy. Don’t let these miserable fuckers win.” He opened the door to the sun and the cold spring air. “And get the hell out of Derry.”

Eddie thought he should say something. He just nodded, put his headphones on and walked out of the garage. Connor closed and locked the door behind him, leaving Eddie ten bucks poorer, out of breath, and all alone.

The only noise that came out of Eddie’s headphones was the wind whistling around his ears. There wasn’t anything good on the radio anyway, and he couldn’t get much play out of the album he got from the library before the voices got all deep and drawn out like it was a record set to 33rpm. He walked out to the baseball field at a diagonal, like he had just passed through the weight stations, nodded at Connor in greeting, and carried on to the field. Like nothing life changing had just happened.

Of all the worst possible times to be alone with his thoughts because the fucking batteries on his Walkman were low and he couldn’t smother them with noise. Eddie walked from home plate to third to get the diamond’s dirt and chalk on his shoes to help the alibi. What a fucking performance he had to put on for his mother and all the adults in town who were bored of the drama on their TVs, who looked to each other’s children for entertainment.

He’d kissed him out of pity. Guy knew how fucking lonely it was to be in Eddie’s place and was willing to go to desperate measures to go someplace better. What were the odds Connor had the hots for him?

Not a chance. The noise in his head snapped back. He didn’t deserve something nice. He had to earn it. He had to go through the terror of disease and let the emotional gangrene chew up his guts and his heart and memories of anything good, before he could receive absolution. Before his mother would say she was just doing it because she cared about him. Before he believed the Losers tolerated anything about him.

His feet hit the pavement of Kosuth and didn’t know where to go. The sun was going down and the cold spring air was dipping back into winter. He should have brought his hoodie. The headphones did nothing and Eddie just pushed them back onto his neck. For some reason the sound of the clattering plastic put the first hitch in his throat. It was all a fucking facade.

He had to come up with an alibi for seeing the kid in his physics class at home like he was a Soviet fucking spy who was picking up microfilm. He broke his arm fucking around the abandoned house on Neibolt Street, not because an ancient asshole clown from space had tried to kill him. And it was deathly, hugely important that he follow his prescription to the letter for his life saving placebos.

Gazebos. He remembered. And when Eddie laughed, there were tears in his eyes. Why the fuck was he laughing when he felt so miserable? He’d finally crossed one thing off his ‘not gonna die a loser’ list and it felt like nothing had changed. The story, if he was asked, was that he was out for a walk to get fresh air. Only it felt like he’d been shoved back in a box to breathe only the stale, recycled oxygen he was allowed to have if he didn’t want to be abandoned.

Realization bloomed in him like the first red drops of a nosebleed on a clean white shirt. If he wanted to stay alive, he had to follow all the instructions of the world around him to a tee. He couldn’t be a flaming fag with hypochondria and anxiety. He had to be a late bloomer who still believed in cooties, and that’s why he didn’t talk to girls. It couldn’t be because there was a boy who made him happy.

Eddie was so fucking relieved there was no-one around to see him cry.

The porch lights and street lamps of Derry had the decency to wait until Eddie had gotten the last of it out of him before they turned on the orange starlight at street level. He wiped the last tear off his cheek and sniffled deeply. The hitch in his chest was only from walking for so long. He probably could have gone home by now, but he didn’t want to get this all out of his system, only to then have to answer to mom. At least the walk back would exhaust the worry out of him and take him straight to bed.

They’d read something in class about some guy’s razor and how it meant the most obvious answer was the right one. But Eddie was still eighteen years old, buried in expectations from the adults about every detail in his life, and would continue making mistakes and being oblivious about all sorts of things for the rest of his life.

He genuinely didn’t know why he was in Richie’s neighborhood. But it just made sense to go to some place familiar. It felt good to walk towards that house, like it would be okay to feel warm and have a place to cry without someone laughing at him. It had to, right? That’s why Eddie pushed the gate open, climbed the steps of the porch, and rang the doorbell. Only for Maggie to answer.

“Hi Mrs Tozier I’m sorry I didn’t call first is Richie home?” Eddie rambled in one breath. She was a nice woman, at least always nice to Eddie, and it was in these moments he could forget she could make her son feel so miserable. For now, they were home.
“He is,” said Maggie, “but we just sat down to dinner. Can it wait until–”

Richie walked into the hall behind his mother. And the sight of him was like seeing the sun after a winter of nothing but cold and darkness. Eddie didn't know why it made him smile. Maggie turned around.

“Hey sweetie…“ Maggie still had the maternal reflex of getting them to sit and eat at the table, but Richie had youth’s ingenuity at getting mom to clear out when it was an emergency.
“Hey mom, I got this. Can you show dad how to work the remote? He’s got it on that fuzzy channel again.”
“Oh Lord,” Maggie grumbled and hurried back inside. Maggie’s exhaustion with Wentworth’s attempts to use technology got her to scurry back into the living room.

Richie pushed the door open to join Eddie on the porch.

“Hey man, I’d bring you in but they’re going out of town Monday and ¬–“ Richie stopped. “My shirt!”
“What?” Eddie wondered.
“The flannel. I was wondering where I left that!”
“Oh, my mom found it in my laundry,” Eddie said as he pulled it off. “Honestly thought I got it from my cousin in Providence, but she said she threw it out.” He handed it to Richie.
“Nah man, keep it. It looks better on you.”

Eddie shoved it at Richie, who took it back without further argument. He was in his Bad Brains shirt and jeans that hadn’t seen the inside of a washing machine since January. Eddie had never felt such a desperate need to collapse into someone’s arms. It was the only place that would feel like home.

“You okay?” Richie asked.
“Yeah,” Eddie lied. “I’m cool.”

Richie didn’t believe him for a second. That was obvious. He crossed his arms. Eddie wanted to smash the porch light so it would stop glaring over them.

“What’s going on?” Richie asked.

Eddie felt sick, but it wasn’t something on the outside that was trying to burrow its way in to infect him. It was already inside him and all it did was made him miserable. It made him want to fucking cry, of all fucking things.

“Nothing, I’m just…” Eddie had to stop to rub his eyes. He wasn’t going to cry. He just needed to think. He just needed to concentrate. He wanted to stop thinking about how guilty he felt about going to someone else for sex. How awful it had been to be pushy for it. How the room smelled terrible, and how deeply impersonal it’d been except for Connor’s brief moments of pity. He only knew about Connor because of Richie. If word was out, then everyone would know from the playground to the dumpsters and then he’d always be alone.

If Connor knew, how many people he tricked for would know now too? They weren’t supposed to find out. Eddie was supposed to take it to the grave. He was supposed to be keeping Richie safe from disease, from heartache, and he couldn’t even do that.

“Why is that fucking light so goddamn bright?” Eddie growled. Richie was confused for half a second, realized what he meant, and took the other half to swing into the house, slap the porch light off, and leave them in darkness. Eddie let the rest of the air out of his chest in jagged breaths, like his throat and lungs were conspiring to turn them into sobs.

“I’m so fucked up,” he whined. God he sounded so pathetic and then Richie did the only thing that could have made it worse. He took Eddie’s face in his hands. Eddie looked up and saw someone who cared too much, reflected in the pale orange light of the streetlamps.

“Look at me!” Richie whispered urgently. “You’re not! You are not fucked up! It’s your mom, it’s school, it’s every fucking asshole here who’s trying to make you feel lousy so they get one more sucker to stay so they have company. And you’re not.” He smiled. He so wanted Eddie to feel better.

It was too much. Richie’s hands touching his cheeks, his jaw, grazing the tops of his ears and fingers pushed into the locks of his hair. The rancid smell of garlic and tomatoes coming off his breath as he hurriedly whispered consoling things to Eddie. His concern. His goddamn kindness that stayed hidden under all the trash talk.

He felt completely, utterly unworthy of Richie’s love.

Eddie stepped out of his grasp.

“I gotta go. I’ll talk to you later.”

Eddie turned on his heel, trotted down the stairs of the porch, and swung the gate open to make his escape as casual as possible after his complete freak out.

“Eddie!” Richie called.

Eddie just walked down the sidewalk to the road back to his house. It was only in this last stretch of what had turned out to be a very long day that he felt his lungs burning. His chest felt like a pulled muscle. He rubbed his eyes, but they were just dry and raw. His cheeks had that weird feeling of sediment that was always left after a crying jag, like all the salt stayed behind as evidence.

There had to be a medical explanation for why Eddie was still upright. He’d hit an adrenaline spike this morning in his obsession about what to wear, how much cash to bring, how not to behave like a fucking idiot, and what to do if Connor wanted to kick the shit out of him. He’d walked on foot for two miles to get to the depot, gotten a full body workout from receiving a blowjob, cried like he was six years old with a skinned knee from fucking loneliness, freaked out at Richie’s door, and now had to walk the mile back home.

It was only an inhaler, a cocktail of sugar pills, and the stranglehold of his mother’s love that was going to keep him clean. And boy was she going to have a laundry list of interrogating questions about why he was in those jeans he should have thrown out two years ago. This was gonna suck.

A door banged somewhere behind him.

“Hey! Eddie!”

Eddie stopped and turned around.

In the distance, Richie jumped over the gate and ran down the street towards him with something in hand. The guy who couldn’t hug his friends without checking to see if anyone was looking first, yelled to Eddie in the middle of his neighborhood as everyone was sat down to dinner, and was running towards him with a smile.

He trotted to a stop by Eddie and put his hands on his knees.

“Motherfucker…” Richie panted. “Making me run…gonna kill me…” He wasn’t exaggerating by a lot. Richie attended P.E. just enough to get a passing grade and spent the rest of the time smoking off campus. He didn’t even run to catch the bus. All youthful energy and motivation had gone to his motormouth.

His goddamn mouth. Eddie had spent the morning thinking of what it could do to him, and now all it was doing was smiling as Richie tried to catch his breath. He stood up and held out something.

“Here.”

Richie held out a flannel, this one in blue. Eddie still didn’t understand why.

“No, I’m okay. I’ve been walking a lot. It’s not as cold as before.”
“God damn it, will you just…”

Richie stepped up to Eddie and tied the flannel around his waist. Eddie felt like a kid getting his jacket zipped up by someone who loved him.

“And it’s going to get cold later, so…” Richie plopped a hoodie on Eddie’s head. The billowing scent of Richie that baptized Eddie in everything he loved about him almost made him topple over. It wasn’t just the heat that wanted to knock him on his ass that summer day in the fort.

“I’m gonna sweat my ass off in this,” Eddie said, barely getting the full sentence out.
“So wear it when you get home,” said Richie.

Eddie pulled it off his head and sniffed. Richie laughed.

“Yeah I’ve been sleeping in it, so sorry if it’s funky.”

Eddie grimaced because it was his hardwired reflex, not because he actually meant it. Richie suddenly clapped his hands on Eddie’s shoulders.

“It’s gonna be okay. Whatever it is, it’s gonna be okay. And if it’s not, then just tell me who and I’ll take a shit in their car. You’re too cute to be mean to.” Richie grabbed Eddie’s cheeks before they could flush on their own. “Cute, cute, cute!”

Eddie laughed in spite of himself.

“That’s what I want to see! There’s that fucking smile!” Richie grinned. He slipped into Sonia’s familiar glower and drawl. “Go home, Eddie. You’ll freeze to death. You’ll slip into the cold embrace of death and abandon meeeeee.” He sprang back into his smile. “That’s just for you! I know it’s lazy, but that was for you!”

Eddie stayed on the sidewalk holding the fleece, until Richie was through the gate, up the stairs, and waved goodbye before he banged the porch door closed behind him. He waited another minute in case there was something else he needed to do, but after that, Eddie turned, and walked the twenty minutes home through that rural stretch of road.

 

Mama Kasp was asleep in front of the TV when Eddie got home. Neil Young was performing on PBS and he was strumming one of his quiet 70s love songs on an acoustic guitar, murmuring about the will to love.

Eddie tied the hoodie around his waist, left the volume alone so it wouldn’t disrupt her, and brought her TV dinner to the kitchen. Only Jenny Craig’s frozen meals were to be trusted in keeping her healthy. Eddie just wrapped tin foil around it before putting it in the fridge.

He went upstairs to shower. Shampoo, conditioner, soap, and that was it. There were days where he was left more exhausted and stressed out than he’d been today, when the rituals were needed to turn the noise down. That night there was only the scream of the showerhead, the slosh of water, and when he stepped out of the shower, the soft voice from the TV.

Eddie hung his bathrobe on his closet door and stood naked in his bedroom. It was an ordinary square room, allegedly a space for privacy in the house his mother paid the bills on. And he still felt beholden to behave in a way that would leave her pleased. It didn’t feel right to act like this was a space he was allowed to have, but he was so damn tired he didn’t care tonight. He just wanted a space to exist, as himself, without secrets or alibis, only if for a moment, until sleep drove him to bed.

The sweatshirt looked like something pulled from clean laundry instead of the most intimate relic ever offered to him from someone he loved.

He slipped his hands through the sleeves, pulled the hood up over his head, and wrapped it around his body. And when he breathed in, all the pieces of Richie filled him. The cells of his skin, the microscopic drops of deodorant and sweat and odor, loose hairs, and all of it wrapped in a maroon fleece offered willingly.

Eddie got into bed and let himself be overwhelmed in a way that put his mind at peace. It was going to be too warm to sleep in, but the smell and sensation was enough. The embrace of him was what he needed most.

Chapter Text

The spring before their last year of high school stuck in Eddie’s mind like a splinter. It had been the worst way to start a weekend. The TV news didn’t get to the story until that evening, but someone had a radio on and it spread through school like a wildfire. Kurt Cobain was dead and the wailing that came from the student body was an ungodly noise.

Those who’d already lost parents or grandparents or loved ones knew the dirge one could only sing if they were at the bottom of a pit of grief. The rest experienced for the first time the shock and violation of having something good taken from you too soon.

And then came the mocking remarks and bewildered sneers of all the adults around them. Those who mourned Elvis, Hendrix, and Big Bopper like a Sicilian widow, and still preached their gospel like it was the one true religion, stared at the heartbroken teenagers around them like they’d been dropped on an alien planet. Didn’t they have more important things to worry about? Like homework? The musicians who had once opened their minds to all the possibilities of the world were now closed up in their tombs, and the enlightenment of their fans went with them. Genius burned out too early and mediocrity survived, like an infection evolved to keep its host alive.

Bill was gutted and Richie screamed, cursing at him for saying something so horrible, not believing it could be true. Stan looked like someone had punched him in the stomach.

Ben called Beverly to see if she was okay and spent fistfuls of quarters just to let her sob down the phone. He couldn’t stand to have her shoulder this grief alone.

“I don’t get it,” Eddie said to Mike. There was no hope of talking to anyone about anything else that lunch period. Mike felt for his friends, but he really needed to eat if he was taking double electives.
“Kurt Cobain meant something to people,” Mike explained, ever the empathetic soul, as he picked the sesame seeds off his burger bun.
“I get that, but I mean, he was just some dopehead in dirty laundry. It’s not like he made real music.”
“Is that you saying that or your mother saying that?” Mike asked.

Eddie filled his mouth with sandwich so he wouldn’t have to answer. Mike thought grunge was okay, but it didn’t do much for him. Eddie expected him to be into hip-hop, but he’d already bitten his tongue enough times he didn’t want to invite any more people to think he was an idiot.

“I mean, my grandfather was real shook up when Marvin Gaye died. Only ever saw him cry about my mom and dad and my grandma. Didn’t know a celebrity could have that affect on people,” said Mike.
“Marvin what?” Richie startled. Mike looked very patient with him.
“Gaye. G-A-Y-E. Marvin Gaye.”
“Oh.”
“It actually used to be spelled the other way, but he changed it so people would stop assuming things.”
“Oh. I just thought –“
“I know you did. Settle down, Beavis.”
“Oh my god, I hate that fucking show,” Eddie groaned, which just made Mike laugh.
“Man, what do you like, Eddie?”

He liked the Losers. He liked the smell of his clothes when they were fresh out of the dryer. He liked obsessing over the statistics of the annual Soapbox Derby in Bangor and Dayton. He liked Richie when he was talking shit instead of yelling about some guy who did “the best imitation of Morrissey” on British TV.

But that wasn’t what Mike was asking.

“I don’t know,” said Richie. “I like stuff.”
“You sure you wouldn’t like frog baseball?”
“I can’t believe your grandpa lets you watch it. Even Richie’s parents wrote letters to have it banned when they found out he bought the video tapes.”
“It was your guy who turned me on to it.”

Eddie didn't know what that meant either.

“He’s your guy too,” Eddie mumbled, no idea why he felt defensive. “What kind of music do you like?” he asked.
“I know what you’re gonna say,” Mike smiled, “but Motown.”

Eddie groaned, rolled his eyes, and Mike laughed his ass off.

“You are such an old fucking woman,” Eddie groaned. “First you want to move to Florida, then you’re listening to Motown?”
“My folks raised me on the stuff. Didn’t like it at first, but you find that one tune that turns you on and it changes your life.”
“I just don’t get it.”
“Music?”
“Yeah.”
“Gotta be something.”

Eddie really tried to think, but it was one of those things where the harder he concentrated, the less he could remember.

He didn’t get the appeal of music. And he had to like some things. But what he really hated was how miserable this news made Richie. Bill and Stan were a mess, but for some weird fucking reason it made him feel upset to see Richie so unhappy.

“I dunno,” Eddie finally admitted.

The adults handled it as best they could: with after school speakers about the dangers of drug addiction and the importance of sharing your feelings. It would give them something to giggle about over styrofoam cups of coffee in the teachers’ lounge. The faculty who had once cared for their heartbroken students were long driven out of Derry or were on their last leg.

 

One year later on a Wednesday afternoon, the kids of Derry went to lunch hearing rumors that someone blew up a building in Oklahoma City. The next day’s paper was the first color edition in Derry’s history, just to show a federal building with the front carved out, like someone took a spade to a sand castle. Below the fold, was a firefighter carrying the bloody, lifeless body of one of the babies killed in the blast.

The kids had to wonder, what the fuck was wrong with the adults in this world? And they had to wonder what could happen to make someone do that?

The Losers took their lunch outside and the usual conversation kept dwindling to a stop as they looked over the newspaper. Eddie had been talking about how his mother said the FBI was spying on everyone through their phones to find the bomber. Nobody knew what to say to that and let the uncomfortable silence linger. Richie felt it was his sworn duty as school comic to do something about the dip in conversation.

“If anything, this is definitive proof of why you should never eat a bean burrito by an open flame.”
“BOOO!” cried the Losers.
“Jesus, Richie!” Mike yelled.
“Too s-soon.” Bill mumbled, shaking his head.
“Too fucking soon! What is the matter with you?” Stan yelled.

The Losers threw sandwich wrappers and soda cups at their friend, who had dipped into the bad habit of all comedians: finding the humor in something horrible less than five minutes after it’d happened.

“I’m not kidding! You remember that gas main that blew up three houses in Bangor? That wasn’t no gas main.”
“Please don’t do this,” Mike asked.
“That was just me after Taco Bell.”
“Wow. A fortune cookie level fart joke. Hilaaaarious,” Eddie snipped with a swish of his wrist. What the fuck. Why did he do that?
“Hey did you guys see Farley died?” Ben asked, holding the comic part of the paper.
“What? Who?” Richie asked.
“Farley. In ‘For Better or For Worse’. The comic strip?”
“No shit?!” Richie screeched.
“I can’t tell if you’re making fun of me,” said Ben.

It took awhile for Richie to convince Ben he was being serious and to tell him what had happened to Farley. He hadn’t read the comics pages in years, but the death of the Canadian dog was a genuine surprise.

“Do we have to talk about dead fucking dogs and fucking farts blowing up buildings?” Stan bitched. He was in an especially prickly mood.
“Fart jokes are classic! Timeless!” Richie insisted.
“They are when they’re good, not recycled crap,” said Eddie. “The campfire scene in Blazing Saddles? Now THAT’S a fart joke. Silent, but deadly.” Eddie was pleased he got that double entendre in there.
“It wasn’t silent.” Richie said. Both he and Eddie looked confused.
“Yeah it is.” Eddie insisted.
“What are you talking about? They’re all farting their brains out!” Richie fussed.
“Yeah.”
“And you can hear them.”
“Well, yeah it’s implied.”
“It’s not implied! It’s like two minutes of old fuckers cutting the cheese!”
“Yes, obviously!” Eddie yelled.
“Hey! Who’s On First and What’s On Second!” Stan snapped. “There are fart noises on the video, but they cut out the fart noises for when they show it on TV. Can you maybe think about how hundreds of people got blown up instead of symphonic ass noises?”

Stan stormed off to his locker. Eddie and Richie watched him leave, feeling a little humbled.

“Stan’s funnier than you.” Eddie said.
“I know. It’s fucking rude.” Richie admitted, as they threw out their lunch wrappers and wandered inside.
“Maybe if you convert to Judaism, you’ll upgrade to be a better comedian?” Eddie suggested.
“You know I’ve really thought about it,” Richie said.
“But what? Don’t want to give up bacon or your dick cheese?”

Richie shrugged. He was watching Stan fuck up the combination to his locker.

“Just wouldn’t want to do that to him unless I was serious. It’s a big deal.” Richie looked at Eddie. “How come you weren’t at his bar mitzvah?”
“Yeah, that was gonna fly. ‘Hey mom, you know my friend Stan who you always call ‘the Heebie Jeebie’? Can you drive me to fucking Bangor to go to his first harvesting of Christian baby souls? There’s gonna be a DJ and cake.’”
“Really?”
“Fuck off. I asked. She said no, and then went on about how Roy Cohn was “one of the good ones” for an hour until he got his ass infected with AIDS by J. Edgar.”
“Why didn’t you ask me? We would have given you a lift.”

Eddie felt embarrassed for not realizing that sooner. It was just Bill and Richie who’d gotten into it, but Richie had been snippy that whole summer anyway. Eddie had his scare in the basement of the pharmacy, and didn’t feel he could go to anybody until Bill summoned them to rescue Beverly, and they could all put their shit behind them.

“We were fighting. Remember?”

Richie probably did, but he didn’t say anything.

“I really wanted to go,” Eddie insisted.
“Can’t beat free cake,” said Richie. “No DJ though.”
“And he’s my friend, dingus.”
“Does he know that?” Richie backtracked when he saw the look on Eddie’s face. “I’m kidding. He knows that. Of course he knows that.”
“Does he?” Eddie watched Stan rearrange the books in his locker. “I really think everyone’s just putting up with my shit because it’s easier to wait until high school is over. And then they can be like “oh I’m busy, oh I’ve got school, oh I just forgot.”

Eddie was sure Richie knew perfectly well how it felt to get those excuses from people you cared about.

“Well, what’ll happen if you tell him?” he asked. Eddie snorted.
“He’ll pants me in front of the whole school, call me a pussy, and invite everyone to point and laugh at my dick?”

Richie put his hand on Eddie’s head to shake it around.

“I keep forgetting about what goes on in that noggin of yours.”

Eddie realized he was holding onto both straps of his backpack like he was a kid again. It was in fashion to let one slouch off your shoulder so you could ruin your back, but for now it was just easier to have the anxiety tic.

Richie gave Eddie a small nudge towards Stan. Eddie glanced at him for reassurance before shuffling across the hallway.

“Hey Stan?”
“Yeah.” Stan didn’t look up from getting his textbooks in the right order by size and color.
“I’m sorry for being an idiot.”
“What? You’re fine.” Stan looked confused. This was weird.
“And I really wanted to go to your bar mitzvah, but my mom wouldn’t let me.”
“Yeah, I kind of figured.” Stan finally looked at him. “It was also like five years ago. What’s bringing this on?”

Eddie was nervous. “I don’t know, I just never said why.”
“Your mom’s kind of fucked up, no offense. I honestly would have been surprised if you guys had shown up. But, thanks.”

It’s just that sometimes I say all the things I mean in my head and think everybody already knows where I’m coming from instead of saying them out loud so they know I’m not just an asshole and I do give a shit, but I don’t want to be a pussy.

“Eddie,” said Stan.
“Hm?” Eddie startled.
“You okay? You just kind of drifted off there.”

Eddie drifted off again, but snapped back to say:

“It’s just that sometimes I’ll say all this shit in my head instead of saying it to you and like if we’re friends, then you should know that I give a shit instead of me like keeping it to myself, you know? Does that make sense? Sorry. This is weird.”

Stan looked very confused, and a little concerned.

“You know if you’re about to give me your stuff, that’s a sign of impending suicide, and as a hall monitor, I kind of do have to tell somebody.”
“Oh my fucking god, no. Jesus.”

Stan put his books away and closed his locker.

“It’s cool, man. I get it. There’s all kinds of shit in my head too.”
“Yeah?”
“Yeah. You know my parents even wanted me to see a shrink? That painting It turned into really fucked me up.”
“Why? What happened?”

Stan hesitated, like he was thinking of how to put it into words. He shook his head and looked away.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” He admitted. Eddie sucked his teeth.
“Wow. Really? I just shared a bunch of shit with you.”
“I didn’t make you dump your purse out. You just came over here and let your handbag barf all over my shoes.”

The bizarre image made Eddie laugh.

“You’re funnier than Richie, you know that?”

Stan gave him a weird look, like that meant something else from Eddie.

“Oh yeah?”
“Yeah, it makes him nuts.” He laughed, and Stan realized it wasn’t about him.
“We’ll always be friends,” said Stan.
“Until we graduate and say we’ll be in touch, and then we all go do other things with our lives.”

Stan held up his palm with the thick white scar.

“We’ll always be friends,” said Stan. “Even if we didn’t have this.”
“Thanks man.” Eddie genuinely felt grateful.
“No problem, loser. Go tell Richie he sucks.”

Richie was leaning against the wall, arms folded, watching the conversation. He smiled and nodded at Stan as he left. Why did everyone always say folding your arms was confrontational? Richie always did it when he felt relaxed around somebody and just wanted to be comfortable. It was a way to fold himself in instead of feeling like he was flailing all over the place.

Eddie walked back to Richie, feeling better.

“Stan’s definitely funnier than you.”
“That bitch.”

Richie still had the newspaper. Eddie took it from him to look at the picture below the fold, of the firefighter cradling that dead baby girl. He already knew Richie’s fart jokes were just a way to process all this horrible shit, and that he didn't like Eddie looking at something so disturbing. But he needed to see it again.

“Looking at this isn’t going to bring her back,” Richie said. “Shit happens, man.”
“I know,” said Eddie, “but you ever look at pictures like these and wait to see if it turns into that fucking clown?” Eddie asked. “Like it would explain why all this shit happens?”

Richie turned his head to look at the newspaper. Eddie tried to hide that he shuddered, but it was hard when he could smell Richie’s cheap shampoo, feel his breath graze the hair by his ear, and hear the shift of his clothes as he put his hands in his pockets.

“Is that weird?” Eddie asked.
“Nah,” Richie said softly. “I get it. I think there’s just that many fucked up people in the world.”

The parents, teachers, and authority figures of Derry always ministered about how the world was populated by axe murderers, child rapists, Satanic cults, and mind melting video games. There was no safer place on earth than the comforting streets of Derry, where every twenty seven years a supernatural clown terrorized their children, and the parents, teachers, and authority figures carried on his work in the years in-between.

No wonder it was a dying town and everyone was moving on out.

“You wanna come over? I finally got the Mortal Kombat movie,” Richie offered.
“I can’t. My mom will hit the roof,” Eddie said.
“Dude, how’s that different from any other day? You want to go home to listen to her wail about how Jesse Jackson and all of the wiretappers at the FBI have mass orgies, or you want to come over and watch Robin Shou kick ass?”

It didn’t exactly hurt that Robin Shou was pretty fucking sexy, and had his shirt off for most of the movie.

“Come on,” Richie clapped Eddie’s arm. “Tell Mama Kasp you’re staying over at mine tonight.”

And it was enough to have that. All Eddie had to do was call home, tell mom he would be out with friends, make damn sure he didn’t specify Richie so she wouldn’t go after him specifically, and apologize about a hundred different times for not being home, for being an ungrateful son, or whatever else she cooked up.

His reward for listening to fifteen solid minutes of abuse was Domino’s, Pepsi, and whatever they could score off the convenience store clerk that didn’t check IDs, including rolling papers for the good shit. Eddie was melting into the couch as he watched Sonya fight Kano.

“My mother’s such a bitch,” Eddie grumbled. He was so stoned there was a five second delay on his reaction to Richie cheering in triumph.
“I did it!” Richie cried. “The Losers owe me $20!”
“I fucking knew it,” Eddie said.
“The rule was I couldn’t goad you into saying it. You had to say it yourself, unprovoked, by nothing in particular.”
“Unprovoked my ass. She went through a whole thesaurus of ways I could go fuck myself for not coming home for dinner.” He reached for another slice of pizza. “Gonna starve to death. Gonna get stolen by Mexicans. Gonna get butt fucked by the Mexicans.”
“Your mom needs some butt fucking.”
“It’d probably work the knot out of her ass.”
“Yeah, if she wasn’t too fat to get the straps on.”

It took Eddie a minute, but the mental image downloaded and Eddie burst out laughing at the thought of his mother wearing a dildo.

“That’s not what –“ Eddie howled and fell over on the couch. “That’s not what I meant!” Richie shoved the two liter Pepsi bottle between his legs and yanked it around like a jumbo sized joystick.
“Sonia got a big rubber donkey dick from the K-Mart on to peg the pigeons in the park!”
“What the fuck are you – oh fuck I can’t breathe,” Eddie panicked. “Richie I can’t breathe.”
“Hang on.”

Richie grabbed Eddie by the wrists and pulled him up. Eddie’s laughing tapered off and he could finally get air in his lungs.

He was way too stoned to be within kissing distance of Richie. With his thick dark hair in his face, his stupid pouty lips, and who still had a giant fake erection made of plastic and shaken up soda between his legs.

“Put that away, dude. That’s fucking gross.” Eddie said, waving at the bottle.
“What, you don’t like rubber donkey dick?” Richie asked, grabbing the bottle and yanking it around some more.
“Quit it. That thing’s gonna explode. Do NOT say that’s what happened in Oklahoma. And get me a water.”
“So shall it be written, so shall it be done, Queen of Sheba.”

Richie rolled off the couch and trotted into the kitchen.

“That’s two different movies, dickhead!” Eddie called.
“Tell me which ones and I won’t make you come get it!” Richie called from the kitchen.
“Aw, come on! I’m too stoned!”
“Nope! You’ve watched both! You can do this!”
“I don't know!” Eddie whined. “They’ve both got that bald dude who isn’t really Asian or something?”
“Yul Brynner! Partial credit. I’ll put ice in it.”

Eddie knew how much Richie was enjoying torturing him. It was still a huge improvement over listening to his mother torture him with fits of paranoia that erupted in the middle of the night. He slid off the couch and made himself stagger into the kitchen.

The Toziers’ house was one of those turn of the century homes that arrived just after Victorian times, and right before frugality determined design. Richie’s parents were the type who could afford the house and not much else, as evidenced by the rabbit ears on the TV. The only home improvements made were getting the floors redone so late night bathroom trips wouldn’t turn the house into a squeaky toy, and double pane windows to cut down on the heating bill. The Toziers knew how to have a good time.

Richie and Eddie had already pried around his parents’ belongings years ago and found nothing of interest, which confirmed they saved their sex life for the road or they were just that damn boring. At least Richie and Eddie never ran out of things to talk about.

“Greta said you had DSL. Is that like a medical thing or something?” Eddie asked as he drank the last of his water.
“Dick-sucking lips?” Richie laughed. “She says it like it’s a bad thing.”

Eddie snorted and coughed, slobbering water down his front. He was way too stoned for this conversation.

“I mean she’s gonna be a hater when her lips are thinner than John Waters’ mustache. Probably gets rug burn when she sucks dick. No wonder she’s still single.”

Richie leaned on the counter with a grin. He really did have the softest, pillowiest lips. What it’d be like to have his dick on Richie’s tongue, sliding in and out of his hot wet mouth, with those lips wrapped around–

“Hellooo…” Richie sang. “Earth to Eds.” He waved a hand in his face. “You orbiting the moon or Mars or the stars beyond?”
“Is that true?” Eddie asked.
“That I’ve got the biggest –“ Richie tossed his curls like a Pantene model with each adjective, “– softest – poutiest lips that she could only get with back alley collagen injections?” Richie puckered up his lips for effect. “Darn tootin’.” He leaned back up and poured a glass for himself. “How come you guys never went out?”

What a way to fucking pivot the conversation. Eddie felt like he’d been shadow kicked in the chest.

“Greta Keene?? Are you fucking kidding me! She’s the biggest bitch in the world!”
“You spent all that time at the pharmacy. No office romance ever bloomed?”
“No!”
“I mean, she did tell you your pills were bullshit.”
“Yeah, because she thought I was retarded, not because she cared. Besides, she used to give garbage showers to Bev. Who the fuck would ever like someone like her?”

Eddie had never been as close to Beverly as the other Losers, especially Richie, but anybody who was a bitch to Bev was nobody worth respecting. She was the only reason so many of them were alive.

“She didn’t write that V on your cast?”
“No. She wrote ‘loser’. I wrote the V.”
“Yeah, you did.” Richie grinned.
“I did.”
“I know.”
“I did, you goddamn dork!”
“Come on, lover boy,” Richie laughed as he shoved Eddie back to the couch.
“Shut the fuck up, Urkel!”

Richie laughed so hard at Eddie calling him that, he missed a good chunk of the movie and almost the whole couch when he sat down.

“It’s not that funny,” Eddie insisted, laughing in spite of himself.
“Yes it is!” Richie howled.

Usually Eddie would make his excuses and clear out before nine, to prove to his mother he wasn’t an ungrateful son. It made him believe it would help her by listening to her tirades about the government, her medication, her diet, and whatever else the nice people on the television had told her.

Instead Richie had called in a second, and apparently a third pizza, which they were making short work of as their next movie was ignored.

“You hear from any colleges?” Richie asked.
“I didn’t apply,” said Eddie.
“WHAT?”
“Do not start. I already know I’m going to catch hell from Stan.”
“You know if you don’t go to college, you’re doomed to pump gas, get some crackhead knocked up, and piss your life away, right?”
“Pump jockeys get tips.”
“They’re also covered in germs.”

Eddie was sobering up enough to give Richie a nasty look for playing that card, but Richie looked completely serious. He wouldn’t have put it out there if he wasn’t trying to get Eddie’s attention.

“I forgot about it. Mom’s going through some stuff.”
“Like what? Menopause? Going through what? Is it finally going to get her to chill the fuck out?”

Eddie thought of the last time she’d woken him up to cry about how she heard a noise downstairs and he had to go check for her. Something was scratching in the walls or laughing outside the door, and she couldn’t go to sleep until Eddie was as wound up and freaked out as her. When Eddie was appropriately convinced there really was someone lurking in the bushes, she yawned and went to bed. Sonia slept like a baby. Eddie stayed up ‘til dawn.

“I’ve got to get some sleep,” Eddie mumbled.
“Just stay here tonight, man. She doesn’t have our new number, she already thinks you’re out getting your kidneys stolen by Janet Reno, and you deserve to have a night out with a friend.”

Any sparkling embers in him were suddenly muted by a thick, wet blanket. He was here hanging out with a friend. That was it. It would be like their sleepovers when the Toziers cared to be around. He and Richie would watch cowboy movies on the old black and white TV, Mama Kasp would call every hour on the hour until bedtime, and Eddie slept in his sleeping bag on the floor of Richie’s room, bitching about his increased chances of getting scoliosis.

He hadn’t stayed over in awhile. The last year or so had been bad and as possessive as Sonia had been in his youth, it was nothing compared to what she was turning into now. He wanted to stay over and he didn't want her to know. He wanted this to himself.

And he really needed a break.

“Okay,” said Eddie.
“Bitchin’. You wanna play Beavis and Butthead?”
“God damn it…”

 

Eddie woke up first, thinking he was home and his mother was standing over him to sob at him to save her. Instead he was safe at the Toziers, and nobody was blowing up the phone or banging down the door to drag him back to his house. He could stay as long as he liked.

The TV was still squeaking that fucking Super Nintendo music at him. Beavis and Butthead were giggling in a classroom, waiting for one of the controllers to move them forward. Eddie just grabbed the remote to mute the noise.

Richie was curled up at the end of the couch, head on the armrest, and feet tucked under the cushions. When he got home, he’d changed into his favorite Gwar shirt and plaid pajama pants. Comfy living’s the only way to live, he’d insisted to Eddie as he cracked a window to spark up.

Eddie didn’t know where he put his glasses. If Richie was going to stay asleep on the couch, Eddie felt he should find them for when he woke up. But it was nice to sit and watch him sleep. He had crazy long black eyelashes, his stubble was already coming in, and his mouth was open just enough to show his crooked teeth, and let him drool a little.

What a dork. A goddamn gorgeous dork.

Richie stirred and opened his eyes. Eddie’s head snapped to the TV like the silent giggles of MTV’s biggest idiots was the most fascinating shit in the world.

“What time is it?” Richie asked, fumbling between the couch and the end table to retrieve his specs. The VCR flashed an unhelpful 12:00 at them.

“Pretty late, I think,” Eddie offered. He had a watch, but didn’t want to check it. He didn’t want to think about the clock winding down on whatever time he had left with Richie.

Richie just stood up and left the room, leaving Eddie by himself with the afghan blankets and the Patriots football fleeces.

“You sleeping here or upstairs?” Richie asked as he wandered to the staircase.

What the fuck.

Eddie watched him walk upstairs without an answer. Why the fuck didn’t he linger, to give him a look, anything at all to suggest there was some deeper meaning to that invitation? Why didn’t they make out on the couch or kiss when Eddie sat up and could have blamed the weed? Why was he letting Richie go upstairs without him…

You won’t get scoliosis if you sleep in a bed.

Go fucking figure it’s the dormant phobias that could propel him to overcome the other fears.

Eddie stood up, turned off the TV, and walked upstairs. He’d let Richie figure out how to turn off the SNES in the morning. He had to climb the stairs and see what was in store for him. The light was on in Richie’s room.

He stepped onto the second floor of the house. He turned to Richie’s room to find the sheets folded over, and Richie putting his glasses in their case. He sat up to tuck his feet under the covers. He looked up to see Eddie in the doorway. He just looked tired.

“Grab a shirt if you want. Sorry, I’m fucking wiped out.”

Richie rolled over, turned out the light, and left Eddie in the darkness, with the other side of the bed turned down. There were only the fragments of streetlight through the ash trees to give him any guidance.

“G’night,” said Richie.
“Am I gonna step on a Lego?” Eddie asked.
“Mmmno.” Richie mumbled.

Eddie gingerly walked into the room, relieved there were no Lego mines waiting for him, but there were plenty of socks, abandoned pages of homework, and dirty laundry. He’d been in Richie’s room countless times before, but never like this.

He looked at Richie curled up in bed. His curls almost melted into the t-shirt and offered only the slightest glimpse of his pale neck. His fingertips wrapped around his elbow, and here and there beneath the duvet were the shapes of his body. It was almost the same form he took when they fell from the hammock.

Eddie was a thousand percent certain if he changed out of his clothes, his erection would swing so hard and fast out of his pants, it would give him a black eye. He really didn't want to explain that over breakfast.

Eddie just took off his belt, put it on the night table, and got into bed in his shirt and khakis, like the big goddamn dork that he was and always would be.

“Jesus, are there crumbs in here?” Eddie whined. Richie didn't say anything. He only offered up the inhales of someone already deep in sleep. It was so fucking unfair. All the damn stuff he wanted was in reach, but he couldn’t bring himself to touch it.

Eddie curled up at the edge of the bed, leaving enough room for the Boston Red Sox, the Buffalo Bills, and Christ himself between him and Richie. It was a foolproof plan to make sure Richie would never find out. He was just there to sleep and if he touched his skin, then he would know, and that could never happen. They were just friends and that’s all it would be, even if he was so nice to wake up to.

It didn’t mean anything, and it was enough to have whatever time he had left with Richie.

But it wouldn’t fucking hurt to have something more...

Chapter Text

Eddie wasn’t a religious guy. The Kaspbraks were C&Es at best, but Mama Kasp had found religion in the strict dogma she followed about health and morality. She’d taken to wearing her favorite turquoise track suit as she lurched around the house, eating only what Jenny Craig sold pre-packaged, and took communion before the daytime television preachers, who tried to squeeze one last nickel out of their broke congregation, before the megachurch movement collapsed from Democrat witchcraft. It was the good, clean home she’d built for herself, even if the one Eddie lived in was on the brink of disaster.

He wasn’t much for communism either, but he thought Marx had something figured out when he said religion was an opium for the masses. There was so much manufactured morality in American Christianity, it was as close to real faith as Kraft was to real cheese. But this week had tested Eddie to his limits and he found himself muttering, wondering, maybe even praying to just let him get through this. Let him get through high school. Let him find some peace in his life. And this wasn’t even about Richie.

If there was a god or giant space turtle or something that had divine influence over the events on Earth, something up there heard him, because an angel with a flaming sword came to town, and she was going to change his life.

The last bell on Friday should have been a welcome noise, but the only thing worse than the mental beating he’d taken all week for finals prep, was knowing what was waiting for him at home. He shuffled out of class, his eyes dropping like store shutters, only to be startled awake when Richie darted over to him.

“Dude! You’re never going to believe it!”

He’d almost dragged Eddie out of the building, yammering about how he heard from the guy who was fingering Greta how “that poor trash slut is back” and how she “looks like a dyke”. The sea of kids, cars, and buses outside of school made it a bitch to navigate, and Richie was searching frantically for one person in particular.

And there she was.

Across the parking lot, under the ash tree by the campus gate, Eddie and Richie spotted a familiar redhead smoking a clove.

“OH SHIT!!” Richie screamed.

Richie insisted he had a severe allergy to physical fitness, but on seeing his favorite ginger give him the finger, he screeched like a hawk, sprinted across the parking lot, and swept her up into a hug. Beverly Marsh had graduated a semester early, was on her way to FIT, and she wanted to see the Losers before she moved to New York.

“AND YOU’RE BALD??!” Richie screamed. “WHAT THE FUCK! OH MY GOD! I LOVE IT, YOU HOLY TERROR!”

Beverly screamed as Richie swung her around in circles with her legs wrapped around his waist, swearing to kick his ass if he dropped her. Her thick ginger curls had been traded in for a bright red buzzcut from a number two shave. She was wearing multiple rings in her ears, heavy eyeliner, a striped crop top, and the biggest jeans they’d ever seen.

“What the FUCK!” Stan yelled, coming up to them with too many books. “Put her down. My turn. My turn.”
“Please tell me these books are going in the trash,” Richie said as Stan shoved the library books at him, which Richie just put right on the grass.
“Shut up. Not while the best of us is here,” Stan laughed, giving her a tight hug.
“I missed you fuckers!” Beverly laughed.
“You look like you’re going to fight the fucking Pope!” Richie laughed. “Fuck, you look like Tank Girl! Can I touch it? Can I?”
“Go ahead,” she grinned. Richie patted her buzzed scalp and kept laughing with delight. “It’s so weird!”
“I needed something different,” Beverly smiled. “I’ll let it be long again one day when it’s for me, but…” she shrugged. “I don’t know. I felt inspired.”
“It’s so cool. I couldn’t do it. I have a fit if I even have to get a trim. This is just the coolest shit.” Richie laughed, inviting himself to rub his fingers around her scalp again.
“Yeah, I can see that, INXS,” Beverly laughed, grabbing at his curls.

Eddie was too exhausted to react. It made him a little green with envy to see her loved so openly when he’d never get that for himself. It was nice to see her though.

“How you doing, Eddie Spaghetti?” Beverly asked.
“Did you get your tits done?” Eddie asked. Beverly smiled and slapped him so hard he heard colors.
“He’s needed that for awhile.” Richie grinned. “Quick question, what the fuck are you wearing?” Richie asked, pointing at her voluminous jeans.
“Yeah it’s kind of like if Raymond Stantz thought of the Levi Store instead of the Stay Puft Man.” Stan said.
“They’re JNCO jeans and they’re very fashionable,” said Beverly.
“At the circus?” Stan and Richie said. “Jinx.” Richie said first.
“Hey…” Beverly grinned. She wasn’t looking at any of them.

Ben had wandered up without a word. Beverly had gotten pretty tall, but Ben had shot up from five foot six to six feet and change. He wasn’t as big as he was in middle school, but he was still soft in looks and heart. And he was staring at Beverly with that lop-sided smile Eddie knew too well. Eddie always had to wipe it from his own face when he looked at Richie.

And son of a gun, it was on her face too. For the first time around them, she self-consciously patted her head. Her January embers had burned down to a close cropped ginger fuzz.

“I, uh…” Beverly murmured.
“I love it,” said Ben. “You look like a Valkyrie.”

Beverly smiled so hard Eddie thought her face was gonna break.

“She’s still got that back swing too,” said Eddie.
“Only to be offered by those who say the most stupid of shit, so Ben will never know,” Beverly grinned. She gave Ben an awkward hug, almost like it was going to mean something she held him for any longer.
“Does anybody have a camera? We need to commemorate this,” said Stan. “The Losers are reunited!”
“Where’s Mike? And Bill?” Beverly asked. “We gotta get the whole gang together.”
“Mike should be out of class by now,” said Eddie. He wasn’t feeling his best today and he wasn’t the brightest on most days, but he still had enough sense to keep his trap shut. None of the other Losers wanted to take the initiative, but as Bev’s closest friend, Richie stepped up.
“Bill’s…” Richie mumbled, “with his…girlfriend?”

Beverly tried not to look devastated at the news. She definitely hadn’t been rehearsing how things would go once she was back, and this threw all those hopes to the wind.

“Cool,” said Beverly. “That’s great. Super happy for him.”

Stan motioned to Richie over her shoulder that he would handle it.

“Yeah! He’ll be super happy to see you, once he pulls Lady Lamprey off his neck,” Richie grinned. The rest of the Losers groaned and told him to shut up.
“In the meantime,” said Stan, “Ben found out there’s a genus of turtle that’s native only to this region of Maine. Genus? Species?”
“Species,” said Ben.
“Cool! How long’s the library open for?” Beverly asked.
“Until 7. They start summer hours in spring,” Ben smiled.

Eddie was sure he saw Stan toss a wink and a slight thumb’s up at Ben, but his head was throbbing so much he wasn’t sure. Thank crap they were standing in the shade instead of directly under the sun.

“NO!”

They turned to see Mike joining them, laughing wildly at the sight of Beverly.

“You went all Sinead O’Connor on us! I didn’t believe you!” Mike cried.
“Well, if I could show you over the phone, I would have!” Beverly laughed, and hugged him.
“You called Mike and not us?” Richie squawked. “I had to find out through bathroom shit talk!”
“Is that what you call study hall jerk off time?” Beverly wondered.
“You bitch. You goddamn bitch. I have missed you so much!”

Richie seized her in another hug. Stan and Mike joined him, and Ben and Eddie joined nervously for their own reasons. As awkward and exhausted as Eddie felt, it was good to see her.

“Stop grabbing my ass, Kaspbrak,” Beverly joked.
“Yeah, Eddie, you perv,” said Mike.
“Yeah, grabass,” said Stan.
“Great material, guys. Very funny,” Eddie griped.

Stan gently nudged Richie to the side so he, Mike, and Ben could walk Beverly to the sidewalk. Richie relented only after he made Beverly give him her aunt’s cell phone number and she waved goodbye, as Stan made his excuses and took Mike with him so Ben and Beverly could be alone to walk to his car. From the sight of them, you never could have guessed Beverly’s mood had dropped and gotten right back up.

“Stan the man’s got moves,” Richie admitted. “Wingman’s got a wingspan of an albatross.”

Richie sat down on the grass and stretched out under the shade. Eddie sat down too, only because he didn’t know where else to go. It was easier to sit with his arms around his knees and stare at the sea of people in the parking lot.

“What a fucking day,” Richie exhaled.
“Hm. Yeah.” Eddie said.
“Hey,” Richie kicked Eddie’s leg, “what the fuck was that about her tits?”

Eddie wasn’t in the mood for an interrogation from someone else, so he put his head under his arms to try and block it out.

“I don’t know. I’m having a day. I don’t know why I said it,” said Eddie.
“I’m the trash mouth, not you. Get your own material. And don’t say that shit to Beverly.”
“Motherfucker, I know. Get off my ass. I’m sorry.”

Eddie looked up to see if she was still there. Beverly was walking and talking with Ben at his beat-up yellow Datsun. She always looked shy and nervous around Bill, like anyone with a crush, but with Ben she looked so peaceful. The two of them moved like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Richie sat up and cupped a hand to his mouth.

“BEVERLY!” Richie yelled. She looked at them with a cocked eyebrow that suggested she could continue kicking the shit out of them if he wanted.
“EDDIE’S SUPER SORRY! HE GOT A LOBOTOMY FOR CHRISTMAS AND IT’S MADE HIM DOG FOOD AMBULANCE FART SNICKERS!”
“YOU CAN’T EVEN SEE THE SCAR!” She called back with a smile, deciding Eddie looked sufficiently humbled. Eddie smiled and waved in thanks. It was good to see the best of them again. All the bullshit she’d been through was a nightmare they couldn’t even begin to imagine, and she was still with them. She was flourishing. Beverly wanted to live and she was so fucking cool about it. God, she deserved to be so happy.

“See?” Richie grinned.
“Thanks,” Eddie said.
“No problemo, Spaghetti-O.” Richie laid back down. “Now just make time to say it to her.”
“I will.”

Even if he was too worn out to say the words himself, it felt good to make amends for saying something so goddamn stupid to Beverly. It felt even better to not have Richie be disappointed in him. The rest of him still felt like he was made of broken glass and it was only a few places of scotch tape that were keeping him together.

Eddie just happened to be sat next to Richie. It was one of those things he wouldn’t have consciously done. If he’d gotten some more sleep, he would have sat across from him so nobody at all would know what he was thinking or feeling. He just happened to sit next to Richie, who was stretched out on the grass with his arms behind his head and his eyes closed. He still had zits. He’d tried to grow a goatee, but his facial hair was too wispy and curly. A soul patch had lasted for a month before he gave up on it. His D.A.R.E. shirt was sweaty from P.E. and the only reason it no longer stank of weed was because he wanted to wear it at school without getting detention. His jeans were ripped and marked with paint, his Converse were starting to rip in the toe, and he looked completely at peace with the world.

Richie was such a fucking mess and Eddie loved it. It was all he needed right now. Eddie had put himself back together after his first time with Connor, and decided once was enough. After the platonic night at Richie’s, he decided if it couldn’t be anything more than that, it was enough to have his friendship. He told himself he didn’t need sex, or even to be kissed. This was enough. Besides, there was something incredibly erotic about just watching Richie’s chest as he breathed in, and out.

Eddie rested his head back on his arms. He just wanted to close his eyes for a minute, but he startled. Richie’s hand was on his back.

“You okay?” Richie asked.
“Yeah.”
“What’s going on?”
“Nothing. I’m fine.”
“Eds, you’ve said maybe ten words all day when you normally say ten a second. If you can’t even tell me…”

He wasn’t being pushy. He was reassuring. Who else did Eddie have to tell?

“My mom woke me up at three AM and said the FBI had bugged the house.”

He could hear Richie sit up.

“What?”

Eddie sighed. He really just wanted to get through high school and have this be a funny story to tell when they were older, but he was so fucking exhausted.

“She hears voices,” he explained, “and says that the FBI has the house bugged or the government is putting mind controlling chemicals in the water, and I have to check…” he exhaled and rubbed his eyes, “…the water tank, behind the light plates and the outlets, inside all the drawers and behind the mirrors. We had to tear the wall open yesterday.”
“…Eddie, what the fuck.”
“Well, I had to tear the walls open. She wasn’t strong enough. The hallway looks like it’s full of cotton candy, but it’s just the insulation.” He sniffed sharply in hopes the oxygen shot would wake his brain up.

Richie scooted up to get a better look at the rings under Eddie’s eyes and his thousand yard stare.

“How long has this been going on?” he asked.
“Since…” Eddie had to rack his brain. “December? That’s when the government stuff happened, the day after Christmas, she told me to pick up the phone and listen for voices. It just kept turning into a dial tone and it was screaming in my ear, but she’s insisting I listen and I had to listen for an hour before she’d calm down. Then in February I had to take the lamps apart and check all the pockets of our clothes because she said she can hear a radio signal, and someone must have put it in a pocket when I wasn’t looking. And then a few weeks ago I had to take the fridge apart and when I told her I couldn’t dismantle it completely, she had this fit that lasted for hours, saying I was going to get her killed if I didn’t get it open because there were chemicals in there that were trying to kill her.”

That was a lot to unload and he really felt a lot of that should have stayed under wraps. He didn’t want to deal with a metric fuckton load of jokes or rants.

“Is that why you stayed over last time?”

Well, that, and I was hoping we could fuck or at this point hold hands because I’m jonesing for you like a fucking junkie, but I mean...

“Yeah, basically.” Eddie said.
“Because I woke up pretty early and you were already gone.”
“You think noon is pretty early.”
“No, it was like seven.”

Because even sleeping next to you fully clothed was making my skin crawl and facing her wall of shit was a thousand times more bearable than spending another second next to you.

“Just felt bad about not telling her I was going to be out that late.”
“Oh shit, we didn’t tell her…”

The slightest snap of adrenaline cracked into Eddie’s brain, making him think he was so delirious he’d forgotten they had made out. But it passed, and no. They hadn’t. They had just forgotten to tell her he was going to stay over.

“How bad was it?” Richie asked.
“Well, she had been up all night and was shoving all my clothes into bags and anything else I had owned or touched because if I was going to abandon her, then I could take all my shit and leave.”

It was fine. You know how it is.

Shit. That was supposed to be the other way around.

“Okay…” Richie exhaled. Eddie couldn’t bring himself to look at him.
“It’s fine. Just had to put on a show and say I was sorry…”

He really, really didn’t want to talk about how much he had to cry to convince her he meant it. He didn’t want to be homeless. He couldn’t even fathom how many people he could reach out to for help who would politely decline out of disgust. He didn’t want to discover his mother had done something to really hurt herself because if she was disintegrating this fast, who was going to be there to look out for her? And he knew she only did it because she knew he would crack and beg her not to kick him out. She just wanted proof in the desperate pleading of her son.

“There’s been weird little shit in between, but that’s the gist of it,” Eddie said.
“Why’d this all start in December?” Richie asked. “Is it just because of the holidays or something?”

Here we go.

“No, her friend in Providence got her a subscription to this vitamin program that one of those talk radio DJs promotes that are supposed to give you energy and get you back into shape. Instead she just flips out and does all this shit.”
“Have you-“
“Yes.” Eddie snapped. “I swapped them after that shit with the phone, and she went into withdrawal so hard she put her fist through the window. Whatever she’s taking, they’re not placebos.”
“Gazebos.”
“Yeah, I know.”

Eddie didn’t mean to snap at him. It was just a lot. He didn’t want to hear something affectionate when he felt unworthy of it.

If you share something vulnerable, then it will get people to trust you.

Couldn’t argue with that logic offered by his strung-out lab rat of a brain.

“When she took the placebos,” Eddie explained, “she went into withdrawal, she put her fist through the kitchen window and there was blood, just, fucking everywhere. She couldn’t even feel it. And she was grinding her teeth so hard as I was trying to patch her up. And when she came down, she was sobbing all day. Because…”

He held up a finger for dramatic effect, feeling a bit of life coming back to him, like the indignity of it was resuscitating him. He looked at Richie to make his point and felt his heart sink.

Richie looked horrified. Like he was telling him that Pennywise was back and Eddie had to watch him eat Sonia alive. Even if that was, in a way, what was happening…

Eddie told himself to push on.

“…because…” he continued. “I had taken a piece of cardboard, that I cut to fit the broken window, and I was about to tape it up, and she felt that I was judging her. If I covered up the broken window,” he sighed, “in WINTER…” Eddie took a moment to calm down, “…then it’d be like I was covering up her face. She’d have to look at it everyday and be reminded that I was ashamed of her.”

There was a long silence. Eddie was starting to wish Richie would make a joke so he would stop over-sharing.

“And then there was a bunch of other shit about how the neighbors would judge us for being poor or think that we were co-mingling with blacks because they always lived with cardboard or garbage bags on their windows and we were the good kind of people so we had to let it be glass and we are now in April? May? I honestly don’t even know I’m so tired, and that window, is still broken. We spent a goddamn New England winter with a broken window because my mommy didn't want me to judge her. With a piece of fucking cardboard.”

Sonia’s moods came and went all the time, but this new addition of the pills was making it escalate like oil on a fire. Eddie’s trip to the truck depot was the last full day he’d had to himself. His night at Richie’s ended when temptation and guilt were such a stranglehold that they wouldn’t let up until he left. Between cramming for finals, and the rest of the manic bullshit leading up to graduation, the cherry on top of managing his mother’s mental deterioration was wearing him down like a pencil.

“I had to sneak out this morning so I wouldn’t miss school. Fucking amazed she hasn’t called the police by now,” said Eddie.
“Why hasn’t she?”
“Because they’d see the house and if they saw how nuts she was, even Derry's fucked up fuzz would have her carted in.”
“What if she tries to say you attacked her or you fucked up the house?”
“Well, then I’d get arrested and she’d never see me again, and that’s worse than the FBI putting uranium or whatever in her tap water.”

This was supposed to be the best week of the year. Beverly was back in town, the Losers Club was reunited, and Eddie just wanted to fall into the earth and never get up if it meant he’d get a break from everything.

“Dude, you’ve got to call somebody.” Richie said. “Get her help. You can’t do this alone.”
“Who? With what money? What insurance? She gets a stipend from dad’s life insurance that keeps our head above water, and hand outs from my cousins down south. Who’s gonna take care of her? Not those prissy Presbyterians. They’re all with her in the poppers club with Jenny Craig and Christ. They got everything they need. Except Aunt Val. She’s all right.”
“You could…I dunno. Have her committed?”
“And what? Have her wind up in that nuthouse with Bowers? I’m not gonna do that to her.” Eddie sighed. “You know she wants to get me a pager so she always knows where I am? How the fuck is she gonna pay for that? She had to sell shit in the house to get me a Walkman I don’t even use.”

Eddie flopped his head back on his arms, but he couldn’t block out the glare of the sun, the noise of everyone leaving school, cars starting and stopping, the smell of carbon monoxide, and all the pieces of a Friday afternoon that dug into his skull.

And Richie said in such a calm voice, the rest of the noise melted away.

“Stay over tonight.”

Eddie sighed.

“I can’t. She’ll flip out.”
“Eds…”

A year ago, Richie would have been cussing and posturing and talking about all the ways she could go fuck herself. He was so calm now and focused only on him.

“Someone’s gotta take care of you too,” Richie said.

And Eddie couldn’t argue with that.

The only thing he actually had to do was call her and tell her he wouldn’t be home, and it was because of how she was acting. If anything else was done or if anyone else called, the police would absolutely be on their asses before they even left school. Eddie had to listen to her sob down the line at him. She swung like a pendulum between snarling at him for his ingratitude and bawling at him to forgive her. Every whining plea was another needle in his chest; invisible to all eyes, empty if it existed, but somehow injecting the ideas back into him that she knew what was best. Eddie was tired, but his reflection in the payphone wall made him look like he’d been awake for a hundred years.

“I’ll be home tomorrow,” he assured her. Richie held out his hand. Eddie gave the receiver to him and Richie hung up the phone, the depositing quarter sounding like a guillotine blade. The weight was off his chest for now, but he dreaded its return. She wouldn’t kick him out. She needed him to stay, but he finally felt like he could call her bluff.

They walked back to Richie’s. Eddie was past tired, well into exhausted, and at the threshold of absolutely done. It was only Richie’s occasional gentle questions of if he wanted to pick up anything at the house, or what did he want to eat, that kept him from walking through that door.

The Toziers were off on another adventure. They left with such regularity they’d stopped leaving notes and it was up to Richie to realize he was home alone. Richie closed the door behind them and put down their bags. Eddie sighed. The walls were intact, the lamps and fridge were assembled, and the only noise came from the tick of the kitchen clock.

“Come here.”

Richie put his arms around Eddie, and wrapped him up in a hug. Eddie was enveloped in the smell of sweat and scents, and the warmth of his body. He was so comfortable in Richie’s arms he could have fallen asleep standing up. It was so kind it had to be illegal in several states. It felt like what home was supposed to be.

“Eddie beddie,” Richie murmured. “Gonna get you some sleep.” It was a weird tune he made up as he went. “Maybe call in some take out. Just gonna be cool.”
“Is this part of the D.A.R.E. program?” Eddie mumbled.
“Huh?” Richie forgot he was wearing the shirt. “Oh,” he laughed. “Yeah. I mean, getting you a break from the effects of your mom’s Pez dispenser has got to be part of it.”
“Dude…”
“Sorry. No jokes. Sorry.”

They just stayed like that for awhile. Richie rocked him back and forth and rested his head on Eddie’s. He hummed his made up tune and gently pulled his fingers through Eddie’s hair. Just to make him feel relaxed and safe. That’s what people who cared about you were supposed to do. They felt like a place you could put down your bags and rest. They didn’t scare you with threats of disease or the government or the ways they’d kill themselves if you left them.

And that’s what it was to be a loser. It wasn’t just that you looked different or sounded weird or you had a totally unique persona that made you stand out from the crowd. It was goddamn lonely. You were deemed someone not worth knowing, in case what made you strange turned out to be contagious. So you took what attention and affection was around you, even if it came at a price. But at least there were losers in multitudes, and sometimes you crossed paths with someone who understood how goddamn lonely it could be…

“Up we go.”

Richie gently nudged him towards the stairs. The smell of the house was everything he wanted to come home to. It felt like Richie was everywhere.

“My bag,” Eddie mumbled.
“Do you need anything out of it?” Richie asked.
“No…”
“I’ll bring it upstairs later. Let’s get you up.”

He never talked like that. Richie was shit talk and swearing and bad taste, and, yeah, it kept his kindness safe under several layers of filth, but these were new words out of him. And Eddie realized he was being treated the way Richie wished his parents would handle him when he needed them to be there. It felt like a gift.

Richie hurried into his bedroom to kick stuff off the floor and sweep the crumbs out of his bed. Funny how it was all the sort of thing that was supposed to send Eddie down into a spiral of hysterics on contamination. Instead it just felt like the place he was supposed to be. They were just food crumbs, just month old bed sheets, just random crap on the floor, and it didn’t mean anything.

Eddie sat on the side of the bed, too tired to move any further. Richie grabbed a Duran Duran shirt from a drawer and turned back to Eddie.

“Clean clothes. Come on. You’re not wearing that to bed.”

This wasn’t how Eddie had imagined Richie undressing him. Of all the variations he played over in his head like an unlabeled tape kept in his sock drawer, he never imagined Richie doing something so fucking intimate.

“Need me to help?” Richie asked.

Eddie nodded. Richie dropped to one knee to undo his shoelaces and peel off Eddie’s sneakers and socks. The adrenaline that kept Eddie upright all day was fading fast, and it let him feel how nice it was outside. It must have been in the sixties. Fucking finally.

“Pants. You can leave your drawers on if you want, but the jeans gotta go.”

Eddie undid his belt buckle, unzipped his fly, and shoved his jeans down. This was definitely never, ever in the rotation of his imagination, of reasons why he’d take his pants off for him.

Richie reached down, grabbed the cuffs, yanked the jeans off his legs, and folded them as neatly as Eddie liked, even though they both knew Richie would just flop them in a chair.

“Shirt,” Richie ordered, wagging his fingers at him. Eddie tried to pull his shirt up, but all his strength had left him.

“Okay, here we go.”

Richie grabbed Eddie’s shirt, pulled it over his head, and yanked the Duran Duran shirt on over him.

“Ow,” Eddie grumbled. The shirt had pulled on his nose Richie was in such a rush to get it on.

What did Richie have to be so manic about? He was just being nice to him. They were just friends. And that was it.

Eddie usually didn’t like being this tired. He was supposed to return all of Richie’s serves instead of let them swish on by. He didn’t like all the flames going out of him, but Mama Kasp had taken every piece she could get her hands on, and Eddie was barely clinging to the last bit of fire for himself.

Richie pulled back the top sheet and the duvet.

“In you go.”

Eddie didn’t argue. That alone was enough to make people think he was seriously sick. Beverly was back in town and he should have been ragging on her for wearing JNCO jeans or why she looked like she joined the Illinois Nazis. Or at least he could have felt genuinely excited to see her.

Eddie crawled into bed and felt the sheets and blankets fall on him. He heard Richie rush out of the room to grab the upstairs phone and hastily punch in a number.

“Hi, may I please speak to – oh thank fuck. Okay, I know how this is going to sound, but if you still love my narrow ass, you’ll do it…”

Eddie laughed a little, knowing it could only be her on the other line. He was probably asking her to bring over food.

 

It was always confusing to fall asleep during the day, and wake up at night. Eddie woke up to an empty bed and murmured voices downstairs. The lights were all out upstairs, except for the street lamp outside Richie’s window and the light from the kitchen that peeked into the hallway.

Eddie still felt fuzzy and wanted a glass of water, but he wasn’t ready to deal with questions. At the very least, he should make sure his mom didn’t send the cops.

Eddie crept across the room, took careful steps down the hallway, and stopped when he saw who was downstairs through the railing.

Richie was sitting on the back of the couch with an open beer, as he listened to Beverly talk to him in a hushed voice. Eddie sat in a dark corner of the upstairs hall to listen.

“…got the Benadryl in her Crystal Light. I would have come by sooner but I stuck around to make sure it knocked her out,” said Beverly.
“You what??” Richie hissed.
“I wasn’t about to do all that and find out I killed her or, worse, it didn’t do anything and then she had an APB put out for you.”
“Is that like a warrant or something?”
“It’s basically a warrant, yeah. Or something. You better learn about the law if you’re gonna keep running your mouth, Lil’ Lennie Bruce, or if you’re going to send me to dose old ladies.”
“I don’t think Benadryl can kill you.”
“Well, I wasn’t about to find out, and I wasn’t about to use benzos.”
“Where’d you hide?”
“Honestly, any room she wasn’t in. She moves so slowly and was muttering to herself she probably thought I was in a room full of people if she did see me.”
“Fuck…”
“But she’s asleep, she’s alive, just…” Beverly waved her hands to try and articulate her point, “let’s just see if all she needs is to sleep it off. I don’t know if you can with whatever’s going on in her head, but…whatever. We had to try.”

Beverly took a swig of her own beer and took a long moment to think.

“Richie, you’ve got to get him out of there. I couldn’t believe it.” She said. “It’s bad. It’s so fucking bad.”
“He said he had to tear the walls up?” Richie said, wanting confirmation from her. “Looking for imaginary FBI bugs?”
“It’s worse than that. It looks like the house on Neibolt Street.”
“Shut the fuck up.”
“I mean, it’s not all the way there, but it is on its way. The boards and insulation are all torn out of the walls of the hallway, the sockets are all unattached, it’s like someone took an axe to the place. But the dishes are all neatly washed and clean and stacked in the cupboards. The linens are perfectly folded in the closet. And yeah, that kitchen window was all busted up. I do not get it. She’s nuts.”
“I know. He says he’s got a handle on this, but–“

“He barely has a handle on himself!” Beverly hissed. “He’s not an electrician! How’s he supposed to get those lights re-attached? Hell, how did he do it in the first place? It’s a fucking miracle he isn’t dead or the house isn’t on fire or he didn’t blow his arm off! Sonia’s trying to kill him!”

“She wouldn’t do that. She needs him alive. If he dies, she’s got nothing.” Richie rubbed his face. It looked exactly like what Eddie did when he was trying to keep it together. “She’s like a virus.”
“Like Pennywise with Derry,” Beverly observed.
“Yeah, Jesus. Yeah, like that fucking clown.”
“Think he came back as her?” Beverly asked. Richie laughed and they chuckled together. “Come on, we can go over and whoop her ass with two by fours and trash talk, and in the morning, we’re just like, ‘Eddie I’m sorry, but your mom turned out to be that bitch ass clown from space who woke up early for a snack. Had to be done.’”
“Had to be done,” Richie mumbled.
“Had to be done.” Beverly nodded.

Teenagers who traveled into sewers to defeat supernatural clowns and teenagers whose greatest worry was their college reference letters always had one thing in common: morbid hypotheticals that let them believe they could handle all of life’s problems.

“How did you not know about this?” Beverly asked.
“I don’t really go over there anymore,” Richie reluctantly admitted.
“What? Are you scared the Trunchbull is gonna fling you by the pigtails into the Barrens or something?”

Oh God, she didn’t know. Eddie knew Richie could verbally spar with his mom until their throats were full of blood. He didn’t come by anymore because his parents were so rarely home, he didn’t want to miss them if they did turn up. Beverly put her empty beer on the credenza. Richie hurriedly shoved a coaster under it.

“Anyway, I got a change of clothes for Eddie so he can stay here.”
“He can’t stay here.” Richie shook his head.
“What? Richie! Why the fuck not?”
“Because when my mom and dad come home, they’re gonna want to know why. They’re gonna have a conniption fit about Sonia, and I don’t want to make any decisions for him. And that’s without getting into everything else...”
“What do you mean without getting into everything else? About you and him?”
“There is no me and him.”

You could hear a pin drop. Eddie was starting to feel sick for a whole other reason, but Beverly stopped it in its tracks.

“You’re pulling my leg.”
“I’m not. Why would there be?”
“Because – wait, you haven’t told him?”
“No.”
“Richie, he’s in your fucking bed! I thought you guys were screwing already!”

WHAT.

“What, Eddie? No. Are you kidding?”
“No!”
“You got money riding on this? You have to tell me if the Losers have a pool going.”
“I’m not telling you shit. And Richie, seriously? How long have you been holding onto this?”
“It’s fine.”
“The fuck it is.”

Eddie couldn’t fucking believe what he was hearing. The two stood in silence like two cowboys about to draw. Richie was the first to break. His thumb twitched against his beer. He sniffed and there was a hitch in his voice. His curls shook as he spoke, trying to convince himself.

“Bev, don’t put anything in my head that could fuck this up,” he said quietly.
“How - “ Beverly stammered. She grabbed Richie’s hands. “How would telling that pulsing ball of rage who orbits around you, only knows how to be still because of you, is only still in one piece because of you, HOW would it be bad?”
“Because this is not Chicago,” Richie said, shaking his head. “We both know this shit’s everywhere, but just because he’s right within reach, doesn’t mean he wants anything from me.”
“Rewinding real quick, just from what you’ve barfed down the phone at me, you two are basically still attached at the hip since before I even met you, you came how close to something happening in the fort because you were buck naked in the hammock?”
“I don’t know. Honestly, I panicked. I didn’t know he was going to be there.”
“Kind of hoping though?”
“Well…”
“And then he’s over here all the time, you walked him home in the snow after you watched Maurice, of all movies, with his hand. And your hand. In your pocket.” Beverly emphasized. “You’re trading shirts just because, you’re inviting him over and always there for him just because, he’s asleep in your bed after you changed him out of his clothes and sent me to drug his mother so she could get some damn sleep. Richie, I like Eddie, but even I can only handle him for so long, and you don’t ever seem to be without him! And you’re telling me you haven’t even kissed him?”

He didn’t reply. Eddie had to be imagining this. It had to be a dream or a hallucination or he’d finally snapped from his mother’s bullshit. This could not be real.

“Richie.”
“On the bridge. Right after you left town and before school started. Just to see what it was like.”
“WHAT.”
“Shhhh!”
“Sorry, sorry,” she whispered. “Just to see what it was like? Come ON.”
“Bev, seriously, he’s asleep.”

Eddie could only see part of Beverly’s face from where he was sitting, but she was looking at Richie with so much pity. It wasn’t condescending. It was heartache.

“Richie…” she murmured. “Honey, don’t do this to yourself. Do you know how rare it is to be happy? In Derry of all places?”

Richie sniffed again and pushed his hair out of his face. And what the actual fuck. Richie was red eyed, sniffling, and shoving tears off his face.

“Bev, let me just take what I can get. I’ve already got to come home to an empty house on the regular, I know I talk so fucking much when my folks are here it’s what pushes them away, I know how much I’m going to be coming home to an empty house for the rest of my life anyway, and I just…”

Beverly didn’t interrupt as he got stuck. It was like Bill when his stammer really hit hard. Richie just let a jagged sob out that turned into laughter.

“This is the best it’s gonna get, and honestly, just that he’s here, asleep in my bed and that’s all it could ever be, that’s pretty fucking great.”
“That’s pretty fucking lame, actually, because–“

Richie clapped a hand over her mouth.

“Bev, just let me have this–AUGH!”

Richie snapped his hand away and wiped Beverly’s drool off on his jeans.

“Asshole,” he grumbled.
“Shh! He’s sleeping.” Bev teased.
“He better be,” Richie said.

Bev scooted closer to him so she was standing between his legs, nose to nose, almost kissing. It was a chaste intimacy that could only be had between the closest of friends.

“He’s sleeping in your bed,” she whispered with a grin.

And it made Richie turn red as a tomato and smile so hard.

“I know,” he whispered.
“You lucky boy,” she grinned.

He laughed a little, but all it did was shake the rest of him loose. He clenched an eye shut like that would stop the tears, but all it did was delay them. He shook his head.

“It’s fine. If this is all this is…” he said. “Then I’m fine. I just want him to be safe.”

He sounded like he believed it. He probably did believe it. This was where Richie Tozier peaked, like all the other losers in high school.

“Come here,” Beverly said, “you stupid little fucker.”

Beverly hugged him and Richie put his arms around her waist as she let him cry into her neck.

What the actual fuck. It all went back to that razor. All the obvious signs were there, and Eddie couldn’t believe he had talked his way around them, just like Richie did with him.

How had they been so fucking stupid?

Beverly poked Richie in the chest.

“I would offer to put out to make you feel better, but I am not a home wrecker and I’m not about to break Mr. Kaspbrak’s heart if it turns out you’re wrong. He’s a pain in the ass, but he’s our pain in the ass, and yours exclusively.”

Richie laughed and sniffed noisily into Beverly’s neck, tightening his grip around her.

“I missed you, Bev.”
“Missed you too, Trashmouth.”

She let him stay like that for awhile, before she pulled away and pushed the stray hairs out of his face. Richie laughed at the kindness of it. He looked like a mess when he cried. His face got all blotchy, his zits turned scarlet, and his eyes were bloodshot.

“I need something to wash down this beer. Do you still not eat your pizza crust?” Beverly asked. “And get me a napkin for the boogers and drool you left on my neck.”

Richie laughed and stood up off the couch. Eddie got up before they could see him and slipped into the bathroom. He drank from the faucet, returned to the bedroom, and just stood there.

There was too much going on. It was more than enough that Beverly had come back to town, shaved her head, and drugged his mom. The year was almost over and it had been absolutely insane with school, with his mother, and figuring out what he wanted to be when he grew up. He was supposed to be going to college, looking after his mother, and getting a girlfriend.

He was not supposed to be graduating without plans, abandoning his mother as she lost her mind, and in love with his best friend, his best guy friend, for the last five years, only for all of it to suddenly feel fine.

He was still tired and had a nightmare waiting for him at home, but he felt under no obligation to handle it. She was an adult. If she was old enough to call into radio shows, she was old enough to call a real doctor and ask for help, instead of putting it all on her son.

Eddie Kaspbrak, who might as well have had mitten clips on his inhaler, just drank from a bathroom faucet covered in bacteria. Eddie, who had fussed about homos and fairies with a swish of his wrist, lost his virginity to a guy and wanted to keep fucking guys. Eds, who fought an asshole clown from outer space that broke his arm, was in love with the guy who broke it right back.

All the pieces were there, but Eddie still couldn’t believe it. Richie was probably just being nice. He cared about him, and that was that. That was all it would ever be. They’d have pizza for breakfast, make plans with Beverly, Eddie would deal with his mother, they’d all graduate high school, and they’d never see each other again. That was the most obvious solution Eddie could see.

How often had he ever been given the chance to imagine he might deserve something better?

Eddie got back into bed. They were probably going to be talking late into the night. They’d probably fall asleep on the couch. He still couldn’t believe Beverly was worried she’d made his mother overdose on Benadryl.

His head hadn’t even hit the pillow when he heard the front door close. Eddie sat up and looked out the window. The tree outside blocked most of his view, but that was definitely Beverly shuffling down the sidewalk with her buzzcut and her enormous jeans.

Eddie heard the stairs creak and he whipped over on his side and pretended to be asleep. Another door opened and closed. Of course Richie would stay in another room after everything he’d admitted. Until Eddie heard the shower pipes creak.

Eddie rolled over on his back to stare at the ceiling. Each breath he took felt like they were being crossed off a list until something happened. It felt like a fucking countdown. Either Richie was going to shower and go sleep somewhere else, or Richie was going to come in here. Between the sound of the pipes and the water behind closed doors, Eddie heard the tick-tick-tick of the kitchen clock.

The shower stopped. And then he heard a door knob turn, and footsteps, coming closer. Eddie could barely hear it for the blood pounding behind his ears. He didn’t know what he was so fucking scared of. It’s not like he was a virgin. If something happened then he sort of had an idea of what to expect, except for all the other shit he didn’t know. How did all the stuff in the rest of his life that’d had him ready to collapse hours earlier, suddenly get shoved under a bed, all because Richie was going to walk into the room?

Because it does mean something.

Eddie rolled over. The door opened. Eddie could smell the scent of his skin, and the sticking sound of his bare feet walking across the wood floor. He ever so slightly tilted his head up to see Richie, wearing nothing but a towel, picking through a pile of clothes to see what was clean. His heavy curly hair looked even longer from being washed, and the dark hair in his armpits burst out in tufts as he raised his arms to pull on a shirt.

He even kept his towel on as he pulled his boxers on underneath. It was like a fucking striptease. How could getting dressed make Eddie hard?

Richie pulled the towel off, quietly draped it over a chair, and grabbed another t-shirt to dry his hair.

Eddie sat up, leaned on his elbows, and bent a knee in an attempt to hide his erection.

“Why do you use a t-shirt?” Eddie asked, which made Richie have a small coronary.
“Jesus!” Richie startled, clapping a hand to his chest. “Did I wake you?
“No,” Eddie lied.
“Good.” Richie kept squeezing and scrubbing the water out of his hair. “Just stops my hair from getting frizzy. You okay?”
“Yeah.”
“Okay.” Richie tossed the t-shirt aside. “I’ll be downstairs. Just holler if you need me.”
“What, on the couch?” Eddie asked, only then realizing how coy he probably looked if he was looking at Richie from this angle. Richie smiled and shrugged.
“Yeah. So?”

For all of Eddie’s terror of what was going to happen and what had been happening this year, it was overridden by his natural reaction to everything stupid.

Eddie rolled his eyes and groaned.

“Dude, come on.”
“What?”

Eddie grabbed Richie’s side of the sheets and yanked them wide open. He rolled back over so Richie would know they were just going to sleep, and Eddie wasn’t trying to suppress a massive hard-on. Richie lingered for a moment.

“…okay…you sure?” Richie asked.

Eddie felt like all the sirens of his hormones were screaming like traders on the stock market floor. All of them shrieking demands to Eddie, demands to be made of Richie, actions that needed to be taken now now NOW if something was going to happen.

Something flopped on the other pillow. Probably a dry t-shirt to stop the pillow from getting soaked.

The mattress tilted as Richie sat down. There was the plastic clatter of his glasses on the windowsill and the sound of his legs sliding against the sheets as he got into bed, with an unusual amount of grace. And he did all of it without touching Eddie. The bastard.

“You’re not gonna dip out while I’m still asleep again, are you?” Richie asked. “Made me feel cheap.”
“I’ll leave you cab fare. Quit your bitching.”

Richie laughed and it made Eddie smile. Nothing like their rapport to get the noise in his head to calm down. Then Richie’s head hit the pillow, hard. Oh no. He wasn’t getting out of this that easy.

“I thought Bev was gonna stay longer.” Eddie mentioned.
“Were you listening?” Richie asked in a mild panic.
“I needed a drink. Just heard her when I was going to the bathroom.”
“Oh. Okay.” Richie relaxed.
“Why don’t your parents keep glasses or Dixie cups or something in there? I had to drink from the faucet like a fucking dog.”

Richie groaned and put on a half-hearted Ricky Ricardo.

“Oh, not tonight, Lucy. I have a headache.”

It should have felt like they were back on old footing, but Eddie realized it was just their defenses: Richie with his voices and him with his bitching. It was all just a performance around the subject until one of them decided to address it.

And it always had to be him. Even back on the bridge when they got through most of a Michelob that had become more backwash than beer, Richie wondered when they were ever going to get kissed.

‘So let’s do it now,’ Eddie had said. ‘Get it over with.’
‘What? You’re crazy.’ Richie laughed.
‘I’m not fucking chickenshit, that’s for sure,’ Eddie said, already drunk and full of good ideas at thirteen from three swigs of cheap beer.
‘You are chickenshit. You have a fucking aneurysm if somebody sneezes downwind of you.’
‘Because it’s still a chance of catching germs!’ Eddie fussed.
‘So’s kissing!’ Richie insisted.
‘So what? You’re fucking afraid of germs or something now? Get your own material, douchebag. I got mine, but I’m not about to start high school without ever being kissed. I’m enough of a fucking loser. I’m not about to make things worse.’
‘You’re full of it. I don’t believe you.’ Richie had laughed.
‘Fine.’

Eddie had grabbed Richie by the shirt, yanked him down to his level, and kissed him. It was wet and squishy and they accidentally smacked teeth, but oh, baby. Something turned on in him like a high voltage switch that slowed everything right the fuck down.

Eddie was supposed to kiss Richie. Richie was going to recoil and say ‘gross!’ or something else, and then he would laugh and Richie would laugh and it’d be done.

He wasn’t supposed to kiss Richie a second time, slowly, nervously, as Richie dropped the beer from shock, and grabbed Eddie’s face in his hands to kiss him back.

And when Eddie felt something else start to happen, he peeled away, laughing and saying he was too drunk. He made his excuses and said he’d see him later. Richie lingered by the railing where everyone carved their initials if they meant it when they kissed someone.

Eddie put his hands in his pockets and kept a thumb on his groin until he got home. Thank god his mother was glued to the TV and didn't pay attention to why he needed the bathroom for so long.

Something in him had turned on and was never going back down again.

Despite the lobbying from hormones and anxiety and hypochondria to do something or not do something, out of all of them came the message as clear as a bell, ‘you’ll regret it if you don’t’.

Eddie pushed himself to sit up. The waist of his boxers caught on the mattress. He reached up and pulled the t-shirt over his head.

Richie turned to look at him.

“What’s wrong?”

Eddie just stared at him. Richie grabbed his glasses off the windowsill and put them on. He looked confused. What must it be like for Richie to see him like this; bare chested, floppy haired, and next to him in his own bed? It was the first time Eddie ever thought he might be attractive to someone. That what Richie could see with his glasses on was making him squirm. He liked it.

“What? What’s wrong?” Richie asked. “You okay? Did you want to go home?”

“I have to do everything around here, don’t I?” Eddie bitched.

Richie didn’t get it. He only cracked a nervous smile.

Well, fuck it.

Eddie leaned over and kissed him. Richie was moist chapped lips, heavy wet hair, soft stubble, and tasted like cold beer. When Eddie pulled back, still close to Richie’s face, he saw Richie’s eyes were wide open.

“What…” Richie was astonished. He couldn’t believe what was happening, but he wasn’t disgusted. Eddie was surprised too. The dread that Richie was going to hit him or recoil or mock him or kick him out of the house wasn’t even present. He just wanted to see if Richie wanted more.

Richie was just staring at him, saucer eyed and taking in small breaths, like he didn’t want to make any sudden movements in case this wasn’t real and he’d wake up.

“Richie.” Eddie said.
“Hn?”
“You want me to keep going or should I go fuck myself?”
“I…”

Richie could barely speak. Jesus. Eddie literally took his breath away. Who would’ve thought you could do that to a person?

Eddie leaned in and kissed him again. Just a soft, quiet thing, in total contrast to how they always sparred, but it was all he wanted to offer in case he changed his mind. Eddie left his eyes open a little when he kissed him again, just to measure his reaction. Richie’s eyes were finally closing, as he kissed him back.

That was enough incentive for Eddie to grab Richie’s face and really lean into kissing him, pushing himself to his knees so it’d be easier. And it felt pretty cool to be bigger than him. Richie tasted of beer and pizza grease and even had a trace of Beverly’s cologne on his skin. Richie could barely bring himself to do more than return Eddie’s kisses with delayed reactions. Eddie stopped and looked down at Richie. His thick black lashes flickered open. His lips were barely parted, his hair was still damp, and for someone whose natural reaction was to swagger for the spotlight, he looked so damn shy. Richie couldn’t do anything but look back at him.

Eddie pursed his lips and let go of Richie.

“Okay, fine, I’m gonna go.”

Richie lunged and pulled Eddie into a bone crushing embrace, kissing him so hard that their teeth smacked, as he dug his fingers into his scalp.

“OW! FUCKER” Eddie snapped, grabbing his hair.
“Sorry! Sorry! Shit! Oh my god, Eds…” Richie yammered, letting go of his hair, but not the arm around his torso.

Eddie was still on his knees, looking down at Richie. He was very aware of the tent in his boxers that was shoved against Richie’s side. Their breaths were longer, their chests were almost touching, and Richie kissed him again, with less violence, but still wanting so much more.

“Oh fuck,” Richie groaned, which alerted Eddie to the condition in his boxers.
“I really have to do fucking everything around here, don’t I?” Eddie bitched, as he pushed Richie back on the bed and threw a leg over his lap to straddle him.
“Holy sh– what the fuck what the fuck…” Richie gibbered.

Eddie slid his chest across Richie’s and pushed his tongue into his mouth to get him to shut up. He held his neck and wrapped his fingers in Richie’s damp curls as he ground his erection against his. Richie moved his hands down Eddie’s back to feel all the parts of him he never got to handle; his sharp little shoulder blades, the dip in his back, the handlebars of his pelvis, and the soft mounds of his ass. Eddie wanted to rub his skin against Richie. He wanted his hair and his skin cells to cling to his body and clothes when he left the Tozier house so he could always carry microscopic pieces of Richie with him.

“Hang on – stop, Eddie. Stop. Wait.” Richie stammered. Eddie growled, but disengaged and sat back. Richie tried to catch his breath. “What’s – what’s the deal?”
“I’ve wanted to do this for years?” Eddie offered.
“Okay, but were you listening to me and Bev?” Richie asked, pointing in the general direction of the kitchen. Eddie thought of a lie.
“Yes.” And decided against it. “I needed a drink, I was curious why Beverly was here, and I heard you spill your guts. So thank you for doing that to her instead of to me, years ago when we could have done something about it. Do you want to talk about this now?”
“No,” Richie admitted.
“Okay.” Eddie said. “Are you taking your shorts off or do I have–“

Richie shoved his boxers over his hips so fast, he probably gave himself rug burn. Neither of them anticipated them to finally be here, and it was only when Richie self-consciously glanced down, that Eddie felt invited to look with him. Richie had a forest of dark curly hair that grew along his thighs, around to his ass, and grazed up to his navel. And in the middle was his hot, perfect dick, already hard and thick and drooling with precome.

“…ffuck…” Eddie moaned, gripping Richie’s thigh, and awkwardly clambering over him to pull his boxers the rest of the way off. How did they finally get here?
“Look, I don’t, I don’t know what I’m doing…” Richie said, “I mean…”
“Yeah, so what?” Eddie said, as he leaned over to kiss him. Hard.

Richie leaned up, and without stopping kissing, pushed Eddie over so Richie was on top. Richie straddled him, his dick grazing the top of Eddie’s boxers. He leaned into him, groaning and growling in his throat as he kissed Eddie’s mouth, the side of his jaw, and along his throat.

Oh, fuck, this is what it was supposed to be. This was what he’d think about in the solitude of the shower. When he could still wake up early before school. Except he never thought about how Richie would slow down, kiss him gently, and take a moment to stare at him.

“What?” Eddie snapped.

Richie smiled.

“You’re so fucking hot,” Richie murmured.

Eddie was supposed to be all barbed wire and caustic spit and the boss of things. He wasn’t supposed to be at a loss for words and blushing with a lop-sided smile. Richie grinned as Eddie couldn’t speak from surprise, smiling and blushing too hard at the admission.

“Shut up,” Eddie laughed, giving him a shove. Richie took the moment to wipe the fog off his glasses on the sheets.
“Jesus, my vision’s getting blurry,” he chuckled.
“Just take them off.”
“And miss the view? Not a chance.” Richie stopped to palm through Eddie’s thick locks, holding a loose grip of them in his fist. Eddie enjoyed being handled like that a little too much. “You know, if you let your hair keep growing, you could look like Trent Reznor. Your stubble’s fucking killing me though.”
“You’ve got a porcupine growing out of your yap, and you’re bitching about my face?” Eddie griped.
“Your cute–“ Richie grabbed Eddie’s chin, and kissed his cheek, “cute”, kissed the other cheek, “cute”, and gripped his chin tight so Eddie remembered who was in charge as Richie shoved his tongue in his mouth. He held it there for agonizingly long seconds, until Eddie whined for air and his chest hitched. Richie slid his tongue out with a smile “…cute face, needs to be shaved with conditioner or something because frankly, it’s like sandpaper.”

And with that, he pushed himself back, grabbed Eddie’s boxers, and ripped them in half like they were made out of paper. Eddie looked indignant as Richie pulled them off his legs and threw them aside. He grinned as he saw Eddie’s huge, hard cock and let out a low whistle of want. Eddie was just preoccupied with the property loss.

“FUCK you,” Eddie snapped. “I was trying to make those shorts last through summer. What am I supposed to wear now?”
“I think you’re going to wear a pair of mine home.” Richie purred.

Eddie groaned so loud, Richie lunged in with a kiss to swallow it.

“Where do you come up with this stuff?” Eddie whined as Richie sat back. How could he say he didn’t know what he was doing when he said things like that? It was better than anything he fantasized about. Especially the part where Richie grabbed Eddie’s legs, hoisted them over his hips and pawed at Eddie’s ass. Until he hesitated.

“Are we going to try and figure this out–“ Richie wondered.
“Nope. Definitely not. I’m not winning a Darwin Award tonight.” Eddie insisted.
“Yeah, me either. Because, with the greatest of respect, I’d offer to play catcher, but,” he pointed at Eddie’s erection, “that thing looks like it could tear me like a tissue. Which is both terrifying and arousing…God, this is embarrassing. Later?”
“Later. Definitely. Please.”
“Hang on.” Richie put Eddie’s legs down. “Did the infamous Eddie Kaspbrak actually say ‘please’?”
“You do not get to hold anything I say right now against me. Nothing I say right now counts.” Eddie fussed.
“Nothing at all?
“For somebody who was looking at me like Bambi a few minutes ago, you sure are being one bossy little asshole.”
“I’ve been taught by masters,” Richie purred, shoved Eddie’s legs open with his thighs, and rolled over him to thrust his erection against Eddie’s pelvis. His hands kept Eddie’s arms pinned by the wall, and he did it just to watch him squirm.
“You’re an ass,” Eddie growled, trying to hide how it almost turned into a whimper.
“Gotta say please, baby.”

Weird how it was the pet name, and not the heavy petting that tipped Eddie over.

“Richie please, please, please–fUCK…”

Richie’s hand was on his dick, his palm coated in Jergen’s from a quick grab at the pump bottle by his bed, and he was stroking Eddie into a stroke.

Eddie reached for Richie’s, but Richie grabbed his wrist and pinned it behind his back.

“Are you going to let me do this or are you going to learn to relax?” Richie asked.
“I have a– an aller–gy, to relaxing.” Eddie stammered. It was hard to talk when all the blood was rushing from your face to your crotch.

Richie tilted up so their heads were touching, brow to brow, and nose to nose, as he kept on moving his hand below.

“I remember saying somebody had to take care of you too, Eds.” He murmured, slowing his pace, but not loosening his grip. “Let me do this?”

Here they were in Richie’s bed, side by side, naked as they only dared in the privacy of their rooms, and Richie’s hand was on Eddie’s dick, asking to get him off after he’d taken care of him all day. Eddie said yes by grabbing Richie’s mouth in a kiss and whining like a dog as Richie accelerated. He wanted Eddie to come. It was fucking obscene and he loved it.

They really should have been using condoms. One or the other should probably have brought up Connor. Eddie remembered he was supposed to be the neatnik obsessed with precaution and hygiene, but it felt so fucking good to take the kind of risk you could only really make excuses for when you’re eighteen.

He had told himself it had felt good to be hyper-focused on his health and safety. He had been indoctrinated into fear and anxiety over every small thing out of place. But oh fuck, nothing felt as good as thrusting his dick into Richie’s slick hand, kissing him with twisted lips, until Eddie ignored Richie’s request. He spat into his free hand, and grabbed the head of Richie’s dick, twisting saliva and pre-come around his hot, hard erection until he came after fast, hard strokes.

Richie yelled and gasped so hard, he bit Eddie’s shoulder to stop himself from screaming. Eddie grabbed Richie’s hand, kept it wrapped around his dick, and kept jerking himself off with their grip. He wasn’t going to come without him, and his orgasm came in shudders and curling toes and moaning into Richie’s ear so his memory could capture all the noise. The neighbors wouldn’t hear anything. It was only all for him.

They lay there in damp sheets of sweat and come, taking deep breaths to bring them back to Earth. It was too hot and uncomfortable to have their bodies radiating this much heat, but the whole of it felt too good. Richie slid over and lay half on Eddie, his other half on the mattress. Eddie looked at the bite mark on his shoulder.

“What are you a vampire now or something?” Eddie asked.
“Shut up…” Richie moaned. “Just…oh fuck…”

Eddie thought he had it bad for Richie, but Richie looked like he got the last thing he ever hoped for on Earth and could now quit the stupid place.

Eddie was still holding Richie’s hand. It was disgusting. Their hands were coated in a mix of drug store lotion, dried saliva, and two kinds of come. It was supposed to be the stuff that gave Eddie nightmares. Just a shame it was too uncomfortable to keep their hands there.

He pulled their hands off his dick, but tightened his grip so the sticky disgusting fluids oozed between their palms and fingers. Richie looked up at him.

“What?” Eddie asked. “I just wanted to say thank you.”

Richie smiled, as Eddie leaned down to kiss him.

 

The exhaustion of the day before and the events of that night made them fall asleep before they could change the sheets. They woke up late, ignored the call of the sunny day outside, and spent the day in bed, stopping only for food, shower, a change of sheets, and more sleep. For the better part of the day, they just talked. The solitude was theirs, and the plan was to keep it that way as the sun set over Derry.

Until a pair of headlights arced across the front of the house, as the Toziers pulled into the driveway.

“Un-be-FUCKING-lievable.” Richie growled. He jumped out of bed and hurriedly yanked his clothes on. The more they didn’t match, the more convincing he had been doing nothing in their absence. Eddie followed suit, pulling the clean clothes Beverly brought out of the grocery bag, and stuffing his dirty ones in there.

“Here. Get dressed,” Richie said, and shoved a clean pair of his own boxers into Eddie’s hands. He actually meant it. Eddie hated feeling sad and turned on at once.
“I don't want to go,” Eddie whined.

As much as they needed to get Eddie out of the house, Richie had forgotten the magnitude of shit waiting for him at home. He looked like he had to cut Eddie loose from a shipwreck and leave it to chance that he could swim, when it was more than likely he might drown.

“Grocery delivery! Can we get a hand down here? Looks like you annihilated the fridge, Mr. Tozier!” Maggie called up the stairs.
“I’ll be right there!” Richie called.

The old house had been a refuge for Eddie for a full twenty-four hours. It was the only place he knew on this green earth where he could be whole. The Toziers might have been the nicest people to Eddie’s face, but there was no escaping the fact that they voted Republican down the ticket, every single time. He and Richie couldn’t gamble with going downstairs together after being alone in his room.

“Look, just stay up here while I help her get the groceries unloaded.” Richie whispered. “I’ll get her distracted with the mess in the living room, she’ll flip out about the beer, and then you take the kitchen stairs down to the back door. My dad’s probably in front of the TV already. They won’t see you. If they ask…”
“Say you had a girl over?” Eddie offered.

Richie looked miserable at having to lie. He kissed Eddie for as long as he could. Their bodies pressed together, arms around each other, in a close-knit lock they should have been doing for years. Until Maggie called upstairs again and Richie had to leave, taking the noisy way down the kitchen stairs and banging the back door open to grab grocery bags, so Eddie would know where he was. Eddie stepped carefully into the upstairs hall and stood by the stairs, listening to the sounds of domesticity he only ever saw on TV, and never heard in his own home.

He waited in the dark for the unmistakable sound of glass bottles clinking together and Richie crying “oh shit!” Maggie stormed out of the kitchen to swear TV-friendly oaths at Richie for spilling beer on her couch, and for even having beer in the first place. Eddie crept down the kitchen stairs, hesitating only when he heard hurried, padded feet rush into the kitchen. Richie slid past the kitchen table, grabbed the paper towels, and ran back to the living room before Maggie could walk in. Just to keep his secret on the old servant stairs, safe from view.

“Mom, I got it!”
“No! No! Richie, you’re going to ruin the couch! Give it to me. Oh gosh…”

Eddie slipped downstairs, went through the backdoor, and around the other side of the house so as not to trip the floodlights. The neighbors had large enough backyards he could cut through and take the long way around to the rural road home.

The twenty minute walk home might as well have been a death march. Every step took an hour, and the greater the distance from Richie’s house, the more miserable he felt. He hadn’t even thought of what to say or do with his mother. Maybe she really would kill him this time. Maybe she’d do one of those Japanese murder-suicides where the parent kills their kids and themselves to preserve their honor. Maybe, if he went back to Richie’s he could live in the basement by the boiler. He’d take anything over this. There had to be a solution.

And to Eddie’s shock, there was one. As he got closer to his neighborhood, a form appeared under the streetlamp at the end of the road. Someone with a buzzcut in JNCO jeans was pacing in circles and flicking a red yo-yo around.

“What the fuck?” Eddie wondered. “Bev?” He called.

She looked up. And clapped a hand to her chest.

“Oh, thank god,” she said.
“How long have you been over here?” Eddie asked as she jogged over, scrambling to shove the toy in her pocket.
“Uh…I mean, awhile? Not that long.”
“Awhile? What the fuck is awhile?”
“Well, Stan just left. He said he could only stay an hour, but he made it to two–“
“AN HOUR? Two hours?? Bev! What the fuck!”

“Well, I was waiting for you to come home, and I got bored, no offense, so there’s a payphone up the street, so I called Ben and he came by to keep me company, because one of your neighbors called the cops and said I was a dealer, so they kept cruising by until Ben arrived and managed to get them to go away when they came back around. He told this spectacular lie about how I’ve got cancer and my whole look was just a way I was finding myself, so they even came back and gave me this yo-yo, which is great because my old one broke…”

“Uh huh.” Eddie said. He had a feeling he wanted to keep Beverly in a good mood, so he didn’t start just yet into interrogating her about why she was waiting all day in his neighborhood.

“Anyway, when Mike got off work, he came by, and then Ben had to go to work and Mike hung around until Stan came by, and Stan finally said he had to go because he just couldn’t hang out for that long, so I’ve been messing around with this thing for an hour, trying to remember how to do the Eiffel Tower trick, but then you showed up, so you know…”
“I don’t know. I have literally no fucking clue what’s going on,” said Eddie. “Wait, did you see Bill?”
“No, he’s tied up with his girlfriend.” Beverly explained. Eddie was willing to bet easy money she didn’t even call and none of the Losers had either. The question was who had given up on whom.

“So…” Beverly started. “I swung by Richie’s last night.”
“I heard.” Eddie said, then clarified. “I woke up to get a drink. Heard you guys downstairs.”
“Yeah. Um, so he told me what was up, and don’t be mad–“
“Why does everyone always fucking say that–“ Eddie started, then stopped. “Ignore me. Sorry. Go on.” Except. “Is that what started the game of telephone with all of the Losers, minus one?”
“Well, he was pretty shook up, and that freaked the hell out of me, so I went to Mike’s last night to get his opinion. I almost got a gun shoved in my face because his grandpa thought I was a Neo-Nazi, but you know. Maine.”
“Maine,” agreed Eddie.
“And, well, I know it’s not my business, but also we all love you, so it kind of fucking is, and since you needed to sleep, I talked to the Losers–”
“Minus one.”
“Look, I did try.” Bev snapped. “His mom said he was busy. I left a message with my aunt’s cell number. That’s all I can do.”
“Sorry. But you do need to tell me why you’ve been in my neighborhood all day.”
“I can get to that if you’ll stop fucking interrupting me.”

There was a long pause. Eddie finally gestured around him.

“Do you see the part where I’m not fucking saying anything? What did you want to say?”

Beverly made a strange gesture like she was about to pull a cigarette out of her mouth, except she didn’t have one. She must have done it when she was nervous. She was probably trying to quit.

“I talked to the Losers, and I told all of them, because we are your family, and we love you, even if you are an ornery little bitch. But you’re our ornery little bitch. And we agreed it’d be best, so, again, I know, don’t get mad, but you can call it retaliation for your shitty way of saying hello at school.”

Eddie’s stomach dropped out. It could have been any number of things. Who knew what Beverly had become over the last five years.

“I called your aunt.”

Oh shit. That was not what he imagined. This was so much worse.

“You did WHAT?” Eddie hissed.
“Shh!” Beverly hissed back. Someone was always listening in Derry.
“Bev, what the fuck? What the fuck, you can’t do that.”
“Yes I goddamn can,” Beverly insisted, “too bad I already did, and Eddie, take it from someone who had to grow up WAY too early and way too fast, you are not old enough to be dealing with all that shit by yourself.”
“We’re the same age, dipshit.”
“Exactly! We’re supposed to be punching holes in our ears or cutting class to see a show out of state or just doing stupid shit you do because we’re teenagers. You’re not supposed to be helping your mother literally tear your house apart because she’s hearing voices. Eddie, you haven’t even applied to college?”
“So?”
“Eddie, did you not apply because you didn’t want to go or because you literally haven’t had time between school and handling her?”

Eddie realized that it was in fact May and he had spent most of his last year of school dealing with his mother, getting his brain stretched about homework, in inconsolable lust for Richie, and realizing he had no idea if he ever wanted to go to college.

“I stole your mom’s address book when she was out of the room,” Beverly admitted, holding up the Lillian Vernon agenda. “Called your aunt this morning. Gave her the 411. I could hear her car keys when she was hanging up. I got here after I called to see if you turned up so I could tell you, but nothing. She rolled up around noon. Waited awhile before I called Ben.”
“Which aunt?” Eddie asked.
“I forget. She’s in Yarmouth Port?”

Ah. Aunt Val. The good aunt. The one who took them trick or treating at that guy’s house with the raccoon fur coats and the army of cats and the creepy drawings in black ink. The same aunt who could only tolerate Sonia for so long, but could be called on in an emergency for something like this. She just couldn’t take Eddie with her and he stopped asking long before middle school. It was one of the first lessons he learned about how the adults who claimed they were infallible, could also let you down. But here was Beverly Marsh in a buzzcut and bitch kickers, wanting to know which of these middle-aged assholes needed to explain themselves to her hands first.

“Why didn’t you just come by Richie’s today?” Eddie asked, almost nervously.

Beverly shrugged and squirmed and looked like she was trying to think of a lie, which she really didn’t want to do.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Just wanted to give you some privacy.”

She didn’t want to share what she and Richie talked about if there was a chance all Eddie wanted to do with him was eat pizza, play video games, and shit talk everyone in Derry. She wasn’t about to share Richie’s secret if he wasn’t ready. Eddie was so moved to know Richie had her in his corner.

“I’m sorry I said that about you. That was shitty. You don’t deserve that. It was–“
“Eddie,” Beverly said. “Shut the fuck up.”
“But–“

She clapped her hands on his shoulders. She was already taller than him, but her Docs must have had a good three inches on them.

“Eddie, I’m not keeping any of the Derry shit with me except for what’s good. So, I’m deciding you get to be part of my experience in dealing with smart mouth short asses.” She smiled. “Let me make something good out of it. I don’t want to take my old baggage with me. It’s out of season, and it’s how I choose to handle it.”

He didn’t want to tell her just yet. Maybe Richie would tell her and she’d understand. He always wanted to be close to her but didn’t feel right about it. Like she should have her privacy again and he’d be invited in if she offered.

“Now, I’m not letting you go in there by yourself. You need someone on your side so she knows not to fuck with you. Your aunt is probably getting the place cleaned up. I’ve been hearing a lot of arguing from your place,” said Beverly.
“What’d you have in mind?” He asked.
“I was thinking we’d tell her you were going to stay with a friend until graduation. It’s only a few weeks away anyway. We don’t have to tell her who.”

God, Space Turtle, Whatever bless Beverly’s discretion.

“No, I mean, what are you going to tell her about who you are?” asked Eddie.
“I don’t know.” Beverly shrugged. “I could be your long distance girlfriend from Chicago?”
“You look like you threw the first punch at Stonewall. No way she’s going to think you’re my girlfriend and not a lesbian.”
“Not if I remind her I’m that nasty girl who ‘did things with the boys’.” She did a flawless imitation of Sonia. “Maybe I might be expanding my territory to include girls, and you’ve been very open-minded about that?”
“Have you?” Eddie wondered.
“I don’t know yet.” She shrugged. “I’ve been assured by many people that violence doesn’t count, so as far as I’m concerned, I’m an eighteen year old virgin who’s got time to figure out what I like.”

Eddie couldn’t believe someone like her could exist. Beverly would take all the horrible shit she’d been through and use it as armor to keep him safe. There were moments in your life that would arrive with such clarity, and in this one, Eddie was certain he would never meet anyone as noble and brave as her again. She was a goddamn Valkyrie.

“You want me to go in with you?” Beverly asked again.
“Oh god, would you?” Eddie asked, feeling all the air go out of his lungs from relief.

Beverly kissed his cheek. Yeah, he was definitely gay if it didn’t send that electric pulse through him, but it made him feel grounded. Beverly’s love was something different, but something very good.

“If I liked girls, I’m pretty sure I’d like you,” Eddie confessed.

Beverly would definitely get the skinny from Richie, but she smiled so hard, and dabbed her eyes with her finger tips. Even with such an edgy look, she didn’t want her mascara to run, even if it was from being moved by an old friend.

“Are you going to say something stupid about my tits if I give you a hug?” Beverly asked.
“Probably.”
“I’ll take those chances. Come here.”

Words he had heard before, but meaning something so much different here. He hugged Beverly and his face was damn near smothered with her tits.

“Yeah, I’m gay,” said Eddie. He could count on one hand how many times he ever thought he would say those words out loud, even after realizing it for himself. He never, ever thought it would be so soon and to this person.

“You sure?” Beverly asked.
“I’m gay,” said Eddie “Because these are very nice tits, and they are doing absolutely nothing for me.”

Beverly cracked up so loud he was sure it would summon the neighborhood, but Eddie laughed with her. It was so good to have another friend again.

Chapter Text

Could you call it a summer romance if it happened in a whiplash two weeks before the end of school?

Stan’s car was heading north, but its owner was back in Derry, hoping to shit Richie wasn’t going to wrap it around a flagpole. Eddie was supposed to be clinging to the handles of the car, yammering and swearing and demanding Richie go the speed limit before he got them both killed. He wasn’t supposed to be screaming with delight and laughing his head off, feeling like he could run as fast as the Carter-era MK1 that was growling down the country road.

The early June wind whipped through the open windows, getting flecks of leaves and kicked up dust and startled bugs caught in his hair. Over the rumble of the engine and Eddie’s laughter, “Suicide Blonde” howled out of the stereo.

“No no no STOP!” Eddie shrieked as Richie cut a donut hole in the parking lot of an abandoned drive-in. The tires squealed and stank of burning rubber as Richie made the car spin in circles over the painted lines of the parking lot. They were grave markers for all the cars full of horny teenagers who had been there before them, as a way to commemorate all the blowjobs, handies, and raw fucking that disgraced the family friendly space over the twentieth century.

They were going to stop in all the cemeteries around Maine: the drive-ins, the milk bars, the manufacturing plants, and the ghost towns. They’d fuck on America’s gravestones like slutty cheerleaders of seventies slasher films, sacrificed by their filmmakers who were miserable about the bitches, blacks, and faggots who found their liberation and lived full lives without direction. The old America was dead and they were going to enter a new century, heralded by two homos, happy and in love and so horny for each other it’d raise the dead.

“Stan’s going to kill you!” Eddie panted.
“Stan can suck eggs! I don’t care!” Richie laughed.

Richie let the car drift to a stop. The engine didn’t sound like it was going to die just yet. He let his foot rest on the brake so he could give Eddie the once-over, like he was wondering which part of his prom date should be debauched first.

“Not here!” Eddie insisted.
“There’s nobody around for miles!” Richie whined, waving a hand at the windshield.
“Are you kidding? It’s like the size of a football field. There might be somebody. You never know what crazies are lurking.”

Eddie looked around the site. There was something about the wide open, long abandoned space that felt so exposed, even though they were the only two people who were going to be there.

“You scared a moose is gonna find us fucking?” Richie asked.
“Not here!”
“God, you’re such a prissy little bitch.” Richie put both hands back on the wheel. He almost seemed upset.
“You love it,” Eddie said. He bit his lip, making sure Richie saw him.

Richie shoved the gear into park and lunged across the seat to kiss him, filling Eddie’s senses with the smell of sweat and the grasp of his lips and teeth on Eddie’s mouth.

“Not here!” Eddie demanded with a smile, shoving Richie back in his seat.
“Fine!”

Richie shoved the gear back into drive, but couldn’t take his eyes off Eddie.

“Watch it!”
“Oh shit –“ Richie swerved around the parking column he almost hit, and kept his eyes on the road as he took them out of the drive-in.

--

The morning after Beverly had persuaded Richie to go upstairs, she was making her way to the corner by Eddie’s house to be sure his aunt would turn up, and see which of the Losers would keep her company.

Eddie, on the other hand, was just waking up. And he was almost certain he was still dreaming. He’d never seen this bedside table before, the view outside the window in the morning, and how the birds and traffic sounded from here. He’d sat on the bed to watch TV, or slept on a sleeping bag on the floor, but that was it.

There was a smell of unwashed bodies, damp spots in the bed, someone sleeping behind him, and he was definitely, assuredly naked.

He hadn’t imagined it. That was definitely dried cum on his stomach, his legs, the sheets, and without even looking over his shoulder, he knew for sure the sleeping person behind him was Richie.

There was something about having finally done something you’d always wanted to do in your life that never felt like the whole of your life had changed. It was something you got to experience once, and then it was expected you would return to your sad little life. You could live off the memory like it was a Saltine that had to sustain you through your whole day instead of the whole meals other people could eat. And better not let them know you longed for something more. They’d tease you until the end of time for being hungry.

Eddie figured he should probably get dressed. Or linger awhile longer and hope for something more. Or wait for Richie to get up without a word for the bathroom and hope Eddie would take the cue to leave. Any number of things. He should get up, but he didn’t want to. Not yet. He needed to savor this for as long as he could.

Richie inhaled deeply, groaned, and rolled over. Eddie felt his heart stop and his body run cold. What the fuck was he going to say?

Until Richie’s arm whacked Eddie’s side. An involuntary gesture done in half-sleep. It startled Richie awake.

“Eddie?” Richie wondered, probably without his glasses.
“Yeah?” Eddie said nervously.
“AAHH YOU’RE REAL!”

Richie grabbed Eddie in a straight-jacket hug and an accidental chokehold. Eddie screamed swears at him for trying to maim him, but Richie kissed him until Eddie would believe he was happy to see him.

He was not about to change his mind and shoo him out the door.

In fact, it would be at least another hour before they’d even get out of bed.

--

“What about here?”
“No.”
“GODDDD.” Richie groaned.

Under the billboard begging the women of Maine not to go north to Canada to kill their baby? Points for irony, but the print and paste job looked too fresh. Somebody was paying money to keep the happy clappy church propaganda up to date with that big airbrushed picture of a fetus. They probably had hired eyes hanging around to make sure nobody was going to vandalize it.

“Who’d’ve thought Stan liked INXS?” Eddie wondered, looking at the cassette case for X.
“Totally not thinking about Stan right now,” Richie said, craning his neck for any unmarked off road they could use.
“Think he’d go down on Michael Hutchence?”
“Everybody would go down on Michael Hutchence. Barbara Bush and Tipper Gore would go balls on lips for him. HW too.”

Eddie just wanted to watch Richie. The sooner they got to fucking, the sooner they’d have to turn back south. The summer day lasted for so long in Maine, but the sun would set eventually and he wanted to savor every second of Richie to himself.

“You’re so fucking hot,” Eddie grinned.

Richie’s manic navigating stalled, and he started smiling. He even sat back in his seat and laughed, happy to enjoy the journey with Eddie.

--

They had tried this before. It was better they had the time to practice because saving themselves for prom night would have been beyond stupid. There were too many embarrassing discoveries to be made by two guys who had until recently been convinced they were straight. For starters, spit was a terrible idea, you could never use enough lubrication, and you couldn’t just go to town like the few pornos they’d seen with chicks. How were guys supposed to do this?

Somehow Richie took his lone braincell and slammed it together with Eddie’s braincell until something sparked and it occurred to them to take it slow, work small, then go bigger. It made sense to start with a finger before moving up to bananas or cucumbers or whatever chicks used for dildos.

Except how were either of them supposed to know you were supposed to take a shit before fucking around with buttholes? It didn’t matter it was the condom on Richie’s finger that had the streak of brown on it. Eddie wouldn’t stop screaming and Richie was laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe as Eddie shrieked at him about how he was going to get shit on his dick from under the sterilizing safety of a hot shower.

Eddie showered and grumbled about his blue balls, but Richie wrapped him in a beach towel and wouldn’t stop kissing him and laughing until Eddie laughed with him. Richie went down on him later to say he was sorry. And they’d try again after lunch.

They didn't get much further than fingers. Because Eddie didn’t want Richie to stop. He felt ridiculous with his face on the pillow and his ass in the air, but to feel Richie slowly rub his thumb against his hole, and gently push into him, it was enough to knock the life out of him. All he could manage to give Richie were soft whines to give him more, except the push and pull of Richie’s fingers were enough to make Eddie come on the sheets on Richie’s bed.

He could lie on his stomach in Richie’s room, where he could groan as loud as he liked, pant and moan and not have to hide any part of himself, as Richie leaned over him to slide his cock between Eddie’s cheeks. He wasn’t going to go inside him, but he was going to tell Eddie all the different ways he wanted to fuck him. How he wanted Eddie to fuck him. How it’s all he thought about for years, in private moments alone, and all the time at school. He wanted to fuck him against the lockers, over a desk, in his sad little room at the Kaspbrak home that was ordered right out of a Sears catalogue. He wanted to see if the walls could break from how hard they were going to fuck. He wanted the place to crumble for how long it had made Eddie miserable.

Richie’s fantasies ran deeper than all the creative ways he wanted to make Eddie come. He desperately wanted him to be happy. Eddie could barely move, but he interrupted Richie’s urgent thrusting when he rolled over.

Eddie held a hand to his face to calm him. He wasn’t going anywhere. Eddie ran a thump under his chin to hold him. Richie leaned in to kiss him.

Even if they couldn’t get to the ass-pounding, church burning, Hail-Satan-And-All-His-Minions butt fucking Richie was hoping for, it still felt pretty fucking good to be held and to softly kiss, as Eddie put his hand around Richie’s cock and told him to come.

Eddie was sure it was written in his DNA to be the germ-obsessed freak who needed to sterilize everything down to his underwear and never, ever date. When did the switch flip and he became someone who was fucking his best friend after school? When was he ever going to hold Richie’s face as they were fucking so he’d know he wasn’t alone and there was somebody who loved him?

Eddie tightened his grip without warning and Richie came all over his stomach. It was the sexiest fucking thing to listen to him moan and feel him collapse onto his sticky stomach.

He didn’t care that it was gross. He didn’t care that Richie would probably call this a “Sex Oreo”. He just wanted Richie to be happy too.

--

“Pull over.”

Richie was going to go a little bit further down the rural road, until Eddie started pulling his own shirt up. The sight of Eddie’s soft stomach and skinny hips persuaded him. The car swerved suddenly, making Eddie swear, and Richie drove deep into the woods before he felt it was safe to stop. They hadn’t seen anyone for hours, but they couldn’t be too careful before being happy.

Richie pulled the car to a stop, put it in park, and turned off the ignition. Eddie hadn’t taken his shirt off. He just wanted to tease Richie a little. To show him he was ready. They’d gone far enough. And god knows they’d waited long enough. But they still sat in the car, just staring at each other, breathing heavy in anticipation of what they’d gotten to do plenty of times until now. Something felt different today.

Eddie shoved himself across the seat to kiss Richie. He methodically rubbed his palm on Richie’s groin until he felt him start to get hard, and then rolled over into the backseat.

“Wait wait wait hang on!” Richie called. He jumped out of the driver’s seat, opened the backdoor, grabbed a heavy folded towel from the floor and threw it over the backseat.
“Wow. Great idea. It’s fabric upholstery. It’ll get wet anyway,” Eddie said, rolling his eyes as he shoved the towel under his side of the seat.
“Hey, I’m trying.” Richie shrugged.

Without warning, Eddie was shoved on his back. His view was of the car ceiling, the back window, and Richie crawling inside to spread himself over his body and kiss him.

Their feet were hanging out of the car, their knees awkwardly folded and Eddie had no idea how this was supposed to work. But it felt fucking fantastic to feel Richie’s weight against his chest, his breath against his skin, and his lips kissing him. He was probably going to go home with a limp and joint pain and the texture of the towel fibers printed into his skin, and all he cared about was that Richie was here with him.

Eddie always thought for all of his spitting and swearing, he’d be the one to get thrown around, but he was always the one kissing Richie harder. He’d wrap his fingers in his curls, pull him in for a deep kiss and even cling to his lip with his teeth. He was so needy to make up for all that lost time. And Richie was too careful and still too clumsy about kissing Eddie. They didn’t have enough space or nearly enough time. He really hoped they wouldn’t have a repeat of their first time doing this.

“Ow, hang on.”

Richie backed up and grabbed a box of condoms out of the paper bag on the floor.

“Where’d you get those?” Eddie asked.
“Stole them from the gas station when we stopped for Gatorade and shit.”
“What do you need those for? You cheating on me?” Eddie asked.

Richie looked stunned.

“No, I just – I thought, because you’re always…”
“What? Need to wrap your junk up?”
“You’re always freaking out about germs! I just wanted to be safe!”

Eddie leaned forward, grabbed Richie by the jaw, and kneeled over him. He wanted Richie to know he belonged to him. All the Losers had slashed their hands and filled the wounds with bacteria from a broken bottle and the grime of the great outdoors to secure their friendships for life. But only Eddie knew Richie was his in a way none of the other Losers had with each other. He wanted to hear him moan.

“I want you to fuck me, Trashmouth.”

Eddie spit in his mouth and kissed Richie as hard as he could. The condoms were abandoned as Richie seized Eddie in his arms and pulled him into his lap so they were grinding against each other, kissing, and moaning, as Eddie tore Richie’s fly open and yanked his jeans over his hips.

“Easy!” Richie yelled. “You’re gonna rip my dick off!”
“Scared?” Eddie asked.
“A little, yeah. Hang on.”
“Hang on?” Eddie snipped, getting horny and frustrated, “You’re the one who was bitching at me to pick a spot. What the fuck are you scared of? Are you–“

Richie shoved three fingers in Eddie’s mouth and yanked his jaw open to get him to shut up. Eddie tried to snap his mouth shut, but Richie let his teeth dig into his fingers so he could keep Eddie’s mouth open. He wanted Eddie to feel the saliva pooling in his mouth, and when it drooled down his chin and Richie’s arm. He wanted Eddie to squirm at the discomfort; the burning of his stretched out cheeks, the revelation of the silver caps of his fillings, and how he pathetic he looked surrendered to Richie’s wants.

He wanted Eddie to know where those three fingers were going to be. The humiliation made Eddie whine, and desperation made him moan as Richie palmed him through his shorts.

“Who would’ve thought you’d be so fucking noisy?” Richie grinned. “OW!”

He’d let the tension in his hand slip and Eddie was able to snap his teeth on his fingers.

“You did,” Eddie grinned, “from the first fucking moment you saw me, loser.” He kissed Richie roughly. His cheeks were still sore, but it was worth it to feel Richie writhe under him. Richie’s revenge was to get his hand up the leg of Eddie’s shorts to rub his wet fingers along his hole, pulling at the sensitive skin here and there just to fuck with him. It was music to hear Eddie scream and moan and plead in his ear to go further.

Richie retracted his hand, waving his sore wrist.

“You’ve got to take these off,” said Richie, pointing at his shorts. “And don’t be stupid. You could bleach your butthole before and after. I don’t want to listen to you yelling at me just because you were too stupid and horny to play it safe.”

Richie grabbed the travel jar of petroleum jelly out of the bag as Eddie shoved his shorts off, and picked up the box of condoms too. Richie rolled a condom on his erection like he did it professionally, and it wasn’t something he’d been botching almost every time they hooked up. He ran his hand down his cock a few times to be sure it was on, and to be sure he could feel something.

His dick twitched when he looked over at Eddie leaning next to him, in only his shirt and socks, staring at him. Eddie ran a hand up Richie’s thigh, just to feel the hair on his skin and the muscle underneath. He wanted every piece of his body.

“Come here,” Richie murmured. Eddie kissed him and straddled him. He kept his hands in Richie’s hair, combing it and holding it back just the way he liked, as he let Richie pull at his cheeks.

“You want your glasses on?” Eddie asked. And felt his soul leave his body as Richie pushed two jelly-coated fingers into him. He hoped he never saw the face he made when he did that. It felt too good to censor himself.

“Why would I want to miss this?” Richie grinned.

They’d been fucking so much the last two weeks he was sure they didn’t have to keep doing this, but the human body was a fickle thing. At least Richie got to enjoy watching Eddie squirm from tension, then pleasure. It was all part of the fun. Eddie had spent eighteen years of his life as tightly wound as a violin, and Richie was not only the only person who completely understood him as a person, but he knew how to desecrate all of his weak spots.

Only Richie knew how to pick him up on a bad day, how to fling shit back at him when Eddie wanted to fight, and at just what pace to fuck him with his fingers. Richie knew how to make Eddie weak from fingertips to toes, even before attempting a third. How they could just be making out, going into heavy petting, and rounding up on home plate, and Richie would know Eddie’s rhythms flawlessly.

Weird how it was the emotional intimacy and not the intimate physical contact that suddenly made him uncomfortable.

“Wait wait wait…” Eddie gasped. “Hang on.”
“Stop right there?” Richie asked. “I gotta know right now.”
“What?”
“Before we go any further do you love me?” Richie sang in an annoyingly spotless Ellen Foley. “Will you love me forever? Do you need me?”
“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?” Eddie shrieked, which just made Richie burst out laughing.
“You don’t like Meatloaf?” Richie laughed.
“YOU HAVE THREE FINGERS IN MY ASS, I FEEL LIKE A JIM HENSON MUPPET, AND YOU’RE GOING TO–“

Eddie screamed. Richie had distracted him long enough to get his fingers out, and to slip the tip of his cock into him.

Eddie had fallen over Richie’s shoulders, arms around him, fingers wrapped in his hair, and breathing in short, sharp breaths, convinced he would burst if he inhaled too deeply.

Richie just softly kissed the side of Eddie’s head, and gently laid his hands on Eddie’s hips as he rolled his pelvis back and forth.

“You feel so fucking good,” he moaned.

The praise made Eddie stretch and rock back and forth, easing Richie deeper into him. There was no scrambling for grabbing or pulling or kissing or manic fucking. They were just letting their bodies adjust and synchronize to each other.

They’d done this so many times before in such a short time. They knew each other so deeply it felt like they’d done this every afternoon for a thousand years.

There wasn’t any space in the car for them to do anything truly deranged. They were too tall for the backseat, either sitting or lying down. The most they could hope for was this close physical contact, one sitting on the other, and trying not to move so suddenly they’d suddenly bang their head into the ceiling or put out a window.

Richie rolled his hips into Eddie, fucking him in little thrusts that made Eddie’s eyes water and cry out in such perverted groans. They’d save the rough stuff for when they had more experience and more space in Richie’s bed, but Richie had figured out exactly what Eddie liked. Except Eddie had been making notes to himself too.

Eddie rolled his hips forward, which pulled on Richie’s dick just enough to startle him. Richie moaned and Eddie grabbed his face to speak directly into his ear as he decided the speed of how he’d ride Richie’s cock.

“You like fucking me, Richie?” Eddie growled. “You think about this in class? How much longer you have to wait until you’ve got your dick inside me? Until I’m on your bed in your parents house and you’re peeling my clothes off and fucking me?”

Richie’s eyes were glassy, his face was flush, and his lips were swelling from how roughly they’d been kissing. Eddie loved how he looked so torn apart and he kept staring at Richie as he put his arms around Richie’s neck and fucked himself harder.

“You love me, Richie?” Eddie asked.

He was satisfied with the strangled moan that came out of Richie. Eddie groaned and swore from the feeling of Richie pulling him apart, and the shock from every time his dick shoved against Richie’s chest, mixing precome with his sweat.

Eddie sat back to pull his shirt off. He spat on his own erection, shoved Richie’s hand onto it, and made him jerk him off as he fucked himself down onto Richie’s dick as they made the loudest noises they would ever dare in their lives.

Eddie did have the decency to yank Richie’s shirt up so when they were kissing and grinding and moaning, he didn’t come all over Richie’s DARE shirt. Some smells and stains were harder to explain than weed.

Richie came in loud desperate groans, moaning into Eddie’s chest, even digging his teeth into his skin.

Sweat was drooling down their chests and into the cracks of their pelvis and the hair of their groins. Eddie was immediately apparent of just how hot it was in the car.

Eddie gingerly removed himself and rolled onto the seat, leaving Richie to deal with the sticky, drooling condom. Richie’s DARE shirt was roped behind his head and around his shoulders, and his jeans and boxers were around his ankles. Eddie was really glad they didn’t wait until prom for this awkwardly dressed and fucking filthy encounter. He grabbed the handle and shoved it open to air the car out. Let Maine’s most remote weirdos look at his naked body sprawled over his boyfriend’s lap, as he looked at the woods around them from upside down.

“Where the fuck are we?” Eddie asked.
“Oh shit...”

Richie looked out the rear window at the woods. The trees were wrapped in the first shadows of dusk and all around them was isolation.

--

The only suggestion that something was different was how Eddie was suddenly in a good mood. He was a weird kid at school who always had rings under his eyes and clothes that were at least a decade out of date. But if anyone noticed, it was only that he seemed happier and he was spending more time with his friends.

Richie would loudly talk about cutting class around the most dispassionate hall monitors so he could take Eddie out by the dumpsters, pull his legs around his waist, and shove him against the wall. He wanted to grind into him against the filth that coated the walls as they kissed and groaned, pulling chapped lips with crooked teeth.

There was never enough time to do something really fun, but it was enough to hold fast around his waist as Richie thrust his crotch against his, grinding denim against denim in the filth by the cafeteria dumpsters. Eddie would feel his scalp scrub into the wall covered in garbage juice, old lunches, and lead paint and it didn’t mean a thing. Not when he finally had Richie this close to him.

Sometimes Eddie would lazily drape his arms across his shoulders, or stare at him as Richie panted into his neck, and once he let his head roll back against the wall to look at the cloudy sky above that didn’t give a damn what they were doing. At least there was something out there that didn’t care. If it rained, it was nothing to do with being perverted or sinful or diseased. It was just supposed to rain. The planet didn’t care that they were gay. Let all the fucking judgmental assholes around them take a note and learn something.

Eddie’s watch beeped. They never messed around for longer than ten minutes. That was usually when someone would get curious or bored with their office work and look for someone’s day to ruin. As good as it felt to be with Richie, it wasn’t worth losing everything they had. Not when they only had a few weeks left before relative freedom.

Richie groaned in frustration and Eddie slid back to the ground. He stayed up against Richie and looked up at him.

“Hey.”
“What’s up?” Richie asked.

Eddie kissed him, softly. His hand holding Richie’s rough and scratchy jaw. His body pushed against him firmly, but yielding. Eddie opened his eyes to look at him.

“I fuckin love you.”

Richie hesitated, in shock, but he smiled so wide and hugged him, ready to crush his ribs and bones again.

“I was gonna say that.” Richie whined.

The bell rang and they reluctantly detangled. Richie kissed him in parting.

“See you at home.” He smiled.

--

It took them forty five minutes to find other cars passing by and figure out which lanes were going south. To their surprise, there was in fact a Friendly’s in central Maine, and the restaurant wasn’t completely dead. Except Richie startled so hard at the sight of the Conehead Sundae, he just grabbed the dessert menu and threw it under their table. They were pretty sure Pennywise hadn’t branched out into franchising, but couldn’t be too careful.

Eddie eased himself into the booth. The cushioned seat helped a little, but not a lot.

“You okay?” Richie asked.
“A little sore,” said Eddie.
“And loving it,” Richie grinned.

Eddie knew he just wanted to get the last punchline in. He didn’t expect to smile back and look away like he was feeling bashful or something.

Richie put his hand under the table and swatted around until Eddie grabbed his hand. They could only touch fingertips for a moment. The tables were new to accommodate the growing girth of Americans who wanted supersized portions and more variety. As long as the cookie cutter shape of families and prom dates never changed. It had to look the same as what they’d been sold when they were children. They got older and meaner and sadder, but it made them feel better to know their fears were catered to. Richie and Eddie could only hold the tips of their fingers under a table and out of sight. But it was enough they had each other.

They ordered food and acted like they were tired from a drive. There were just enough people in the place with their children or their own business that they needed to put on the performance. Maybe people would think they were brothers. They had dark hair. They could pass for that. As long as no-one saw their feet resting next to one another under the table.

It wasn’t easier to wait until they were back in the car. It was fucking hard. It was terrible. It was their prom and they had to play their music out of a borrowed friend’s car after driving deep into the outback of Maine. Because what home or hotel would let them be alone together? They had to carve privacy out of the wilderness in the cramped cell of a backseat. It was bullshit and it was unfair and yeah it was the 90s, but when the hell was everyone going to come around and see they could be in love? How it was natural? How long had Eddie tried to convince himself of that?

But it felt so nice to be alone in the car, kissing softly before Richie had to turn on the engine, because a family of five was approaching the station wagon next to them and they’d call the police if they saw two homos in love around their little girls.

At least they had the night drive back together. There were so many stars in the sky. The smell of summer was sweet and pungent from all the leaves and flowers in bloom. The birds’ song was over and the only music came from the traffic gusting by, and Neil Young’s new song on the radio.

Of the bright green signs posted along the highway to indicate off-ramps and directions, Eddie sat up when he saw one in particular.

260 miles to Boston.

500 miles to New York.

If they kept going, they could stop for 7-11 coffee in Boston. If they didn't give up, they could watch the sunrise over the skyscrapers of New York City, and Derry would forever be a distant memory. They’d never have to go back.

Eddie watched the interstate pass, and turned his head to watch it disappear into the horizon left behind them.

“Yeah I thought about it too,” said Richie. “Gotta get that fuckin diploma though. Can’t have four years of bullshit be for nothing.”
“You sure?” Eddie wondered.

Richie reached out to take Eddie’s hand and give it a squeeze. Don’t put the idea in his head.

“Because I’m still in love with you,” Neil Young sang “…on this harvest moon…”

--

Waking up in Richie’s bed was exactly how he wanted to start his mornings. They’d jerked each other off the night before, like their first time together, and the remnants of it were left in damp patches on the sheets. The smells of other people’s breakfasts were coming in through the window, with the early offensive light of dawn.

Eddie woke up to the sound of the shade pulling down, the creak and sway of the mattress, and the feather light touch of Richie’s lips and teeth along his shoulder blades, with the scrape of his stubble.

“Like little chicken wings”, he mumbled.
“Ssuchadork,” Eddie mumbled in half-sleep.
“I had an idea for prom,” said Richie.
“What? Laser tag?”
“I was going to get Stan to lend me his car and we could go somewhere.”

Eddie thought that was funny, and rolled over to give Richie the audience he wanted. Richie had his glasses on and he was leaning on his hand.

“Where?” Eddie asked.
“I dunno.” Richie seemed more interested in looking at the sight of Eddie wrapped up in his bedsheets.
“Like Augusta?” Eddie suggested.
“Maybe.”
“What the fuck’s in Augusta?”
“Friendly’s?”
“That’s in Palmyra.”
“Oh. Shit.”

Richie fell back on the pillows, and was flat on his back. He really needed more pillows if his bed was going to be shoved between two windows with not enough wall between them.

“What are we gonna do? Drive seven hours to have a fuckin after party in Nova Scotia?” Eddie laughed. “Pal around with a bunch of Canadian sea lions who talk like Sloth? It’d take all night to get there.“
“Okay,” said Richie.
“No,” Eddie chuckled. “I’m not going to fuckin Canada for prom. We could just come back here.”
“No!”
“Why not? They’ll still be out of town anyway!”
“Because,” Richie flopped over to face Eddie, “I have to spend so much fucking time here already. Please don’t make me spend an allegedly magical night stuck in my goddamn house.”

Eddie still couldn’t believe Richie lived in such a huge place. He’d give anything to have the solitude and away from the prying eyes of his mother. They’d never be able to do anything like this in his house.

How many days and nights to Richie have to spend in this house all by himself when Eddie could have been there with him?

Eddie ran his hand under Richie’s face, against his zits and his stubble, traced a thumb down his cheek, and played with his bottom lip until Richie gently bit him.

“So you want to spend prom in the backseat of Stan’s car?” Eddie asked.

Richie smiled at the suggestion, and pushed himself up. He dragged his leg over Eddie’s, let his dick graze across his pelvis, and held himself over Eddie. It made him feel drowsy and awake all at once.

“With you,” Richie murmured. He kissed Eddie gently, savoring it, taking a second for every day they hadn’t done this earlier. He leaned on his elbow to look at him. Richie’s dark curly hair was all frizzy and lopsided, like the happy smirk on his face.

“Wanna be my date for the prom, Eddie Spaghetti?”
“Ask me normally, you goddamn dork.”

Richie wasn’t deterred by Eddie’s insistence on staying on brand. He smiled and shrugged.

“Okay.”

Richie scooted back until he was sitting over Eddie’s legs.

“Give me your best Sally,” he said, and disappeared under the top sheet.
“I said ask me normally!” Eddie snapped.
“This is normal for me!” Richie said from under the sheet. “And original material too.”
“You’re an ass–“ Eddie was cut off when he felt Richie’s hands on his hips, and his hot, wet mouth on his prick. He really didn’t like how suddenly Richie made him gasp and shudder. For a crash course in fucking over the last two weeks, Richie had gotten really, really good at this.

Eddie suddenly realized what Richie meant by ‘Sally’ as Richie’s tongue moved in just the right way and he had to bite his tongue.

“This is a cheap fucking trick.” Eddie snarled.

Richie replied with his mouth full of cock, which only made him hum at different rhythms, as he slid his lips up and down and all around Eddie’s dick.

He even grabbed the sheets so Eddie couldn’t shove them back to watch him do it. Eddie only got to watch through the movements of a sheet. He was fucking torturing him.

It was only through the hum in his lips and a tone in his throat that he knew Richie was saying, “Saaaaaaaay it”

“I fuck-ing HATE you! I’m not SAYing it! You suck! You’re an a- a- asshooole OKAY FUCK YOU YES YES YES GOD DAMN IT YES”

Those were the only words Eddie could get out before he was left a moaning, shaking mess. Richie crawled back up and out from under the sheet, to kiss him with salty lips. Eddie tried to punch him in the arm for making him quote a shitty romcom, but he was too tired from coming so early in the morning.

“You suck.”
“Duh.”

Eddie’s stomach growled and despite Richie’s gift for swallowing, he was probably hungry too. They’d scrounge something out of the kitchen. But for now, what was the rush? The whole day was theirs to have and they could stay in bed as long as they wanted.

“Seriously though?” Richie asked, almost like he doubted him.
“Of course,” said Eddie. “Fucking duh I’ll do prom with you.”

The bed shook a little as Richie laughed with relief. It made Eddie smile.

“How are you going to get Stan to lend you his car?” Eddie asked.
“I’ll think of something.”
“Do not steal his car.”
“Okay, I’ll think of something else.”

--

Eddie was dropped off at Mama Kasp’s house right before dawn. The agreement had been that Eddie would stay at “a friend”’s house for the rest of May. Sonia had until the first of June to get her act together. No matter how much Eddie had broken with so many of his old habits, his conviction in giving his mother a second, fourteenth, and thirtieth chance was as strong as piano wire.

But he didn’t have to go in just yet. They could sit in the parked car in the shadow of the trees, thick with leaves, before the neighbors would cut them back to better spy on each other. They kissed softly, meaningfully in the car. With everything else they’d done, it felt so good to just be held and kissed. Every teenager needed to move with discretion, but straight kids could always graduate to sunlight. Progress had been made in the 20th century, but not enough that Richie and Eddie felt they could leave the confines of the car.

There was an early morning wind lacing its way through the trees, and the smell of the earth and the grass was like perfume. Some of the birds were up and chirping. It was a noise Richie had only associated with when he’d pull an all nighter to finish his homework. It was nice to associate them with this instead. Eddie had his hand on Richie’s thigh, and the other around his face. He didn’t even care about getting him hard. Is this how “normal” couples got to feel?

Richie stared at him through those big ridiculous glasses and heavy hair. He looked concerned.

“You want me to go with you?”

For one brief, shining moment, there was a Camelot. He could bring Richie into the house, tell his mother he was gay, this was his boyfriend, and they were leaving Derry forever. They could find a place in the city where the misfits and outcasts of the heartland and God’s country found refuge with real families that would welcome them home.

But it faded. They were two eighteen year olds in Derry, necking in a borrowed car. How would they even get out of the place without money for a bus ticket, when they couldn’t even get a room for prom?

“Nah, I’ll be okay,” said Eddie.
“You sure?”
“Yeah.”
“Okay. If you change your mind, just call. Or come by. Or whatever. I’ll be there.”

Eddie leaned back over to Richie to kiss him. Something tender and gentle to remember before going into battle. He didn’t want to go. Richie pulled back a little to look at him gently. Their noses still touching, his hair in his face, and a smile on his lips.

“I fuckin love you too,” Richie murmured.

--

By the time Eddie and Beverly had walked in the front door, Aunt Val had maybe an hour left of patience left in her. The house had been put back in working order, repairmen had been called to set the electrical outlets right, and the house looked more like the orderly place Eddie had grown up in, instead of an almost literal rats’ nest.

Beverly had stood by Eddie’s side like he had said her name three times in the mirror to summon what Mama Kasp thought was Chicago’s biggest butchest punk bar bouncer. Aunt Val worked her magic and told Sonia that Eddie would be staying with his friend for the next two weeks. If she heard of any more horseshit from her dead brother’s wife, she would call CPS. Sonia was so worn out from fighting with her sister-in-law all day, she only had the energy to give Eddie pathetic looks like a dog trying to beg scraps from the table.

Eddie just went upstairs to pack a duffle bag and walked right out the door without hearing Sonia call his name. Aunt Val was so tired she accepted the phone number Beverly gave her and said she would call to follow up. She just needed to get some sleep. Eddie still couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that she’d driven three hundred miles to put his home in order. The same day he came out of the closet, and only hours after sleeping with his best friend.

“It’s been a day,” Aunt Val sighed. She had one of those trendy new haircuts with short bangs. She was the kind of woman who would throw on mascara and a shimmery brown lipstick before driving three hundred miles to help her nephew. Aunt Val always had time for her make-up, but with Eddie and Sonia she could only do so much. She looked at him with pity.

“God, when did you get so big?” she wondered.

Eddie didn’t want to say it was in all the days and months and years she couldn’t be bothered to come up to Maine to see him. It was a shitty thing to say to a single mother who had driven through four states to help him. Eddie wasn’t the only kid to be raised under the cardinal law that all adults were infallible. But the limited kindness of his aunt made him realize they were human beings too. Maybe she could have done more. Maybe she even regretted not doing more, but most likely, she was the kind of person whose heart wasn't deep enough to take him with her. She had to look after her kids, her job, her mortgage, her hobbies, her life, and all the pieces of her heart were evenly divided already. Grand heroic gestures were for superheroes on comic book pages, and your childhood friends who helped you kill a child-eating clown, and who still believed courage and kindness could change the world. They had to believe in it for as long as they could. Adults got tired and hopeless so quickly, even when they tried so hard to do things right.

Aunt Val had to watch her little brother die and it was too horrible a reminder that they were all mortal. She couldn’t give out all the pieces of her heart if she only had so much time left to have it. She couldn’t take Eddie with her to Rhode Island and raise him with his cousins, but she would welcome him into her home at Thanksgiving and Christmas when they could visit. And even haul ass over three hundred miles to make sure he got through safely to the end of the school year.

And there was something pretty damn big hearted about that.

Aunt Val drove off to find a motel with a vacancy and clean sheets for the longest, deepest sleep of her life. Sonia could drop dead for all she cared, but not before Eddie graduated high school. He had to get that diploma.

Beverly walked Eddie back the way he came, but with much better company than the misery of his thoughts. By the time they reached Richie’s neighborhood, they were talking and laughing so loud, it summoned the Trashmouth from his lair. Richie banged out onto the patio and down the stairs and watched them walk towards his yard. He’d slipped back into his depressed funk that he’d always be alone. And here were two of his best friends coming up the road to see him.

Richie strode forward and seized Eddie to hug him as hard as he dared. It was the second time that day he couldn’t believe Eddie was real. Instead of crushing his ribs and his lungs, he was so firm and careful with him. He gave Eddie the briefest of kisses on his forehead, the most he would dare to do in public, before extending a hand and waving Beverly into the group hug.

“I love you guys,” said Beverly.
“Gay,” Eddie laughed. “OW!”

Richie had smacked him in the head.

“Asshole! I told her!” Eddie snapped.
“Oh,” said Richie. “Well, keep your voice down, Tinkerbell.”
“The two of you, shut up!” Beverly laughed.

Hugs ended. Beverly’s time in Derry was limited. And they all only had so much time left together and on this Earth. But Eddie was resolved to get as much of it with Richie as he could.

--

Richie didn’t want to leave until he knew Eddie wasn’t going to need a getaway driver, but Eddie didn't want to be there when Stan hit the roof. At least Richie would fill the tank before returning the car.

Eddie watched Richie drive away, the red eyes of the tail lights watching him from down the road, until a blinker turned on and Richie turned away and out of sight. Eddie was all alone.

It felt a little different this time. The pit of misery was there, but Eddie knew there was a way out now. All he had to do was graduate high school, leave town with Richie, and he could do whatever he wanted. Sure, they’d probably have to tell people they were just roommates and unlucky with girls, but maybe they wouldn’t have to do that for much longer.

For now, he just had to get through the last days of school. Finals were over, prom had been over for hours for all the kids who decided to dress and date appropriately, and they were now released to do something respectable in Derry, or to disgrace themselves by leaving the town’s borders behind them forever.

Eddie smiled. It felt pretty good to know he could do something different. He turned back to his house and walked towards the front door. The TV was still on. It sounded like she had fallen asleep watching Columbo.

As Eddie walked closer to the house, he realized it wasn’t the TV. Something was wrong.

His mommy was screaming.