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3. i'm ready now

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a promise of hope
is enough to feel free

i'm ready now

 

 

When he was twelve and the realization first struck, it felt like the end of the world. Certain moments from the summer after seventh grade helped to cement that feeling.

When he was thirteen he carved his first initial and his crush’s first initial on the kissing bridge in a weird moment of bravery and teenage wistfulness.

When he was fourteen, he decided it was okay if he was gay, as long as he didn’t act on it, because that would be the thing that would bring real trouble.

But now Richie is a newly-minted twenty-one, and though many things have changed, the middle school crush and its implications haven’t.

(it wasn’t so bad when it was just like this thing i pretended not to think about, he muses as he drives home from a shift at blockbuster-- but now, like, i mean, fuck, last night… last night isn’t something i can pretend to forget about, no way, not like i would even want to forget about it because i mean)

The unfinished thought hardens a pit of anxiety in his stomach. He hangs the world’s sloppiest left-hand turn and parks his car badly on the street in front of his apartment building.

Now that the whole thing is solidified-- now that he and Eddie have had The Talk, have kissed each other more than a few times, have even gone a step or two beyond kissing-- now it feels like he’s lying.

(there’s no way i’m going to be able to hide this, his mind suggests for the millionth time since eddie slipped out of his bed this morning)

He wanders to his front door. Unlocks it. Yanks his uniform shirt off, dislodging his glasses, as he makes his way to his room. He changes into a tee shirt he’d bought at a novelty shop that says ‘EAT A FOOD’ on it in fancy script letters. Shoves his arms into the sleeves of a zip-up hoodie since it’s still kind of chilly out even though spring has started edging into Maine.

There’s TV to watch, there are dishes that need to be done, there’s stand-up comedy sets to work on in case he ever gets his hands on an open mic night. There’s Super Mario Land to play on his Game Boy. But his mind just flops between these possible tasks, unwilling to land on any single one. He ends up standing in the middle of his bedroom for a good minute or two, cleaning his glasses off on the hem of his tee shirt.

(why do i feel like my whole body is a foot that stepped in dog shit, he wonders silently as he replaces his glasses; i mean let’s face it i love eddie, i really do, i should be shooting rainbows out of my nose right now in happiness because he literally said he likes me back like for real but like i just kind of want to bang my head against the wall a bunch of times)

He sighs. Kicks at the door frame as he wanders back into the hallway.

“Bevvie?” He calls, rapping his knuckle against her bedroom door. “Bev?” It nudges open. Empty.

He stuffs his hands into his hoodie pockets for a second. Then he takes his left hand out and starts tugging on the zipper.

(if i feel like i'm lying, he mulls over in his mind, who specifically do i want to tell the truth to)

But it's a dumb question. He knows the answer.

He’s never liked lying to Stan. It just isn’t right-- it’s like putting on your shoes without socks underneath, or trying to write with your left hand, or driving to work without turning the car radio on. If something is going on, Stan is supposed to know about it. He just is. That’s the way things are and the way things have been for as long as Richie can remember.

(okay, he tells himself; probably stop stalling and just do it, either he’ll think you’re gross and be a little distant for a while or he’ll be fine with it but at least he’ll know and at least you won’t have to tiptoe around yourself in front of your best friend anymore……… and like come on be real you know damn well there's nothing that would make him stop being your best friend, he may tell you he hates you once a week but if he really hated you he wouldn't have stuck by you since second grade)

So Richie lets his feet bring him to the phone in the kitchen.

He doesn’t have an address book, but what he does have is a handful of corners ripped off notebook pages, old receipts, and gum wrappers with numbers and addresses written on them stuffed into the drawer under the microwave. He fishes out the one he’s looking for and dials.

“Hello?” a pleasant female voice answers after three rings.

“Hey, Patty, it’s Richie,” he says, holding the phone between his face and his shoulder so he can pick at his thumbnail. “Is Stan around?”

“Sure, I’ll grab him, just one second.”

He waits. Feels his heart thumping hard at the top of his spine.

“Hi, Richie,” Stan’s voice comes a moment later.

“Stan the man,” he says. “You busy?”

“Not particularly,” Stan answers. “What’s going on?”

“Can you meet me somewhere?” Richie asks. “How about that park down the street from your place? I… think I need to talk to you about something.”

“About what?” Stan asks.

Richie exhales, trying hard to keep his voice light-hearted. “About the fact that your parents are splitting up and your mom is moving in with me.”

He can practically hear Stan's eyeroll. “Beep beep, Richie.”

(yeah, beep beep richie, because actually you should be joking about banging stan’s dad)

“Okay, okay, you caught me,” Richie says, drawing out a sigh. “What’s actually going on is I accidentally killed Ben by feeding him expired chicken nuggets and I need help burying his body before Bev finds out what I did.”

“So you want to bury it in a park?” Stan asks.

“Yeah,” Richie says with pretend impatience. “There’s, like, a lot of dirt there to work with. Will you help me or not?”

“I’ll meet you there in half an hour,” Stan agrees.

“Thank fuck. I can’t dig that good. Okay. Cool. See you at the park in half an hour.”

+

Stan is already there waiting when Richie pulls into the park’s parking lot, sitting on a bench, his hands in his jacket pockets, looking up into a tree. The sun is half-set; golden light halos itself easily around Stan’s caramel curls. Richie forces air into his lungs and locks his car and heads over to sit next to his friend, stuffing his hands into his jacket pockets too.

“Hey, where’s your shovel?” Stan asks.

Richie blinks. “What?”

“Your shovel. To dig the hole. To bury Ben’s corpse.” Stan gestures toward the grass in front of them.

“Oh. Ha. Right. Must’ve forgotten that stuff. Oops.”

He can feel Stan’s eyes on him.

(oh fuck, richie realizes; i guess now that i’ve dragged him out here i actually have to like, do this)

“Rich?”

“Yep,” Richie answers.

“Does your shirt say ‘eat a food’?”

“It does,” Richie confirms.

“Why?”

“It’s just a suggestion, Stanley. Eat a food. If you’re hungry, eat a food. It’s good to do.”

“Alright,” Stan exhales. “Are you going to tell me what you wanted to talk about?”

Richie freezes, turning his wide brown eyes toward his friend, noticing and ignoring a nasty smudge on his left glasses lens. “How do you know I wanted to talk about something?”

“Because you called me and said you wanted to talk to me about something,” Stan points out. “Remember?”

Richie tilts his head toward his shoulder for a second. “Yeah. Right. Ha. I did. I do.”

“So what is it?”

(oh god, richie thinks, i think i feel sick)

“You know how sometimes, like--” Richie gestures vaguely, his fingers spread wide open for some reason. “When you’re a kid, you think something, and it’s like kind of nerve-wracking, but you’re like, whatever, that’s a problem for when I’m older?”

“Not really,” Stan replies.

(okay okay fuck it’s going to be fine you’re going to be fine, richie tells himself, it’s just stan)

“Like-- you realize there’s a problem, but the consequences aren’t going to… come around for like a lot of years so you just figure you’ll deal with it eventually?”

“Alright,” Stan says evenly. “What kind of problem are you talking about?”

“It’s not-- necessarily a problem, I think, I hope,” Richie goes on stupidly. “Um, parts of it are actually really good. It’s just that-- it has difficulties that I wouldn’t have to deal with otherwise, and that kind of sucks, and like I didn’t really want to deal with it for a long time because of… stuff people said to me about it or whatever, like a million years ago.”

His stomach twists up. Dread threatens at the base of his throat. He tries to swallow, but it’s like he can’t for some reason, so he just sort of sits there silently, mouth clenched up.

“Richie, what are you talking about?”

“See, the thing is--” (oh god i’m gonna say it i’m really gonna say it for the first time ever haha wow i really feel nasty) “the thing is--”

(fuck)

He doubles over and throws up on the grass, barely missing his shoes.

Stan says nothing. Richie gags a little bit, half-choking on the bitter stomach acid shoving up his throat.

“I have wet wipes in my car,” Stan says very practically. In his peripheral vision, Richie can see him stand up. “Hold on.”

(motherfucker!!!!!!!!!!!! ew)

Richie sighs, closing his eyes for a second. He hears Stan walking through the grass, then onto the pavement. Hears him open his car door and then close it a moment later.

(maybe i should just not tell him, richie considers, straightening up, ignoring the painful post-puking stomach cramp. he wipes at his face with the back of his hand. like, you shouldn’t make your friend watch you puke and then come out to him right after, right? that isn’t good to do)

“Here you go.” Stan offers him a wet wipe and a handful of tissues. Grateful, embarrassed, he takes them and cleans himself up.

“Thanks. Sorry. I chugged a bottle of ipecac in the car,” Richie jokes as he wipes at his mouth.

“No problem,” Stan says. “I’m used to sudden puking.”

Richie makes a face, turning to look at his friend. “You’re used to sudden puking? Why the fuck are you used to sudden puking? Is Patty bulimic?”

“No.” For a second, it seems like that’s all Stan is going to say-- but then he speaks again. “We’re waiting a few more weeks to tell people, so keep quiet about it, but-- she’s pregnant.”

Richie blinks, his shoulders pulling back automatically. “Whoa, seriously? What are you guys going to do?”

Stan’s eyes narrow just a touch. “Keep it,” he says. “We did it on purpose.”

(of course they didn’t do it on accident, richie reasons; stan doesn’t get into situations accidentally, least of all something that life changing and intense)

“Oh.” Richie blinks again. “Mazel tov, then. That’s really cool.”

“Thanks.” Stan smiles a little, his eyes going soft. “I know we’re young, but… we’re ready and we both really want this.”

“That’s awesome,” Richie says, and he means it. “I mean, you’re the ones who would know if you’re too young or not, so fuck anyone who thinks different, right?”

Stan nods, appreciation settling over his features.

(wow, richie thinks. now my thing is dumb)

“Are you alright, though?”

“Me? Yeah, I’m alright, you shouldn’t have to worry about… me… if…” again, Richie gestures meaninglessly.

Stan shakes his head. “Don’t say that.”

Richie shrugs, wiping at his face with the tissue again, even though there isn’t any puke hanging around.

“But if you’re sick, you should go home and rest.”

“I’m not sick,” Richie says. “I…” he sighs. “Fuck. I’m gay, Stanley.”

“Oh,” Stan says, sounding maybe fifteen percent surprised. “Is… is that right?”

“Yep,” he affirms weakly. “Super fuckin’ gay.”

“How long have you… felt that way?”

“Like a decade,” Richie admits. “I tried not to be, you know, for a while. And then I figured I’d just keep it to myself. But now I kind of have a reason to let people know about it.”

“Wow.” Stan nods once. “Alright then.”

The two of them are quiet for a moment. It’s almost fully dark out, and the crickets and frogs have started their evening chorus. Richie’s heart still feels a little heavy and fast, but he figures it’ll go away in a minute, probably.

“You said you have a reason to let people know about it,” Stan pipes up, breaking the momentary silence. “It’s you and Eddie, isn’t it?”

Richie feels his cheeks warm up. (i shouldn’t out eddie, right????)

“Don’t worry,” Stan says, as if reading Richie’s mind. “I won’t say anything until everyone else knows. It just seems to make sense that you and Eddie would wind up together.”

“Yeah,” Richie agrees, the last dregs of anxiety softening away to nothing. “It… it does make sense, huh?”

“How long have you had feelings for him?”

“Like, since middle school,” Richie admits.

“Huh.” Stan nods again.

“You aren’t, like, surprised?” Richie hazards.

“Not really.” Stan shrugs. “Like I said-- it makes sense. It checks out.”

(it makes sense, richie repeats in his head; that’s practically the stan uris stamp of approval)

“You’re… I mean, are you cool with it?” Richie hears himself ask, just to double check.

“Yeah,” Stan says like it’s obvious. “Of course, Rich.”

“Right.” Relief washes through him-- relief he didn’t even know he was in want of. He smiles a tiny bit. “Now I can be open with you about the fact that me and your dad are fucking.”

“Ugh. Shut up, Richie,” Stan says, rolling his eyes.

He just grins wider.