‘I don’t like him.’
‘Oh, is that his name?’
‘Beep beep, Richie…’ It was quite early in the school day for Beverly to be exasperated with him, it didn’t usually happen until after the lunch bell. She was resting her head on her locker, trying to find some relief as Richie spoke animatedly in her ear.
‘I thought his name was Gerald…’
‘Or Assface. It’s easy to get those confused.’
Richie hadn’t met Tony, he only knew that he transferred to Derry High a week ago and was sitting next to Stan in AP History. He didn’t even know he’d been introduced to the other Losers until two seconds ago when he saw them all congregated in front of Stan’s locker.
‘Don’t do this Richard…’
‘Do what, my dear?’
But now he’d seen Tony talking to all of his friends as though he’d known them for years. And something about the whole scene just bothered him. Something about the way Eddie was hanging on to his every word made him incredibly annoyed…
‘Don’t get jealous of the new kid.’
‘Jealous? Who’s jealous? Why would I be jealous of Joseph?’
‘Oh, so you don’t care that Eddie is hanging onto his every word right now?’
That was the annoying part about talking to Beverly Marsh, she always saw through the bullshit. Even though she’d hit the nail right on the head, Richie would never admit that to her. He’d never admit that the thought of Eddie enjoying anyone else’s company, especially that of someone who was ‘conventionally’ attractive and kind of smart, bothered him. Not at all. So instead, Richie did what he’d perfected over the years - he deflected.
‘Smoke another bowl, Molly Ringwald—’
‘I fucking hate when you —’
‘— I don’t care that Eddie thinks he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. I care about my friends and I just don’t trust that guy.’
‘Give me one reason why?’
‘…his eyes are too close together.’
‘You’re an idiot.’
‘And the guy has 20/20 vision? What the fuck is up with that?’
Before Richie could continue on his tirade about assholes who don’t wear glasses, he was interrupted by obnoxiously loud laughter coming from the group by Stan’s locker.
This was a development that was disturbing to Richie for two reasons:
1. Stan was laughing. He couldn’t remember the last time he heard Stanley ‘Urine’ laugh. Ever. And he’d known that kid his whole life. It wasn’t even a little polite chuckle hidden behind a hand or that handkerchief he kept in his back pocket. This was a giant belly laugh that echoed down the hallway. It was a laugh that took over his whole body and made his curls bounce. Stan Uris was fucking snorting with laughter.
2. Eddie was bent over, leaning on Bill’s shoulder as he too was overcome with laughter. Even more horrifying was that when he stood back up he had tears streaming down his cheeks. The sight felt like being punched in the gut. The only time he’d ever seen Eddie laugh like that was because of a joke Richie had made. Eddie only laughed like that at his jokes.
As far as he could tell, this Tony asshole wasn’t even telling a real zinger. Instead, he was walking up and down the hall doing some stupid bird impression. His arms were wings and his legs were bent at the knees as he waddled around. That impression was really that funny?
Richie knew from experience that he couldn’t take the rest of his friend’s reactions as any indicator for how funny this guy was. Bill was chuckling but ole’ Big Bill had never told a joke in his entire life. Sweet Haystack was so nice he would laugh just out of politeness. Richie wished Mike went to school with them because that guy was at least an arbiter of comedic taste.
‘Wow, Tony is pretty funny,’ Beverly sounded far too amused as she picked at lint on Richie’s shirt.
That comment also ruled out Bev.
‘No he’s not. Why would you say that?’
She smiled knowingly and Richie shook away her fussing hands. He hated that smile and the power it held over him. How did she just know everything?
‘Just the laughs coming from Eddie. And Stan. Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever heard Stan laugh.’
‘He’s not funny.’
The laughing continued as Tony continued his impression and relished in the group’s attention. The guy was driving the joke into the ground. What an amateur.
‘He’s big. That’s not necessarily funny’, Richie continued and tried to distract himself from the dull ache in his chest as he watched Eddie follow the group towards their next class. His eyes were shining, cheeks flushed from all the laughter and Richie wished he had caused it. ‘And the guy does impressions? That’s just so cheap.’
‘Richie. All you do is impressions,’ Beverly’s smile faded as she closed her locker and turned to face him. Richie had a sneaking suspicion his poker face wasn’t holding up.
He really couldn’t handle the pity today.
‘Got any smokes Red? I need to get outta here.’
Richie had been trying to study for his physics quiz for over two hours and nothing was sinking in. All he had been able to think about all night was Eddie and that laugh. Daydreaming about Eddie wasn’t a new pastime for Richie, he’d been doing it since he was 13 years old, but this time he felt something else.
Something that made all of his ugly insecurities rise up like bile in his throat. Kicking back from his desk, giving up on studying altogether, he stood in front of his full-length mirror and sighed. This was as good as it was gonna get.
Mr ‘I Have One Impression and Will Ram It Down Your Throat’ was conventionally handsome, Richie supposed. He seemed the type who liked participating in school sports unironically and he had the build to match. He was tan and had effortlessly styled hair that just screamed cool and casual.
Richie was almost seventeen and still hadn’t grown into his limbs. He was all gangly bones and arms and legs. He was so pale that if sun touched any part of his skin he burned to a crisp. That meant he copped an earful from Eddie who was always chastising him for not wearing sunscreen. His hair now ruefully curled in a way that was nowhere near cool or casual. Just messy.
On impulse, just to see if any definition had taken over his body or he’d suddenly been bitten by a radioactive spider, Richie pulled off his t-shirt. Nope, still shaped like a beanpole. He could see why Eddie would pay slightly more attention to Tony. Maybe tall, tan and unfunny was what Eddie was into. Maybe that’s who he wanted as a best friend now.
Or more. God, it hurt to think he could be wanting more…
‘Do you want some alone time with yourself?’
Richie was so wrapped up in his own pity party he hadn’t heard Eddie climb up the stairs to his bedroom. Richie’s parents were so used to Eddie hanging out at their house they just let him in now without question. That meant Richie was often caught in painful moments like this.
He was going to say something back, maybe a joke from his back catalogue about jacking off to thoughts of Eddie’s mom, but then he realised his shirt was off. Richie thought he saw a blush come across Eddie’s cheeks as he scanned his bare torso but a wave of embarrassment overtook those thoughts and he clumsily pulled his shirt back on.
‘Jeez Eds, take a picture next time. It’ll last longer.’
As he pulled the shirt over his head, glasses askew in his haste, he saw Eddie flip him off in the reflection of the mirror. Then he flung himself onto Richie’s bed, grabbing a comic book and making himself comfortable like he always did.
Richie took a moment to admire him under the guise of looking in the mirror. He forgot Eddie was wearing that blue collared shirt today…that was definitely a favourite.
‘Where were you this afternoon?’ Eddie’s voice cut through and Richie jumped, mortified that once again he’d gotten caught up in thoughts of his best friend.
‘Ditched with Bev. Hung out down at the quarry for a bit.’
‘Did you forget we were supposed to do something after school? I had no excuse to skip out on dinner with Sonia.’
Richie hadn’t forgotten. He normally took any excuse to spend more time with Eddie after school. But he’d felt like being petty today. Richie let out a huff and sat down on the bed, his knees knocking into Eddie’s just to annoy him.
‘Oh, you didn’t hang out with Larry today?’
Eddie frowned, the wheels in his head turning as he put down the comic. ‘Who the fuck is Larry?’
Richie just shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant as he too picked up a comic and pretended to flick through the pages. If Eddie didn’t know who Richie was talking about then maybe he didn’t think he was so memorable…
‘Wait, do you mean Tony? The guy from Stan’s history class?’
Richie rolled his eyes and continued to look down, ‘Oh is that his name? I thought it was Jim Carrey…’
A feeling of white-hot annoyance ran down Richie’s spine and he continued spitefully when Eddie didn’t respond.
‘You know since he’s such a fan of physical comedy.’
‘Are you jealous?’ Eddie scoffed out, pushing Richie’s arm so he dropped the comic and had to look at him. His eyes were shining mischievously in the dim light of the bedroom and any thoughts of annoyance left Richie immediately. ‘That’s cute.’
Richie had to remember to catch his breath at the sight of him. Did he just say cute? Cute. That’s cute. He’s cute…
But then Eddie started to laugh, bringing Richie back to reality and any feeling of hope was squashed immediately. Richie tried to recover by pushing him back onto the bed as he continued to giggle.
‘Well, you thought he was fucking hilarious…’
‘Because he made Stan laugh! Stan! His snort was the highlight of my day!’
‘So you were laughing at Stan?’
‘Well yeah…like we always do. Tony’s bird impression wasn’t really funny. Like he’s big but big isn’t funny.’
Richie’s heart soared as Eddie decided the conversation was over and snatched up the comic he had dropped.
‘That’s exactly what I thought.’
Richie couldn’t wipe the grin from his face as he tried to control his heart rate. So much for a poker face, he was too happy. A small smile also graced Eddie’s features and he paused before opening the latest X-Men.
‘You have a smudge on your glasses again, doofus. How do you even see out of these things?’
Without hesitating, Eddie grabbed the frames off Richie’s face and started cleaning them with the bottom of his shirt. Richie couldn’t see a damn thing but knew his cheeks were burning in a way he couldn’t control.
‘So how about tomorrow? We could go to the arcade we haven’t been there in a while.’
Richie broke out his trance and quickly snatched his glasses back before Eddie could notice his hands start shaking. An overwhelming feeling of powerlessness and shame ran through his veins in a cold trickle. He hadn’t been back to that place in so long. He didn’t want to start now.
‘Nah Eds, the arcade is for babies,’ Richie cleared his throat and swallowed down the need to throw up. Before Eddie could protest he quickly continued, ‘How about we rent a movie? We can watch it in your room so I can pop in for some sweet lovin’ with Mrs K.’
Eddie looked concerned for a brief moment before frowning in disgust. Richie breathed out in relief, hoping he’d changed that subject for the time being. Deflection- it was his speciality nowadays.
‘Sure thing, asshole. Is The Mask available to rent?’ Eddie smiles knowingly and any feeling of hopelessness disappears from Richie’s mind for a moment. Only Eddie can do that to him.
‘Nice callback. You, me and Jim Carrey - it’s a date.’
And that slipped out so fast that Richie didn’t even have time to panic. He just had to play it cool and ignore the way his heart beat wildly in his chest.
But when he looked over at Eddie, he was smiling to himself, a slight flush taking over his cheeks.
‘See, now that’s funny.’