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October 31st 1991

“Did you know,” Richie says, a little out of breath, “when you hang a dude, he almost always gets a boner?”

“Richie,” Eddie replies, voice barely above a whisper, “shut up.”

“What? I saw it on Quincy, M.E. It’s called a terminal erection.”

Their sneakers crunch against the woodland floor, the beam of Eddie’s flashlight bobbing a constant two feet ahead.

“So I guess,” Richie continues thoughtfully, when Eddie says nothing, “if I had to pick one way to go, that’d be it. What about you?”

“Do we have to talk about this right now?” Eddie slows and drops the flashlight to the ground with a thud. It rolls to a stop, illuminating them from beneath. He turns his back on Richie and unzips his jeans. “Let’s just pee and get the hell out of here.”

The woods behind Mike’s house are quite pretty in the daytime; dense and full of weeds, but greeny golden and sprawling. At night, though, they transform into something clawed, and strange. Eddie keeps his feet as close to the flashlight as he can without blocking its beam.

“This is why I hate camping,” he mutters as he starts to pee, and prays he isn’t within touching distance of poison ivy. “The sheer fucking impropriety.”

For once, Richie doesn’t say anything. Eddie finishes up and bends to grab the flashlight, cursing as he feels the mean pinprick of a nettle sting in his palm.

“Ouch, god dammit! Are you done? Let’s get out of here already.”

He’s met neither by resistance nor agreement. When he spins on his heel, the space where Richie should be is occupied by a contorted black tree trunk, and while the sight of it automatically sends a sickly thud to the pit of Eddie’s stomach, his secondary – and almost immediate – reaction is to be annoyed.

“Whatever,” he says, as loudly as he can manage. “I’m going back. Come if you want.”

He starts in the direction they came in, but after only a few crackling steps he stops and beams the flashlight around, with all the hesitant swiftness of ripping a Band-Aid off.

“I don’t understand what’s funny about this,” he says, to the emptiness. A little breeze sighs through the branches, making Eddie shiver in clothes entirely unsuited to a late October trek in the woods. Checked shirt, suspenders, white Nikes; he’s supposed to be Marty McFly, and was reasonably proud of the ensemble earlier on in the evening, only now he can’t help thinking that if he dies out here there might be no greater shame than his body being found encased by a two-tone gilet.

Eddie swallows, a little afraid to lift the flashlight again. He folds his arms across his chest instead. When he speaks, his voice is small.

“Richie? Come on.”

A half formed-plan suddenly flings its way into his head; go back to the others, tell them Richie got lost, it’s pitch black out, they’ll need a better flashlight –

He turns to go and two hands grab hold of his shoulders. Eddie shrieks, dropping the torch.

Scared are we, Edward?”

Suddenly Richie is there, ebullient and stupid. Grinning. The smudged black makeup around his eyes makes them appear even darker, and almost hollow, so that although Eddie knows it’s him, the sight of his face so uncannily close throws him.

“What the fuck, man?” Eddie shakes him off, stumbling a little over the branches. “Not fucking funny!”

Richie’s face instantly falls. “Oh shit. I totally thought it was funny. My bad.” He slings an arm around Eddie’s neck, then bursts out laughing. “You should’ve seen your face. I thought you were gonna –”

Whatever he thought is obscured by a sudden noise to their right; a loud snapping of branches and the disturbance of leaves; quick feet, followed by a terrible scream.

It happens once, hoarse and anguished. Eddie goes cold right to his core, and Richie’s arm crashes against Eddie’s chest, pushing him back. It happens a second time, and this time Richie doesn’t wait. He grabs Eddie’s hand and tries to make him run. They turn and lurch forward, almost instantly crashing to their knees, and Eddie gasps as his hands plunge into cold wet leaves and mulch.

He has no time to bemoan the mess as Richie is hauling him to his feet again and they’re both crashing through the trees on ungainly legs, gasping for breath, Richie’s fist balled in the back of Eddie’s jacket, like he’s either afraid of losing Eddie, or Eddie losing him.

They fall out of the woods, thorns hacking at their shins, and stumble back into the circle of tents and logs, where their friends watch their blundering arrival wide-eyed. The ash from the tip of Beverly’s cigarette drops to the ground as she stares, mouth slightly open.

“There’s a fucking –” Richie starts.

Someone,” Eddie gasps, grappling in the pocket of the stupid gilet for his inhaler, “in the woods!” As he takes a sharp puff, his scattering thoughts snatch for a solution. “Should we help them?”

“Fuck no!” says Richie.

“Help who?” Mike demands, suddenly on high alert as he stands to peer over their heads through the wall of tree trunks behind them.

“We heard a scream –”

“It was horrible –”

“I think it was a witch!”

This particular suggestion is met by silence. Even Eddie furrows his brow.

“I mean, I’m not,” Richie adds, a little more solemn now, “a hundred percent sure. I’m just saying… it could’ve been.”

“Man,” says Mike, suddenly laughing. “You guys are dumb as hell sometimes.”

They both look at him, slightly wounded. Eddie gingerly wipes his grimy hands on his jeans.

Mike explains, “That wasn’t a person screaming. You guys probably heard a fox.”

What?”

“You know. A vixen?”

And despite it all – despite the cold sweat running down his back, the steam on his glasses – Richie still finds it in himself to nudge Eddie in the ribs and say, “I didn’t know your mom was camping in the woods tonight too?”

“Fuck off, Richie.”

“I always hear the foxes scream near my grandparents’ house in Rhode Island. They can sound pretty scary if you’re not expecting it,” Stan says kindly.

“Right!” Richie agrees, stepping over Ben’s, Bill’s and Beverly’s legs to get to Stan and, more crucially, to the large bag of Ruffles in his lap. He takes the whole bag and shoves a handful in his mouth, as though to soothe himself.

The others, it turns out, have been swapping ghost stories in Eddie and Richie’s absence. Not the kind of ghosts weighed down by rotting cloth and clanking chains, moaning with disembodied voices, but the real ghosts, Ben insists, of all the missing kids of Derry.

It’s probably his favourite subject; he talks about it all the damn time. Halloween is just a brief evening which allows him to seem slightly less weird for being so obsessed with it. He has a habit of using mythical monsters to synthesize local tragedies. Ben is quite convinced that they’re all living in the midst of the terrible Goatman, no matter how many times Bill reminds him the Goatman lives in Maryland, or Mike insists it’s Texas.

“The Goatman can travel! He has legs!” Ben insists.

Hooves,” Richie says, wisely, pointing with his Ruffles bag.

“They’re still attached to legs, Richie.”

“I just don’t understand why Derry’s milk-carton-kids epidemic has to be put down to a half-man half-goat. Isn’t it more likely we just have our own Jason Voorhees in this town?” says Mike.

“So, wait a minute, you’re saying an indestructible, machete-wielding maniac is more likely?” says Beverly.

“Than a seven-foot mutated humanoid who lives in the woods? Uh, yeah.”

“But think about it,” Ben says. “He targets helpless victims, right? Kids. He eats them, which explains why they’re never found. And what’s he most famous for?” He leans forward conspiratorially, the small campfire Mike knocked up lighting him from below, making him look ghoulish. “A horrifying scream only Satan himself would be capable of.”

“So maybe,” Beverly says in a low voice, blowing out a dramatic plume of cigarette smoke, “it wasn’t a fox you guys heard in the woods.”

Richie looks at Eddie; Eddie looks at Richie. Richie anxiously stuffs more chips in his mouth, crunching loudly.

“This is dumb,” Bill announces, as though that settles it. He’s always declaring scary stuff dumb. He wouldn’t even go to see The Addams Family with them. Instead he took Gretchen Oettinger to see Beauty and the Beast , something he’s still yet to live down.

It’s a wonder Bill even consented to dressing up tonight to carry out ‘Operation Trick ‘Em For Treats’, the basic premise of which was to see how many Derry families would hand out candy to the seven of them, despite all of them clearly being too old for it.

Bill’s done a reasonable job with his Ferris Bueller costume, even managing to find a suitably tacky sweater-vest. Mike, Beverly and Ben have done even better with Skeletor, Madonna, and Super Mario, respectively. Stan has missed the pop culture mark completely as Edgar Allan Poe, with a stiff black Victorian-style suit and white cravat, complete with fake moustache and bug-eyed papier-mâché raven glued to his shoulder, entirely ill-suited to camping on a farm. If they’re being honest, the older couples in town mostly just doled out their Halloween candy as a way of acknowledging Stan’s effort.

At Bill’s declaration that the Goatman is dumb, the conversation moves away from ghost stories and on to normal things, like algebra homework, and Bev’s smoke rings, and what’s going on with Coach Guerrero’s alarming nutsack, and Wayne’s World, and how many red vines Richie can fit in his mouth at once.

Later, though, when they’re brushing their teeth with bottles of water by the little stream running adjacent to Mike’s house, Eddie sidles up to Richie, check shirt and vest swapped for tartan pyjamas and a cable knit sweater, and says, just to him, “Are you kind of freaked out?”

“What about?” says Richie.

“You know,” says Eddie, and he looks around before lowering his voice: “The screaming? In the woods?”

Richie wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, pausing before he replies, like he needs to think about it. He looks at the woodland off to their right, then back at Eddie.

“Mike said it was a fox.”

“Mike says horses use telekinesis when no one’s looking. We can’t trust Mike.”

“I’d prefer to believe it was a fox,” says Richie, shoving his toothbrush back in his mouth.

“Well, I’d prefer not to die.”

Richie shrugs. “Que sera, sera, Eddie. It’s gonna happen anyway, why not go down as a local legend and let good old Goatman put his furry claws around you and carry you off to Neverland?”

This is what he says. And yet, only a short while later, when they’re zipped into their sleeping bags, and they’ve finished arguing about who should get the extra pillow Mike’s grandma offered to them, and they’ve decided that head-to-head sleeping is preferable to top-and-tail, and Richie has kicked Eddie a few times trying to get comfortable, and Eddie has complained that Richie’s hair is in his face, Richie whispers, “I think if I hear one more noise in those woods I might actually piss myself.”

“Please don’t,” Eddie whispers back.

“I’m telling you I can’t make any promises.”

“Speaking hypothetically,” Eddie says, swallowing, “if something were to happen, do you have anything in here we could use as a weapon?”

Richie doesn’t miss a beat. He snorts. “Oh, I’ve got a weapon alright. I –”

“Don’t,” Eddie interrupts. “Forget I said anything.” He reaches up between them and smudges his thumb at the black beneath Richie’s left eye. “Did you even try to wash this off? You’ve still got it all over.”

“Do you think Alice Cooper takes his makeup off to go to bed?”

Eddie glances at his digital wristwatch in the dark. “It’s officially November 1st. You’re not Alice Cooper anymore.”

Richie sighs and rolls on to his back, gazing up at the damp canvas of his dad’s old tent. “That’s a shame. Alice Cooper might’ve been able to save you from the Goatman. Richie Tozier doesn’t stand a fucking chance, I’m afraid.”

“All he’d have to do is flick your glasses off and you’d be done for,” Eddie agrees.

“And I guess you saving me is out of the question?”

Eddie thinks about this. He pulls his sleeping bag right up to his chin, trying to keep out the cold. His toes even in their thermal socks have gone slightly numb, and he surreptitiously shifts his feet closer to Richie’s to steal a little warmth from him.

“Actually saving you is out of the question,” he finally concedes. “But… I think I’d try?”

“You think?”

“Well, I don’t know, do I? Anything could happen. I mean, he could use his huge fucking mutant goat arms to hurl me through the roof of Mike’s house, and then disembowel you while I’m otherwise engaged. Then what am I supposed to do?”

Richie rolls back on to his side to look at him, one hand beneath his head, long fingers in his messy curls. He untucks his free hand from his sleeping bag, brings it up between them, sticks out his pinky tiredly.

“Okay. Promise that if Goatman comes for us, and he doesn’t kick your skinny ass all the way to Mike’s house, you’ll try to save me?”

“And if Goatman comes for us and doesn’t snap your glasses in half –”

“ – Which is unlikely because they’re already being held together with Scotch Tape –”

“ – Then you’ll try to save me?”

Richie’s mouth twitches, then twists into an amused smile.

“Realistically, Eddie, what the fuck would I do? Alright, whatever, deal.”

It’s freezing in the tent, but Eddie still takes his hand out from where he’s been warming it between the layers of his pyjama top and his sweater, and twists his little finger around Richie’s.

They lie there on cold canvas and polyester, shivering a little in the darkness, listening out for the woods. Eddie thinks, but doesn’t say, that in truth he isn’t afraid at all. And Richie – who closes his eyes and sighs and mumbles, “I’m so fucking tired,” but keeps his little finger there, tucked around Eddie’s, like he might have forgotten about it – Eddie knows, really, that Richie isn’t afraid either.

 

 

October 31 st 1996

“It isn’t difficult. Just don’t say anything defamatory, don’t be too political, and don’t play anything by Spin Doctors.”

“What’s this weird looking button do?”

“That – I don’t know. Don’t touch it.”

“And the, uh, the defamation thing? What exactly do you mean by that?”

“I mean you can say Bill Clinton’s been in the news for fucking up again, you just can’t give your personal opinion on whether he did or did not inhale.” Richie claps his hands together. “Comprende?”

The guy – Jack? Jake? – blinks back at him. “I guess so. D’you think people will listen to me?”

“I don’t know, man. It’s college radio. If they’re in the student union building they kind of have to.”

Jack – no, it’s definitely Jake, it says so on the day planner he’s been scrawling Richie’s advice in – says, with a little smile, “Well, I’ll try not to suck, then.”

“That’s the spirit!”

He’s done his job. Richie wants to get out of here now. But part of him is also intrigued as to what might happen if he were to stay. He’s pretty sure there’s something on the table for him here. He’s known this ever since he was tasked with the wearisome job of mentoring this doe-eyed sophomore in how not to blow up the radio control board. Richie had leaned over him at one point to explain the levels on the board, and had been keenly aware that the kid was staring squarely at him, and not at the nine different coloured switches Richie was endeavouring to explain in layman’s terms.

And it’s not like Richie wants to be a skeeze or anything, he just knows what he sees when he sees it, and if he’s made a name for himself on campus over the past three years and someone wants to remind him of that – and the someone’s kind of cute, if a little dull – he’s at least going to have the good sense to consider it.

Except when the question comes – because it does – Richie considers it, and quickly declines.

“I already have plans tonight. Thanks, though.”

“Oh?” says Jake, visibly deflated. “Let me guess, some huge underground Halloween party I know nothing about? I’m always the last to hear about these things. What is it, a creepy masquerade ball in an abandoned warehouse?”

“Uh, no.”

“A rave in a former printworks?”

“I don’t know how exciting you think my life is. My friend’s just visiting from Boston,” Richie says evasively, because there is a party but he doesn’t want to run the risk of having to bring anyone along besides Eddie. “And I have to be at the train station to meet him in like, thirty minutes, so. If I leave you here, do you promise not to touch that fucking button?”

He takes the bus to the train station, having to stand and hold the rail, sandwiched between a little boy dressed as Pugsley Addams and a cold-steamed window. Eddie’s train is late, of course, and Richie buys bad coffee to keep warm on the platform. It’s still early but it’s already starting to go dark, the clouds hanging across a hazy yellow moon as Eddie’s train finally pulls in. Eddie’s practically first off, never one to fuck around when it comes to removing himself from public transport.

“This is the last fucking time,” is the first thing he says.

“You say that every year,” Richie laughs, as they fall into a hug.

“I mean it this time!” Eddie insists, pulling back to look at him. “I shouldn’t have to spend two hours slumped next to a guy with a boombox blasting Geto Boys. I shouldn’t have to do that, Richie.”

“How does a guy who listens exclusively to R.E.M. even know what Geto Boys sound like? Here, give me your stuff, I’ll carry it. I know you’ve been traumatized, but d’you think you can handle a bus?”

Eddie groans, pulling his beanie over his eyes, like not looking at the bus might make it disappear.

But he’s exaggerating, to make Richie laugh. When they’re actually on the bus, emptier now it’s had chance to unload its batch of city-centre trick-or-treaters, Eddie leans back against the window and smiles, wants to know what Richie’s been keeping busy with since the last time they saw each other, when Richie rode the hellish train to Eddie’s pretty campus and they spent the weekend walking the Freedom Trail, and sinking their toes into the sand on Castle Island. That was spring. Almost six months ago. Since then, Eddie’s let his facial hair grow into a handsome shadow (Men’s Health would call it ‘designer stubble’) and as for Richie –

“Where are your glasses? You’re wearing contact lenses now?”

Richie nudges the back of his hand against the bridge of his nose, a habit, trying to adjust frames which are no longer there.

“What do you think? I figured it’d help me get laid more often.”

“Oh yeah? How’s that working out for you?”

“Do you actually wanna know?”

Eddie averts his eyes, instead glancing out of the window at the passing street. “Not really.”

Richie looks at him, at his snug coat, hat, boots, his everything, and considers the way Eddie seems to have turned off the conversation just like that, wonders if the opportunity for Richie to confess he's damn near always thinking about sex, but rarely going through with it, has been missed.

It has, he decides. Eddie has never seemed to want details about that side of Richie's life. If Richie's honest, he's never wanted details about that side of Eddie's life either. He's mostly content to believe, if somewhat naively, that that side of Eddie's life doesn't exist.

By the time they arrive it’s officially dark out. They buy pizza from the 7-Eleven on the corner of Richie’s street, before heading up to the apartment Richie shares with four other guys. His bedroom hasn’t changed since the last time Eddie was here. Ten feet by ten feet, twin bed, broken blinds on the window that looks out onto the sleepy old town below. A full length mirror on the back of the door covered with remnants of his friends; creased postcards from Mike in Florida and Beverly in Chicago and Bill in London, all slotted into the rusting frame, next to old tickets, old flyers, the photo strip of Richie and Eddie from a day at Staten Island two years ago.

He’s a senior, so of course his dresser and desk are piled with unread, overdue library books. Richie’s tried to clean up but there’s only so much junk that can be tossed into a closet without the doors bursting open.

Eddie doesn’t seem to mind. Or if he does, he doesn’t say so. Maybe he’s used to Richie’s chaos after all these years. He drops his bag on to clean sheets that Richie paid extra at the laundromat to have pressed, and toes off his boots on to the rug. Richie flops down next to him, grins when he feels Eddie poke his head gently.

“Your hair seriously needs cutting. You’re gonna end up looking like Richard Lewis soon.”

“It’s called Method, Eds. I was thinking of going to the party as Richard Ramirez.”

Eddie leans back, looking dubious. “We don’t really have to dress up for this thing, do we?”

“I think it’s probably expected that we do, so the trick is just to go as someone you already look like. I’ll be the Night Stalker, and you can be… who do you look like?” Richie snaps his fingers. “Norman Bates.”

“Right,” Eddie nods. “Fuck you. And when are we supposed to be there?”

Richie leans across him to open the drawer of the night stand, pulling out the half full bottle of Fireball he’s been keeping hidden from his sticky-fingered roommates.

“I don’t know. Once we’ve finished this?”

They mix it with Dr Pepper and share a pack of Chips Ahoy, watch half of Bride of Frankenstein on Richie’s fickle little TV, so that by the time they leave the apartment they’re buzzed on whiskey and sugar and Elsa Lanchester’s beehive.

Eddie’s relieved, Richie can tell, when Richie reveals they haven’t been forced by the party host into Halloween costumes, that in his dark bomber and drainpipes he’ll be safe from ridicule, though Richie runs a quick hand through Eddie’s hair to mess it up a little, make him look a little less Ivy League.

They walk to the house (wooden, gambrel roof, noisy from half a mile off) and maybe there’s an inkling of Halloween in the air, though it’s only very slight, and only really borne of the very crisp East Coast chill and blacker-than-black October sky. A few people have dressed up – girls, mostly, as Playboy bunnies and sexy cats and Cher from Clueless – but on the whole the party reveals itself merely as lacklustre juniors and seniors crammed into the living room and foyer like sweaty sardines, jumping on the spot to Montell Jordan, sloshing Genesee Cream and PBS everywhere. There’s no fanged jack-o-lantern out front, no string lights or cobwebs; the bad gin punch hasn’t even been dyed blood red.

Richie knows the girl who lives here, a Theatre major, and he’s surprised someone so dramatic would host such a bleak excuse for a Halloween party. Someone’s already chucking up into a plant pot and it’s not even midnight. This is how we do it, Montell sings, and Richie thinks, God, I hope not.

Maybe he’s put too much pressure on Halloween, because he and Eddie have always loved it, and he doesn’t want Eddie to have a sucky time just because Richie got invited to three different parties tonight and stupidly picked the wrong one.

The girl whose party it is – her name is Robin, and she is perpetually on – spots them in the foyer, and elbows her way towards them with a big white Oklahoma! grin.

“Woohoo! Richie’s here!” she croons, which is almost certainly the way she’s greeted every other guest so far. “And Richie’s friend?”

She hugs Richie, and then, to Eddie’s clear disturbance, hugs him too.

“What’s your name, honey?”

“Eddie?” says Eddie, like he isn’t quite sure it’s the answer she’s looking for.

“It’s his first Halloween party,” Richie explains. “He’s from Utah.”

“No kidding!” says Robin. “I love Salt Lake City!”

“I’m not –”

“He’s a little shy. Halloween isn’t exactly serving the mission, if you know what I mean.”

He can feel Eddie glaring at him, but as is often the case when Richie’s too amused by himself he doesn’t let up. When Robin’s gone, Eddie says, “What did you say that for?”

Richie shrugs, grabbing a beer from a nearby trestle table and snapping the tab. “She’s a Musical Theatre major, ergo she doesn’t listen to what anybody says, ergo she’s not gonna remember your name, let alone your status as a Mormon missionary.” He takes a swig from the can and adds, “You have to admit, you could definitely pass for one.”

“Fuck off,” Eddie scoffs, with no bite. “Anyway, why are we even here if you don’t like the person throwing the party?”

“I didn’t say I don’t like her. I said she’s a Theatre major who doesn’t listen to anybody. Come on, grab a drink. We might as well try to have some fun until it’s, you know, socially acceptable for us to ditch.”

But fun doesn't come easy here, despite the free beer and California Coolers. Robin’s locked half the rooms in the house, declaring them off limits, so that people can’t even stand still without being elbowed into or jostled against. The music is dire, the atmosphere at a solid zero, and although Richie can feel himself getting drunk, it’s in a tetchy, almost defiant kind of way.

Then his friends arrive, and they bring a much-needed warmth as they remember Eddie from previous visits; they settle into an easy back and forth that Eddie keeps up with so breezily that Richie feels a little flare of pride in his stomach watching him. As midnight curtails into early morning they wind up in an armchair in the dining room, Eddie dropping into Richie’s lap like a rock, asking very politely if they can leave.

“It’s not that I’m not having fun, I’m just… not… having fun?” He’s a bit drunk, and not very articulate.

“I brought us to a really lame party, didn’t I? I did that to us, didn’t I?” says Richie.

“It’s not so bad. I keep thinking it could be good, but then someone plays Milli Vanilli or drops beer on me and we’re back to square one.”

Richie looks at him; he isn’t sure Eddie realises how close his face is. He pulls back slightly to give him space, but at the same time curls his hand around Eddie’s hip to stop him from teetering off the chair.

“Then let’s go,” he says. “I know a place nearby.”

A handful of Richie’s friends leave with them, and they head to a little bar a few streets away with minimal lighting and cheap Jack & Cokes. No Halloween decorations, but as a feeble compensation ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’ is playing as they walk in, which already puts it a head above Robin’s party for spookiness.

Nobody is sober, but now the buzz starts to feel good. Richie comes here with his friends every Thursday or Friday, and he’s glad Eddie seems to like it, like Richie’s passed some kind of test. They slide into a booth with their drinks, leg against leg, and Eddie’s face is a little flushed, and his lips, Richie notices, are pink and wet from his drink. His fingertips, when he touches Richie’s wrist, are slightly cold from his glass.

“When we were eight,” he says, smiling, “and you were dressed up as Vito Corleone for Halloween, and I was E.T –”

“In hindsight, both very weird choices made by our parents there.”

“– did you ever think we’d still be celebrating Halloween thirteen years later?”

“Is this celebrating?” asks Richie, indicating the near-empty bar around them.

“It’s October 31st, and we’re together, and we left the house,” Eddie responds, head propped on his fist. “So yes.”

“Technically,” says Richie, “it’s November 1st.”

“Fuck you, I’m trying to be sentimental.”

“Remember that year my mom said she couldn’t afford Halloween, so she just put my dad’s Panama hat on me and said I was Svengoolie?”

“What about in twelfth grade when we went to that Halloween dance as Reservoir Dogs, and Bill’s mom said it was too violent?”

Richie laughs, and in his best impression of Mrs Denbrough says, “I don’t mind if you say you’re the Blues Brothers. If you’re the Blues Brothers it’s fine.”

“We used to care so fucking much, that’s what gets me. I remember that year Bev spent forever making that cardboard pulse rifle for her Ellen Ripley costume, and we didn’t even go anywhere. Just sat in your room and watched Puppet Master II.”

“And drank my dad’s scotch. The wrong scotch. The super fucking expensive one,” Richie says fondly. “That was the year I threw up on Stan.”

Eddie smiles at him, eyes warm and a little dozy with drink. He says, gently, “You were a fucking mess.”

Richie grins around the rim of his glass. “I was always a fucking mess, Eds. You know this better than anyone.”

At some point in the night, the floodgates open to a crowd of costume-clad students squeezing into the bar like lemmings, presumably set free from some house party nearby and looking to prolong the creepy night. The music is turned up even louder, and between The Smashing Pumpkins and the cacophony of drunk Fresh Princes and Beetlejuices and Britney schoolgirls, Richie can barely hear himself think. When he goes to the bar for more drinks and his friend Jas corners him, he has to shout, “What?” three times before he can understand what she’s saying.

“I think you should ask him,” she says, over-enunciating round the bubblegum in her mouth.

“Ask who?” he says, slightly alarmed.

“Your friend Eddie!”

“My friend Eddie.” He pauses. “Ask him what?”

“To go home with you,” she shouts back, like it’s obvious.

“He’s already coming home with me.”

“What?”

“I said he’s already coming home with me!”

“No, Richie. To -” She cups her hands around her purple-lipstick mouth: “Go home with you.”

He feels a sudden thud somewhere in the pit of his stomach, like he’s just had a chair pulled out from underneath him. Jas’ eyes twinkle, like she’s got a joke he knows nothing about. He can’t exactly judge this with any finesse, however. He’s a couple of beers and a lot of whiskey down, and while the room isn’t exactly spinning, neither is it exactly still.

“That’s a really unsexy way of putting it,” is what he finally says, and then he adds, his voice cracking a little, “And also, no.”

“Oh dear. Have I misread the signs?”

“What signs?” he asks, and she rolls her eyes and pushes his shoulder, perhaps because she can’t be bothered trying to be heard over the noise anymore, perhaps because she thinks Richie is just too hopeless to get it.

But he does. Get it, that is. How could he not? He knows how it looks - how it must look to others - when he and Eddie invariably enter their own world; knows that he stares too much, for too long, at the little curls that edge their way about Eddie’s jaw and neck, at the dark freckles on his hands, and across his nose, which scrunches when Richie pisses him off. Knows that he’ll go as far as he needs to - to whatever inappropriate place is asked of him - to make Eddie laugh, and knows that Eddie, who’s never told a joke in his life, makes him laugh more than anyone; frankly, sometimes, till there are tears in his eyes.

So yes, obviously.

Obviously.

But to what end?

There’s no time to consider the answer. Someone shoves by them and Richie gets an elbow to the back, and he isn’t sure if it’s that, or Jas’ knowing look, that makes the whiskey suddenly rise in the back of his throat.

He escapes beneath the green Exit sign and is grateful to find that the sickly sensation yields nothing, and starts to subside in the fresh air. A bad Vincent Vega he recognises from one of his classes passes by and offers him a cigarette, which he accepts. Richie tosses the lighter back after using it, draws deeply on the cigarette, closes his eyes.

“Rich?”

He opens his eyes again and looks sideways. Eddie’s there, looking concerned. Richie isn’t sure what to say, so he just offers a draw on the cigarette. Eddie scrunches his nose.

“Gross. No.” He leans back against the wall and nudges his shoulder against Richie’s. Richie  nudges back. “You okay?”

Richie shrugs. “M’not sure?”

“What’s wrong?”

“I feel kind of sick. I just wanna go home,” says Richie, and he huffs a quiet laugh, flicking the cigarette away half-finished, and asks, “You wanna go home with me, Eds?”

The apartment is quiet when they get back. The bedside clock flashes a green 3a.m., Eddie mumbles something about the witching hour, and they flop onto Richie’s twin bed clumsily. Their foreheads knock together hard, and they groan and then laugh; Eddie slings his arm over Richie and says, breath hot, “Sorry, have I knocked you out?”

Richie has to think about this for a moment. “No, you’re good.”

“It’ll hurt tomorrow.”

“It’s already tomorrow. I feel fine.”

They lie face to face; Richie can feel his boots starting to ache his feet at the bottom of the bed, everything feels so heavy, but he’s too tired to take them off. Eddie’s arm on him feels warm, weighing him down. They’ve been like this before, not a lot but enough, over time, only now there’s this curl of some thing in Richie’s stomach, and it’s not sickly anymore, it aches in a way Richie actually kind of likes. Likes, but his throat feels half closed. Likes, but his arm’s gone stiff where Eddie’s fingers are absently tip-toeing up and down while he chatters, quiet and inane.

An indeterminable amount of time passes while Eddie talks. When finally he leans up, and shuts up, and kisses Richie, just beneath the ear, the something in Richie somersaults. He goes rigid, and useless.

Eddie brushes a kiss against his chin, then his jaw, then the space beneath, and it’s hard to tell if he’s missing his target because he’s drunk, or if he thinks it doesn’t count if their mouths don’t meet.

Only - no, there it is, wet and whiskey-tongued; Eddie shifts up to find Richie’s mouth, and without even thinking about it Richie moves to meet him. Eddie kisses in a way Richie never could have anticipated, but perhaps should have been able to; bossily, diligently. The way that he is. In some futile attempt to regulate his feelings about whatever the fuck is happening, Richie digs his fingers into Eddie’s side harder than he means to, and Eddie makes a small sound of discomfort.

“Sorry!” Richie breathes. “Sorry, I -”

Eddie kisses the apology off his lips. It isn’t their first kiss, this, it isn’t new, but it feels like it is, even with prodding memories rising to the surface (seventeen, Eddie’s bedroom floor, it’s just for practice; dry-lipped, docked kisses, hiccoughs of uncomfortable laughter), memories Richie forgets beneath the slip of Eddie’s tongue which has learned, with time, what it’s supposed to do.

“We shouldn’t,” Richie whispers, just as he feels Eddie’s fingers scrape against the hair at the back of his neck. “You know?”

Eddie says, “Why?” and Richie thinks, good question.

“Because that’s what drunk people are supposed to say to each other?” is the best he can do. Eddie moves his arm from around Richie, wipes his mouth against the back of his hand.

“Okay,” he mumbles, eyes already starting to close. Almost immediately Richie wants to say wait, no, come back, I didn’t fucking mean it, man.

Between them they somehow find the energy and, perhaps more impressively, the nonchalance to take off their jeans and jackets and brush their teeth in the little sink in Richie’s room. Richie remembers to take his contacts out and put his glasses on, which Eddie seems quite pleased by, even if Richie takes them off two seconds later to get into bed.

“I’m gonna have to say it…” Richie starts. “For, like, the sake of propriety, or whatever.”

“What?”

“Should I take the floor…?”

Eddie rolls his eyes, pulling back the duvet. “Don’t be an idiot. Get in.”

“Top and tail?”

“Please stop asking stupid questions. I’m too tired.”

And so they climb into the same bed, like they’ve done a thousand times before, and fall asleep with Richie up against the wall and Eddie hanging out the side, because why break the habits of a lifetime just because they decided their thirteenth Halloween together was the right time to finally make out?

And yet, when Richie wakes a few hours later, muddy minded with a little headache, to a dark fall morning and Eddie frowning in his sleep, they’ve somehow twisted in the night to face each other, and Eddie has one hand balled in the pillowcase, and one hand between his stomach and Richie’s. Like they’ve somehow magnetized in the night.

When Eddie wakes, he blinks heavy-lidded eyes at Richie.

“What time’sit?” he mumbles, voice half obscured by the pillow.

“I have no idea,” Richie croaks back.

“Feel kinda like I died.” Eddie’s eyes close again. “Richie?”

“Uh huh?”

“We kissed, right? That happened, right?”

“Uh huh.”

He sighs through his nose. “Okay.”

For a moment, neither of them say anything, and in the blanket of darkness, in the safety it seems, temporarily, to project, Richie can almost kid himself that this won’t end badly. That they’ll get up, and caffeine their hangovers away, and go buy junk food in town and check out the science museum Eddie has been bugging him about for ages, and everything will be just fine.

Eddie, who Richie thought had fallen back to sleep, but hasn’t, says, “Rich?”

And Richie, eyes closed, swallows and says, “Yeah?”

“If drunk people say ‘we shouldn’t do this’,” Eddie says, then pauses. Waits for Richie to open his eyes and look at him, then smiles when he does. Says, “What do tired, sober, slightly hungover people say?”

And Richie, unsure if it’s because of the security blanket of darkness, or because of the peaceful, benign way Eddie is looking at him, clears his sleep thick throat and says, “They say… ‘you really need to brush your fucking teeth, but for some reason I still wanna... kiss you?’”

A pause, while Eddie considers this.

“And then,” Richie continues, faltering slightly, “they say, ‘wow, really wish you’d say something back, ‘cause it’s two more days before your train leaves and if you don’t feel the same way those could be two really fuckin’ awkward days. Also, my head hurts’.”

It’s hard to tell if Eddie’s smiling, with his face half squashed against the pillow, but beneath the covers his hand scrabbles about to find Richie’s, which seems to say as much as a smile might.

“I do feel the same way,” he says.

“You do?”

“Yeah,” Eddie whispers. “You really need to brush your teeth.”

“Fucker,” says Richie, only the end of the jibe is cut short as Eddie tugs him forward by his crinkled t-shirt and kisses him.

And Richie’s brain switches off to everything except this. The day falls away; it’s just Eddie Eddie Eddie (but alright, hasn’t it always been, yes, it’s always been) and they’re here, in the dark, in the warm, in the space where Eddie’s fist is balled in the front of Richie’s t-shirt, and Richie’s hand is curled around the warm spot at the back of Eddie’s head.

They come apart. One forehead kissed to another. Jittery enough that all they can do is laugh.

“Yeah?” Eddie breathes, like he needs to ask permission.

“Yeah,” Richie agrees, though he hasn’t got a fucking clue, really.

Never has. Never will. Never mind.

Figures they’ll make it up as they go along.

 

 

October 31st 2010

Since the day they got the keys, Richie has maintained the house in Massachusetts was a Bad Idea. Blue fishscale shingles, black wood. Little turret window on the roof. An abundant veranda made lethal by greasy black leaves every time they trudge back here.

They’d been attracted to the benign expression of the place, the 100-year-old crown molding, and the fact it looked like a mini version of the burning blue mansion in House. It was supposed to be a home away from home, without the murky smog, or noise, or sheer speed of L.A. Eddie refers to it, somewhat wryly, as “the holiday home”. Richie refuses to - because, he says, he’s never had a holiday where a damp proof course has had to be applied, where lead paint has had to be stripped out, where loose window frames have had to be duct taped against the snow. He’s never had a holiday where rusty water has suddenly rained from the ceiling on to his back when he’s been in the middle of having sex.

“I’ve had vacations in Rhodes, Eddie. In Hawaii. This? This is not a vacation.”

This is what Richie had said last time they came up here; year before last, mid-November, stationary in a three-mile long traffic jam on the highway.

“Remind me why we keep coming here?” Richie asked, head on the steering wheel.

“Because,” Eddie had replied, swaddled in one of Richie’s hoodies, with a winter coat over the top, “we paid a disgusting amount of money for that house.”

“I still have nightmares.”

“Me too. Little dollar signs on legs throwing themselves onto a bonfire.”

Although if Eddie’s being honest, even at the start, when they first opened the front door, and Richie had looked at Eddie with a nervous expression of what the fuck have we done to ourselves, really?, they’d gamboled about the house like kids on Christmas morning, enjoying the hollow thud the bare floorboards made without furniture on top of them, the way their voices bounced off the vast walls. The long, wide staircase with its old, old wooden banister and railings. They’d made plans to knock down partitions, install new appliances, plant trees in the cool sweep of garden.

Plant trees, in the garden. They’d said they were going to fucking plant things.

But they'd had fun, hadn't they? Lit the place up with Christmas lights and candles and played cards when the power went down the first year. Been in equal parts amused and turned on by Richie's brief turn as a lumberjack when the log burner was installed the Fall before last. Got drunk in the old cast iron bath, their blood half wine, before tossing it. Spent hours trawling antique shops in the tiny, sleepy town to find furniture befitting the house which Richie wouldn’t call “the holiday home” but sometimes, when he was feeling a little more fond, might refer to as “the old lady”.

“You think the old lady’ll still be standing when we get there?” Richie says now, as they pass the town limit sign, which is shrouded by sugar maple leaves.

“Are you kidding?” says Eddie. “Sometimes I think she stays standing just to spite us.”

“Why not just sell the fucking thing?” Beverly had laughed once, a couple summers ago, when regaled by tales of damp and black mould and bats in the attic.

“She’s like a sad old hooker,” Richie had explained. “No one’ll have her.”

They get stuck again, now, in traffic a mile from the house. Not vehicles. People. Richie has to slam the brakes on when out of nowhere the Corpse Bride meanders diagonally in front of the car, followed by a train of similarly creepy kids, each one as insouciant as the next, like they really are dead. He looks at Eddie who looks back at him, clueless.

“Am I imagining things, or did we forget it was Halloween?” Richie asks. “Or did we know it was Halloween, and we decided to travel anyway?”

“We knew it was Halloween,” says Eddie, staring out of the passenger window. “We just didn’t realise people still gave a fuck about it.”

Oh, but they do. Hoards of them zig zag their way about the wide leaf-strewn streets - Cruella De Ville, Regina George, Spiderman, the cyclops thing - “Hey look, that’s the cyclops thing, from Monsters, Inc.!” says Eddie. All of them out, orange jack-o-lantern buckets at the ready, and Richie does something previously unheard of: turns down Air Supply on the stereo and frowns at the scene he’s presented with, shifts gear into first and crawls through the crowd, like he’s in The Walking Dead and has just had to smear himself in zombie blood to blend in.

By the time they get to the house it’s almost dark, the moon teasing itself out from behind a few violet clouds, and they’re both a little on edge.

“They’ll be knocking at the door. Wanting shit from us. What have we got to give them?” says Eddie, unclipping his seatbelt.

Richie packs his pockets. “Cigarettes? Xanex?” He pulls something out of one of them. “A small pen that says ‘Nailed It: General Constructors’?”

“I don’t think that’ll fend them off,” says Eddie. “Maybe we should just lock the door.”

So they do; they turn the lights off and sit on the flatwoven rug in the living room, eating Chinese food and drinking wine they picked up on their way into town, hoping that if they don’t make any noise, neither Regina nor Victoria Everglot nor the cyclops from Monsters, Inc. will knock on their front door demanding sugar.

“Are we the weird old guys in town now?” asks Richie, cross-legged, fork in carton. “Like we’re pretending not to be home just to avoid interacting with children.”

“I think we only become weird when we actually do open the door but only to hand out, like, fruit and stickers and shit.”

“You remember that kid Ben we used to hang around with in Derry? His mom used to do that. She once gave me dried apricots on Halloween. I’m pretty sure that’s classed as psychopathic behaviour. Like, medically.”

“Remember the year we knocked on that priest’s door without realising he lived there, and he just handed out those badges that said ‘You Can Tell Satan...’ on the front, and when you turned them over they said, ‘To Go To Hell”?”

Richie laughs, louder than he means to, and hushes himself just as quickly when two shadows loom by the front bay window, dark and devil-shaped.

“Come on,” he says, dropping his fork into his empty takeout box. “I’m fucking exhausted. Let’s go up and watch Bones.”

They climb the stairs - which were sanded down three years ago but are still yet to be carpeted - and brush their teeth and get into bed. One of the only rooms they’ve managed to finish is the master bedroom, with an American Empire sleigh bed and a stupid-big TV mounted above the fireplace. They spent a long, hedonistic Christmas in this bedroom once, waking only for food, sex, baths, and weepy viewings of It’s a Wonderful Life.

Now they curl up on opposite sides of the bed, Richie flat out in minutes, Eddie glancing every so often between him, and the moldering human remains on Bones.

He knows Richie isn’t what might be deemed happy. That he’s been killing himself since last October, when his mom died, and he had the sheer fucking gall to be on tour, no phone to hand, missing fourteen calls from his dad and three from the hospital. They hadn’t come out to the house last year because of it, and there seemed to be an effect. They griped, and argued, and moaned, not about plastering or plumbing or electrics but at each other, incessantly, until one horrifying morning Richie had broken down in tears, which he never did, and they’d resolved to grow the fuck up, and work on their relationship, and Richie had promised to get over the guilt he felt about his mother, but never did.

The episode ends, and Eddie rolls to Richie’s side of the bed and slips his arm around him, kisses the back of his neck gently.

“Rich,” he murmurs into his hair, “don’t sleep yet. Wake up and talk to me.”

Richie grumbles something into the pillow, kicks back a foot feebly. “It’s late,” he mumbles.

“It’s barely nine, you old bastard. And it’s Halloween. We should go out. Paint the town blood red.” He mimes biting Richie on the neck, vampire-style, but Richie won’t play ball.

“No, thanks,” he says, and then, perhaps sensing he’s being surly, adds, “Anyway, I don’t have a costume.”

“Oh, well - we could make costumes out of what we have. How about you find a hideous shirt and be Tyler Durden, I’ll go exactly as I am and be Edward Norton.”

Richie huffs out a little laugh and turns on his side to face him. “Not sure anyone would get it.”

“Well, it has to go down better than the year you went out as Keanu Reeves in Speed.”

Richie turns over in his arms, crowds up against him to nestle his head into the space between Eddie’s neck and shoulder. It’s not something they usually do, this, they like their own space, but it’s something Richie’s been doing more and more since last October, like it’s easier for him to hide facial expressions in Eddie’s shirt than to show them.

“Can we just stay here and do this instead?” says Richie, voice a little muffled.

“What’s this?”

This. Lying here. Inert.”

“We can do that,” Eddie says reasonably.

“And tomorrow? Let’s do it tomorrow.”

Richie is falling back asleep; Eddie can feel it happening against him.

“No, we should do something tomorrow,” says Eddie. “Something we can only do while we’re here. Like, we should go see a Red Sox game.”

He feels, rather than sees, Richie pull a face. “Boring, though?”

“Alright, then.” Eddie absently lifts a strand of Richie’s dark hair, lets it drop again. “Whale watching in Cape Cod. Kayaking in Martha’s Vineyard. We could join a Revolutionary War reenactment. You’d love that, Rich. Guns and big hats.”

Richie doesn’t respond; he’s already clocked out, fingers loosening their grip on Eddie’s t-shirt. He doesn’t stir even when Eddie gropes for the remote and switches to a movie, volume on low, Mars Attacks! and he wonders, less with sadness and more amusement, what happened to the boy who forced down his parents’ disgusting coffee just to keep himself awake for the late night premiere of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark.

Eddie’s still wide awake when the credits roll; beside him, Richie is dead to the world. He’s rolled to the edge of the bed in his sleep, like he does every night, until he rolls back again come dawn and they meet in the middle before their alarms go off.

There’s never any need to set alarms when they’re here. There has to be something that attracts them to this place, and maybe that’s it. In a way, the bedside clock is a little pointless. All it does is lets Eddie know they’ve been in town for six hours, in bed for three. It'll tell him when they've woken up too late to be bothered starting any work on the house. It'll tell him the shameful time they decide to roll out of bed tomorrow.

He puts out the lamps, tugs the duvet up over Richie, who sighs in his sleep. The clock glares green in the dark. Tells him, as he reaches across the space of the mattress just to curl his fingers around Richie’s - loosely, so as not to wake him - that it’s past midnight.

It isn't Halloween anymore, it tells him. It’s November 1st. Just like that.