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who invited molly ringwald('s homoerotic friend) to our family of seven's gay corn maze adventure?

Chapter Text

“Give that back!” Eddie snapped. He reached to snatch his Pokemon beanie off Richie’s head, but Richie easily ducked. Eddie jumped up to try and grab the beanie, but Richie just beamed, leaning away.

“Do you two ever quit?” Mike asked with a soft laugh. He skipped a rock into the quarry and watched it bounce across the water three times before sinking below the surface with a ripple It was a sunny day, and the seven losers had decided to sit down by the quarry. The October breeze made it too chilly to swim, but it was a perfect day for skipping rocks and Ben had brought his speakers, which were now playing ‘Everybody Wants to Steal My Girl,’ in the background. It was the weekend before Halloween and everyone was starting to get excited for the haunted house they all planned to go to. That they were going to be paying money to be scared in a theatrical haunted house after having experienced the true horror of an actual haunted house was maybe a little crazy, but such was adolescence.

“The rituals are intricate, Mike,” Stan said with a smirk.

“Shut up!” Eddie yelled, swinging one of his hands over the other in a chopping motion, the beanie Richie had stolen forgotten. He felt his face grow warm as he realized that Richie had turned on Stan to tell him to ‘shut up’ at the exact same moment as Eddie and they had spoken in unison.
Eddie glanced at Richie sideways, trying to see if he would have a second to read Richie’s expression before Richie reacted. He should have known better.

“JINX!” Richie yelled. With his initial embarrassment gone, Eddie shoved Richie so hard that Richie stumbled backward. “No one say his name,” Richie said, addressing the other losers.

Eddie looked at them pleadingly, doing his best puppy-eyes. Beverly was leaning against Ben, who was leaning against a boulder and stroking Beverly’s hair with an expression like he couldn’t quite believe how lucky he was. Mike and Bill were skipping rocks and Stan was sitting and staring with an intent expression toward the trees. Eddie knew he was keeping an eye out for interesting birds.

Stan looked up from his search and grinned at Eddie. “No dice, this is the only way to get any quiet around here.”

“I’m not becoming the target of Richie’s wrath,” Bill said, as he tossed a rock into the quarry. It sank to the bottom with a plunk, and he frowned.

“I think I’ve finally found something I can beat you at Big Bill,” Mike said as he flicked his wrist, sending a stone into the quarry where it bounced several times. “And yeah no, I’m not ready to listen to Richie bitch at me for the next week,” he added, looking in Eddie’s direction with an apologetic smile.
“You’re too adorable when you’re quiet, darling,” Beverly said with a wink.

Ben said nothing but shook his head at Eddie with a smile that was a little sad. Eddie rolled his eyes and turned his attention to Richie. He poked Richie in the side again and again, trying to force Richie to meet his eyes. He was not successful.

Richie just laughed and moved to stand by Bill and Mike by the shore. Eddie followed him, poking as they walked. Richie refused to look at Eddie.

“Wow,” Richie said to Bill and Mike. “What a beautiful, peaceful, day! So quiet!”

“Someone Jinx him next,” Beverly called. The song on the speakers had changed to ‘Midnight Memories.’

“I just love a nice, quiet, afternoon,” Richie said. Eddie glared and stood on his tiptoes so that he could poke Richie in the face. He poked his cheek again and again, glaring. Richie leaned away, but grinned.

“What did I tell you guys?” Stan asked without looking away from the forest. “The rituals are-”

“Shut up, Stanley!” Eddie snapped, turning on Stan. He could feel his face flushing and was sure he must be bright red.

“Ha! You owe me a coke, Eds!” Richie said, shooting Eddie a shit-eating grin.

“Ugh, fine!” Eddie said with a glare. “That is so not my name though, Richie. How would you like it if I was always giving you dumb nick names? How would you like that?”

Richie pinched Eddie’s cheek with a huge grin. “Eddie Spaghetti, there is nothing in this world that I would love more!”

Eddie groaned and flopped against the boulder next to Ben and Beverly. “He exhausts me,” he said to them.
Beverly shot Eddie a knowing look. Ben just smiled and shook his head. Beverly reached across Ben to ruffle Eddie’s hair. Eddie opened up his phone and sent Beverly a private Snapchat message. ‘ur on thin fucking ice.’ She opened the message and a second later Eddie opened a Snap from her that was a rather unflattering shot of her face from under the chin, wrinkled so it looked like she had double chins and the words ‘u love mee.’ Eddie typed back ‘i’d sell u 2 satan for 1 corn chip.’

Beverly opened the Snap then rolled her eyes at Eddie and turned to the group. “How do you guys feel about going to a corn maze tonight?”

“Sounds fun,” Mike said. “Where?”

“It’s like an hour outside of Derry,” Beverly said. “My friend Kay told me about it.”

“You have friends outside of us?” interjected Stan.

“Shut up,” Beverly said. “Yes. Anyway, she and I were thinking about going and I thought I would invite you guys. Bill, you could invite Audra if she isn’t busy.”

“I’m in,” Mike said.

“Same,” Stan agreed.

Richie, Bill, and Eddie agreed to go, and Ben nodded. Eddie figured if Bev wanted him to go, it was a given that Ben would go. Eddie didn’t know why he felt a slight sense of apprehension. After all, it was true that the group sometimes talked to what he thought of privately as Outsiders. Audra Phillips was an Outsider, but Bill liked her and that was different, wasn’t it? Eddie wouldn’t have known how to say so out loud, but he had a feeling that if he were inclined to try to explain his logic, the others would understand what he meant when he said that Bill inviting someone in from the Outside was different than any of the rest of them doing so. Bill was their leader. They didn’t talk about it because they didn’t have to, but they all knew it to be true.

After riding their bikes back to Ben’s house to ask Mrs. Hanscom about a ride to the corn maze, the losers piled onto Ben’s sofa to wait for Bev’s friend Kay. Mrs. Hanscom had said yes, as they all knew she would. Richie got up to get a soda from the fridge and when he got back, everyone had gotten comfortable and there was no room left on the couch.

Eddie was not surprised when Richie flopped onto his lap without hesitation. “Get the fuck off me, Trashmouth,” he said, shoving.

“But you make such a nice seat,” Richie said, sliding forward so that his legs were stretched in front of him and his head rested against Eddie’s chest.
Eddie could see Beverly smirking and typing on her phone and he shot her a death glare. He felt his pocket vibrate, and knew she must have just messaged him something, probably something obscene. Stan whispered something in Mike’s ear. ‘It’s not about you, stop being so narcissistic,’ Eddie thought to himself.

“So, Kay McCall,” he said to Beverly. “I think I have a few classes with her. I didn’t know you two were friends.”

For some reason, Beverly flushed bright red, and looked down at her lap. That was weird. Eddie made a mental note to question her more later, in private. She crossed her legs and ran a hand through her hair. “She’s new. We just started hanging out,” she said.

“She’s really nice,” Ben added. “You’ll get along with her, Eddie.”

“Why?” Eddie asked. He was having trouble focusing on the conversation due to Richie shifting his weight in a way that Eddie was positive meant nothing but that made his stomach do a backflip. In a moment of bravery, Eddie wrapped his arms loosely around Richie’s middle. He felt Richie hitch a little breath of surprise, but he didn’t say anything for once.

Ben widened his eyes and gave Eddie a questioning look, but caught himself and answered Eddie’s question. “How do I put this nicely? Kay likes to…..” Ben seemed to be thinking very hard of the right word, but, bold as ever, Beverly interrupted.

“Kay likes to go on long rants about everything from politics to which teachers are the most annoying and if she can get you to engage, she’ll be the happiest girl on earth.”

“What is that supposed to mean? That I’ll what? Join in as she rants about the fucking cafeteria food or whatever? I do not go on long rants. That is not a thing that I do, Beverly Marsh and you’re a crappy friend for saying that I do. Here’s why-” Eddie was prepared to begin listing the reasons that saying he went on rants was crappy, but Mike interrupted.

Eddie would sooner have chopped off his arm than admit it out loud, but it was good that Mike interrupted because Richie had started tracing patterns on Eddie’s arm with a feather-light touch and Eddie was starting to lose track of what he was even saying. He would’ve kept going on auto-pilot, but it was possible he would’ve stopped making any semblance of sense. It was like his entire body was being charged with electricity.

“Eddie, I love you, but yesterday you lectured me for almost an hour on proper hand washing technique,” Mike said.

Eddie rounded on Mike, shifting his weight so that he was facing Mike. His heart beat a little fast as Richie scooched a little closer and nuzzled his head against Eddie’s chin, but Eddie pretended not to have even noticed. “You work on a farm! You work with animals! And animal shit! It’s important to scrub for the proper amount of time or-”

Beverly coughed loudly and Eddie paused. He followed Beverly’s eyes until he was looking behind him toward the door. A pretty blonde girl was standing in the front doorway, looking a little awkward but also amused.

“Hi,” she said.

“Kay,” Beverly said, “Please do not judge me based on the losers I hang out with.”

Chapter Text

Beverly felt the blood rush to her face. She had no idea why she felt this way around Kay. She supposed it was because Kay was Cool. Beverly thought of her that way, as Cool with a capital ‘C.’ She had ever since Kay started at Derry High in the beginning of the school year. At first, Beverly had been too afraid to approach the pretty new girl that made all the guys do double-takes. Kay was from LA and her closet suggested that not only was she from LA, she was the archetype of everything small town Derry kids thought of as The Girl From LA. ‘She doesn’t dress like an actual high schooler,’ Beverly found herself thinking. ‘She dresses like the high schoolers you see in movies.’ Kay was wearing a black dress with jewels embroidered on the neckline, a faded jean jacket, and boots that went up to her knees. Beverly recognized the dress as Gucci.
“Sit down,” Beverly offered, although there was really no room on the sofa. Kay opted for the armchair. Beverly thought about how Richie had just plopped down on Eddie’s lap and frowned. ‘Am I not good enough to be a seat?’ she thought. Then she pushed away the thought because it was a little too gay for someone who’s boyfriend was sitting right there.

“We’ll b-be ready to go as soon as Audra gets here,” Bill said. Beverly glanced at Bill. ‘He doesn’t stutter anymore,’ Beverly thought to herself. ‘So what was that about?’

She realized that it was probably the same reason she couldn’t help but blush and turn into a an awkward mess around Kay. It was because Kay was Cool with a capital ‘C.’ Maybe Beverly had made a mistake, trying to make these plans in the first place. She was a Loser with a capital ‘L’ and so were her friends, and truly, Beverly liked it that way. So why had she set these plans up with the Cool New Girl?

“I’m so excited for tonight,” Beverly said, trying to get her brain to shut up. “I heard there’s a hayride there too.”

“Nice!” Richie said. “I can’t fucking wait. I hope there’s a horse pulling it. I’ll throw things at it and scare it and get it to go faster so we get an adventure hayride for the price of a normal hayride.”

“I doubt there’s gonna be a horse pulling it,” Stan said.

“Yeah, dumbass, it’s not the fucking eighteen hundreds,” Eddie said.

“Kay,” Ben said. “That’s Richie, Eddie, Stan, Mike, and Bill.” He gestured to each of them as he spoke. Beverly cursed herself internally for forgetting to do any sort of introductions.

“Hi,” Kay said with a smile. Beverly’s eyes widened. Was that a shy smile? It occurred to her that maybe Kay felt a little nervous about hanging out with a new group of people and for some reason the idea made her heart race.

The door opened and Audra came in, wearing a pink sweater and jeans. She smiled at everyone and gave a friendly wave. “Who’s ready to get lost in a corn maze?” she asked.

Everyone chanted out some variation of ‘me!’ With that, they headed out to Mrs. Hanscom’s minivan. Ben sat in the front with his mom, Stan and Mike double buckled and Eddie and Richie took the other bucket seat. Bill, Audra and Kay sat in the way back and Beverly squished in with them, finding herself between Bill and Kay.

Beverly found herself feeling the familiar guilt she sometimes felt when she and Bill were in physical proximity. For some reason, she felt it a little more than usual, and for some reason her entire body felt like it was being charged with electricity. ‘Weird,’ she thought, because Bill didn’t make her feel that way anymore, like she was going to explode if he touched her. He had once, but it was gone.
Beverly had long since moved on from her childhood crush on Bill. Sometimes she would remember the way he had once made her feel, and she shiver for a moment and then move on. It had been her first big crush, and maybe in a way it had even been love. She supposed it had. After all, she still loved Bill, just not that way anymore. Ben was the only boy with a key to her heart now, and Beverly wouldn’t change that for the world.
There was a bond between the seven of them that no one else could ever come close to even comprehending, let alone forging with any of them. Still, sometimes when she and Bill sat close together like this, she would remember the way her heart had once belonged to him so completely and she would feel a twinge of guilt and push those feelings away. She loved her boyfriend more than most married couples ever loved one another. Even though she was not yet out of high school, Beverly knew this to true the way she knew it to be true that the seven losers would never love Outside friends the way they loved each other. Sure they could love other people, of course they could, but it was different between the seven of them and they all knew it. In that same way, Beverly knew her love for Ben was different. No other guy could compete with Ben.

So why did she feel guilty as Kay gave her a soft nudge and a shy little smile?

Beverly was happy to be extracted from her thoughts when everyone groaned as Ben plugged his phone into the aux cord and turned on ‘I Think He Knows.’

“Babe,” Beverly groaned with a giggle. “How many times are you going to make us listen to this?”

 

“Fine,” Ben said. “Cruel Summer it is.” He switched the song and everyone booed, but let this one slide.

“Did you do the math homework?” Bill asked Beverly.

Beverly reached forward to tap Richie on the shoulder but paused. He was deep in conversation with Eddie, looking dead serious. For a moment, Beverly worried that she had interrupted an important conversation. She withdrew her hand and listened, glad that neither of them seemed to have noticed her. ‘And it’s new, the shape of your body, it’s blue,’ Taylor Swift sang in the background. Beverly heard Eddie say something along the lines of trying to convince Richie that Hostess donuts did, in fact, have an expiration date. She rolled her eyes and tapped Richie on the shoulder. “Did we do the math homework?” she asked.

“I,” Richie emphasized the word. “Did do the math homework. On an unrelated note, do you have any,” he leaned over the back of his seat to whisper so that Mrs. Hanscom wouldn’t hear, “cigarettes?”

“Yes,” Beverly muttered. She reached in her pocket and passed him one. He stuck it in his pocket with a grin.

“Yeah, we did the math homework,” he said.

“Great,” Bill said.

Kay giggled. She tucked a strand of dirty blonde hair behind her ear and Beverly found herself thinking that Kay was pretty in an effortless way. For all the work she put into curling her hair just so and watching makeup tutorials on Youtube so she could do her eyeliner just right, it was moments like that, when she was giggling and looking at Beverly with no thought of her appearance visible in her expression, that she was prettiest. “Does this mean that I did the math homework?” she asked Beverly. ‘So cut the headlights, summer’s a knife, I’m always waiting for you just to cut to the bone,’ the song played.

“Sure does, babe,” Beverly said. “Benefits of being friends with Richie Tozier.”

“I also bring many other charming qualities to the table,” Richie called back. “For example, I am amazing at voices.”

The next ten minutes were spent with everyone cracking up as Richie did impressions on request. They were mostly terrible, and no one was afraid to tell Richie so, but they all cracked up. His impersonations of comedians were the most accurate. He did a decent Charlie Kelly from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia having a breakdown about Sylvia Pepe. His John Mulaney actually wasn’t bad either, and Beverly noticed Eddie using his aspirator as he gasped from laughing when Richie recited John Mulaney’s skit about ‘Street Smarts’ and Detective JJ Bittenbinder.

When they got to the farm where the hayride and corn maze were, they all got out, yelling their thanks to Mrs. Hanscom. She told them all to ask if any of their parents would be willing to give them a ride back after, but reminded them to call if no one would. She didn’t have to say that she didn’t expect Beverly, Eddie, or Bill to ask. It was implied.

Ben grabbed Beverly’s hand and squeezed as they made their way across the grassy parking lot toward the massive tents ahead. As they approached, Beverly could smell cinnamon and popcorn and chocolate. There were pumpkins everywhere, in piles and in bins and set up along the walkways. The place was crowded. People were looking at the knick knacks, Halloween decorations and snacks for sale in the tents.

“Richie, buy me a pumpkin spike latte,” Eddie whined, poking Richie. Beverly suppressed a laugh. She hid it with a cough that no one noticed except Ben.

“You still owe me a coke, Spaghetti,” Richie reminded Eddie. “If anything, you should buy me a pumpkin spice latte.”

“You don’t even like pumpkin spice lattes, dickwad.”

The two of them headed off in the direction of the drinks, arguing as they walked. Eddie was waving one of his hands over the other like a knife chopping veggies and Richie kept trying to pinch Eddie’s cheek. Stan, Mike, and Bill were looking at Halloween decorations. Audra and Kay had gotten into a serious conversation about whether the show the television show The Handmaiden’s Tale was a feminist masterpiece or gross exploitation.

“Hey,” Ben whispered in her ear. How was it that she still got chills when he did that? They’d been together now almost a year. “Can I talk to you?”

“Of course,” she said. He led her away from the crowded tent, toward the petting zoo area where Beverly could see a few families trying to coax young children away from the goats and sheep.

It was getting late, and the sun was starting to disappear behind the gold and orange leaves on the horizon. When they got to the petting zoo, Beverly kneeled and patted a little goat on the head. It made a sound of annoyance and trotted away when it realized she didn’t have any food.

“Everything okay?” she asked in a soft voice. She could tell Ben had something important to talk to her about, and she was trying her best to pretend she wasn’t scared.

“Yeah,” he said. “Is, uh, is everything okay with you, Bev?”

She stood from her kneeling position and faced him. “What do you mean?” she asked.

Ben looked uncomfortable. He stuck his hands in his jacket pocket. “Look, Bev, you know you can talk to me about anything, right?”

“Of course,” she said. She didn’t have to hesitate. Even before they had been together, when they’d just been friends, Beverly had been able to talk to Ben about anything. When the blood had spewed out of her sink and splattered her bathroom she had told only two people at first. She’d told Ben and Eddie. She’d told Stan too, when he showed up and seemed concerned. Then, later, she had told all of the losers. Beverly had only trusted Ben and Eddie at first though.

“Beverly, I know you’re bisexual, and-”

“Hey,” she aid. “What do you mean you know?” she knew it was irrational for her to be annoyed. She hated herself for being annoyed, but the annoyance surged to the surface never the less.

“I mean, you had a crush on-”

“Don’t say Bill,” Beverly said in an icy voice that she knew Ben didn’t deserve. “Bill is a guy.”

 

“I know that, Bev, but you had a crush on him before he came out and-”

“So?” she snapped. “Maybe part of me always sensed that he was a guy.” That part might have actually been true. Beverly had found, when Bill came out to them in eighth grade, that she wasn’t at all surprised. She hadn’t suspected, exactly, that Bill was a guy. She supposed she’d never considered the idea. It just wasn’t surprising that he was.

The last couple with a little kid was now looking desperate. The kid, who was maybe three, had become very attached to one of the sheep and was refusing to leave. The parents seemed to be able to tell that Ben and Beverly were having a serious conversation, and kept giving them nervous glances like they were afraid the two of them would start hitting each other. ‘Never,’ Beverly thought. ‘Not Ben and I. No matter what.’ She took a deep breath.

“Bev…” Ben said. “You know I didn’t mean it like-”

“No, I know,” she said. “I’m sorry. I overreacted. I just-”

“I totally get that you’re protective of Bill. He’s my friend too, Bev. I wasn’t trying to imply anything, or-”

 

“No, I know,” Beverly said again. Why did they keep interrupting each other? She didn’t like it. Her face felt hot, and her throat felt dry. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize for everything,” Ben said. “Not with me.” He reached over and touched her arm.

Beverly was shocked at what happened next. She burst into tears. The parents who were trying to coerce their child away from the petting zoo stopped everything for a moment to stare, mouths gaping. At last, the father picked up the toddler who started to scream, and the family hurried away. Ben and Beverly were alone at the petting zoo and Beverly was crying like an idiot.

Ben, sweet, amazing, Ben wrapped his arms around Beverly and held her tight. She squeezed back, hating herself for acting so dramatic. As she allowed herself to feel the comfort of Ben’s embrace, and remember that she was safe with him, she understood why she had reacted the way she did. She was used to apologizing for everything. The only reaction she knew to her apologies was violence. The thought made her sob harder.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Ben said. He sounded worried, but also so gentle. Beverly had no idea what she’d done to deserve a guy like Ben.

“Look,” he said, pulling out of the hug and keeping his arms on her elbows. “All I was going to say was that, you know, it’s okay. I can tell you like Kay. I’m not jealous. I would have been, back when we were kids. Hell, I probably would have been a year ago when we’d just started dating and I couldn’t believe you’d agreed to go out with me. I know how much you love me, now though. You don’t have to prove anything to me. I want us to trust each other, of course, but I want you to be able to embrace everything about who you are, if that’s what you want. If that’s not what you want, that’s okay too. I just wanted you to know, I’m okay either way.”

“Oh Ben,” Beverly said. She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. “I love you so much. I don’t have to explore anything, though. You’re enough for me.”

Ben rolled his eyes. “I know,” he said. “That’s not the point. It’s not about being ‘enough.’ Of course we’re enough for each other, but that has nothing to do with anything. If you want to make out with a girl you deserve to make out with a girl.” Beverly giggled. “I’m serious,” Ben said, but he giggled a little as well. Beverly breathed a sigh of relief and leaned forward, pressing her head against Ben’s chest. ‘We’re back on the same page,’ she thought, ‘like we’re supposed to be.’ She smiled against his chest and then stood up straight again. “Look, Beverly,” Ben said. “If I was going to be hurt or upset, would I have brought this up? Think about it. I can tell you and Bill will always have something between you, but-”

“Ben, no!” Beverly interrupted.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Ben said. “But, I would be hurt if you and Bill ever did anything. I know you would never do that to me. I noticed how you and Kay were with each other, and I thought about it a lot before bringing it up to you and-”
“Kinky,” Beverly giggled.

“Do I have to start beeping you like Richie?” Ben asked, but there was no bite in his voice. “Anyway, what I was going to say was that I realized that I really didn’t mind if you wanted to try dating a girl.”

“So how open are we talking here, Ben?” Beverly could tell that the serious part of the conversation was over. Now if he got upset when she goaded him, she would know he hadn’t been as sincere as he wanted her to believe. She had figured that out about Ben soon after becoming his friend. He talked a big game about not being sensitive, but you could see it on his face the instant a joke went too far and hurt his feelings. If she wanted to find out if Ben meant something, the best way was to tease him until his true feelings showed.“If, as you keep telling me you suspect will happen, Richie and Eddie get together and they want to have a threesome with me-”

“Oh god,” Ben groaned. He laughed and shook his head, leaning against the wooden gate and patting a goat on the head and Beverly thought how beautiful he was. “Please no. That’s not a visual I need. Also Richie would never convince Eddie anyway so you’re out of luck.”

“Richie would never convince Eddie of what?” asked the loud and familiar voice of Richie Tozier. They both turned to see Richie walking over with Eddie, who was not walking but instead getting a piggyback ride from Richie. He was also carrying a pumpkin spice latte.

“Nothing,” Ben and Beverly said in unison. They looked from each other to Richie and Eddie and burst into giggles.

Eddie dismounted from his piggyback ride, grabbed the pumpkin spice latte from Richie’s hand, and rounded on them, approaching them with a familiar expression of rage. “If you two don’t tell me what the hell you were talking about, I swear to god I’ll-”

Exactly what Eddie would do to them, they never found out because a moment later everyone turned at the sound of a loud scream from inside the enclosure. Richie had hopped the fence while Eddie was busy yelling at Ben and Beverly and one of the goats was charging him. He hurried to run away and hop back over the fence but not before Beverly had captured the encounter on Snapchat. She wasn’t mean enough to put it on her story, but she did save it as well as sending it to Stan, Mike, Eddie, Ben, Bill, Audra, Kay, and of course Richie himself.

Everyone was doubled over in laughter as Eddie played the Snapchat from Beverly again and again as they walked and Richie fumed beside him. Bill and Audra approached with their arms linked and Kay walking beside them, now debating with the two of them on whether or not Emily Dickinson had been a lesbian.

“What are you guys watching?” Kay asked. Eddie showed the video to her and Bill and Audra leaned in to see. Soon they were all laughing so hard that they didn’t even notice Stan and Mike join them.

Beverly noticed Stan and Mike holding hands and leaned in to whisper in Stan’s ear while everyone was laughing at Richie being chased by a goat “The rituals are intricate, huh Stanley?”

Stan gave her the finger with the hand that wasn’t holding Mike’s. Beverly mimed zipping her lips and Stan nodded with a reluctant seriousness and Stan and Mike both looked relieved. Beverly gave them the ‘okay’ symbol with her hand. The entire interaction was subtle enough so that no one else noticed.

Chapter Text

R i c h i e:

 

***

 

The hayride proved to be as great as Richie could have imagined. Eddie complained almost the entire time because he was getting hay in his precious cropped Supreme hoodie and because ‘GOD Richie do you have any idea how many germs and bugs and diseases are on this thing?’ and a million other reasons that Richie only kind of listened to because he was busy trying to throw hay at everyone, but Richie could tell he was having the time of his life. Sometimes he could tell how much fun Eddie was having because of how much he complained – nonstop complaints usually equaled out to buckets of chucks when it came to Eds.

The hayride was not, as the others had predicted, pulled by a horse. Richie was a little disappointed by that, but the fact that it was being pulled along by an actual farmer driving a tractor made up for it. Richie yelled at the guy to go faster the entire time, doing a country accent that he knew the others all found absolutely hilarious despite their groans of annoyance.

By the time the hayride was over, it was dark and the full moon was shining down on them. They headed over to the corn maze which was now almost deserted. There were no more little kids, but there were a few other teens. Richie scanned them and breathed a sigh of relief that he didn’t recognize any of them. For once, maybe, they could just be a group of annoying teens among other annoying teens trying to have some stupid Halloween fun. Richie tried to push the bitterness out of his thoughts, and mostly succeeded – Eddie’s arm linking around his helped distract him – but he couldn’t erase the pit of outrage he felt tighten in his belly when he thought about how they had to drive an hour from Derry to get be allowed to be normal.

For a long time, Richie had believed that the hateful looks some of the other students, and a few of the teachers as well, gave them had everything to do with the evil residue left over from It. Richie didn’t like to think about It, but there were certain things that he blamed It for. After a time though, he had come to wonder if there wasn’t more to it than that. They were different, the seven of them, and the people of Derry knew it and tended to either outright hate them for it or treat them as Outsiders with a capital ‘O’ because of it.

Richie with his big glasses and messed up teeth and inability to focus or shut up, Eddie who was small and shrill and afraid of everything, Stan who was too quiet and too polite even though he had wit to counter Richie’s when he was around just the other losers and was one of the only Jewish kids in their class, Ben who was starting to lose weight but who was still bigger than the other kids, Bill who was so sure and charismatic with the other losers but would stumble over his words around others and who just wanted to live his life as the gender he actually was, Beverly who sported bruises and torn clothes and smelled like cigarettes and weed, and Mike who was probably the coolest of all of them but who was judged by assholes for the color of his skin.

Richie, who had been having a rare moment of being lost in thought, was brought back to earth as the group entered the corn maze. Kay, Audra and Eddie were having a very intense debate about whether movies like the new Ghostbusters or Ocean’s 8 were feminist masterpieces or if it wouldn’t be better to give women original movies instead of remaking famously all male movies with women.

Richie rolled his eyes. “Okay y’all,” he said, interrupting Kay’s argument that women deserved their own, new franchises, not crappy remakes of iconic movies. He could tell Eddie was going to argue, partially because Eddie’s arm was pressed against his and he could feel Eddie just about vibrating and partially because Eddie had made him watch the new Ghostbusters movie at least seven hundred times and could quote it almost by heart. “Let’s explore. I vote we go left.”

 

“Never use the term y’all in front of me again, Trashmouth,” Beverly said. “I vote we go right.”

“Respect my yee-haw ways wench!”

“What the fuck does the even mean?” Mike asked. “I was about to defend the term y’all and you ruined it by calling Beverly a wench.”

“Ever my knight in shining armor,” Beverly said. She gave Mike a quick pack on the cheek and his face flushed with color.

 

“Groups it is,” Ben said.

“We should make it a race,” Kay suggested. “Like, we split into groups and whichever group makes it out first wins. Whoever comes out last, that group has to buy everyone Waffle House after this.”

“Ooh, I like it,” Audra said.

“Bet,” Beverly agreed. “Cool, let’s do it.”

Within less than a second everyone except Kay and Audra yelled some variation of “I’m in a group with Eddie!” Richie was filled with euphoria and adoration when he looked at Eddie and saw that he was bright red. He pinched Eddie’s cheek and was delighted to be swatted away. Eddie was loving this, he could tell.

“Should’ve seen this coming when you agreed to do a maze, Eds,” Richie said.

“Eddie has a c-compass in his head,” Bill said to Audra and Kay, who both looked confused.

“Once when Eddie and I were hanging out in Bangor, he managed to find the bus stop for the bus back to Derry in the middle of the night after drinking half a bottle of cheap vodka and wandering around a completely unfamiliar town. I think I would’ve passed out in a dumpster and died that night if I wasn’t with Eddie,” Mike said. “The man has never been lost, ever.”

“Once I accidentally ate an entire brownie that no one told me I was only supposed to take one corner of and I got lost in the barrens and texted Eddie a blurry picture of some trees and he found me within less than twenty minutes,” Richie said.

“You dumb bitch I told you like eight times how much to eat. You liked me in the eyes, told me you took that as a challenge and at the whole thing. Also, I have no idea why you went to the barrens. You literally just walked out of my house and wandered away,” Beverly said.

“And you let me!” Richie protested.

“Dude, I was high as shit too,” Beverly shrugged. “Anyway, one time I was literally in New York City because I was doing this art summer program my aunt signed me up for and I got lost on the way to a convenient store. I sent Eddie a Snapchat and jokingly asked him to help me because I was lost and the bitch literally gave me directions to CVS.”

“All I had to do was figure out where you were based on the buildings in the background and google CVS’ nearby your location and once you know the address of something directions are logical. You’re making this more dramatic than it was,” Eddie said.

“I was once in the barrens because I was following a red winged blackbird to try and get a picture of it-” Stan started.

“Adorable,” Mike interjected.

“Thanks,” Stan said. Richie noticed Stan turn a little pink and gave him a side-eye that Stan pretended not to see. Richie made a mental note to ask Stan a few pointed questions when they were alone. “Anyway, I sent Eddie a picture of the bird and he was nearby and literally found me within seconds because he wanted to see the bird too. This isn’t a story about being lost,” he added. “I just wanted to say it was really impressive how fast he found me.”

“We literally all spent our childhoods in the barrens,” Eddie said. “It’s sad that the rest of you couldn’t find someone based on a picture of a spot you’ve all been a million times.”
“Maybe not as impressive because you knew the school already and I didn’t but I’ll always be grateful that you helped me find my classes so many times when I was new,” Ben said to Eddie.

Eddie rolled his eyes. “Any of us could’ve helped with that, Ben,” he said.

“Yeah,” Ben said. “But you did.”

“I’m so here for all of us just standing in a corn maze building up Eddie Spaghetti’s self-esteem,” Richie said.

“Having a sense of direction just makes me like, averagely smart,” Eddie said, shaking his head. “It’s not that dramatic.”

“Just wait til you get a car, Eddie Spaghetti,” Richie continued. “You’re always going to be the designated diver.”

“L-let’s not forget the most important time Eddie’s sense of direction helped us,” Bill said. “Getting G-Georgie back.”

Eddie blushed even deeper and even though it was adorable, Richie frowned for a moment. They didn’t talk about that, not with anyone other than the seven of them. Everyone was quiet for a minute.

“Of course Bill,” Eddie said finally. “I’d do anything for that little booger,” and the tension was broken.

 

“Let’s quit being emo and split into teams,” Richie said. “Obviously, I’m with Eddie.”

 

“I thought we all just established that your boyfriend was a hot commodity, Richie,” Stan said.

 

“Fine,” Richie said. “Eddie, who’s going with you?”

“Excuse me, what did you just call me?” Eddie was glaring at Stan. Richie felt his face warm up as he realized he hadn’t denied Stan’s terminology.

“I call it like I see it,” Stan said with a sly grin that earned him a punch in the arm from Eddie.

“Okay, I choose Richie because he’ll complain the entire time to whoever else he’s with if I don’t and I wouldn’t do that to you guys.”

 

“Yeah I’m sure that’s the reason,” Stan said in a deadpan voice.

“Fine, the other reason is that I’m not trying to alienate the person who’s going to get me an A on the math quiz. What do you have to offer, Staniel?”

“Well, I was going to offer you help with biology because I’m the only one here with an A in that class, but I guess you’re gonna have to dissect a cat and then fail anyway without me, Edward.”

“And Ben, you can go with us because you’re not mean like some people here,” Eddie said. He stuck his tongue out at Stan who shot him the middle finger. Richie was used to this dynamic. He knew it was just how the two of them were, and that they loved each other at the end of the day. Still, Eddie seemed more annoyed than usual. Richie told himself it wasn’t because of the ‘boyfriend’ comment, but part of him was sure that it was.

“Oh joy,” Ben said with an easy smile. “I get to listen to you two bicker while being weirdly affectionate.”

“Bill, come with us,” Mike said, pulling Bill toward him and Stan.

“Agreed,” Stan said. “We need a real one on our team.”

“You already know I’m not leaving my girlfriend,” Bill said.

“Team of four then,” Stan said.

“Looks like it’s me and you, Bev,” Kay said. Richie noticed that Kay, who had been nothing but cool and confident so far was twisting a strand of dirty blonde hair around her finger and not looking at Beverly when she spoke. Interesting, he thought. Then, he promptly turned toward Eddie.

“Which way, captain?” he asked.

 

***

 

M I K E:

 

Stan, Mike, Bill and Audra walked with Beverly and Kay in the opposite direction of Richie, Eddie and Ben for awhile. Obviously, Mike thought, it would have made a lot more sense to go in the direction Eddie pointed, as had just been established. Richie and Eddie would’ve both yelled at them until they went away though, and Ben would’ve likely sided with them because he was on their team.

The group reached a crossroads and Beverly and Kay went in a different direction. Audra and Bill were holding hands, and they kept pausing to kiss. Mike glanced at Stan, who wasn’t looking at him. He sort of wished it were just the two of them now, and he was annoyed at himself for wishing that, or, if he were being even more uncomfortably honest with himself, maybe he was a little annoyed at Stan. It wasn’t fair, but he was.

He just wanted them to be able to hold hands and kiss and act the way Bill and Audra were acting.

 

But Stan wasn’t ready to come out to everyone, and Mike was fine with that. He was. Truly.

Bill knew about them, which was nice. Audra didn’t though. Stan kept saying he was going to tell Richie, but he still hadn’t. Mike couldn’t help but think that Stan was being a little unfair to Richie and Eddie by constantly hinting that there was something going on when Stan would’ve been mortified if Richie said anything about Stan and Mike. It felt like a double standard and it had been bothering Mike for awhile.

 

Audra and Bill walked a little ways ahead of them and Mike made his way over to Stan and wrapped his hand around Stan’s. Stan looked up at him through long lashes and smiled in that soft way that only Stan could smile and Mike’s heart melted.

“Hey,” Mike said. “Can I ask you something?”

“Yeah?”

“When do you think-”

“The time hasn’t been right yet, Mike,” Stan said.

“You know the losers are all going to love us no matter what, right? They’re gonna be happy for us, babe.” Mike wrapped his arms around Stan’s waist. Bill and Audra were a good ways ahead now, and not paying them any attention. No one else was nearby in the shadowy, dark maze.

“I know,” Stan said. “I don’t know why it’s so hard.” Mike frowned. Stan sounded so sad, and Mike hated it. He wanted nothing more than to understand what was at the root of that sadness and rip it apart.

“It’s okay,” he said. He pressed his nose against Stan’s and Stan smiled a little at last.

“I promise I’ll tell Richie soon, okay?” Stan said. “And you can tell the others, if you want. Just, make it one on one. Keep it classy, I don’t want anyone to think we’re tacky.”

 

“Keep it classy I don’t want anyone to think we’re tacky?” Mike breathed out a laugh. “What is that a two thousand and twelve Panic! At the Disco lyric?” His arms were still around Stan’s waist and he could feel Stan leaning into him despite himself.

 

“You know, I want it to matter when we tell people. So if you tell the other losers, make it a moment you’ll remember.”

 

“What if I said I’d remember telling them after we all get baked and sit down in a booth at Waffle House and we’ve just bought them all food because Bill and Audra are now out of sight and we’re definitely gonna lose this race?”

 

Stan shoved him away with a groan, looking around. “Oh my god, those dicks really just left us, huh?”

“Should’ve been nicer to Eddie,” Stan teased. “You’d be standing in the tend drinking hot cider by now.”

“Whatever,” Stan said. “If me calling him Richie’s boyfriend is such an insult, maybe he shouldn’t look at Richie with constant heart-eyes.”

“Aw, babe, you think they’re cute, I can tell!” Mike said, giving Stan a playful shove.

“Shut up,” Stan said, but he gave Mike a small smile.

They walked for a little while, hand-in-hand. It was a comfortable silence, the kind that Mike rarely felt with anyone other than Stan. Mike had felt an instant bond with all of the losers but he sometimes found himself thinking in a state of euphoria that maybe Stan was his soulmate, and if evil demon clowns and horror movie villains and haunted houses were real, why couldn’t nicer things like true love and soulmates exist too? The summer after fourth grade held some of his worst memories, but it held some of his best too. He thought privately that the others probably felt the same.

He’d had friends before the losers club, not friends like them, not friends he could count on to be there for him and love him no matter what. He understood Richie in all his obnoxiousness, and could often keep up with him when the others couldn’t. He had hero worshipped Bill too much to be close with him at first, but then one day Bill had asked him if he could visit the Hanlon farm and Mike had introduced him to all the goats and sheep and Bill had been delighted and after that they’d gone on a bike ride down to the scrap yard and spent the afternoon finding treasures. He and Beverly could smoke out the rest of them on a good day and she was his go-to for ranting on a bad day. He and Eddie could talk about cars for hours, and Eddie had helped Mike and his dad fix up a van that Will had been sure would never run again. Ben had been so shy when Mike had first started hanging out with the group, but then Mike had invited Ben over to a sleepover and Mike recalled thinking ‘it’s like I just told him he’s won the lottery.’ The two of them had stayed up all night watching old horror movies and eating microwaved popcorn, and Ben had shown Mike a bunch of sketches that would later become the clubhouse that was such an integral place for them all.

Stan had always been special though. Mike had never met someone who understood him so well. All it took was a single look and Stan instantly knew what Mike was feeling. ‘It’s like you two are telepathic,’ Bill had said once in awe. This had been after Bill and Mike had been leaving the Aladdin after a movie and Victor Criss had shoved them both into a dumpster and then spit at them and the two of them had ridden their bikes to the clubhouse where Stan and Richie were hanging out. Mike had given Stan one look and Stan’s arms were around him.

“You’re not mad at me, are you?” Stan asked.

Despite having just thought that he was maybe a tiny bit annoyed, Mike stopped dead in his tracks and placed his hands on Stan’s elbows. “No!” he said. “Why would I be?”

 

“I know you want to come out,” Stan said.

 

“I just don’t want to hide us,” Mike said. “I want us to be able to be a couple around our friends.”

 

“No, I know,” Stan said. “I get it. And I want you to know, it’s not like I’m embarrassed. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world when I’m with you. I don’t know what my problem is. I wanted to tell Richie before telling everyone because he’s been my best friend for so long. I’ve been alone with him so many times since I told you I was going to tell him too. I’ve had plenty of chances, I just keep getting scared and it makes no sense. I know Richie won’t judge me or anything stupid like that. It’s just, every time I open my mouth to tell him, I feel like my throat is closing up or something.”

 

“Hey,” Mike said. He reached over and cupped a hand over Stan’s cheek. “It’s fine, Stan. Coming out is scary.”

 

“How did you ever get the courage to just tell your dad?” Stan asked.

Mike shrugged. “Honestly, I knew it wouldn’t be a big deal to him. My parents took me to Pride in Bangor a few times growing up.”

“Your parents took you to PRIDE?” Stan asked, his eyes widening in surprise. Mike supposed he’d never told Stan about that.

As a kid, it had seemed so normal. Only as he became aware of and accustomed to the rude glares he got in Derry just for the crime of being a black teenager and as he noticed the looks Bill got for presenting as a guy even though it was so obvious to the losers that he was a guy, did Mike start to understand how lucky he was that his parents had taught him early that love was a beautiful thing. He knew the hate he saw in Derry existed other places, but he also knew there was something darker, something truly sinister, about Derry. So yeah, he understood that it was a big deal that he’d grown up in Derry and his parents had bothered to take him to Pride growing up.

 

“Yeah,” Mike said, dropping his hand from Stan’s face and putting it on Stan’s arm instead. Stan had heard this story at least a hundred times at Mike’s last count, but he was happy to tell it again. “Coming out for me was the way it should be for everyone.” He had a feeling hearing this story made Stan feel like maybe his parents would react similarly to Mike’s to their son being gay. “My parents have always been really open-minded. One day after you and I had been out late he asked me if I’d been on a date. He asked if it was with a girl, and I said no. He asked if it was – and I quote ‘that cute Jewish kid you’ve been hanging out with.’ And I said yes.”

 

“Amazing,” Stan scoffed.

“Your parents might not take you to Pride,” Mike said. “But I have a feeling they’d accept you no matter what, Stan. Even if they don’t, you’ll always have us losers.”

“Yeah,” Stan seemed comforted by that. “Losers gotta stick together, huh?” he leaned in and kissed Mike on the lips, something he didn’t often do in public spaces, and Mike embraced the moment, leaning in and kissing back with enthusiasm.

Stan pulled away far too soon for Mike’s taste, taking Mike’s hand in his. “Come on,” he said. “If we don’t want to buy Waffle House for everyone, we need to find the exit to this thing.”

Chapter Text

A u d r a:

 

“Stan and Mike-”

“They’ll catch up,” Bill said. He said it with authority, but not the demanding authority that Audra had run into with other guys. When Bill talked, you listened because you wanted to. She noticed that the other losers would bicker and struggle with every decision from what movie to go see to whether it was worth it to buy the Jeffree Star and Shane Dawson makeup palette was worth it.

She leaned into Bill as they walked, appreciating his warmth as the October breeze ruffled her hair. He wrapped an arm around her waist and she shivered at the touch. She’d been dating Bill since the beginning of summer, and she was looking forward to spending the holidays as his girl. She liked to think of herself that way as ‘his girl.’ It made her feel special.

Being around the ‘losers club’ as they called themselves, made her feel special. Sometimes it was a bit lonely, being so clearly an Outsider, but it also felt like an incredible gift that they let her in as much as they did. There was something powerful and wonderful and sometimes even a little scary about the bond between the seven of them. Audra had decided fast that she was lucky to be allowed to be part of them, even if not all the way.

“What are you thinking about?” Bill asked her. She realized she had been staring. She’d been admiring his red hair, ruffled by the breeze, and the sprinkle of freckles across his nose and cheeks.

“I’m thinking,” she said. “That I love you.” Bill stopped walking. It was the first time either of them had said it, and Audra felt her heart thumping fast in her chest.

“I love you too,” he said. He leaned in and kissed her. It was a brief kiss, but the feeling behind it almost knocked Audra backward.

They continued walking, hand-in-hand. They didn’t look at each other. They were both hiding small smiles.

 

B e v:

 

Bev could hear another group of teenagers nearby, through the walls of corn but there was something isolated about the winding path. She and Kay might as well have been alone. She wrung her hands, and didn’t meet Kay’s eyes. ‘Since when am I shy?’ she thought. She couldn’t stop thinking about her and Ben’s conversation earlier.

She hadn’t intended anything with Kay when they had first started talking. Victor Criss had called Kay a slut in the hallway and Kay had held up a middle finger and said ‘damn right I am but you still couldn’t get any of this without using force so what the hell does that say about you?’ and Beverly supposed that looking back she’d had feelings for Kay starting right then. She had walked over and stood beside Kay and told Victor to go to class and leave them alone if he didn’t want another rock in the face. After that, Beverly had told Kay about the rock war and Kay had laughed until she couldn’t breathe.

“So we don’t have a chance of winning,” Beverly said. “Eddie, Richie and Ben are probably already waiting for us outside the maze.”

“Optimistic outlook, Bev,” Kay said with a giggle.

“You didn’t let me finish,” Beverly said with a grin. “We don’t have a chance of winning, but we have a chance of beating Bill, Audra, Stan and Mike. Which means either way, we’re getting free Waffle House.”

“True,” Kay said. “So we saw that the exit way somewhere that way before we came in. It goes in a loop.” She pointed the direction she thought the exit was, and Bev noticed how perfect her manicured purple nails were, and stuck her hands in her jacket pocket. Chipped black polish was a signature part of her look but she’d be damned if Kay’s hands didn’t look just beautiful in the moonlight with that purple polish.

“Okay,” Beverly said. She honestly didn’t remember which way they were supposed to be going. She was distracted by the way Kay grinned at her as they started heading in the direction she’d pointed.

“So,” Kay said. “Your friends are…close.”

“Yeah,” Beverly agreed. “We’re like a family.”

“And you guys call yourselves the losers club?”

“That’s right,” Beverly said. “We’ve all been friends since like, the fourth grade.”

“Ever get tired of being the only girl?”

“Sure,” Beverly said. “I love my friends, but yeah. It’s been nice having Audra around, and now you. I hadn’t realized how much I sometimes needed a conversation that doesn’t center around super hero movies or who can hack the biggest loogie.”
“You saying you don’t love conversations about superheroes and giant loogies?” Kay asked.

“Oh no,” Beverly said. “I guess I do. Still, sometimes a girl needs to talk giant loogies with another girl.”

Kay giggled. “You know when I first met you, I thought you must be the most popular girl in school.”

Beverly felt her jaw drop and stopped to look at Kay. “You thought the girl with torn jeans and an All Time Low hoodie who smoked cigarettes behind the dumpsters was the most popular girl in school?”

Kay shrugged. “You were so confident. And I noticed how many guys you seemed to talk to. I figured you must be the cool girl everyone liked.” She grinned at Beverly. “Which, I mean, I’m not wrong. You’re not the most popular girl because the popular girls at our school are all heinous bitches, but you’re definitely the cool girl who everyone worth knowing likes.”

Beverly felt her cheeks grow warm. “Thanks, Kay,” she said.

They stood there awkwardly for a moment and then they both giggled and kept walking. “I think if we turn left here, that’ll take us more in the direction of the exit,” Beverly said.

“Agreed,” Kay said. They set off.

It was starting to get colder and Beverly zipped up her jacket with a shiver. She hugged herself against the wind and reminded herself that soon she’d be sipping hot Waffle House coffee, which was a comforting though. Kay noticed her shivering, and frowned.

“Here,” she took off her jean jacket and tried to hand it to Beverly, who pushed it away.

“You’re in short sleeves!” she said. “No way am I taking your jacket, you’ll freeze.”

“Let a girl be romantic, Bev,” Kay said with a giggle and Beverly couldn’t help but notice that she blushed a little and oh, Beverly’s heart skipped a beat then.

“Fine,” she said, pulling the jacket on. It smelled like the flowery perfume Kay always wore. “But if you freeze to death, I refuse to be held accountable.”

“I’m sure that if you tell the judge it was for romance, they’d be accommodating,” Kay said.

“Exactly,” Beverly said. “I had to take her jacket and let her die your honor, it was so romantic. Besides, we’re both girls so narratively one of us has to die anyway.”
“We had to uphold the dead lesbian trope, your honor,” Kay said with a snort.

“Wait,” Beverly said, suddenly serious. She stopped dead in her tracks and looked at Kay. “Did you just come out to me by making a terrible joke about the bury your gays trope?”

Kay’s gray eyes widened and she looked a little surprised for a moment, then she laughed. “I guess I did.”

“Cool,” Beverly said. She tried to hide how much she was smiling, but Kay gave her a look that Beverly couldn’t read but that told her she wasn’t hiding her excited response. Kay looked confused but almost hopeful.

After they’d walked for a bit, they came to another crossroads. “Which way?” Kay asked. They were standing close together and when Kay turned toward Beverly for a response, they were face-to-face.

Beverly decided to take her moment. She leaned in and kissed Kay on the lips and it was everything she had imagined and hoped for and she was hungry for more. Kay tasted like strawberries and mint and she felt like heaven and for a moment that was way too short, she kissed Beverly back. Then, she pulled away.

Beverly was lost for a moment in the magic of the kiss, but as she came back to earth she realized that Kay looked angry.

“What the hell was that, Beverly?”

“Too much tongue?” Beverly asked, trying to make a joke, trying to make it okay. She didn’t understand why Kay was upset. Had she read things all wrong?

“No, Beverly Marsh, that was not the issue,” Kay said. She actually stomped her foot and if Beverly hadn’t been desperate to figure out what was wrong and to make things right, she might have been amused by that. “You have a boyfriend!”

“Oh!” Beverly laughed in relief.

“This isn’t funny!” Kay said, outraged.

“No, you don’t understand,” Beverly said quickly. “Ben doesn’t care. He told me so.”

“Oh,” Kay huffed out a breath. She looked like she was calming down, starting to understand.
“Okay,” she said. “Okay.” She paused. “So, like, he doesn’t care if you mess around with girls or with me specifically?”

“I don’t know,” Beverly said truthfully. “You’re the only one who’s come up though.”

“Oh,” Kay said. “Wait so did you like, ask him or?” She left the question hanging there, not quite finishing the thought.

“I didn’t,” Beverly said. “I never would have, honestly. He noticed how uh, how we were with each other.” She was sure she was blushing now, and so was Kay.

“Well then,” Kay said. She leaned in and kissed Beverly again, and this time, it lasted longer. Beverly wrapped her arms around Kay’s waist and Kay wrapped her arms around Beverly’s shoulders.

Later, in the Waffle House, Beverly sat between Kay and Ben and felt warmer than she ever had, and it was the kind of warmth that had little to do with the cheap coffee they were drinking. It had everything to do with the people sitting on either side of her and with the others crowding the booth around them. Beverly realized later that night as she lay in bed smiling to herself, that this was what people must be talking about when they talked about the importance of family.