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In Good Times and In Bad

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Eddie’s decided-- this is the year he’s going to tell his mom. How hard could it be to say ‘Hey mom, I know you think being gay is a sin, but I hope you’ll make an exception for me because I’m mega gay and have been since Richie held my hand in kindergarten. Oh, and he’s the love of my life and I’m going to be with him until the day I die’? He honestly doesn’t know which part of that she’s going to take harder, but he has to do it. He’s in the last couple months of his senior year, with a plan in place for after graduation-- which his mother also has no idea about. So, it’ll be more like, ‘Hey, I’m gay, in a long-term relationship with the boy you despise, and I’m moving all the way to Los Angeles’. Totally going to go well.

Thankfully his dad had set up a small college fund for him before he died. Combined with some scholarships and financial aid, he should be able to swing it regardless of how his mom feels. Or he won’t and will be forced to drop out after a semester with absolutely no back up plan. He tries not to think too hard about that second possibility because it’ll work him into a full blown panic. It really doesn’t matter either way though, because he’ll have his friends and nothing can touch them when they’re together.

But before he can do any that, he has to tell his mom. The closer to graduation they get, the more the pressure is getting to him. He’s stewing at the losers’ lunch table, thinking about how horrible it’s going to be, when Richie finally shows up.

“Eduardo!” he greets, kissing him on the cheek. “You’re all by your lonesome? Where’s everyone else?”

“I don’t know, I’m not their keeper,” he says, not even looking at Richie.

“Nah, I’m the only one lucky enough for that, ain’t that right, sugar plum?”

“No, Richie, that’s not right. It’s not my job to look after you either; what am I, your mother?” he says bitingly.

“Oooh-kay, gonna be one of those days, huh?”

“One of what days?”

“One of those days where you’re all anxious about something and instead of talking to your wonderful, caring husband, you take it out on him for no apparent reason.”

“Oh, you know me so well, don’t you? I’m just being my usual bitchy self, congrats on figuring it out.”

Richie sighs and stands up. “Alright, I guess I’ll just come back later when the Eddie who actually likes me is around.”

Eddie’s attitude leaves him in a rush; he never ever wants Richie to think he doesn’t like him. Richie’s told him before, while they’re cuddled in his bed late at night, that he’s terrified all their friends will get tired of him and leave. Eddie knows that’ll never happen, has tried to make Richie understand that the bond they share is unshakeable, but sometimes his insecurities get the best of him. It certainly doesn’t help when Eddie is being an asshole for no reason.

He stops Richie with a hand on his arm. “Wait, please don’t go! You’re right, it is one of those days, I’m sorry, baby. You do know me so well, and I’m taking out my own shit on you, which isn’t fair. Please stay. I want you to.”

Richie slowly sits back down, but doesn’t look at him. “That’s no fair, calling me baby like that. You know how I feel about it.”

“And you know I’m always the Eddie that likes you, right? Like, for real, even when I’m bitching and being shitty, I still like you.”

“Just like?” Richie asks, eyeing him from the side.

Eddie smiles. “Nah, not just like-- love. Because you’re a wonderful, caring husband who knows when I need to be called out.”

“Man, it’s like you took the words right out of my mouth.”

Richie is back to smiling and he knows he’s forgiven, but it doesn’t hurt to make a peace offering. “You want to split my lunch with me?”

“Fuck yeah. And while you’re sharing your food maybe you could share what’s got my babe crying hard as babe could cry.” Richie asks, munching away on a cookie.

“You’re not as cool as David Bowie, please don’t even try. And it’s just the whole telling my mom thing. I keep putting it off because I know it’s going to be shitty but the longer I put it off, the more it turns into this, like, big black cloud hovering over me. I know the way to fix it is to just do it, rip it off like a band aid, but fuck, Richie, she’s going to flip and I don’t know if I can handle that.”

Richie puts his food down and laces their fingers together. “Look, I can’t promise telling your mom will go smoothly. I hate to say it, but you’re probably right and she’ll probably flip. But I’ll be here no matter what. And so will my parents and the rest of the losers. You won’t have to handle any of it alone.” He kisses Eddie’s hand. “And who knows, maybe your mom will surprise us and be cool.”

Eddie rolls his eyes. “Yes, because cool is definitely how I would describe anything my mom does.”

“How about I come over right before, give her that real good Richie loving-- you know what I’m talking about, the magic moves-- she’s always agreeable after a little vitamin D.”

“Little being the key word,” Eddie says, glaring.

Richie isn’t even phased-- he just throws his head back and laughs. Fucker.

* * *

His mom is in a great mood tonight; she actually cooked instead of just buying something frozen, she was whistling while she was in the kitchen, and she even let him pick what they watch. He was strategic and chose some Full House reruns because it’s PG and not too ‘urban’, which is what she calls any show with black people in it. Normally he’d say fuck it and watch some Fresh Prince, but he’s trying to keep her in a good mood because he’s going to do it-- he really is. He’s going to come out to his mom tonight. He hopes his mom is ready because choo choo, here comes the gay train and Eddie’s the conductor.

He may be going slightly crazy from overthinking this.

A commercial break starts and he opens his mouth to get her attention, but she starts speaking first.

“Oh Eddie Bear, I’m so excited for your graduation. I’ve invited your aunts and I sent a card to Poland, but you know how long of a flight that is; I’m not sure Auntie is up for it.”

Her not showing up is the best graduation gift she could ever give me.

“It feels like my little boy grew up so fast. You know, I think it’s incredibly smart of you, deciding to go to community college at home. You save a lot of money and you have everything you need right here.”

Yeah, not really a decision on my part so much as a demand on yours, but sure.

She reaches over and pinches his cheek like he’s five years old and she’s commenting on how big he’s gotten. Fucking kill him.

“I’m so glad you dropped that silly New York idea. Keeping your dreams small is a very practical way to live. It’s been proven that people who are content with what they have live the longest.”

Jesus, she should be a motivational speaker with those words of wisdom.

Once upon a time the plan had been to go to New York City for school, but his mom shut that shit down fast. Or at least she thinks she shut it down; the truth is that he doesn’t want to go to New York anymore because all the losers realized there were schools they wanted to go to in LA and everyone threw their eggs in that basket. California is like this sunny paradise, far away from the shithole they grew up in-- like the anti-Derry. Plus celebrities live there, which seemed like a reasonable motivating factor at fourteen, but now seems like a really stupid reason to move across the country. Thankfully that wasn’t the main reason they chose LA (except for Richie, he’s still convinced Richie chose it because there’s a slim chance he could run into the cast of the Breakfast Club).

His mom drones on and on and Eddie ignores her until she says, “Oh, I forgot to tell you-- I ran into Mrs. Tozier at the store last night. What a ridiculous woman.”

Eddie’s brows furrow. “What do you mean?”

“Well she asked me about doing a joint graduation party for you and that boy of hers.” She scoffs. “I told her that it was absolutely out of the question, of course. I don’t know what she was thinking.”

“She was probably thinking that Richie’s my best friend and that it might make it easier on both of you to do something together,” Eddie says defensively.

“Excuse me, young man, I won’t allow you to talk back to me like that.”

“I’m not talking back, I’m just saying. You don’t have to act like she’s crazy just for asking about it.”

“That’s enough. I don’t appreciate your attitude, and I think you need to go to your room and have an early night so you remember how you’re supposed to treat your mother.”

“It’s only 7:30!”

“Eddie,” she says sharply.

They stare at each other heatedly before he admits defeat and stomps up the stairs.

“Do not stomp around my house like an elephant, my goodness!”

Well that went exactly how he planned, didn’t it. And now he has the rest of the night to think about it. Awesome.

* * *

It’s been two week and he still hasn’t done it. Whatever, it’s just starting to consume his every waking thought, no biggie. He’s back at the lunch table, head cradled in his arms while his friends try to console him. God, he’s pathetic.

“If it doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t feel right; you don’t have a deadline for this, Eddie,” Mike says, rubbing his back gently.

Eddie peeks an eye over his arm to glare at him.

“Okay, so the whole LA thing is kind of on a deadline, but she doesn’t have to know about you and Richie. I know you want to come out to her, but after everything she’s pulled with you, keeping her in the dark seems pretty fair.”

Eddie sighs and finally sits up. “If I don’t make a plan to tell her then it’s going to end up spewing out of me in some disgusting word vomit, during the worst possible moment, and I’d really like to avoid that. I keep slipping up and eventually I’m not gonna be able to talk my way out of it.”

“I’m sure she hasn’t picked up on anything. She’s straight and those people are so dense, you really gotta beat ‘em over the head with it or they just think it’s hetero business as usual. No offense, guys,” Richie says, gesturing at the losers.

Mike makes a face at Richie’s comment, and Eddie files that away to analyse at a later, non-crisis mode, date.

“Richie, I called you my husband on accident last night and I almost had a heart attack, I swear.”

“Babe, you think you’re having a heart attack like once a week.”

“I’m serious, dude. I had to come up with some bullshit excuse about how you were trying out for the spring play and I was helping you learn lines by playing your wife.”

“My wife!” Richie’s almost breathless with laughter, and the rest of the losers join in. Even Stan laughs, the traitor.

“Ha ha dickheads. This is serious! She’s gonna freak when she finds out I’m gay. I mean, she probably already knows, deep down, because does any straight teenage boy listen to that much Whitney Houston? I don’t think so.”

“Stop, you talking about how gay you are is really turning me on.”

“Don’t act like that’s somehow impressive, I spilled milk on myself and you said it gave you a stiffy.”

“Yeah that’s my kink, Eds. Please stop kink shaming me.”

“Can we please stop talking about this?” Ben says, pained.

“Yeah, Ben is right, no one wants to hear about your gross sex stuff. And besides, we need to talk about actual important shit: LA. I talked to my aunt, and she’s so happy that I’m getting away from my dad, she said she’d be willing to fly from the bay, check out places for us. It’s really happening guys! You all still have the money for it, right?”

“I’ve been saving the money I get for holidays and birthdays since my bar mitzvah. I’m set,” Stan confirms.

“I have my dad’s college fund as soon as I graduate.”

“My grandma wants to help me out with it,” Bill shrugs.

“Wow, Bill, sucking off the teet of an old lady.” Everyone at the table cringes at Richie’s word choice. “Meanwhile, I-- a man of extreme character-- have saved all my paychecks from the theater, where I’ve been putting my heart and soul into my work.”

“You just make out with Eddie in the break room and steal snacks,” Bill says, unimpressed.

“Hey!” Eddie objects.

“Yes, and I put my heart and soul into both of those things.”

“Okay, okay, if we all have the money, we just have to decide what we’re looking for. I was thinking a three bedroom place, somewhere that’s in between all of our schools.”

“I call bunking with Mike,” Stan says quickly. Eddie notices Mike’s cheeks redden slightly as he smiles and nods happily.

Hmmm.

“Well obviously me and the spaghetti man are getting our own room. Finally gonna be living with the hubster!” Richie puts Eddie in a headlock and gives him a noogie.

“Ow! Rich, stop!” he complains. When Richie finally relents, Eddie turns to Stan. “I can take Mike off your hands for you, just say the word. You can have Richie for the low, low price of being annoyed constantly.”

“Nope, I already called dibs. You can keep your disaster of a husband, thanks.”

Mike gives Stan a warm look while Richie loudly protests being called a disaster.

Yep. Definitely adding that to the file for later.

“I think it’s only fair that couples get their own rooms, which means me and my big teddy bear are shacking up,” Bev says, kissing Ben’s cheek. Happiness is practically rolling off of him.

Bill sighs. “I guess that means we’re putting bunk beds in the last room. This feels like we’re getting discriminated against for being single.”

“Me especially-- I’ve seen your room, Bill, and you better learn to clean before you share a space with me. I mean it.”

“Yeah, yeah. Still better than dorming with strangers and sharing a bathroom with the whole floor, remember that.”

Stan shudders. “Thank god we all agreed to live off campus.”

“I know, right! If I was in a dorm, I wouldn’t get to grease the floors and slide around like I’m surfing,” Richie says.

“Uh, you don’t get to do that regardless. That’s dangerous and disgusting, and I know you won’t clean it up, you cretin.”

“C’mon, Stan! It’s Cali, everyone surfs! Think of it as practice!”

The losers start arguing, and Eddie thinks about how, come fall, he gets to have this all the time. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel; he tells his mom, and then he moves in with his best friends in the entire world. He can do it.

He’s pulled from his thoughts when Richie calls for his defense. He can think about his mom later, for now he’s going to enjoy planning his future.

* * *

For the past four years, Eddie and Richie have shared a bed about five nights out of the week. Eddie can’t really pinpoint when or why they decided that they needed to be joined at the hip at night too, but now he relies on it. Nothing puts him to sleep like being wrapped up in Richie’s arms, his soft snores filling the room.

Richie hasn’t been able to make it the last couple of nights so Eddie’s drained. He’s laying in bed and just waiting for Richie to knock on his window. Between stressing about finishing school and worrying about his mom, he’s barely been sleeping, and he desperately needs Richie’s body heat to knock him out like Nyquil. He starts to drift off when he hears Richie’s signature knock: the beat to ‘Under Pressure’, chosen because Richie’s idol is Freddie Mercury, and Eddie loves David Bowie.

He rushes over to open the window, and Richie falls into his room.

“LOVAHHH, ‘tis I, your loyal bed warmer and dutiful servant,” he says in a british accent. He bows with a flourish.

“Shut the fuck up. What took you so long? I almost fell asleep before you got here,” Eddie pouts.

“Sorry, handsome. I was working on that presentation for AP English with Ben and Stan. Thank god for Haystack, he can analyze poems like a motherfucker. We’d be up shit creek without him.” Richie says, taking his shirt off and changing into the pajama bottoms he keeps at Eddie’s.

“Why do you always do that?”

“Do what, wear pajamas? I can go naked if you want.”

“Undersell your intelligence. You’re really smart, Rich, and I know you-- you contributed just as much as Ben and Stan did. They’re probably thinking the same thing about you.”

Richie joins him on the bed, rolling so his body covers Eddie’s. He kisses him softly, only pulling away to press more kisses along his cheeks.

“You’re the sweetest guy around, you know that?”

“No way. Only with you, maybe. Which is why I gotta keep you around, otherwise I really will turn into the grumpy asshole everyone thinks I am.”

“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

He gives him an unimpressed look, but it doesn’t deter him; he flips them over so Eddie’s sitting on his stomach, looking down at him.

“Just say it, Eddie, you know you want to.”

“Do we really have to do this every time I mention staying married?”

“It just sounds like you’re saying…” Richie trails off, looking at him expectantly.

Eddie sighs. “Let’s stay together.”

“Ooh baby, leh-eh-eh-eh-ts, let’s stay together-her-herrrrr. Loving you whether-er-er-er, whether-her-her-her, times are good or bad-ad-ad, happy or sa-ad-ad,” Richie belts out in a terrible attempt at an Al Green impression.

“I swear this gets worse every time.”

Richie ignores him and starts ooh-ing, which makes him sound like a dying monkey.

Eddie laughs and pokes his face. “Stop that, I know you can actually sing.”

“Come on, it’s our song!”

“And you know I don’t sing.”

“I’m going to get you to sing along with me one day. I have at least another 70 years with you, I can play the long game.”

“Really? You-- Mr. Instant Gratification? You’ve never played the long game.”

“I play the long game every night. It’s what I call it when I--”

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence. I will kick you out and then you’ll have to sleep alone and be all sad.”

“My, my, my, someone thinks mighty highly of his own company.”

“I kicked you out last month because you wouldn’t stop singing ‘Hotel California’ and then you whined the whole next day. Ben blamed me for having to listen to you and wouldn’t stop shooting me dirty looks. Ben.”

“Hmm, don’t recall. Perhaps that was an elaborate dream you’re getting confused with reality again?”

“Again? What the fuck do you mean ‘again’?”

“Remember, you had that dream about finishing your final project in bio? And you thought you really did it, but you realized on the day it was due that it was, in fact, a very realistic dream, so you had to skip your first three classes to try to get something to turn in. And then you ended up actually making the project from your dream, which got you an A+ and praise from Mr. Wells, a teacher who’s notorious for being an asshole.”

“That was you, dipshit.”

“I know, I just had to say it,” Richie says, laughing.

Eddie can feel his resolve crumbling, the corner of his mouth twitching. “I hate you.”

“No you don’t-- you love me. And you think it’s funny too, you just don’t want to give me the satisfaction of smiling. But I’m already satisfied so you can drop the act, sugar pie.”

He has to turn his face into his pillow to hide his grin. “Nuh-uh.”

“Yeah huh.”

“Noooo.”

“Yeeeees,” Richie says, hands finding his hips under the covers. At first Eddie thinks he’s going to be sweet and cuddly, but he really he should have known better; Richie goes right for his ticklish spot and digs his fingers in.

Eddie yelps, and tries to squirm away, laughing madly. “Rich, don’t! My mom is downstairs!”

“Stop what?” he grins, not letting up.

Eddie gets him back by pinching his nipple. Richie squawks, which only makes Eddie laugh harder. It devolves into a wrestling match until they’re both laughing too hard to keep going.

“Hey,” Eddie says when they’ve controlled themselves, “have you noticed anything different about Mikey?”

“Different how?”

“So the other week, when we were talking about where we’re gonna live in LA, I just noticed some...things… about him?”

“Oooh, this sounds juicy. What things did you notice?” Richie asks, sitting up.

“I don’t know. You just said something about straight people and he just...you know what, nevermind, it’s probably in my head.”

“Dude, he totally looked like he wanted to object to being called straight, right?”

“Oh my god, you noticed too?!”

“Yeah, and he looked stoked that Stan called dibs on him.“

“Yes! I thought maybe I was just overthinking it, but wow,” Eddie says, shaking his head.

“Could it be? Are we not the only gay as fuck losers?”

“Maybe not.” He smiles and wraps his arms around Richie’s middle. “We’re kind of like a sexy detective couple, seeing shit like that.”

“Hell yeah we are! Do you think we should, like…talk to him about it, though? I don’t want to make him uncomfortable but I want him to know that we’re here for him. Plus I can give him tips on how to suck dick like a pro.”

Eddie kisses Richie’s shoulder, overcome with love for him. He cares about the people in his life more than anything, even if he masks it in terrible, inappropriate jokes. Underneath the humor is a heart of gold and the most generous spirit. Eddie’s so grateful that he gets to spend his whole life with him, knowing that kind of love.

“I don’t know. Maybe if it feels right, but let’s not push it. He knows we love him no matter what.”

“Yeah, you’re right. We’ll just keep an eye out, huh?”

“Yeah, baby. We’ll keep an eye out,” Eddie says softly.

“If he does come out, I think we should try to set him and Stan up-- it worked with Ben and Bev. We could be detectives who moonlight as matchmakers,” Richie says as he scoots further down the bed and rearranges them to his liking. They end up chest to chest, with Eddie’s face tucked into the curve of his neck and Richie holding him close. Richie says it’s his favorite sleeping position but Eddie knows his actual favorite is being the little spoon.

It’s getting late and the warmth from his body is making Eddie sleepy, but he loves talking with him until he can’t stay awake any longer. He closes his eyes and hums so Richie knows he’s listening.

“I know Stan hasn’t come out or anything, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t as straight as we think. And they’d be good for each other! Not as good as us, but that goes without saying. We’re like the Princess Leia and Han Solo of Derry. Hey, maybe someday they’ll make a movie about gay guys that isn’t depressing as fuck, and then I won’t have to compare us to a straight couple. Although you would look smokin’ in that gold bikini Princess Leia wore...”

He’s smiling as he drifts off to the sound of his husband’s voice.

* * *

Eddie was lied to. Everyone, all through high school, said senior year was supposed to be stress free, and that it was the perfect opportunity to take a bunch of bullshit classes just to get the credits to graduate. Even his guidance counselor told him not to worry about it. Well, that was a crock of shit. Maybe it’s like that for the people who aren’t trying to go do something with their lives after high school, but it’s not true for him. He only applied to a few schools in LA, all of which were reaches, so he had to keep working hard his senior year to have a chance of getting into any of them. Which he did, but it means he’s one month out from graduation and his classes are kicking his ass. Who needs fucking trigonometry? Not him!

Unfortunately CSU Long Beach doesn’t agree, which is why he’s spending his afternoon in the library with Ben, who’s kindly offered to help him study. Ben is hands down the best loser to study with; he’s one of the smartest, but unlike Stan, he doesn’t make you feel stupid for the stuff you don’t get, and unlike Richie, he doesn’t try to distract you the whole time. He does distract himself sometimes, though. Eddie just finished one of the problems, and when he tries to get Ben to check over it, he finds him doodling in his notebook. He leans over to peak at it and smiles when he sees “Ben Marsh” and “Beverly Hanscom” written in the margins of the page. Ben is using the rest of the paper to draw out some plans for a house.

“Is that the house you’re gonna build Bev?”

Ben jumps at the sound of his voice. “What?” He looks down back down at his drawing, blushing. “Oh, um, yeah. She was telling me about her dream house last night, and I thought I’d see if I could draw out a blueprint. It’s stupid,” he says, flipping over to a blank page.

“That’s not stupid at all, Ben. It’s romantic. You’re gonna show Bev later, right? I really liked those big windows in front, I bet she’ll love them.”

“The bay windows? You think so? She didn’t say anything about windows like that, but she’s been getting really into those fashion drawings, you know? I thought these would be a good place for drawing, with the natural lighting.” He flips back over to the page. “I’m also thinking a big porch, back here. Big enough for all the losers to hang out on.”

“That’s perfect. I’ll have to get you to design my house when you’re a fancy architect, since it isn’t really Richie’s thing. Although, once he did tell me how he’d build our house if it was made of candy, and I have to say, it seemed like it would be pretty structurally sound.”

“I don’t know if marshmallow fluff meets the building codes.”

“Actually, he said he’d melt some gummies and then use them to glue jolly ranchers together like bricks.”

“Hmmm.” Ben looks like he’s actually considering whether or not that would work.

Eddie’s just getting back into his homework when the library doors slam open and in strolls Richie himself.

Great. There goes any productivity for the rest of the afternoon.

“Well look what we have here-- my best friend and my husband, all alone, in the most romantic place in Ben’s universe. You know he’ll never be able to satisfy you like I will, don’t you Eddie? I know his shiny blonde hair and beautiful blue eyes are near irresistible, but underneath that handsome, rugged exterior is a man who writes beautiful poetry and has the brains of a genius, plus he’s got that butt...Sorry, I got distracted, what was my point?”

“You were just saying that you’re leaving. Because if you don’t, you’ll distract me and then I won’t get this formula down and then I’ll fail trig, which means I won’t be able to go to college. And do you know what happens if I don’t go to college?” Eddie asks.

“Divorce?”

“Divorce.”

“Damn. You’d really leave me because I couldn’t stay away from my man? Harsh.”

“Maybe, maybe not. But don’t push it.”

“I actually came here for a reason, I’ll have you know.”

“Is that reason to creepily lick your lips while talking about my ass? Because I’m flattered, but it’s also deeply traumatic,” Ben says.

“Nope! That was just a bonus,” Richie says cheerfully. “I’m here for my main squeeze. You said, and I quote, ‘If I haven’t told my mom by exactly one month before graduation, I need you to come annoy me into doing it. Help me Richie Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope’.”

“Wow that quote was word for word, huh?” Eddie says sarcastically.

“I may have embellished a little, but only because you have no flair for dramatics. Which is a shame, but not a deal breaker.”

“Gee, what a relief.”

“And they say romance is dead,” Ben says, shaking his head.

“I’m just doing what you said, my love.” Richie gets serious for a moment. “Listen, I know it’s hard but this is killing you, Eddie. Something’s gotta give.”

“I mean, I’m a little stressed, but it’s fine,” he says. As the words come out of his mouth, he can hear how manic they sound.

Wow, really convincing there.

“Dude, I think you forget that we share a bed. You’re barely getting any sleep, and when you do manage to pass out, you toss and turn and talk in your sleep. By the way, you say some really terrifying shit; I don’t know who Jonathan is or why he’s coming, but I think we should get a lock for your window.”

“Look, thank you for doing what I asked, you get your husband points for today. But please let it go. I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” Eddie huffs.

“No can do. You gave yourself a deadline and you asked me to enforce it. You’re telling your mom, okay? We can plan it all out. Ben’s real good with words, he’ll help.”

“Uh, Rich, I’ve never really planned a coming out speech, that might be a little outside my wheelhouse,” Ben says nervously. “Unless you want to write her a poem?”

“I’m not writing her a poem, because I’m not going to tell her! I’ve decided!” Eddie laughs and he sounds certifiably insane. “I’m just not going to tell her, I’ll just run away to LA in the middle of the night and that’ll be that. Case closed, let’s move on. Man, math, huh? Crazy stuff!” He shuffles through this homework, but his eyes won’t focus on any of the numbers.

Richie stops him with a gentle hand. “Hey, hey, calm down, baby. Deep breaths, like we practiced, right?”

Eddie nods at him with wide eyes, only just noticing the wheezing noise coming from himself. Richie starts taking deep, exaggerated breaths, gesturing for Eddie to copy him. His eyes dart to Ben’s face, and he’s doing the same breathing as Richie; between the two of them, they manage to calm Eddie down quickly but by the time he’s breathing like a normal person again, he’s drained.

He looks at Richie, and sees the worry in his eyes. Richie pulls him against his chest and buries his face in Eddie’s hair. “I hate seeing you like that, bubba,” he murmurs. He feels Ben press in closer to join the hug.

If Eddie could stay here for the rest of his life, with two of his favorite people in the world protecting him, he would. He soaks up all the love he can from these beautiful boys before taking one final deep breath and letting go.

Richie strokes his cheek and Eddie gives him a sad smile. “I gotta tell my mom…”

“Looks like,” Richie nods.

“Just...maybe not tonight? The new X-Files is on,” he says weakly.

“Tomorrow seems like the perfect day.”

“Thank you, Rich.” He kisses his cheek. “And thank you too, Ben.”

“Oh no need to thank me, Eddie, I didn’t do much,” Ben says, rubbing the back of his head.

“You did just enough.” Eddie kisses his cheek too, making him blush.

“Wow, are you guys feeling what I’m feeling? Threesome?”

Ben and Eddie sigh in unison.

* * *

Apparently the universe is a bitch and doesn’t want Eddie to have one night before his life is over. He just wanted to wait until tomorrow, and then he really was going to do it, but of course the universe has different plans.

“Sweetie, I was talking to Angela from church and she said her daughter is going to commute to Bangor Community College too. I asked if you two could carpool since you don’t drive, and she thought it was a wonderful idea. And who knows, maybe you’ll hit it off. Wouldn’t it be lovely if you found a nice girl from Derry?”

The fact that he can and does drive because Went taught him seems unnecessary to mention. But he isn’t going to go to Bangor Community College, he’s going 3,000 miles away to a university in California; a school he worked his ass off to get into, and that she has no idea about. She doesn’t even know he applied to any schools at all, because Richie’s parents paid the application fees for all three. As far as she’s aware, her little darling is living at home with her for another two years, and he’s sure she’s already planning how to stretch that two years into forever.

“Actually, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about the whole college thing,” he says, putting down his fork.

She doesn’t bother looking away from the TV. “It’s normal to be nervous about it, Eddie. I know it’s a big step, but I’ll be here for you the whole time. And if you try it out for a semester and don’t like it, you can quit. I’m sure Mr. Keene would love to have you work more hours at the pharmacy.”

Yeah, no way in hell is he working for that dirty old perv longer than he has to.

“That’s not what I was going to say, mom. I know that you really want me to go to Bangor for school, but I-- I actually got into a really great school somewhere else.” He’s already started wiping his sweaty palms on his pants compulsively and this isn’t even the worst news he’s breaking to her tonight.

At least it gets her attention; she turns the TV off completely and puts her food down. “What do you mean you got into another school? We didn’t discuss that.”

“I know, I know. But...Bangor isn’t where I want to go. And the school I got into is a four year university-- isn’t that great? I can get a bachelor’s degree there, which means I’ll have way more job opportunities when I graduate! Lots of bragging rights for you, especially with Aunt Martha. Isaac hasn’t even finished his associate’s and he’s been going to school for like ten years. I could be a doctor by the time he finally graduates.”

Shit, now is not the time to start rambling, focus.

His mom physically flinches at the doctor comment. Maybe not the best way to convince her this is a good idea but he thought it would be impressive, sue him.

“Well where is this magical school?” she sneers. “The completely other side of Maine?”

“Uhh ha ha, that’s what I’ve been meaning to tell you. It’s actually out of state?” He’s so nervous that it comes out as a question.

“Oh, Eddie, please don’t tell me it’s in New York,” she gasps. “Anywhere but New York. That’s a filthy city full of miscreants. I told you about that man who got AIDs from a subway pole, didn’t I? That’s no place for a delicate boy like you!”

“Yes, you told me, Mom, but it’s not New York. It’s…” He takes a deep breath. “It’s in Los Angeles. LA. In California.”

The silence is deafening.

“I know it’s far away, but we have it all planned out--”

“We?” She’s seething and Eddie can tell this is going to get very bad, very quickly.

“Yeah, I’m going with my friends. We all got into schools there, so we’re going to live together. That’s nice, right Mom? That way you won’t have to worry about me so much, since I’ll have people there looking out for me.”

She fucking hates your friends, dumbass.

“And how exactly do you plan on paying for all of this? If you thought I was going to support you financially, you were dead wrong.”

“I got some scholarships, and I’ve been saving my money from the pharmacy. Plus there’s the savings Dad left me.”

“You’re going to use the money from my dearly departed husband,” she sobs, “to leave me?”

Wow, she’s really giving an Oscar worthy performance here. Unfortunately for her, he learned the difference between her real tears and fake tears back in the fifth grade. But still, if he wasn’t currently in the process of shitting his pants, he’d be giving her a round of applause.

“It’s not about leaving you, it’s just something I need to do. For myself. I’ve worked really hard to get an opportunity like this, aren’t you proud of me at least?”

“Please, I know the real reason you’re doing this. You want to go across the country so you can continue lying to your mother.”

“I-- What? What are you talking about?”

“You think I haven’t heard?”

“Heard what?” His heart is pounding so hard he’s afraid it’s going to jump right out of his chest.

“Heard about who you spend your time with,” she says, her voice icy.

“What do my friends have to do with this?”

“Drop the act. I’m talking about Richie Tozier. Margaret from church was the first one to see you two.”

Eddie can’t believe this. She can’t have known, there’s no way.

“I don’t understand.”

“When you were eight, she saw the two of you holding hands in the middle of the street. She told me and I didn’t like it, but I figured it was childish ignorance and something you would grow out of once you realized what that looks like to other people. But then a few years passed and Nancy came to me with some interesting information. Her son had told her about the two boys in his class who hold hands and kiss. One of those boys had even hit another student for trying to make them see reason.” She’s fully glaring at him now and it feels like his soul left his body and is now just floating above them, watching it all. “I can’t say I was surprised when I heard that one of those boys was Richie Tozier, considering his liberal parents and the way they let him run wild. But when she told me that the other boy was--” She chokes on a sob.

“So you knew? This whole time you’ve known I’m gay and you never said anything?”

“I had hoped that you were hiding it because you knew it was shameful. And with school ending, I thought we would get a fresh start. No more temptation, no more Richie. A chance to move on.”

Eddie is so furious and sad, and a jumble of other emotions he can’t name, that his hands are starting to shake. “Move on? You think this is something I can move on from? Something I’d want to move on from?”

“That dirty boy has filled your head with all kinds of nonsense, but once you get some space--”

“Don’t talk about Richie like that! He’s not dirty, and he’s not filling my head with anything! I’m gay and he’s my husband!”

“Honey,” she says to him, horrified, “those people… can’t get married. It’s an affront to god.”

“‘Those people’? You mean the gay ones, like me? Maybe not legally-- which I’m well aware of, by the way, I’m not an idiot and I’m not a baby-- but we took vows and we intend to keep them, ‘til death do us part. You can think it’s disgusting and immoral or whatever else you think about it, but he loves me. And he takes care of me, the way you said Dad took care of you before he died. Don’t you want that for me?”

“Don’t you dare compare me and your father to whatever it is you’re pretending to have with that boy. He did this to you, you know-- I didn’t raise you to be this way. He’s made you sick and your father would be so disappointed if he knew what you’ve been doing.”

Eddie sucks in a sharp breath. His father’s memory means everything to him; it got him through the roughest years with his mom when he was scared that he wouldn’t be strong enough to withstand her manipulation. He’d look at the photo he keeps by his bed of him on his father’s shoulders at a baseball game when he was barely three years old, and he’d remember that half of him was made of the kind and loving man from his earliest memories. His mother hadn’t been able to touch that. Not until now.

“You don’t know that, you don’t get to put words into his mouth,” he says, voice shaking.

“You think I don’t know what my own husband would have thought of all of this? Of you kissing another boy? Eddie it’s a disease but you can fight it. I thought that after Poland you might realize what a mistake this is. I mean, you got along so well with Aga! You still send letters! If you just put this behind you, you’d see how great you two could be.”

“She’s--” Do not fucking out her, Eddie. “She’s just a friend, mom. I don’t feel that way about her, and I never will because I’m gay.”

“No.” He’s never heard her sound so cold before.

“What do you mean ‘no’? You don’t get to decide this for me. I’ve let you get away with a lot over the years, but I won’t let this one go. I’m gay and I love Richie, and I won’t hide it anymore. I can’t, he’s too important to me.”

“Everything I’ve ever done has been to protect you, and look how you turned out! If you had listened to your mother, you wouldn’t have been tainted with this...sin. And I certainly do get to decide this for you. As long as you’re under my roof, you’ll do as I say. Now come with me,” she says, standing up.

“Come with you where?” She grabs his arm and starts dragging him towards the door. “Mom! What are you doing?”

“What I should have done when I first heard the rumors about you. Forget your friends, and forget graduation. I’ll talk to your teachers, see if you can get the rest of your school work on independent study. You’re going to go away for a little while.”

He digs his heels in and tries to escape her grasp. “Go away for a little while? What, are you going to send me back to Poland, force me to pretend to be straight with Aga? It doesn’t matter what you do, it won’t change who I am or who I love!”

“No, you’re right, that won’t help. But I know of some special places where they can fix you, Eddie. There are people who can help you work through whatever made you think that you’re a homosexual.”

Eddie stops cold. A place to fix him? Oh, Jesus Christ, she’s going to send him to one of those conversion camps. Richie told him about them during one of his rants about all the fucked up things in the world. They’re just glorified torture camps for parents who would rather see their child traumatized and straight than happy and gay; they don’t fix shit, they just scare kids back into the closet. God, he knew coming out was going to go badly, but he never imagined this.

His mom seems surprised that he’s stopped struggling, but she’s still gripping his arm tight enough that it’s starting to feel like he’s losing circulation. His anxiety is reaching new levels and he wants so badly to be back in the library with Richie and Ben, where he knew nothing could ever happen to him as long as they were by his side.

“A fucking conversion camp? I’m not--I’m not going to a conversion camp so some creepy counselor can tell me to shock myself every time I think about dick!” he manages to get out between gasping breaths.

His mother gasps. “How dare you use that kind of language! This is not the Eddie I know, but by the time you get back, you’ll be my sweet little boy again,” she says dragging him forward.

He hears her words and he thinks of Bev, crying in their clubhouse and telling them all about her dad; thinks of how she stopped wanting to be called Bevvie in the sixth grade when she started her period, because she could only ever hear his voice, asking if she’s still his little girl. Despite all of that, she’s stayed strong, never let it hold her back. And she’s always, always been true to herself. She works at a diner so she can pay for college, keeps her hair short and her nails painted black, and she snuck into a women’s self defense class because she never wanted to rely on anyone else to save her. She’s his hero, and she would never let someone do this to her.

He waits until they’re out the front door before using all his strength to break her grip on his arm. She manages to catch the back of his shirt and he’s jolted backwards but he gives one last tug using his weight, and escapes. He trips, but he catches himself and he’s down the driveway in a flash.

“Eddie! Eddie, you get back here this instant! I am your mother and I’m doing what needs to be done!” she screams from the porch.

He doesn’t stop; not until he’s three blocks over and has a stitch in his side.

What the fuck was he thinking? He should have seen this coming, it’s not like she ever gave him a reason to think she’d be understanding. His plan of just packing his shit and leaving for LA in the middle of the night seems sane now, but he’d been stupid and held out hope that she would surprise him. He’d stayed awake at night, imagining a scene where he tells her he’s gay, and she treats him like a mother should. He’d pictured her crying and apologizing for the things she’s said, hugging him and asking about him; who he really is, not the shallow, washed out caricature she projects on to him. In his imagination he could even pretend that maybe, just maybe, she’d be proud of him, and he’d finally know that she loves him unconditionally. That’s what mothers are supposed to do, right? Richie is this crazy, loud mouthed, overexcited kid and Eddie doesn’t think there’s a thing he could do that would make Maggie stop loving him. So why doesn’t he get that?

Eddie realizes his feet have been taking him in the direction of Richie’s house without any conscious thought. He runs the rest of the way there, the need to see his husband stronger than ever, and his hand shakes as he knocks on the door.

Maggie opens it. “Eddie, what a pleasant surprise! Richie didn’t mention you were coming over, usually it’s all he can talk about. Let me just--” Her eyes widen when she finally takes in his wild eyes and stretched collar. “Oh my goodness, sweetheart are you okay? Your arm!”

Eddie looks down and sees bright red marks on his bicep, a perfect imprint of his mother’s hand. “I’m...I’m okay,” he says as she leads him inside. He tries to swallow past the lump in his throat. “C-can I stay here tonight? Please? I know it’s a school night, but I--”

“Of course you can, Eddie. We would have you over every night if we could, you know that. Now come sit down. We already ate dinner, but I’ll grab you something to eat and then we’ll take a look at that arm, hm?” she says, rubbing his back.

Oh no. The lump is growing.

“I don’t know about you, but I could really go for some cookies and a glass of milk right about now.” She leads him into the kitchen. “I was just thinking of you, by the way. X-Files started a few minutes ago and Mulder is looking awfully cute in this episode,” she says, winking at him.

Keep it together, keep it together, it’s okay.

Maggie puts the milk and cookies on the counter in front of him and starts asking about graduation. “I know your mother wants to do her own thing, but she’ll have to share you because I need some pictures of my handsome boys in their gowns for the family photo album.” She pulls him into her side and presses an exaggerated smooch to his forehead. It’s silly and sweet and so very motherly, and it shatters him.

There’s something about being met with such open affection and casual acceptance. She knows what shows he likes to watch, teases him about his crush on Mulder, keeps pictures of Eddie with the family photos; she knows the real him and she loves him. He sucks in a deep breath and suddenly he’s sobbing, big heaving things that wrack his body and make it hard to catch his breath.

“Oh, honey, what’s wrong? I want to help, but you gotta tell me what happened.” She hugs him and starts swaying gently.

“I-- M-my mom,” he blubbers into her chest, ”I c-came out to her and she--” He can’t even finish.

She makes soft shushing noises and rubs his back. “Okay, okay, Eddie, you don’t have to explain, I understand. Let it out.”

They stand there together until it feels like he doesn’t have a drop of water left in his body. His face feels hot and sticky, his eyes raw and puffy. Maggie uses the sleeve of her night gown to wipe away the tears from under his eyes.

“We love you, you know that don’t you?”

He hopes she doesn’t notice how he winces slightly at the words. He’s beyond grateful for this wonderful family, but right now it’s just a reminder of how differently he’s treated by his own.

Her eyes drop to the bruises forming on his arm and they harden slightly. “We’ll talk more tomorrow, when you’ve gotten some rest, does that sound alright?”

He nods.

She gives him a sad smile. “We have all these cookies-- you want to eat ‘em while we watch Mulder be handsome?”

“No thank you, I’m really tired so I’m just gonna go up to Richie’s room if that’s okay.”

“Of course, honey. Let Richie take a look at that arm before you go to bed, though. I think we’ve got some cream in the bathroom that should help with the bruising.”

He nods again, and makes his way up the stairs to Richie’s room. The door is closed, but he can hear Richie blasting Foreigner and singing along. When Eddie swings the door open, he’s met with Richie dancing around in his underwear and a t-shirt, using a hairbrush as a microphone.

“I wanna know what love iiiiis! I want you to show meeeeee!”

Richie’s too into his performance to notice Eddie coming in so he reaches over and turns off the stereo, the abrupt silence causes Richie to turn to the stereo. When he sees Eddie, he lets out a little yelp.

“Dude, you scared the crap outta me! I wasn’t expecting an audience, not that I’m complaining; I’ll clear my busy concert schedule for you anyti-- Woah, what’s wrong Eddie, you look like you’ve been crying.” Richie rushes over and Eddie throws himself into his arms, clutching him so hard he practically chokes him.

Eddie sniffles and wills himself not to start with the waterworks again. “I made a mistake, baby.”

“What mistake?”

“I came out to my mom,” he says in a watery voice.

“Shit, how bad was it?”

He just shakes his head and squeezes his eyes shut to keep the tears at bay. Richie guides them to the bed, never taking his hands off of Eddie. Thank god, or Eddie probably would have embarrassed himself by having a meltdown.

“She knew, Rich-- she’s known for like ten years.”

“How the fuck did she know?” Richie asks, shocked.

“Some woman from church saw us holding hands and she told her.”

“And she just never said anything?”

He shakes his head. “All those things she’s said about gay people, and the whole time she knew. She knew I was gay and she was trying to make me feel ashamed, make me think there was something wrong with me.”

“That fucking bitch.” Richie’s cheeks flush with anger.

“That’s not even the worst part. She was gonna-- she tried to send me away,” he says, his voice shaking.

“What, like back to Poland?”

“No, like conversion camp. She said they could fix me.”

Richie’s eyes widen and he opens his mouth to speak but nothing comes out.

“I was so scared, Richie, she dragged me out of the house, and she was saying shit about my dad and how I was sick and you had ruined me and I just needed to forget you.” Eddie starts crying again, and Richie tightens his hold on him. “I could never forget you, Richie, you’re a part of me. You’re my family and my safety, and you make me better everyday, why can’t she see that?”

“You’re a part of me too, Eddie. The best part. Nothing will ever change that,” Richie says, his own tears now rolling down his face.

Eddie leans his head against Richie’s. “I love you.”

“I love you too. And I won’t let anything happen to you, I promise. I’ll talk with my parents and we’ll figure out a plan to keep you safe.”

“I don’t want to make your lives harder.”

“You aren’t making our lives harder, Eddie. You’re family and this is what you do for family. We want to help.”

“I know, I just… I wish things were different. I wish I didn’t come with a bunch of shit. I’m always making things difficult, and needing you guys to help me. I just wish I was easier to love.”

“Let me make one thing clear.” Richie nudges Eddie’s chin up so he’ll look at him. “Loving you is the easiest thing I’ve ever done. I never even had to think about it, it’s like I saw you and I knew that you were it, that you were going to be the most important person in my life. It’s so effortless, I think this must not be the first time I’ve loved you, like it’s inevitable for us. Like you and me, no matter what, we find each other. The earth is turning, the sky is blue, and Richie’s in love with Eddie-- the fundamental truths of the universe. As easy as breathing.”

Holy fucking shit.

“Oh.”

“‘Oh’. ‘Oh’ he says. I pour out my heart like I’m Shakespeare, or like Ben or some shit, and I get ‘Oh’.”

“It’s a good oh! It’s a ‘I feel the exact same way and could never say anything more romantic than that so I won’t even try’ oh.”

“Oh,” Richie says, grinning. He nudges Eddie with an elbow and somehow manages to hit right where his mom had grabbed him. Eddie hisses and pulls his arm away.

“Shit, did I hurt you?”

He tries to pull his sleeve down to cover the marks before Richie sees them, but he isn’t fast enough.

“Eddie what the fuck are those? Is that a fucking handprint?” Richie takes his wrist and straightens his arm out. “Eddie…”

“I told you, she dragged me outta there. It’s fine, though. It barely hurts, I swear.”

“That’s not fine! Nothing about this is fine! She hurt you! I swear to god, I’m gonna kill her.” He stands up as though he’s going to rush over to Eddie’s house and commit murder right now, which is totally the last thing Eddie wants.

“Don’t, Richie! Please, I just want to lay down with my husband and go to sleep, don’t go start something. I need to be done with her for today, can we do that?”

“But she can’t just--”

“Please, baby,” Eddie says, taking his hand.

Richie wipes a hand over his face and blows out a breath. “Yeah, okay. Let’s go to bed. I’ll go get some cream for those bruises.” He bends down and kisses Eddie’s cheek tenderly. “Be right back.”

While Richie’s the bathroom, Eddie steals some of his clothes. He keeps his own here, but tonight he wants to be surrounded by his husband in every way he can and his used shirt has a comforting smell.

“Alright, let me see your arm, sweet pea.”

It’s the first time tonight that Richie has used one of his ridiculous food related pet names and Eddie feels the knot inside his chest loosen at the sound. He holds his arm out without a word.

Richie gently skims over the bruises, tracing the outline of his mother’s hand, and he leans in to drag his lips, feather light, along the edge, pressing a kiss to the sensitive skin. Eddie’s breath catches.

Richie picks up the jar and unscrews the lid. “She shouldn’t have put her hands on you,” he says quietly.

Eddie doesn’t reply.

It’s silent for a while as Richie rubs the cream on his arm.

“You know I kinda feel bad for her,” Richie says, the solemn expression on his face making him look older than his eighteen years. “I mean, she’s got this amazing son whose smart, and funny, and brave, and the most loyal person on the planet, and she just… she can’t see it clearly. I can’t imagine looking at you and not seeing blown away by everything that you are.”

Eddie reaches up to stroke his cheek, following the contours of his face before sweeping his thumb across his lips that are slightly chapped like always. “I’m the luckiest person in the world.”

“If you were really lucky you wouldn’t have the mom you do.”

“Well yeah, but none of that matters, ‘cuz I have you.”

Richie looks at his skeptically.

“Okay, it definitely still matters and it’ll probably give me deeply rooted issues I’ll need to work out with a trained professional, but still. I guess what I meant was that it hurts, but I don’t have to worry about the fallout, I’ve never had to worry about it, because I know you and your parents will be there through it all.”

“The losers too,” Richie reminds him.

“That goes without saying. You’d kick their asses if they didn’t support me.”

“You’re goddamn right I would.” Richie pats his knee. “Alright, lover boy, all done. Now let’s get you tucked in for an early bedtime--” He looks at the clock on his nightstand. “Of 8:30, wowee. Alert the press, we got a couple of wild ones right here!”

“You don’t have to go to sleep just because I’m going to, I just want to be in the same room as you while I fall asleep,” Eddie says shyly as he slips under the covers.

“No, no, this is the perfect time to go to bed. My grandparents probably dropped off about an hour ago and it’s high time I joined them in dream land.” He’s climbing in to join him, gangly limbs knocking into Eddie.

“Richie, really it’s okay.”

He closes his eyes and starts snoring obnoxiously, complete with a little whistle on the exhales and everything. Eddie doesn’t want him to see that he’s actually smiling so he scoots further down the bed and covers the bottom of his face with the blanket.

“Finally Richie’s asleep, which means I can sneak out and go to my boyfriend Bill’s house.”

“Ahh I’m just talking in my sleep,” Richie says in a stupid voice, keeping his eyes shut. “Don’t do that or I’ll be forced to kill my best friend, but also if you do, make sure to get pictures or maybe just bring him over here so I can watch.”

“How can you watch if you’re sleeping so deeply?”

“Shut uuuuuuup,” Richie says in the voice, fake snoring again.

Eddie giggles and reaches over to take Richie’s glasses off of his face, putting them on the nightstand. “I guess I’ll stick around for tonight in case my husband chokes while he’s snoring. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to him.”

He thought he’d be lying awake all night overthinking what ended up being the worst day of his life, but the second he cuddles up to Richie, he’s out.

* * *

He jerks awake and finds himself alone in bed. The sun is already bright in the sky, which means Richie has probably been awake for a while; he’s one of those annoying morning people who can wake up at 6:00am and already be bursting with energy, a sharp contrast to Eddie’s fuzziness that lasts well into the morning.

He stumbles towards the faint sound of voices and finds all of the Toziers sitting around the kitchen table, talking over some pastries.

“He’s awake! I don’t know how you stayed sleeping for so long, babe. I woke up at six and just laid there while you drooled on me. Coffee?” Richie says, offering him his mug.

Eddie slowly approaches him, confusion and sleep clouding this brain. “Who gave you coffee? I thought you weren’t allowed since you’re crazy.”

“Well, he went and bought pastries before we woke up so it seemed only fair,” Went says.

Eddie takes a sip of the coffee and raises an eyebrow at Richie.

“I told you, I woke up sooo early and had nothing to do, so I went to that bakery you like, with the fancy bear claws. There’s a couple of them there for ya.”

He leans against Richie, resting his cheek on his head. “You’re the best husband.”

“He learned from the best.” Went raises his mug and Maggie clinks hers against it.

“I’m like the newer, perfected model that they worked all the glitches out of,” Richie says with a shit eating grin on his face.

“Shit! School, oh my god, I forgot about school! Richie, we’re super late!”

“Oh, sweetie, you’re not going to school today. We have things to do,” Maggie explains, passing him a bear claw.

“We do?”

“Yep. We’re going to go over to your house, get your stuff, and move you in here.”

He freezes with the pastry half way to his mouth.

“Don’t look so surprised, kiddo. What did you think we were going to do, send you back there?” Went asks.

“I-I don’t know. She’s my mom-- I can’t just move out or she’ll call the cops or something.”

“I guess it’s a good thing you’re eighteen then. Can’t do much about an adult making the decision to leave.”

“You have no idea how much the offer means to me, but I don’t want to burden you guys, you’ve already done so much for me over the years. It would be too much.”

“Eddie, don’t be stupid.”

“Went.”

“Listen, you’ve been our kid since the day you two came down for breakfast and told us you got married; taking you in isn’t an issue. We want you here and we think this is the best option.”

Maggie puts her hand on his. “You don’t have to, if you don’t want to. But we really hope you’ll take us up on it.” Her hand slides up to lift the sleeve of his borrowed shirt, exposing the bruises that have darkened dramatically overnight. She meets his eye. “I won’t allow someone to put their hands on my child with no consequences. These aren’t her usual mind games, as messed up as those were. She hurt you, Eddie, and none of us could sleep at night knowing there’s a chance she could do it again. And Richie told us what she wanted to do; we let you go now, and there’s a chance we wouldn’t see you again. That’s unacceptable. So please come be with your family.”

Eddie’s speechless. He looks over to Richie for some sort of guidance, but all he gives him is a small smile and a shrug.

“Yeah. Yeah, okay. Let’s try it. My mom will put up a fight, but...I want to stay here, with you guys.”

* * *

Richie tries to ease the tension during the drive over by being his usual self. He listed all the pros to living with them, and has now started in on all the cons. He said some stupid shit about keeping it balanced.

“It all comes at a price: my parents being gross together.”

“Hey,” Maggie says, “we are not gross. We occasionally kiss, and you turn into a drama queen.”

“Dude, they totally sit on the couch and give each other massages. It’s like, get a room,” Richie tells him.

“We work hard, excuse us if we want to spend some time relaxing together.”

Guilt swirls in his gut at the mention of how hard they work. “I can help out and pay some rent, since I work and everything.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, I would never take money from my child,” Went says. “You need that money for college. Though you will be expected to help around the house; vacuum, do the dishes, occasionally wait on your aging parents hand and foot. Of course, you’ll be compensated for your work. Richie gets about five dollars a week when he actually does what he’s supposed to.”

“Oh I couldn’t--”

“And then there’s the matter of your grades. We give Richie an extra five for good report cards and such. You’ve missed a few of those so I think we’ll have to give them to you retroactively. I know you put a lot of effort into those classes of yours.”

Maggie and Richie laugh at him as he sputters his protest.

“We do have one rule-- no hanky panky.”

Eddie’s face gets so warm, he just needs kindling and he could start a fire; even Richie blushes. “Of course not!”

“I don’t supposed Sonia gave you the safe sex talk, so you’ll be getting that as well.”

“Ugh, please tell me I don’t have to sit through that again,” Richie says, no trace of laughter left on his face.

“You can never have too many reminders about safe sex.”

“Oh, cut them some slack Went.”

They’re saved from any further talk of sex when they pull up across from his mom’s house. The car falls silent and Eddie notices that the driveway is occupied. “Shit, she’s not usually home on Fridays.”

“Language, Eddie,” Maggie doesn’t take her eyes off the door. “C’mon, let’s go grab what you need.”

“Maybe we can come back later, when she leaves,” he says nervously.

“Nope, now is a perfect time. She should know that you won’t be living here anymore, and we won’t let her try anything.”

Eddie stares at the house apprehensively before slowly getting out of the car to join the Toziers. They walk up to the pathway as a unit, and Eddie takes the opportunity to quietly ask Richie to not say anything to his mom and make it worse.

“You got it, hot stuff.”

Maggie must sense his reservations when they make it to the door; she puts a comforting hand on his back and knocks for him.

The door opens and there she is. Sonia stands in the doorway, an imposing figure against the shadows of the house. Has this house always been so gloomy and dark? How had he never noticed that before?

His mother glares at Went and Maggie, not saying a word. Finally she addresses Eddie. “Get inside, we have places to be.”

“No, you most certainly do not,” Maggie says. “But we do, so Eddie’s going to go up to his room and grab his things and then we’ll be out of your hair.”

Eddie’s mom looks furious that Maggie is speaking and she turns that anger on Eddie. “Did you hear me, Eddie? Inside. Now.”

He shrinks under her ire, stepping behind Went and grabbing Richie’s hand.

“What do you think you’re doing, hm? He’s my son and I--”

“He’s your son who you put bruises on--”

“My! Son! It’s none of your concern how I raise him!”

“It’s my concern when he comes to my house, sobbing and hurt, because his mother has her head so far up her own ass, she can’t accept him for who he is!”

“I’m not going to take parenting advice from a couple of hippies like you!”

Went seems to sense that the argument between the two mothers could go on and on, so he cuts in. “Your son doesn’t want to stay here, Sonia, and we’re more than happy to take him in. You should be relieved that he’ll be somewhere safe.” The ‘unlike here’ is heavily implied, which his mother picks up on, if the flaring of her nostrils is anything to go by.

“If you think I’m going to allow this, you’re more delusional than I thought.”

“There’s not much that needs allowing-- he’s a legal adult making his own decision.”

“No, he’s a delicate boy who’s being roped into something he doesn’t even fully understand. He hasn’t been able to say a word because you basket cases have scared him half to death.”

He can see Maggie gearing up to defend him, but he knows he needs to stand up for himself right now. If he lets the Toziers speak for him then she’ll never know how much he means this.

“I’m not a delicate boy, mom.” His voice is shaking almost as badly as his knees. “I’m eighteen and I’m choosing to live somewhere else because you think I need to be fixed when I’m exactly who I’m supposed to be.”

She was clearly relying on his silence, and now that it’s gone her eyes alight with fury. “I won’t give you another chance Eddie. You drop this right now, or you’ll regret it.”

“I just need my stuff,” he says, eyes focused just to the left of her face. He’s afraid if he looks at her, he’ll crumble.

“No.”

She goes to slam the door shut, but Went catches is with his hand, pushing into the house and causing his mother to stumble back.

“I’m afraid no isn’t really an option. Eddie, Richie why don’t you go get what we came here for,” he instructs.

“This is trespassing and I’m going to call the police if you don’t get out immediately!” his mother shrieks.

“Call ‘em up, there are some great guys on the force-- you know Captain Bernards? He’s a buddy of mine, I do his daughter’s teeth. Only dentist in the area who doesn’t make her cry. And Sergeant Wilcox actually met his wife at my office, she was a dental assistant at the time. We still have dinner together on occasion,” Went says, strolling around the living room.

“You two go get his stuff, we’ll keep her occupied,” Maggie urges them quietly.

They miss his mom’s piercing reply as they bolt to Eddie’s room.

“Fuck, okay, what are we grabbing?”

“I have a couple of suitcases in the corner of my closet, just grab them and start putting clothes in them. The stuff I usually wear, you know.”

“Thank god I stare at you obsessively,” Richie says as he pulls out the luggage.

Eddie goes to his desk and starts putting things into his backpack; his wallet, old letters, random sentimental things he’s collected over the years. He opens a drawer, pulls out a screw driver, and kneels by the floorboard he uses as a hiding spot.

“Have I ever told you how sexy it is that you came up with that?”

“Not the time,” he says, prying up the wood with the screwdriver. It finally pops open and he grabs all his college information, his photos of him and Richie, and the cards and mixtapes Richie’s given him. He’d had to hide anything that showed the real relationship between them down in the floorboards like it was some dirty secret.

“Okay, there’s a bit more room in one of these bags, you want me to go grab your fancy shampoo and conditioner?”

“Yes please.”

He looks around his room for anything else he might need, but so much of his stuff feels replaceable. He never felt quite at home in this house and he kept what he could at Richie’s, where it felt safe. Maybe he always knew it would come to this.

The very last thing he puts in his backpack is the picture of him and his father; he takes a second to study his father’s smiling face and silently asks him for a bit of strength before tucking him away.

“You ready?” Richie asks, zipping the suitcase shut.

Eddie takes one final look at the space and nods.

“You gonna miss it at all?”

“Nah,” he shakes his head, “all the best memories of this room were with you. I’m not losing the important part.”

They head back down towards the raised voices, shooting each other worried glances.

“You’ve encouraged their delusions! They aren’t married, they never will be! And when I get my way, they’ll never even see each other again!”

“You’re the delusional one if you think I’d let you send that boy away without a fight! He’s been a part of our family since he was six years old, when he needed someone to step up and be a mom because you were failing him!”

Went is holding Maggie back from getting further in Sonia’s face, but both women are incensed. He sees Richie and Eddie standing at the bottom of the stairs and gestures towards the front door. Eddie tries to rush out and avoid any further confrontation with his mom, but she catches him.

“Eddie, don’t do this. If you keep this up, it’ll be too late. It’s just a sickness, and we can cure it,” his mother says desperately.

“Do you hear yourself? I mean really, do you understand what you’re saying to your son right now?”

“I want him safe, and you’ve let your son drag mine down--”

“Let’s go, Maggie,” Went interrupts.

“You must know about the disease those people carry and you’re just letting them do it. If Eddie gets it, it’ll be all your son’s fault.”

“God, you are so ignorant and hateful it’s pathetic.”

“Ladies--”

“I’m a good mother who can do the hard thing.”

“You think making your kid afraid of you is being a good mother?”

“You wouldn’t know what makes a good mother.”

“Alright I think--” Went tries to pull Maggie away.

“My kid is happy and healthy and knows how much I love him.”

“Your kid is a filthy, loudmouthed, no good fa--”

“That’s quite enough,” Went says in a low tone. Eddie feels a shiver run down his spine. It’s hard to ruffle Went’s feathers-- he’s like Richie in that way, letting things roll off his back and deflecting with sarcasm-- but he sounds dangerous right now, and Eddie’s scared that his mother is not going to take the warning.

A hush falls over the room. Eddie’s eyes well up because he did this; he brought these people here and made them listen to his crazy mom because he wasn’t strong enough to do it on his own. And now Richie is looking at his parents like he’s scared they’ll believe her, and Went’s breathing heavily, and Maggie has a wild look in her eyes.

“I’m taking these boys home, and Eddie is staying with us until they leave for college. If you try and force him back here, I will get a lawyer involved. And from now on, you’re going to keep my son’s name out of your mouth. If I ever hear you say something like that about him again, I’m going to come back here, and I’ll make sure Went’s not around to hold me back.”

“Get out,” Sonia says with barely constrained rage.

Eddie and Richie can’t escape fast enough, not stopping until they’re at the car.

“Holy shit,” Richie exhales.

Eddie drops his stuff and pulls him into a hug, squeezing his middle like a python. “I’m so fucking sorry Richie. You shouldn’t have had to hear that.” His response is muffled by Richie’s chest.

“Neither should you, dude. That was so messed up.” He rubs Eddie’s back soothingly.

“Yes it was, now get in the car so we can go home. I need a drink,” Maggie says, sliding into the front seat.

Once they’ve put his bags in the trunk and buckled up, they sit for a moment, all of them processing what just happened.

“Well…” Went starts. He doesn’t seem to know where to go from there so it just trails off.

“Yeah,” Maggie agrees as he starts the car.

“I had no idea she was so obsessed with me, it’s like she was looking into my soul.”

“Oh, hush. You’re a good boy-- aside from the sneaking out at night,” she says.

Their jaws drop and Richie lets out a high pitched noise of confusion that gets a laugh out of both parents.

“Please, you think I don’t know you sneak off to Eddie’s at night? You’ve been doing it for four years, and I’m not stupid. Scared me half to death the first time I saw your empty bed at two in the morning, but luckily you’re pretty predictable; I only had to think about it for two seconds to know that’s where you went. Of course, I followed you the next night just to be sure. I know you’ve got your father’s awful eyesight, honey, but I don’t know how you missed a car creeping behind you the whole way. Or maybe I’m just that good and I should use my sleuthing skills professionally. I could be a spy for the government-- no one would ever suspect me.”

“If you’re the spy, does that make me the sexy love interest? Do I get to wear a little black dress and heels?” Went asks.

“Oh my god, I appreciate what you guys just did, but please stop talking, I’m begging you. I don’t want to leave Eddie a widower when I’m forced to jump out of this moving car.”

“Be reasonable, Richie. We’re going way too slow for that to kill you,” Went deadpans.

Eddie, who hasn’t felt an ounce of happiness since faced with seeing his mother again, lets out a loud snort.

“Did I get off a good one, Eds?” Went asks, smiling at him in the rearview mirror.

He looks and sounds so much like his son that it feels like Eddie’s looking into their future. Twenty five years from now, the two of them will be in a car they bought together, maybe joking with their own kid or the losers all grown up, and none of it would be possible if he hadn’t left his mom today. If he’d stayed, she wouldn’t have let him walk out of there again, at least not whole. He knows that, as sure as he knows that these people will be his family until the day he dies.

“Yeah, Went, it’s was chuckalicious,” he says affectionately.

* * *

He’s alone in Richie’s room, unpacking his stuff while Richie and Maggie are at the store getting him some things he forgot at his mom’s.

(“How the fuck did you forget to grab my underwear?”

“I don’t know, wishful thinking? We’ll just share mine.”

“Ew!”)

A small knocks comes from the cracked door, and Went steps in, looking more unsure than Eddie can ever remember seeing him.

“You getting settled alright?”

“Yeah, I mean, I was over here so much already, I don’t think it’s going to be a hard adjustment,” he jokes.

“Good, good,” he says, fiddling with something on Richie’s desk.

Eddie looks around in confusion. It’s almost never been this awkward with Went. “Did you need something, or…”

“Oh, no no, I’ll get out of your hair.” He makes it to the door, before he stops and turns back around. “Actually, yes, I need to say something to you. Let’s sit down for a sec.”

Oh god, he’s going to blame you for your mom saying all that shit about Richie, and tell you that you need to find someplace else to stay, Eddie thinks, sitting down stiffly beside Went on the bed.

“Maggie and I have never really talked to you boys about it, but maybe we should have, and I’m sorry if we dropped the ball. But we love you both dearly, and we wouldn’t change a thing about you. I’m grateful my son chose you, Eddie. He made a good choice, and I get the honor of being your father. I can’t ever replace the one you lost, but I’ve always tried to do my best by you. And I can’t help but feel like I failed you in this.” Went chokes up. “I knew your mother-- I knew that environment wasn’t the best place for you, but I had no idea how bad it was, and I should have. I should have been paying attention, because this whole time you were getting taught to feel shame when you should have been learning pride and joy, and that’s-- that’s on me--”

“Went--”

“No, son, it’s true. But I won’t make that mistake again. You aren’t going back with her, we’ll make sure of it. You’ll stay here, with your family, and you won’t ever know that shame again. Okay?”

The tears are streaming down Eddie’s face. “Okay.”

“Okay... Okay, good.” Went awkwardly pats himself and stands up, clearing his throat. He leans in and cups Eddie’s head gently; Eddie feels lips press against his forehead before Went quietly leaves the room, shutting the door behind him.

Eddie has no idea how much time passes before Richie comes in.

“Were you crying again? What happened?” Richie asks, dropping his bags on the floor.

“Sorry, no, they were good tears. Happy tears, kind of,” he says wiping them away.

“As long as you’re okay...Anyways, I got you two packs of underwear and they both have fun prints on them, ‘cuz I know you like that…”

As Eddie listens to Richie tell him about all the things he picked out, he knows his mother was wrong; nothing could be shameful about the way they love each other. He’s beyond grateful that Went and Maggie have always seen that. His mother’s hatred couldn’t touch him because of all the pride and joy they taught him.

* * *

There’s a week left until graduation and Eddie feels surprisingly great. The past three weeks living with Richie have mostly been a dream, with only a few minor hiccups as they adjust to being roommates. Luckily they were used to spending almost all of their time together already, and they just had to work on some of the smaller things that you don’t think about until you’re sharing a space. Like, Richie is a messy person, and while Eddie isn’t Stan levels of clean, he does need some organization or he gets anxious. The last straw had been when Eddie found crumbs in the bed and flipped his shit on Richie.

That’s something Eddie’s working on—not immediately snapping and yelling. Before, Eddie could yell at Richie and they’d both go home for a few hours and then Richie would show up and they’d say sorry. Now there is no other home to go to so if Eddie throws a fit, he has to face it. It’s easy to forget, with how much he jokes around, but Richie’s a really sensitive guy who wears his heart on his sleeve and he hates when people are mad at him. Eddie yelled at him about something completely stupid and Richie’d cried a little; Eddie had felt like the biggest piece of shit for treating his husband like that, and ever since then he’s been making an effort to not lash out. He did some reading on how to handle the negative feelings he gets, and there were a ton of recommendations. He uses the same kind of breathing exercises he uses for anxiety, and if it seems like deep breaths won’t help then he removes himself from the situation. Mike’s farm is the perfect place to go if you’re looking for positivity, and Mike’s energy is so calming that it should be bottled and sold as a cure for anxiety. Plus his parents make great food and always invite Eddie to dinner.

So Eddie’s been feeling very mature and shit, which he tells Richie as they sit on the grass at lunch and soak up some sun.

“Dude, we were totally made for this marriage shit,” Richie agrees.

“I say in like fifteen years we write a book on the secrets to a successful marriage.”

“Chapter one: lots of sex.”

Eddie rolls his eyes so hard, he almost pulls something. “I changed my mind: I’m writing the book by myself.”

“First you have to survive another fifteen years with me, you sure you won’t get sick of me by then?”

“Of course not, you idiot. Besides, after everything I just went through with my mom, we’re stuck together until one of us dies. Probably you with the amount of shit you put in your body-- god Richie, is that the family size bag of Doritos you bought yesterday?”

“What? No, I ate the rest of those for breakfast. I skipped fourth to get these”

“Jesus Christ.”

“Hallelujah, amen,” he says, munching away on his chips.

Eddie’s shaking his head in disgust when Mrs. Talbot from the from office approaches.

“Ah, there you are Eddie. We just had a letter dropped off for you, and she said it was important so I thought I’d see if I could find you during your break.”

“Someone left a letter for me in the office? Was it my mother?”

“No, she didn’t say who she was, but she was adamant it get to you,” she says, passing him the envelope.

“Oh. Thank you.”

He stares at it with trepidation; he wouldn’t put it past his mom to have someone drop off a letter so he’s blindsided by a bunch of her homophobic bullshit.

“You gonna open it or what?” Richie asks him.

“I’m just worried it’s from my mom and I’ve been doing pretty good without her special brand of crazy.”

“You’ll never know until you read it, bud. And if it is from her, you can just stop reading after the first line.”

Eddie hums. The front of the envelope only has his name and it’s not in his mom’s handwriting, at least. He tears into it and pulls out a folded letter with a small note attached to the front.

Hi Edward,
It’s your Nana. I’m sure you don’t remember me because your mother hasn’t let me see you since your dad’s funeral, but I’m your dad’s mom. I guess I should have tried to reach out more, but I let my personal feelings about Sonia get in the way. I’ve been keeping track of you, though, and I know you’re graduating soon which means it’s time you read this letter. Your father wrote it for you while he was sick in the hospital and asked me to give it to you when you finished school. It’s the least I could do, even if we don’t have a relationship like I wish we did. I hope you know that I still love you and think of you often. Congratulations on graduating.

Love,

Nana June xoxo

There’s also a phone number written on the bottom of the page. Eddie is speechless. He had written off ever seeing her again because his mom thought she was a weird hippie. He passes the note along to Richie and unfolds the letter carefully. It’s hard to believe that his dad wrote this letter fourteen years ago. He’d smoothed his hand along the page and pressed his pen into words. It’s like magic, his dad is communicating with him after all this time, and he feels like he has to be delicate or it’ll all crumble and float away.

His mom’s words suddenly pop into his head-- that his dad would be disappointed in him, in who he is-- and a small tremor runs through him. This isn’t something he can put off, though, so he tries to push down the fear.

Eddie,
It’s me, your dad! If you’re reading this it means that you’re graduating from high school. I’m sorry I won’t be there to see it in person, but know that I’m looking down on you and beaming with pride. This is a time of great transition for young people, and I hope you’re filled with excitement and joy knowing that you’ve got your whole life in front of you.
It’s your choice whether or not to attend college, but by now you should be aware that I’ve created a fund that you’ll have access to once you have your diploma. I made it with college in mind, but it’s your money and you can do with it what you wish. Just do me a favor, and make it something good, something that enriches your life and maybe scares you a bit—in a good way. You’ve always been a nervous kid, even at four, but I don’t want that to stop you from having dreams and aspirations. You are full of life, full of curiosity and love, and it would be a shame to let the world diminish that. So take that money and do something that feeds that bright soul of yours; if not for you, for your old man.
I have another request, while we’re here: don’t let anyone choose your path for you. I know your mother is quite a strong willed woman and has a way of convincing people to do what she thinks is best, but between you and me, she’s not always right. It’s why I’ve made the account in your name—I don’t want you to be pressured to make choices just to appease anyone, even your mother. We only get one life and if I’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed so you can’t waste it living for other people. Make the most of your precious time on earth by living your truth and doing what makes you happy. Nothing, not a degree or a fancy job, could ever make me prouder than that.
I’m writing this from my hospital bed, and though I wish you’d never had to see me in here, it’s given me some free time and I’ve found myself using it to pray, the closer to the end I get. I don’t pray for myself-- I know there’s nothing that can be done for me now-- but I pray for you, for your future. Every night I spend in here, I ask God to make a deal: he can take me, but he has to fill your life with love, in every way imaginable. I want you to have friends, the best in the world, to be your support during the lows that everyone faces. A good group of friends can be like family and I don’t want you to feel like you missed out on having a full one because I wasn’t around. And I want you to know romantic love-- real, honest love. I hope you meet someone who lights your soul on fire, who makes you laugh so hard you cry, who holds you when you’re at your weakest. You should have someone to share a life with, to make you into the very best version of yourself. Love is the only truth that matters and it’s what keeps us alive, long after we’re gone. So I’ve asked God to give you that-- it’s the only thing I’ll consider a fair trade.
I know that when you read this I’ll have been long gone, and you might not even remember the years I was around, but I need you to know that the memories I have with you are my most treasured. I look at you and it’s like looking at the very best parts of myself. It hurts me not being able to know you as a young man, but I know without a doubt that you’re better than I ever could have hoped for. And I’ll be there for all the big things in life, in spirit, so if you ever feel alone, just close your eyes and and reach out. You’ll find me.
I love you, Eddie. Always.

Love,
Dad

“Eddie, you okay?”

He sniffles and flings himself onto Richie, hiding his face in his neck. Richie rubs his back and waits for Eddie to speak.

“I bet you’re sick of me crying all the time,” he says. It was supposed to be a joke, but it comes out more serious than he intended.

“Nah, I’d be pretty concerned if you weren’t crying about this shit. There was this article in Reader’s Digest about how crying is cathartic and like an important part of grieving and shit. Plus it balances your mood and I’d much rather have you cry now than bite my head off later.”

“It’s cool that you know random crap like that, but do you seriously read Reader’s Digest?”

“Gotta read something while I’m taking a dump!”

“Thanks for that,” Eddie says, wrinkling his nose.

“Totally welcome. So a letter from beyond the grave, huh? Is your dad as big an asshole as your mom?” Richie asks.

He shakes his head, wiping away the last of his tears. “No this was...it was exactly what I needed. I knew my mom was wrong about him, but it’s nice to have it confirmed, you know? It’s crazy, Rich: I think maybe he brought us together. All of us, the losers and everything.”
Eddie has a complicated relationship with religion. For most of his life it’s been used as a tool to shame him, but to hear his dad talk about it-- it didn’t feel like anything but pure love, and his father’s faith through to the very end is something Eddie admires. The only thing he’s been so sure of is people; his friends are where he puts his faith, and they’ve never let him down. He can’t say with absolute certainty that he believes in god, but there’s something about his father’s words that resonates with him regardless. Richie and the losers have always felt special, like they were destined to be in each other’s lives, and the unquestionable, unbreakable bond they share is stronger than they can put in words. Maybe it was all just chance, but maybe not. Maybe his dad really did have a chat with the big guy and gave Eddie the greatest things in his life.

“Your dad?”

“Yeah, I know it seems nuts but he said-- look, just read it, you’ll see,” Eddie says, thrusting the letter at Richie.

Richie adjusts his glasses and starts reading; Eddie can tell when gets to the part about the deal because his eyebrows starting climbing up his forehead.

“I--wow,” Richie says, stunned. “I don’t even know what to say, except damn, you’re dad really fucking loved you.”

Eddie can’t stop the smile that blooms on his face. “Yeah, I guess he really did.”

“Does this mean I’m like a big deal, being handpicked by god and all? Suddenly it doesn’t matter that your mom wishes I would drop dead, I know I have overwhelming approval from your dad and god. That’s gotta be a first.”

“Yeah he did pretty good, putting us together.” Eddie knows he’s wearing the dumb besotted look he gets sometimes, but it’s true. They’re the best team.

Richie passes back the letter along with the note. “Hey, how come I’ve never heard anything about your grandma? I just assumed you didn’t have any family on your dad’s side.”

“I don’t know, my mom fucking hated her so I wasn’t allowed to ask about her. After a while I just kind of forgot, as horrible as that sounds.”

“That’s not your fault, your mom is straight up psycho. Why’d she hate her so much, anyway?”

Eddie rolls his eyes. “Oh you know, she’s open minded and nice. My mom called her a hippie, but she calls anyone who isn’t Catholic and republican a hippie, so that’s not saying much. I don’t remember a lot about her, but I think she was into spiritual stuff? I remember her having cool crystals and burning sage.”

“Dude, she sounds sick. Maybe now that your mom isn’t in the picture you could reach out? She put her number, obviously she’s interested in talking.”

“Yeah...yeah maybe I will. I feel bad about how it all went down; it must have been hard for her to lose her only son and then lose contact with her only grandkid.” He looks down at his hands. “Do you think she’ll be mad at me for not trying to see her?”

Richie pulls him into a hug. “No way-- it sounds like she feels bad about it too. Maybe if you call her, both of you can stop feeling guilty about the past and start working on the future instead.”

“Okay, smart guy. When did you get so emotionally mature?”

“It’s all that Reader’s Digest.”

“Shut up,” Eddie laughs.

He leans against Richie and makes a promise to himself that he’s really going to call her, even if he’s ridiculously nervous at the thought. He could use all the family he can get.

* * *

The losers decided that since it’s their last weekend as high schoolers, they need to celebrate with their favorite activity: hanging out at Mike’s farm, doing nothing. Bonfires are a losers’ club specialty that they’ve got down. They all bring different things-- Richie’s always in charge of music, Stan comes up with an activity, Eddie grabs the important shit like matches and flashlights, Bill borrows blankets and pillows from home, and Ben and Bev provide snacks, usually homemade during some disgustingly domestic baking date.

That’s not for a couple of hours though, so Eddie’s just at home by himself while Went and Maggie are off at some boring event for Went’s practice and Richie is at work getting paid to fuck around and occasionally sling popcorn. He still feels incredibly guilty about living with them and not contributing, which is why he’s taking the opportunity to tidy the house. He’s already finished Richie’s room and has moved on to the kitchen where he’s blasting music and doing the dishes; dishes aren’t so bad when you’ve got Whitney’s sweet voice singing about wanting to dance with somebody.

He gets so into the song that he drops the sponge to dance around, swinging his hips and singing along.

“Oh, I wanna dance with somebody! I wanna feel the heat with somebodyyy!”
By the end of the song he’s out of breath and smiling to himself. He turns back to the sink, but before he can pick up another dish, he hears a slow clap from behind him; he whirls around, clutching his chest.

Richie is standing in the entryway to the kitchen looking like he’s won a million bucks.

“Why do you look so pleased?” Eddie asks, narrowing his eyes.

“This is just the greatest moment of my life to date,” Richie says, beaming.

“What, because of my killer dance moves?”

“Oh, no no. I mean those were great and are definitely going in the spank bank, don’t get me wrong.”

“Richie.”

“I’m sorry,” he says, not sounding the least bit sorry, “I have no filter right now because your angelic voice just blew my mind.”

Oh fuck. How did he forget that he had been shrieking along the whole time?

“No, Richie, oh my god, how long were you standing there for?” Eddie is freaking.

“Long enough, mon amour. And can I just say--”

“No you can’t! You can’t say anything!” Eddie lunges for him and tries to cover his mouth with his hand.

Richie fights him off with little effort. “You sound like a dream. Not a good one though, like a nightmare,” he says, laughing.

“You were never supposed to know!! Now I have to kill you!!”

“Are you attempting to murder me with these gentle slaps? Just start singing, it’s more efficient.”

“Richiiiiie,” he whines.

“Kidding, kidding. I’d never wanna go out in such a painful way, keeping slapping me.”

Eddie groans and leans his forehead against Richie’s chest. “You’re the biggest butthead. This is why I didn’t want to sing in front of you, I’m terrible.”

“It’s cute, babe, don’t stress.”

He lifts his head and glares at him. “What about sounding like a cat being brutally murdered is cute?”

“It’s quirky! And it’s honestly nice to see that there are things you’re bad at. Makes the rest of us mere mortals not look so bad.”

“Shut up, there’s tons of stuff I’m bad at.”

“Name one.”

“Keeping you in line.”

“But you give it your best shot, which is more than most. My mom gave up on that years ago,” Richie says dismissively.

“Fine, then poetry.”

Richie gasps. “How dare you. That poem you wrote me for Valentine’s Day was a masterpiece. The line about my butt? I still think about it to this day.”

“Richie, I have to tell you something.” He takes his hand. “I didn’t write that all my own. Ben wrote most of it, I just told him what I wanted.”

“No, say it ain’t so! Haystack wrote it all? Even the butt stuff?”

“Not willingly, but yes.” He pats Richie’s hand consolingly.

“It’s like my whole life is a lie,” he says, despondent.

“There, there. What do you say we go to Mike’s early and play with those baby chickens that hatched, cheer you up.”

Richie perks up, reminding Eddie of an eager puppy. “Yes please! But you can’t get jealous when I’ve got chicks all over me. I know how you are.”

“I think I can control myself.”

* * *

The sun has fallen from the sky and blanketed the farm in darkness. The air isn’t too cold so close to summer, but the losers have a fire burning and are basking in the heat it gives off. In theory it should be a calm, relaxing night, but in reality it’s as chaotic as they are. Richie’s roasting a marshmallow on a random stick he found and definitely did not clean off while Stan argues with him about how disgusting it is, music is playing loudly from the stereo a few feet away, and Mike convinced Bill and Ben to have an arm wrestling match that Bev is attempting to sabotage by blowing cigarette smoke in Bill’s face. It’s perfect.

“Stan, you’re the only person here who gives a shit. Here, Eddie, eat this perfectly roasted marshmallow,” Richie says, swinging the stick over to him. The marshmallow on the end is still on fire.

“You found that stick in the dark-- it could be covered in poison ivy or something. Can you imagine getting poison ivy down your throat? No way in hell am I eating it.”

“Thank you!” Stan cries.

“You guys and your fucking poison ivy. And you’re my husband, you’re supposed to take my side. You couldn’t have just lied and pretended to eat it?”

“How the fuck would I pretend to eat a marshmallow? Stan is right there, he would definitely see that I didn’t actually eat it.”

“I’ll eat it, Rich,” Bev says, opening her mouth widely.

“That’s my girl!” Richie sticks the whole thing in her mouth, smearing the sticky dessert on her face in the process. “A sweet treat for Miss Beverly Marsh Mallow. Eh, get it guys?”

Everyone boos.

“I hope your material improves before you attempt a stand-up tour,” Bill says.

“By the time I get my own tour I’ll be paying people to write my material for me.”

Eddie knocks their feet together. “You will not. The jokes wouldn’t be as funny as yours and they’d probably all be about how women suck and gay people are scary.”

“Yeah, let’s avoid that,” Bev agrees.

“You should write your own material, but please, for the love of god, none of the jokes about having sex with Eddie. No one likes to hear about that,” Ben throws out.

“Speak for yourself,” Mike says with a wink towards Eddie.

They all bust up laughing and Richie nearly chokes on his drink. “Mike! You can’t take my man like that! It’s a threesome or nothing!”

“Nothing it is. Sorry, Eddie, I tried.”

Eddie giggles. “He’s not the boss of me. Come get it, hot stuff.”

They make kissy faces at each other and Richie makes an indignant noise.

“I know we’re abnormally close, but I think that would be too much, even for us,” Stan says, face scrunched up.

“You guys think it’s bad, how close we are?” Bill asks, leaning against the log that Mike sits on.

A chorus of no’s ring out.

“Yes.”

“Stanley.”

He cracks a smile. “Fine. No I don’t. Why would it be bad?”

Bill shrugs. “My parents keep trying to convince me to live in the dorms when we go to school. They think I’m not gonna meet any new people if I don’t, but honestly I don’t feel like I need to meet new people. It’s like, no one will ever compare to you guys so what’s the point. That’s probably not a great mindset, right?”

“I don’t know, I feel like having six best friends kind of covers your all your bases,” Eddie says.

“Exactly. And yeah, we could make new friends if we wanted, but they would probably never hate clowns the appropriate amount,” Richie says.

“God I fucking despise them.”

“They’re sent from hell specifically to torture me.”

“If fear had a face, it would be in clown makeup.”

“Ugh, Richie, why would you even bring them up?”

He just laughs. “See? That level of hatred is a losers’ club exclusive.”

“Richie’s an idiot, but he’s right,” Bev says. “I think we’re just really lucky that we found our people so early in life.”

“Yeah if we hadn’t adopted each other we’d be the unlucky four or some shit. Remember, like that joke Ben made when we were younger?”

“Richie, what the fuck? I made that joke when we were like six, how do you remember that?”

“It was my wedding day, Benny boy! I couldn’t forget a second of it if I tried!”

“And you better not be trying,” Eddie tells him with a raised brow.

Richie smacks a kiss to his cheek in answer.

“Okay, I propose a toast,” Mike announces, standing up and raising his can. “May our love for each other always guide us right. May our time in LA allow us to grow and help us achieve our dreams of being a librarian.”

Bev raises her can. “A fashion designer.”

“An architect.”

“An author.”

“A lawyer.”

“A nurse.”

“Guys, what the fuck? Did you plan this? No one told me, I don’t have anything to say-- you know I’m undeclared.”

“To the losers’ club!” Mike shouts.

“To the losers’ club!” they all echo.

“No seriously, guys. Was there some group meeting I missed out on? If had known I would have had some bullshit ready to go. This feels like a calculated move to make me look bad, I’m just saying.”

* * *

Eddie’s sweating under the cheap polyester robe as he waits for his name to be called. So far, graduation has been boring as fuck and the speeches have dragged, especially the one for the valedictorian. Eddie had to restrain himself from rolling his eyes at how much she lied about. Sure, Derry High was probably awesome and life changing for a straight, white girl from a wealthy family, but that was not a universal experience. Ask any of the losers’s club-- the graduating class of 1994 was not like a family, and definitely did not support each other through everything. Unless, of course, she was referring to the support they offered each other when they shoved Eddie into lockers, dumped literal garbage on Bev, broke Richie’s glasses or stole Stan’s kippah. Oh and the respectful young people the school made them into? Yeah, bullshit. These kids are a bunch of bigoted assholes who made fun of Ben’s weight and Bill’s stutter and screamed slurs at Richie, Eddie, and Mike. But sure, Stacey, we’re all real glad you got into Harvard.

He looks down the row to see how Richie’s doing, and catches him digging his fingers into his ears and wiping them off on his robe. Wow. Well at least now Eddie knows not to touch that thing when they take photos later. A little further down is Stan, whose graduation cap hardly fit over his curls and is swaying in the warm breeze, and behind Stan is Bev, who’s definitely sleeping behind her pair of red, heart shaped sunglasses.

He sighs and scans the audience for people he recognizes. Mike’s parents are both here, donning their Sunday best. The Denbrough’s are near the back of the stands, but Georgie’s the only one who looks remotely interested in what’s happening. And of course the Toziers are front and center, Maggie taking her millionth picture even though nothing has changed since the last time she took one two minutes ago. Eddie stops looking after that; he’s not sure if he’s more scared that he’ll see his mom’s face in the crowd or that he won’t. Feelings are dumb like that.

The principal finally finishes his speech and the first row stands up and prepares to walk across the stage. Eddie’s heart starts beating a little faster which is so stupid because it’s really not that big of a deal; most people graduate from high school and hardly anyone makes a fool of themselves in front of their whole class and their families. Knowing that doesn’t change the fact that Eddie is, as always, a giant bundle of nerves. He and Richie should have planned better and made sure they ended up next to each other because his touch is the greatest stress relief in the world and exactly what he needs right now.

The principal gets to the end of the first row and Mike’s name is called. The six of them cheer obnoxiously loud and Eddie can hear the Toziers screaming for him from the audience. Mike’s smile is radiant as he shakes the principal's hand and accepts his diploma, the first of the losers club to graduate.

Eddie’s so distracted with being proud of Mike that he misses the cue for his row to stand. He quickly rises and stumbles a bit to catch up with the girl in front of him. Now that he’s so close, it feels like everything is moving in hyperspeed and before he can even take a breath, the principal calls his name.

“Edward Kaspbrak.”
He starts crossing the stage, but he’s so nervous in front of all of these people that his body doesn’t know how to work normally. He starts speed walking like a middle-aged mom, and all he can think about is how everyone must think he’s a total weirdo. He can hear the losers and his family cheering, and then Richie yells, “That’s my boy!”

He says it in such a loud, proud voice that Eddie finds himself laughing despite how far in his own head he’s gotten, and he calms down enough to move at a normal speed. He makes it across the stage without landing on his face, gets his diploma, and then the rest of the ceremony is a blur. He knows he cheered the loudest for Richie and catcalled him when he strutted like some kind of gangly model.

Somehow they manage to finish the whole ceremony without a major disaster and all that’s left to do is throw the hats. Eddie turns to Richie and finds him already looking at him. They have matching grins on their faces and they stay with their eyes locked, even as the principal calls out, “I now present to you: the graduating class of ‘94!”

They toss their caps in the air and Richie lets out a joyful cry. Before Eddie’s cap can even come back down, he gets jumped from every side by his friends who are all wild with excitement. The whole stadium is buzzing with people and he can hardly hear the other losers, but it doesn’t matter because they’re hugging each other, forming a tight circle that perfectly represents their friendship.

Eddie can hardly believe it; he did it. He really survived high school being openly gay and he did it with the best group of friends there’s ever been. Soon he’ll be at a graduation party with his family that matters, where he’s going to talk to his grandma he hasn’t seen in 13 years. In a few months, he’ll be uprooting his whole life to move across the country with his six best friends. The future has never felt more real than now, but before he can panic, he remembers what his father told him in the letter. He closes his eyes and thinks about his dad, about how much love he gave Eddie during their too short time together and how badly he wishes he was here now. He doesn’t know if it’s just in his head, but he swears, for a brief moment, the noise of the crowd dies down and a cool breeze blows through, ruffling his hair. Eddie chooses to take it as a sign that his dad kept his word. He smiles in the embrace of his friends and he knows that everything is going to be just fine.