He couldn’t believe it. Here he was, again, in a locked stall in the school bathroom. It was disgusting, as always, but the thoughts racing through his head put his surroundings to shame, and maybe the truly disgusting thing here was him. Legs drawn up, knees to chest, he sniffles and stifled his sobs, silently wiping away the deluge of tears, hoping his eyes wouldn’t look too red; he’d hate for there to be any evidence of this. They’d all ask him “what’s wrong?” But he could never tell them, and their saccharine concern would only fill his heart with more self-loathing knowing they cared so much for someone so... disgusting.
There came a vicious bang on the stall door, and he squealed in terror, an audible gasp escaping him. Cruel laughter echoed in the bathroom, but the torment went no further as a familiar voice called for its cessation.
“C’mon, leave the poor kid alone.”
“Why should I listen to you, fucking fairy?”
Still, the boy and his gang left, and he was still catching his breath. His feet hit the ground as he unfurled his limbs, seeking the space to breathe.
All Eddie could do was cough and choke out a weak “yea.” There was silence for a few moments before:
“Eds? That you?”
“Y-yea.” He hurriedly wiped his eyes clear again, knowing what was coming next.
“Could you open up, Eds?”
Reluctantly, he slid the latch on the door, allowing it to swing partially open.
“What’re you doing in here? It smells worse than your mom...”
The joke was halfhearted and trailed off at the end just as the smile from Richie’s face slid to a frown, much to Eddie’s dismay. As much as he’d hate to admit it, he far preferred Richie’s jokes than Richie’s concern for him. In an attempt to brush it off, Eddie forced out a laugh, but it was awkward and barking, nothing like his usual fits of giggles and suppressed chuckles.
“Hey, Eds, what’s going on?” Richie went to grab hold of Eddie’s shoulders, but Eddie recoiled.
“Don’t, I’m...” he struggled to find the words, “I’m dirty.”
At this, Richie laughed and again made to lay his hands on the shorter boy.
“What, because of the bathroom? Alright, Dr. Spaghetti, let’s get your hands washed.”
He tried to lead Eddie out, his fingers encircling his wrist, but again, Eddie drew back, practically snatching his hand from his best friend’s grasp.
“No, I,” he began, but the words wouldn’t come. He stood there, mouth agape, wondering how it always came to this. Why it’s always had to come to this.
Eddie took a deep breath, gathering the bravado to say what came next.
“I don’t need your help to wash my hands, Trash-mouth. I’m fine.”
He watched, but didn’t notice the smile falter on Richie’s face or the slight shine in Richie’s eyes.
“Ok Eds, no need to yell,” he laughed, “after you,” he said, bowing out of Eddie’s way.
He pointedly avoided meeting his own reflection in the mirror, afraid of what would be staring back. The water slowly grew scalding, and he scrubbed his hands with such fervor, the skin was raw and red. Only once, he glanced in the mirror, and he saw Richie staring at his hands in the sink, lips parted slightly, corners turned downward as he watched his friend in apprehension. He was clearly concerned but said nothing, and the two left the bathroom in silence.