The first time it happened he didn’t think much of it. Eddie Kaspbrak had always had what his mom liked to call a delicate constitution. He caught colds easily. Spent a lot of time at doctors’ offices. Forgot how to breathe when he was nervous or scared, to the point where he had to carry three inhalers around in one of his fanny packs. The other one had his medicines. His life was measured in the beeps of his wristwatch.
Even after he learned they were all fakes, placebos, he couldn’t bring himself to turn the damn alarm off.
(That was at least partially because he couldn’t figure out how to turn it off, but piss off.)
The point of the story was, by now Eddie knew his medicines and inhalers and whatever were a bunch of bullshit. That didn’t change the fact that he knew way too much about germs. Every time he saw one of his friends using a water fountain he told them off about the amount of bacteria they were picking up. He went off on tangents at Stan for touching a dead bird, Bill for spending time in his dad’s moldy, dusty garage, Ben for not washing his hands after touching library books, Mike for not washing his hands after a day of work at the farm, Bev for not washing her hands after climbing down the rusty fire escape outside her apartment.
“Hey, Eduardo, check this out! Some idiot dumped their pizza box in the garbage when there’s a whole three slices left!”
Oh yeah. Richie. Eddie went off on tangents at Richie for pretty much everything.
He rolled his eyes. “What the fuck, Richie? Are you trying to become a literal trashmouth? Do you know how many germs are in that? It was in the garbage for a reason.”
Richie shot him an exaggerated simper, coke-bottle glasses lifting slightly as he scrunched his nose. “Aw, Eds, are you worrying about me?”
He snickered, tossing the pizza box to the curb and ignoring Eddie’s indignant protests of the accursed nickname. “If only they could see me now, wittle Eds is wowwying about me!”
The rest of the losers had already went home for the day. Richie and Eddie lived the closest to each other, and so they always had to walk home together. After what happened earlier that summer, they weren’t about to let anyone go anywhere alone. Eddie made Richie cross his heart that he’d run back to the Kaspbrak house at the slightest sign that something was wrong. He knew his mom would have his head if she found Richie sleeping there. That was fine. He’d find somewhere to hide him, somewhere he wouldn’t be found if he managed to keep his mouth shut for once.
“Just—just shut up, Richie, I’m serious. You could die.” He frowned and fluttered his hands, like that would help his argument in any way, shape, or form.
“The only one doing any dying tonight will be your lovely mother, old chap,” Richie grinned and Eddie groaned. “She’ll be down in that greywater-y sewer before I’m through with her.”
“Beep beep, Richie.”
He seemingly sobered at that. “Right. Sorry. I meant it in the sensual way, not the clown-murdering-people way. My bad.”
“Richie.” Eddie crossed his arms, left one still sensitive from where a cast had been only days before. He rubbed it absentmindedly.
“I said I was sorry!” Richie glowered. “Lighten up a little, would ya? You always suck the fun out of everything, Doctor K.”
Eddie started. Richie didn’t really think that, did he? He wasn’t trying to be a fun sponge, he just cared about his friends. “Fine, then. Walk home by yourself, asshole. See if I care.”
He walked away with his back straight and his legs moving quickly. Running was dangerous. He speedwalked instead. Geez, maybe he really did take the fun out of everything.
“Eds—Eddie! Wait!” He heard Richie long before he saw him (How did he make so much noise and feel so safe about doing it? Why wasn’t his floor made of eggshells too?).
He slowed to a walk when he caught up to Eddie, which was frustratingly quickly. Eddie knew he was short, but Richie didn’t have to rub it in by having a growth spurt right in the middle of the summer. Now he was the shortest loser by a mile. Even Ben was taller than him.
For once, Richie was actually silent for a second. Eddie tried to enjoy it while it lasted. It was weird. Empty. He was kind of relieved when Richie started talking again, which, what the hell?
“I really am sorry, you know.” He sounded nicer when he wasn’t saying everything high-pitched and loud for a laugh. Not that Eddie would ever tell him that. “It would kind of suck if you died.”
They had stopped in the middle of the street. Eddie looked sideways at his friend, and Richie looked the solemnest he’d ever seen him. He really was being serious.
Eddie looked at him for a second. Then Richie broke into a smile. “I mean, who’d be the best man at the wedding? I can’t get married to your mom with Stan as my best man, are you kidding me, he’s such a grandpa—”
Just like that, they were back to the normal back-and-forth. Eddie let out another of his offended noises and looked away. “You’re unbelievable.”
His watch beeped and his hands twitched. He forced them to stay at his sides. He didn’t need the pills, they were bullshit. But his face did feel hot. His face was burning, in fact.
“Shit.” He muttered, already rifling through a fanny pack for a thermometer. What if he had a fever and it was the flu or strep throat or pneumonia or—
“You alright, Eds?” Richie was suddenly at his side, hovering like the annoyingly noisy helicopter he was.
“Don’t call me that. I think I might have a fever.” He couldn’t find his thermometer. “Dammit, and I can’t find my fucking thermometer. Of course I left it at home. It totally is pneumonia and it’s gonna set in before I get home and then I’ll pass out in the street and die and then you’ll get pneumonia and you’ll end up dying too when we literally just stopped being in danger of dying like two seconds ago—”
“Eddie!” Richie yelled. “Are you mad at me or the pneumonia?”
He scowled. “Both. I’m always mad at you, Richie.”
“C’mon, Eddie-spaghetti.” Richie slung an arm around Eddie’s shoulders. “Five more minutes won’t hurt. I’ve got a thermometer at my place, and if you really are sick we can watch Raiders of the Lost Ark or something.”
Eddie huffed, but didn’t protest. He didn’t want to go home anyways. And if he leaned a little into Richie’s arm as they walked the rest of the way to the Tozier house, nobody had to know.
“I’m glad you’re not dead, too, Richie.”
If he had the guts to turn his gaze to the boy beside him, Eddie would have seen a tiny, but tender, smile hiding on Richie’s face.