A metallic groan reverberated through the pipes, the echoes so gutturally disjointed that they shook the thin apartment walls and jolted Richie awake. It couldn’t have been past 7:00 if the crisp morning air was anything to go by, the chill that seeped through the openings in his blankets making him shiver. Slamming his eyes shut did nothing in coaxing sleep back, and he felt his dreams fading out of memory already.
Distantly, from somewhere down the hall near the restroom, Richie heard his name being shouted.
It was no way to wake up from an otherwise pleasant sleep so Richie thought to punish the perpetrator by taking his time to respond. He shuffled down the hall past the bathroom and blearily tugged out the last two freezer burned Eggos, lazily slamming them into the toaster.
Another desperate plea drifted from the bathroom, now a bit more stressed, and Richie finally called back innocently, “Eddie?”
Spending a minute to retrieve his toasted waffle and get a bite in before leaving it stranded on the counter, Richie knocked on the bathroom door. He mumbled gleefully through his munching, “Hey, so the plunger is still being used to prop up the fire escape outside. If you wanna unclog the toilet, I’m afraid you’re gonna have to bite the bullet and get your whole hand up there.”
“If you just focus on wiggling it around, you won’t notice having to touch your own-“
“The toilet isn’t clogged, Rich, can you just - AGH, get in here?! And close your eyes.”
Richie poked his head through the door, the steam fogging his glasses just as quickly as the potent, telltale scent of Eddie’s stupid Old Spice body wash warmed his cheeks. “My eyes are closed,” he lied.
“Did the water turn off through the house? Did you get last month’s bill?”
“No, it was your turn.”
Eddie spat a string of curses. His head poked out of the shower, clutching the curtain like a protective blanket. Rivulets of soapy water flattened his dark hair to his forehead and he slicked it back angrily. He looked like a furious wet dog, and Richie would have grinned if he wasn’t so distracted by the way the residual soap pooled over his friend’s wet collarbone.
“Great, I’ve got a final in forty minutes and shampoo is caked onto my skull - if I leave this in it’s going to dry out my scalp and my dandruff will flare up and it’s not like the cold weather is helping with—"
Richie lifted up the porcelain back of the toilet, retrieving a handful of water from the tank with cupped hands and stalking towards the shower, much to Eddies chagrin. He recoiled, gripping the shower curtain for dear life.
“What are you doing?!”
“Helping you finish your shower, Eds! Because I’m a great friend.”
“Step away, you are not pouring toilet water onto my head.”
“It’s totally sanitary dude, everybody knows that. You could drink it if you wanted, see?” Richie mimed taking a sip.
Eddie flailed through the shower curtain as his roommate tried to dump the handful of water onto him. “That’s disgusting!! It might not be dirty to you but it’s still - oh, god, ugh I’m gonna wretch if you get that on me!! ” His voice pitched as Richie managed to slosh the cold water onto Eddie’s naked chest after a less-than-graceful dodge, and he disappeared behind the fabric following another trail of expletives.
“Richie! So not funny, asshole! Get out!”
So he did. Leaving Eddie to figure out how to manage his shampoo problem, Richie hiked downstairs to start scraping ice off the front of their run-down little Volvo.
As with every winter, Derry was painted with frost, the crisp fogginess of the morning barely admirable against the bleak circumstances of overdue bills and impending rent. Grey snow lined the pavement where wet, half-melted dirt had begun to pool, and Richie shoveled it away from the car’s tires with his boot. The engine sputtered worrisomely, but after a few tries it hummed to life so Richie blasted the heat.
They kept an old, hefty spatula in the backseat (the one that a teenaged Eddie had partially melted the time he shoved it into a bonfire to fish out Richie’s retainer, which he’d regrettably spit out to try and get a laugh) that had proven itself the best tool for scuffing off layers of morning ice on days like these.
For everything we aren’t, at least we’re resourceful , Richie thought fondly, and scrubbed at the windshield with the fortified spatula until his arm grew sore.
He and Eddie had lived together consistently for eight years now, even when Eddie was in a serious(ly wretched) relationship. It was an easy thing: childhood best friends, both equally miserable, finding their way into a comfortable routine after all their perpetual failures in life. It had been a struggle to make do - but they always did, somehow. Eddie equated it to his own few-and-in-between successes, discrediting Richie as being no help at all.
But even when he didn’t say it, Richie saw Eddie’s gratefulness in infinite moments across their time together. He saw it in the meals Eddie invited him to share every night; the hot saltwater drink he’d be forced to snort when he had strep throat; the warm brush of knee against knee after sleepless nights talking Eddie through another panic attack; the comfortable way that small form slouched against his shoulder the night their radio broke and Richie sang them shoddy covers on his guitar instead.
At the end of the day, they were an odd couple in their mid-thirties with nowhere to go but down. And if that was how it was going to be, they were content to go down together.
His boot slid suddenly on a sheen of ice and sidewalk met tailbone as he tumbled down with a loud thud. Trying to stagger to his feet barely helped as he repeatedly slipped around like a clown doing slapstick. He finally managed to steady himself enough to give the car a vengeful kick.
“Serves you right,” Eddie grumbled from behind him. He scowled at Richie as he waddled over, layered in two thick jackets with a backpack strewn over his shoulder, but there was no venom in his concerned gaze - and it wasn’t just because of the woobifying nature of his hilariously red pompom beanie.
“I’m fine,” Richie answered the unspoken worry. Eddie didn’t seem to believe him because his scowl darkened and he took one solid look at the seat of Richie’s frost-caked sweatpants. The taller man rubbed his snowy backside and did a little twist, trying to show off just how okay he was. His spine betrayed him with a loud pop.
“You look stupid,” Eddie sniffed.
“An inspired insult, Santa Baby,” Richie flicked the pompom. They tussled for a moment, the kind of stop-hitting-yourself, hand-to-hand combat that a pair of grade schoolers might perform. The instigator won, because Eddie was now being made to hit himself, but the fight ended when all 6 feet 2 inches of Richie came slipping down to the ice once again. This time Eddie had no sympathy and gave a snide little, “Ha!” then slammed the car door closed and veered out of the parking spot without another word.
Still laying on the ground, Richie shouted after him, “Try not to get dandruff all over your test!”
The apartment was comforting after being outside in the frigid air, but Richie barely cared to slog off his jacket or the snow from his boots as he lumbered into the living room. A buzzing caught his attention and he found his phone buried between the couch cushions where he had passed out last night after their Gilmore Girls marathon. He flipped it open.
Spaghetti: Thanks for literally freezing your ass off to go defrost the car for me
Spaghetti: You didn’t have to
Richie: dont you know that texting while driving is the cause of 85% of ALL deaths in the united states alone?? and 92% of all accidents????!
Spaghetti: It’s 10%. And I’m at a stoplight
Spaghetti: But okay, thanks instead for giving me an excuse to stop talking to you
Richie: lol no prob man good luck on your exam. channel ur inner rory
He tossed the old Motorola aside and popped his half-eaten waffle from earlier back into the toaster, when suddenly, his phone buzzed again… then again - and one more time before it even had a chance to slow down.
Richie scanned the desperate text messages and ripped his waffle from out of the toaster, shoving it into his mouth as he jetted out the door.
“No, I don’t know— the car just hiccuped and stalled there after I texted you. Ughhhh this is so not the time for more car repairs…. Did you make sure to check if the trunk light was off last night when you got back? I know after the fender it’s been like permanently lodged open, but you know the battery drains if you don’t push down on that button in the—“
Eddie’s voice was loud in Richie’s ear, blabbering on over the whirling click of their current ride: a rusty old bicycle. They’d bought it from a thrift store when they were young, but both roommates rarely touched it anymore and it had only gotten worse in its disuse.
Still - it was functional, and now they were two grown men stacked together on the bicycle like children, Richie’s long-legged pedaling careening them dangerously past snow piles while Eddie clung to the sides of his coat from the back. It was not the most graceful solution, Richie could acknowledge that, but after the Volvo decided to break down in the middle of the road, cycling was the most reliable way to get Eddie to class on time and Richie back home afterwards.
To quiet the senseless prattle of the nervous wreck behind him, Richie bounced them over a big crack in the sidewalk and received a smack against his arm for interrupting.
“Not while I’m dri— NOT WHILE I’M DRIVING, you lunatic!” Richie waved Eddie’s hand away, trying to blindly return the smack.
“Maybe you can try not giving me vertigo with your steering?”
“Oh, you mean this like?” he swerved again for effect, but the comedy was lost when the old asphalt road became bumpy and jostled them along aggressively. Eddie’s hands wrapped around Richie’s waist in a tight grip.
Distant teenage memories of insisting it was his turn to bike their group of friends around, if not only so Eddie might cling to him like this, came rushing back and settled heavily in Richie’s heart. He pedaled faster to sooner end the torture of having Eddie’s chest pressed closely against his back every time they veered a little too close towards traffic.
“Ughhh I’m so gonna be late,” Eddie muttered to himself. The whisper danced over the back of Richie’s neck and he immediately braked the bike, lurching the brunette into his backside with a breathy “OOF! What the hell, Richie?!”
After swinging his gangly limbs off the frame, Richie pushed the bike handles into Eddie’s hands, receiving an incredulous look.
“Two of us on this is slowing you down. Take it and pass your class.”
Eddie looked indignant. “I— what? That’s like a mile at least, I’m not letting you walk home in this weather, it’s fine, just keep cycling, you’ve got the long legs anyway—“
“Time arguing is better spent biking. It’s…” he glanced at his watch, “...almost 7:45 so just jet, okay? These long legs will get me home easy.”
Richie shuffled away before there could be a retort and prayed that if the flush on his cheeks was noticeable, Eddie would think it was just the cold. The sound of the old bike clicking into the distance signaled that he could finally release the breath he’d been holding, and Richie rubbed his face exhaustedly.
A morning with Eddie was never dull.
He repeated to himself (as he always did when his heart fluttered from thoughts of his friend) that he was definitely, happily, perfectly content just being Eddie’s roommate, and would do anything to maintain their comfortable routine.
He spent the walk home mulling over half-baked plans to get some quick cash, save their asses before rent was due, and keep things just the way they were.