“Your girlfriend’s already here,” Maggie says when Richie bangs through the front door, dropping his backpack carelessly on the nearest kitchen chair. “She came over after school. How was the radio station?”
“Fine. But I told you, Bev and me are just friends.”
“Friends who are going to prom together,” his mom says. She’s up to her elbows in flour, rolling out pie dough on the equally flour-dusted counter, but she pauses long enough to give him a sidelong, teasing look.
“Yeah, so? Cheaper than going stag.”
“Mmhm. She’s down in the basement working on that project of hers. I told her she could borrow your grandma’s sewing machine, god knows I haven’t touched it in years. It’s nice to see someone getting some use out of it.”
“Cool,” Richie says, and steals a cinnamon-sugar dusted apple slice out of the waiting bowl as he passes, dodging the halfhearted smack his mom aims at his knuckles.
“Leave the door open, please,” she calls after him as he heads toward the basement. “I’m not ready for grandbabies yet.”
“Jesus, Ma, there isn’t even a couch down there.”
“I was a teenager once, Richard. Don’t think I don’t know how things get.”
“Oh my god,” Richie groans. He scrambles down the stairs before she can say anything else, leaving the door wide open behind him.
Bev has taken over a corner of the semi-finished basement: his grandma’s old sewing machine is set up on a card table and the floor is covered in scraps of paper and bolts of fabric. The fabric he’s seen before—he was the one who sprang for it, after Bev’s three-hour-long deliberation at Jo-Ann’s—but the rest of it looks like some insane set of puzzle pieces cut out of flimsy paper.
Bev glances up at him as he comes down the stairs. “Oh, good. You’re here. Go stand there, I need to measure you.”
“My mom thinks we’re banging down here,” Richie says, going to stand in the one clear patch of dusty carpet.
Bev rolls her eyes, unspooling a measuring tape as she stands. “Gross.”
“Hey. I’m a catch.”
“Not for me, asshole,” she says, but she’s grinning. “Hold still, Jesus. Where the fuck would we even bang down here? There’s no couch.”
“That’s what I said.”
“Uness we’re supposed to be doing it in your nasty old bean bag chair?”
Richie glances at the chair in question. It’s more a lump of badly-stained brownish vinyl at this point, which is why it’s down here instead of up in his room, and it has a faint mildewish smell to it. Still. He could see himself having sex there, should the opportunity ever arise.
Not with Bev, of course. But convincing his mom of that would involve explaining some other things that he’s not ready to get into now. If ever.
“It’s not that nasty,” he says.
“I don’t even want to know how many times you’ve jerked off in there,” Bev retorts.
“Gross. Hold out your arm.”
He obeys, and she moves behind him, stretching out the measuring tape before making a note in her little pad. “It’s a beautiful natural act, Beverly.”
“If you make me think about your dick any more, I’m going to puke on you, Richard. Other arm.”
“Hey, that’s my job,” he says, lifting his other arm and eyeing the pile of fabric. “Wait, am I in the pink or the yellow?”
“It’s champagne, not yellow. And I have red hair, dumbass.”
“I assume that means something.”
“It means I have a clue about complementary colors, and you don’t. You’re in the pink, I’m in the yellow. Legs apart, I need to measure your inseam.”
Richie obeys, then snickers as she crouches down to hold the tape against the inside of his thigh. “Oh, this won’t be incriminating at all if my mom walks in.”
“If you get a boner right now I’m punching you in the nuts.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, dahlin’, but you ain’t my type.”
“Thank god,” Bev mutters, but he can tell she’s smiling. He grins down at the top of her head, her hair coming loose from its knot to frizz out around her head in a copper-colored halo, the freckled bridge of her nose. She really is a knockout, which is how he knows for sure he’s gay; if he can’t find a speck of attraction for a girl who looks like Bev Marsh, who he loves this much, then he’s not gonna find it for any girl, anywhere.
Anyway, he doubts Bev would still be friends with him if he wanted to get in her pants like every other guy at the school. So as far as he’s concerned, this is still a win.
She scribbles some more numbers down in her notebook, then drops it on the table next to the sewing machine. “Okay, so I’m going to start cutting everything out tomorrow, assuming your mom doesn’t kick me out—”
“My mom fuckin’ loves you,” Richie says, and flops back into the beanbag chair with a whuff of mildewed air. “She likes you better than she likes me. She always wanted a daughter.”
Bev gives him a very dry look over her shoulder. “We can switch, if you want.”
Richie makes a face, but he knows better than to respond to that one. “Does he know you’re over here?”
“Fuck, no. He thinks I’m at a sleepover with Greta Bowie.”
“You fuckin’ hate Greta Bowie. You tried to light her hair on fire with my Zippo last summer.”
“Yeah, well, she deserved it,” Bev says, and flops down onto the beanbag chair too, half in his lap. “Anyway, the important thing is that he doesn’t have her number. Besides, yesterday was payday. With any luck he’ll be down at the bar until after I’m asleep.”
“You could always stay over,” Richie says into her hair. It’s not the first time he’s made the offer, and he’s always meant it, though he’s not sure Bev knows that. Everybody knows what Alvin Marsh is like. He could probably talk his parents into it, even if they do think he and Bev are sleeping together.
“Yeah, I don’t think so,” Bev says, just like always, and just like always, he doesn’t push it. That’s the thing about Bev. She spends most of her time right on the verge of totally losing her shit, and you can only push her so far.
Instead, he loops an arm around her waist and says, “So you know Myra Miller, right? Fourth period social studies?”
“Blonde, catty as fuck?”
“Yeah. She’s dating this guy from over in Castle Rock—”
“Fraternizing with the enemy,” Bev says, nodding. “Sounds about right.”
“Oh my fucking god, you sound like such a jock,” Richie groans. “Not the point. I ran into them at Bassey Park the other day, and he is cute as fuck. Way outta her league.”
“You think she’s bringing him to the dance?”
“Yeah, me too. I can’t wait to watch her try to claw your eyes out in the parking lot after you steal her boyfriend on prom night.”
Richie grins into her hair. It’s the kind of fantasy they like to tell each other: Bev will seduce the pretty waitress at their favorite greasy-spoon diner. Richie will ask a cute dark-eyed boy to dance at prom. It’ll never fucking happen, not in Derry, but it’s a nice thought. A maybe someday.
Someday when they’re grown up and far away from here. For now, they’ve got each other.
“I wouldn’t ditch you at the prom,” he says.
“Hm, you better not,” Bev retorts, and tucks her head under his chin.
His mom comes downstairs a little while later, flips the light on and fixes them with a gimlet stare that softens slightly when she figures out that they’re both still fully dressed.
“It’s getting late, kids,” she says. “Is Beverly staying for dinner?”
“I don’t know, is Beverly staying for dinner?” Richie asks, ducking his head down to peer into her eyes. She puts a hand over his face and shoves him back, not very gently, but she’s laughing.
“I wouldn’t want to keep you if your dad is waiting on you, honey,” his mom says, but there’s a knowing quality to her tone. Like she has an inkling that Bev’s nights are generally better when there’s nobody waiting on her at home at all.
“No, he’s…” Bev trails off, then gives his mom the quick, practiced smile that she uses on adults, the one that makes her look unnervingly older than she actually is. “No, he won’t be waiting on me.”
“Well, you’re welcome to stay if you want. I’m sure Richie would be happy to give you a ride home after.”
“I would?” Richie asks, and is rewarded by Bev’s pointy elbow digging into his ribs. “Hey, ow!”
“Be a gentleman, Richie,” his mom says.
“I’m a gentleman, I’ll give you a ride, Jesus,” Richie says.
Bev smiles beatifically up at his mom. “Thank you, Mrs. Tozier. Dinner would be wonderful.”
“Well, it’s on the table now,” his mom says. “Come on up, if you’re coming. Richie, I expect you to clean all this up after you drop Beverly off.”
“Oh,” Bev says. “Actually, that was all mine…”
“Nonsense, honey, you’re a guest. Richie?”
“Yeah, yeah, I got it, I’ll take care of it,” Richie sighs, and pushes himself out of the beanbag chair, pulling Bev up along with him. He watches his mom’s eye’s drop to their joined hands, her mouth twitching into a smile that makes him want to let go. Instead, he squeezes tighter as they start up the stairs together.
“So, Beverly,” his dad says, spearing a piece of asparagus on his fork and fixing Bev with a toothy smile. “Richie tells me you’ve finally taken pity on him and agreed to go to prom together.”
“That’s not what I told you at all,” Richie interjects.
“Actually,” Bev says, cool as a cucumber. “I asked him.”
“What the hell, Dad. Aren’t you supposed to be on my side?”
“Language,” his mom says, reaching across the table to slide another slab of lasagna onto his plate.
“Hush, Richard, I’m interrogating the young lady.”
“If you’re worried about my virginity, that ship has already sailed.”
“Richie,” his mom hisses, but his dad is cackling into his lasagna, and Bev nudges his shin with her toe under the table, smiling.
“We’re just going as friends, honestly,” she says. “But it is nice to have a friend to go with.”
“Well, I’m glad you two have each other,” his mom says, and from there the conversation moves on to safer topics. Bev offers to help clear the table after they’ve demolished most of the apple pie, but his mom waves her off, and his dad tosses him the car keys with a broad wink that he probably thinks Bev didn’t see. Bev, to her credit, at least waits until they’re outside in the balmy warmth of a May evening before she starts laughing.
“Don’t start,” Richie says, but he’s grinning as he unlocks the car doors. He opens the passenger side first, like a gentleman, and Bev rolls her eyes before she climbs in, dropping into the seat and pulling out a pack of cigarettes. “Dude, please don’t smoke in here, my dad will fuckin’ murder me. It’s bad enough when you do it in my truck.”
“I’ll roll the window down,” she says, reaching for the crank.
“Come on. I can’t take you to the dance if I’m dead.”
“Your dad’s not gonna kill you. Did you see him? I thought he was gonna slip you a box of condoms or something.”
“He's probably saving that for prom night,” Richie says, only half-joking, as he starts the car. “No smoking. Please.”
She does roll the window down, letting a warm breeze slip into the cab along with the smell of cut grass as they back out of the driveway, but she leaves the cigarettes unopened on her lap. Richie leans forward to slip a cassette into the player, and they make their slow way through the winding streets as ‘Breaking the Girl’ starts to play.
“This better not be your idea of making a point,” Bev says, once she recognizes it.
“It’s a mixtape,” Richie retorts. “This was just what was on, come on. You think I’m that subtle?”
Bev’s building looms up ahead of them a few minutes later, ominously grim. The wet stink of the canal has overtaken the smell of cut grass, and there's a loud, vicious argument going on in one of the upper floors. The windows to Bev’s place are dark, though. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see her sag with relief, but he doesn’t acknowledge it, just leans across to push the door open and accepts the dry look she gives him with a grin.
“Will there be anything else, madam?” he asks in his best English Butler Voice.
“Fuck off, Richie,” Bev says, and slides out of the passenger seat onto the cracked sidewalk. “Love you, thanks for the ride, see you tomorrow. Don’t fuck up my patterns when you clean up or I’ll kill you.”
“Love you too, Molly Ringwald,” Richie says in his own voice as she closes the door, shaking a cigarette out into her palm. She blows him a kiss, and he returns it. He watches her light her cigarette, her face illuminated in deep shadows from the orange glow of her match, then puts the car back in drive and pulls away from the curb.
The front hallway is dark when he gets back to the house, but there’s light coming from the kitchen, the soft clatter of pots and pans. He pulls the door shut and kicks his shoes off, leaving them in a heap that his dad will probably trip over in the morning, and drops the keys on the side table. He’s not really trying to eavesdrop, but his ears tune automatically to the sound of his own name.
“—think she’s good for Richie,” his mom is saying.
“She does seem like a nice girl,” his dad agrees placidly, and Richie snorts under his breath. He loves Bev like she’s holding onto the other half of his heart, but he’s pretty sure nobody in their right mind would ever describe her as nice.
“She does,” his mom agrees. Footsteps creak on the floor; he hears the fridge open, then shut. “I’m glad he’s got a girlfriend. I’ve been worried—”
“Hey, I’m back,” Richie calls loudly before she can finish the sentence.
“You didn’t crash my car again, did you?” his dad calls back.
“No, of course not. That big dent in the fender has always been there, right?”
“I hope you enjoy being grounded until graduation.”
“No, I didn’t crash the car. Keys are on the table, I’m gonna go clean up the basement,” he says, and escapes downstairs before either of them can comment on his uncharacteristic conscientiousness.
Nicky’s Diner is their after-school hangout of choice, less because of the food (which is cheap, but fairly awful) or the music (which is worse, unless Richie manages to get to the jukebox before all the retired mill workers who load it up with twangy country music), than because of the waitress who works afternoons there. Her name is Kay, she was a year ahead of them in school, and Bev has an utterly hopeless crush on her.
“It’s not a crush,” she hisses, balling up her straw wrapper and flicking it at Richie’s head. It lands in his milkshake, and he fishes it out, dripping, to drop on the table.
“Sure it isn’t,” he says, and takes a loud, obnoxious slurp of his milkshake. “Oh, Kay,” he says in a fluttery high-pitched imitation of Bev’s voice. “Oh, for dessert? Whatever you think is good. Or maybe we could go in the back room and I could eat your—”
“I will murder you,” Bev says, glancing back toward the counter like she thinks Kay is going to overhear them over the bustle of the after-work crowd. “Wait, is that Ben?”
Richie half-rises out of his chair to peer over the crowd. “Yep. Hey, Ben!”
His voice carries over the crowd, turning a few heads, and Ben peers over at them from the doorway. He’s always got the look of someone who’s about to bolt, but there’s a tentative smile on his face as he approaches the table. “Hi, guys.”
“Wanna sit?” Richie asks, and Bev scoots over to make room for him before he can answer. That’s the easiest way to handle things with Ben. He doesn’t like to be an imposition, but being an imposition is something Richie is extremely talented at, and he figures he can spread the wealth. “We were just talking about how Bev wants to rail the waitress.”
“No, you were,” Bev says. “Jackass. If she overhears you I’m going to kill you, for real. Hi, Ben.”
“Hi.” He’s blushing. “Um.”
“I’ll stop,” Richie says magnanimously. “Out of respect for both of your delicate sensibilities.”
“Or fear for your life,” Bev retorts, which, fair. “Ben, are you going to the dance?”
“I… yeah, probably,” he says and shrugs a little. “By myself, I guess. I don’t know. My mom already gave me money for the ticket, but…”
“Well, you can hang out with us, anyway,” Bev says. “Richie’s truck should be back from the shop by then, so he’s giving me a ride.”
“Yeah, we can trade off pretending to be the straight guy Bev is sleeping with,” Richie adds, and ducks Bev’s swat, cackling.
Ben ducks his head. “If you’re sure you don’t mind…”
“Of course not,” Bev says firmly. “Us freaks gotta stick together, right?”
“Right,” Ben says. He’s got a slightly wary look that’s probably from Richie discussing this, even obliquely, in public, but then he glances back toward the counter and it fades. His ears go pink. Richie follows his gaze, then hums appreciatively.
“Oh, who’s that? He’s new.”
“Mike Hanlon,” Ben says, and ducks his head, his blush spreading. “His folks run the sheep farm out on Route 15, but he works evenings here sometimes. He, uh, he’s part of that homeschool group, you know—”
“Oh, so Bev’s not the only one hanging around here pining,” Richie says, nodding wisely. “Cool. He’s cute, you have good taste.”
“I’m constitutionally incapable.”
“We know,” Bev says. “Just—oh, hang on a second. Is that…?”
“Is who what?” Richie says, and turns to crane his head in the direction she’s staring. There’s another couple by the counter, the short blonde girl talking quickly to the hostess while her dark-haired companion shoves his hands in his pockets and doesn’t meet anyone’s eyes. “Oh, shit.”
“That’s them, right?” Bev says, loudly enough to make him instantly regretful for how he’s been heckling her this whole time.
“Yep,” he says tightly. “Keep your voice down.”
“Who?” Ben asks, craning his head in the same direction. “Oh. Myra?”
“And her boyfriend,” Bev adds slyly. “I didn’t catch his name.”
“Eddie,” Richie says, and ducks his head before he can get caught staring. Myra is saying something sharply to the hostess, who nods and smiles in a tight way that makes Richie suspect that whatever they order is going to come with a generous helping of spit. Sucks for them. Sucks for Eddie, mostly; Myra probably deserves it. Bev would say that Eddie deserves it for showing his face in public with someone like Myra Miller, but Bev is, to put it lightly, not the most charitable person out there.
“Eddie Kaspbrak?” Ben asks. When Richie glances over at him, he shrugs. “My cousin goes to Castle Rock. She knows the family. He seems…”
“Shut up, shut up, they’re coming over here,” Richie hisses as the hostess approaches the line of booths where they’re sitting against the back wall There’s only one left open, right next to theirs, and Richie watches with a combined sense of panic and elation as they slide into the booth.
“Water for both of us,” Myra says crisply when Kay comes over with her notepad and a bland, professional smile. “I’ll let you know when we’re ready to order.”
“I’m ready, actually,” Eddie says. “I’ll have the house burger, with—”
“Oh, Eddie, you know your mom said you’re not supposed to be eating red meat,” Myra interrupts.
Yikes. Richie winces; beside him, Bev lets out a low whistle that Eddie, thankfully, doesn’t seem to have noticed. He’s ducking his head, color in his cheeks, expression hunted.
Myra, on the other hand, glances over at their booth, takes in the sight of them: Bev’s mocking expression, Ben’s hunched shoulders, whatever the fuck is happening with Richie’s face, which feels like some mixture of hilarity and horror and probably doesn’t look that becoming on him, and says, to Kay, “Is there anywhere else we could be seated?”
Kay glances back at them. Her expression doesn’t change at all, but Richie is almost certain he sees her wink briefly at Bev before she turns back toward Myra. “I’m so sorry, but the other sections are full right now. I’ll be right back with those waters, and I’ll put the order in for your burger—”
“That’s okay,” Eddie mumbles. “Myra’s right, I shouldn’t have red meat. I’ll just look at the menu for a second. Thank you. Sorry.”
“Wow,” Richie mouths, to Bev; Ben’s head is ducked like he’s trying frantically to stay out of it. She nods back, eyes wide.
“Did you guys finish that assignment for Mr. Grey’s class?” Ben asks, with a sudden clumsy brightness.
Richie shrugs, pulling his attention away from Eddie with an effort. “We still have time for that.”
“Yeah, like a week.”
“I do my best work when I’m panicked.”
“That’s the only way you do any work,” Bev says. “If you get held back a year, I’m going to be so pissed.”
“I’m not going to get held back,” Richie says, huffing. She rolls her eyes at him, but it’s true. His grades are good when he bothers to turn anything in; enough to keep his GPA bobbing comfortably in the B+ range even with his haphazard approach to homework. He’s not going to flunk out of his senior year, even if his mom does like to sigh over all the scholarships he could have gotten if he’d just apply yourself for once, Richard.
Besides. He’s got his weekend job at the radio station. It doesn’t amount to much more than sweeping floors right now, but he can see a path for upward mobility there. He just needs to get someone to let him behind a mic, and they’ll be blown away. He knows it.
He’s shared this plan with Bev, who is about as supportive of that as he is of her dream of becoming a big-time fashion designer, which is to say—she is, just with a lot of heckling. He’s heading out for L.A. in the fall, anyway, and Bev is coming with him. They’re both gonna be big stars; he’s seen her work up close and personal now, with the two suits that are slowly piecing together in his parents’ basement. She’s got the chops, more than he does, probably.
That line of conversation jolts to a halt when there’s a sudden shriek from the next booth over. Richie jerks his head around to look; Myra is on her feet, hands up, shirt drenched.
“Oh, my god, I’m so sorry,” Kay says, and he knows from the panicked edge to her voice that it genuinely wasn’t on purpose. “I think we got our elbows mixed up, let me just—”
“I’m going to have you fired,” Myra hisses. “Do you know how much this shirt cost? Let me just—move, please. I’ll speak to your manager once I’ve gotten dried off.”
She storms off to the bathrooms. Kay watches her go with a wide-eyed expression, then says, to Eddie, “I didn’t get you at all, did I? I’m so sorry.”
Eddie looks up at her, blinking, from the pitiful-looking salad in front of him. “What? No. It wasn’t your fault, she bumped your tray.”
“She seems like a lot of fun,” Richie says out loud, without thinking.
“She’s uh.” Eddie gives him a tight smile as Kay retreats back toward the kitchen. “She’s under a lot of stress right now with graduation so close.”
“Still,” Richie says, nodding toward the salad. “Are you actually, like, allergic to red meat, or…?”
Eddie’s eyes narrow. Ironically enough, that cranky look is the first real sign of spark that Richie has seen from him. “I don’t see how that’s any of your business.”
“Hey, just making conversation,” Richie says, lifting his hands. “Excuse the fuck out of me. I’ll leave you to your wilted rabbit food.”
Ben makes a sound that’s halfway through a snort and a protest, like he’d like to defend the kitchen’s honor or something. Mike’s honor, more likely.
“It’s not,” Eddie says, then scowls, jabbing at the bowl with a fork. He’s got a little container of italian dressing on the side, but he hasn’t used it. Finally, he puts the fork down and sighs. “No, I’m not allergic. Myra and my mom are just trying to look out for me.”
“That seems… nice,” Ben says, in a tone that implies the opposite.
“Yeah,” Eddie says firmly. “It is.”
“Hey far be it from me…” Richie says, then shrugs. “I’m just saying, we got a whole platter of mozzarella sticks over here if you want to eat something that contains, like… food.”
He gestures at the platter, which is mostly untouched. Eddie eyes it, opens his mouth, and Richie can almost see him formulating an objection about shared platters and fried foods. He glances back toward the bathrooms, then firms his jaw, then finally says, “Sure. If you don’t mind.”
“We don’t mind,” Richie says, giddy, then glances at the other two. Ben is smiling cautiously; Bev has a look of wicked glee on her face. “Right, guys? We don’t mind.”
“Of course not,” Bev says smoothly, grin not wavering. “Come on over. You’ll have to squeeze in next to Richie, though. There’s not a lot of room here.”
Richie shoots her a glare; her smile turns angelic. And then there’s no more time for hushed and hissing arguments, because Eddie is slipping out of his booth and sliding awkwardly onto the bench seat next to Richie. He smells pleasantly outdoorsy, like he’s been walking through grass. There’s a faint smattering of freckles across the sun-kissed bridge of his nose. Richie is going to die.
“Thanks,” he says with a quick, cautious smile, and reaches for a mozzarella stick. He breaks off a piece fastidiously, dips it in sauce, then pops it in his mouth. Then he glances over at Richie and says, “Are you just going to like… stare at me eating, or what?”
“I’m just making sure you’re not going to burst into flame from food that has some semblance of actual flavor to it,” Richie says, and tilts his milkshake toward him. “Want some?”
He can almost feel Bev’s gaze burning a hole in the side of his face, and even Ben raises his eyebrows. Eddie gives him another squinty, challenging look, and Richie just grins wide.
“Why the fuck would I want to drink your backwash,” Eddie says finally, and Richie cracks, bending over the table and cackling.
“Oh, man. You’re a trip, dude.”
“I’m just saying.”
“I promise you I don’t have any horrible diseases,” Richie says. If Eddie went to Derry High he’d have heard rumors to the contrary, but Richie’s banking on the fact that even Myra Miller isn’t quite catty enough to tell her out-of-town boyfriend about the graffiti in the girl’s bathroom and scrawled in sharpie across his locker.
“Are you sure?” Eddie asks. It would almost be anxious, but there’s a glint of humor underneath. “You do kind of look like you might have rabies.”
“Eds gets off a good one!” Richie crows, slapping the table hard enough to rattle their plates.
“Not my name,” Eddie says, but he’s definitely smiling now.
“I’m just fucking with you anyway,” Richie says.
“Yeah,” Bev interjects. “He’s a dick like that.”
Eddie shrugs and breaks off another tidy piece of mozzarella stick. “You seem nice enough to me.”
“Nah,” Richie says easily. “Ben’s the nice one. Me and Bev are the crusty weirdos.”
“Well,” Eddie starts to say, then pales, looking over Ben’s shoulder. “Oh. Uh. I should—”
“Eddie-bear, what are you doing?” Myra says as she approaches. Richie takes a mean and unsympathetic delight in the large dark stain spreading down the front of her shirt. Unseen by Myra, he sees Bev mouth ‘Eddie-bear’ with a kind of horrified delight that he’d be mirroring right now if it weren’t for the way that Eddie is suddenly crumpling.
“Sorry, Myra,” he says, his shoulders slumping. “It’s just, there was water on the seats—”
“We’re leaving,” Myra says. “Now. I need a clean shirt, anyway, and you—” her eyes scan over them again, and he can see the twist of disgust at the corner of her mouth. “You don’t want to be seen in public with these people. Trust me, honey.”
It’s Richie’s turn to flinch. Eddie glances over at him, and for a moment Richie thinks he’s actually going to ask, that it’s all going to come out right here in the middle of the diner, but then his shoulders slump slightly and he says, “Sorry, Marty. You’re right, let’s go. Thanks, you guys,” he adds, to Richie, without quite meeting his eyes.
“Anytime,” Richie says, his throat tight, as Eddie slides out of the booth and helps Myra gather up her purse and jacket.
“Very fucking smooth,” Bev says, in the silence that remains after they head for the door.
Richie drops his head into the cradle of his elbows. “Fuck.”
Ben reaches over to pat his shoulder consolingly. “I thought you were smooth.”
“Thanks, Ben,” Richie mumbles into the dark space between his arms, and he doesn’t even rag on Ben when Mike tips him a grin from across the counter when they finally go to pay and Ben’s ears turn the color of ripe strawberries.
“So I’m coming over to your house tomorrow,” Bev informs him as they step out into the hazy early-summer dusk. “We need to do a final fitting.”
“Oh, does this mean you’re going to actually let me see what I’m wearing?” Richie asks. “You didn’t go behind my back and make me a dress, did you? I’m not shaving for you or anyone, Beverly Marsh. If you put me in a skirt, you’re getting me au naturel.”
She grins. “I bet you’d shave for—”
“Nope,” Richie says loudly. Ben is watching them go back and forth like a puppy at a ping-pong tournament, although his gaze keeps drifting back toward the window, through which Richie can see Mike flipping eggs on the grill and shimmying unselfconsciously to whatever appalling pop music is on the radio. He really is very fucking cute. Ben has good taste.
“I’m not putting you in a dress,’ Bev says, relenting. “But only because the prom committee would probably bar us at the door.”
“When we run away to live in sin in West Hollywood you can doll me up all you want, sweetheart,” Richie says, hamming it up for the Voice but not actually kidding at all.
Bev grins, sharp and lovely and all too knowing. “I’m holding you to that.”
The suit does fit. Perfectly, as far as Richie can tell, although Bev fusses with the seams and mutters swear words over flaws that are only visible to her, or possibly to a high-powered microscope.
“Hey,” Richie says while she fusses with the hem. “You’re actually, like, legitimately a genius at this, you know that? I don’t think I’ve ever looked this hot.”
“Hmph,” Bev says around her mouthful of pins. She already tried on her suit, which is slim-cut and square-shouldered and makes her look like she should be on a catwalk. Nobody’s ever going to mistake Richie for a model, but he wasn’t kidding: the suit fits him better than literally anything else he’s ever owned. Which, yeah, mostly consists of saggy jeans and obnoxious graphic t-shirts, but still. He has a suit from his cousin’s wedding upstairs that definitely doesn’t fit like this.
“Okay, I think we’re just going to have to live with this,” Bev sighs over whatever microscopic imperfection she’s been fussing with, and stands, spitting out the mouthful of pins into her hand. She eyes Richie critically, in a way that makes him feel more like a fashion mannequin than anything else, then grins. “Yeah. You do look good.”
“You know I’d take that as a compliment if I thought you meant anything other than the suit,” Richie says, but he’s preening in the mirror and can’t put much heat into it. “You were right about the colors.”
“Of course I was,” Bev says archly, and kisses him on the cheek. “Okay, take that off. And you’d better leave it in the garment bag until prom, because if you get barbeque sauce all over it—”
“—you’ll kill me,” Richie finishes, shrugging the jacket off and passing it into her hands.
“I’ll wear my other tux to eat sloppy joes,” Richie says, and loops an arm around her. “Hey, seriously, these look great. We’re gonna be the hottest couple there.”
Bev ducks her head, looking mortified at his uncharacteristic sincerity. “Yeah, well.”
“And maybe we can go over to Nicky’s afterward and you can show off to Kay—”
“Yeah, okay, shut up,” Bev says, elbowing him in the side. “Here, get the rest of it off. I have a couple of last-minute alterations I want to make, and then we’re going to pack it all up until next week.”
His mom does a double-take when she sees them in all their finery the evening of the prom. They got changed over at his house, because that’s where they’ve been storing everything and because the thought of what Bev’s dad will do if he catches Richie half-dressed at her apartment is the stuff of nightmares. He’s only been inside the place once, and the whole experience felt a lot like some James Bond-esque spy shenanigans, only with more terror and less cool background music.
Bev looks hot as fuck, Richie looks as hot as he ever has or ever will look, even with his muppet hair and thick glasses. They’ve both got boutonnieres, purchased by Richie under the suspicious eyes of the clerk at Mueller’s. Richie knows exactly what they were thinking when he bought two boutonnieres and no corsage, and it made him want to laugh hysterically both that anyone thought he’d have the balls to ask a boy to prom and at how much he wanted that to be the case.
He wouldn’t trade anyone for Bev, though—pink-cheeked and smiling and looking softer than she usually does while his mom fusses with her short-cropped curls.
“Well, you know, I wasn’t so sure about this matching suits idea,” his mom says, attacking a stubborn curl with her brush. “But these came out beautifully.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Tozier,” Bev mutters, ducking her head. Fucking blushing, Richie observes fascinatedly. God, she’s cute.
“She’s going to be a fashion designer,” he tells his mom, and it comes out proud instead of teasing.
“Well, I can certainly see why.” She finally sets the brush down. “I think this is as neat as it’s going to get unless you’re sure you don’t want me to use some mousse?”
“No, thank you,” Bev says demurely.
“It’s part of the look,” Richie interjects, and gets a glare from both of them for his troubles.
“Well. You look wonderful. You both do. Now just let me go get the camera—”
“Oh, come on, Mom,” Richie groans.
“If you think you’re getting out of this without photos, you are sorely mistaken, young man.”
“I could use some pictures for my portfolio,” interjects Bev, the traitor, and Richie knows he’s been defeated.
They get through the photos without submitting to any of the really couple-y things that his mom wants them to do, although he does catch her getting a candid shot of Bev hauling him down by his hair to kiss his cheek out on the front step. There’s a warm, watery look in his mom’s eyes that makes him go hug her, too, and she squeezes him tight, whispers, “Have fun, sweetheart,” in his ear.
“And behave,” his dad adds, with a broad wink.
He does slip Richie a strip of condoms when Maggie isn’t looking. In the truck, Richie tosses them to Bev, who cackles for five minutes before pulling them out one by one and blowing them up into dick-shaped balloons.
“Could you leave me at least one?” Richie asks.
“Are you planning on getting laid?”
“Hey, it could happen. Theoretically.”
Bev snorts and pats his shoulder consolingly, but she does leave that last wrapped square in the glove box.
The prom is being held at the country club just outside of town, which is owned by Marci Fadden’s parents and has the kitschy look of a place that probably hasn’t been updated since the seventies. Richie pulls the truck into a free spot at the back of the lot, takes a deep breath, then says, “Well, you ready?”
“Yeah,” Bev says. “Let’s go knock ‘em dead.”
Inside the door, Greta Bowie is taking tickets in a frothy green satin dress that makes her look like an over-decorated cake, in Richie’s unprofessional opinion. He shares it quietly with Bev while they wait for their turn, and she snorts laughter into his shoulder. She’s still giggling when they get to the front of the line, where Greta narrows her eyes at them.
“I’m surprised the prom committee allowed you two in.”
“Here’s our tickets,” Richie says, grinning broadly. “Super nice dress, Greta.”
Bev hastily smothers another burst of laughter. Greta glares at him but takes the tickets and ushers them inside with nothing more than a dirty look.
Inside is dim and dreamy, glittering streamers and the disco ball lights spinning slowly around the room. They find Ben pretty quickly, looking round and dapper in his tux and purple cummerbund. He’s deep in conversation with Stan, who is sitting on Patty’s lap and fiddling with her hair absently as he talks seriously to Ben, who is nodding with an equally serious look. When they get close enough, Richie hears, “...like to nest on the ground, so it’s easy for them to—”
“Sup, nerds,” Richie interrupts, dropping into the seat next to them. “Patty my love, you look gorgeous, leave your boyfriend and run away with me.”
“Hi, Richie,” Stan says dryly.
“Oh, hey, Staniel. Didn’t see you there.”
Stan huffs a long-suffering sigh. “Bev. Nice to see you, at least.”
“You a-a-a-abreakin’ my heart,” Richie says in a hiccuping Voice, then drops it when Bev elbows him. “You guys look great.”
“You too,” Patty says. “Bev, did you seriously design those yourself?”
“Oh, I mean, it wasn’t—”
“Yeah, she did,” Richie says proudly. “She spent three weeks jabbing me with pins but that’s alright because this is literally the hottest I’ll ever look in my life.”
“That’s definitely true,” Stan says.
Richie slaps a hand over his heart. “Stanley. You wound me.”
“I jabbed you with a pin like once,” Bev adds. “Hi, Ben.”
“Hi,” he says, smiling shyly, seemingly unconcerned to have had the conversation so thoroughly derailed. Ben is like that, though. Generally willing to roll with the punches, as it were. Literal and figurative ones.
Richie tilts his chair back, scanning the crowd. Girls in poofy dresses and updos, boys like gawky black crows in their suits. Richie stands out, for sure, which would be great if there was anyone here he was actually interested in impressing. Maybe he’ll wear the suit to the diner the next time he goes, in hopes that Eddie will be there…
Wait a second.
His eyes flicker over the far table, then stop. There’s Myra, wrapped in pink silk and tulle with her blond hair piled on top of her head. And next to her is Eddie.
He looks good. Maybe Richie is biased, but the tuxedo that makes the rest of them look ridiculous just—settles on him, just right. He’s got on a vest that’s a slightly deeper shade of pink than Myra’s dress, a bowtie that he keeps fiddling with. His hair is swept back out of his face. He’s frowning slightly as Myra talks, but a moment later she turns to say something to the girl next to her, and he looks up as if he feels Richie’s eyes on him. His hand lifts, his face brightening into a tentative smile.
Richie nearly tilts backwards out of his chair.
Stan, with his baseball-player’s reflexes, catches it before he can flip all the way over, shoving him back upright. Richie clings to the table, wheezing, before straightening back up.
“Smooth,” Bev comments dryly.
“Shut up, I just overbalanced,” Richie manages. When he looks back over at Eddie, he’s turned back toward Myra, and Richie tries—and probably fails—not to pout.
They drag Ben out onto the dance floor during some of the faster songs. He and Richie take turns dancing with Bev during the slow songs before she bows out, claiming that her feet are hurting.
“That’s what you get for wearing heels,” Richie says.
“I only had to wear heels because you’re so fucking tall,” she retorts, slipping them off her feet and dropping into the her chair. Stan and Patty—who was apparently smart enough to wear flats—are still out on the dance floor.
“I’m going to go get us some punch,” Ben says, standing.
“Do you think anybody spiked it yet?” Bev asks, once he’s gone.
“For a change, it wasn’t me,” Richie says. “I have to drive, so…” he trails off. Eddie and Myra are out on the dance floor, swaying awkwardly to a Celine Dion anthem. Eddie’s enough taller than her that Richie can see his face; Myra has her eyes closed, but Eddie is just sort of staring off into space as they shuffle slowly in circles. At least until he happens to glance Richie’s way. Their eyes meet. Eddie gives him another one of those devastating little smiles. Richie waves stupidly, and then the crowd shifts between them, obscuring them from view.
“Wow,” Bev says when Richie drops his face into the cradle of his arms. “You’ve got it bad.”
“Please shut up,” Richie mumbles. His cheeks are so hot they feel like they could melt ice.
“Seriously. Like, I don’t even know if I can make fun of you for this.”
“Yeah, right, what the fuck are you doing right now, then—oh, fuck.”
‘To Love You More’ has trailed off into the thumping intro of a Salt-N-Pepa song. Eddie is slipping through the crowd congregating on the dance floor, making his way toward them with clear purpose. Myra is nowhere to be seen.
“Uh, hi,” he says, once he’s close enough to be heard over the music. “Do you mind if I sit with you guys for a little while?”
“Sure,” Richie says, in a tone of voice that miraculously comes out more or less normal. “Where’s your date?”
“She had to go, I don’t know, freshen up. And everybody else at our table is friends with her—I mean, just, people I don’t know, so.”
“You can sit with us.” Richie pushes out the chair next to him. “Seriously, Spaghetti. Of course. We’ve bonded over bad mozzarella sticks, how can you even ask?”
“Holy shit, fuck you,” Eddie says, but his eyes are bright as he drops into the chair. “Do you give everyone stupid nicknames, or am I just special?”
“You’re definitely special,” Richie says, “but yeah, I do, it’s an affliction.”
“For the rest of us, mostly,” Bev says. Ben is approaching the table, three plastic cups of punch precariously balanced in his hands. Bev reaches up to help him before he can drop them all over the table, and they manage to get everything set down without disaster.
“Oh, sorry,” Ben says when he sees Eddie. “I can get another one, if you want…”
“Actually, you know what, my feet are feeling loads better,” Bev says, popping up out of her seat. “Ben, come dance with me. Eddie, you can have my drink, if you want.”
“Oh, I—okay,” Ben says, as she drags him out onto the floor. Richie narrows his eyes at her when she turns back, and she gives him a huge grin and a thumbs-up.
Subtle, Red, he mouths at her, but she’s already vanished into the crowd of dancers.
Heart racing, he turns back toward Eddie, pushing one of the cups toward him. “Well, you heard the lady.”
“There is gonna be so much sugar in that,” Eddie says, eyeing the cup.
“Cheap vodka too, probably,” Richie says.
“Belch Huggins was over by the punch bowl earlier,” Richie says, which would be an explanation to anyone who actually went to Derry High. Eddie is just giving him an adorably perplexed and scowly look, though, so Richie lifts his own plastic cup to his lips and sips tentatively. The sugary sweetness of the punch is cut through with a heavy alcoholic bite. “Jesus. He must have dumped an entire handle in there, people are going to be so shitfaced—”
“Oh, wow,” Eddie says, trying his own drink. His eyes go wide. “Wow. Gross.”
“Yeah, I have to drive so I think I’m gonna leave that one,” Richie says. “You?”
“I uh—well, Myra drove,” Eddie admits, looking pained. “I don’t—my mom doesn’t want me to take my road test yet.”
“Why, did you crash her car or something? Because I backed over a fire hydrant with my dad’s station wagon the day after I got my permit, so, like, I get it.”
“No,” Eddie says. “I’m a good driver. I just… never mind. It’s complicated.”
There’s a look on his face like this is a sore spot. Richie nods and backs off, which is something he is actually capable of doing when the situation calls for it, thanks anyway Beverly. “So you’re going to drink that?”
“Hell, no, it’s probably fuckin’ toxic,” Eddie says, pushing the cup away. Over by the drinks table, one of the chaperones seems to have clocked the spiked punch; there’s a bunch of yelling and waving hands.
“You sure?” Richie asks, nodding his head toward the chaos. “Might be your last chance.”
“I’m good,” Eddie says firmly. “Don’t peer pressure me.”
Richie breaks, cackling. “Oh man. I’m sorry, I’m sorry—” he waves a hand at Eddie, who is watching him with a look that’s almost unamused. The corner of his mouth is twitching, though.
“Sure you are,” he says. He pauses, rattling his fingers on the tabletop, then says, “Uh, I don’t need to keep you here if you want to go, like, dance with your girlfriend.”
“Who, Bev?” Richie says.
“Yeah?” Eddie says, like a question. “You guys are here together, so I assumed...”
“Oh, god, no. No, we’re just here as friends. And because I apparently have the shoulders to pull off the suit design she wanted to try, which was probably the real reason. I’m basically a walking coat-hanger. She made these, by the way,” Richie adds, because Eddie is the one person he’s talked to today that he hasn’t bragged to about Bev and her insane level of talent. “Aren’t they great?”
“Yeah,” Eddie says. His eyes flick toward Richie’s shoulders, and there’s something about the look on his face that makes Richie’s stomach squirm pleasantly.
Girlfriend, he reminds himself sternly. He has a girlfriend.
As if the thought has summoned her, Myra appears beside the table. She’s smiling, but it’s the sort of smile that looks more like a threat display: a show of teeth, clenched between bubblegum-pink lips.
“Eddie,” she snaps. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“We were just talking,” Eddie says. The spark in his eyes is smothered, suddenly. “Sorry, Mo—Myra.”
If he was just about to say what Richie thinks he was about to say, there’s a whole fucking treasure trove of jokes that Richie could make, but he doesn’t. It doesn’t really seem that funny somehow, especially when Eddie cuts him a look and mutters, “Sorry, I should—” and clambers out of his chair. Myra takes his arm possessively, pulling him back toward the dance floor. Richie watches them go, then props his chin on his palm and takes a morose sip of doctored punch.
Ben reappears at their table after the next song ends, dropping pink-faced and panting into the chair. He nods at the empty seat next to Richie. “Where’s Eddie?”
“His warden showed up and dragged him off,” Richie says unhappily. “Where’s Bev?”
“She had to go to the bathroom. I thought she’d be back by now, actually. Should we go look for her?”
“She’s probably out back sneaking a cigarette,” Richie says, but he heaves himself out of his seat anyway. It’s that or sit here watching Myra steer Eddie around the dance floor, talking in his ear in a way that would look sweet if it weren’t for Eddie’s pinched, unhappy expression.
Maybe it is sweet. Maybe Eddie just doesn’t like to dance. Maybe he was looking for a graceful way to get the fuck away from Richie. Whatever. It’s not Richie’s business, and he’s biased anyway. Better to go find Bev and steal her cigarettes and whine about it until she smacks him upside the head.
He does find Bev out back, huddled against the brick wall next to the service door with a cigarette in her hand. That’s not the surprising part; the surprising part is that she’s crying.
“Oh, shit,” Richie says, his own woes forgotten for a moment. “What happened?”
Bev swipes at her eyes with the back of her hand, narrowly missing setting her bangs on fire. “Fuck off, Richie. I’m not in the mood.”
“Yeah, no, I don’t think so,” Richie says, settling against the wall next to her. She gives him a watery glare, but when he holds a hand out for the cigarette, she passes it over. “Wanna talk about it?”
“No. How’s Eddie?”
“Well, he told me how sexy I look in this excellent suit—”
“Fuck off, he did not,” Bev says, but she’s laughing now—wet laughter, but laughter nonetheless. Richie passes the cigarette back to her and slings his arm over her shoulders, tucking her against his side, and she lets him do it.
“Nah, of course he didn’t. Myra showed up and dragged him off before he could confess how much he wanted to make wild monkey love to me. I saw it in his eyes, though.”
“She’s such a bitch,” Bev says, with way more venom than he would have expected. “Her, and Greta, and—and fucking Sally Mueller, and all of them. I can’t wait to get the hell out of this town so I never have to see them again.”
“Okay, seriously, what the fuck happened? You were gone for like ten minutes.”
“Yeah.” Bev sighs, swipes at her eyes, and stoops to crush her cigarette out on the concrete step before tossing it in the garbage can. She fiddles with the pack in her jacket pocket but doesn’t pull another one out; the smell of nicotine smoke fades into the grass-sweet dusk. It’s all just field out here: mowed up to the edge of the property but wild beyond that, tall bobbing stalks of timothy and ryegrass glittering with fireflies in the deepening night.
Richie waits her out, rattling his fingers against the brick in an arrhythmic pattern that would drive Bev up a wall if she was actually paying any attention to him.
Finally, she sighs. “It’s not a big deal. We got into a fight in the bathroom.”
“It’s a big deal if you’re fucking crying about it. Want me to go kick some ass?”
She snorts and ducks her head. “No. Asshole. Like I couldn’t do that myself.”
“Never doubted it for a minute.”
“She just fucking… Myra, she made some comment about me dancing with Ben after I came here with you, about how much of a slut I was for stringing you both along, and then Greta was like, ‘oh, she’s a slut for sure, she definitely fucked someone to be allowed in, but you know Richie Tozier’s a—’” she breaks off. “Sorry. I won’t repeat that.”
Richie makes a face. He can guess. “Not like I haven’t heard it before.”
“So fucking what,” Bev says fiercely. He loves her, really he does. “So I slapped her.”
Richie wheezes, any residual hurt feelings forgotten. “Oh, you meant a fight fight.”
“Yeah,” Bev says, and laughs wetly. “And now Mr. Gordon is fucking looking for me and as soon as he finds me I’m gonna get kicked out. And probably suspended.”
“Well, I appreciate you defending my honor.”
“Yeah. I just. It’s prom, I don’t know why they can’t lay off being total assholes for five fucking seconds, you know?”
“Yeah,” Richie sighs.
“I worked so fucking hard on these outfits, and it seems like—so stupid, you know? Like we were going to show up and they’d all be dazzled and—I don’t know. Stupid.”
“Hey, shut up,” Richie says, jostling her gently. “Look, you want to blow this popsicle stand? We can grab Ben and head over to the diner. Pretty sure Kay is working tonight, so…”
“You’re not fucking subtle, Trashmouth.”
“I’m just saying, show up toward the end of her shift looking hot as fuck? Way better than trying to win over the assholes here.”
“Yeah, but you and Ben are having fun, so…”
“Honestly, Bev, I’ll take watching you make cow eyes at Kay McCall over watching Eddie and Myra. That shit’s just depressing.”
“Okay,” Bev says, finally. “Okay, yeah. Let’s go.”
They manage to evade the chaperones on their way back inside. They collect Ben, who’s just as happy to end the night with a big bucket of greasy fries and the possibility of seeing Mike again, say their goodbyes to Stan and Patty, and scoot out the door just as Mr. Gordon starts their way, expression thunderous.
“Oh, you are totally getting suspended,” Richie snorts, digging his keys out of his pocket.
“Worth it,” Bev says lightly. She seems a lot more cheerful now.
“What happened, anyway?” Ben asks. “I didn’t really hear—”
He breaks off as they start across the parking lot. There’s a screaming argument going on a few cars away from them; Richie’s heart sinks as he hears Myra Miller’s shrill, outraged tones.
“—believe you just abandoned me to go talk to those freaks! Do you know what people are going to say about you? Do you know what they’ll say about me?”
“Marty, come on,” Eddie says. “I was hanging out with Richie for five minutes. Besides, I don’t understand what the problem is. He seems nice, and—”
“He seems nice? Do you want to know why he’s being so nice to you, Eddie?”
“Oh, fuck,” Bev says quietly.
“Myra, we were literally just talking—”
“He’s a—a—” she drops her voice like Richie’s mother does when she’s repeating a swear word. “—a homosexual, Eddie, everybody at school knows it, so what do you think he wants from you?”
“Well,” Richie mutters. The scandalized tone of her voice has him swallowing a jagged slice of laughter, but he also sort of wants to throw up. It’s not a great combination. He rubs a hand over his mouth, then says, “It was nice while it lasted.”
Ben pats his back. Bev scowls toward where Myra is pacing, red-faced, under the street lamp. Her hair is coming down from its updo, giving her a slightly unhinged look. Eddie has his shoulders hunched, his back to them; neither of them seem to have noticed the three of them peeping in on their little prom-night soap opera.
Myra swipes delicately under her eyes, although there are no tears that Richie can see. When she speaks again, her voice has softened. “I’m just trying to look out for you, Eddie. I don’t want you to be taken advantage of. I know you didn’t know.”
Eddie is silent for a long time. Finally, he says, “No. I didn’t know.”
“I know you didn’t,” Myra says, very sweetly. “I understand, Eddie-bear. I know this was a lot of excitement for one night. Why don’t we go inside and say goodnight to Greta and Susan, and I can take you home.”
There’s another long silence, and then Eddie says, “No.”
“What?” Myra asks, sweetness sliding away from her face and voice like water.
Eddie’s shoulders straighten. “No. I’m not ready to go home yet.”
“I don’t like it when you call me that, Myra. I’ve told you that.”
“It’s just a pet name, Eddie.”
“I don’t like it, though. You know that.”
“Listen, you’re overwrought—”
“No, actually, I’m not. I’m going to go talk to Richie,” Eddie says. “I need to apologize, anyway.”
“Oh,” Richie says weakly.
“Oh holy shit,” Bev adds.
“Should we, like… give them some privacy?” Ben asks, sounding tentative.
“No,” Richie and Bev hiss at the same time.
Myra glares at Eddie, then says. “Well, I’m leaving.”
“That’s fine,” Eddie says. “Go ahead.”
“Edward Kaspbrak, get in the car this minute.”
“You know, you’re not actually my fucking mother,” Eddie snaps, sounding genuinely angry for the first time. “You don’t get to talk to me like that. In fact, you know what? It’s over. I’m done. We’re done. You go ahead, I’ll find my own ride home.”
Myra’s mouth works soundlessly. She’s got a look on her face like she’s staring at a total stranger.
“Fine,” she snaps finally. “Fine. You do that. Maybe Richie Tozier will give you a ride home.”
“Maybe he will,” Eddie snaps back.
“Fine,” Myra snarls again. She yanks open the door of her car, then slams it shut and starts the engine, whipping out of the parking spot so fast that Eddie has to dance several steps backward to keep from getting clipped. And then she’s gone, in a rush of exhaust and taillights. Eddie rubs a hand through his neatly gelled hair until it’s sticking up in disheveled spikes. His shoulders slump.
“Fuck,” he mutters.
In the echoing silence that remains, Bev starts clapping loudly. Eddie jumps, then jerks his head around toward them. Color floods his cheeks.
“Oh fuck,” he says again. “How much of that did you guys overhear?”
“Um,” Ben says delicately.
“Most of it, I think,” Richie says, not at all delicately. “Holy shit, dude. That was badass.”
“I’m—look, I’m sorry. She shouldn’t have—she shouldn’t have said any of that stuff about you.”
Richie shrugs, heart in his throat, then says, “She’s not wrong.”
“Oh,” Eddie says again, blinking.
“So, yeah.” Richie rubs a hand over the back of his neck, hoping his blush isn’t visible. His pounding heart. Eddie doesn’t look like he’s about to call Richie a gross freak or something worse and rush back inside, but still. “Look, we’re heading over to Nicky’s—Bev just got kicked out of the prom, so—”
“Fuck you,” Bev interjects. “It doesn’t count if they didn’t catch me. This is a graceful exit.”
“Graceful as a herd of elephants,” Richie says. “How about it, Eds? You in?”
“Not my name,” Eddie says. He surveys them for a moment, then seems to come to a conclusion all at once. He nods sharply, then says, “Yeah, okay. I’m in.”
Richie’s truck only seats three people, and that only very technically. Ben ends up wedged against the window, Eddie in the center seat, Bev across both their laps.
“You know how unsafe this is, right?” Eddie asks, but he doesn’t sound too put out.
“I promise I won’t drive into a tree,” Richie says as he pulls out of the parking lot. Eddie’s thigh is pushed against his, a long line of heat. He’s close enough that Richie can smell his cologne and whatever it is that he used in his hair. It’s distracting as hell.
Still, he manages to make the drive without crashing. The diner pulls up ahead of them, all warm yellow light spilling out the wall of windows, the sign overhead lit up in red. The parking lot is mostly empty, and when they spill into the entryway, there are just a few people at the counter. Mike is at the grill, whistling and shimmying along to the Etta Fitzgerald song playing softly on the radio. He glances up when they come in, grants them a warm smile.
“Looks like we got a few more for dinner, Kay,” he calls. And then, to them, “You guys are all dolled up. Looking good.”
“Thanks,” Richie says, because Ben looks so red that he might combust. “We just ditched prom.”
“How many—oh, wow,” Kay says as she bustles up to the counter. Her eyes flicker over them, and Richie is almost certain that they linger on Bev and the fine figure she makes in her suit. “Wow. You guys look great.”
“I’d like to say it’s all down to me and my rugged good looks,” Richie says, and behind him Eddie snorts. “But actually Bev designed these. Isn’t she great?”
“Holy shit, really?” Kay says. “Seriously. You guys look amazing.”
“My tux is a rental,” Eddie says dryly. “If anyone cares.”
“Mine too,” Ben adds.
“Yeah, well, you still both look hot,” Richie says, tossing a grin over his shoulder. He almost flinches a moment later, but manages to stop himself. It’s different saying that to Eddie now that Eddie knows he’s gay, but Eddie just grins back at him as Kay leads them all back into the dining room. They all crowd into a booth; just like last time, Eddie ends up sitting next to Richie, technically closer than he has to on the bench. Richie very determinedly doesn’t read anything into it.
Kay comes over to take their orders, but this time she lingers, chatting with Bev about some fashion show that Richie has never heard of but which is apparently a big deal. Bev’s eyes are shining, and Richie has to stop himself from literally patting himself on the back. He has the best ideas.
“Oh, I should get your order in, I’m so sorry,” Kay says after a several minutes have passed. “I didn’t mean to talk your ear off—”
“I don’t mind at all,” Bev says. “Seriously. I didn’t know you were into fashion.”
“Oh, yeah. I don’t know if I’d actually want to go into design, but I always thought that photography would be—”
And they’re off again. Richie tries to meet Ben’s eyes across the table to share an amused look with him, but catches him making some fairly significant eye contact with Mike across the grill.
“Oh my god,” Richie mutters, but he’s grinning.
“What,” Eddie asks softly.
When Kay finally goes back to the kitchen, Richie waits until she’s out of earshot to give Bev a Look.
“Don’t start,” she says, but she’s smiling, pink-cheeked, and not at all as terrifying as she normally would be.
“I’m not starting anything,” Richie says innocently. “I’m just saying. She seemed into it.”
“Oh, shut up,” Bev says, but she’s smiling as she ducks her head.
The rest of them get to talking while they’re waiting for their order—Eddie, it turns out, is some kind of track star over at Castle Rock, which seems right on par.
“Yeah, I don’t do sports,” Richie says when he asks. “I have a radio show, though—”
“He means that he sweeps the floors at the local station, and sometimes they let him pick the music,” Bev interjects. “Late at night, when nobody is going to be listening.”
“Hey,” Richie tells her, pointing with his straw. “Stop it. I’m trying to sound cool.”
“I think it’s cool,” Eddie offers, and now it’s Richie’s turn to blush wildly and duck his head. He hears Bev snort from across the table, but finally Kay is coming back with their platter of fries, and Bev is distracted before she can come up with some kind of devastating dunk on Richie, thank god.
Kay sticks around this time, crowding into the booth next to Bev and Ben. “It’s my break, anyway,” she says when Bev asks. “Besides, it’s dead in here tonight. We’re going to be closing pretty soon anyway.”
“Oh, shit,” Eddie says. He cranes his head to peer at the clock over the door, then winces. “I didn’t realize it was so late. Shit. I need to get home, but—”
“I can drive you,” Richie offers immediately, before it occurs to him that he’s also Bev and Ben’s ride. “Or, um—you guys don’t mind taking a ride out to Castle Rock, right?”
“You really don’t have to,” Eddie says, a flush rising in his cheeks. “I can, I don’t know. Get a cab. Or my mom will come pick me up if I call her.”
He winces a little as he says it, though.
“You know,” Kay says, glancing between them. “Mike is giving me a ride home after we lock up. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind driving Bev and Ben too.”
“Are you volunteering me for favors again?” Mike asks, approaching the table with a dish towel flung over his shoulder. “Appreciate it, Kay.”
He’s smiling, though. Kay grins up at him, bats her eyes dramatically, then says, “We’re just trying to figure out how to get everyone home safe, Mikey. You can fit two more in your car.”
“Yeah, yeah, alright,” Mike says. “It’d be my pleasure. That is if it’s okay with you?”
“Okay with me,” Bev says. “Ben?”
“Uh, yeah!” Ben yelps, then blushes. “Yeah, yes, that’s fine, thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome,” Mike says with a slow smile and Richie watches them and thinks, delighted, Interesting.
Out loud he says, to Eddie, “Looks like you get me, then, Eduardo. Ready when you are.”
“You really don’t have to,” Eddie says.
“Nah, look, if I get home before my parents go to bed I’m just going to get interrogated anyway, this is good for me. Besides, I’ve always wanted to take a drive through enemy territory.”
“Enemy territory,” Eddie repeats, like he wants to laugh. “Seriously?”
“Did your football team not key like every single Derry school bus at an away game there?”
“Like you guys are any better,” Eddie says, but he is laughing now. “Jesus Christ. I’m not on the football team. Nobody takes track seriously anyway.”
“I don’t know, you strike me as the kind of guy who takes everything seriously.”
Eddie’s mouth does a weird quirk, and then he says, “Yeah, maybe.”
“Well, I can cure you of that,” Richie says. “Bev, you guys good?”
“We’re good, Trashmouth,” she says, and leans across to press a lipstick kiss to his cheek. “Thanks for taking me to prom. Get out of here.”
He doesn’t actually feel awkward about it until they’re pulling out of the diner, just him and Eddie and the staticky Buddy Holly playing on the radio. Eddie rolls down his window to let the warm night air in, and after a minute Richie does the same. The diner is lit up behind them, the four of them crowded in the booth and bathed in gold from the lamp. Mike has his head thrown back, laughing, and Bev and Kay are crowded together on a bench.
“Huh,” Richie says, and smiles to himself as he pulls out onto the dark road. “Good for them.”
Eddie peers back, his brow pinched, then settles back into his seat. “So, Bev.”
“Love of my life,” Richie says lightly.
“You,” Eddie starts, then falters. “You said that you’re, uh—”
“Gay,” Richie supplies for him, and only feels a slight twinge at it. He still hasn’t said it out loud to that many people. But it’s not like Eddie didn’t already know, and he got in Richie’s truck with him anyway. Twice. “Yep.”
“Yeah,” Eddie repeats. He’s nodding slightly too much, like a bobble-head on a bumpy road, but he doesn’t actually look that uncomfortable, so Richie lets it go.
“You seem like you want to ask something,” he says eventually, after Eddie’s nodding eases off into fidgety picking at the knees of his slacks. He’s got nice hands: narrow tapered fingers and neatly trimmed nails. Distracting. Richie pulls his eyes back toward the road.
“It’s none of my business,” Eddie says immediately.
“So that’s a yes.”
“Is it…” Eddie trails off, then shakes his head. “I just mean, how did you know?”
“You’ve seen Bev, right?” Richie says, his heart thumping. Don’t ask why he’s asking. Don’t ask that.
“I mean, if I couldn’t go for Bev, I figure that’s a pretty clear statement.”
“Maybe she’s not your type.”
“She’s not. Because my type is guys.” Eddie snorts, and Richie grins, feeling light as air. He hasn’t met many people that he can just joke about it with. “It’s cool. I’m not her type either. We’re gonna move to L.A. after graduation and slut it up in the gay bars together.”
“Slut it up,” Eddie repeats, half-laughing, half-scandalized. “Oh, my god. Are you going to college out there, or…?”
“Yeah, I got accepted to UCLA. Communications program. But I would have gone anyway. Who the fuck wants to end up stuck in Maine all their life?”
“Yeah,” Eddie says thoughtfully. “Yeah, I guess. My mom wants me to go to college somewhere nearby, but…”
“Is that what you want to do?” Richie asks. Eddie gives him a startled sidelong glance, and then is quiet for a moment.
“I don’t know,” he says finally. “It might be nice to go see someplace new.”
“Well,” Richie says. “If you ever do find yourself out that way, look me up. There’ll be a couple of losers who’ll be happy to let you sleep on the couch.”
“Thanks a lot,” Eddie says, very dry, but he’s smiling. And then, “Up ahead, the next left.”
Richie brakes to take the turn, which takes him down a winding, sleepy-looking suburban street. The house Eddie indicates is small and neat, with a viciously manicured lawn and a flag mounted next to the door. The lights are off, and Eddie sighs, sounding relieved.
“Oh good. She must have taken her pills.” He glances Richie’s way again. “Uh, sorry.”
“What for?” Richie asks.
“Nothing, nothing,” Eddie says. He fiddles with his seatbelt, then unbuckles it. “Thanks for the ride. And for—just, everything. I had fun tonight, with you. Thank you.”
“What, no kiss goodnight?” Richie’s mouth says, without his permission. He winces hard a moment later. Way to fuck it all up at the last minute, Tozier. “Fuck, sorry—”
“I,” Eddie says, and then firms his jaw with a look of determination. Richie is about to ask what he’s doing when he very deliberately leans across the center console, and presses a kiss to the corner of Richie’s mouth.
He pulls back before Richie can even begin to react.
“Oh,” Richie says softly, stunned.
“So, yeah,” Eddie says. He’s blushing wildly, but he doesn’t look like he wants to take it back. “Um. I should—”
“Yeah, yeah, of course,” Richie says. He’s blinking, wide-eyed, and nodding too much.
“Yeah,” Eddie says.
“Can I—” Richie starts to say, and when he leans across the console Eddie meets him halfway. They break apart a moment later, and Eddie is still blushing but his mouth is curled into a small, lovely smile.
Bev isn’t in school on Monday, but she meets him out behind the baseball diamond when he skips third period gym anyway. Richie is already there when she shows up, smiling out dopily at the overgrown grass.
“Hey,” she says, tucking herself under his shoulder. “What’s that stupid grin for?”
“Maybe I just missed you,” Richie says. He puts on a Voice. “Beverly Marsh, the finest new fashion designer of the decade!”
“Oh, shut up,” Bev says, but she’s smiling, pink-cheeked, as she lights her cigarette. She blows smoke out into the summer air, and glances up at him slyly. “So.”
“So,” Richie mimics.
“Worth getting kicked out of prom?”
“You’re the one who got kicked out of prom,” he says, but he’s smiling too hard to make it snide. “You tell me.”
“So fucking worth it,” she says, instead of snapping back. She’s smiling too, small and private and pleased. Good for her. Good for Kay. He has the same lunch period as Ben; he’ll have to pester him about how everything went with Mike. “You?”
“Yeah,” Richie says, thinking of the tentative press of Eddie’s mouth. The phone number tucked in his glove box, the way Eddie stopped at the front door and turned around, still blushing, to wave at Richie before he drove away. The whole summer stretching out before him, ripe with possibility. “Yeah. It really was.”