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The Kid with the Cast

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Wednesday, August 14th, 1991. Richie exited the classroom like everyone else, the blaring sound of the bell that indicated the end of fifth period quickly muffled by voices and footsteps and general ruckus. He gave an audible sigh, thinking, three more periods and I get to leave this shithole. And then, Until I have to come back tomorrow. It was the first day of high school and Richie had already learned three things. One, detention was in the spare room in the library (which he would be personally checking out Thursday), two, Mrs. Gleestok is extremely pissy in the mornings, and three, don't hang out in the lunch bathroom during study hall because Henry Bowers will find you. Richie's hand popped up to graze his fingertips over the soon-to-be-bruise on his cheekbone. Great way to start the year.

 

The kids were much bigger in Derry High, and he found himself grimacing at the overweight giants with hairs popping out of their chins, some with fully grown beards, others who he would've thought to be in elementary school at first glance. He himself had shot up out of grade school at the not-so-graceful height of 5'11 and could almost feel himself continue to grow even taller. He was thin, all knobby elbows and knobby knees that made him clumsy and in the way. He had thickly rimmed glasses, thankfully not the same coke bottle ones he wore as a child that made him cringe at the thought of them (The combination of those and his braces, which were recently removed, violently stuck a nerd label on him, which was terribly true but embarrassing nonetheless).

 

H15, he thought to himself, trying to find his geometry class. The endless flow of students made it hard for him to see the room numbers. Richie walked through one of the main hallways, dodging a no-doubt 'special' kid who flew down the hallway, a teacher chasing after him and yelling, "Bobby! Bobby get back here!"

 

He gave a glance back at them before turning forwards and noticing a very small figure, clearly struggling. The boy was diagonally across from Richie in front of him, but they were moving the same direction. The kid was moving against the current of students, trying to escape to Richie's side but being pushed up against the maroon lockers. He was small, like 5'1 or 5'2 small, this tiny thin thing surrounded by upperclassmen. 

 

The boy somehow managed to escape the crowd, coming to frantically walk in front of Richie. Richie had noticed, on his way over, he had a cast surrounding his right forearm and around the base of his thumb. He was desperately trying to carry a binder and textbook and book with his left arm, his right doing nothing to help steady them.

 

Richie looked up at the sign above them saying that the next highway was the H wing. Conveniently, the boy turned into it as well. He was still struggling, the sound of papers crinkling and his small voice mumbling to himself echoing in the almost-empty hallway.

 

Richie turned his head to the left, internally wincing at how helpless and nervous it looked. He clenched his eyes closed after the boy's voice very clearly cursed, " Shit!

 

A male teacher who stood near the doorway of his classroom, gut hanging over top his belt, threatened a, "Watch your language," as he went by.

 

"Oh-sorry," the boy said quietly to the floor.

 

Further down the hallway, he continued to move around and struggle, nearly dropping his things multiple times.

 

"Oh my fuck, " Richie said to himself before catching up with the tiny creature, walking beside him. "Need help with any-a that, Shortstack?" He didn't mean to say the 'shortstack' part, but as usual, his mouth had a mind of its own.

 

He looked up at Richie, nearly dropping his things in surprise and maybe a bit because of fright. This close, he could see his short perfectly styled dark brown hair, parted to the left of his head. His soft brown eyes were wide and shiny under the bright lights in the hallway. He had freckles, like Richie, but a few less and (to Richie at least) scattered beautifully and not clumsily around his face. His skin had a flush of pink, most likely from the scolding he received from the beer-bellied teacher, and his darker pink lips were parted just a crack.

 

Richie gulped.

 

Uh oh .

 

" What? " the boy said, clearly offended. His button nose slightly scrunched up, which had an undeniably cute effect.

 

Richie stuck a long finger towards the things in the other's hands. "Need any help?"

 

"No," he quickly answered and continued to look forward, watching the room numbers as they went by.

 

Richie saw the room H15, the plaque there next to the door. He looked down at the boy who had also noticed the sign, glancing up at him before breaking off to walk inside. As Richie followed him in, a smile broke onto his face at nearly the exact time the bell rang. "Shortstack, you've got this class too?"

 

The boy didn't answer, quickly sitting down in the first open spot he saw. Disappointed, Richie trudged to the back of the classroom to the last seat at a table with a girl that had pink streaks through her blonde hair, her hazel eyes staring up at him through her fake lashes, a kid who was nearly too wide fit in his desk, droopy eyelids like he had just come from smoking a joint in the bathroom, and, to Richie's surprise and horror, Victor Criss.

 

Now, Victor wasn't the worst of the bullies in Derry, merely just tagging along with Henry Bowers and throwing a few insults now and then, but the look he gave Richie then, made his stomach churn with dread.

 

"Hey Victor," Richie said, crossing his arms. "Your mom gonna call me back or what?" he asked. The ditzy girl to his left gave a cackling laugh (Richie usually liked for people to laugh at his jokes, but this time felt like pushing her out of her chair) and the high kid on his other side ignored the conversation completely, his attention fixed on the chalkboard.

 

"You're dead," Victor hissed, leaning back in his chair and ruffling the beat-up tank top he always wore.

 

Richie shrugged, giving a smile. The teacher cut him off before he could continue.

 

She was old, almost too aged to be alive old, janky pearl beads around her neck and wrist. Richie heard her talking but kept his attention to something much more entertaining: the back of the kid with the cast's head. He was tracing the contour of his body, his small shoulders, the tips of ears. In a wary motion, the boy glanced over his shoulder for a moment, eyes watching the tables and the students before finally landing on Richie, where they stared at each other for a moment. He then ripped his gaze away from him, turning back to the front of the classroom, clearly embarrassed.

 

"So I'll point to where your seats are," the teacher, who's name was Mrs. Borsh or Warsh or Marsh, Richie couldn't remember, said. "And then when I say go you'll sit in your spot so I can take attendance." 

 

"Alright guys," Richie said in a baby voice like he was speaking to a puppy. "And then we'll put the mats out so we can take nappies."

 

The entire class erupted in laughter, except for High Kid, Victor, the boy with the cast who looked over his shoulder at him once more (Richie noticed there was a ghost of a smile over his lips which made his chest fill with pride), and, of course, Mrs. What's-her-face, who crossed her arms sternly.

 

"Now what's your name," she asked, voice shaking in the way old lady's voices do. She pushed up her wide thinly framed glasses.

 

"Richie Tozier's my name 'n doin' voices is my game, ma'am," he said from the back of his throat to sound like a suspenders-wearing geek. He adjusted his glasses and smiled as she got even more upset, wrinkles deepening on her forehead.

 

She brought her clipboard with a stack of papers up under her veiny forearm so she could write on it, mumbling, "Richard Tosher-"

 

"Just Richie actually-"

 

"Detention. Tomorrow," she concluded, cutting him off. She had a look to her face that said I win .

 

Some kids gave oohs , pausing as they saw the expression on his face though. He was smiling. "Ooh, second one already. How many do I need to win a prize?" he asked, making his 'audience' laugh once more. 

 

This time she ignored him, turning to walk to the table closest to the classroom door, starting to name off who was sitting in each seat. The pink and blonde-haired girl next to him set her pointy elbows on the desk with a thud, bangle bracelets jingling. At some point she had popped a piece of gum in her mouth, chewing it loudly with an open-mouthed smile. She nudged Richie's shoulder with her knuckle. "You're funny," she said, Boston accent and all.

 

Richie could smell the watermelon scent drifting from her mouth and he guessed she was a sophomore. She was averagely attractive, her spaghetti-strap top leaving nothing to the imagination. But she had a way of making Richie grimace every time she spoke, making it crystal clear that she would be sleeping with all of the junior football team that year at some point. "I try," he said with a wink. He glanced up at the teacher who had started erasing something on the attendance, replacing whatever it was with something else. "Richard," she had said, pointing at the seat in front closest to her desk.

 

He raised his eyebrows, thinking, She changed my seat. The other three at his table were named, Richie paying close attention so he could come up with irritating nicknames to call them. Next to him, Eddie, across from him, John, diagonally from him, Kelly. 

 

When his teacher told everyone the magic word they headed to their seats, each plopping their backpacks down beside the chair. Richie felt a chill go up his arms from how cold the school was as he sat down, debating if it was worth wearing one of his Hawaiian shirts that day. At the other side of the table Kelly had sat down, a chubby girl who had brown hair and a thick black sweatshirt on. She watched the table dully, constantly shifting around in her seat. John then sat across from Richie, such an average person that he had to think to even pick out different details about him. The scar above his left eyebrow, the way he slouched carelessly in his chair. Richie grabbed the edge of his own desk, pushing back so the top of the chair jabbed under his shoulder blades and cracked his back. To his right he glanced to see who this Eddie was and nearly jumped out of his seat. It was him . The kid with the cast. He was leaning his forearms on the desk, back almost arched femininely inwards as he picked at his perfectly white cast. His face was red and he was almost pouting.

 

"Well, shit," Richie said to him, a wide smile growing on his face. "Eddie, huh. Fate sure knows how to bring people together, doesn't it?"

 

This was the point where Richie would finally be meeting Eddie, who he was, what he was really like. Nothing could've prepared him for how totally blindsided he would be.

 

"It's not fate, you asshole. It's called being a nuisance and getting moved to the front of the class," he snapped, finally looking him in the eyes.

 

Richie's mind went blank for a moment, only a few things like, what and holy shit , jumped out at him. All he could do was smile in awe. 

 

Eddie crossed his arms tightly over his chest. " What ?" he said, looking away embarrassed.

 

Diagonally from Richie, he could tell Kelly was listening in on their conversation, eyes nonchalantly grazing over them once in a while. The teacher was talking to a student in the back of the class, the other students collectively making a monotonous chatter. For a moment Richie could only watch Eddie, all sounds going quiet as he stared at the boy, vision only focusing on him and nothing else.

 

"Why're you staring at me?" Eddie said uneasily,  annoyed. 

 

In the blink of an eye, Richie broke himself out of it and said, "You know, you really are a little shithead Eddie Spaghetti." He let out a laugh, crossing his arms as well.

 

"Don't call me Eddie Spaghetti," he grumbled, turning forward in his seat. His face had grown even more crimson than before. He was wearing a fanny pack . A small black one that sat against his side. Richie saw that He had ankle socks that had three stripes, red blue red. He kept repeating that in his head for no reason, red blue red, red blue red, red- And short red shorts topped with a salmon polo shirt (that looked like it was taken straight from the boy's section in Kohl's).

 

“What’s in there?” Richie asked, prodding at the fanny pack around his tiny waist. “Rock collection?”

 

Hey, ” Eddie warned, slapping his hand away. “None of your business,” he said defensively. Mrs. Bersh abruptly cleared her throat at the front of the class, staring at the two of them. She then turned to grab a piece of chalk from the thin shelf under the board to write. Richie had noticed John and Kelly had both brought out a notebook on their desks and that Eddie was speedily bringing one out of his backpack, so he brought one out as well, deciding to use the blue one for math. Blue was a math color.

 

After countless attempts at trying to get Eddie’s attention, whispering jokes loudly to him and poking him and just blatantly staring at him to get a reaction, the class period finally ended, bell ringing shrilly and the metal sound of chairs being pushed out of desks. Richie had been packed up for nearly ten minutes, standing up quickly and slinging his backpack over his shoulder. "Hey, what d'you have next, Spaghetti Head?"

 

Eddie stood up, putting his black backpack on as well, angry eyebrows furrowed. "Stop calling me that," he said before turning around to leave the class, his binder and textbook and book in his free hand.

 

Richie caught up with him, sticking by his side as they walked out of the class, everyone pushing and shoving, Eddie's small body practically being thrown against Richie. The boy nearly toppled over as Victor pushed past him into the hallway. Before he could fall over though, in the midst of all the chaos, kids laughing and talking and speeding off to their next class, Richie reached out and grabbed him by his thin shoulders to pull him back against his chest. "Nice going, Dickhead ," Richie called to Victor, who was already down the hallway a ways, like an angry driver. He kept his arm around Eddie to keep them close together. "You okay, Eds? Gotta be careful out here, it's a fucking madhouse." He thought he could feel Eddie press closer to him.

 

"How would you know? You're only a freshman too," he said. "And Eds is a really dumb nickname," he chastised.

 

"On the contrary," Richie started, leaning down closer to him, smiling wide. "Eds is a really cute nickname. Fits the person it's for, don't you think?" They turned into the main hallway and he let out a breath because they both were heading the same way.

 

Eddie had shrugged Richie's arm away from him ( boy does he blush a lot , Richie was thinking) and made an upset noise from the back of his throat. "I'm not cute ," he said, irritated. He looked behind him and then ahead, eyes traveling around. "I have to go upstairs," Eddie said abruptly, looking up at him.

 

"Oh," Richie said, hoping he didn't sound as disappointed as he was. Just walking with this total stranger had made his day ten times better. He could already feel his chest swell with the feeling that time was running out to tell him something, anything . He didn't want to wait until the next day to see him again. They were getting closer to the stairs and he looked down at him. There was something familiar in Eddie's eyes.

 

"Bye," is all Eddie said, a look of you're an idiot on his face.

 

Richie didn't know how he recognized that, but he let out a loud laugh in reaction. And then, finally, for the first time, Richie got to see Eddie smile. Small, but utterly . . .

 

Beautiful.

Chapter Text

In seventh period, Richie had photography. Now, this wasn't his idea of course, it was his friend Bill's. Bill was great at art, any type, and in an attempt to have a class with each other, they agreed to both take photography. Luckily, it had actually worked.

 

They sat next to each other, in stools this time instead of desks, Richie visibly less excited than Bill. He was leaning his elbows on the table, head resting on his hand as he thought of a very special smile, before-

 

"Alright guys," this teacher said, clapping her hands together. She was young, mid to late twenties, Asian. Pretty, Richie would say, but not beautiful. She wore clothes that his grandmother might wear, which he furrowed his brow at. "I'm Ms. Williams and-"

 

From then on he spaced her out, mind on other things. He let out a chuckle. "Bill, you have the same name as her. You should totally hit on her, marry her, and take her last name. William Williams? That would be-"

 

"Ssh, ruh-Richie," Bill whispered, stuttering, as usual, cutting him off from rambling nonsense like he did and then turning so he was fully facing the teacher who stood at the front of the class. 

 

Richie blew a breath out through his lips, sighing afterward. 

 

-

 

He walked sluggishly to gym, his final class of the day. A few unintelligible shouts came from behind him and Richie glanced back to see a crowd forming. It's the first day , he thought, unbelieving that there could already be a fight. He kept going on his way, hearing oohs and fight fight fight . Richie would've stuck around to watch as well if he didn't think that it could be Bowers or one of his friends in the middle of it. He didn't feel like being noticed and getting pummeled a second time that day.

 

He filed into the gym with tons of other students, not knowing exactly where to go. As he passed the bleachers he thought he could see the burning end of a cigarette or a blunt in the darkness. I need a cigarette , his mind whined. Richie had taken to smoking in middle school because of his friend Beverly who constantly stole packs of Camels and Marlboros from the little store by the arcade. It was a bad habit, he knew, but he didn't care enough to stop. Bev had even told him he needed to slow down, cutting back herself.

 

Richie pulled his schedule out of his jeans pocket (which he had to flatten from the crushed ball it had turned into) when he saw the teachers had their names written on sheets of paper and taped them in various sections on the bleachers. He dragged his finger down its rough texture before he hit the bottom, reading Mr. Thompson next to freshman gym. "Thompson," he mumbled, shoving the paper back into his pocket. Scanning the names, bottom row to top, his class was, of course, the last he looked at. Richie dodged prepubescent kids as he walked across the shiny floor, embarrassed for being associated with them, and turned to clomp up the bleachers. They weren't very high, not very wide either, leaving the rest of the space in the gym open. Only about half of the class was there when he sat down on the first bleacher behind the sign, his gaze shifting across the gym floor to see if he noticed anyone. 

 

Noticeably, someone sat beside him on the bleachers. Richie turned to look, heart dropping for the second time that day. Because who was sitting there? Well, Eddie, if course.

 

"Eddie Spaghetti!" he excitedly said.

 

"That's not my name-"

 

"Shit, two classes, huh. Am I really that lucky? And you even came over to sit next to me."

 

Eddie rolled his eyes, slipping his backpack off so he could set it in between his feet. "I don't know anyone else," he mumbled, looking out across the gym. " And ," the boy said, turning to look at him, "By the way, I waved at you when you came up here but you ignored me." He shrugged.

 

"I didn't ignore you," he said incredulously with a laugh. "You're just so small no one can see you."

 

" Hey ," he said angrily. "I'm not small."

 

Richie started laughing, really laughing this time, holding his stomach. He couldn't wipe the smile off his face, partly because of how blatant of a lie Eddie told and partly because in the presence of him he was giggly and his stomach was full of butterflies.

 

" What? I'm not ," Eddie said once again, crossing his arms. The act of it made Richie laugh even harder and the small boy let out an angry puff of air. 

 

Richie tossed his arm over his shoulder, pulling him close. "Yeah, okay, keep telling yourself that." He sniffed the air, the arid skunk spray scent of weed drifting up from the bleachers.

 

Eddie pulled his polo up to cover his nose, which was scrunched up from the smell, his eyebrows furrowed. He pushed Richie off of him, saying, " Stop ."

 

"Everyone," a large booming voice said.

 

Richie looked down and realized most of the students (except a few stragglers who entered once in a while) had filed into the gym, sitting by their respective classes.

 

The voice he had heard was Mr. Thompson who stood with his arms crossed in the bleachers' isle. "Listen up," he said, making Richie grimace at how loud he was being, Eddie flinching beside him. "I'm Mr. Thompson, your PE teacher for the year. I'm about to do attendance, everyone listen up and say here when you're called," the man said in a commanding voice (one which made Richie want to laugh, he thinks he's the shit) . He had a buzz cut, a bad attempt at trying to hide his receding hairline which was clearly visible. He had a cliche whistle hanging from his neck and a clipboard like every other teacher.

 

Mr. Thompson started calling names, Richie vaguely listening for his. "Eddie Kaspbrak?" he called.

 

"Here," Eddie answered, letting his tensed up shoulders relax after.

 

"Kaspbrak?" Richie said to the small boy, smiling.

 

"Yeah? So what?"

 

Richie shrugged, letting his lower lip stick out just a bit, saying, I don't know. He thought he had heard that last name before, Kaspbrak. He furrowed his brows, thinking. Yes, he had heard that name before. On the-

 

"Richie t . . toe-z-er," Mr. Thompson called out, absolutely butchering his last name.

 

"It's Tozier," Richie said to him, rolling his eyes. He eagerly turned to Eddie. "I don't get it, my name isn't even hard to pronounce. It's like Frazier and no one seems to mispronounce that," he ranted as the teacher continued to call out names.

 

"Tozier isn't common like Frazier. And there's like three different spellings of it," Eddie said, his brown eyes soft against Richie.

 

"Yeah, but Kaspbrak isn't common either. No one mispronounces yours. People are just bad at the English language, that's what I think, and they try to hide it by pretending it's a weird name that's never been seen before."

 

"Whatever you say, Toe-zee-er ."

 

Richie groaned.

 

Richie's class was sent into the locker room, each provided with a lock and combination. In middle school, when he had gym with his friend Stan, they had lockers next to each other. Every day they would change into their gym uniforms with no problem, they were friends , it wasn't awkward at all. Richie wondered, then why am I so nervous to change next to Eddie?

 

He glanced to his left, where the culprit stood and placed his folded uniform into the small locker delicately. Eddie was chewing his lip timidly, clearly thinking about something.

 

Richie turned back, slamming his locker and closing the lock with a click, spinning the dial a few times. It was excessively warm and humid in there and it smelled faintly like wet socks. Everyone was standing around, not wanting to go back out into the gym. Richie leaned his shoulder against the lockers, hands in his jeans pockets while he watched Eddie.

 

Eddie looked at him, shut locked his locker, and then peaked back up at him. Then, opening one of the larger lockers that they used to put their stuff in while gym class was going on, stuffed his face inside it.

 

Richie quirked an eyebrow up, waiting for something to happen. When nothing did, the tall boy said, "You alright there, Spaghetti?"

 

" Ugggghhh ," echoed from inside the locker. "Stop calling me that. And stop staring at me," he ended, mumbling.

 

Richie felt an open-mouthed smile grow on his face. "You're em barrassed. Aw, shucks, Eds.You've got a big fat crush on me, don't you?" he joked.

 

"No I don't ," he whined covering his blushing face in the locker.

 

"Aw, it's alright Eddie my Love, no one can resist Richie Tozier."

 

"I'm not gay and if I was I wouldn't even like you because you're annoying ," he said, stepping back and slamming the locker shut. Richie watched him as he continued to hide his face, finally able to slip his book and textbook into his backpack now that there was room. The boy brushed a fuzz off of his cast.

 

"How'd you do that?" Richie asked.

 

Loud laughing came from another row of lockers behind theirs after a thud , like someone had been pushed against the metal. 

 

Eddie looked over, like he could see through the lockers and to the other side. "I uh . . ." His eyes shifted around for a moment. "I don't know I just fell."

 

"You fell?" Richie asked doubtfully. "From where?"

 

"Oh-uh down my stairs," he said smoothly. "I was coming out of my room, you know to get a glass of water, and all of the lights were off so I didn't really see where I was when I stepped down the stairs."

 

To Richie, even though he had only known the boy for a day, this seemed very un-Eddie like. Eddie was careful and he moved fast throughout the hallways, expertly dodging around people because of his size (unless someone like Victor Criss pushed past him). Richie brushed it off though, he must've been tired that night. "You know-"

 

"Oh hey, " a familiar voice came from behind Richie, his shoulders jumping up. He watched as Eddie's eyes blew wide, his expression growing terrified. His eyes read, not again .

 

Richie spun around, turning to face Henry Bowers.

 

Fuck.

 

"Hey, loser. You hang out with girly-boy? What a coincidence," he said, glancing at Eddie who was practically hiding behind Richie.

 

"Hey Bowers," he said to him like he was talking to an old friend he hadn't seen in forever. "You got held back again ? Man, I thought gym was supposed to be easy."

 

Eagerly fast, like Henry had been waiting for him to make a joke, Richie was grabbed by the collar of his Hawaiian shirt and shoved against the locker, a metal clang ringing out from where the back of his head hit. His vision went blurry for a moment, Richie smiling when it did. He heard Eddie give a gasp. "What, do you want me to give you another black eye, Bucky?"

 

When Richie's vision came back behind his glasses, he looked over to Eddie. The boy was clearly rounding up to do something, punch or kick or even jump on Henry, almost making Richie let out a shout of laughter. He stuck a hand out to stop him. "You know I got braces, right?" Richie said to Henry. He smiled wide, showing off his teeth. "Bucky Beaver's got nothing on these pearls."

 

Henry slammed him against the locker one more time, making him wince. He stared Richie in the eyes, making his gaze waver a bit, and said, "You and your friends have a lot coming this year," and dropped his collar. He then turned to Eddie.

 

Richie felt his chest burn with anger.

 

"Faggot," he murmured, before turning around to walk away.

 

Eddie stared down at the floor as Richie looked at him. "You too, huh?" he asked him.

 

Eddie looked up at him finally, pulling on his backpack and saying, "You talk too much."

 

Richie laughed, both of them smiling.

 

-

 

Richie met Bill, Beverly, and Stanley outside of the school, where they sat in the grass waiting for the bus.

 

"How were your guys first days-and Richie don't tell me you got detention already," Stan said. He was wearing his usual buttoned collared shirt, something he wore every day. (Richie liked to imagine that if he looked in his closet, it would be filled with just these shirts in a variety of colors.)

 

The three watched Richie as he pressed his lips together in a thin line, fighting the urge to smile. "Well . . ." He brought his hands up in thought. "It's complicated-"

 

Stan let out a groan, throwing his head back and causing his light brown curls to bounce.

 

"Oh my god," Beverly said with a disbelieving laugh. "How many times?” She pushed a lock of her short orange hair behind her ear, doing the smile she always did where the left side of her mouth was open just a little wider than the right.

 

“I don’t know, like-two or three I think,” he responded. “It’s no biggie, they’re all tomorrow so it’s basically like I only got one.” He shrugged. The wind blew against his face, his dark hair waving. 

 

“I can’t buh-believe you didn’t get detention in photography,” Bill said. He turned to Bev and Stan and said, “He hit on Ms. Williams the entire t-time.”

 

Ugh , Richie,” Stan said. “She wasn’t-”

 

Richie casually looked to his left at the figure who stood there, presumably waiting for the bus. He let out a laugh, shaking his head with a smile. “Hey Shortie!” he called out.

 

Eddie threw his chin over his shoulder like he had been caught. He still had his binder trapped under his left arm like earlier in the day. He had this uncomfortable shift in his stance as he glanced from Richie to his friends and back, eyes almost unsure.

 

“Who’s th-that?” Bill asked.

 

“C’mere,” Richie said, motioning for him to join them before turning to the others and quietly saying, “Literally the cutest thing in existence, over there.”

 

Eddie had come to stand awkwardly beside Richie.

 

“Don’t just stand there, Eds. Sit down.” Richie patted the grass next to him.

 

Eddie furrowed his brow ( he does that a lot , Richie thought) and opened his mouth. It was clear to Richie that he wanted to say something, lips twitching, his facing growing read. “I . . .”

 

“What? You don’t want to sit in the grass ?”

 

“Of course I don’t want to sit in the grass, you idiot, it’s gross!”

 

“Eds, it’s just grass-”

 

“-Don’t call me that-”

 

“-it won’t hurt you.”

 

“It’s not just grass , there’s dirt and bugs and what if someone spit here when they walked by? Spit their gum right there where you want me to sit-

 

“Oh c’mon, you little germaphobe, sit your ass down-”

 

“No, I’m not sitting there-”

 

“What, you want me to take my shirt off so you don’t have to sit on the dirt and can sit next to me?”

 

No , I don’t want to sit next to you at all actually-”

 

“Oh, liar liar, Eds, you’re totally already in love with me-”

 

“Don’t call me that, you asshole-

 

You love it-

 

“How long have you guys known each other?” Beverly suddenly asked, cutting their relentless bickering off. The three of them looked confused out of their minds as they watched the encounter happen.

 

"Since sixth period," Richie stated confidently, the roaring sound of the school bus coming up the pavement growing louder. He gave a smile up to Eddie as he stood, the boy rolling his eyes in response.

Chapter Text

The bus ride was fairly new to Richie. It was his first time riding except for in seventh grade when Bowers beat him up so bad he couldn't ride his bike home. He didn’t remember it much, but this time, the driver looked a lot more drowsy in the bus mirror and Richie felt himself grip the grey-blue leather of his seat as they nearly hit a curb.

 

Eddie (albeit against his will) was stuffed in between Richie and Bill, across the isle from them Stan and Bev. He held his binder close to his chest as they rocked back and forth.

 

"Suh-so, Eddie," Richie heard Bill begin, before his voice started to drift under the other students conversations.

 

Even though the three of them were so close, it was useless to lean over to try to listen to them, he couldn’t hear a lick of their conversation. He did hear Eddie give a laugh though. Richie nearly felt the wind get knocked from him. I'm not jealous , he thought, giving the answer to a question that was never asked. " Eddie Eddie Eddie Eddie," Richie said loudly, prodding the boy with his sharp elbow. When he didn't pay attention to him he faked a gasp and said, "Oh my God, did you see that kid puke, I can already smell it back here!"

 

" What!?" Eddie nearly choked as he spun his head to look forward. His eyes were wide as they flicked around anxiously.

 

"So you were listening to me," Richie said, smiling with relief after he swallowed.

 

Eddie's worry dropped from his face as he rolled his eyes. "Trying not to," he mumbled.

 

"Bill," Richie suddenly exclaimed, looking behind Eddie's head. "Are you trying to seduce this boy?" he accused, putting on his best cop voice.

 

They both angrily said " Richie ," Bill stuttering his name.

 

"I'm afraid I'm going to have to confiscate the evidence," Richie said, pulling Eddie onto his lap.

 

He started to squirm relentlessly, kicking and elbowing. " Stop , Richie,  stop it!"

 

Other kids had started to look over their shoulders and over the seats. Some giving dirty looks. Richie suddenly could smell the faint scent of weed again, drifting over from the back. Seriously where does everyone get-

 

" Tozier! " Eddie yelled. " I swear to God if you don't let me go right now I'll fuck you up, I swear to God I will- "

 

Richie started to laugh, loosening his grip a bit so the boy could slide away. "Oh, I'd like to see you try, Spaghetti Monster." 

 

The bus abruptly stopped, everyone popping up out of their seats except the few that had already been standing. Richie joined them, his friends following him out.

 

Eddie and Beverly had headed the opposite direction of the other three, Richie only giving a small wave as a goodbye, heart beating himself up from the inside out. As they walked away from the bus stop he turned eagerly to hit Bill in the chest with the back of his hand, a hollow thump sounding.

 

" Ow , w-what-"

 

"What the hell , man!" Richie blurt. "What're you trying to do, get in his pants?"

 

"No," Stan answered for him. " You are."

 

"Eddie wouldn't come within forty feet of your duh-duh-dick, Richie."

 

"What about my heart?"

 

Silence.

 

More silence.

 

"What?" Stan asked.

 

"Would he come within forty feet of my heart?" he clarified.

 

There continued to be no answer, just the rustling of the leaves, the tires crunching from a passing car. Until they all broke out into laughter, of course. 

 

-

 

Stepping inside his house, Richie slumped back against the door to shut it. The stench of cigarette smoke invaded his nose and he gladly breathed it in, knowing he wouldn't be able to get a pack until he had time to steal some from the drugstore with Bev. 

 

"Where've you been?" a slurred voice sounded. He could've picked it out from anywhere, this new voice, but he couldn't say he liked it, in fact, it made his stomach churn with guilt. The old version was much more calming, nostalgic like the scent of gingerbread houses that he used to build once a year as a kid. He missed it.

 

He looked into the kitchen, at the same table, same chair she always sat in. He was so used to it that when Richie saw her there none of this even crossed his mind. Twirling a wine glass round and round, dangerously close to the edge, his mother sat, staring at him with her puffy red eyes. He glanced around tensely, answering, "School."

 

Her brown eyebrows furrowed, wet lips parting. "I though' it was summer," she said, starting to laugh. "Was tha' today?" She was cracking herself up, giggling smoothly.

 

"Yeah."

 

"Oh," she said, suddenly going quiet. She looked to the table before slowly bringing her free hand up, swirling her fingertip through the puddle of red wine that was sure to leave a stain on the glossed wood. Her pretty lips twisted down into an open frown as she let out a quiet sob.

 

Richie looked away, leaning against the doorway. He could smell that she had been drinking beer as well. "Dad's not home yet?"

 

She let out a wet laugh that almost had no trace of sadness. "Uh-uh," she answered, voice very childlike. "Paperwork or whatever . . . or whatever ."

 

“Mm,” he sounded in acknowledgment. He stood there idly, biting at the skin of his chapped lips. Standing up straight, he said, “I’m going to do my homework,” and left before she could say anything back. 

 

Richie didn’t actually have homework but decided it was best to go upstairs into his room. He trudged up the steps, a sigh escaping his throat. His room was a mess, socks and underwear and just blatant trash scattered across the off-white carpet. Richie let his backpack slip down into the mess, after purposefully slamming the door, and then tumbled into bed. “ Fuck ,” he yelled into the fabric of his pillow. His glasses were pressing into the bridge of his nose uncomfortably so instead of just taking them off he flipped onto his back to stare up at the ceiling. 

 

He thought of his first day, he thought of Eddie, and then Eddie and Bill. His small smile. His laugh directed at someone other than Richie. He shoved this thought away almost immediately before his limbs could go stiff with envy. Why do you care so much, Tozier? His mind asked. You know why. Don’t you. It’s just like middle school. Remember? That day in the arcade? You remember it, don’t you, Richie?

 

“Yes,” he whispered to himself.

 

You like him , Richie told heard himself say from the inner far corners of his head.

 

“No, I don’t,” he responded, clearing his head from his unwanted thoughts. “I don’t even know him,” he said louder, assuring himself.

 

Well, he was right about one thing.

 

He really didn’t know Eddie Kaspbrak.

 

-

 

Richie awoke, his dark eyebrows closing in on his forehead. His eyelids closed heavily a few times. Looking around, he wasn’t sure what had made him be sucked from the dream he was having until he heard a sharp tink .

 

Beverly .

 

Richie brought himself to stand, bones cracking. He softly pressed his toes against the floor, making them crackle as well. The clock on his dresser read 4:57 and he stopped in his tracks before the window. Tink. He licked his lips and cleared his throat as he grabbed the metal of the window to slide it open. Richie pushed it up with his skinny arms before sticking his head out into the cool air, his curled locks hanging down, and shouted, "Hang on a minute, Red!"

 

His thin fingers pulled it down to slam it with a scrape before he spun around and headed out of his room. Richie stopped at the top of the stairs, foot dangling off of the edge. An uneasy feeling filled his gut, one that he couldn't ignore. Richie retracted his sock and stared down the hallway. "Hey, mom," he said loudly.

 

No answer.

 

He brought his hand up to scratch the back of his head, to pet down some of his mangled hair. Richie took no time to walk down the hallway to pop open his parents' door, almost sure he wouldn't see her.

 

But, thankfully (Richie felt a breath of air escape his lungs in relief), she was there, asleep. He slowly crept inside, unable to take his brown eyes off her. She looked so pretty compared to an hour and a half ago, almost peaceful. "Mom," he whispered, as if he had just recognized her for the first time in a while. He did.

 

Richie snatched the half-full vodka bottle off of her bedside table and left home, draining it down the sink on his way out.

 

-

 

"Well, Miss Marsh , I didn't expect you to be here," he said, coming to stand at the side of his house.

 

Beverly threw a pack of unopened cigarettes at his chest, making a plastic crunch, and he clumsily juggled it for a few moments until it dropped to the grass. Richie snatched it up as he pitched his voice higher and said, "Oh thank heavens ."

 

"Called your phone," she said from the corner of her mouth, the other side occupied with a Marlboro. She lifted her pink lighter, clicking it on and shielding the wind with her other hand to set it ablaze.

 

He took off the plastic from the package, letting it drift off somewhere before opening it. "I was upstairs gettin' my beauty sleep- ah , can I have a light?" he asked, placing his own cigarette between his lips.

 

She silently held the flame out to him, Richie sticking his neck out and puckering his lips forward. It lighted with a sizzle as he breathed in and then he took it from his mouth to let out a cloud of white smoke. He let out a laugh as he and Bev started to walk out of the grass to the street. "Pink?"

 

She elbowed him. "Oh shush. Pink's an underrated color. It's not, like, me , but-"

 

"Ah, I get it," he interrupted.

 

Beverly was wearing faded black jeans rolled up to her ankles, with actual holes in the knees that were earned, not bought. Her green flannel tied around her waist waved with the breeze. Richie had noticed that some days she dressed like this, tomboy-ish with an almost reckless feel, and others she was all flowers and perfume and blah blah blah- but one thing never changed. She acted like (and was) a total badass.

 

"So," Richie started nervously, running his fingers through his hair as he tilted his chin up towards the sky. "What'd you think of Eddie?" he asked, the corners of his mouth forcing their way into a smile against his will.

 

She started to giggle, saying, "He's," (another giggle), "He's great."

 

"Yeah?" Richie looked at her freckle-covered face before turning to the sidewalk and kicking a pebble.

 

"Yeah. He talks fast. Like really fast."

 

Richie laughed. "That he does. Lil' pipsqueak can't even say hi without becoming winded, probably."

 

"He told me he's friends with Ben," Beverly told him, bringing her cigarette back up to her mouth, hiding her smile.

 

Richie's mouth gaped. "You asked ?" A laugh fell from him.

 

“I just said, ‘hey, do you know Ben Hanscom’? and he did- he does. It’s not a big deal, I just wanted to know.”

 

“You are totally in love , Bev!” he exclaimed.

 

Me? Did you see yourself today? I haven’t seen you like that with someone in . . . actually I’ve never seen you like that. Teasing him and pulling him into your lap and you were all smiley and stuff. You two are cute together.” She took another drag of her cigarette.

 

Richie’s brows ticked together in worry and he stopped for a moment to drop his Marlboro to the sidewalk to stomp it out. She waited for him before they continued their walk, saying nothing. Richie stuck his hands in his pockets. He didn’t know what to say. Eddie and I, we . . . I don’t-

 

He watched as Beverly’s smile faded, her eyes searching around.

 

“What?” Richie said.

 

“He was . . . a little off?” she said, almost confused.

 

“What?” he said again.

 

“Eddie,” she explained. “He was a little off, today. Everything was fine until we got closer to his. His eyes kept darting around like crazy and he was looking over his shoulder and back at his house. You know, real nervous-like.”

 

Richie shook his head, perplexed. “Why?”

 

Beverly shrugged her shoulders. “Dunno. It was almost like he was worried someone would see us.”

 

“You think . . . What about Bowers? I know he messes with him too, what if he was just looking for him?”

 

“Right, that’s what I thought,” she said. “But it doesn’t add up. He only looked scared when we got to his house. And I-” Bev cut herself off, looking unsure. She flicked her cigarette to the ground in front of them, flattening it into the pavement as they went.

 

“You what?” he timidly asked.

 

She looked at him, lips parting. “I thought I . . . saw someone in the window. Eddie saw it too, I know he did because he was immediately frozen, while we walked. Arms stiff.”

 

Richie thought about this, unsure why Beverly sounded so fearful. “Okay, so it was like one of his parents, right?”

 

"I mean-I guess. It was just really weird." She shrugged again. "Probably nothing."

 

“Yeah,” Richie said. “Probably nothing.”

 

Even as he said this he felt like he was lying. There was some underlying thing that he needed to find out. It was such a simple moment that could mean absolutely nothing and yet he needed to know. Richie couldn’t let go of things like that, secrets that people were keeping, things that were left unsaid. He would ask people questions over and over again, until finally, they were annoyed enough to blurt out the answer.  It was almost like a sort of secret weapon. 

 

And also, what if there’s something wrong? With Eddie? He had only known the boy a day and yet he had felt like he’d known him long enough to tell him his every secret.

 

Richie just wanted to find out. Just in case. 

 

And he would.

Chapter Text

The second day of school dragged on, Richie just trying to make it to sixth period. There was a fight before the bell had even rung for first, and he had witnessed it all as he partially hid behind a row of lockers with Stan. Hiding, of course, because the scuffle was between none other than Henry Bowers and some geek who made the mistake of standing up for himself.

 

"We should go," Stanley said nervously, glancing down the hallway and probably looking for a path out of the crowd.

 

"Nah, it's almost over anyway," Richie said. The geek was on the floor, lip practically popped and spewing with blood, a teacher holding Henry back, his bloody knuckles grabbing at air.

 

"Why d'you even like to watch this crap?"

 

Richie shrugged. "Free entertainment," he said with a smile.

 

That was the only interesting thing that had happened to him all day. Richie almost tried to pick an argument with his biology teacher just to get another detention for his amusement, but he really wanted to leave school the next day as soon as possible for the weekend. 

 

He sat down eagerly in his geometry class, gaze glued to the door. Eddie , he was thinking.

 

“Hey,” the kid across from him with no stand-out facial features except for the scar above his left eyebrow said. Richie had already forgotten his name.

 

He turned to look at him, annoyed because he was occupied with something important. “What?” he asked, Richie’s voice hurried.

 

“Why’re you so obsessed with him?” he asked, slouching in his chair and leaning on his forearms. Richie didn’t think he meant for it to sound as malicious as it did, but then he followed it up with, “You gay or somethin’?” His boring-ass face had this boring-ass expression of distaste that made Richie push his eyebrows together in irritation.

 

“I think what I did with your sister last night would contradict me being gay, so,” he responded, smiling angrily. He looked back to the door, confused as the bell rang harshly and Mrs. Kersh began to talk, her old lady voice drifting right past his ears.

 

Richie faced forward in his seat before cracking his back against his chair. He must be sick . On the second day of school? Yes, on the second day of school. He looked to the teacher, catching on to what she was saying.

 

“-to each one of you. The first test will be not next Friday, but the Friday after that. Everyone clear?”

 

Richie was about to say crystal , but the click of the door opening from the other side of the room made him forget anything that had come from his teacher’s mouth. He turned his head so fast his neck cracked quietly.

 

“S-sorry, Mrs. Norsh,” Eddie stuttered out, almost stumbling over to his seat. “I accidentally dropped my things in the hallway.”

 

Norsh , Richie thought, ohh . He looked over Eddie, contemplating his appearance. His face was red, harsh breaths coming from his parted lips. His styled hair had slightly fallen out of place, one brown strand hanging in front of his forehead. Along with his binder, in his free arm, he had a few crumpled pieces of paper and a notes packet. In his small hand that jutted from the end of his cast he was holding a pencil. 

 

Mrs. Apparently-her-name’s-Norsh gave the small boy a disgruntled look as he sat down and then said, “Just manage your time better, Mr. Kasback.”

 

Richie let out a loud laugh, because, one, what else was Eddie supposed to do, leave all of his shit on the hallway floor? And, second, Kasback! I am never letting this go

 

Eddie had dumped all of his stuff on his desk, before putting his head in his hands after the teacher walked back over to her desk.

 

Eddie Spaghetti ,” Richie started, an amused smile on his face. “You really know how to make an entrance, huh? Did you actually drop all your stuff, or were you just having a smoke in the bathroom or something?”

 

Eddie looked up at him, grimacing. “A smoke? Are you kidding me? You think I would suck on a cancer-stick all day long? You want my lungs to turn black , Richie? Do you-”

 

“Oh, right, almost forgot. Germaphobe, hypochondriac, fanny pack wearer. You really are a package deal, you know that?” He crossed his arms, leaning back in his chair. The teacher came by to give everyone a packet, Eddie ignoring Richie as he put some of his stuff away.

 

“Right, Kasback ?”

 

Eddie turned to him with a frown. “No, not right, Toe-zee-er. ” He straightened out his blue polo shirt.

 

Richie smiled down at him, before remembering what he wanted to talk to the boy about, about what Beverly had told him the night prior. His happy expression faded as he adjusted his geometry packet in front of him. For the first time, he actually thought before he spoke. Would it be, I don’t know, appropriate for me to ask if everything’s okay? Would he be mad if he found out Beverly had told me about it? But, soon, Mrs. Norsh had started the lesson, taking away his opportunity to talk to him.

 

-

 

Their teacher had given time at the end of class to work on some of their homework problems and Richie had still not built enough courage to ask him about it. It was all mom jokes and teasing and never anything serious with Richie, it’s just the way it was. He didn’t like 'serious stuff' which is mostly the reason why he covered up everything with jokes. Partly.

 

Glancing to his right, he noticed Eddie with his furrowed brows and parted lips and clenched fist around his pencil. He looked like he was mentally having an argument with his worksheet.

 

“Hey, you alright there, Half-pint?” Richie had leaned back in his seat once again, well he had been doing it for a while, he had breezed through their homework in just a few minutes which left him with nothing to do.

 

Eddie let his head fall back between his shoulders and let out a groan, saying, “Can you stop calling me ridiculous nicknames?” before he slumped forward again and let out a frustrated breath through his nose. He connected the tip of his pencil in the empty space under the first problem, eyes moving left to right slowly.

 

Richie opened his mouth, waiting a moment before asking, “Hey, d’you need help with that?”

 

The short boy didn’t even look up at him, he just angrily said, “I don’t need your help.”

 

“Fine,” Richie said, shrugging his shoulders. He leaned forward on his elbows, holding his head in his hand. His eyelids felt heavy so he shut them, lips turning into a frown. He was a little off, today , Beverly’s voice said in his mind. I thought I . . . saw someone in the window , she repeated. Who? Richie thought, and why was this bothering him so much? There was some gut-feeling that he had that was telling him something was going on, that something was going to happen, he supposed. But he didn’t believe in that sort of superstitious kind of nonsense so he quickly tried to forget about it, as he must’ve just been overthinking everything. He decided he wasn’t going to ask Eddie anything or bring it up in any way. That would be totally weird , he thought. Totally.  

 

Richie thought he might doze off the last twelve minutes of class, but felt a timid tap on his shoulder. He opened his eyes and turned to Eddie.

 

“Uh, hey,” he started, immediately looking down, the tip of his nose pink. “What did you get for number one?” Eddie asked.

 

“Oh, um.” Richie let his hand fall down to his desk, eyes following his pointer finger to the first problem where his messy handwriting was. “86.4.” 

 

He looked to Eddie who had his arms over his paper, covering up the problems. He nodded. “Uh-yeah. Me too, um . . . How did you get it? Because your work doesn’t look like mine . . .”

 

“Well I found the diameter and multiplied it by pi,” he said.

 

“Right,” Eddie responded, looking somewhat puzzled. “The diameter.”

 

“. . . Multiplied by pi.”

 

“Right.”

 

Richie watched as he stared down at his forearms for a while, his eyebrows slowly furrowing before he looked back up at him. “You gonna look at your work, or,” Richie said.

 

“Well, yeah , when you stop staring at me.”

 

“C’mon, Eds,” Richie said with a laugh. “We both know you didn’t do any of your work.”

 

Yeah , I did ,” he argued, sliding his papers closer to himself on the desk. “Wouldya stop callin’ me that?”

 

“Then show me,” Richie said, ignoring the last part. He was practically smiling ear to ear as he watched the other boy’s ears turn pink with anger. When Eddie wouldn’t let up, he reached over and tried to pry his arms away.

 

No , Richie ,” he chastised, like he was talking to a dog.

 

He only gave another laugh as they both collectively were shoving at each other, fighting for the packet. Richie had somehow gotten ahold of it and tried to stiffly pull it his way. It was starting to crinkle and apparently one of them had ripped off a corner at some point. He started to hold it away from Eddie, only making the boy reach across him, his small torso against Richie’s chest. Richie nonchalantly reached his right arm around his shoulder blades, acting as if he was trying to pull his arm away. “Just let me see, you little shit-”

 

Richie , you dumbass , give me my fucking paper!” he nearly yelled, voice obviously trying to be whisper-quiet and failing, his hands actively grabbing.

 

He wouldn’t lie, the feeling of his small body against his own . . . he really liked it. “ No , not until you-”

 

“Boys!” Mrs. Norsh suddenly shouted, making the two jump in fright and sit up straight in their seats. The entire class went silent, Richie seeing nothing but eyes on him. She made an attempt at fastly moving over to them, failing as her old legs wouldn’t have it. It took a good seven seconds for her to get there, the wrinkles on her face intensifying. When she did though, she slammed her veiny hand down in front of Richie, Eddie almost jumping out of his skin next to him. “I will not tolerate this kind of tomfoolery in my class! You two better behave if you want to pass this class. Next time, and you better hope there isn’t a next time, both of you are getting weekend detention.”

 

Richie could practically hear some of the other kids in the room give a gasp at ‘weekend detention’ and he had no clue what it meant, but hoped he would have the pleasure of finding it out for himself one day.

 

They all watched as she walked back to her desk, the only sound in the room was her grey-purple heels clacking on the tiled floor. Richie looked down in his hands, at Eddie’s crumpled paper between his fingers that didn’t, in fact, have any finished problems on it, only a few erased numbers under the first problem. Eddie, face on fire, quickly snatched it back, mumbling, “Nice going, Dipshit.”

 

“Yeah, well, at least I finished my work,” he said.

 

Eddie took his packet and ran it along the edge of the desk a few times, trying to straighten it out. “I couldn’t listen to her after I came into class like that. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”

 

“You know, Pasta-brains, that’s the first almost real thing you’ve said to me.”

 

“Yeah, and what’s the realest thing you’ve said to me? Absolutely nothing.”

 

“Oh, here’s one thing. I fucked your mom.”

 

“Oh, shut up, that's fucking disgusting.

 

It was mere moments before the third interruption of the class intervened, and it came in the form of a sweaty jock who looked surprisingly eager to get out of sight after he had passed a note to Mrs. Norsh. She adjusted her glasses, bringing the tiny slip of paper to her eyes then looked straight in Richie’s direction. “Eddie your mother is here to pick you up,” she said.

 

Richie’s eyebrows flew up as he turned to look back at the boy. Eddie looked just as surprised as him, but there was something different in his expression. Something off . “Eds?” Richie said, voice sounding worried.

 

He looked back at him slowly and then the expression of normalcy clicked onto his face. “Doctor’s appointment.” He took another moment to just sit there before shoving his crumpled packet into his backpack, zipping it to throw over his shoulder as he stood and snatched his binder before leaving.

 

Richie, simply dumbfounded, watched him walk out of the classroom in a hurry.

 

-

 

Richie was the first out of the classroom when the bell rang, gripping his backpack straps as he headed out to the main hallway and turned left instead of right. His legs were moving on their own as he slipped passed a group of kids in the hallway consisting of just blonde girls, all just altered versions of the other. In the back of his thoughts, he knew that Victor Criss was behind him. Richie hadn’t even looked in his direction once during the class period but a few times he could feel him staring at the back of his neck. 

 

He kept going though, pushing through the big doors to where all the offices and to where the lunchroom was just down the hall. Richie slowed downed his pace immensely, almost tripping over his untied shoelace. He glanced behind him at the doors, which kept opening and closing. There was no sight of Victor.

 

Richie kept going forward to the main office to stand beside the window. What am I doing? he thought, peeking inside. Oh. Eddie was stood there, next to the front desk as he chewed his pink lip, but Richie could hardly admire his figure, for another one had stepped in the way. An abnormally large one.

 

It was a woman who was wearing a thin flowered dress that hung off of her wide hips and swung with every small movement she made. Her curled brown hair was thin and greasy around her round face, unmoving as she talked. To Eddie. Richie’s eyes nearly popped out of his head when he realized, That’s his fucking mom, isn’t it. She made to turn to face the window, still spitting some kind of nonsense to Eddie which looked like it was upsetting him quite a bit. Richie jumped out of view, his back to the painted bricks by the office’s door. A few moments passed before it opened, shielding whoever’s view from the lanky boy.

 

“Mommy-,” Richie heard Eddie’s small voice say from the other side of the wood.

 

No , Eddie-Bear-”

 

Eddie-Bear!?

 

“-I’ve told you already. We’re not supposed to talk about this here.” The woman’s voice sounded mocking, like she was talking to a boy much younger than Eddie. Richie clenched his fists.

 

The door shut as they walked down the hallway, leaving Richie to stare after them. He nearly laughed at how small Eddie was compared to her, how thin and cute he was, and how she . . . was not. 

 

With the two of them out of view, he let out a sigh of relief and put his hands on his knees. This moment was cut short though, after the two doors leading into the office hallway squeaked as they were opened and closed again, by a voice he had heard many times before.

 

“Look who it is,” Henry Bowers’s voice called out, echoing against the bare walls.

 

Richie whipped his head up to see Henry, Victor, Belch, and Patrick standing in front of him, each with their own twisted smile on their face.

 

Oh fuck.

Chapter Text

He was pushed into the bathroom mirror, forehead first, letting out a cry as his hip smashed into the porcelain of the sink as well. A sound like cracking ice had rung out as he gripped the wet surface. Richie tilted his chin up to look at his reflection which had a fresh hairline fissure across his head in the glass. He felt the warm liquid start to drip from below his hairline, watched as it ran against his nose and dipped into his nostril before slipping over his lips. The smell of copper was making him sick. 

 

Belch had his back against the door, stopping anyone from getting in, while the other three boys were behind Richie.

 

Richie smiled through the pain, the crimson fluid rushing between his off-white pearls. “Why?” he simply questioned shakily, watching their reflections.

 

“Why not?” Henry asked. Stepping forward, giving Richie no time to move, the older boy took the palm off his hand and smashed his face into the glass once more, making it crunch.

 

Dizzily, Richie fell onto the floor, his glasses flying next to him, broken. What was that, the eighteenth pair? I’ve lost count. Suddenly the pain rushed into his brain like a flowing river and he grabbed his face, letting out an, “Ahh.” He shook his head back and forth slowly, trying to ease it. He wasn’t entirely sure, but he thought he could hear running water. Richie furrowed his dark eyebrows and tried to see what they were doing, but his eyes were useless without his glasses.

 

“Grab ‘em,” he heard Henry’s commanding voice say, before Richie was pulled to his shaky feet in front of the sink, Patrick holding his right arm back, Victor holding his left. The tall boy could vaguely see the outline of the bowl and realized that they had used the stopper to fill it to the brim with water.

 

“Wanna take a swim, Four-Eyes?” Henry asked, Patrick laughing behind him.

 

No, ” Richie let out, his voice wavering just before his head was plunged underwater. He forgot to hold his breath, breathing in a huge gulp of liquid that burned his throat before he was already violently tugged back out. Water splashed over the edge and onto the floor and he coughed some up, trying to rip his wrists free to no avail. Henry had a strong grip on the hair on the back of his head as he dunked him back under, pressing his nose against the metal plunger. Richie tried to jerk himself out, breathing in more water through his burning nose because he didn’t have time to breathe actual air while he was up, all noise muffled. He was pulled back up and pushed back under over and over again, eventually until he was choking and letting out muffled screams. Eventually, Henry seemed as if he wasn’t going to pull him back out.

 

Richie was counting the seconds he was under, 20, 21, 22, 23, trying to find a way to endure the scorching sensation. He remembers thinking, I think I’m going to die. He watched himself as he started to fade away, maybe hearing voices shouting above him, he wasn’t sure, 29, 30, 31, 32 . . .

 

Richie was tugged back out and he gasped for breath so hard he choked and coughed and spit up water. Every breath he took was a gasp, actually, and he was dropped to his knees, letting him catch himself with one hand on the dirty floor, the other gripping his throat.

 

“Let’s go,” Belch ushered.

 

There was a pause before Richie was kicked in the side to land against where two stalls met with a thump, the groups' footsteps leaving him alone. 

 

His drenched hair stuck to the floor as he heaved, trying to slow himself down. After a few minutes he was able to gasp out a , “God . . . damn .” More hot blood squeezed from his forehead and into his hair. Everything seemed to burn, his throat, his nostrils, his stomach most noticeably. Richie’s ears were clogged and ringing and he just laid there for a while, staring up at the stained ceiling.

 

Eventually, painfully slowly, he sat up, his head beating a rhythm in his skull. There was a black blurry clump in the shadow of the sink and he reached for it, shaking it a few times to rid of possible glass, then he unfolded its arms to put his glasses on his face. Richie blinked a few times, seeing clearly through the left lens, but the right had multiple pieces missing, almost making a checkerboard of blurry and clear vision. Some part of them was bent, causing the right arm poking uncomfortably against the side of his head.

 

Richie stumbled to the sink, nearly slipping on wet tiles, to grab at the porcelain. He looked emotionlessly at himself in the mirror, which now had a spider-web pattern across it that warped his face, blood swept along his cheekbone and still dripping. “ Fuck , Tozier. Where have you been?” he asked himself.

 

He left the bathroom and headed through the empty halls to his photography class, twenty-four minutes late.

 

-

 

When he entered the classroom all eyes were on him. Richie hadn’t even attempted to wipe any of the drying gunk off of his face and he smiled when they all stared up at him from their papers. “Ruh-Richie,” Bill stuttered out in shock as he sat next to him. “What did you do this time?”

 

He chuckled, shaking his head. “ I didn’t do any thing, Big Bill. Henry just felt the need to smash my face in the bathroom mirror and then practically drown me in the sink, is all.”

 

Ms. Williams had appeared next to him, brown eyes wide. “Are you okay? Do you need to go to the nurse’s office?” she asked, setting a hand on his boney shoulder.

 

Richie pulled away, brow furrowed. This is new , he thought, thinking of every other adult in Derry who had turned a blind eye to the kind of shit their kids were put through every day. “I’m okay,” he responded.

 

She leaned back, eyebrows raised and then said, “Come with me.”

 

Richie followed her into the room in the back (after he waggled his eyebrows at Bill suggestively, then winced from the pain in his face after he moved it), first having the walk through a short twisting hallway, its walls painted black. He mumbled, “What the fuck,” as they came into an all-black room, one where he could barely see in.

 

Ms. Williams flicked on the light and said, “Welcome to the darkroom.”

 

Richie looked around, taking in everything. There was an island in the middle, separated by a small wall, both sides having four short tubs filled with some kind of liquid set on top. Around the walls of the room, set on a continuous counter with countless drawers, there was the same machine again and again. "Aren't you supposed to keep the lights off?" Richie asked.

 

“Only when we’re developing photos,” she answered, motioning him to the other side of the room.

 

He followed her instructions, eyes still glued to the oddities around him. He snatched a small item on the way, twirling it around his fingers. "What's this?"

 

"It's to check if your photo is blurry under the enlarger. Now, Richie-"

 

"What's an enlarger?"

 

"That's what these machines are-"

 

"But what do they do ?"

 

"Well, we’ll be learning about that in a few weeks, but-”

 

“Do we each get our own cameras? What kind are they? What happens if we break them because I’m going to have to get new glasses soon and my dad will not be happy also paying for a broken camera-”

 

Richie ,” she said, sternly. “Just listen.” Ms. Williams snatched some paper towel from the rack and wet it under the sink she was next to before handing it to him. “Oh, hold on,” she said, standing up on her tip-toes to open and reach into the cabinet.

 

The woman was short, not shorter than Eddie, though , and her straight black hair was pulled into a low ponytail, hanging between her shoulder blades. She had thin bangs which, to Richie at least, was an obvious cover-up for her high forehead. Like the day prior, she wore clothes fit for a grandmother, a sweater over her collared shirt on top of a knee-length tube skirt. Ms. Williams was overall pretty, but almost in . . . a motherly way. 

 

“Here, clean all that . . . muck off,” she said, passing him a pocket mirror.

 

Richie laughed, furrowing his brows. “I think you mean blood.” He flicked the mirror open and looked at his reflection close up. “ Ech .” Blood was caked in his hairline and inside his nose (which almost looked broken) and across his cheek. He squinted his eyes, almost unsure if he was actually seeing what he thought he was. There were a few minuscule chunks of glass partially stuck into his forehead, one on the bridge of his nose. Richie sighed, placing the paper towels down before leaning his elbows on the counter to get a better angle. He raised his hand up, thumb and pointer finger out, to pick the first piece of glass out with his nails. It didn’t hurt, but Ms. William’s wince from beside him made him think it should’ve.

 

“What happened?” she asked, looking away.

 

Richie shrugged. He plucked another shard of glass out, one above his eyebrow.

 

“Did someone hurt you? A bully?”

 

He let out a huff of a laugh. “A bully ? I’m not five, you know,” he said, looking at her before going back to work.

 

“Listen, Richie-”

 

“Why’re you talking to me like . . . like you’re my friend? What happened to Mr. Tozier, or Richard, I’m sending you to detention-”

 

“I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what happened,” she stated clearly, shaking her head.

 

A tick sounded, Richie mumbling, “That kinda hurt,” after he dropped the largest piece of glass from his nose on the countertop. “There isn’t anything you can do,” he told her. He took the wet paper towels and cleaned up the scabbed blood around his face. He left the area in the middle of his forehead alone, the place that had taken the most damage, where the skin had split and caused most of the blood. “Welp, thanks Teach,” he said, brushing the glass into the palm of his hand and throwing it away in the trash can with the towels. 

 

She had tried to tell him something but he exited the darkroom, hearing her voice fading, and just like that left the school building to have a smoke under the bleachers.

 

-

 

Richie had stayed outside the last period and a half, just sitting in the grass and gladly feeling the cool breeze partially relieve the aching of his face. He would’ve completely blown off school if he could afford to skip detention. But, he knew, if he had it pushed to the next day, Friday, I will be absolutely pissed.

 

So, at the end of the day when the final bell rang, Richie headed inside of the building and walked to the library. Kids kept staring at him from the other side of the hall, furrowing their brows and gasping, the girl with the pink streaks in her hair from his geometry class even looked surprised when she saw him, until her eyebrows dropped and she waved her manicured hand at him seductively. He winked at her before heading into the library, which was basically just a small room with way too many bookshelves. Richie stopped at the front (only) desk and stood there.

 

It was Gretta Keene on the other side, who was only a grade higher than him and used to pick on Beverly all the time in middle school. She was resting her chin on her hand, flipping through a magazine. 

 

Richie blinked a few times before noticing the golden call bell on the desk, delightfully smiling that they had one, and then slapped his hand down it first, before dinging it over and over again.

 

Gretta slowly looked up at him, chewing on her trademark bubblegum. He remembered when she stuck that same type of gum in his friend’s red hair and remembered watching Stan carefully cut it out. “What do you want, Dick-for-Brains?” she sighed.

 

“Detention,” he said, tapping the bell once more.

 

She angrily reached out to snatch it, dragging it back so it fell on the floor next to her with a clang. Gretta took her time, pulling out a notebook that had a few names written on it. She scanned her eyes down before writing a check next to one of them with a red pen.

 

“Don’t you work at your dad’s pharmacy?” Richie wondered out loud.

 

“Needed a little extra cash.” She limply pointed behind her. “In there,” Gretta mumbled, going back to reading her magazine.

 

He headed around the desk to the door she had pointed at, sighing. Probably gonna make me write ‘I will not speak unless spoken to’ a hundred times. In cursive. Richie stepped inside, closing the door behind him. There were two kids there already, a girl with dark brown matted hair whose arms were crossed tightly over her chest, and a guy whose eyes were squinted and red as he looked around the classroom slowly.

 

The teacher looked up at him from his book, hard angry eyes watching him. He wore a button-up shirt and had wide shoulders that did not fit with his abnormally small head. 

 

Richie moved to the back of the class and slumped down in the corner seat, dropping his backpack by his feet and staring off through the window. He folded his arms on the desk to lay his aching head on, now only seeing the sky behind the glass, the sun shining on his face. A sigh pushed its way past his lips. We’re not supposed to talk about this here, Eddie’s mother had said. What did that mean? he wondered. What were they not supposed to talk about?

 

Why’re you so obsessed with him? the kid from his class’s voice suddenly blurt out in his head. Riche clenched his eyes shut. Because I want to be his friend.

 

His friend?

 

Yes.

 

No.

 

Why else would I be worried for someone I just met? He’s a cool guy-

 

No.

 

Images started to flash through his mind, almost like a projector flashes across a screen, clicking every time it changed. Eddie’s eyes staring softly at him. Click. Eddie's red freckled cheeks. Click. Eddie’s cute fanny pack. Click . Eddie’s pretty face. Click. His small smile. Click. His pink lips. Click. His laugh- Click. His ha- Click. His- Click. Click. Click-click-click-click-cli-

 

Richie’s eyes flung open as he sat up abruptly.

 

This was going to be a long hour.

 

-

 

After detention, he nearly tripped out of the school, glad to be free from that hell. The sun had started to beat down and he shielded the brightness from his eyes, squinting. He narrowed his gaze even more, seeing three figures standing by the bike rack. He let out a laugh of relief as he got closer, face throbbing. “Hey,” Richie called out. “What’re you guys doin’ here?”

 

It was Bev, Stan, and Bill, of course, the three of them waiting for him.

 

They met him halfway, Beverly coming up to him and observing his face. “Just thought we’d walk you home.” She reached up to grab his chin, moving it so his head turned from side to side.

 

“I’m fine, mother ,” Richie said.

 

“That must be, what, your tenth pair of glasses that you’ve broken?” Stan asked, smirking as Beverly let go.

 

Richie had smiled and hooked his arm around Stanley’s neck, pulling him along, Bill and Bev walking on his right. “Not the last pair, that’s for sure.”

 

-

 

When Richie came home that day he went straight to the couch to watch television. His mom was not home, most likely out with one of her drunkard friends, and his dad would be at work until seven. His backpack was thrown to the floor, limp next to the small table between the couch and TV, and he moved to lay on his side, resting his head slowly on the throw pillow. Richie turned on the news channel, too lazy to actually watch something, partially because he just wanted to close his eyes and will away his forehead pain. Every light in his home was off, except for the light behind his eyelids, the flashing and changing of the commercials.

 

Richie had almost drifted asleep until he had heard a familiar name from the TV. His eyebrows furrowed as he squinted, his vision coming back to him. He caught on to what the reporter on the channel was saying, a man’s picture next to her thin figure.

 

-officially been ruled as an accident. Frank Kaspbrak tragically left behind his wife and child just a month ago today, the retired firefighter unfairly taken from them due to yet another drunk driving incident. His death marked the third automobile accident this year, a new record for the small town-

 

Richie jumped up, his glasses nearly flying from his face before he frantically reached up to hold them in place. He stared at the photo of the man that was next to the news reporter, taking in everything he could before it disappeared from the screen. He was handsome, brown hair with a slightly receding hairline from aging, a few greys here and there. Wearing a grin, his white teeth partially flashed under his lip. The man had brown eyes, smile wrinkles topping it all off. 

 

Richie had known, he knew he had heard the name Kaspbrak before. 

 

On the news, it was on the news.

 

His jaw nearly hit the floor.

 

Because that man was Eddie’s father.

Chapter Text

What had almost surprised Richie as much as the information he now knew, was the way Eddie had reacted to his face. The bruises had started to appear in deeper colors on his forehead and nose, purple and blue and black tie-dye. There was a bandaid under the bridge of his broken glasses that he continued to wear.

 

Eddie had dropped his backpack to the ground and thudded down in his seat before the boy could even explain the cause of his wounds, and eagerly grabbed his face to bring it close to his.

 

Ow-”

 

“What happened? Are those cuts? Did you fall? Did someone do this? Did you go to the doctor-” His eyes were frantically traveling his features.

 

Richie couldn’t breathe all of the sudden, feeling almost as if there was a pillow pressed to his mouth, stopping the air intake. He didn’t hear the boy for a few moments, only feeling the weight of his hands against his cheeks. A thought passed his mind, that Eddie must feel the sudden heat radiating from beneath his freckles. Words didn’t even try to accumulate because he was so stunned.

 

“-Are you listening to me, you dip ?” Eddie asked, dropping his hands.

 

He nearly coughed up the words, saying, “Bowers slammed my face against the bathroom mirror,” surprised at himself for not lying, a small part of him wishing he did.

 

Eddie’s eyebrows scrunched together, creating an angry wrinkle between them. “Did you get all the glass out?” he asked.

 

Richie shrugged, thinking, why haven’t I ever paid attention to how cute his button nose is? Have I? Because it’s almost weird how perfect it-

 

Richie , you need to make sure all of the glass is out,” he whined. “Did you even clean it? You didn’t, did you, you’re gonna get an infection!”

 

He had smiled back at him, completely ignoring what he was trying to tell him. But Richie’s heart then lurched, remembering the previous night. Frank Kaspbrak tragically left behind his wife and child just a month ago today, the retired firefighter unfairly taken from them due to yet another drunk driving incident. What was he to say? What could Richie do to make it better? Maybe he doesn’t even like his dad , he thought. But what if he does? What if his father was the one person he could always go to when something went wrong, when Eddie needed help? He had wondered that the entire day and over the next three weeks.

 

Richie had started to walk Eddie to his classes, carrying his stuff, the spitfire originally refusing, eventually giving in because he was too fed up with dropping his things in the hallway because of his cast. Richie hadn’t brought up the figure in the kid’s window or his mother or his father to him and settled on never actually doing it, deciding that Eddie would eventually tell him what in the hell was going on.

 

He had finally met this Ben that Beverly had gone on and on about. He was a quiet kid with a slightly chubby build, average height, maybe a little bit on the short side. Richie was apprehensive meeting him at first, unsure if he was really fit for Bev. But then he realized he was totally in love with her. He was blushing all the time and staring at her face, eyes burning a hole in her skin basically. He could tell that they both wanted to date and wondered, Are they really that oblivious? Just hook up already. It’s not that hard .

 

Richie was totally on board for their relationship but it didn’t seem like Stan was so quick to make a decision. His eyebrows were down as he watched them, arms crossed. Stan had been friends with Beverly for the longest, they knew everything about each other, so Richie didn’t blame him.

 

Eddie and Richie continued their dynamic, bantering and all, in the time being. Richie felt something over the weeks festering nervously around in his stomach in which he didn’t pay any attention to. Mostly because he was too afraid to.

 

Like the first time they had changed in the locker room, the feeling was overwhelming him. They hadn’t spoke the entire time they were in there, let alone let their eyes waver to the other. At least that was what Richie thought until he couldn’t help it anymore, sneaking a glance at the boy next to him. The problem was, Eddie had also decided to look at him at that moment, right as Richie’s eyes had slipped down to see him pulling on his gym shorts over the smooth expanse of skin on his thighs. Eddie had seen him looking at him and Richie was absolutely ruined the entirety of the period, an utter mess. Whether it was because he had been caught or because of what he had witnessed, he didn’t know. Both .

 

Trying to rid that of his memories, he continued their friendship as if nothing had happened.

 

It was after these three weeks that everything had started to unravel, and it had started with one simple question:

 

“Do you think when I come to your house tomorrow your mom’ll let me hit it?” 

 

Eddie had nearly exploded right there at the bus stop. The tips of his ears had flooded with pink and his lips pulled back in anger. “Listen here, you absolute fucking menace ,” he started, voice hushed so no one else could hear.  “The only reason you’re even coming over is because she won’t be there and we need to work on our homework.”

 

“Sure, sure, homework . Is that what they call it where you’re from, Eds? Because here they call it fu-

 

“Trashouth, if you don’t stop talking I will push you in front of the bus.”

 

“Go ahead, Eddie Spaghetti, I’m a lover, not a fighter .”

 

That was another thing, Eddie had taken to calling Richie Trashmouth , something his friends had said to him a few times over the years because of how much he ran his mouth. And he absolutely loved it. Richie had been calling Eddie a multitude of nicknames since they met and for the boy to do it back? It made that queasy feeling in his stomach even more excited.

 

-

 

On Saturday Richie headed over to Eddie’s house, backpack on and a pack of cigarettes in his back pocket. It was around three in the afternoon (when he was supposed to be there) when he left, the warm breeze trying its best to calm down his nerves. It didn’t work.

 

The only reason he had left late was because he had stared at the clock for too long, leg bouncing up and down in a rhythm. When it was fifteen minutes to three and he was about to leave, Richie had realized he hadn’t gotten any of his things together to bring. Shit.

 

Eddie’s house was a warm brown color, a set of green painted steps up to his door, the small patio surrounded by thin trees. Richie tripped up the driveway, legs wobbly as he nervously mumbled, “ You fuckin’ pussy ,” before stopping in his tracks. His arms seemed to work by himself to drop his backpack to the ground, slipping his cigarettes and lighter from his pocket to try to ease his anxiety. Richie spun around, his back to the house, whilst pulling his last smoke out with the lighter alongside it. Flicking it open (It was his father’s old metal one in which he had borrowed ) he tried to light it, flame wavering in his unsteady hand. Once the cigarette sizzled he snapped it back shut with a clink and returned it into where it lived, his pocket. Richie breathed the chemicals in slowly, holding it in between his two fingers. He adjusted his cracked glasses with his knuckle on his other hand.

 

Unexpectedly, the abrupt sound of the door opening could be heard from behind him. Richie threw his head over his shoulders, saying, “Oh hey , Eds-”

 

Eddie had almost fallen down the steps, coming to his side to snatch the cigarette out of Richie’s hand and then violently chuck it out into the wet grass.

 

“What the hell -”

 

You smoke ?” Eddie nearly yelled. He looked angrier than Richie had ever seen him, mouth open in shock, hand swatting away the cloud of smoke that still floating in the air away from his face.

 

His hands floated up in between them dumbly. “Well . . . yeah? I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned it to you before.”

 

“I thought you were kidding! Like, ‘Oh I fucked your mom last night’ , or, ‘My dick’s so big I could blah blah blah-

 

“I never kid, my dear Eds. I smoke, I’ve got a big dick, and, yes, I’ve gotten down and dirty with Mrs. Kaspbrak, so what?”

 

Eddie smacked him in the arm before sticking his finger out towards the other’s face. “Stop smoking.” He spun around to stomp angrily up the steps, all the while mumbling, “Just come inside.”

 

The inside of Eddie’s house was tidy, the living area just to the right when they walked in. There was an armchair and a small bookshelf set in the room but Richie didn’t have much time to look as he was pulled down the hallway. He caught a glimpse of the kitchen as they turned into a room, Eddie looking nervous as he shut the door behind them. “Didn’t you say your mom was going to be home really late?” Richie asked. Eddie’s room was painted a light green, walls devoid of any posters. His bed was up against the wall in the corner, on the edge of the bed was his window. It was the cleanest he’d ever seen a room (Stan’s would be a close contender, but his was more orderly than clean ), not a speck of dust anywhere. It smelled like lemon scented floor cleaner in there.

 

“Yeah but she’s insane so she could literally walk through the door right now and we’d be fucked,” he admitted, before gesturing for Richie to take his shoes off, irritated.

 

He laughed and kicked them off, pushing the beat-up sneakers next to the door with his socked foot. He looked up, trying to speak before catching something with his eyes. “What’s that?”

 

Eddie’s eyebrows (which were almost . . . long? Why does that make them so pretty? I mean, not pretty, that’s not what I meant, they’re not pretty, I didn’t mean that I find Eddie pretty or anything, no, I would never-I didn’t mean- ) scrunched up and he asked, “What’s what?”

 

Richie took a step forward to look at Eddie’s cast. He had never gotten any signatures on it, Richie knew, but there was writing right smack dab in the center of it. In big capital letters, it read, LOSER . Richie felt his insides twist with confusion and hurt. “Who wrote that?” he quietly asked, fingers lightly sweeping over it.

 

“Oh,” he said. “That.” Eddie pulled his arm away, saying, “Just Gretta, you know, who works at Keene’s? She said she would sign it and instead she . . . well, you know.” He gave a laugh that was devoid of joy.

 

“What a bi-”

 

Eddie took in a deep breath to let out a gag and then covered his mouth with the palm of his hand. “And then she stuck her gum on it,” he said, voice muffled. He turned and sped over to his desk, grabbing his fanny pack that was sat upon it. The small boy unzipped it quick to pull out his inhaler and release it between his lips.

 

“Oh shit ,” Richie said, laughing.

 

“It’s not funny , dickhead,” Eddie spit. “She just yanked it outta her mouth and I had to clean it off afterwards.” He gave a visible shudder.

 

“No, it’s pretty funny,” he said absent-mindedly. He had noticed something else. Over Eddie’s shoulder, on top of his dresser. There was a picture frame. He had to squint to see it, due to his glasses, but the picture had been pretty clear to make out. It was Eddie and his father.

 

Eddie had seen him contemplating this and peaked around his thin shoulder slowly. He stared for a few moments before returning his gaze to Richie. The boy’s lips parted for a moment before he quietly told him, “We should start on our homework,” eyes downcast.

 

Richie’s own eyes widened as he eventually nodded. “Uh . . . sure.”

 

-

 

“Yeah, I definitely finished all of this already.”

 

“What? How?

 

The two of them were sat on Eddie’s bed, up against the wall with their homework in their laps. Richie was leaning over, elbows on his knees (he was sitting cross-legged), the other’s knees pulled up almost against his torso, his notebook on his thighs. Richie’s head was turned to curiously watch the other, who was completely freaking out.

 

“I was bored yesterday in photography so I finished it,” he replied.

 

“You were bored ?” Eddie asked, ignoring the fact that Richie had still come to his house to work on his homework even though he had already finished it. He let out a frustrated groan. “How do you get it so fast? You got an A on the test and you didn’t even study!”

 

“Hey, you got an A too.”

 

“Only ‘cause I stayed up until midnight the night before studying. I felt like I was being frickin’ brainwashed.”

 

Richie blinked a few times, staring at Eddie’s little pout before sitting up straight. He leaned towards the other, pressing their shoulders together to look at the problem he was working on. He ignored how he could now smell him, the scent like fresh laundry straight from the wash. Richie clicked his tongue a few times, the other going oddly still, before he said, “What the fuck did you do?”

 

I don’t know!

 

“Why is the point all the way on the other side of the graph?”

 

I have no fucking clue!

 

“Listen here, Eds,” Richie started, not even noticing that he had wrapped his arm around Eddie’s shoulders to point at the problem, “What’s that coordinate right there?”

 

“Uh.” He brought his own hand up, visibly smaller, to trace down the graph, mumbling under his breath. “Six three.”

 

“Yeah, and the scale factor?”

 

“A third.” 

 

Their fingers brushed.

 

Richie gulped.

 

“Yeah-” (voice crack), “Yes. Now just multiply the x and y of the coordinate by a third.”

 

“And then . . . ?”

 

“And then that’s it. You just plot the new point. Boom.”

 

“That’s it?” Eddie asked softly, looking up at him, brown eyes against brown.

 

Wait, why are we so close right now? “Mhm,” he sounded, breathing in through his nose. The room was too quiet, not even a clock to pass the time by ticking. They were staring at each other for way too long, Richie’s heart beating in his ears way too fast, thump thump thumpthumpthump- Eddie’s eyelids were too low and his long eyebrows were screwed together too tight and he could suddenly feel hot breath against his lips-

 

Richie pulled away, clearing his throat and sticking his hands in his lap. His face was burning. So was Eddie’s. “ Hey , where’s your bathroom?”

 

-

 

“You fuckin’ weirdo,” he whispered to his reflection. “You idiot .”

 

He had splashed cold water on his face at least half a dozen times, trying to rid it of that tingly red-tinged feeling. Gripping the porcelain, hands slippery, it made him think of when Henry was plunging his sopping head into the sink. He studied himself in the mirror, his bruises now faded yellow splotches. Richie was still waiting for his next pair of glasses from the optometrist so he was stuck with the broken ones which pressed into his temple at an awkward angle and made it hard for him to see anything because one lense was broken. He sighed.

What a great start to high school.

A sudden knock came from the other side of the bathroom door. “Richie?” Eddie called. “Douchebag, you’ve been in there for like thirty minutes.”

 

“Sorry, Eds, just needed to take a huge shit is all-”

 

“You’re disgusting , you know that-”

 

Richie hurriedly opened the door and popped out of the bathroom, flipping the light off as he went and wiping his hands on his jeans. “What, were you worried about me or something?”

 

Eddie’s lips parted in shock as he took a step back and looked away. “ No . Just worried you died or something. I was already coming up with a plan on where to hide the body,” he joked.

 

Richie let out a hiccup of laughter. “Wouldn’t doubt it,” he said as they walked back to his room. “You finish that homework yet, or’ve you given up? You know, I won’t be mad if you wanna copy mine, I am like the smartest person in our class-”

 

Eddie had rushed over to the bed to snatch his sheet of homework and spun around, a triumphant ( cute ) look on his face. And every problem was filled out. 

 

Richie couldn’t help but smile, unable to spit out another joke as the boy usually would. He just let a breath out through his nose and softly said, “Hey, nice job, Spaghetti.”

 

“Don’t call me that,” Eddie responded, and he continued to smile.

 

-

 

Deciding he didn’t want to go home just yet, Richie had stayed at Eddie’s. He was sprawled out on the bed on his stomach, legs stretched all the way to the headboard, knees having to be turned and slightly bent because of their length. He was leaning forwards with his head in his hands again, watching Eddie steer around the room. 

 

“Ooh, and this is my favorite comic book,” Eddie said quite shyly, looking into his drawer.

 

“Hand it over here, Pip,” Richie said, reaching out with his left hand to grab at the air a few times.

 

Eddie grimaced. “ Pip?

 

“Short for Pipsqueak,” Richie said, smile growing. “Now hand me that comic book, my good sir .”

 

Eddie’s head fell back onto his shoulders as he let out a huff of annoyance. “You know, it would be great if you would stop that,” he mumbled, snatching the graphic novel from the drawer (before hip-checking it closed) then walking to the bed to hand it to Richie. “Wrinkle, rip, or smudge any of the pages and you’re dead.

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Richie said as he took it, examining the front cover. The bed creaked as Eddie sat by his shoulder, eyeing him. “Wait, Spider-Man ? What’s so special about this?” he asked, turning to the other, bewildered that Eddie’s ‘favorite comic book’ was just a regular old Spider-Man. It had even come out that year.

 

He watched as Eddie sucked his bottom lip between his teeth, brows furrowed as he looked to the floor. “I just like Spider-Man, okay?” He took the comic back, a little forcefully. The boy held it in his hands, doe eyes scanning it over.

 

“You have like a Spider-Man fetish or something? Oh I got it, you want Peter Parker to shoot his web-”

 

Stop talking .”

 

Richie quirked an eyebrow up at him, watching as the other stared at the cover art in which the web-slinging hero flew through the air on a block of concrete, the Green Goblin following close behind. “Eds, that’s literally the third part. D’you even have the ones before it?”

 

Eddie let his shoulders slump down. “ No .”

 

“Dude, then why-” Richie stopped himself, noticing how the other boy’s eyes were beginning to shine, lip giving a miniscule quiver. Richie immediately brought himself to sit up, eyes wide. Oh shit , he thought, feeling responsible. He scooched to sit next to Eddie, their arms pressed together. The boy’s jaw was clenched, like he was trying to keep himself together, in one piece. “Eddie . . .” Richie had started. He didn’t know what to say next, racking his brain for anything. “What’s wrong?” he eventually decided on, voice wavering.

 

Nothing’s wrong, Richie.” Eddie turned his head to the left, hiding his face.

 

“Well, it doesn’t seem like nothing’s wrong, Eds. You seem pretty upset.”

 

Well, I’m not . So just lay off .”

 

Richie leaned back, eyes traveling the white ceiling as he tried to weigh the options. Push him or let it go? Apparently, his mind had already made the decision, because he blurted out, “You can tell me, you know? Be-because I know, well for me I guess, it’s really hard for me to tell people what’s got me upset.” He rubbed the back of his neck shyly. He was clenching his eyes shut because just saying that was hard for him. 

 

Why am I telling him this? 

 

Because it’s Eddie.  

 

“But after I do, I feel a little better.” Richie slowly opened his eyes, just in time to see the single  tear roll down Eddie’s cheek as he stared at him. 

 

He quickly swiped it away, blowing a shaky breath through his lips. His face was red, hot. Eddie seemed to contemplate Richie’s words, looking over the comic book with his wet eyes, chewing on his lip. “I . . .” He looked to Richie, eyebrows furrowed. “My dad gave it to me,” he whispered.

 

And all of the sudden it made sense. Richie nearly choked in realization. He’s actually gonna tell me . He watched as Eddie’s lips pulled back, ready to sob something out. No, Eds, you don’t have to tell me, I’m sorry, you don’t have to-

 

He’s gone, Richie, he’s-”

 

Richie methodically fell forwards, wrapping his arms around the small boy who quickly reached his hands around his neck to tug at the back of Richie’s shirt, trying to pull him closer. The comic book fell to the bed with a thump. He started to heave with sobs, hiding his face in his neck. Richie held him with care, firmly pressing his hands against him, his own heart breaking in the meantime. He was completely shocked, completely in awe of how different this Eddie was from the one he knew, and he was strong, so much stronger than Richie had given him credit for.

 

He’s dead ,” he sobbed, letting all his weight (which wasn’t much) be cradled by Richie. “ He’s-”

 

“I know,” he said quietly, and he did . And he was sorry . More sorry than he had ever been, and this new realization made Richie nearly cry with him. He had also noticed that Eddie was hiding himself, sobbing hard . Is this the first time he’s letting this all out? It sure seemed like it. Eddie’s body was shaking as he cried, mumbling and incoherently saying things, gasping for breath. His cast was pressing into Richie’s back uncomfortably, but he barely noticed, focusing on holding Eddie properly. 

 

It was until a few minutes later that Eddie had calmed down a little, enough to clearly say something to Richie’s neck. “I’m pretty sure it was the mafia or something.”

 

Richie gave a small huff of laughter against his hair and tried to keep his hold on him, but Eddie pulled away.

 

“No, really, Richie.”

 

The tall boy had smiled at him once more, giving a soft chuckle in response.

 

Eddie was holding on to his arms still and he shook his head. “No, Richie , I’m not kidding,” he said, eyes still shiny.

 

Richie’s smile flickered, eyebrows twitching down. “What?”

 

“Like, I dunno, the mafia? Or whoever-”

 

What? ” His jaw actually dropped, eyes widening. “You’re still kidding, right Eds? You’re joking around? ‘Cause this isn’t really-”

 

Richie had stopped himself, seeing the look in the other’s eyes, a look of fear and, I shouldn’t have said anything.

 

Richie said nothing, really fucking confused.

 

What the fuck have I just gotten myself into?

Chapter Text

“Okay, let me get this straight,” Richie said. He was standing in the middle of Eddie’s bedroom, eyes not on the other boy but traveling the floor as he contemplated what he had been told. He tilted his chin up, running his fingers through his dark curls, pushing them away from his face and making his bangs slightly messy. “You think your dad was killed by the mafia, because, what, you saw some shady guys talking to him? Eds, you can’t be serious.”

 

Eddie stood from his bed, crossing his arms. “Okay, first, you asshole , I told you it wasn’t actually the mafia, I just didn’t know what to call them, so stop acting like I’m out of my damn mind . And they weren’t just shady guys, they were . . . I don’t know okay. All I know is that I saw them talking to my dad more than once.” He pressed the palms of his hands against his face and let out a groan. “And they were saying it was his fault,” he mumbled.

 

“What?”

 

Eddie let his hands drop down to his sides, face red from all the excitement. “The police said that it was my dad’s fault. The car crash. They told my mom and I that his blood alcohol concentration was really high.”

 

“Okay? So-”

 

“My dad doesn’t drink.”

 

Richie contemplated this for a moment before saying, “Are you sure he didn’t stop by the bar for a drink or something? I mean, it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal at the time-”

 

Eddie shook his head. “No, he would never. Never .”

 

Richie felt his stomach churn with something. He watched Eddie for a while, both silent. It had gotten a little darker outside, the sun that had been covered by clouds all day trying to disappear. 

 

Eddie shook his head once more. “Never mind, Richie. I shouldn’t have . . . It’s not your problem-”

 

“I’ll help you,” he interrupted. Richie didn’t know where this had come from, but he knew he didn’t like the look of utter sadness on the other’s face.

 

“ . . . What?”

 

“Whatever you need. I’ll help you,” he said. “Like, if you just need someone to talk to. Or if you really wanna find out what happened to your dad, I’ll do that too. Promise.”

 

Eddie’s eyebrows furrowed. “Why?”

 

Richie shrugged. “‘Cause we’re friends.” He could hear a voice practically screaming with laughter in the back of his head.

 

Eddie slowly nodded, lips parting. “Yeah. Okay.”

 

He stood there for a few moments before saying, “Well, I should probably get going.” He gave a small smile, before turning around to snatch his backpack from the ground and then tug his shoes back on. He grabbed the metal doorknob, glancing back over his shoulder once more before turning it and stepping out.

 

“Hey, Rich,” Eddie called.

 

He called me Rich . Richie turned to the side, peering into the room. “Huh?”

 

Eddie bit his lip, very slightly bouncing on his heels in the cute way that he did sometimes, before saying, “Thank you.”

 

Richie felt a smile grow on his face. “No problem, Eds,” he said wholeheartedly.

 

Eddie softly rolled his eyes, lips turned up.

 

Richie then left finally, that same smile glued to his face.

 

-

 

“Your teacher called.”

 

Richie rolled his eyes, letting his elbow thump down to the armrest, his head tilted to face the window. “Oh yeah? Which one?” he asked, not really caring about what his father was saying, just amusing him. 

 

“Mrs. Norsh?”

 

Oh goddamn it.

 

“She said that you've been acting inappropriately in her class and if you keep it up she's dropping you," his father, Wentworth Tozier, told him, eyes fixated on the road.

 

Now, the last thing Richie wanted was to be dropped from the class. Not because he actually cared about what his teacher said or what she thought of him (he could care less about that) but because that would mean one less class with Eddie. “Good,”  he said. “Let her.”

 

“Richie, you need to start caring about your schoolwork. College,” he said sternly.

 

“Yeah,” he murmured absentmindedly. Richie had more important things to think about than college at the moment, like how to help Eddie with his problem. The night prior had been a punch to the gut for him, Richie anxious about what the two of them were getting themselves into. Okay, he thought. If this really is some sort of shady mafia situation, then wouldn’t that put us in danger, too? Is this the best idea? Shouldn’t we leave it alone? But . . .we can’t can we.  I can't.  Eddie deserves to know what happened to his dad. How are we even supposed to find out? What does Eddie’s mom think of this?

 

No, Eddie-Bear, I’ve told you already. We’re not supposed to talk about this here.

 

Richie furrowed his brows as he remembered what Eddie’s mom had told him outside of the school’s main office. He’s not telling me something . What did she mean by-

 

“How’s she doing?” his father interrupted.

 

Richie felt himself clench his fists in frustration. “Shouldn’t you know? She’s your wife,” he said through gritted teeth.

 

“Yeah, and she’s your mother. I can’t be home as much as I’d like to-”

 

As much as you’d like to? Bullshit. If you were home as much as you’d like to be you’d be long gone.

 

“-so I can’t see to it that she’s getting better. This morning she seemed better, don’t you think so?” he asked, sounding sickeningly hopeful, making Riche cringe. 

 

“She hasn’t even been up for thirty minutes, Dad. She’s probably pouring herself a glass of wine as we speak. Probably be plastered when I get home,” he mumbled.

 

He heard his dad give a large huff of air, a short silence passing between them. “Look, Richie, I’m trying .” They had reached the front of the school, the car slowing to a stop, Richie's hand on the door handle. “Richie,” he gently ushered.

 

The lanky boy breathed slowly in through his nose, collecting himself before turning to look at his father.

 

“I’m trying,” he repeated. “Just give me a little slack, Kiddo. I’ve got to basically run the place at work and I know you don’t want excuses, but it’s true. It’s a lot, with your mom and me and things are a little crazy right now, I know , believe me,” he said, talking with his hands. “But I drove you to school, huh? It’s better than nothing.”

 

Richie pushed open the door before saying, “Totally. Nothing would make me happier than having to endure a car ride with you,” and stepped out, gripping his backpack strap and forcefully slamming the door behind him. 

 

-

 

Leaning over his desk, Richie was frantically writing numbers down, trying to do mental math as fast as he could. He could hear the hurried clacking of Eddie typing things into his calculator next to him and let out an amused huff of laughter. “Answer?”

 

“Uh . . .” (more clacking), “23.47,” Eddie answered.

 

Richie wrote it down, waiting for Eddie to do so as well, and then took a moment to appreciate their work. They had finished the entire worksheet together in about fifteen minutes, leaving time at the end of the period for them to do as they please. Which was, of course, figure out what the hell they were going to do.

 

Jesus , I feel like we’re in a movie right now,” Richie said.

 

“Where do we start?” he asked, ignoring him. He had a slightly sorrowful look to his face, one that was present but more background noise than out in the open. He was folding and unfolding the corner of his page over and over again, fingers moving rapidly.

 

“Well,” Richie started, lowering his voice. He racked his brain for something that might help them. “Did your dad have any close friends? What about when he was-” He stopped himself from saying, working as a firefighter . Eddie had never told him about his father’s profession, Richie had heard it on the news along with his death. He felt disingenuine for not telling him that he had already known and now it was too late to say anything, because then it would be a lie. “Working,” he said simply. “Friends from work,” he specified.

 

Eddie squinted his eyes, thinking. “Well, he quit his job, like, eight months ago.”

 

Richie lifted his eyebrows. “Maybe that’s why.”

 

“Why what?”

 

“Could someone’ve been angry that he quit?” he asked, looking at the other two who sat at their table, searching for any sign of them listening in on their conversation. The kid in front of him was passed out, the girl staring down at her paper confusedly. He turned to look at Mrs. Borsh, who’s eyelids were heavy as she stared at the wall. 

 

“Maybe. The guys didn’t really like him there.”

 

Richie turned back to him. “Uh- Where did he work?”

 

“He was a fireman,” he said, and smiled. “My mom hated it.”

 

“What about you?” Richie asked, “Did you hate it?” He observed the look of pure adoration that Eddie got when he talked about his father. Richie couldn’t help but smile back.

 

He shook his head shyly, looking down. “No. I mean, I should’ve ,” he said, shrugging his shoulders and bringing his gaze back to Richie’s eyes. “I should’ve been worried when he was called to the job, but . . . I wasn’t. I mean, that’s my dad , he can’t get hurt. He can’t die, ” Eddie said, his voice cracking on the last word. “You know?”

 

He softly nodded.

 

“But, when he was called to do that, to save people, I was just . . . proud? Yeah, proud. Really fuckin’ proud, Rich.” He was rapidly blinking away his tears. “Anyway . . . his coworkers didn’t like him because they thought he shouldn’t’ve gotten the job.”

 

Richie swallowed thickly. “Why not?”

 

Eddie let out a laugh. “‘Cause he was small.”

 

A giant smile broke out onto Richie’s face, one so fierce that his cheeks burned. “ Really?

 

He nodded, a tear falling. Eddie left it sit there on his cheek as he continued, laughing again. “Yeah. Short. So they thought he couldn’t do his job well enough.”

 

Richie brought his knuckle up to quickly brush the tear away, trying to be subtle as he started to talk. “Completely wrong, right?”

 

“Definitely. He was great at his job,” he said. His smile slowly started to fade. “But my mom made him quit. Said it was too dangerous. Then he got this job at a company that makes cans. He just did work at a desk, though. Filing papers and stuff.”

 

Richie nodded again. “Let’s start there, yeah? Go to those two places and ask around.” He paused. “Hey. Do you think I can tell Bev and them? If you don’t want to it’s fine, but . . . I dunno, maybe it’ll be easier with more people?”

 

Eddie took a moment to process this, blinking a few times. “Richie . . . I shouldn’t have even told you in the first place. The less people that know the better. I mean, I haven’t even told Mike and he used to be the only person who-”

 

“Who’s Mike?” Richie asked, cutting him off.

 

“Mike? My friend, Mike. I haven’t mentioned him before?”

 

He shook his head, feeling a pang of jealousy. Yeah, I’ll admit it. Only ‘cause he’s just a really good friend that’s all- “No.”

 

“Oh, well, yeah. He’s homeschooled, so.”

 

“Oh. Okay.” Richie swallowed. “So yeah I think we should start there.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“Okay.”

 

Chapter Text

After school, Richie headed to the fire station. They had decided to split up, though now this seemed like a terrible idea to him, because if they were really ‘investigating’ a murder than shouldn’t they be together for safety? He pushed the fear from his mind as he headed down the pavement, zipping his thin grey jacket (one that rose high on his wrists because he had got it around a year prior) as the cool wind blew past him. There were a few kids walking up the sidewalk behind him, going home from school, and he wished he was doing the same. They were laughing, their shoes scuffling as they went. This made him think of him and his friends, especially Stan and Bill who had asked where he was off to when he branched off early from the group. He had told them some lie about something he couldn’t even remember now, because of how easily it had slipped from between his lips.

 

Being in a small town, it wasn’t long before Richie had reached the fire station, gripping his backpack straps tightly. The three garage doors were open, like they always were, open for him to see the fire trucks and the few people walking around inside. They didn’t look in a hurry, in fact, they didn’t look very professional at all. They were all standing around and laughing, some even with a beer bottle in hand. Two men were standing in the corner, next to a door in which more people passed behind it. Richie took a breath before heading inside, his eyes flicking from left to right, to check if anyone spotted him. But no one did, he didn’t think they even cared enough to. 

 

So he headed to the two men, standing up straight to try and look like he knew where he was going. The man on the left was bald and sturdy looking as he stood with his small hands on his hips. He gave a shout of a laugh at what the other said, throwing his head back for a moment. And the other, he had gelled black hair that started high on his wrinkled forehead. His eyelids hung low as he listened, arms crossed as he nodded. He had tan skin and was slightly taller than the other. As Richie got closer he realized he had no idea what he was going to say and when the two of them realized he was walking over their brows furrowed and his stomach dropped.

 

“Hello,” Richie said, coming to a stop in front of them. He paused for a moment, waiting for either of them to say something. When they didn't, both of the men just staring back at him, Richie spoke up again, clearing his throat. “Uh . . . do you think I can speak to the guy in charge-who is that?”

 

“That’d be the fire chief, Son,” the one with the gelled hair said.

 

Richie smiled confidently. “Yes, yeah of course. Could I speak to him? I’ve got uh, I’ve got some questions to ask him for my school project,” he lied.

 

“For your school project, huh,” the other said. “Kid, we’ve got work to do, I’m sure John doesn’t have any time to help you do yer homework.” The man looked agitated, crossing his arms like his friend, the two of them looking like bodyguards.

 

Richie raised his eyebrows and took a slow look around him. “Doesn’t look like you guys are very busy. Ah well,” he shrugged his shoulders, “I guess my teacher’ll have to call and complain to the fire chief that you won’t let him give me a tour of the job. I’m pretty sure Ms. Williams had already set me up an appointment with him and he’ll think I’ve blown him off, but . . . I guess you’ll have to answer to your supervisor about that.” She didn’t tell him that, of course, this whole project was a total lie, but he was making it sound confident and believable and he guessed that’s why both of their faces dropped.

 

The bald man shook his head. “I don’t know what yer tryin’ to pull here, son . . .”

 

“I’m not pulling anything, sir. I’ve got an important meeting with the police chief and it’s worth seventy-five percent of my grade, so I’d like to see him now if that’s alright.”

 

The two of them looked at each other, unsure. Richie could suddenly smell the scent of the food from the diner across the street which wafted into the garage. He shifted to his other foot anxiously. He made a move to look like he was ready to turn around and leave, taking a step back. “Well, I guess I’ll just-”

 

“Kid,” Gel-Hair said.

 

Richie stopped, eyebrows up.

 

“C’mon,” he sighed, flicking his chin back to gesture for him to follow.

 

Richie smiled triumphantly and followed, noticing the bald man mumbling something to the other as they walked. Richie wondered if Eddie’s father had known these men and if so, what did he think of them? Were they the ones who thought Frank didn’t belong here? Richie felt defensive, and even though he didn’t know him when he was alive, he felt the need to protect his reputation because it was Eddie’s father and from what he had heard, Eddie’s father was a good man.

 

Richie was led through a door that came out into a grey-carpeted hallway with many windows, letting him see into the other spaces. It was pretty much empty, a vending machine here, a table there. He caught glimpses of other bored-looking men, sitting around and reading newspapers or quietly talking amongst themselves. It was silent, the only sound was a low hum coming from some separate room.

They came to a closed door and if Richie leaned over he could've been able to see into the room, but he felt on edge and didn't find it necessary. He watched gel hair guy knock on the wooden door, getting a quick response in return, a muffled, “Come in.”

 

The door opened with a soft click and was pushed ajar about halfway, both of the men looking back at Richie, who’s lips parted in surprise. They were waiting for him to go inside. With a quick nod of his head, he started forwards, the sturdy bald man staring intensely at him. Richie nearly let out a laugh. “Take a picture,” he mumbled, pushing past him and through the doorway. He heard a low grumble behind him, but gel hair guy must’ve closed the door shut because it was cut off mid-sound. 

 

He came eye to eye with a tall man, who looked about the age of forty and had a scruffy dark brown mustache under his bony nose. He looked as if he should be thin, the way he sat reminded Richie of how he himself did, his lanky legs and arms thrown out, but the man was muscled in a weird bumpy way that looked unnatural and very un-Richie like. His stone eyes watched the boy, confused between being blue or green or just a plain dead grey. He blinked, before saying, “Who are you?”

 

“I’m David,” Richie blurted out. If I really am in a shady situation, no way am I giving out my real name. “And if you’re not busy, I'd like to ask you some questions.”

 

The man ( John , Richie remembered) let a low chuckle escape from his throat and squinted his eyes. “Oh really?” he asked, southern accent smooth. “What, are you interrogating me or somethin’? Think I murdered someone?” He let out another chuckle.

 

Richie’s stomach dropped and he swallowed hard. Despite that, his face scrunched up a little, offended by how childish he was making him out to be. “Maybe I do.” Richie helped himself to the chair on his side of the desk, automatically letting his shoulders fall forward to lean forward on his elbows. “Frank Kaspbrak,” he said. “You knew him right?”

 

A wide smile grew across the man’s face and he slowly leaned back in his padded chair, crossing his arms. “Got myself a young detective, huh? You think I had somethin’ to do with Frankie’s death? Let me tell you, that man was a nutcase,” he suddenly said, hard and truthful, any bit of amusement disappearing from his face. “Drove himself drunk right into that tree on the corner of Berkenwire Street. You hear he was dead on sight? No seatbelt on? He flew through that window, his head . . .” He flattened his hand in the air, bringing up his other to slap down on it, making a loud clap. Richie jumped. The fire chief shrugged. “Not my problem he was a drunkard. Guess he was about as good of a driver as he was a worker.”

 

Richie took a deep breath in, eyes traveling the floor. “You’re a liar,” he mumbled. He must know something. He called him Frankie. Not Frank. Like they were friends .

 

“Listen, Kid, I could give two shits about what you think I am. Now get the hell outta my office before I make you. Wastin’ my damn time . . .”

 

“Listen, you Dumb fuck ,” Richie suddenly spit, and he would’ve stopped talking, in shock of what he had said, but he was too furious to end it there. “I came to find out anything and if I walk out of this place just the way I came in, clueless , then you’re gonna be in some deep shit.”

 

“Yeah? Like what? You gonna go whine to your parents about how I’m bein'  mean ? I’m sure they’ll love to hear what kind of language you’re using-”

 

“Hmm, let’s see,” Richie said, tapping his finger against his chin and staring up to the ceiling. “ Oh, did you hear about Kenny Chambers a few weeks ago? Eight year old?”

 

The man’s face dropped. “You wouldn’t,” he said quietly, stunned.

 

Immediately Richie’s face dropped as well, his eyes pricking with tears in just the way he wanted. “Oh officer, it was humiliating ,” he mimicked. “He told me . . . He told me he wouldn’t let me out of his office if I didn’t . . . I just wanted to get information for my school project,” he choked out. “And he forced me to my knees-”

 

“They would never believe you,” he ushered, squirming in his seat. “I’m the fire chief .”

 

“Even better,” Richie said, voice unaffected as he wiped away the crocodile tear that had squeezed from the corner of his eye. “They would be horrified that the town’s hero would do such a thing. Plus, Kenny’s dad was a big deal, businessman type, and the cops still believed him.” He paused, eyes flicking down to the firefighter’s left hand which was now gripping the desk. Thankfully, there was a gold band around his ring finger. “Your wife would be devastated.” His black eyebrows raised as he looked at him once more. “Probably take the kids. You’d never get to see them again.”

 

He let out a huff of air through his nose and wiped the palm of his hand down his face. He took his time, adjusting in his seat a few times and looking utterly defeated.

 

“Are you gonna actually make me-”

 

Fine , fine, okay? I’ll tell you all that I know, it’s not much, but . . . just don’t tell that to anyone, Kid, that’s fucked up and you know it.”

 

-

 

Richie was taken out of the fire chief’s office and after a left turn into a back room with filing cabinets lining the walls. There were also a few wooden plaques above them, but other than that it was mostly barren. “What the fuck is this?” Richie asked, gaze fanning over the white walls and grey carpet that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in a while, small pieces of fuzz stuck all over it.

 

“Hey, I wasn’t kidding Son, you need to watch that language,” he started, idly standing beside the boy. The man gave a pause before starting again. “Frank was in here a lot, he used to file the reports and . . .” He also seemed to contemplate the room, like he hadn’t seen it in a while, almost as if he missed it in a way. “When he quit, he was in a hurry, left this room in a shitstorm, papers everywhere. I came in and tried to stop him but he looked pretty freaked out. Scared me a little too, when he looked at me and just . . . ran. When I heard he died some months later, I . . .”

 

Richie squinted his eyes up at John, pulling at his backpack straps to adjust them. “What? You what?”

 

“I heard some of my guys talking, and-”

 

Chief! A voice suddenly shouted from the doorway, hurried and urgent.

 

The both of them spun around, Richie’s heart nearly leaping through his chest thinking that they were caught.

 

There was a man there who suddenly stopped from rushing in, his chest rapidly rising and falling. His brown hair (at least what was left of it) fell into his face and he pushed it back fiercely. “There’s a fire and Jim and Big Tommy are gone, we need you to fill in. We need to go now .”

 

“Those idiots,” the chief muttered, exasperated, and turned to Richie quickly. “Listen, Dave, you can show yourself out. Don’t touch anything and don’t take anything,” he said, before hurrying out of the room, following the other man down the hall. Richie let a laugh escape his throat, he had forgotten he had told the man his name was David.

 

He heard a commotion outside, in the main part of the building, a few shouts that he couldn’t decipher and a, “Tell him to get his ass in gear or he’ll lose his job! ” Richie shrugged and turned around once more, to regard the filing cabinets. And, like he was told not to, he stepped forward to open the drawers to look through them. The first two cabinets were just for reports of fires, mostly empty except for a few big incidents that Derry had had in the past (being such a small town nothing exciting ever happened). Richie quickly pushed those aside and went on to the next metal cabinet, and found something much more interesting. Every firefighter had their own file, neatly alphabetized by last name. Each drawer was full, papers squeezed tight together and nearly making the metal bulge. Richie had gotten to his knees, opening the second one, and slid the pad of his finger down the tabs of letters, eventually landing on K. Kaspbrak, Frank , was the first file he pulled out. Richie didn’t think about what he was doing, he just did the first thing that came to mind. Glancing to the door, he hastily slipped his backpack from his shoulders to drop it to the carpeted floor. He unzipped it before sticking the file inside, between his math folder and his english notebook, and closed it back up. The lanky boy stood, tugging the strap back over his right shoulder, meanwhile closing the drawer with a thump.

 

He stopped.

 

Richie slowly tugged the drawer back open to double-check what he had thought he saw out of the corner of his eye. Hanging loosely above the files from the bottom of the drawer above it, was a piece of slightly crumpled paper. He slowly reached down and took it in between his thumb and forefinger to pull it out. There was a little resistance, making Richie realize that it was taped to the metal.

 

Voices were all of the sudden loud outside of the door and he stuffed the small paper in his back pocket swiftly. He closed the drawer once again and quickly headed out of the room, keeping his head down. Richie was only able to see a few pairs of shoes that were pointed towards each other on the other side of the hall and he held his breath, floating past them unannounced.

 

Richie noticed almost everyone was gone, so he made a beeline for the door he came in through, then through the garage which was devoid of firetrucks, and then to his home where he could finally sigh out in relief and call Eddie.

Chapter Text

Richie’s home didn’t turn out to be the sigh of relief that he expected. Instead, it was more of a slap to the face. His mother was in the kitchen, as per usual when he got home those days, his dad at work. Unfortunately, the kitchen was where the phone was, right on the wall across from the fridge. And he needed to use it, needed to call Eddie to tell him that he had found out something, whether it be huge or insignificant, it was something

 

After swallowing down the last bit of wine in her glass, her throat bobbing, Maggie Tozier slurred out, “Where were you . . . Though’ you were hurt or somethin’,” to her son that stood in the doorway.

 

Richie traveled inside only mumbling, “Group project.” He headed straight for the phone, reaching out to pull it from where it was hung up. He paused, trying to remember Eddie’s phone number off the top of his head. 207 . . . 207. . . 1-

 

The sound of the chair scraping against the floor removed him from his thoughts. Richie heard his mother stumble and quietly laugh to herself, her bare feet padding against the tiles as she came up beside him. He took in a deep breath through his nose before looking at her drowsy face, eyelids hung low. Her hands came up to his shoulders, brown eyes traveling over him. “When’d yer hair get so long? D’you need a haircut?” she asked, patting some of his hair and pushing it away from his forehead.

 

He shook his head, trying to escape from her touch. “No, Mom, I-”

 

“It’s so long,” she repeated. Her hands dropped, one of them grabbing his arm to pull him to the kitchen table.

 

What ?” he said, agitated. 

 

She let him go and pulled out the chair she was sitting in before so that it was facing the wall. “Givin’ you a haircut,” she said. Her hand limply pat at the back of the chair, indicating him to sit down.

 

“Mom, I’ve got homework to do-”

 

She didn’t pay any attention to him, only turning around to dig through one of the drawers to find an old pair of scissors.

 

Richie didn’t know what to do, he could barely think at the moment, so he let his legs carry him to the chair and timidly sat down. He watched as his mother pulled out some old small pair of scissors, the kind you see kids use in elementary school with the rounded off tips, to cut construction paper with. They were set on the counter so she could pour herself another glass of alcohol. This time, Richie didn’t know what kind. It was in a round glass bottle that she pulled from way back in the cabinet like she had hidden it there, and she let enough glug into a glass to make any lightweight pass out for a few hours. She then dropped the empty bottle into the trash, a rattling sound vibrating through the kitchen from the other variety of bottles in there. She’s been drinking more than I thought .

 

She swallowed some liquor down before grabbing the scissors and taking a stumbling step towards Richie, giving a laugh like before. He flinched, nearly thinking she would trip and hurt him or himself with the cutters. Maggie set her glass on the table with a clink and came to stand behind him.

 

Richie had vaguely noticed he was shaking, thin fingers gripping onto the wooden seat of the chair. His backpack was still on, pressed up against the bars and making books poke into his back. He felt her grab his head and try to tame some of his tangled nest of hair, shakily brushing through it, only to pull and tug at tangles which made tears prick his eyes. She eventually gave up and he heard a snip . His eyes grew wide, feeling the cold metal against the back of his neck. 

 

His hair had grown out during middle school, reaching under his ears and producing wild yet somewhat loose brown-black curls. Richie didn’t like nor dislike his hair, but he felt a certain attachment to it that he appreciated because it was . . . him . His friends had always teased him for it and Eddie had commented on it a few times. When Richie got to think about it, it almost seemed to him that Eddie had made an effort to touch his hair, on more than one occasion. Like a few days prior, the boy had made a fuss about how it was all frizzy and tangled, so he reached up and fixed it, patting down his curls and fluffing them in other places. Richie watched his face the entire time and felt shy all of a sudden, he didn’t know why. Probably because I haven’t taken a shower lately , he had thought. I don’t want him to think I’m gross. I mean he already does, but . . . This excuse also made him uneasy so he just stopped thinking about it entirely.

 

But his mother was cutting his hair right up to his neck. Chopping off his curls. He could feel it.

 

“There we go,” she quietly said, and sniffed, giving a pat to his head. 

 

He felt his eyes well up with tears. “ Mom .”

 

Snip .

 

“I don’t want a haircut,” he said, voice wavering.

 

Snip .

 

“Shhh ,” she let out. “‘Gonna look s’much better.”

 

Snip .

 

The scissors were dangerously close to his ear, he could feel the cold metal against his skin once again. He bit his lip to stop himself from letting out a noise. Tufts of black hair were falling into his lap and onto the floor.

 

Snip .

 

But he couldn’t keep it in, his fingers shaking, his stomach sick with dread. “ Mom, please .” A tear fell from his eye and down his cheek. “ Please stop .” Richie felt himself give a hiccup of a sob and breathed in shakily.

 

“‘M not tryna make you sad, Honey. I love you, ‘m proud’f you,” she slurred. “I’m doin’ this ‘cause I love you.”

 

Her hands touching him made him try to shrink away and Richie clenched his eyes shut. “ Please ,” he begged. 

 

Snip .

 

“Mom! ,” he cried out. He was sobbing now, hard, tears leaking down his skin. He couldn’t take it. He missed her. He missed her too much.

 

The scissors were slammed down on the table loudly, making him jump. “Why d’you hate me?” she asked, sounding like she was on the verge of crying as well.

 

It only made him weep harder, bringing his hands to his face to hide himself. “ -I don’t! No, I don’t . ..

 

Richie ,” she whined. “I love you. Don’t be mad . . . don’t be angry with me.” She placed her hands on his shoulders, slowly slipping them down to wrap around his neck and hug him.

 

Richie could smell the alcohol on her breath, warming the side of his face. He resisted the urge to gag and turned his head away, grimacing. The boy was practically frozen, limbs tensing from her hold on him. He wanted her hands off , wanted to go up to his room and bury himself under the blankets and wake up in the morning to pretend like this had never happened, like he usually did. But he couldn’t even stand to be in the same room as her, let alone the same house. So when her grip around him loosened, Richie managed to squirm out of her arms and stand, hair falling from his shoulders. He automatically spun around to see her reaction.

 

And . . . she didn’t seem to really care at all. She gave a loud yawn, reaching for her glass on the table. “Where’re you going, Hun?” she asked drowsily, like a kicked puppy, eyes still glistening with tears.

 

He wiped his own away with the sleeve of his jacket, lips turned down. He took a few shaking breaths, blowing air through his trembling lips. “I forgot something at my friend’s house,” Richie whispered. He turned to leave the kitchen, cringing, please don’t say anything, please . . .

 

When she didn’t, he slipped on his shoes by the door and then hastily left his house, not giving a single glance behind him. 

 

-

 

Richie was going to Beverly’s house. Or Stan’s. Or Bill’s. That’s where he was set on going. But his legs had had a different idea. And he didn’t care enough to stop them, or maybe his mind was just covering up his true actions so as to make him believe that it wasn’t his fault that he was going where he was.

 

He wasn’t crying anymore, but he could feel that familiar tightness in his chest, and it was building. He kept going though, kept taking eager steps to go faster as he walked.

 

No, he was running. Richie was running now, that pressure inside him close to the edge and he needed someone to catch it.

 

That was why he found himself outside of Eddie’s Kaspbrak’s house. It was almost dark out, the sun practically vanished, when he stood outside his window (not the front door because his mother’s car was parked in the driveway).

 

He gave a knock to the glass, a frantic quivering knock that was too loud. He couldn’t see inside, the curtains blocking his view.

 

Sure enough, they were moved out of the way moments later, a small angered boy on the other side of the window staring back at him. “What in the fuck happened to your hair, Tozier?” his muffled voice said.

 

At the sight of Eddie’s face, his heart dropped and Richie opened his mouth to speak, but couldn’t. He looked away, embarrassed and miserable.

 

There was a pause before he heard the window opening and the screen being popped out. “Rich?” he heard him slowly ask. “You okay?”

 

He didn’t answer because he knew if he did, he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from crying. God, I’m fucking pathetic.

 

“Jesus, Richie, would you come inside?, the cold is getting in.”

 

So he did, he swung his long legs inside, ducking his head, all the while keeping his eyes from meeting with Eddie’s. The immediate warmth of the bedroom soothed him and he hadn’t even noticed his body was vibrating from the chill outside. 

 

Eddie quickly replaced the window screen in the frame and closed the glass. He came to stand in front of the other boy, Richie could see his crossed arms. “Well? You gonna explain what’s going on?” he asked, voice oddly soft.

 

Richie, again, tried to speak, a noise sounding like some kind of squeak escaping his throat. His face was burning red and he lifted his hands to cover his features which were starting to tense and turn down. 

 

Rich ,” he breathed.

 

His small hands were grabbing Richie’s wrists to pull them down, away from his face. “No,” Richie whispered, and he let out a sob. It scorched his insides, making him regret coming over in the first place, what was I thinking? What was I thinking?

 

“Richie . . . fucking asshole , c’mere,” he said sadly, tugging at him.

 

Oh .

 

Richie let his hands drop and fell into Eddie’s arms, leaning over and burying his face in his neck. He trembled hard for a few moments before it finally came flooding out of him, sobs racking his body. Eddie nearly toppled over but grounded them by wrapping his arms around Richie and gripping onto the grey shoulders of his jacket.

 

And, wow , this felt so much different than his mother’s arms around him. Hers were almost clammy and unrecognizable, but Eddie’s . . . they were delicate yet sturdy and sure. He practically melted into them and at that moment he wasn’t afraid of just letting everything go, so he did.

 

There was something about all of it that was on the tip of his tongue, yet he couldn’t figure it out. Maybe he didn’t want to.

 

Eds,” he cried between sobs.

 

Eddie held him tighter and turned so he could pull both of them down to sit on the end of his bed. His right hand was up in Richie’s shorter hair to pet it and gently rub at his scalp.

 

Richie could smell Eddie in all his lemon-scented glory and after a few minutes his breathing steadied out from it. His head was pounding, face wet from his tears. He gave one last hiccup of a sob at the thought of Eddie being so sweet. I love him .

 

Um.

 

All was quiet in his mind. What, no snide remark, Richie? he wondered. The little voice in his head was completely silent, absent, so he filled it in for himself. As a friend , he clarified. Right? Right . . . Hello? Right?

 

They pulled away and Richie still couldn’t bear to look him in the eyes, for more reason than one now.

 

“And I thought your hair couldn’t get any worse,” Eddie muttered.

 

Richie let out a barking laugh, honestly feeling good to have a smile stretch across his face. He finally absentmindedly looked at him then, at Eddie’s worried smile prettily showcased. He felt something twitch in his hand, so looked down to see-

 

He’s holding my hand. Eddie’s holding my fucking hand-

 

“Um,” Eddie started. “You know you can tell me what’s wrong, right?”

 

Oh okay, we’re ignoring this? Cool, let me just ignore the fact that your hand is in my hand and you’re freaking holding my hand and it’s totally cool and all ‘cause we’re friends -

 

“Because I told you about my dad, because I trust you,” he continued.

 

“You trust me?”

 

Eddie nodded. He let out a quiet laugh. “I don’t know how , but . . . Yeah. And I mean,” he shrunk down a little, shyness showing itself, “I hope you trust me too?”

 

“Well yeah . ‘Course I do,” Richie said.

 

“Okay. Good.”

 

Richie looked down, back at their hands. Eddie’s was much smaller in his own but it was nice. It looked good like that. Like it was meant. He tried to focus on that as he started talking. “My mom, she hasn’t been doing very well lately.” He gave a huff of a laugh at how much of an understatement that was, but then got distracted by how nice and perfect Eddie’s nails were. Short but even, his cuticles were neat as well. “Drinking-she’s been drinking . . .” Just spit it out, Tozier . “Because of something that happened about a year ago. And my dad’s been messed up from it too, but it’s different with him, because he’s been taking a lot more shifts at work and basically owns the place now . . . So he’s not around a lot.” He swallowed hard, blinking rapidly. He took a deep breath. “What happened was . . .”

 

He took a very long hard thought at this, trying to decide if he really wanted to tell Eddie all of . . . well, everything. He really did trust Eddie. Eddie had told him about his father and Richie was able to help him. It made him scared and nervous and overly ashamed, but he really thought he could do it.

 

So he did.

Chapter Text

“You’re what! ?” Richie asked, disbelieving. His brown eyes were wide as they moved in between his mother and father who were sitting across from him at the dinner table. They were in the middle of a normal family dinner when they had said that they had something important to tell him, totally freaking the kid out. I’m going to be a what? We’re going to- Mom, you’re-

 

“I’m pregnant, Sweetie,” Maggie had told him, a soft smile across her face. She squeezed his father’s hand and gave him a look of pure adoration.

 

Richie was dumbfounded, he didn’t know what to say. His mouth was open and gaping like a fish, his parents waiting for him to say something. “I . . .”

 

“Seven weeks,” his father continued. “Richie, do you understand?” he asked, forehead wrinkling.

 

Richie slowly nodded, taking a moment to look at the floor and gather himself. I’ve got no clue what to say? How should I feel? I’m confused.

 

“ . . . Are you excited?” Maggie asked, worry evident in her voice.

 

“I don’t-I don’t know,” he said, shaking his head back and forth. “You mind if I go upstairs? I just need to . . . think-yeah, I need to think.”

 

“Oh-okay,” she said, distraught, eyebrows low and pinched.

 

Richie -”

 

His mother hushed his father as the thin boy, feeling oddly dizzy, stood.

 

He slowly stepped out of the kitchen and went upstairs, trying to wrap his brain around what was going on. My mom’s pregnant , he thought, completely baffled. When he got into his room he shut his door and then carefully and sluggishly sank down on his bed. I’m going to be a brother? Richie ran his hand through his hair and looked up to the ceiling. Seven weeks . His parents were good parents, at least pretty good, but Richie sometimes felt like they overlooked things or let things go when they should be given more attention. He was lonesome at home, even with both of them there, and with a new baby on the way? He would most definitely be forgotten, pushed to the side. It wasn’t like he didn’t want the baby to get any attention, because of course he did, it was a baby , but he had been an only child for fourteen years and it gave him a bad taste in his mouth to think of someone else living fourteen years without any real parenting. 

 

Richie had too much to think about. He got up to shut the lights off and then tucked himself under the covers, tightly shutting his eyes in the darkness.

 

His door opened with a click a few minutes later. “Richie?” his father’s voice said softly.

 

He didn’t answer, watching his father’s shadow next to him on the wall from the light in the hallway until he heard the door shut again, shrouding him in black.

 

-

 

“Hello, who is this?” the voice on the other line said.

 

“Hey, Mrs. Denbrough, it’s Richie. Is Bill there? Can I talk to him?”

 

It was the following day, Richie’s parents out buying groceries. He had woken up that morning feeling groggy and sleep-deprived before sitting straight up in bed in shock when he remembered the previous night was real and not a dream. He needed to talk to someone.

 

“Oh sure, Richie, let me just call him down,” Bill’s mother, Sharon Denbrough, told him. 

 

There was a muffled shout of his friend’s name as he waited, impatiently tapping his bare foot on the tiles of the kitchen. Richie’s heart was beating fast and he had to take steady breaths as to not absolutely freak out.

 

“Hello-”

 

“Bill, my mom’s fuckin’ pregnant.”

 

There was a slight pause. “W-wait, w-w- what ?” Bill eventually stuttered out. “Really? Are you kidding, or . . .”

 

“Oh yeah, I'm definitely kidding, genius , just wanted to call and joke about how my mom’s carrying around a little tiny fucking human being inside her right now-”

 

“Shut up, r-Richie,” Bill intervened. “How far along is she?”

 

“Seven weeks,” Richie said dreadfully.

 

“Well, con-congratulations,” Bill said happily. “That’s- wow , that’s cr-crazy. You’re gonna be a big brother.”

 

Richie groaned and let his head fall against the wall with a thump.

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

He took in a long breath and frowned. He closed his eyes and shook his head. “Well . . . you know my parents.”

 

“You jealous of this baby already?”

 

No , I’m . . . Well, yeah . . . No . I just . . . I’m . . . Fuck , I’m scared, okay ? I’m scared. What if they treat it like they treat me? Or what if they totally completely forget me? Or both of us?”

 

Bill took a moment to think, only his breathing could be slightly heard. “Well, you know how my parents are, ruh-right?”

 

Richie and Bill were in the same position as one another. Both of their sets of parents really didn’t watch over them, really didn’t provide any comfort for their children. Bill’s folks barely talked with their son anymore, after his brother went missing. He had told Richie that it was like a part of them was destroyed, that part of them being crucial to parenting him. But then his brother had been found , he was found and they . . . Then they stayed like that. Because Bill’s brother was different. Changed. He acted differently because things had happened to him. Their whole family was in ruins after.

 

“Well, yeah.”

 

“Well, with George . . . Georgie is here for me.”

 

“Bill, he’s like seven-”

 

“It does-doesn’t matter. Because I take care of him, you know? And it's like my job nuh-now.”

 

“So what? When this kid pops out it’s just gonna be my responsibility?”

 

He could practically hear Bill nod. “Yeah. And you’ll have someone who understands what you’re going through and you’ll get through it together. If my mom hadn’t had juh-Georgie . . . well, then I don’t think I’d be who I am today, you-you know? I love him, even though he can be a to-total little prick sometimes-”

 

Richie let out a laugh and nodded.

 

“I sw-swear it’s gonna change your life, Rich.”

 

“Jesus Christ, you sound like a dad.”

 

Bill laughed. “You’re a duh-duh-dick.”

 

Richie thought, he really thought hard about having a little kid running around his home and picking its nose and breaking shit and making a mess everywhere. Maybe it seemed bad . . . but it didn’t really sound that bad. He could handle it. Maybe it really was a good thing. A little sibling might not mend his parents and his’ relationship, but it could sure mend Richie as a whole. Huh.

 

-

 

Richie had gone with his parents to find out if the baby would be a girl or a boy, feeling much better about the situation. But when he walked into the hospital he got this antsy queasy feeling in his stomach and decided to stay in the waiting room whilst everything went down. It had been a few months after he had found out his mother was pregnant and they had talked a few times, as a family, about how Richie felt about the whole thing. It was strange , he thought, how different they’re acting. They actually care about how I’m feeling now? When did that start? What changed? Is this baby actually fixing my whole life right now, what the hell?

 

He was sitting in a cushioned chair in a white air-conditioned room that made him feel even worse. He was gripping the armrests and drumming on them and tapping his foot on the ground like he usually did. He kept looking back and forth between the other people who sat in the room. There was an old man a few seats away from his left who had a newspaper opened in front of him, his white freckled head had a white patch on this side. Every now and then he cleared his throat with a crunchy dry sound that made Richie grimace.

 

Across from him, there was a woman who barely fit in her seat and wore an ugly pink dress. She had thin brown hair with fake curls and Richie wondered, Why would anyone want curls? They’re freaking annoying . She looked thoroughly disgusted and he waited for her to stop making that expression, but eventually settled on realizing that that was just her resting face. He had no idea who this woman was, had no idea how difficult she would be making his life a year and a half later.

 

He closed his eyes and furrowed his brows. What is wrong with me? Why am I so nervous? Jesus Christ.

 

He heard the main doors open with a scrape and let his eyes open and fall upon the person who came through. It was a woman, her hair brown and frizzy, still somehow looking nice as it fell between her shoulder blades. She had a baby cradled in her arms who she looked down at and smiled. The woman went to the front check-in desk, which, by the way, had a really nasty old woman who made Richie nearly scream when his parents had checked in. She had tried to tell them that their son had had an attitude and that he should be disciplined. Like hell I had an attitude! I may have commented to my dad on how fucking dead you look under my breath, but still . . .

 

The woman eventually came to sit across from him, where the other woman who had gone up to sneak through the double-doors to get into the patient area a few minutes prior was sitting. She delicately held her child in her arms and was whispering something to it. Richie heard the baby coo and saw his mother smile and give a soft chuckle in response. “Oh yeah?” she quietly said.

 

Richie swallowed. Was that how mom was like with me? His eyes grew wide. Is that how she’s gonna be with the new baby?

 

It wasn’t long before his parents came through the double-doors and he jolted up, his heart nearly fucking flying up through the goddamned ceiling. His mother had tears in her eyes, his father’s arm around her shoulders. “You okay-Are you okay?” Richie asked frantically.

 

She nodded, the two of them coming to stand in front of him. She smiled. “It’s a girl,” she whispered.

 

Richie’s lips parted. “Girl . . . It’s a girl?” And, for some reason, he felt tears well up in his own eyes. He looked down and then up, at his mother’s face, and then his father’s. He smiled. “Really?” he choked out.

 

“Yeah,” she responded, giving a laugh. And she stepped forward, pulling both Richie and Wentworth into a hug.

 

Richie truly felt happy. He really did.

 

On the way out of the hospital, he caught eyes with the woman who had sat across from him, with her baby. She gave him a smile and he gladly returned it.

 

-

 

“Okay, so this is where the crib will be,” Maggie instructed, gesturing at a spot by the wall.

 

There ?” Richie asked incredulously. “It’s by the window,” he said, throwing his hand out.  “The sun’ll be shining in on her and what if it breaks? The glass? Someone could basically reach in and snatch her-”

 

“The glass isn’t gonna break,” she said with a smile, rolling her eyes.

 

“He’s got a point, Mags,” Wentworth said from beside him. “You know, ‘cause some cat burglar could totally reach in and grab her. Baby burglar. ‘Cause there’s a ton of those around here-”

 

Richie rolled his eyes and gave a groan. “I didn’t order a side of asshole-ery today, okay-”

 

Richie ,” his mother chided. She rolled up her left sleeve which had fallen down. “Language.”

 

“Alright, I’m gonna go to Wilson’s to grab another can of paint, okay?” Went said.

 

“Don’t be too long,” Richie’s mother said, turning to look below the window again.

 

Richie watched his father leave and then turned to walk beside his mother who was inspecting the paint on the window frame. He swallowed, feeling a little awkward as they stood there in silence. “So,” he started. “Uh . . .”

 

Oh! ” she exclaimed.

 

He jumped. “ What, are you okay? Are you alright?”

 

“Give me your hands!” she ushered.

 

Huh?” he said, confused. Richie stuck his hands out timidly, wondering what she was doing.

 

Maggie grabbed his hands, hurriedly pulling them to her protruding belly and holding them there. He automatically froze, heart thumping in his ears loudly. His hands would’ve shaken if they weren’t set on something. What is she-what is going on-what the hell- He gasped. Under his left palm, he felt something gently poking at him. Richie looked up at her with wild eyes, jaw dropped.

 

“You feel her?” she asked, grinning.

 

He nodded and swallowed as he looked back down. Richie let out a soft laugh. “Hi,” he said quietly. “Hello, Michelle.” He swallowed once more. “You doin’ okay in there? Feeling good?” He looked back up at his mother at the feeling of another kick. “Can she actually hear me?” he asked.

 

“Yeah. She’ll probably know your voice when she’s born.”

 

Wow .”

 

“Hey,” she said softly. She looked into his eyes. “You know I love you, right?”

 

His eyes grew even wider. “i-I-yeah, I do. I do.” Don’t you cry, Rich.

 

“Good,” she said, letting Richie’s hands fall back to his sides. She sighed, turning back to the window. “Now let’s see how long yer dad’ll take to buy more paint.”

 

-

 

The worst night of Richie’s life had started with this: an argument.

 

Richie was sitting on the couch, watching some show on the television and trying to decide if he should walk over to Stanley’s house to pick up the jacket that he had left there a few days before. His parents were in the kitchen, discussing something or other that Richie didn’t pay any mind to. Until their voices grew louder and he could no longer pay attention to what his show or his mind was saying.

 

He looked over his shoulder into the bright kitchen and squinted his eyes.

 

Honey , I can’t be here every day, I have to go to work and provide for us,” his father yelled.

 

“I KNOW that WENT!” she practically screamed. “You don’t think I know that? I’m not some other dumb broad THAT YOU’VE FUCKED IN HIGH SCHOOL-

 

“OH, YOU’RE STARTING WITH THIS SHIT AGAIN, MAGGIE? REALLY?”

 

Richie had stood up, legs wobbly, and quickly moved to stand in the doorway of the kitchen, his eyes flicking between the two of them as they screamed at each other. His mother was holding her stomach with one hand, her other flailing and pointing in front of her.

 

“Mom, Dad, calm down-”

 

“I CAN’T MAGICALLY BE HERE EVERY TIME YOU NEED ME, MAGGIE-”

 

“WE’VE GOT A FUCKING BABY ON THE WAY, WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO-”

 

“The baby ,” Richie said. “Dad, calm down, the baby -”

 

“WELL I’VE GOTTA BUY ALL THIS SHIT WITH OUR MONEY THAT WE DON’T EVEN NEED-”

 

“WHAT THE HELL DO YOU MEAN? WE NEEDED A CARSEAT, YOU WANT ME TO JUST CARRY HER AS YOU DRIVE-”

 

Please,” Richie begged. “ STOP,” he screamed.

 

But it really was too late.

 

His mother’s chest was rising and falling in rapid jolts and she looked down, her eyebrows furrowed as her mouth gaped and she held her stomach. “ Ow , fuck,” she let out.

 

Mom ,” Richie said, running over to her, his father meeting him there.

 

“Maggie, Maggie , You okay?”

 

She let out a groan and reached to grip the counter. “Think my water broke,” she mumbled.

 

Richie looked down, realizing that there was a pool of liquid on the tiles that he hadn’t even noticed. “ No , it’s too early, Mom, it’s too early-”

 

Richie ,” she said angrily, “The bab y’s coming .”

 

He shook his head frantically, eyes welling up. “ No-”

 

Yes ,” she hissed. “Went, get the car-”

 

His dad had bolted out of the kitchen, out of the house before Richie had even blinked.

 

“Gotta get to the car-I gotta get to the car,” she said, panting.

 

Richie reached an arm around her, saying, “Here, lean on me.”

 

They slowly started to move, Richie careful as to not let her slip on the wet floor. “Is it supposed to hurt already-Is it supposed to hurt?”

 

“It’s probably a contraction-” She gave a yelp and gripped onto Richie’s shoulder tightly, nails pressing into his shirt and leaving indents in his skin.

 

He knew something was wrong, he didn’t know how, but he just felt it in his gut.

 

He desperately wished he was wrong, wished more than anything for his loudmouth to be shut up for once. But, of course, they weren't that lucky.

 

When they rushed his mother into the hospital, who was sobbing and groaning, the nurses had taken her, his father following alongside them and telling Richie to stay in the waiting room. “ No! ” he had yelled, but his father’s face was enough to make him stay.

 

It was the longest four hours of his life.

 

He was pacing around the waiting room, hands covering his face, sweat dripping down his neck and heart beating a hundred miles an hour.  People were giving him dirty looks as he tried to keep his composure, a nurse trying to come over to comfort him, but he couldn’t even bring up the nerve to speak he was so distraught.

 

All he could see was his mother’s horrified face and the sounds of her wailing in the car as he clapped his hands over his ears and cried.

 

He was doing the same, as he finally plopped down in a chair after two of the hours, mind running wild. Richie tried to think of something good, something that he could rely on to make him feel better, but there was nothing he could do to make him forget the situation he was in.

 

After three hours he sat silent, eyes glued to the wall, unblinking. If someone walked in they would almost be able to think nothing was wrong, if they didn’t notice how his body hummed as he violently shook. No one had come from the double doors to tell him anything, not his dad or the doctor or a nurse. He was completely alone, completely in the dark as to what was happening.

 

After four hours he couldn’t take it anymore. He stood up, walked to his right, and pushed through the double doors. He thought it would be hard to find where his mother was, but it wasn’t. He immediately saw his father a ways down the hall, sitting in a chair, head in his hands.

 

Richie didn’t walk any faster, like anyone would expect him to, as he himself would expect. Because he didn’t want to know. Richie didn’t want to know why his father was sitting with his head in his hands by himself in the middle of the hallway. Did Richie already know what had happened? He had a feeling he did. Just a feeling, not a thought, because if he thought about it he wouldn’t be able to make it to the end of the hallway.

 

He did though, and stopped in front of Wentworth and closed his eyes. “Dad?” he whispered. 

 

He got an immediate response and it was almost like they were having a normal conversation. “What, Richie?”

 

He opened his eyes, seeing his father’s face which looked ten years older than he did four hours ago. The whites of his eyes were red and he looked like he had just . . . given up.  “Just tell me. Just tell me.”

 

Went rubbed a hand over his face and then looked to the floor. He was crying. “S . . . Stillborn.”

 

Richie blinked once.

 

Twice.

 

Three times.

 

“Why?” is all he said.

 

His father wiped his eyes. “The umbilical cord. And . . . her blood pressure got too high.”

 

Richie broke, letting out a sob. “I told you to stop . I-I told you,” he said, lip quivering.

 

Wentworth stood, shaking his head. “Richie, it’s not like that, I-”

 

“I FUCKING TOLD YOU,” he screamed, pointing at him with his finger like it was a knife. Tears were streaming down his face and he took a few steps backward. “YOU DIDN’T LISTEN TO ME ‘CAUSE NO ONE EVER FUCKING DOES.”

 

Richie, Richie listen-”

 

“WHY SHOULD I? WHY THE FUCK SHOULD I? YOU DON’T LISTEN TO ME SO WHY SHOULD I LISTEN TO YOU?”

 

People were starting to peek out of their rooms and see what all the ruckus was, some people slamming their doors shut.

 

Richie you need to calm down-”

 

“IT’S YOUR FAULT SHE’S DEAD.” Richie was gasping for breath, his lungs aching. “YOU KILLED MY LITTLE SISTER. I LOVED HER AND YOU KILLED HER. YOU FUCKING KILLED HER,” he choked out, throat raw. He started to aggressively push him on the chest, a low thumping sound echoing. 

 

His father had tears running down his cheeks but Richie didn’t care, he couldn’t. 

 

“Hey, hey ,” a nurse’s voice called from down the hall. Her footsteps were getting closer. “You need to get out-”

 

He gave him one last good push before turning and running on weak legs, all the way out of the hospital and into the parking lot. It was heavily snowing, fat flakes landing in his hair and on his hot cheeks. He breathed in the cold air gladly, bending down to vomit on the pavement, hands on his knees as he choked on sobs and spit.

 

After that night, his mother started drinking.

Chapter Text

Eddie tightened his grip on Richie’s hand, his own eyes ready to leak at any second. He slowly shook his head. “Richie . . . I . . . I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry that that happened to you. You-you didn’t deserve that.”

 

Richie was biting on the inside of his cheek, staring at the bed’s headboard to his left. He gave a humorless chuckle. “No, I probably did. I’m fucking useless, Eds.”

 

He felt a sharp jolt on the back of his hand that was joined with the other boy’s, Eddie had slapped it.

 

“Ow, that actually-

 

Don’t say that, asshole ,” the small boy gritted out through his white teeth, truthfully angry. His lips were parted in frustration. “You are not , okay? You are not . You help me with my homework and you’re always a good person and you’re helping me find out what happened to my dad. If you weren’t here than I’d be fucking nowhere. So don’t say that about yourself, I swear to fuck , Tozier, I will choke you out.”

 

Richie felt an amused smile creeping up on his face, being able to forget about everything for a moment. “Almost sounds to me like you got a little cruuuush -”

 

“Oh will you just quit it -”

 

Eddie-Bear?” a voice abruptly called from down the hallway, heavy footfalls growing louder.

 

Eddie nearly flew up from the spot he was sitting, his hand tearing away from Richie’s, both his right and his left grabbing the flaps of Richie’s grey jacket to pull him to his feet.

 

Jesus-”

 

Get in the fucking closet ,” Eddie whisper-yelled, his eyes frantic as he shoved Richie in the direction of where he wanted him.

 

Richie had begun to laugh as he tripped over to the closet, at how stupidly cute Eddie looked as he flailed his thin limbs around in a hurried manner, his hair falling out of place. Richie fell through the opening of the door into the darkness, shoving polos and t-shirts down the rack with a scraping metal noise, the hangers sliding across where they were hooked. Eddie had slammed the sliding door shut, just as Richie thought he heard the bedroom door open.

 

“Eddie?”

 

“Hi, Mommy,” Richie heard Eddie choke out, muffled from the door.

 

“Who were you talking to?” his mother asked. Her voice was commanding, yet somehow she sounded like she was trying to come off as sweet, failing miserably. Richie frowned at her presence. 

 

“Oh, just nobody,” he told her.

 

What? Eds, you're totally blowing it!

 

“‘Just nobody’?” she repeated, definitely catching on to the lie.

 

Eddie paused before giving a cough and spitting out, “Uh, yeah, I was just pra-I was just practicing.”

 

“Practicing what?”

 

“My lines. For the school play, they’re doing Romeo and Juliet. I was going to try out for it tomorrow.”

 

The ends of Richie’s lips curled down and he slowly nodded his head in respect. That didn’t sound half bad, actually . His nose twitched, recognizing the smell of the fresh laundry hung, a soft comforting lemon-lime smell that he associated with Eddie. 

 

Honey , you can’t do an audition. Imagine you being out on that stage with those bright lights? And the makeup they force you to wear when you go on? Imagine what that might do to your skin, Eddie, just imagine. And you know how I feel about the theatre, Eddie-Bear . . .”

 

Oh my God, I totally forgot she calls him that-

 

“I-I know-”

 

“You apparently don’t. I don’t want you going to that audition tomorrow, Eddie,” she commanded. “Now, did you take your pills?”

 

“Yes, Mommy.”

 

“Good boy. I’m going to Aunt Olivia’s house and then to the store, so I’ll be gone for a while. Are you sure you don’t want to come with me? Oh, why don’t you, I don’t want anything bad to happen when I’m gone.”

 

“No, I’ll be fine. I’ve got to do my homework, anyway.”

 

Richie heard Eddie’s mother give an unhappy noise before her footsteps traveled across the room. Richie watched the crack between the sliding door and the wall, the light shining through in a ray. A smack rang out, a kiss, he realized.

 

“Don’t answer the phone and don’t leave the house. If anything happens, you call your aunt immediately.”

 

Eddie didn’t respond as the heavy footfalls left the room, the door shutting after them.

 

Richie waited a few moments until Eddie opened the door back up. The light made him squint. “ O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou-”

 

“Shut the fuck up I swear to God .”

 

“Aw, Eddie-bear , you are just precious . Too cute. Cute, cute cute, ” Richie said in a baby voice, leaning forward to pinch the boy’s red cheek before his hand was quickly swatted away.

 

Eddie covered his crimson face in defeat and mumbled something under his breath. 

 

Richie’s eyebrows furrowed, only just then realizing what the other was dressed in. He hadn’t even noticed. How did I not notice? Are those . . . are those short-shorts? They’re the ones he wore to school . . . Oh my God . . . Why can’t I look away? This isn’t normal, I’m not fucking normal-

 

Eddie let out a gasp (nearly giving Richie a heart attack as he ripped his eyes away from his oversized shirt and under-sized shorts) and dropped his hands. “My dad!” he exclaimed. “He took out all of this money out of the bank before he . . . He took out all of this money that I didn’t even know we had, I don’t even think my mom knew about it. It was a totally different bank account, not the joint account that they had together at Holland Bank. It was at that small bank on the edge of town-”

 

“Oh shit ,” Richie said, dropping his backpack from his shoulders to the bed. Flipping through his folders he asked, “Wait, how did you find that out?”

 

“Well,” he bit his lip, “When I went to his work I kind of went to his desk and . . . all his stuff was still there, ‘cause it’s kind of an empty place, you know, not many people work there so I guess they just left everything. . . And there was this little notebook that he kept in his desk, which should’ve been locked but for some reason it wasn’t, and it had a ton of his personal information like passwords and other stuff. So it had the phone number and the bank and the password, just right there , so I thought what’s the harm in calling?”

 

“Uh . . . Okay? Eddie Spaghetti, why’re you being so nervous right now, you’re acting like you did something really wrong-”

 

“The place wasn’t open.”

 

Richie stopped searching for a moment, eyes wandering along the bedspread. His jaw suddenly dropped and he looked up at Eddie, letting out a laugh. “ No. You did not freaking sneak in there, did you?”

 

Eddie pressed his lips together in regret, before slowly nodding.

 

Holy shit! You’re crazy!” He covered his mouth snickering. “You?” Richie, his voice muffled, said. “I would never expect, you, Mr. Eddie-Goody-Two-Shoes-Kaspbrak, to ever-

 

“Yeah yeah, dickhead, just hurry up and show me what you found.”

 

Richie kept quietly laughing as he finally found the file he had gotten from the fire station and pulled it out, presenting it to Eddie like a trophy. “ Voila!

 

Eddie took it from him, inspecting it.

 

“And this,” Richie dug in his back pocket, finding the small crumpled paper still there, thankfully, “little number was taped on the bottom of a drawer in a filing cabinet.” He handed it over to him as well. “Oh damn, it really is a number,” he mumbled, vaguely seeing the etching across the top of the torn-off section of loose-leaf paper.

 

“Well, how did you get this?” Eddie asked, lifting the file slightly.

 

“Uh . . .” Richie went over the events in his head, feeling like he shouldn’t be proud of what he did and he definitely wasn’t-

 

Eddie had undoubtedly noticed the look on his face, rolling his eyes and saying, “Nevermind. I have a feeling I don’t want to know.”

 

Richie smiled thankfully.

 

He followed Eddie to his desk, where he pulled out the small notebook he was talking about from the dresser next to it, hidden under multiple pairs of socks. Everything was set out, the desk lamp shining down on the items like they were the evidence in a murder. Oh, wait.

 

Eddie picked up the torn piece of paper. “It’s his handwriting,” he noted.

 

“Should we call it?” Richie asked, leaning against his shoulder to look it over. 

 

He looked skeptically at it between his fingers, furrowing his brow. “I . . . I don’t know. What-what if it’s like . . . his mistress or something?”

 

His mistress?

 

“Well,” he threw his hands up, letting them fall to his sides. “He didn’t have one, but . . . he could’ve? Like, I don’t know, my parents were married but they weren't really married. Does that make sense?”

Richie nodded. If this really is a mafia situation, then they could definitely track and listen to our calls. He rolled on the balls of his feet as he stared up at the ceiling, hands stuffed in his pockets as he tried to think. “What if . . . What if we checked in the phone book? Then we can make sure we know who we're calling.” He smiled. “'Cause you're too chickenshit to talk to his mistress.

Hey, no I'm not,” he stated, crossing his arms.

He laughed and reached over to ruffle Eddie’s hair. “It’s not his mistress, dipshit.”

 

Eddie ducked, trying to escape his touch, his face the definition of a pout. “ Whatever , let’s just get the phone book.”

 

-

 

Lying on the floor on his stomach, his head on his hand, Richie flipped through the big yellow phone book. It almost smelled like a basement as he turned the pages, the cover coated in a layer of thin dust. Eddie was sitting sideways on the chair for his desk, flipping through the manilla folder Richie had brought. It was dark outside and peaceful, absolutely no cars passing on the street outside.

 

Richie looked up to Eddie for a moment, going over the events that had led to him being there. He had come there because he had needed someone (he had actually sought someone out, which he had never done before). And now, it was over, they were onto the next thing. Richie had absolutely loved this aspect of their friendship. They didn’t make a big deal out of what had happened, they acknowledged it and moved on. It didn’t ruin their night or get in the way of what they were set on doing in the first place. It made him feel like he’d grown in a way, because he had talked about his dirty laundry, cried a little bit, and now he felt much better about the entire situation. And Eddie had helped him through it, which he couldn’t be more thankful for. Richie had never remembered being thankful for anything, but it was one of the words that jumped out in his mind when he thought of that night. He was thankful for Eddie being there, thankful for someone that he could share such personal things with, and most of all, thankful for his reaction to it. Eddie hadn’t acted like Richie was weird for getting attached to someone he hadn’t even met, or act like Richie was overreacting to everything that had happened to him. Eddie took it all in and thought of Richie well enough to actually say that he didn’t deserve it, that Richie was a good person.

 

I’m honestly blown away, right now. I, Richard ‘Trashmouth’ Tozier, for the first time in my life, am speechless.

 

Eddie turned to him, brow furrowed. “It says here that my dad quit earlier than he actually did. Why . . . why would it say that? He went to work an entire month after this date.”

 

Trying to clear his thoughts, he sat up and adjusted his glasses. “How do you know he was going to work?” Richie asked.

 

Eddie looked from the file in his lap, to his desk, and then back at Richie, lips parted. “I guess I didn’t. But, where else could he have gone?”

 

He shrugged and looked back down at the phone book. After flipping a few more times, there it was, the number on the slip of paper. “Hey . . . this number’s for that nail salon downtown.”

 

“Rachel’s?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Eddie groaned and threw his head back, hands over his face. “My mom used to make him take her there all the time. It’s totally where his mistress probably works!” he mumbled from behind his fingers.

 

“Jesus, Eds, just stop and think for a moment about your dad having a mistress. Does that actually make any sense?”

 

“Well, no, but-”

 

“Then stop,” he said, laughing. “Maybe he didn’t even write that note. Maybe some random lady who wanted to remember the number so she could get a perm later taped it under there.”

 

“But it’s his handwriting . I can tell.”

 

Richie stood up and brushed off his pants. He placed his hands on his lower back, leaning backward until it cracked, making Eddie grimace. “C’mon,” he mumbled, snatching the scrap of paper from Eddie’s desk and motioning for the boy to follow. “Where’s your phone?”

 

-

 

Richie was typing the numbers into the phone next to the kitchen table, Eddie standing next to him. After he was done, the keys devoid of clacking, he pressed call and handed it over to Eddie. 

 

Eddie’s eyes widened as he shook his head, both hands gripping the white plastic up to his ear. 

 

Richie patted him on his small back, smiling deviously. While waiting for someone to pick up, he felt something brush his stomach. He glanced down, realizing that Eddie had dropped his right hand to grip the bottom of Richie’s jacket in his clenched fist, like he wanted to keep him there, afraid of the boy leaving him alone.  Nope. That’s not cute. Not at all.

 

“Huh-hello?” Eddie said, looking into Richie’s eyes.

 

He could vaguely hear someone’s voice on the other end, a woman who was either talking too fast or who had a thick accent, Richie couldn’t make out what she was saying.

 

“Oh-uh, no. No, sorry, wrong number,” Eddie said. He waited a moment, before hanging the phone back where it was, ending the call.

 

“What’d she say?”

 

“She asked if I wanted a discount on a brazilian blowout, what d’you think she said?” Eddie snapped.

 

Fuc k,” Richie cursed. He was completely out of ideas. How were they supposed to find out the truth? How did Eddie know that what the police had told him wasn’t the truth? Maybe his dad was drinking that night, maybe he had finally given in and drank a few beers because he felt like he needed to. Sure he knew his father, but did he really know him? Obviously not, because they were trying to figure out if he had been killed by the mafia or not.

 

-

 

They were back upstairs, both sat up against the bed in silence. What was Richie to do, just stand up and leave? He was actually contemplating that, his body was thrumming with nervousness because they weren’t talking. Eddie’s side was pressed against his, his body just warm enough that it kept Richie from leaving. Also, what kept him there was the fact that if he went home, he would risk the chance of seeing his mother again.

 

“You wanna spend the night?” Eddie suddenly asked, looking up at him.

 

Richie’s heart jumped. “Really?” he said. “What about your mom?”

 

Eddie shrugged his small shoulders. “I’ll just lock the door. She’ll probably make a big fuss about it, but . . . I don’t want to be alone right now.”

 

Richie could see the disappointment in Eddie’s eyes, the way his eyebrows drooped slightly. They really weren’t any closer to finding the truth. He felt like it was somehow his fault. Wasn’t there something else he could do? His chest ached with want.

 

Richie, trying to make the boy feel a little better, leaned forward.

 

And he kissed Eddie on the temple.

 

He immediately pulled back, realizing what he had done.

 

He’s gonna hate me. Why did I do that? What the fuck is wrong with me? Why do I feel like this?

 

Eddie pushed Richie away (causing his heart to stop in the most painful way) but then wiped his palm down the side of his head, grimacing. “ Ew , you fuck , what’d you do that for? Probably gave me a disease . . .” His face was already ten shades redder.

 

“Tag,” Richie whispered, trying to cover up his actions, slightly blowing a relieved breath out.

 

What?

 

“Tag!” Richie exclaimed, and he stood, propelling himself to the door to rip it open. He ran down the hall on weak legs, trying to hope that he would hear Eddie’s footsteps traveling behind him. And suddenly, he did , that along with soft laughter. Richie went to the kitchen, skirting to a stop behind the small island. The other appeared in the doorway, a confused smile on his face.

 

And then they were running around the table, Eddie trying to catch him.

 

“Come here, you asshole!

 

Richie stopped, slowly creeping around the corner, Eddie mimicking his actions on the other side. “You’re gonna have to kiss me to tag me , Eds. Just like me and yer mom last night,” he said, laughing. 

 

“Oh, shut up .”

 

Somehow Eddie had then run fast enough around the table, faster than Richie, to smack him right in the arm, before yelling his victory. “ Tag, fucker! ” It was short lived though, because as he tried to turn to make his quick escape, Richie scooped him up off of the ground.

 

Richie wrapped his thin arms under his armpits and across his chest, lifting him up and giggling at how light Eddie was in his hold. “ Tag ,” he let out.

 

He had expected Eddie to start yelling and shouting for Richie to drop him, anger practically bellowing from him like smoke. But even though he was squirming and protesting loudly, he was laughing along with Richie. “You’re such a dick ,” he giggled. “Put me down! Put me down!

 

“No can do, Spaghetti.” But he did, only he kept him trapped there, between his arms. They were both bent over, Richie’s face buried in his neck as they howled with laughter as he tried to tickle him.

 

“I’m . . . I’m not five ,” Eddie barely got out, trying to breathe through his giggles. “ Stop tickling me!

 

He got a good jab in between his ribs that sent Eddie’s head flying back against the crook of Richie’s shoulder, his own back against the island. Eddie’s back against Richie. He had the chance to just stop to look, to listen to his laughter. Richie nearly died right there on the spot. He realized, with a horrifying shock that made him more ashamed than he had ever been, that he wanted to kiss him again. But not on his temple. No, not there. On his lips. Richie wanted to kiss Eddie on the lips. And he would’ve, he was almost sure he would’ve if they hadn’t heard the front door being unlocked.

 

Instinctively, the two boys jumped away from each other, Richie nearly slipping on the tiled floor. It was mere seconds before Eddie had grabbed his arm and pulled the tall boy out into the hallway. He shoved them both back into his room, just as the click of the front door could be heard.

 

“Jeez, I thought she wouldn’t be back this early,” Eddie mumbled, softly shutting and locking the door behind him before he flicked his light off.

 

“Wait, why-”

 

“My mom thinks I go to bed at eight every night, shut the fuck up, okay?” he whispered angrily.

 

Richie couldn’t help but let a laugh tumble out of his throat, his hand coming up to cover his mouth. “Oh my God, you have a bedtime, that’s so cute,” he said, for once, actually thinking about the words he said. It’s true . I do think he’s cute. I’m not joking, am I?

 

“You’re annoying,” he heard Eddie’s silhouette say in the darkness.

 

His mother’s footsteps could be heard in the kitchen, a small usual ruckus sounding.

 

“Here,” Eddie whispered, traveling to the closet. Richie went to sit on his bed as he dug around in there for a few moments. Eventually, he pulled something out that looked, to Richie, like a blanket, as he tried to squint his eyes to decipher what it was.

 

Eddie came to the bed and laid it out on the floor, after shaking it out a bit. He paused, head tilted down. He pushed the thing a small bit closer to the bed with his socked foot. “You'll probably be too tall for it, but sleeping bags don’t come in sizes for abnormally tall giraffes, so . . .”

 

Damn , Eds,” he laughed, standing up. 

 

He heard Eddie stifle a laugh before reaching over to snatch one of his two pillows and thumping it against Richie’s chest. “You need a blanket too?” he asked.

 

Richie took the pillow and dropped it on the sleeping bag, smiling. “Nah, Spaghetti, I should be fine. If I’m cold I’ll just crawl up on the bed and snuggle with you.”

 

“If you come up here in the night I’ll kick you off so hard you won’t remember it, Tozier.”

 

More footsteps outside, both of the boys had got into their own beds, albeit Richie’s being just two layers of fabric on the floor. Richie wasn’t tired, but he thought he could sleep, which was better than most nights. He gave the credit to Eddie being there above him, next to him, casting a reliable feeling in the air.

 

Speaking of the hypochondriac, Richie glanced up, seeing Eddie’s head resting on his pillow that was pinned on his elbow. His right hand was by his face, the bottom half of the word loser only slightly visible on his cast. Eddie was staring right back at him over the edge of the mattress.

 

Richie gulped and looked away, pulling the top layer of the sleeping bag higher up on his chest, as far as it could go. He could still feel the other’s gaze on him.

 

“Richie?”

 

“Yeah, Eds?” he immediately responded, his eyes taking a moment before looking back up at him.

 

“I’m scared of my mom,” he whispered, clutching the fabric of his pillow.

 

“Yeah, me too.”

 

“No,” Eddie continued. “She . . . she tried to make me take pills.”

 

Richie furrowed his brow, blinked a few times, and then got in a different position so he didn’t have to awkwardly angle his neck to look up at him. “What do you mean?”

 

“Placebos. You know what they are right?” he asked quietly.

 

He had thought he had heard the word before, maybe on the television, or maybe somewhere in health class in middle school. Yes, that was where he had heard it from, he remembered. “Aren’t those, like, sugar pills? That doctor’s give to people who think they’re sick?”

 

He gave a small nod. “She made me think I was sick. After my dad died. Suddenly I had like forty different allergies and carried one of those EpiPens around in my fanny pack. Pill bottles too. I had a watch that she set to go off when it was time for me to take them.”

 

“Eds, that’s . . .” He couldn’t believe it. No wonder Beverly had told him that when they walked home together that first day that Eddie had looked scared. It was his mother standing in the window. Richie felt sick, no, he felt furious. He didn’t think he could sleep anymore. “That’s fucked .”

 

“Yeah. I’m almost perfectly normal though, health-wise.”

 

Richie nodded. “Except for your asthma.”

 

To Richie’s disbelief, Eddie slowly shook his head. “I don’t-” He seemed choked up, so he cleared his throat and tried to continue. “I don’t have asthma,” he whispered, barely audible.

 

He had to repeat the words in his head to understand them. I don’t have asthma. I don’t have asthma . Eddie doesn’t have asthma.

 

Eddie let out a small wet laugh. “My inhaler’s a placebo, Richie. And I only use it because some part of my head still fuckin’ believes it enough to stop my panic attacks. Because part of me still believes her. I hate . . . I fucking hate -”

 

Richie reached up to grab his partially visible hand like Eddie had done for him earlier. He watched as he wiped his face with his other hand, his features not discernible enough in the dark to tell if he was crying or not. Richie thought he was. “Jesus,” he mumbled. “We’re so fucked up.”

 

He heard Eddie giggle, sniffling a little. “It’s not so bad. With . . . you know . . .”

 

Richie felt his heart swell and squeezed the other’s fingertips. “Someone else?” 

 

Eddie didn’t answer, maybe because if he said yes it would have certain connotations. Richie desperately wanted him to say anything at all, but settled with the barely-there squeeze his own fingers received in return. He let his hand fall away and land softly on his chest as he looked away from Eddie, up to the ceiling. He was thinking too much, feeling too many things he didn’t want to feel then, and he knew he couldn’t ignore it anymore. In the morning he would either come to a decision with himself or try to forget all of it like he had tried to do before. 

 

Richie wasn’t sure which was worse.