Richie’s demise begins with clementines.
They’re a week into October, which means four days into the citrus-themed spiral, which at this point shows no indication of slowing. He probably should have seen it coming—something like this was bound to happen sooner or later. He’s not surprised. And he’s fully prepared to lean into it, as long as he doesn’t overdose on vitamin C first. If that happens, they can all blame his sister, ‘cause she’s the one that got the ball rolling on the whole thing anyway.
He tells himself this is just about clementines and nothing else when he walks into the cafeteria.
Bev and Eddie are already seated when he arrives, and it starts before his ass is even touching his seat.
“What’s wrong with your fingers, freak?” Eddie scrunches his nose and frowns, staring at Richie expectantly as he settles into the spot next to Bev.
He takes a breath. “Woah, c’mon now Eds, you know I only let Mrs. K call me-”
“Shut up, shut up. And don’t call me Eds,” Eddie snaps. “What’s wrong with your fingers?” he adds after a beat, tilting his chin up at the aforementioned appendages and grimacing. “What, do you have jaundice or something?”
Richie takes a moment to thank whatever gods may be watching him from above for both this opportunity and for the single week he lasted in the improv club back in sophmore year. He looks down at his hands and frowns, biting his lip in a way that he hopes looks forlorn. “Shit, I—I wasn’t gonna tell you until—yeah, okay, I guess now’s as good a time as any.”
Eddie blinks. “Shut up. Shut up. Shut the fuck up, you do not—Richie, Richie-” He’s worked himself up into a proper freak out in about two seconds flat, which, actually, may be a new record.
Richie wonders if perhaps he’s gone too far. He’s not prepared for the pang of guilt that rings through him, echoing in his bones when he looks up and meets Eddie’s eyes. He’s about to break, but Bev beats him to it, dropping her head to the table and erupting into giggles beside him.
Eddie’s mouth falls open. “Oh, you—you piece of shit! ” His hands rise above the table as if he’s about to whack Richie upside the head, but he settles for balling them into fists and letting out a quiet screech instead. Bev’s shoulders start to shake violently.
Richie finally allows himself to crack a smile, watching Eddie’s face contort itself through the five stages of grief with delight.
And evidently he settles on anger, because: “God, you’re such—you’re such a dick, Richie! Do you even know how many people die from jaundice every year?”
If looks could kill, jaundice would be the last thing Richie would have to worry about right now.
“Fuck you. What the fuck is wrong with your stupid fucking fingers.” He does not phrase it as a question, and he does not take mind to the spit flying out of his mouth with each word. Richie’s lips twitch upwards again.
Both Bev and Eddie are waiting—the former patiently, and the latter like he is about to burst out of his own skin. Richie reaches a hand into his lunch bag and pulls out their culprit with a flourish.
“Been eatin’ clementines,” he states simply, digging his fingernails (stained yellow, of course) into the peel.
“That’s a mandarin, idiot.”
“Uh-uh. This here’s a clementine.”
“Mmmm,” Bev hums then, skeptical, and Richie braces himself for the betrayal. “I’m pretty sure Eddie’s right, actually.”
“Traitor!” Richie claps a hand over his heart, sending a little piece of peel flying in the process. She rolls her eyes and tosses her bag to the other side of the table, joining Eddie with a huff, half amused and half exasperated.
As she plops down, a wild Mike appears on the other side of Richie, eyebrows drawn together and mouth floundering between open and closed like he’s trying to decide if he wants to get involved or not. He evidently decides not, shaking his head, but then unknowingly gets himself involved anyway.
“Oh, hey, I love clementines,” he says as he sits down next to Richie, almost starting back up as he’s met with three tandem shouts: two of anguish and disappointment, and one of victory.
Bev sighs at him. “How could you?”
“Don’t listen to her,” Richie counters quickly, “she has jaundice.”
“You’re the one with jaundice, idiot!”
“Can we not—can we not joke about the jaundice, please.”
Richie wiggles his fingers at Eddie’s face and smirks at the immediate recoil. “Sure thing, Eds.”
“Don’t call me Eds!”
“Wait, who has jaundice?”
Bev turns to Mike and takes a breath. “Richie-”
“Bill!” Eddie interrupts, everyone else falling silent. Beside the table now stands Bill, and also Ben. “And also Ben! What is Richie eating?” He jabs a finger at the offending fruit (clementine! thank you very much!) and then it’s all eyes on Bill and Ben.
Bill’s eyes narrow hesitantly. “...a mandarin?”
Eddie and Bev let out a whoop of cheers, pulling a very confused but going along with it anyway Bill down to their side of the table. Richie groans and Mike gives him a pat on the shoulder.
“Next time, buddy,” he comforts while Bill revels in his unearned praise.
“I have n-no idea what’s going on,” he admits.
“What’s going on is that Richie’s stupid,” Eddie explains.
Bill seems to accept that at face value. “Oh, okay.”
Ben clears his throat, hovering unsure at the end of the table still. “Is it bad that I thought that was a tangerine?”
“Where’d they ship you in from again, Haystack? Crazy town?” It’s not Richie’s best, really, but given the circumstances it’s definitely not his worst. “Mandarin or clementine?” he asks, down to business. Ben makes a face that looks like he really doesn’t care either way, but eventually he sighs and sits down next to Richie. Bev gives him a wounded look and holds a hand to her chest.
“If I had to pick one, I’d call it a clementine.”
“In your face, Kaspbrak!”
The next ten or so minutes continue very much in the same fashion, with the argument picking up again every few topics with new reasonings for either side as they wait for Stan to arrive from his smart person extra credit math whatever the fuck and break their tie.
“I’ve seen them at the grocery store and the packaging literally says cutie mandarin oranges,” Eddie contributes, through vicious bites of his sandwich.
“You can inspect my package any day, cutie.” He earns a chorus of groans for that, almost before the words are even out of his mouth. A light blush appears across Eddie’s cheeks, obscuring his freckles. Richie wants to pinch them.
“Beep beep, asshole!”
Richie relents, and it’s just in time, because his saviour enters the ring in that exact moment.
“Stan!” calls literally all six of them, frantic, earning more than a few looks from the surrounding tables. This in turn paints an expression on Stan’s face that Richie has personally seen (and probably caused) a thousand times over—eyes fluttering closed, lips pressed together in a thin line, pace faltering just for a moment as he sucks in a calm breath like it’s a direct IV of preemptive aspirin—in short, Stan looks like he’s wishing for death. If he wasn’t their tiebreaker, Richie might have both the tact and the consideration to dial down the theatrics for the rest of lunch. But that sweet, uptight son of a bitch is their tiebreaker, so:
“Stanley my manley! Stantonio! Stan francisco, might I-”
“Shut the fuck up, Richie.” Eddie looks ready to jump the table. Instead he gestures once more to the clementine (mission of being peeled evidently long since abandoned) and turns to Stan. “What is that?”
Stan blinks, unimpressed. “A clementine?”
Richie’s pretty sure the upset that follows is the closest they’ve ever come to being kicked out of the cafeteria. Eddie’s side of the table lets out a chorus of boos. Stan is unfazed.
“Okay, so I guess I’m supposed to sit on this side, then?” He takes the spot beside Ben before waiting for an answer. Richie barely notices, because Eddie has moved on from wallowing in defeat to staring at Richie, which requires exactly 100% of his attention.
“Well, are you gonna finish peeling it, or what?”
“Maybe,” Richie answers, and ‘cause he still feels like being a little shit, “Why? You want some?”
Eddie narrows his eyes. Now that Richie’s asked, he’s definitely not going to admit it. “Hm,” he says, all but turning his nose up at him like a snooty child monarch.
Cute, cute, cute! Richie thinks, but very much does not say. He bites his tongue and pulls another clementine out of his lunch bag, starting in on the peel as he watches Eddie watching him out of the corner of his eye. He’s doing this because he wants to practice getting the peel off in one piece, not because he knows Eddie wouldn’t want to get little chunks of rind under his fingernails.
If he believes it, that means everyone else probably does too, right?
The rest of the losers have since settled into their regular pace of conversation, words like homework and driving lessons and the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard flying past Richie’s ears. Normally he’d be all over that, but he stays silent in favour of holding out the clementine, now peeled, to Eddie in an open palm.
“Consolation prize,” he explains.
Eddie frowns, but it’s the kind of frown when it’s really a smile. “I better not catch your jaundice,” he says in lieu of a thank you. He uses what Richie is pretty sure Eddie thinks is his mean voice, but it holds no bite at all, soft smile settling upon his lips as he takes the peace offering, fingertips just barely brushing across the skin of Richie’s palm. He attempts to cover up the shiver that runs through his entire body with a cough, throwing in some light hacking for good measure.
“Ugh, gross,” Eddie comments, because if he doesn’t comment he might die. Richie ignores him and starts working on finishing his first clementine, but then Eddie starts again. “God, I hate the stringy bits.”
“I like the bits.”
Eddie’s eyebrows come down low, skeptical. “You like the bits?”
Richie shrugs like, it’s not that weird. “I like the bits.”
“They’re so annoying. It takes like a million years to peel them off.” He demonstrates this fact by peeling off a single white string with both great contempt and effort.
“Just don’t peel them off,” Richie says, popping a slice in his mouth, bits and all. “It’s part of the experience. You can’t just take the best parts, you have to eat the whole thing.”
“What about the rind, idiot?”
“I meant the whole of the part you’re supposed to eat.”
“Yeah, you’re not supposed to eat the stringy bits.”
“Well, you can eat my-”
Eddie cuts him off with a scream, throwing scraps of peel in his face. “Beep beep! Beep beep beep beep beep !” He’s shaking his head over and over again, eyes scrunching open and shut as he rips off the strings from his clementine. “I can’t believe I’m friends with you,” he mutters.
As Richie pulls a little piece of clementine peel out of his mouth, he smiles at the bitterness lingering on his tongue. “Me neither, Eds.”
It all started exactly four days before the Great Clementine-Mandarin Schism of 1992, and it started with a simple question:
“If you were a fruit, what fruit would you be?”
His sister was asking him, specifically, what fruit he would be. What his brain supplied in response was, Eddie would be a clementine. Cutest fruit of them all. And, um, hey! Not the question, but okay!
Now, sitting at home post-Schism with an otherwise worthless metaphorical victory in his yellowing fingertips, he is forced to confront the degree to which this thing is, well, a thing. Because his brain really has been getting out of hand with thinking about Eddie when that’s not the question. No matter what the question is, Eddie is always the first answer he comes up with. It’s—it’s a thing. He got over pretending it wasn’t a thing this past Summer. And he’s fine with that! Mostly. But he’s gonna have to cool his shit if he doesn’t want to blow it.
It’s inconvenient, how acutely aware he’s become of just how nauseatingly cute he finds Eddie. He’s cute when he’s focusing on the board in class. He’s cute when he’s telling Richie how disgusting his room (or his backpack, or his fingers, or his trashmouth) is. He’s cute when he’s in his stupid little shorts (!!!) or his showercap or his ridiculous jacket that Sonia makes him wear on the bike to school even though it’s only the start of October. He’s cute when he’s crammed in the hammock beside Richie. He’s cute when he’s telling wild lies about the names of certain citrus fruits.
He’s cute even when he’s not, and that is how Richie knows he’s fucked.
And before this Summer, he had been blissfully unaware. Maybe not entirely—definitely not entirely—but enough to be able to ignore it. But then Summer came, and the last day of June found the two of them splitting their hammock—again, always—and it wasn’t anything special, or momentous, or even noticeable to anyone else, but. Eddie was reading a comic, and he laughed. It was sort of like a cross between a hyena and a goat, and Richie just knew right then in that moment that he was. Well. That he was in a situation with no end in sight. It was like discovering the secrets to the universe, just a direct link to every piece of information ever known to man, like why gravity goes down instead of up or how electricity works or why the Earth turns.
Apparently, it’s all because of Eddie Kaspbrak. Who woulda thunk it? Evidently, not Richie. But in the three-second hyperspeed rewind of every second he’s spent breathing the same air as Eddie, he realized swiftly and without doubt that he was, and probably always had been, completely in love with him.
So that was a fun realization. Just so much fun . Probably only rivaled in fun levels by the knock he got on his door the next morning, courtesy of none other than one Stanley Uris.
“Come birdwatching with me?” It wasn’t really a request. They’d been in the forest for a good thirty minutes and Stan hadn’t lifted his binoculars to his eyes once when he asked the real question. “Is everything okay with you lately? Yesterday after the clubhouse you seemed kind of off. Did something happen?”
And Richie, because he was still caught in the strange haze of oh, I guess that’s the word to describe everything I have felt since basically ever, said, “I’m pretty sure I’m in actual love with Eddie,” and then clapped a hand over his mouth, loud pop punctuating his statement definitively.
And Stan, bless his heart, just stopped dead in his tracks and said, “Oh. Wait, you—you just realized that? That’s what that was yesterday? Richie, how could—well, actually I guess that makes sense if-” he trailed off, looking at Richie with a flavour of concern that was more actually worried about your wellbeing leaning than the usual I think you might have been dropped on your head as an infant.
It was at that point that Richie realized his hands were shaking, and, depending on whose version of the story you heard, there might have been a tear making its way down his cheek.
When Richie didn’t say anything, Stan reached out to brush the alleged tear from Richie’s face, like he couldn’t stop himself, the same way he’d sometimes straighten Bill’s shirt when it got all twisted from his many failed cartwheel attempts, or how he’d fix Bev’s hair when it got in her face. And that’s the Stan that Richie knew and loved—and then for a second Richie was like, loved ?!?! But then the moment passed, and he chalked it up to a crossing of wires, due to to the many, many emotions his brain and face were experiencing, because in the end, it’s not like it is with Eddie with Stan. It wasn’t like it was with Eddie with anyone, which was a pretty circular revelation at that point in the conversation. Which-
The conversation! With Stan, who was wiping his tears and? Smiling? The Stan he knew and loved and wasn’t telling him he was awful or gross for being in love with a boy. Which was!!!!!!!!!
“Hey Richie, Richie, it’s okay. It’s okay. I’m gonna need you to start breathing, like now, or you’re probably going to pass out and I don’t really feel like dealing with a medical emergency right now, so. It’s okay.”
Richie only realized how hard he was crying when he tried to speak. “It’s… It’s okay?” Oh. Maybe that’s why Stan was telling him to breathe.
“Yeah, it’s—Richie.” Stan cut himself off in favour of pulling Richie in for a hug, such a rare occurrence that Richie found himself shocked still for the first few seconds of it. But Stan didn’t pull away, he only held on tighter and he didn’t say anything but the press of his chin into Richie’s shoulder felt a lot like this doesn’t change anything for me.
After a minute or so, Richie stopped sniffling and Stan pulled away. “Let’s never mention this again,” Richie said, but it came out like, “Why thank you, lord Staniel, I do find myself craving the comfort of a handsome young prince like yourself on long nights such as these,” in what might have been the most garbled British Damsel he’s ever done. Stan rolled his eyes and just like that, order was restored to the universe.
Later, when they walked their bikes home, Stan stared straight ahead and said, “For the record, he definitely feels the same about you.”
At that, Richie’s heart catapulted into his throat and then promptly fell out of his ass. “Oi, you’ve gone right funny in the head! Absolutely mad, mate!” He went into it with the intention of bringing out the British Guy, but it morphed into a pitiful Australian by the end. Not his best work. Even given the circumstances, maybe his worst.
Stan turned to him then, stopping cold in the middle of the street. He took a moment just to look at Richie, evidently deciding whether he wanted to push it or not.
In the end, he just shook his head, for which Richie was eternally grateful.
There’s a lot to unpack there. And Richie doesn’t really care to do it, even now, months later, so he thinks about fruit instead. Stan is most definitely a blueberry. Sometimes they’re bitter or sour and kind of fickle but occasionally you’ll get one that’s just perfect, and that’s Stan.
Mike is an apple. Sturdy, dependable—the kind of fruit that will endure when shit goes sideways and everything else starts to wither. Only actual crazy people don’t like apples.
Ben’s gotta be passionfruit—the dude is just full of love for what seems to be everyone and everything. Also, a fruit that seems like one thing on the outside and is one hundred percent more kickass than you expected on the inside. Not a fruit you can get a hold of very often, so you best fucking cherish it when you find one.
Bev is guava, ‘cause guavas are vibrant and fun and if anyone fits that bill, it’s Miss Red herself. And on the outside they’re green and kinda look like a pear, so maybe you’ve got some expectations about what they may taste like but then you cut it open and it’s pink! And not at all what you thought it would be, or what people say it would be, and you’re so glad you decided to find out for yourself.
Bill is a lychee, which is a one of a kind fruit for a one of a kind guy. Hard shell, kind of a bitch to get open, but once you get inside the fruit is really soft and tangy, then a seed in the middle that’s super tough. This is a fruit you want on your side when it all goes down.
Richie would pin himself down as a strawberry, if he’s being modest. Strawberries are, in a word, fucking awesome, (two words) and only hated by a very small misguided group of people that don’t know how to have fun. And no, he is not taking any input on this one.
And that just leaves Eddie, who for obvious reasons is a clementine.
This is the one he’s thought most about—tiny, adorable, obviously. Kind of hard and annoying to open when you first give it a try, but easier each time you do it. After a few days—which is, like, at least a good four or five years in clementine time, mind you—he manages to get it all in one go, a way too satisfying spiral of rind discarded on the kitchen counter. A rind that one super specific shade of orange that’s littered all throughout your childhood, splashes of colour in lunchboxes and on television sets and behind bikes in the middle of road at sunset and in hard-earned smiles, trying so hard not to exist but twitching on the lips, anyway. An orange that settles into your bones, soft and familiar to the touch, comfort in a word.
It’s the kind of fruit that will leave a mark, if Richie’s yellow-tipped fingers are anything to go by. Some people (some! people!) might think it’s gross and weird, but Richie likes the reminder. He also likes the stringy bits—again! Maybe a bit weird, maybe a bit gross, maybe a bit off-putting, and most definitely not everyone’s thing, but. A part of the whole that Richie has found himself terminally obsessed with. And this is even before you get to the good part! Not that there’s any of it that isn’t good, Richie maintains, all of it is good—but then there’s the good part, the actual fruit, with all the juice and the tang and sweetness to make your mouth feel like it’s own personal eternal summer. And a really kickass summer at that, one full of sunny quarry mornings and lazy hammock afternoons and secret hangout evenings, ones where voices are hushed and fingertips are brushed and they don’t mention it in the morning.
All this is to say that Richie asks his dad to add clementines to the grocery list again that very night. It’s fine, Richie just really likes clementines right now.
He might even say that he loves them.
He should probably start worrying when he starts referring to Eddie as his clementine. It’s only in his own head, but Richie doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to filtering brain to mouth output. He does alright for the first little while, the first few weeks of Fall passing by without incident—without incident, but without waning, either.
Eddie evidently gets into the habit of expecting a clementine at lunch, so Richie gets into the habit of splitting them with him. He sits there, every single time, watching Eddie meticulously remove all the strings from his half, and he wants to die a little bit. Really, he’s having the time of his life over here.
He’s not sure how he’s going to make it out of this alive. It all feels like its leading up to something, but when or how it’s going to come to a head, he has no idea.
Well, he might have some idea.
It’s the last Friday of October when the question of Eddie’s birthday is brought up. Sweet Seventeen, of course, because last year Bill decided Sweet Sixteens were evil—don’t ask, he doesn’t wanna talk about it—and the losers are nothing if not ready to blindly go along with any and every one of Bill’s random ass decisions.
The issue is this: Eddie’s birthday, this year, is on a Thursday. For any normal nearly seventeen year old, this would not be a hurdle. For the unfortunate spawn of Sonia Kaspbrak, it is not a hurdle but a brick wall built right on the starting line.
“We could do it on the Friday or the Saturday? Movie night at someone’s house?” Bev offers, taking a sip of her and Ben’s milkshake (strawberry; disgusting, but also weirdly suiting Bev for some reason—and if suited Bev, then it equally suited Ben). The seven of them are crammed into a booth at the diner, picking at the remains of a basket of onion rings as they figure out this whole birthday thing.
It’s honestly a little old hat by this point, with Eddie being the last birthday of the year, but they all refuse to let him go uncelebrated. And, come on. Sweet Seventeen!
Ben squeezes Bev’s hand, smiling. “I have a free house that weekend,” he says, “my parents are helping my uncle move to Boston. We could do it at my place.”
“Thanks, Ben.” Eddie smiles brightly. “That’d be great.”
It’s been a while since their last movie night, and Richie entire body smiles involuntarily at the thought of the random aches and pains he always wakes up with at their sleepovers—a small price to pay for the comfort of getting to spend the entire night tangled up in all his friends under a mess of blankets, (and some choice blankets at that, if it’s Ben’s house) Eddie pressed warm against his side the whole time.
Which, actually, is where he is right now, Richie being the lucky son of a bitch that he is. Eddie’s been quiet so far, not the normal being of chaos he tends to turn into when they all gorge themselves at the diner, grease and sugar usually doing the trick in under five minutes. Richie’s given him plenty of openings to go at it, but each time the opportunity shrivels up untouched.
Just to be sure, Richie leans over to Eddie’s shake (vanilla; an improvement on the strawberry but by no means the correct choice) and takes a long sip. They lock eyes, and Richie waits for the string of curses he’s been craving all afternoon— c’mon Eds, let me have it, break the landspeed record for most bullshit spewed in ten seconds— but Eddie does nothing more than raise his eyebrows. Just a bit—slowly, almost like he was testing if they still worked. Richie presses his lips together so he doesn’t smile, and leans back into the padded booth.
Then, in either a moment of demonic possession or a massive lapse in character, Eddie grabs the very same milkshake and takes a sip from the very same straw, tiny shiver going through his shoulders and sending Richie’s heartbeat into a frenzy, endless echo of that little shimmy thrumming in an endless loop in his chest.
He sets the cup down evenly between the two of them and settles a little closer into Richie’s side.
By that point the conversation has evolved significantly, and when Richie tunes back into the world he finds it fixated on Stan and Bill, in a heated debate about what is probably the main character of whatever book their English class is reading that term. Mike chimes in every so often, warranting a smug “thank you!” from Stan and a betrayed scoff from Bill.
Bev catches Richie’s eye from across the table and shrugs. The two of them are in first period English together this semester, and their class is definitely not reading whatever Bill and Stan were still getting worked up about, now approaching screaming territory.
Their regular waitress comes by then with the cheque and a strained smile that very loudly communicates the please shut the fuck up she’s not allowed to say outright. She drops the cheque on the table and hurries off to another group—she knows by now not to wait for the slow scrounge of quarters and dollar bills coming from their pockets, always a guessing game to see if they’d be in hot water that week. The literary brawl fizzles out as everyone starts to pat themselves down in sync, and Eddie shifts restlessly against Richie’s side, biting his lip.
Richie taps a finger against the top of Eddie’s hand, a silent, you okay? Eddie curls his thumb around him but doesn’t meet his eyes.
“Y’know, I just-” Eddie stops himself almost as quickly as he starts, mouth frozen open when six pairs of eyes fall on him attentively. “Sorry,” he says, shaking his head, “It’s just. I’m seventeen, right? I shouldn’t have to—I should be able to hang out with my friends on my birthday if it’s a school night. That’s normal? That’s something that normal seventeen year olds should be able to do, right?”
“Oh, Eddie,” Bev says, reaching across the table to grab his hand. He takes the one holding onto Richie and gives it to her. The loss of warmth feels like a limb being removed. Richie suppresses the toddler living inside of his brain and doesn’t grab for it back. “Right. It is, and—and it’s not unreasonable for you to want that.”
“W-we could come break you out, i-if you want,” Bill offers.
Mike nods. “I could bring the truck. You could just, like, jump out of your window into a sack or something and we could throw you into the back and then just. Into the night.” He pushes an arm into the air, making a vague zooming noise to go along with it.
Eddie laughs, shaking his head. “Thanks, guys,” he says, earnest. “And it’s okay, the Friday or the Saturday is good. That way we can do a sleepover.” He smiles, eyes darting down. His eyebrows knit together, smile fading. “I don’t know, I just—fuck. Tired of having to pick my battles, y’know?”
There’s a collective hum, heads bobbing up and down in quiet support. Richie feels the milkshake and onion rings turning sour in his stomach, and he vows in that moment to make sure that Eddie’s birthday—his actual birthday—is a day that lives up to just how special he is.
As the plan starts to form in his mind, Eddie wiggles at Richie’s side and tosses a few crumpled up bills on the table.
“Alright, I got four dollars. Movie starts in twenty minutes, so let’s pay up.”
They make it to the Aladdin in record time, managing to find seven seats together for some movie that Richie (and Bill, for the record) thinks is gonna be about dogs but is actually a heist thing. He thinks he might really like it, except for some reason—one reason, sitting beside him, elbow tucked beside his on the armrest—he finds he can’t pay much attention to any of it, anyway.
After the movie Mike takes Bev, Ben, and Stan home in his truck while Richie, Eddie, and Bill take their bikes the other way, streetlights already on by the time they get out of the theatre.
“I totally would’ve kicked your ass in Street Fighter,” Eddie says, nearly swerving directly into Richie to avoid a pothole.
Rue the day Sonia lets you behind the wheel of a car, he almost spits back, stopping himself last minute. That day will probably never come, and they both know it—no sense in reminding him. “Doubt that,” he says instead, about a beat too late.
Eddie rolls his eyes. “Whatever. See you guys tomorrow.” He pedals ahead of Bill, passing him in a wide arc to turn off into his neighbourhood.
“Bye Eddie!” Bill says, like a normal person.
“See you tonight, actually, when I come visit your mom!” Richie says, like Richie.
Eddie just raises an arm. He’s too far and it’s too dark to really make out, but Richie is one hundred percent certain he’s flipping them off. He and Bill come to a stop, squinting at the outline of their friend rounding the next corner, out of sight.
And maybe it’s because he’s still high off the feeling of a good night spend with his friends, safe enough to let his guard down. Maybe it’s because it’s just him and Bill, and subconsciously he knows Bill would never judge him like the idiots in this town.
Maybe he’s born with it. Maybe he’s just a huge idiot. Regardless-
“Ah, yeah,” he sighs, “that’s my clementine.”
He freezes, entire body tensing. Bill turns to him slowly, growing smile on his face.
“D-don’t you mean your—your m-m-mandarin?” He looks incredibly satisfied with his joke, but Richie can barely think over the static in his head long enough to be annoyed with him for that.
“Does-” he cuts himself off, considering. Fuck it. “Does everyone fucking know? Did everyone clue in already? Am I behind the curve on this?” He’s pretty much beyond caring at this point, but his heart pounds all the same as he says the words. It’s different saying them out loud. He fights the urge to check over his shoulder for any eavesdroppers.
Bill looks taken aback, just for a second, and then he smiles again, nervous this time. “I mean. Bev d-definitely knows. I think Stan knows? He just tells me to r-respect your privacy whenever I try to t-talk to him about it. Which, I mean, y-yeah. I’m not sure uh, about Ben and Mike, b-but Mike gave—gave me a, like, look, at the diner today w-when you guys were being—being cute or w-whatever with your m-milkshake-”
“Being—being-” he can’t bring himself to say it, eyes bulging out of his head with a silent !?!?!?!! as Bill laughs.
“Y’know, when y-you guys like. Have kind of your own c-conversation somehow i-in—like, inside of another conversation a-and it’s like the rest of the world doesn’t exist? You do it l-literally all—all the time.”
Oh, jesus fuck, Richie thinks.
“And like, sometimes you guys do it w-without words. It’s weird. But anyway, yeah, I think M-Mike knows, too.”
Damn it. Richie likes to think he got all his coming out tears over and done with back in the Summer with Stan, but then he looks over at Bill and sees those big blue eyes and that soft, soft smile, and, well. Shit on a stick, it’s about to be waterworks city all over again. He wonders just exactly how he got this lucky, having friends like this.
“Oh, Richie,” Bill continues, reaching out to grab Richie’s hand where it grips onto his handlebars. “Th-this doesn’t—you’re my best f-friend and I love you. That’s n-never going to change. A-and we’re all r-really happy for you guys. Really.”
Wait. This is starting to sound like a very slightly different conversation. Richie coming out, take two, but a bit to the left. “What—what do you mean, uh, exactly, by ‘happy for you guys ’?”
Bill frowns. “You and Eddie. It’s okay you d-didn’t wanna tell us, nobody’s like, m-mad or anything. W-we get it. But you guys aren’t exactly s-subtle.” He laughs at bit at that, only half as uncomfortable as Richie might have expected. It takes a second to process.
The wheels on his bike have stopped, but the ones in Richie’s head are just getting started. He tilts his head and blinks over at Bill. “Me and Eddie aren’t—I mean I’m, but Eddie’s—he’s not…”
There’s a small moment where the two of them are just stuck staring at each other, frozen in varying states of confusion, and then Bill groans and lets his eyes roll into the back of his head. “Oh, jesus, Bev-”
“Fuck.” Bill turns bright red, knuckles white on his handlebars. “Fuck,” he says again, quietly, to himself.
Richie might puke. “Bill.”
He smiles like he’s in pain. “Richie.”
“Richie.” He says it like it’s an apology, bringing his foot up to rest on one of Silver’s pedals.
“Bill—Bill, Bill-” Richie’s entire body is vibrating, joints locking in place. “Don’t you—Billiam Denbrough, don’t you dare bike away from me!” He screams it down the street, his voice definitely not cracking in the process. Bill is already a dozen feet away by the time his legs are back in contact with his brain, fumbling over his bike’s pedals.
“Sorry, Rich, gotta go!” Bill shouts back, rounding the corner onto the sidestreet up ahead and disappearing into the darkness with a distant laugh.
“This isn’t over!” Richie yells, “We’re not done talking about this, Denbrough! You—you!” He can’t think of an appropriate insult on the spot so he just lets out a scream instead.
The sound of a window slamming open punctuates his catharsis about three seconds too early. “Shut it, Tozier!”
He squints into the square of light, up in the house directly to his right. “Greta?” He thought he recognized that specific disdainful Tozier.
“Yeah, dipshit. Stop screaming in the fucking street!”
Richie barks a short, deranged laugh, and gives her a quick salute before setting off down the street once more, feeling light and dizzy.
So, these are the things Richie knows:
- He is in love(!!!) with Eddie.
- Stan and Bill both for sure know he’s in love with Eddie.
- Bev and Mike (and also Ben???) probably know he’s in love with Eddie.
- Bill (and Bev?) thought that he and Eddie were already together and just not telling them. Which means that Bill (and Bev? and probably Stan?) think (or know?????) that Eddie is gay and possibly also having feelings for Richie.
What Richie doesn’t know, is what the fuck Eddie knows. Or what he thinks he knows. Or, good god, what he feels. But he might have a hunch. Maybe it’s more of a hope than anything, but it leads him further down this road he’s been wandering for the past six years.
He has a hunch, and it looks a lot like there might be an end.
He has a hunch, and it looks a lot like home.
He just needs to be brave enough to open that door.
Eddie’s birthday rolls around, like, three seconds later, and Richie is prepared. His dad came home with the groceries that afternoon, and as per request that haul included a fresh crate of everyone’s favourite citrus fruit. Richie takes a good five or six, just to be a nuisance, and wraps them carefully in paper towel before he puts them in his backpack.
Underneath that is a pair of pajama pants and some (vaguely) clean school clothes—they’d only done this a few times before, and only since Sonia started going into work an hour later and therefore waking up after Eddie leaves for school. Most of the time when Richie finds himself crawling through Eddie’s window, he usually finds him crawling back out that same night.
But hey, you only get one Sweet Seventeen, and Richie is determined to make Eddie’s a good one. And he knows that Eddie’s favourite thing in the world is making fun of Richie’s morning voice cracks whenever they have sleepovers, so who is he to deprive a guy—and his favourite guy, at that—on his birthday?
He makes sure to put on his favourite shirt, which is his favourite shirt only because he’s pretty sure it’s Eddie’s favourite of his shirts. (Hawaiian print—and like, actual legitimately Hawaiian print, like from Magnum P.I.—that’s black with white and red flowers, and green leaves. His dad had found it crumpled in the back of his closet and, in a nearly fatal lapse of judgement, put it in the donation pile. Richie heroically rescued it from its ill-fortuned fate, and after begging good ol’ Mags to iron it, he compromised and learned how to use an iron. After that he rocked up to the clubhouse feeling like hot shit, which he most definitely was, judging by Eddie’s strained offering of, “That one’s not as stupid as the others,” following Richie’s model posing.)
He’s just about set to go, making his way down the stairs, when he nearly jumps directly into his father in a classic just where do you think you’re going set-up.
“Where you headed off to, kiddo?” he asks. It’s not the line Richie was looking for, and his arms aren’t even crossed, but it’ll do.
Richie tightens his backpack straps over his shoulders. “Stan’s place,” he lies smoothly, “we have a big project due tomorrow and he forgot all about it so I’m gonna go help him with it.”
“Huh, that doesn’t sound like Stan at all.”
It really doesn’t. He had the project finished last week, before Richie even started on his.
“Yeah, right? Weird. Anyway, I’m probably just gonna sleep over ‘cause it’s getting late. Got clothes for tomorrow,” he explains, twisting around to show off his appropriately full backpack.
“Well, alright,” his dad says, leaning against the railing of the stairs. “Be sure to give your mother and I a call if anything changes.”
“Will do, pops,” he says with a salute, making way for the front door. Sometimes, it’s too easy with these people.
“Oh, and Richie?” his dad calls just as his hand turns on the door knob, “Slow down with those oranges, will you? Too much acid will wear down the enamel on your teeth.”
He fights the urge to smile like an idiot. “I’m on it,” he lies, swinging the door open, and with that he is off and into the night, pedaling down the end of the road.
When he makes it up to Eddie’s window eight minutes later, he is met with both delight and confusion.
“Surprise, loser. Got any time in that busy schedule of yours for a special birthday sleepover with yours truly?”
“Richie.” He smiles it more than he speaks it, shuffling over to the end of the bed to give him the room he needs to enter the room with grace.
He enters the room with the grace of about a toddler, and not even a coordinated one at that. “He sticks the landing!” Richie announces, flopping onto the bed sideways with his bag slipping off his shoulders and threatening to tip him over the edge onto the floor.
“Jesus,” Eddie says, “you think you’d have the hang of that by now.”
“Ouch.” Richie rolls his eyes but says nothing further, in much too good spirits to run his trashmouth like he usually might be inclined to. He crosses his legs and Eddie does the same, their knees nearly touching. Richie fiddles with the zipper on his backpack, digging around inside until he pulls out two matching clementines.
Eddie gasps softly. He looks like he might cry. “You brought me a clementine.”
Richie smiles and nods without a word. He just starts peeling, spiral of rind unfurling in the air as he removes it carefully, all in one piece. When he finishes he sets the peel down in the space between their legs, laying it flat with the outside side down—he’s learned that Eddie likes to put the strings all in one place as he removes them, like a surgeon taking out a tumour. Precise.
Eddie takes the fruit and starts splitting it, flesh nearly translucent in the moonlight filtering in from the window. He clears his throat, clearly recovered from his awe from before. “So, what’s with this whole clementine thing, anyway?” He puts a slice in his mouth, chewing slowly. “The novelty’s kind of worn off, don’t you think? I mean, not that I’m complaining.”
Richie swallows. “Well,” he starts, annoyed at the way his hands seem to be trembling, just slightly, “last month Heather asked me what kind of fruit I would be, and it got me thinkin’.”
Eddie nods sagely, holding up the clementine.
“No, shut up, I haven’t even started yet.” Richie manages to keep a straight face while he says it, and is turn rewarded with an incredulous look.
“I didn’t even say anything, dipshit!” Eddie whisper yells, pretending to gear up to launch the fruit at him. Richie flinches on instinct. “Ha.”
“Anyway, I’m a strawberry, because strawberries are awesome and everyone loves them.”
“Oh, now that’s-” Eddie raises his eyebrows, holding back a laugh. “that’s, uh, alright, sure. Please, carry on.” He waves an arm in the air, giving Richie the floor and his complete attention, eyes bright.
“Well Stan’s a blueberry. Weird and like a bit harsh sometimes, but also perfect and wonderful and you can’t imagine your life without them. Mike is an apple. Sturdy, dependable, tasty as fuck. You can count on apples, y’know? Also farms. Bill is a lychee ‘cause-”
“What the fuck is a lychee?” Eddie interrupts, teetering on the edge of aggressive, but clearly loving every second of this. He props an elbow up on his knee, resting his chin in his hand.
“You’ve never—yeah, okay. It’s like this hard shell with all these spikes but the inside is really soft and so tasty that you’d fight a demon clown in a sewer if it asked you to.”
Eddie smiles, nose scrunching. “Yeah, he has that effect on people.”
“Right? Anyway, so Ben is a passionfruit. Not what you expect based on the outside, and just so awesome. Kinda like Bev, who’s a guava, which. They’re like green and look like pears on the outside? But it’s all bright and pink on the inside. And a lot of people don’t like them which is kinda bullshit, ‘cause they’re super tasty.”
“Oh, that’s perfect.”
“So which one am I?”
And just like that, the air leaves the room and Richie starts to cave in on himself. He hates the way he goes quiet, eyelids fluttering and stomach threatening to empty itself. His mouth opens and for perhaps the first time in his life, he can’t make a sound. Isn’t this what he wants? Why he came here tonight? For a chance to say everything he’s been holding back for years? A chance to stop hiding behind voices and and mom jokes? His shoulders are slumped but rigid, posture locked into place. He’s never felt more exposed in his life; he’s wide open and the shot is Eddie’s to take.
“Richie, which one am I?” he asks again, quietly—but he’s not really asking. He knows—he has to know. Eddie blinks, eyes big and dark with reflected moonlight. He looks terrified.
Richie’s seen Eddie scared. He’s seen him get shoved into garbage cans by Bowers. He’s seen him fumbling for an inhaler he knows does nothing to his lungs. He’s seen him pinned on the ground with a broken arm by a fucking clown.
But he’s also seen him launching rocks across the river, and facing off with his own mother, and beating the shit out of a fucking clown.
Eddie is terrified, but he is also the bravest person Richie’s ever met.
“If you were a fruit, you’d be a clementine.”
The word hangs funny in the air for a second or two, silence shifting thick and heavy around it. Nobody moves, or breathes, or speaks. And then-
Eddies chest twitches in a silent gasp. He looks down, eyes boring into the small space between their legs as his hair flutters above his forehead. Richie’s fingers twitch to brush it out of the way. If Eddie notices, he makes no comment.
“I-”, Richie starts at the same time as Eddie says, “you,” and they both stop immediately, locking eyes again.
“Sorry, go ahea-”
“No, no, you.”
They both titter awkwardly out of the moment, knees pressing together. Richie automatically starts running through his rolodex of jokes and screening for which ones can get him out of this conversation. Or perhaps out of this room, or the state if he’s really lucky. If he gets desperate, there’s always the window.
“So you, uh,” Eddie starts again, clearing his throat, “you’ve been really into clementines this past month, huh?”
I sure have, Eds, but in a strictly heterosexual and very much literal way. We’re only talking about fruit here, you sicko. Get your mind out of the gutter!
“Yeah, I-” he thinks about that Summer. He thinks about Eddie jumping into the stream with both feet and screaming as he launched rock after rock at Bowers and his gang. He thinks about him lowering himself down the well with a broken arm. He thinks about how terrified he was that entire Summer and how he did it all anyway, Eddie and his friends by his side. He thinks about that stretch of a few weeks where they weren’t, when he thought he was going to die, because of Pennywise or Bowers or his own thoughts, dealer’s choice. He thinks about how much Eddie stayed in his mind those weeks, just the thought of him making Richie insane enough to have to write it down, to get it out, out into the world so he wouldn’t die being the only one who knew how much Eddie Kaspbrak was really loved.
He’s been brave before. Eddie’s made him brave before.
“Actually, I’ve liked clementines for a, a really long time now.”
Eddie takes a moment, entire body still except for the flutter of his eyelids. “You—you have? Even with-” he frowns now, just a bit, nearly imperceptible, “even with all the bits? The very annoying and stupid stringy little bits?” It’s barely above a whisper, but Richie can hear it reverberating through his entire body. It’s Eddie’s turn now to be exposed, something about his expression so unsure and so wounded that it makes Richie want to scream and tear apart anyone and anything that’s ever made him feel like this, look like this.
He looks Eddie right in the eye. “Even with all the bits,” he says, voice as level as he can manage.
“Well I-” Eddie’s voice is loud, almost too loud, shattering whatever dreamlike atmosphere they’d created between the two of them. He jolts back a bit, clearly having surprised himself, scared look gone from his eyes in a single blink. He looks down again and starts ripping up a piece of clementine peel into tiny little shreds, quick twitch of his fingers reminiscent of the way he used to fiddle with the zippers on his fanny pack when he was especially nervous, driving Stan absolutely nuts. Richie never minded it.
“Stop,” he says softly, grabbing Eddie’s hands before he can stop himself. He looks up, caught. “You’re gonna wake up with it in your sheets.”
Eddie nods minutely, abandoning his kindergarten-level art project but making no move to abandon the warmth of Richie’s hands wrapped around his. “I would probably hate that,” he says.
“I, um,” Eddie tries again, wrapping a thumb around one of Richie’s and squeezing tight. “I really like strawberries. I know you said everyone thinks they’re awesome, but I. I’m not, um, like everyone.”
“Oh,” Richie says, using a massive amount of effort to get the single word from his throat to his lips. “Do you—do you think that.” He might be having a stroke. He dares a look up at Eddie and sees his lips pressed tight together, gaze unwavering from Richie’s. He takes a breath. Knife to the bridge, knife to his heart—there’s no difference.
“Do you think that they’d be good? Together?”
Eddie is frozen again, just for a few seconds, and then he softens and exhales through his nose, a ghost of a laugh.
Richie’s stomach begins to curdle. He wasn’t expecting the knife to his heart thing to feel so literal, but it does. God, it does. He can’t believe he was this stupid. He should stayed home and kept his mouth shut. He’s managed to do it for the last six years—there’s absolutely no reason why anything had to change, and now he’s gone and ruined everything. Now nothing is going to be the same and he won’t have a best friend—or any friends, really, because it’ll probably tear their group apart in the end and-
“But I think we would be.”
And clearly Richie is fried, because-
“We would be what?”
The tiny, soft smile on Eddie’s face disappears and his eyebrows drop down low. “Good together, idiot.” Richie’s mouth drops open, dumbstruck, and Eddie’s eyes widen. “I—I mean, we—oh my god, were you just talking about fruit ?”
It’s at this moment that Richie’s brain cells check back into the world, and he squeezes Eddie’s hand tight as the panic sets in on his face. “No, no, I—I wasn’t. I was never talking about fruit, I’m just stupid, and I—wait holy shit, you do?”
Eddie giggles, honest to god giggles, and nods. “Yeah, I do.”
“That’s—I, uh, that’s cool,” Richie says, laughter bubbling up out of him too. There are a million things he wants to say, all fragments of thoughts flying around in his mind. He thinks he might be drunk.
“That’s cool? ” Eddie’s voice is teetering on incredulous again, but his smile is like the goddamn sun.
Richie laughs again. “Yeah, Eds, it’s pretty fucking cool.”
“Okay, do you—do you—do, uh-”
“I do. Think that, also. Yup,” he says, popping the p.
Eddie nods. “Cool. That’s cool.”
“Eddie, can I-”
And just like that, Richie is leaning in and closing the gap between the two of them, lips meeting almost painfully as their noses bump together. Neither of them know exactly what they’re doing and it’s definitely no higher than a four out of ten on technique in any respect, but that is quite literally the very last thing that Richie is thinking about in this moment, because holy fuck he is kissing Eddie and Eddie is kissing him.
It takes him a second for his brain to convince his hands to leave Eddie’s, but then he manages to get them along the line of of Eddie’s jaw and it’s so, so much better. Eddie grabs onto Richie’s shirt and pulls him in closer, their lips moving together.
And he tastes like clementines, because of course he does.
An amount of time later—it could be four seconds or four days and Richie would be none the wiser, no longer even remotely in touch with the concept of time—they pull apart, breathing harder than is probably required, foreheads resting together. Neither of them make any move to shift positions, a breathing tableau in the dim moonlight.
“I always did like this shirt,” Eddie says quietly, rumpling the fabric in his hands.
“I know,” Richie says. He kisses the smile that appears on Eddie’s face at that, just because he can. “That’s why I wore it.”
Eddie pulls back, rolling his eyes. “Bullshit.”
“No way, I—okay remember in the clubhouse in like, June, when I wore it for the first time and you told me it wasn’t as stupid as my other shirts or whatever? You looked like you were having a brain aneurysm.”
Eddie drops the shirt, poking Richie in the chest with a painful, skinny finger. “Shut up.”
“A week after that I realized I was in love with you.” He doesn’t say it on purpose, the words slipping out before he even has the chance to realize what they are. A second later Eddie’s lips are on his again, their mouths slotting together better than the first time but still not quite perfectly.
Richie’s not worried. They have time to work at it.
“Mm, w-” There’s a whole lot of consonants happening against Richie’s mouth then, which he isn’t sure is part of the whole deal. Eddie pulls away again, looking equally as confused with just a pinch of offended. “Did you say June? That was like, five months ago. What the fuck happened to a really long time?”
Richie runs a thumb along Eddie’s cheekbone. “Oh, Eds, I’ve been president of the Kaspbrak Stalker Society since we were like, eleven, at least. I just didn’t know it.” He tilts his head, humming. “Okay, well, I kind of knew, but. It was that Summer, and, well, repression, right?” Richie laughs, but it falls flat.
Eddie smiles smugly. “I win,” he says, “I’ve been in love with you since we were like, six. My mom told me that one day I’d marry a nice girl like Greta Keene and I threw a tantrum because I wanted to marry you instead.”
“Shut up,” Richie says, collapsing and smacking his head on Eddie’s knee. “Shut up. That’s adorable. I’m going to die.”
Eddie slings one arm across Richie’s shoulders, and the other resting on his own leg, fingers brushing through Richie’s hair.
“Wait,” Richie says, head popping up sideways, “but when did you realize it?”
“Oh, I have you beat on that too. Grade six dance: you told me you were going to ask Tammy M to go with you, so I told my mom I was sick that day and just cried the entire night ‘cause I didn’t wanna have to see you dancing with anyone else.”
“I didn’t even end up asking her!”
“Yeah, but you wanted to.”
Richie sits up. “Eddie, would you—holy fuck, wait, you’re seventeen! ” He all but bounds off the bed, knees cracking loudly as he jumps in place. “Eddie!”
Eddie’s eyes bulge out of head in a way that would probably be worrying if it wasn’t so damn cute. “Oh my god, what?” he whisper yells.
It takes all Richie has in him not to start pacing. “Eddie, Eddie, Eds-”
“Don’t call me Eds.”
“Okay, listen, listen, clementine-” he catches himself just a second too late, hands clapping comically over his mouth after he lets the nickname slip.
Eddie’s face lights up. “Clemen—okay, that’s. Yeah, that’s. Okay.” Which. Okay! Okay. He gets to call Eddie clementine now, just like that. That is something he’s going to be doing for the foreseeable forever.
They share the moment just for another second, mutual giddiness flaring up to the max. Richie steps back and extends a hand toward Eddie, all fancy-like. “Edward Eddie Eds Clementine Kaspbrak, would you please do me the honour of having this dance, as the newest seventeen year old in this room you have earned the title of Dancing Queen and I will not allow that honour to go unhonoured.”
For a second he thinks Eddie’s about to tell him to fuck off, but then he rolls his eyes and peels himself off the bed, taking Richie’s hand gingerly in his own. “I suppose I could,” he says carefully, smile twitching at the corner of his lips.
Richie beams. “Also, to make up for Tabby or whatever.”
“But,” Eddie interjects, Richie’s hand freezing on the way to his waist, “I’m not going to dance with some rando that just climbed through my window.”
“Hm,” Richie hums.
“Though I would dance with my boyfriend that just climbed through my window,” he finishes, voice quiet and eyes shining.
Richie’s face splits open. He might need some serious surgery to put himself back together if ever wants to not smile again. Not that he can think of a reason why that would ever be necessary, not anymore. “I think I can agree to those terms.”
And as they dance—not well, not on time, and not with any particular direction or intent; but simply and perfectly them —in the slow silence of the moonlight with citrus on their breath, Richie thinks that this might be his most favourite demise yet.