Eddie Kaspbrak has a somewhat guilty conscience, if you ask him, or is fucking paranoid, if you ask his friends, so when the director of The Attic Room drops by his desk and asks to speak with him after he’s finished eating (yes, he’s eating a sad desk salad at lunch), he spends the rest of the meal flipping the fuck out.
“He’s not going to fire you, Eddie, he’d have done it right then and there,” Beverly Marsh, the art designer and Eddie’s absurdly beautiful best friend, reassures him.
“You don’t know that,” Eddie says, picking at a hangnail frantically.
“I do know that, I’ve worked with Mike before, I’ve seen him fire people before. He would’ve done it gently and discreetly, but you would’ve been out on your ass in seconds and probably apologizing to him for making him go to the trouble of firing you.”
That was probably true. Mike Hanlon was an exceptionally handsome and charming man, and Eddie was kind of a sucker.
“You’ll be safe,” Ben Hanscom, one of the other animators and Bev’s ridiculously hot boyfriend, says. “Do you want me to go with you?”
“No,” Eddie says. He reconsiders. “Maybe.”
“You’ll be fine. Go,” Bev says. “Get it over with. Tear off that bandaid.”
“Bev, you know I don’t rip off bandaids,” Eddie whines.
“Get your fingers out of your mouth—“ (Eddie had progressed to chewing on his hangnail nervously)—“and get your ass in Mike’s office.”
“Oh, good, you’re done. Come on, Eddie, I want you to meet someone,” Mike says, passing by, and Eddie has no choice but to go with him. Thankfully, the walk is short. Derry Animation Studios isn’t a particularly big company, so they’re all on the same floor. You can tell Mike is the director because his office has walls and he’s not stuck in the open-plan office like most of the rest of the team.
Mike’s office door is open, and there’s some dude in an obnoxious shirt with pink flamingos all over it sitting in one of the chairs playing around on his phone. He looks up when they enter, and Eddie doesn’t have a chance to place where he’s seen his face before Mike says, “Eddie, this is Richie Tozier. Richie, this is Eddie Kaspbrak, one of our best animators.”
“Aw, thanks, Mike,” Eddie says, feeling relieved. Probably not getting fired. “Nice to meet you, Richie.”
Richie stands to shake his hand and he’s got a good five inches on Eddie, putting him at 6’1” or so, and, well, Eddie’s always liked tall guys. He’s also got these nice gray eyes that are made bigger by his Buddy Holly glasses, a messy mop of dark hair, and a great jaw covered in dark 5 o’clock shadow. Eddie tries not to stare, but well, Richie’s a little bit gorgeous. Early thirties, probably only a year older than him at most. No wedding ring. (Isn’t it strange, how you automatically notice these things about new people?)
“So. It’ll hit the news soon, but I wanted the team to know first, and you’re the one most affected by this, so I thought I’d tell you personally. Henry Bowers’s contract has been terminated.”
“What? Why?” Eddie asks. Henry Bowers was the voice actor for the character Eddie was head animator for. He was a real pro, one of the few trained, strictly voice actors left in the animation business, which was being overrun by hack comedians and sitcom stars. Eddie respected him for that alone, and, well, not much else.
“Sexual harassment and assault,” Mike says. “We don’t put up with that shit here, we’re not Pixar.”
“Oh. That’s uh, that really sucks, I’m glad he’s gone,” Eddie says, surprised. He’d thought Henry was kind of creepy, but that was because he was suspicious of everyone. He’d never been right about someone before. “Fuck that guy.” Richie and Mike nod in agreement.
“Richie here is taking over as the voice of Roger,” Mike says. “And we’re expanding his role.”
Oh Christ. More dialogue to animate. Eddie was already behind schedule. (His own schedule. He was ahead of production’s official schedule.)
“Cool. Congrats, man,” Eddie says. Richie smiles sheepishly.
“Thanks,” Richie says. “I’m really excited, I’ve never done animation before,” (oh lord, Eddie thinks) “and I really loved your short, Mike.”
Eddie automatically looks for the Oscar on Mike’s desk. He’s using it as a paperweight. Best Animated Short, two years ago. Now they’re working on his first full-length feature, based on the children’s horror book series by Bill Denbrough, who was also the screenwriter. (A ripoff of Goosebumps, if you asked Eddie, but it was fun, and money is money.)
“Thanks, Richie. I caught one of your sets awhile back, and I’m so glad we were able to snatch you up.”
Oh no. A comedian.
“It won’t be that much more screentime for Roger, so don’t panic,” Mike says to Eddie, “and Richie’s gonna match Bowers’s voice as much as possible so you don’t have to go back and redo every single frame.”
Except no matter how good Richie is at dubbing, he’s going to say shit differently and Eddie will need to adjust everything anyway to make sure Roger’s mouth syncs up with his words and it’ll be a pain in the ass. Plus Eddie can already tell that Richie’s face moves in really different ways from Bowers’s and that’s going to affect how he animates the characters because he always tries to match the actors’ facial expressions as much as possible so it’ll feel more organic. So he’s going to have to a) figure out what Richie’s face does and b) isolate the things his face does that he wants to apply to the character, c) figure out how to animate those things and d) apply them to all of his earlier work. Sure. No big deal.
Eddie tries to put on a brave face. Myra’s going to be pissed that he’s going to be spending even more time at the studio now instead of doing stuff with her.
“You’ll get some overtime pay, by the way,” Mike says, and Eddie nearly sags with relief. “Because I know you’re gonna go back and redo every frame anyway.”
“Oh well then that’s fine, whatever,” Eddie says, but it’s largely not fine. Myra’s still going to be mad, and he spends a lot of his time and energy trying not to make his girlfriend mad.
“Bill’s working on the extra pages, he’ll shoot them to you both as soon as possible, we’ll get the new stuff storyboarded, Richie will record sometime next week, and we’ll go from there.”
“Right on, cool,” Eddie says, internally wincing at the awkwardness of his attempts to be easygoing.
“Yeah, right on, radical,” Richie says, smiling at Eddie, and Eddie flushes because Richie is definitely making fun of him. He thinks Richie thinks he’s laughing with Eddie rather than at Eddie. Eddie hasn’t decided how to take it yet.
Eddie clocks how wide Richie’s smile is, though, and how high his eyebrows go up. His face is much more elastic than Bowers’s was, that’s gonna be a great face to animate.
They make a little bit more chitchat, industry shit, and then Eddie goes back to his desk. He finds a post-it note on his desk that reads, “Told you, ❤ Bev.” He sticks it to the bottom of his monitor and gets back to work.
Later that night, he’s idly scrolling through Twitter in bed when the press release about Bowers’s ouster hits. A lot of people in the film and animation world are talking about it, praising Mike and Derry’s swift action, sharing their own #metoo stories, and Eddie realizes he’d recognized Richie from Twitter. How embarrassing. But he navigates over to Richie’s feed anyway. He’s been following him a long time but didn’t realize at first because Richie’s username and profile photo don’t actually match his name—he changes them constantly, and it’s always some weird topical pun Eddie has to try to reverse-engineer based on what’s in the news.
Right, right, this was the guy he originally followed because he was in some good Vines, and then Vine died, and Richie never got over it. Neither did Eddie, if he was honest. TikTok just isn’t the same.
Now he remembers. Richie had all these dumb recurring characters he’d do in his Vines. The different voices he did made Eddie laugh, despite himself. He was a very good mimic. He swore a lot.
Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. He seemed like a nice enough dude. His speaking voice wasn’t especially annoying to listen to, so maybe he wouldn’t be completely sick of it by the time he’d finished animating his scenes.
Oh, right, he’s one of those guys who retweets the insults people tweeted at him, as if that was better than retweeting their praise. Both were hallmarks of a tool. Self-deprecation and begging for his fans to contradict the trolls. Desperate. Attention-seeking. Like his stupid eyesore patterned shirts.
He also asks the Twitter hivemind to talk to him constantly. He’s always building playlists with themes like “yearning” and “lets attack gotham” and “covers of television theme songs.”
But he is funny. And handsome. Eddie will keep an open mind.
The next time he sees Richie is when he comes in to dub the old stuff a week later. Eddie pokes his head into the studio and watches for a bit. Richie seems pretty comfortable in the booth and on camera. He would, though, wouldn’t he? He’s one of those comedians who does a lot of podcasts. Eddie doesn’t like comedy podcasts; he doesn’t want to listen to men laughing into microphones.
He still finds Richie attractive, even though he’s got another dumb shirt on, this one with palm trees all over it. Richie waves at him, his eyes lighting up with recognition, a wide smile on his face. Cute, cute, cute. Might as well stop by and say hello, just to be polite.
He and Mike stand around and watch Richie do his thing. Mike offers feedback about line readings, and occasionally Eddie will venture forth with an opinion. Richie seems to appreciate Eddie’s thoughts. It feels like they have a pretty good rapport going, after awhile. Every time Eddie laughs, Richie looks pleased with himself. And it’s pretty often. Richie’s good. He takes direction well and doesn’t flub the lines. But there’s a problem: he likes to improvise.
Eddie hates comedians who improvise all over the written script. None of them are as good as the writers are. It’s attention-seeking and desperate.
“Hey, Nathan Lane,” he calls out, “stop with the improv. Freestyle at home.” Mike lightly punches Eddie in the shoulder.
“Mike, get him out of here, he’s interfering with my process,” Richie says in his best diva voice. He doesn’t seem offended, which is good, because Eddie was afraid he’d crossed a line as soon as he’d said it. They were friendly but probably not at the fake insult level of friendship yet. Still, Eddie calls out again.
“You’re not Robin Williams in Aladdin. No one’s as good as Robin Williams in Aladdin. Give it up.”
“You sound like my mom, Jesus,” Richie says, and Eddie laughs. “I thought this was the one place I wouldn’t get heckled but I guess—“
“You were wrong!” Eddie says.
“Mike, Eddie’s creating a hostile work environment,” Richie whines.
“It’s a dog-eat-dog world out here in children’s media, Richie, you’ve got to toughen up,” Mike says in his best little league baseball coach voice.
Richie pretends to take off his headphones and wipe his eyes. “I’m just not cut out for this,” he says in a watery voice.
“Looks like I’m going to have to separate you two,” Mike says, like a kindergarten teacher. “Eddie, go back to your desk. We’re counting on you.”
“Yeah, get back to woik,” Richie says as if he’s a union-busting line manager in a New York City factory in the 1930s. It’s a pretty good voice. Eddie can practically smell the cigar smoke. He smiles as he leaves, and he smiles as he sits down at his desk.
He’s not going to get the audio to animate for a bit, not until the dialogue editor has chosen the takes to use and stitched them together. He’ll get the video, too, to help with facial movements. Still, he does a few motion studies of facial expressions and body language that he can apply to Roger, based on what he saw from Richie just now.
He doesn’t realize that he’s been drawing Richie instead of his character until he’s filling in the glasses on the fourth drawing. Roger doesn’t have glasses. Richie has glasses. He decides to keep it. It’s just a reference, after all. It doesn’t have to be Roger yet.
He doesn’t see Richie in person again (monkeys on his shirt this time) until he comes in to record the new material Bill has written. The new pages are fine. The story’s about Bill and his younger brother Georgie solving crimes and whatever, Hardy Boys stuff. This one takes place in a Big Scary House haunted by the ghost of a clown that wants to eat children. It would be too dark if it weren’t so goofy. Eddie hasn’t met Georgie, apparently he lives out on the East Coast, but Bill’s a nice guy. Bill and Mike went to college together, and they get on really well. They’ve formed kind of a clique with Stan Uris from the Foley department, who also went to school with them. Kind of like how Eddie, Ben, and Bev graduated from Pratt and moved out to LA together to share an apartment and make it big in animation.
Maybe they should merge cliques. How do you make friends as a 30-something? It’s not like online dating, which is how he met Myra.
There should be an online friend matching service. Other than like, Facebook. Or Twitter. Or Instagram. Or Tumblr. Maybe he’s not using them right?
Anyway, he likes Bill and Mike and Richie and probably Stan too, or what he knows about them, and wants to be friends. That’s what he’s decided, standing there in the recording studio with them.
It must be his lucky day, because he pops in around noon, and it’s not long before they break for lunch, and Mike invites him along with Stan, Bill and Richie to go to one of his favorite nearby restaurants. Eddie decides to leave the lunch he packed from home in the fridge for tomorrow and go out with them. He just needs to go get his wallet from his desk. Richie tags along, saying he wants to see where the magic happens, so Eddie gives him an impromptu tour without actually deviating from the path to his desk, so the tour basically consists of pointing and saying “That’s Sue, she does backgrounds,” and “That’s Ranjit, he’s doing hair and clothes textures, technically special effects rather than animation, but we like him anyway,” and “That’s Ben and Bev, we all went to school together. They’re adorable.” He always responds by saying, “Hi, I’m Richie, I’m the new Roger,” to the new person and waving awkwardly. He seems nervous to be meeting the crew. It’s weirdly charming.
They meet the others and go to the restaurant, and it’s fun. They’re nice guys, and he likes getting to know them better. He knew Richie would be funny, but Stan is also sneaky funny in a way Eddie didn’t expect. He’s almost sad when Mike looks at his watch and realizes they should be getting back to work.
He’s in bed again, checking Twitter again while he tries to fall asleep, when he gets a new follower notification. It’s Richie. How did he--? Oh. Eddie mentioned seeing something on Twitter at lunch and then Richie must have searched for him. That tracks. He’s definitely got a late-night social media habit too.
Then there’s a new DM, also from Richie. It reads “ur last name is hard to spell, i tried like 20 times before i figured it out”
Eddie: your persistence paid off, tho, good for you. proud of you.
Richie: that means a lot to me
Richie: anyway this is what i was talking about earlier
He’s included a link to a 10-minute-long video that he’d referenced at lunch, something about some video game that Eddie had expressed polite and insincere interest in. Eddie’s not going to watch that. Ten minutes? Richie must be delusional. You get three minutes tops for a video, especially from a new person. He wouldn’t even watch a 10-minute video from Myra, and he’s been dating her six months. He’s going to pretend he fell asleep and deal with it in the morning.
Except it’s five, ten minutes later, and now he can’t sleep. Might as well watch the video. It’s not especially interesting, but he thinks of something to say about it and DMs Richie his comment.
Richie: wait u actually watched it
Eddie: uh yeah?
Richie: but u didn’t even play streetfighter
Eddie: you sent the thing, I watched the thing so we could talk about the thing
Eddie: do people not do this very basic form of courtesy where you’re from?
Richie: im from maine, they don’t do anything but eat lobster n do hate crimes there.
What do you even say to that?
Eddie: well I’m from NY, we can hold civilized conversations
Richie: nyc or upstate
Eddie: grew up upstate, went to school in NYC, moved out to LA a few years ago
Eddie: with Ben and Bev, the redhead and her bf from earlier
Richie: the crazy hot couple that should be in soulcycle commercials?
Eddie: that’s them. And they’re nice and funny too, wtf
Richie: ew they’re as perfect as they seem? repulsive
Eddie: even more perfect. Bev volunteers and Ben can build anything. Give him some plywood and thumbtacks and he can macguyver you a spice rack in like 3 mins
Richie: i forget to brush my teeth like once a week
Richie: but in a cute way
Richie: like liz lemon
Eddie: good god lemon
Richie: in my defense im bad at being a person
Eddie: I’m not very good at it either
Richie: good to know we’re both losers
Eddie smiles at that. He’d definitely been a loser as a kid. His mom had been very controlling and a hypochondriac, so he spent all of his time indoors drawing because it was too dangerous to go out, she said. He’d watched a lot of anime. That’s what got him interested in animation and cartooning. Richie was bound to have something similarly uncool in his past. You don’t grow up to be a comedian by being well adjusted.
Eddie means to respond, but he falls asleep and wakes up seven hours later feeling oddly refreshed.
He goes about his morning routine and heads to work, not thinking of much in particular, until his mind stumbles upon a response to Richie’s message from the night before while driving.
Eddie: theme song?
And he includes a link to “Loser” by Beck. Richie replies by sending a GIF of Ace Ventura saying “La-hoo-sa-hur,” and then it descends into them sending Jim Carrey GIFs back and forth basically all morning. It’s so nice to meet someone else who appreciates Jim Carrey’s genius.
“What’s so funny?” Bev asks the fifth time he picks up his phone and chuckles.
“Nothing, it’s dumb.”
“Who are you texting?”
“I’m not. Texting at work is unprofessional.”
“Well someone’s talking to you.”
“Richie Tozier has very strong feelings about the Grinch,” Eddie says.
“Mm, don’t we all,” Bev says.
“He thinks the Grinch didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Aside from B&E and grand theft, sure,”
“That’s what I said! And he was like, ‘He gave everything back and carved the roast beast himself. Hashtag restorative justice.’”
Bev looks amused. “How did you even get on this topic?”
“He messaged me on Twitter to say hello and things went downhill from there.”
Bev laughs. “He’s funny.”
“He is. Good call, Adrian,” Eddie says, referring to Adrian Mellon, the casting director. (Nice guy. Cute in a twinkish kind of way.) “He’ll be a good Roger.”
The conversation with Bev ends there as he goes back to work, and it ends with Richie, too, because Eddie gets a text from Myra he doesn’t want to respond to right away, so he puts his phone in his desk drawer and doesn’t take it out again until lunch. By then, he’s got five more texts from Myra and no more messages from Richie. A faint sense of disappointment settles on his shoulders.
Myra wants to meet for dinner. She’ll cook something for him at her apartment after work. The unspoken invitation for him to spend the night is lurking under the surface. Eddie sighs. He doesn’t have a change of clothes in his car or at Myra’s place—they’re not there yet. So he’ll have to go home either after work before going to her place (evening rush hour traffic) or in the morning before work so he can shower and change (morning rush hour traffic). Plus she lives all the way across town.
“Can we rain check?” he texts back.
“Why, did you meet someone else?” Myra asks immediately.
Jesus, Eddie thinks. “No. I didn’t plan for it, is all. I don’t have stuff to spend the night,” is what he says.
“I haven’t seen you for over a week,” she says. That can’t be right. He does the math in his head. She’s right. I’m a bad boyfriend.
“I’ll be there as soon as I get off work.”
“Thanks, baby. Can’t wait to see you, Eddie Bear!”
The rest of the day goes slowly. It’s boring. Dinner with Myra is boring. Sex with Myra is boring. Scrolling through Twitter while trying to fall asleep next to Myra is boring. Getting up early to get home before the traffic starts so he can shower is boring and annoying. He’s not in a great mood for the rest of the day.
The next week the new dialogue he’s got to work on comes in. There’s more than he expected. Richie ad-libbed a lot and they decided to keep a lot of it. He sends a screenshot of the length of the video to Richie.
DM to Richie: hey quick question, do you ever shut the fuck up? Look at all this extra work you gave me
Richie: im giving u employment n helping u pay for more polos u should be thanking me
The sound team has also provided a string of outtakes, and they’re filthy.
“This is PG-13, we get one ‘fuck’, right?” is how the outtake reel starts.
Mike’s voice says, “Yeah, technically.”
“Alright, you guys decide where it goes.”
And he gets halfway through his first scene, sprinkling “fuck” throughout his lines before he breaks and starts giggling.
There are jokes about gang bangs, murder, suicide, BDSM, necrophilia, blowjobs, you name it. Richie took his character’s status as Comedic Relief and fucking ran with it. Bill left a few pinholes open for innuendo and double entendres, and Richie found them and blasted them wide open, clearly knowing they weren’t going to be used, but just because it made him and Mike and the others laugh.
OK, he’ll admit, some of it’s funny. Eddie laughs several times while listening to it. But he’s still against improvisation on principle.
The next few weeks are spent working continuously on The Attic Room. Myra has complained that she never sees him anymore. She’s not wrong. The only people he ever talks to are people working on the movie, either in the office or on social media. Production is winding down, he’s got to catch up with everyone else, he tells her. And it’s true. They should be wrapped up in about two months. He’ll have to start looking for another job soon. A TV show would be a steady gig, if he could find one that wasn’t soul-crushingly dull and twee or offensively dumb. It just helps to get through the day if you enjoy the art you’re making.
It’s after lunch, around 4pm, when he receives a Twitter DM.
Richie. “look behind u”
That’s fucking ominous. Eddie carefully replaces his phone into his desk drawer, closes it, takes a deep breath, and cautiously turns around. Richie is standing about five feet away, brandishing a large cookie tucked into a waxed paper sleeve.
“Think fast!” he says, and Frisbees the cookie to Eddie. It hits Eddie in the chest and plops down into his lap. Eddie lunges for it and manages to catch it before it hits the floor.
“Smooth. You never told me you were an athlete,” Richie says.
“Fuck off,” Eddie says. “What are you doing here?”
“I had lunch with a producer at the next lot over, thought I’d stop by. My agent brought cookies so I snagged some extras.”
“Thanks,” Eddie says, removing the cookie from the wrapper. It’s bigger than his hand. “Oatmeal raisin?”
“It seemed like something you’d like,” Richie says.
“You’re lucky, man. If I were anyone else that would be an insult, but I do actually like oatmeal raisin,” Eddie says.
“Fucking knew it,” Richie says, pointing to his temple. “Intuition.”
“Did the meeting go well?”
“Yeah, I think so. We’ll see if they actually send over paperwork to sign.”
“Well, congrats, I hope you get it, whatever it is.”
“Thanks. Hi Ben,” Richie says.
“Hi, Richie,” Ben says, passing by with a mug of green tea. He stops to chat. “How’s it going?”
“Top of the world, old sport,” Richie says. Eddie offers a bite of the cookie to Ben, who declines.
“I like the new stuff,” Ben says. “You’re really good. This is your first voice-over work?”
“Uh, yeah,” Richie says, as if he doesn’t get compliments a lot and doesn’t know how to take them. Ben’s sincerity is disarming, especially in a place like LA, where everyone says nice things but no one means them.
“You’re hilarious. I want to put those outtakes as a special feature on the DVD. Nice color scheme today,” he says, gesturing at Richie’s outfit. It’s a cream-colored shirt with bright purple and pink flowers on it over a teal t-shirt. Faded red Converse shoes, as if he’s still in fucking middle school. What a nerd.
“Thanks,” Richie says. “You have a nice…everything.”
Eddie laughs. Ben should be in front of the camera, not painting stuff to put on it. Even in this city full of attractive people, Ben stands out. It’d be annoying if he weren’t the nicest guy in the world, and if Eddie wasn’t aware of how hard Ben worked to look like that, and why it was so important to him to be in shape. Now it’s just kind of funny to see how people respond to a kind, unavailable, hot guy.
“And he’s smart too,” Eddie tells Richie.
“You were almost an architect, right?” Richie says.
“Yeah,” Ben says. “How did you know that?”
“Eddie told me. He talks about you and Bev a lot.”
“I know, he’s obsessed with us, but the restraining orders are never enforced by the courts,” Ben says.
“I’m not a violent stalker, just a creepy one,” Eddie says through a mouthful of cookie.
“Yeah, it’s only time to start worrying when we get dead squirrels in our mailbox,” Ben says.
“Dark!” Richie says approvingly.
“I knew you’d like that. By the way, Eddie, I need to talk to you later, don’t let me forget.”
“About what?” Eddie asks, feeling a sharp sense of dread. Ben has just used his discreet voice. He uses his discreet voice when he thinks Eddie’s going to get upset about something but wants to prepare him first. It’s worse than just blurting out the bad thing. “Just tell me, dude, it’s fine.”
“No, you’re visiting, I don’t want to interrupt.”
“My anxiety just skyrocketed. Am I fired? Is everyone OK? Is it about Bev?”
“You literally just got a raise, and Bev is fine. It’s about Myra, she somehow got my number.”
The dread intensifies. “Oh lord. What did she say?”
“She wanted me to verify that you’ve been working late.”
Eddie sighs and rests his forehead in his hands. Mortifying. “I’m so sorry. I’ll talk to her.”
“Who’s Myra?” Richie asks.
“My girlfriend,” Eddie says, turning to dig his phone out of his desk drawer. “I’m sorry, Ben.”
“It’s fine, we’ll talk about it later. I shouldn’t have brought it up.”
“I made you.”
“Stop worrying and eat your cookie.”
“Enjoy your tea,” Eddie says, as Ben makes his way back to his desk.
Richie looks almost as awkward as Eddie feels. “I should go.”
You absolutely should not, Eddie thinks. “No, dude, stay, don’t make me go back to work yet.”
“It’s that kind of attitude I like to see around here,” Mike says, passing by with his own cup of coffee and a peanut butter cookie as big as his face.
“Thanks, boss!” Eddie says, more cheerfully than he feels.
“No, I don’t want to distract you. You’re going to make me a star, after all,” Richie says, pointing to some reference sheets for Roger pinned to the wall behind Eddie’s monitor.
“Is that what this cookie’s all about?” Eddie asks.
“Guilty,” Richie says, holding his hands up.
“Buzzfeed says your star is rising without help from me.”
“Buzzfeed is full of shit. It was good to see you, though. Catch you later.” He flashes a peace sign. Fucking NERD.
“Bring milk next time!” Eddie says as he retreats.
Dissatisfaction settles in. He sets the food aside and turns back to his computer. It’s hard to concentrate the rest of the day.
He calls Myra on the way home. They have an ugly argument about her jealousy. Somehow it ends with him apologizing to her, sitting in his car half an hour after he’s arrived home.
He eats a microwave dinner and goes to bed early. The book he brought with him doesn’t interest him. He mindlessly scrolls through his phone. The news is depressing, no one on Facebook has anything interesting to say.
Richie’s crowdsourcing songs for a dance playlist from his Twitter followers. He does shit like that sometimes. He genuinely likes interacting with people. Eddie can’t relate.
Eddie tweets “Call Your Girlfriend” by Robyn at him.
Richie replies that it’s already on there, and doesn’t say anything else directly to him for the rest of the night. Normally he does a little back and forth with Eddie. It’s actually weird, because people respond to them both now. He’s even gotten a few new followers out of it. But nothing tonight. He must be busy. He gets distracted easily, Eddie has noticed.
He pulls out a sketchbook to clear his head and draw while listening to the dance songs Richie’s curated and falls asleep half an hour later. He sleeps poorly.
A week or so goes by. Eddie and Myra go for a hike on the weekend and are both miserable the whole time. If only they enjoyed exercising like Ben and Bev do, he says. She interprets that as Eddie saying she’s not good enough for him and his friends. They have another fight. Eddie stays away for a while to let her cool off, and she complains that he’s avoiding her.
“I really can’t win with you, can I?” he asks. She throws a shoe at him. Later she calls and apologizes, soothing him and promising it won’t happen again. She loves him, she says. It’s the first time she’s said it. He takes back what he said about going on a break.
He still works late when he doesn’t strictly have to, though. One such Friday evening, the office lights are out except for his desk lamp. His monitor is on night mode so his eyes aren’t strained. It gives a nice, calming glow to the surroundings.
A noise behind him startles him. He looks up, and Richie is there, holding two cans of Coke. Sunflowers on his shirt today, forest green undershirt. Less obnoxious than the others he’s seen. Freshly shaved too.
“You said you were working late, I thought I’d provide caffeine,” he says as Eddie takes off his headphones. The noise had been Richie saying his name.
“Thanks,” Eddie says, a little confused. He’s not going to be able to sleep tonight. It’s 8:00 already, if he drinks that Coke he’ll be up until 6am at least.
“You know, like friends do. This is how you make friends in your 30s.”
Richie seems weirdly shy about it, considering he’s so loud and in-your-face normally. It’s cute. “Are we officially friends?” Eddie asks.
“Of course we are. You’ve laughed at my jokes, I expect to see you at my funeral.”
“If it’s your funeral how will you see me there?”
“That’s another one of those jokes I mentioned,” Richie says, holding out the Coke. Eddie takes it.
Richie opens his. “Soupy twists,” he says, and clinks his can against Eddie’s.
“Oh, it’s from A Bit of Fry and Laurie. They would say that as like a toast. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.”
“The guy from House?”
“Yeah, they did a brilliant sketch comedy show in the early ‘90s in England.”
“Yeah, they’re really good. Your workspace is very orderly.”
His desk is completely empty except for his monitor, drawing tablet and pen, and a big bottle of hand sanitizer. Everything else is in a drawer.
“I like things to be clean,” Eddie says, a trifle uncomfortably. He’s gotten a lot better since moving away from home, but he’s still a little compulsive about dirt and germs.
“Ha, you would hate my house. So. Tell me how it works. What are you doing?”
Eddie pulls him up the chair from the next desk and shows him some of the sequence he’s been working on, playing it back for him, adding a flourish here or there, adding in hilariously incongruent background music to make Richie laugh, that kind of thing. He finishes up the short sequence he’d been doing when Richie arrived over the next ten minutes or so while Richie watches patiently, then shows him the finished product.
“That’s really fucking cool,” Richie says.
“Here’s the best part,” Eddie says, and plays it back with Richie’s audio. The mouth and eyebrows sync up perfectly, if Eddie does say so himself.
Sometime between then and now he’s finished his can of Coke. Whoops.
“Fucking witchcraft,” Richie says, looking at Eddie with something akin to awe. Eddie doesn’t think he’s ever seen someone so impressed by something so simple. Myra doesn’t respond like this when he shows her this stuff.
“Oh, wait,” Eddie says, an idea occurring to him. “I can give you something too. I don’t have any caffeine but I do know where we can get some chocolate.”
He heads to Ben’s desk, sits in his chair, and opens the bottom drawer. “Ben gets snacky around 3:00 every afternoon, but he only saves this drawer for cheat days.” It’s filled to the brim with candy. There’s a Halloween-size bag of mini candy bars, some Cadbury eggs, heart-shaped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Twizzlers, Ring Pops, Sour Patch Kids and Watermelons, plus some Canadian and Mexican candy he always picks up whenever he goes to either country, because they don’t use high fructose corn syrup and it tastes better.
“Fucking hell, this is a treasure trove. Does he ever actually cheat?” Richie asks.
“Almost never. But he likes to have the option.”
“OK, now what’s that?” Richie asks, pointing to a cellophane bag tied with a twist tie.
“Oh, that’s the mother lode,” Eddie says. “You ready?”
“The suspense is killing me.”
Eddie pulls the bag out from under the other candy. It says “Dylan’s Candy Bar” on the front. “Chocolate-covered gummy bears.”
“Fuck off, you’re joking, that’s not real.”
“It’s very real, my friend. Now I know what you’re thinking: ‘those textures are so different, that’s gonna be revolting.’ I thought so too, but I was wrong, and you’re wrong.”
“No, I’m thinking I need that in my mouth immediately. Gimme,” Richie says, holding out his hand. Eddie holds Richie’s hand steady with one hand and shakes a few bears into Richie’s palm with the other. Then he takes one for himself.
“It’s funny you say that. My first college girlfriend, I told her about these, and she was similarly amazed, and I was like, ‘I’ll get you them sometime,’ and then after class I actually went and bought some at this place called Economy Candy, down in the Lower East Side, and I went to her dorm with them and I swear to god she started crying.”
“She didn’t think you’d actually do it?” Richie asks, sitting on the desk to better enjoy his snack. Eddie can barely see his features now, the light source is too far away, his face is in shadows. He gets out of the chair and sits beside Richie on the desk, taking another bear from his outstretched palm. That’s better.
“Nah, she thought I was saying nice stuff just to say it, no one actually did a romantic gesture like that for her before. Anyway that’s how I lost my virginity,” Eddie says.
Richie chokes on one of his bears. “Oh my fucking god, I was not expecting that ending.”
“Yeah, that’s what she said two minutes later,” Eddie says, and Richie cackles.
“Did she cry again?”
“No, she was nice about it. Then later it turned out she was a lesbian.”
“You were that bad, huh?”
“Shut up, oh my god. She and her wife invited me to the wedding, and I brought some more bears as a gift. They thought it was hilarious. We still send Christmas cards.”
“What a saga!” Richie says. Eddie’s pretty proud of that story. “So is this like your move? Seduce them with gummy bears?” Richie asks.
“Nah, gummies can be platonic too. My best friend in high school worked at this candy shop in Saratoga that did them, she got me into them, I got Ben and Bev hooked on them. I can’t keep them in the house anymore, I wake up two hours later in a daze, covered in chocolate, tears running down my face.”
“Like in werewolf movies after the full moon? They wake up and are like, ‘What the fuck happened last night? Where did all these clumps of hair and severed limbs come from?’”
“Exactly like that. OK, just one more, then I’ve got to put them back. If Ben finds out I’ve been digging around in his candy drawer I don’t get to be best man at his and Bev’s wedding.”
“Reasonable. Punishment’s got to fit the crime,” Richie agrees.
“So this is a secret between you, me, and the bears,” Eddie says, tipping a few more out of the bag into Richie’s palm, then resealing the bag.
“Soupy twists. Clink,” Richie says, tapping his bear against Eddie’s.
Cute, Eddie thinks, but he can do one better. “No, dude, you do this,” he says, and taps the bears again and makes a short kissing noise, then pops the bear into his mouth. It’s ridiculously cheesy but it’s kind of a tradition when he shares them. Briana showed him that, and he’d done that with Lydia, and he saw her fall a little in love with him right before his eyes.
Richie stares at him, delighted, maybe even slightly dumbfounded. “That was the cutest fucking thing I’ve ever seen.”
Eddie shrugs, smiling as he chews. Works every time. It doesn’t count as a move if he’s sincere every time, right? Moves are cynical. What he did was just being adorable. Plus he’s got a girlfriend. Moves are inappropriate. Not a move.
He places the bag back in the mountain of candy exactly as he’d found it. He should probably go tomorrow to buy some more to refill what they took, just to be safe. Part of Eddie can’t even believe he violated the sacred space of Ben’s candy drawer, but he couldn’t just not give Richie something, what kind of host would he be then?
“So that’s drinks, a show, and dessert. What about dinner?” Richie says.
Oh. He shouldn’t. He’s got work to do. But he wants to. He’s surprised by how much he wants to.
“My treat?” Richie says, noticing how long Eddie’s taking to decide.
“Where were you thinking?”
“I dunno, nothing special. There’s a Korean barbecue place I like kinda close to here.”
“I’ve never had that before,” Eddie says, chewing on his bottom lip. Variety isn’t Eddie’s strong suit.
“Are you a vegetarian or allergic to seafood?”
“I thought I was. It’s a long story.” Thanks, Mom. That decides it for him. “You know what? Let’s go, I can try something new.”
Eddie closes up shop and follows Richie’s car, his mind working furiously now that he’s alone. Is this a date? Is this a friend thing? He said we were friends. It’s a weeknight. Friday is technically a weeknight. Dates are for weekends. Dates involve alcohol and we’re both driving. What if the food is gross and I hurt his feelings? Should I pretend to like the food? He’s probably straight, he hasn’t dropped any hints—unless I’ve been too dumb to pick up the hints? Has he been dropping hints? Is this a hint? He knows I’m with Myra, it’s not a date. Does he know I’m still with Myra? Have I mentioned her recently? Does he have someone? He never mentions anyone.
Stop worrying about it, dumbass, just have fun talking with your new friend.
They pull into this little place Eddie has never noticed before. Richie parks crookedly but technically still in the space. Eddie makes sure to get between the lines and to pull through to the front of the row so he doesn’t have to back his car out. Their table has a tiny grill in the middle. Richie orders a small platter of different kinds of meat and veggies so Eddie can try a little of everything. Eddie’s somewhat apprehensive but tries to be cool.
“So. What was the first movie you worked on?” Richie asks.
“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” Eddie says. “Fresh out of college.”
“Fuck off, I loved that movie!” Richie says. “Which part did you do?”
“Those were the funniest fucking part of the movie.”
“I didn’t design them or anything, just made them move, but yeah, I thought so too.”
“What else have you done?”
Eddie gives him a short rundown of what he’s been up to since moving out here.
“That’s fucking awesome, man.”
“OK lightning round: What’s your favorite animated movie?” Eddie asks.
“Shrek,” Richie says.
“I’m not gonna lie, that’s a great movie. It’s been memed to death, but it’s genuinely good.”
“It’s a masterpiece,” Richie says.
“I wouldn’t go that far. It’s more sophisticated than people give it credit for. What else do you like?”
Eddie literally hears a record scratch inside his head. This had been going so well. “Fuck you, don’t say that shit to me.”
“It is not good! The animation is amateurish. The character design sucks, they both have the same face!”
“They’re sisters, they’re supposed to look alike.”
“All Disney princesses look the fucking same, and it’s embarrassing.”
“OK, I grant you that, but the cast is so charming and the songs are catchy and when Hans turned out to be the villain my heart actually threw up.” Eddie rolls his eyes very pointedly. “And Josh Gad is so good. Olaf is a classic character now.”
“The best part of the movie,” Richie says.
“That’s…true,” Eddie says diplomatically. Unbelievable. How could such a hot guy have such bad opinions?
Eeeeesh. “The picture book was better.”
“Well, it’s been fun but I’m out,” Eddie says, standing up and reaching for his jacket. Richie laughs. Eddie sits back down.
“OK well what meets your high standards?”
“Avatar: The Last Airbender.”
“I didn’t know you were a furry.”
Eddie gives him the finger. “Steven Universe.”
“Oh my god, it’s literally the best show on TV. It’s this kid whose mom was a crystal gem.”
“Sort of. But they can take human form. And his mom marries a human and can’t be a gem and give birth to a human son at the same time, so she basically dies to give birth to him—“
“This is a kid’s show?”
“—so it’s him being raised by his mom’s three best friends, who are also crystal gems. They’re Garnet, Pearl, and Amethyst, and they’re basically superheroes who defend earth from aliens and shit, and since he’s half crystal gem he’s got super powers too. And there’s songs.”
“That sounds weird but kind of amazing.”
“It’s absurdly good. You would not believe the worldbuilding and how economical the writing is. Also, it’s super queer. Like, the gayest show for kids I’ve ever seen.”
For a second, Richie looks uncomfortable, and that throws Eddie. He thought he’d been picking up some flirty vibes from Richie, especially back in the office, but maybe he was wrong. Maybe it was just the lighting messing with his brain.
“I could’ve used a show like it when I was a kid,” he continues. “Would’ve helped me figure some shit out sooner.”
A server interrupts them by bringing out their food. Richie perks up when he can show Eddie what to grill and which meats and veggies are going to be cooked first and which will take longer.
“So you don’t eat seafood, like, ever?”
“Not even fishsticks.”
“My mom told me I was allergic, but I wasn’t, and by then I was just used to not eating any of it so I don’t. Why ruin a meal by getting something I’m not going to like when I can get something I do like?”
“But you might like it.”
“I’m not missing anything by not knowing.”
“That’s insane, of course you are. I want you to try at least one shrimp,” Richie says.
“No. Gross. Anything that smells that bad can’t taste good.”
“But I’m telling you it is good. Trust me.”
“How do I know your taste in food is any better than your taste in clothes?”
“Mean. Try it, though. We’re being adventurous.”
“I’m not adventurous,” Eddie replies.
“Yeah, I know, it’s obvious. You wear polo shirts,” Richie says.
“Hurtful,” Eddie says. He likes his polos. “What if I don’t like it?”
“Then you don’t like it and you go back to eating what you do like, and now you know. But you’ll like it because it’s good.” It makes sense when he puts it like that but Eddie still isn’t convinced. “I’m not leaving here until you eat a shrimp.”
“I don’t care when you leave,” Eddie says, but he sighs and picks one up. If it’s that important to him he’ll eat a fucking shrimp.
“Cook it and then peel off the skin,” Richie says, and Eddie frowns.
“You’ve got to try calamari too.”
“What’s in it for me?”
“An experience to write home to Mother about.”
“My mom’s dead.”
“Condolences. The satisfaction of proving me wrong, then. Here.” He moves the little votive candle to the side of the table out of the way and pours a cup of ginger tea for Eddie. “If you hate it, that’ll wash the taste out of your mouth.”
Eddie puts the dumb shrimp on the dumb grill. Richie has such a nice smile that Eddie considers eating everything on the table, even the candle.
While their food is cooking, Richie says, “What about the classics? The Simpsons?”
“Couldn’t watch it as a kid. My mom didn’t let me. It was dirty.”
“Yikes. What about South Park?”
“Nope. Also dirty.”
“Nope, it would make me gay.”
“Your mom really thought that?” Richie asks, turning over some of the meat, then fooling around with the tongs. Eddie isn’t sure but he thinks Richie’s avoiding looking at him.
“Yeah, that was a whole thing back then when we were kids, don’t you remember?”
“No,” Richie says. “My parents didn’t give a fuck what I watched, as long as I left them alone. Why didn’t you watch them as an adult?”
“I dunno. Never thought about it, I guess.”
Richie takes a shrimp off the grill and puts it on Eddie’s plate, looking up at him expectantly from over the rim of his glasses. His eyes are really pretty, Eddie notices idly. He takes up his fork and nibbles tentatively at the shrimp.
“It tastes like ocean.”
“In a bad way?”
“I can’t tell.”
“Have another bite.”
Eddie obeys. Considers. “It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever eaten.”
“I’ll take it,” Richie says.
The calamari is chewier but less briny. He likes it slightly better. Richie seems pleased at that.
“There. Now you can tell your diary that you stepped out of your comfort zone.”
“I don’t have a diary.”
“I do. It’s called Twitter.” Eddie laughs. That’s exactly how Richie uses Twitter. It’s basically a stream of consciousness for him. He’s gotten used to sitting in bed and scrolling through and seeing what little thoughts pop into Richie’s head throughout the day. He feels like he knows Richie very well, even though they haven’t talked in person all that much. But then, he’s always felt comfortable with Richie, right from the beginning.
Eddie sticks with chicken and pork for the rest of the meal. They talk about stuff Richie’s up to; he just booked a small role on a few episodes of the Betty White sitcom and he’s stoked about that.
The check arrives, and Richie insists on paying. Richie signs and then finishes his drink, unwilling to actually get up and move. Eddie takes the pen and Richie’s copy of the check and sketches a little comic on the back. A habit he picked up somewhere, whenever he’s had a nice time out at a bar or restaurant or show, he likes to draw something about it on the back of the receipt or a napkin. He’s got dozens of them in a little stack in his apartment. Ben and Bev used to hang them on their walls. The cartoon is of the two of them at the table. Cartoon Eddie’s looking at a shrimp warily, and Cartoon Richie is pounding the table yelling “SHRIMP SHRIMP SHRIMP SHRIMP.” He puts his initials and the date in the corner and presents it to Richie.
“For your scrapbook,” he says. Richie’s got that little dumbfounded look on his face again. Eddie’s heart flips in his chest, just a bit. If this is a date, he’s killing it.
“You ready to go?” he asks Richie. The answer is no, at least on Eddie’s side, but it’s late, and there’s not really a way to keep the night going if it’s not a date. But going home with Richie isn’t an option, because of Myra, and also Richie might be straight and Eddie’s just misreading the situation, or maybe Richie has someone. So it’s not a date, and they’re going to go to their separate homes.
“Yeah, let’s get out of here,” Richie says, carefully putting the receipt into the breast pocket of his shirt. “Wait, give me your phone.”
Eddie hands it over. Richie types something, then hands it back. He’s sent a message to someone—himself, it turns out, as his own phone vibrates loudly on the table.
“Now you know how to reach me if you want to really branch out and try something truly exotic, like, say, sushi. I hear they have this thing called pasta in Italy.”
“I’m not that picky of an eater. My palate isn’t that boring.”
“Mmhmm. You seem really into seasoning.”
Richie holds the door open for Eddie, and they do one of those manly half-hugs as they say goodbye, and Eddie thinks about the way Richie looked at him all the way home.
The Saturday playlist Richie crowdsources on Twitter is themed “songs that get u in your feelings.” Eddie again submits “Call Your Girlfriend” by Robyn. “It’s a banger but also kinda sad?” he says. Richie agrees. Eddie listens to those songs, plus some of the dance ones he liked earlier, as he goes for a run. He watches some TV. It’s a normal weekend. It makes Eddie realize how boring his life is.
What is not boring is having Richie’s phone number. Now that he’s got it, he realizes how often he’d wanted to talk to Richie before. He doesn’t even want to say anything important. He doesn’t have anything important to say. He has to set his phone aside for short intervals for his own pride’s sake, so he’s not constantly texting dumb shit and annoying Richie. He can make an arbitrary distinction between “fun thing I like doing” and “obsession” that way, one half-hour break at a time.
Eddie arrives on Monday morning to find two things on his desk: one, a bag of chocolate-covered gummy bears. As for the second…
Eddie: Why in the fuck would you do this to me?
Richie: do what
Eddie: You know what
Richie: u don’t like minions?
Eddie: Fuck you, bro, lose this number.
Eddie sends a picture of himself holding up his new Minion Funko Pop figurine over a cigarette lighter, then a video of the Minion flying into a trashcan. Richie sends him several GIFs of Minions laughing. This fucking guy. He’s going to kill me.
Eddie retrieves the (unharmed, still intact) toy, wipes it off, and puts it to the side of his monitor, next to his hand sanitizer. Every time he sees it out of the corner of his eye, he smiles.
When Ben goes to lunch, the rest of the office is deserted, and Eddie makes his move. He opens up Ben’s candy drawer and pours some of the bears Richie got him back into Ben’s bag.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Beverly asks, and Eddie startles so violently he hits his head on the desk.
“Shhhh,” Eddie says. “I broke into Ben’s stash and am replacing what I took. This never happened.”
“You little snake,” Bev says. “He’s going to kill you.”
“Not if he doesn’t find out.” He closes the drawer and stands up, heading for his own desk. Got to get away from the scene of the crime.
Bev checks his head and tousles his hair. He’s not going to have a bump.
“Was working late really that bad?” she asks. “You had to go and risk it all for a hit of those sweet, sweet bears?”
“It wasn’t for me,” Eddie says.
“Why’d you do it, then?”
“Richie visited and brought me a Coke, I had to offer him something.”
“Reeaaaallllyyy?” Bev asks, her eyes lighting up. Oh no. That was a tactical error. “So you went straight for the nuclear option?”
“I don’t like that look on your face.”
“The one you’re making now.”
“Did he like the bears?”
“He bought me dinner,” Eddie admits, blushing.
“Where’s the comic? Give it,” she says, holding out her hand.
“He has it,” Eddie says, blushing harder.
“You slut,” Bev hisses.
Eddie looks around. The office is still empty except for people eating at their desks with their headphones on. “Shut up, it’s not like that.”
“Oh, it’s like that, I’ve seen you looking,” Bev says. “Where did you go?”
“Korean barbecue place, and shut up, I do new things for fun all the time.”
“Eddie, one time we went to a different restaurant than normal and your credit card company flagged it as potential identity theft.”
“It was fun. I ate calamari. Shut up, oh my god, I hate you.”
“I’m not even saying anything!”
“I’ve never smirked in my life.”
“Well I guess we’re both trying new things because you look so smug right now. I’m going to punch you in the face.”
“I’m glad you had a good time,” Bev says. “I won’t tell Ben about the candy.”
Eddie’s relieved. “Thank you.”
A text from Richie comes through. “so im all caught up on steven universe and now im crying in the bathtub”
“Is that from him?” Bev asks, and Eddie looks up, the smile draining from his face because she’s looking smug again.
“Yeah? Who’s it from?”
“Mhm. I’ll bet. He gave you his number?”
“Yeah but it’s not like a ‘yo girl can I get your number?’ thing, it’s just, he gave me his number because we’re friends and we talk.”
Bev nods. “Naturally. That’s exactly why guys give other guys their number after dinner. Were there candles on the table?”
Yes. “No. It wasn’t some fancy place.”
“Was it the Korean place on Hepburn Ave?”
“Yes, you know it?”
“Yeah, it’s great. They have candles.”
“…you can believe what you want to believe about the candles.”
“I believe that I really like him and think he’s sweet and I’m glad you have a new friend.”
Bev has never liked Myra. Ben hasn’t either, but he’s too nice to say so outright. They think she’s controlling. They have a point, but Eddie doesn’t think it’s too much of a problem. He can push back when he needs to. It’s just easier to go along with her. She’s a nice girl, she’s just stubborn. He’s stubborn too. Sometimes.
When he’s driving home, he actually does get a text from Myra. She wants him to come over. He gets upstairs and calls her.
“I’m already home, Myra,” he says.
“You don’t want to see me?”
“It’s not that,” he says, and is surprised to find out he’s lying. “I’m just tired. There’s been a lot to do at work.”
She spends a few minutes talking about how much she misses him, what kind of ailment she’s worried she’s got this week, how unfair the lady at the bank was to treat her like that, and so on. Eddie, half-listening, uttering “uh huh” and “what, no way” whenever it seems appropriate, absentmindedly wanders around the apartment, tidying up.
When she finally accepts that he’s not going to come over tonight and hangs up, he looks down and realizes he’s been placing every object she’s left in his house into one of his reusable grocery tote bags. He’s even thrown some loose bobby pins in there.
He drops the bag near the front door, not knowing what else to do with it.
When he’s browsing Twitter that night, he adds three emoji hearts to his display name: a pink one, a purple one, and a blue one.
Just because. No real reason.
He changes his profile picture from a cartoon he drew of himself years ago to a picture of his actual face. Just for a change.
He has dinner at Myra’s on Wednesday night. He arrives early, before she’s even started cooking. She’s pleased for about five seconds until she sees the bag in his hands. Then there’s crying. A lot of crying. Eddie sits and guides her through it but doesn’t say he wants to get back together.
He normally doesn’t say much on Twitter, but he observes that the break-up songs he likes best are the angry ones, and some recommendations stream in. He could cobble together his own playlist if he wants, he says, thanking everyone. Richie suggests he put “Call Your Girlfriend” on it, as if it wasn’t the first one he’d put on there.
He doesn’t really need a break-up playlist to help him get through it, though. He’s surprisingly fine. He’s never liked ending relationships, but this feels like the right move. Ben and Bev start inviting him over to hang out more. It’s nice to see them again. Myra used to monopolize his free time, and towards the end there avoiding Myra took up the rest of it.
He sits down and watches Spongebob just for something to do, since Richie likes it so much. They text their favorite jokes back and forth. He’s hoping he can get Richie to start sending him Spongebob memes instead of Minions this way.
It doesn’t work. But it’s a pretty good show. Eddie can tell that Richie watched it as a kid, they share the same goofy sense of humor.
They don’t talk about Myra. They don’t talk about queer stuff, though Eddie’s increasingly sure Richie’s got some queer stuff he wants to talk about. Or is afraid to talk about.
He remembers that fear. He gave into it all throughout high school, under the thumb of his virulently homophobic and fucked-up mother, but when he got to college, there was no reason to be afraid anymore because literally everyone at his art school was gay or gay-adjacent. She died when he was a sophomore, and after that, it was all too easy to stop caring what she thought. Coming to terms with his bisexuality was fairly painless after that. It was harder to get over the hypochondria and germ phobia, honestly. He still hasn’t completely managed it.
Eddie finishes everything for The Attic Room on a Thursday. People higher up on the ladder, like Bev, are still working on it for a few weeks, but he’s done. Bye, Roger.
He’s surprisingly sad about it, sadder than he’s been leaving his other projects.
Richie: do u want to get dinner to celebrate
Eddie: yeah but I will not eat anything with mushrooms and you can’t make me
Richie: we’ll see about that
Eddie drives to the Indian restaurant Richie chose and thinks about kissing Richie.
Eddie sits across from Richie and looks at his stupid fucking shirt with little tractors all over it (why god why are there tractors on his shirt?) and thinks about kissing Richie.
Richie persuades Eddie to try something other than chicken tikka masala. Eddie orders a biryani and thinks about kissing Richie.
Richie gives Eddie a bite of his lamb vindaloo and Eddie eats a whole loaf of naan trying to cool his mouth down in between drinking his mango lassi and telling Richie to go fuck himself.
They split some kulfi and Eddie thinks about kissing Richie.
Eddie picks up the tab and draws a picture of his head on fire on the back of the receipt while Richie laughs. Richie puts the sketch in the breast pocket of his shirt, and Eddie thinks about kissing Richie.
When they’re in the parking lot, Richie gives Eddie a proper hug this time, and Eddie thinks about kissing Richie. He nearly does it, too, but Richie pulls away too quickly.
Eddie drives home and thinks about kissing Richie.
Eddie masturbates and thinks about kissing Richie.
The production isn’t officially over, but just for simplicity’s sake, Mike holds the wrap party the week after Eddie and the animators are finished because that’s over ¾ of the team. The bulk of the work is over; only the special effects team and sound editors have much to do in post-production. The party’s in some nice restaurant/bar that the producers have rented out for the evening. Eddie’s never been to it before, but he wouldn’t have, would he?
Mike makes a nice speech about how much it means to him to be able to make this film, and how much he enjoyed working with everyone. As long as he’s got a job, they’ve all got jobs, he says.
Richie hangs out a bit with the other actors and some of the sound guys, but he makes his way over to Eddie about an hour in and doesn’t budge the rest of the night.
By now all the big names and above-the-line talent have left, off to do something or other, whatever it is that actors do in their free time.
Richie brings over a couple of cocktails. He and Eddie toast.
“Fry and Laurie!” someone shouts at Richie. Richie fistpumps and spills a little vodka on his stupid fucking shirt with little clowns all over it.
Eddie is squeezed into the corner of the booth. Richie is to his left, Bev to Eddie’s right and Ben on her right. Stan is sitting next to Richie but with his back to him, facing the other way while Bill and Mike loom over him, talking about something or other, Eddie can’t really hear. He’s had enough alcohol to get a nice buzz going, and he’s got to concentrate a little harder than normal to pick out sounds in the loud bar.
“So, how long have you known each other?” Richie says, gesturing between them all.
“A long time,” Eddie says. “Since Ben was fat and I thought I was straight.”
Richie looks surprised. He processes this for a long moment and turns to Ben. “You were fat?”
“Eddie, that was a secret,” Ben says, not actually upset.
“It’s an inspirational story,” Eddie says. “You were such a little butterball and now you’re preposterously hot. From such lows to such highs. Rags to riches.”
“No, I’m Riches,” Richie says, and for some reason that makes Eddie howl with laughter. Maybe the reason was the copious amount of alcohol he’s had so far. Beverly passes Eddie a glass of water, a signal that he should drink it immediately because he’s going to be hungover tomorrow if he doesn’t. He’s cut off now. He sulkily downs half of it. She smiles in approval.
“I wouldn’t say preposterous,” Ben says.
“No, he’s right,” Richie says. “Own it.”
Bev has been counting on her fingers. “Twelve years.”
“We’re old,” Ben says.
“I know, right? When Kurt Cobain was my age he’d been dead for three years,” Richie says. From there the conversation heads into birthdays, then zodiac territory, then Eddie spends several minutes ranting about how that shit isn’t science, did Carl Sagan die for nothing, etc. Bev says it’s obviously bullshit but it’s harmless fun, Ben says you should let people believe what they want to believe, and Richie sides with Eddie. Stan joins in to side with Eddie, and Bill observes that Stan responded just like an Aquarius would, and that starts the argument all over again. It gets rowdy. Mike suggests they settle it with pistols at dawn.
“Hey, everyone, let’s just calm down,” Bill says. “Stan, tell us how you feel about the Wilhelm Scream.”
Stan erupts into a tirade that lasts a good five minutes and steadily rises in volume so he can be heard over Bill’s laughter. Richie shrinks away from Stan, closer to Eddie, so as to avoid Stan’s wild gesticulations. By the end of it Richie’s practically in Eddie’s lap. He’s warm. It’s cozy. Eddie could fall asleep if it weren’t so loud in here.
“Eddie, wake up,” Bev says, shaking him.
“I’m not asleep.”
“You will be in five minutes,” Ben says. They’re right. They know the patterns of his drunkenness by now.
“I was expecting him to be an angry drunk,” Richie says. “He gets angry about fucking everything.”
“Let’s call it a night,” Beverly says. “It’s 2 in the morning. I’m running on fumes and you’re crashing.”
“Did you drive here?” Bill asks. “No offense, but you’re drunk as shit.”
“Took an Uber,” Eddie says, yawning, his head on his arms on the table. “I can get home OK, I’m not that drunk, I’m just tired.”
“I’d feel better if you came with us,” Bev says.
“I’m a fucking grown-ass fucking man, I can handle it,” Eddie says testily.
“There’s the crankiness, right on schedule.” Shut up, Ben. “He fades quickly. He’s going to get clingy in about thirty seconds.”
“First of all, shut up, I’m not clingy, I’m affectionate and trusting. Second, you live all the way across town,” Eddie says. “I’m not gonna make you go an hour out of your way because you need to babysit me.”
“No one’s babysitting, you’re not a burden,” Mike says gently.
“We’ll share an Uber, how about that?” Richie says. “A compromise. You don’t live that far from me. We’ll drop you off first.”
“Excellent,” Eddie says. He leans up against Richie while he fills out the information on his phone. He mumbles his address into his ear, and Bev repeats it clearly for Richie so that he can actually understand it.
“He’s not going to be sick, is he?” Stan asks.
“Nah, he’s not that far gone,” Ben says. “He holds his liquor just fine, he just falls apart with no warning.”
“It’s probably because he’s so little, it hits him harder,” Richie says.
“I can hear you,” Eddie says. “I’m average height, fuck off. Give me a napkin or something.”
Richie does, and Eddie takes out a pen. He writes “THE ATTIC ROOM, WRAP PARTY” and sketches a little comic of Roger having a drink with the ghost clown from the movie. They toast and say “Soupy twists.” He draws five martini glasses and two shots, which is how much he drank. He initials and dates the corner.
“Sloppy,” Mike says, but takes a picture. Eddie presents the napkin to Richie, who carefully folds it and puts it in his shirt pocket. (I hate that shirt and I hate that I kind of love that shirt, Eddie thinks.)
“Car’s three minutes away,” Richie says.
Eddie crawls out of the booth. “Text me when you get home,” Bev says. Eddie loves it when she says that.
“I mean it. Right when you go through the door, because I know you’ll fall asleep the second you hit the bed and I’ll be worried all night.”
“I will, I promise. I fucking love you, Bev,” Eddie says, drawing her into a hug.
“I love you too, Eddie,” she says, giving him a kiss on the cheek. Ben does the same. “Take good care of him,” Bev says to Richie. Her tone is menacing. Eddie loves it when she does that, too. She’s protective. It’s nice to be protected.
Richie leads Eddie out to the curb to wait for their car. “Your friends are scary,” he tells Eddie, wrapping an arm around his waist to hold him upright. It feels nice, safe, natural, even with the height difference.
“I know, they’re the best,” Eddie says, turning to the side and wrapping both arms around Richie’s torso. He’s so warm. His shirt against Eddie’s face is very soft.
“I like them a lot.”
“They like you, they told me so,” he says.
“Yeah. And I like you,” he says.
“I like you too, Eddie,” Richie says.
“I’m glad we’re friends.”
“…Me too, Eddie.”
The car arrives. Eddie climbs in and falls asleep on Richie’s shoulder. He’d be embarrassed but he doesn’t care. Richie will still like him, he’s positive.
“Hey, we’re there,” Richie says softly, nudging him awake sometime later. His face is up against Richie’s neck now. He doesn’t kiss it but thinks about it, but Richie moves and cuts off access. Maybe he should nibble an earlobe instead? “Thank god you don’t drool.”
“Yeah, wouldn’t want to ruin your awesome shirt,” Eddie slurs.
“Do you want me to come with you?”
“Up to you,” Eddie says, yawning.
“Come on, up we go,” Richie says, pulling him out of the car. “I’ll be five minutes,” he tells the driver.
Eddie hands Richie his keys, his eyes closed against the lights in the lobby. “You labeled them?” Richie asks.
The littlest things impress him, it’s astonishing. “Obviously.”
Richie gets them through the door and in the elevator. “Which floor?” Eddie punches a few buttons. “That didn’t answer my question.”
“OK, we’ll be making a few stops first,” Richie says. “You got some extras there. What’s the apartment number?”
“Got it. Stay upright, we’re almost there.”
Eddie catches himself burrowing into Richie’s torso again. His hand is on the small of Richie’s back, somehow against bare skin. “Sorry,” Eddie says, retreating to lean against the back wall. “I’m just sleepy.”
“It’s fine,” Richie says. He mutters something under his breath that sounds like “torture” but Eddie can’t be sure that’s what he heard. He stumbles when the elevator stops and then again when it turns out he’s been leaning against his apartment door and Richie has opened it.
“Light switch?” Richie asks.
“By the door.”
“Which side? I can’t see.”
“I don’t know, I’m not a compass,” Eddie says, and Richie laughs.
“That didn’t make any sense.”
“I can get there.”
“You’re gonna trip and fall and break your neck,” Richie says.
“Please, my floor is spotless.”
Richie finds the light and Eddie recoils. He hisses like a vampire, and Richie laughs again. Eddie navigates them to his bedroom.
“Shoes off.” Eddie complies. “Your jeans are gonna be uncomfortable, do you want those off?” Eddie nods. “Can you do them?”
Eddie sighs heavily. “Sure.” It takes him a few seconds longer than normal, but he manages.
“Where’s your phone?”
Richie bends down and picks them up, searching the pockets. Eddie crawls into bed.
“Not so fast. Unlock it. There we go.”
Eddie wakes up six hours later, thirsty as all get-out.
There’s a glass of water on his bedside table. Some aspirin, too. A small trashcan by his bed, just in case. His phone is plugged in and fully charged. Richie even sent Bev a text that says “home safe.”
He’s got a new text from her that says, “Tell Richie I said thank you.”
There’s a new one from Richie, too. It says, “home safe. sorry i didn’t stay. drink some water when u see this.”
Eddie doesn’t remember asking him to stay, but he remembers how Richie pulled the covers over him and gave him a kiss on the forehead.
He really wishes Richie had stayed. He really wishes he’d kissed Eddie on the mouth.
Oh no. I’ve got it bad.
He drinks some water, takes some aspirin, and texts Richie. “Thanks for last night. Sorry I was such a mess.”
Richie: u were adorable. like a sleepy little puppy
Eddie: I’m not that small.
Richie: like a sleepy grizzly bear then
Eddie: Bev says thanks too
Richie: tell her it was my pleasure
Eddie: thanks for the new phone case. Love those minions.
Richie: i know u do. theyre like the dumb madagascar penguins but twinkie shaped and less funny
God help him, he now associates Richie with the most annoying creatures in the world, and he still likes Richie. He’s got it bad.
Eddie: where’s my old case?
Richie: don’t worry about it
Richie: r u hungover
Eddie: it’s just that everything hurts
Eddie: and I’m dying
Richie: yea me 2
Richie: u want to get brunch
Eddie: I want to die
Richie: meet me at lou’s in an hour, ill make a reservation
Eddie: I’m not going out in public, meet me here, we’ll order in
Richie: nah ill cook u somethin
Eddie: you cook?
Richie: im an actor i have an illustrious career in food preparation
Richie: any food allergies i need to be aware of
Richie: or strong aversions
Richie: ive never had it doesnt count
Eddie: I’ve eaten enough olives to know I hate olives. Otherwise no
Richie: ill be there soon, let me shower n bring stuff over. hangover recovery special a la tozier comin up
Eddie drags himself out of bed, feeling like a teenager all over again. Oh no, the boy I like is coming over, what do I do? He showers and brushes his teeth, that’s the most important thing. Puts away the few things he’s left lying around. Opens a window and sprays some air freshener. By then he’s exhausted and refuses to move from the couch.
Ben texts. “Do you want to come to brunch with me and Bev? I can come scrape you out of bed."
Eddie: no thanks, Richie’s going to feed me
Ben: He stayed over?
Eddie: I wish
Ben: He’s coming back to your house? Already?
Ben: Are you going to shoot your shot?
Eddie: I dunno, I don’t want to spook him. He hasn’t actually come out to me
Ben: But if he did, would you?
Eddie: I really like him
Eddie: like an embarrassing amount
Ben: He likes you. When I mentioned Myra that time with the cookie he looked like he’d been kicked in the face
Ben: You said the words “my girlfriend” and his soul left his body
Eddie: noooo, poor guy
Ben: It was brutal
The doorbell rings.
Eddie: FUCK he’s here, be cool
Ben: Go get him, we’re rooting for you
Eddie buzzes Richie up, and he opens the door as soon as Richie knocks.
“Hi there,” Eddie says.
“Huevos rancheros,” Richie says, holding up his grocery bags.
“Aloha?” Eddie tries.
Richie laughs. “Shut up, you know that wasn’t right, I know you took Spanish in high school.”
“Bienvenido a mi casa,” Eddie says. “Mi nombre es Eduardo.” He thinks. “That’s all I’ve got.”
“You’ve lived in New York and LA for 12 years and that’s the best you can do?”
“Shut up and get in here, you’re letting in all the light,” Eddie says, wincing and shielding his eyes.
No patterned shirt today, just sweatpants and a baseball t-shirt that makes his shoulders look massive. Eddie’s mouth actually waters. His libido had come roaring back after breaking up with Myra, but this was embarrassing.
Richie plays comedy DJ while he cooks and Eddie watches. He hooks his laptop up to the wifi and Eddie’s chromecast and plays a few sketches from A Bit of Fry and Laurie, a few George Carlin and Steven Wright standup bits, some Tom Lehrer songs. The food’s pretty good. Richie brought him a mild salsa. Thoughtful! While they’re eating, they watch the Duck Season/Rabbit Season episode of Looney Tunes; Richie laughs really hard at it; his enjoyment of it is so wholesome and pure that Eddie wants to bottle it for when he’s feeling sad. Then Richie insists on putting on My Man Godfrey.
“Dude, seriously? 1936? This is ancient.”
“And it’s perfect, shut the fuck up and watch it.”
It’s better than expected. “Perfect” is pushing it.
Then he puts on When Harry Met Sally, because when Eddie says he hasn’t seen it Richie is aghast.
“But you are Sally!” he says.
“I am not,” Eddie says automatically, though he can’t possibly know that, not having seen the movie.
“You’re such a Sally! The picky eating alone!”
He sits through it, and every time Sally does something he regularly does, he facepalms. It’s a good movie, or what he sees of it, anyway. He spends half of it just watching Richie’s reactions, his eyes getting progressively heavier, then he just gives up and stretches out on the couch and falls asleep with his feet in Richie’s lap. He wakes up to find Richie sleeping on the couch too, his larger body curled around Eddie’s smaller one, his glasses still on his face, slightly askew. It feels so right that Eddie’s practically giddy with it. He’s never had such a good mid-afternoon nap. No regrets about getting plastered last night.
He shifts because his arm is pins and needles, and unfortunately wakes up Richie. He immediately feels guilty about it, because Richie jerks awake but is still so sleep-dazed he can’t focus his eyes on anything. His hair is sticking up all over the place. It’s adorable.
“Why are you laughing at me?”
“You know that scene in Austin Powers where Austin wakes up from being frozen? You--”
“You better not finish that sentence.”
“You look like that but like, hot, with good teeth.”
“That ended better than I thought it would but I’m still offended.”
Eddie smiles and flips around to his other side, straightening Richie’s glasses before resting his head on Richie’s chest. Richie lifts his arm to let him, then sets it back down around Eddie’s waist, but tentatively this time, as if he doesn’t feel like he’s allowed to. His hand is splayed against Eddie’s back to prevent him from falling off the front of the couch.
“You think I’m hot?” Richie asks.
“Most definitely,” Eddie says. “I think you’re everything.”
“You’re not so bad yourself.”
“Thanks. Did Harry get together with Sally?”
“Yeah. He finally got the courage to confess his feelings.”
“Good for him, I knew he had it in him.”
Richie is silent for a couple seconds. “Hey,” he says.
“Can I kiss you?” Richie asks quietly.
“Richie, you can do anything in the world to me,” Eddie answers.
Richie very slowly leans down and presses his lips to Eddie’s. Eddie forces himself to take it slow, but he wants to eat Richie alive. Eddie hums. Richie tightens his grip. The kiss starts off close-mouthed and simple, but Richie soon explores Eddie, opening his jaw, running his tongue over Eddie’s lips, before finally, softly thrusting it against Eddie’s own. Then deeper. Tighter arms, harder kissing. When it gets to be too much for him, Richie pulls away, breathless.
“Wow,” Eddie whispers.
“Good?” Richie asks.
“Spectacular. Do it again.”
Richie does. The full force of his feelings hits Eddie like a tornado touching down to ground. It leaves him breathless too. “God, you’re wonderful.”
Richie’s nerves have been lingering between them, and they’re still there when Richie says, “I’m crazy about you.”
Eddie brings his hand up to trace Richie’s lips, and Richie pulls two of Eddie’s fingertips into his mouth, kissing them, then sucking on them softly. “Shit,” Eddie accidentally blurts out. That was so fucking sexy. Richie smiles around his fingers, and Eddie extracts his hand and wraps it around Richie’s neck to kiss him more fully. He lightly scratches his fingernails across Richie’s scalp, and Richie grinds down against Eddie helplessly. From there it becomes an unspoken contest between who can turn each other on more without actually grabbing below the waist, which is cheating. This is about teasing. It ends too soon when Richie pulls away, panting.
“I love where this is going and hate to ruin everything, but I have to pee.”
“Do it in my mouth,” Eddie says, and Richie looks so horrified that Eddie bark-laughs. “I’m 100% fucking with you, I would never ever forgive you. I just wanted to see the look on your face.”
Richie laughs wildly. “Thank god, I was like, Fuck, that escalated quickly, I don’t think I’m ready for that.”
“That will never be on the table. And nothing with knives. I don’t do knives. But anything else, you tell me if and when you’re ready and we’ll try it, and if we don’t like it, we’ll try something else. I’m all in.” Richie, for once in his life, can’t say anything. Eddie takes mercy on him. “Go pee. And wash your hands.”
He sits up and scoots down so Richie can get his stupidly long legs free, and Richie leaves. Eddie sits and basks in what just happened.
“I have one more stipulation,” Eddie calls through the bathroom door.
Richie flushes the toilet and opens the door. “What is it?” he says, washing his hands, making eye contact with Eddie in the bathroom mirror.
“It’s my fault for bringing him up, but if you ever do the Austin Powers voice in the bedroom I will hurt you.”
Richie laughs again. “I was going to bust it out the second I got out of here.”
“I know you were. I see right through you.”
“You do,” Richie agrees. “It’s a shame, I’m really good at that one.”
“I believe you, you’re good at a lot of things, but I’m happy to take your word for it on this one.”
“Which voices am I allowed to use to seduce you?”
“You don’t need any voices to seduce me,” Eddie says. “Your own does the trick just fine.”
Richie takes a second. “What about Katharine Hepburn?”
“I went to art school, not film school, we didn’t watch it in any of my classes. Is that the Breakfast at Tiffany’s lady?”
“No, the other one. You seriously don’t know who that is?”
“I mean, I could probably pick her out of a lineup but I don’t know what she sounds like.”
“OK. You, me, Bringing Up Baby. You have five minutes.”
“Is it in black and white?”
“It is, but it has Cary Grant, he’s dreamy, you’ll love him.”
“You’re gonna hate me but—“
“Dude, no. Do you watch anything with real humans in it?”
“I’ll get the ice cream, you get back on that couch. And stay awake this time.”
“And here I thought we were going to fuck,” Eddie says.
“I know you want a piece of this, but you’re gonna have to wait. All in good time.”
Richie is right. It’s a good movie. When it’s over, Richie still tastes like ice cream.
The next morning, Eddie climbs out of bed without waking Richie this time. He’s eating cereal when Richie walks into the kitchen, pulling on his shirt. He gives Eddie a long kiss while the coffee brews.
“Hey, I made you something,” Eddie says. He sets his laptop down in front of Richie and presses play on a video. It’s some of the outtakes Richie’d recorded all those months ago, animated, only this time it’s Richie rather than Roger saying them. Eddie honestly thinks Richie is going to cry.
“That’s me,” he says. “That’s my face.”
“Uh yeah dude, I know. It’s a good face.”
“But you hate it when actors deviate from the script. That was one of the first things you ever said to me.”
“I hate it when they’re not good changes. That doesn’t apply to you.”
“I didn’t even think you’d listened to them.”
“Of course I did.”
“But you didn’t have to.”
“But I wanted to.”
Richie’s still looking at him in wonder. “How long did it take you to do this?” he asks.
“Uh, not that long. Just when I had some extra time, or didn’t want to look at Roger anymore. It was fun.”
“Why did you make me this?”
“Because I know how much you like hearing yourself talk.” Eddie, stop joking, he’s going through something. “I mean, I just, I like surprising people and I like you, and I thought they were funny, and I thought you might like it.”
“Thank you, Eddie,” he says at length. “I uh, I didn’t get you anything, I can’t make stuff—“
“That’s not why people give gifts, Richie,” Eddie says. “I’m not expecting anything from you. I just wanted to do it.”
“Thank you. I like it a lot. I like you a lot.” Richie gives Eddie another kiss, so sweet that Eddie blushes. “Do you want to watch something?”
“Yes. Do you have anything else with Cary Grant?”
“Oh boy, do I.”
Months later, at the premiere for The Attic Room, Richie takes Eddie as his date but they don’t walk the red carpet together, since Richie doesn’t want the press to overshadow the film by continuing to speculate on his gayness, especially not since his Netflix stand-up special put him on a lot more people’s radars. It’s not a problem a few months after that at the Oscars, because everyone’s so busy chasing after Leo DiCaprio and Viola Davis that Richie unofficially coming out by holding hands with his boyfriend on the red carpet is just one minor story of the night. Mike makes history by winning his second Oscar, this time for Best Animated Feature. Richie was presenting an award, and since Eddie’s his date, they’re seated with the rest of the Attic Room team, so the kiss Richie and Eddie give each other while Mike is walking to the stage gets caught on camera. Eddie’s under more scrutiny in the next 24 hours than he’s ever been in his life, but he’s barely even fazed by now. If that’s what comes with having a super hot and amazing boyfriend, he’ll take it gladly.