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one more time with feeling

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So. Here’s how it goes.

  1. They go back to Derry, all of them — except for Stan, of course ; may he rest in fucking peace. They go back to Derry, and it’s terrifying before they know why, but it’s like coming back to life, too. Seeing each other’s aged up faces, falling back into old habits, wondering how could I forget? how could I leave them? they were everything.

  2. (The memories come back slowly, scattered and incomplete, piece by piece as the evening goes, but it takes Richie exactly one second looking at Eddie for everything he’d forgotten to hit him like a freight train.)

  3. (He gets drunk.)

  4. They kill the fucking clown. It takes them everything they still have in them and they almost die (especially Eddie, Eddie almost dies, and Richie wishes he could say he was too out of it to remember the way he clung to his bleeding body as the rest of them were lifting him up to get him out, or the gaping hole at Eddie’s shoulder and the blood running down his chin) — but they kill the fucking clown.

  5. It gets better, from there, because let’s be honest, it can hardly get worse — and also because, like Bev says, it’s only possible to move on once you’ve accepted what’s happened to you.

  6. So, Bill finishes his movie. Richie hasn’t seen it yet because it’s not out to the general public, but the ending doesn’t suck this time, he’s heard. Bill’s already working on a new novel, a slightly altered version of whatever the fuck happened to them, with changed names and everything — he keeps sending the groupchat a bunch of excerpts that are weird to read but excellent, and Richie still can’t believe Bill named his character Dick, but whatever.

  7. So, Ben and Bev get together, for real. Bev’s divorce is still a nightmare to go through and her ex is an asshole, but Ben is the softest being known to man and he’s got her back, now. They’re slowly building their little love nest, and it’s so cute it’s sickening. They keep sending pictures on the groupchat — of the vintage furniture Ben decorates their house with, of their fucking huge dog sleeping at their side in the morning, of the ridiculously elaborate meals they cook together just because they can.

  8. So, Mike finally leaves Derry, god bless him. He sends pictures, too, his smile brighter than the sun on each and everyone of them — although it’s not as often as Ben and Bev, considering he’s too busy walking miles and miles, crossing states as he crosses names on his bucket list, living the life this nightmare of a town always kept him from experiencing.

  9. So, Eddie gets a divorce, thank fuck. He doesn’t say anything about it, just sends a picture of the papers, no caption and no context attached. It earns him a bunch of congratulations!!!! from all the Losers — except for Richie, of course, who replies with a tasteful glad your mother finally came back to reason, now she and i can finally get back together as we are meant to be (because he couldn’t say i’m so fucking happy for you, thank god you’re getting better, thank god you’re alive).

  10. So, Richie —

  11. Richie’s never been so good at accepting anything, has he?

 


 

“I’m fine, Bev,” Richie says. His phone is on speaker as he scrolls down the article Bev just sent him, not actually reading it except for the title — a Is stand-up comedian Richie Tozier having a mental breakdown? in big, bold letters. “I forgot my fucking name during a bit and left stage,” he says. “Of course they’re gonna say I’m having a mental breakdown.”

“I think it’s less about you leaving stage than you disappearing for six months, Rich,” Bev says.

Richie knows, because Bev’s not the only one to send him an article of the sort. He got a call from Steve yesterday morning, which pretty much ended up with Steve basically reading aloud every single headline or tweet he could find when googling his name — Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier: coke addict Is Richie Tozier secretly dead and the government is hiding it from us? We asked John Mulaney about Richie Tozier and he doesn’t know either — and then lecturing him for fifteen minutes as Richie poured himself a drink, saying I’m fucking fine, Steve, I’m gonna make a comeback, ok, just give me some time, it’s been a rough bunch of months, that’s all, I’m fine, fine, fine.

“Can’t a guy take a break?” Richie says. He opens his freezer to his last frozen pizza. That’ll do it. “Christ, you’d expect people to have gotten the memo about celebrities being actual, real human beings. And I’m not even that famous.” He puts the phone down, getting the pizza out of its box and starting to unwrap it. “They’ll have forgotten about it in like, a week anyway. Kids these days run fast, you know. It’s insane.”

“You know damn well I’m not calling because I’m worried about your career, Richie,” Bev says, voice soft but firm.

“Bev, baby,” Richie says. “I’m touched you care so much, really, but I told you — I’m fine. I’m super fine.” He puts the pizza in the microwave, sets it to oven mode, twenty minutes. Boom. Look at how fine he is. “Just taking a little bit of time for myself after, you know, fighting a demon clown.”

“Richie,” Bev says.

And it’s the end of Richie pretending, it’s the end of him being able to bullshit her into thinking he’s doing great, because Bev says his name with this voice and she sounds thirteen years old again.

He takes his beer bottle back from the counter where he’d put it down.

“Come on, dude,” Richie says. “I know you have your life-sized Action Man sex doll to make it better on your side, but you can’t tell me it’s been easy for you.” He chugs what’s left of his beer and puts the bottle down again. Opens the fridge. Takes another. “Congrats, you win ; I am, in fact, not fine. I have nightmares and I barely get out and it’s been fucking hard, ok — but you can’t tell me I’m the only one. Look at what happened to us.”

He can’t be the only one being miserable, can he?

“I know,” Bev says. “I’m not exactly well either. I’m happy with Ben — I’ve never been happier, but it doesn’t make everything else disappear. Remembering all of this, and going through it again is… a lot.” She sighs. “I know, Rich, ok,” she says. “I know it’s a normal thing and I’m not asking you to be the poster boy of happiness. It’s just — you won’t talk, Richie. You won’t talk to anyone and you just keep saying you’re doing good but I fucking know you, and you need to get some of this out of your system.”

“Who would I talk about this to?” Richie says.

Cleo, down!” Bev says. “You know you can’t go there — come here. Come here — yeah, good girl. You’re a good girl.” Then, to Richie: “Us, you fucking moron.”

Richie’s beer opens with a psh. “Your dog still a monster?” he says. He remembers one particular picture Ben sent of Cleo two weeks ago, a few days after they got her, a full roll of paper towels worth of shreds at her feet and a guilty look on her face.

“She’s fine, I just have no authority over her,” Bev says. “It’s alright when Ben’s here, but he’s been out for groceries for like, an hour now, and she’s been testing me. Maybe I should take her for a walk.” Richie thinks he can hear Cleo yelp through the phone. “Did you hear what I say?” Bev says.

Richie sighs. “I don’t need to talk about it,” Richie says. “I just need some time, ok? Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”

“Richie,” Bev says. “It’s not just the clown, it’s — for me, it was my dad, you know? It was what he put me through, and not remembering it, it was falling back into the same patterns over and over again because I haven't acknowledged what he’d done to me, because I couldn’t remember. For Bill, it was Georgie, and his guilt — for Eddie, it was his mom.”

“I don’t see where you’re going with this,” Richie says, but he does. He does.

“Where I’m going is,” Bev says. “I don’t think you’ve come to terms with whatever it was for you.”

Bev has to know. She knows him. She has to, right? He could talk to her. She’s right, she always is — maybe talking would make it better, right?

“I’ll be fine,” Richie says. “Really, Bev. I promise. I’ll be fine.”

Bev sighs. She doesn’t believe him. He can’t blame her, because he doesn’t either.

 


 

“It’s so damn hot,” Richie says, wiping the sweat off his forehead. His hair is damp there, sticking to his skin and eyebrows, and he’s pretty sure he’s seen a full on drop running down a strand and falling before his eyes when he was on his bike a few minutes ago. “We’re in Maine. Isn’t it illegal for it to be this fucking hot here?”

He throws his bike on the ground more than he really puts it down, now using both of his hands to get his hair out of his face. Bev follows, leaving her own bike to rest against one of the wooden posts surrounding the field they’ve stopped at. Mike doesn’t — he has to go home, which is the reason why they all stopped in the first place. Richie should probably go home too, should want to.

“Pretty sure there’s no legal regulation around weather, man,” Mike says.

“Well, there should be,” Richie says. “Look at the cows — they agree. Look at how miserable the poor things are. They’re dying inside.” He turns to face the field. Most of the cows are far away, having found a fresh spot under a shadow close to where the trees are, but there’s one, smaller, younger, that’s peacefully chewing on grass about two feet from them.

Richie points at the cow. “Don’t you agree with me?” he says.

The cow doesn’t give him as much as a moo.

“Traitor,” Richie mutters.

Mike laughs softly. When Richie turns back, he says, “I really should go,” and turns his bike around, getting ready to go back the other way, to Derry City. “See you later, I guess?”

Bev says “see you later, Mike” at the same time Richie says “yeah, so what Hanlon, leave me, I don’t care”. They both wave at him until they can’t see him, a bit stupidly. It happens quick, though. Mike becomes a patch of colors against the bright greens and yellows of the Derry country side, and then he’s gone.

They walk a few more feet away from their bikes until they find a bush high enough to have a solid shadow, then sit down. The sun is still hitting the part of Richie’s legs that he can’t possibly hold closer to his body, but he’ll manage.

Bev fumbles in the pocket of her denim overalls to get her lighter and cigarettes. She gets two out and lights one for Richie once it’s between his lips.

The burn doesn’t really feel good, if Richie’s honest. It’s hot enough as it is for him to actually enjoy smoking, and there are probably not a lot of people who actually like the taste of it, but it’s still — kind of pleasant, somehow. Because it feels like a break from everything else, because he barely does it so he gets to pretend like he’s someone else when he does. Because the smell alone reminds him of Bev, even when he’s not smoking with her, even when he’s not smoking at all.

“I’m gonna miss you, freckleface,” Richie says after a few seconds of them not talking. He means it to sound careless, but it was probably no use even trying. He can’t not care. Not about that, not about Bev. Not about most things.

Bev laughs a sad little laugh. Richie can’t properly see her eyes behind her sunglasses, but he knows what they look like. “Gonna miss you too,” she says. “At least you’ll still have the others.” She pauses. Then: “I don’t know what I’m gonna do without you guys.”

“Come on,” Richie says. “It’s a fresh start, away from this dump — things are shit here, but anywhere else? You’re gonna be a star, Molly Ringwald.”

Bev sighs, smoke getting out as she breathes out. “You know I didn’t have any friends before you guys, right?” she says. She’s not looking at Richie as she speaks. “I used to be hang out with Greta and her gang when we were in kindergarten, and most of elementary too. But even then — it wasn’t really anything important. And then they started playing this funny little game called let’s find the most creative ways to call Beverly Marsh a slut and just — kept it up for years, because it’s hilarious, apparently.”

Richie says nothing. Doesn’t know what to. He’s never called Bev a slut, not to her face, but he’s guilty of having believed it.

“They’re just dumb,” he says eventually. “You know I — people say a lot of things about you, and I thought they were true,” he says, because it’s Bev, and he can talk through stupid jokes to every other loser, but he never really could keep the bullshit up with her when the two of them were alone. She’s got that superpower. “And I know they’re not, now,” Richie says. “But it wouldn’t matter if they were. If you had done — whatever. Whoever.”

Bev laughs. “That’s nice,” she says. “Thank you, Richie.”

They keep smoking in silence for a while, until they’re done with their cigarettes and Bev suggests to light up another two, because they’ve got nothing better to do and none of them wants to go home. They’ll have to, eventually. Richie wishes they could stay until night falls and after, watching the sun go down and the sky turn to purple, emptying Bev’s cigarette pack as the hours go until there’s none left. Maybe bike to the clubhouse and have Cheetos for dinner, put the radio on and sing along to stupid pop songs until they fall asleep on the wooden floor.

They can’t do that, though. Richie knows they can’t. He has to go back to his parents, and Bev — Bev has to go back to her crappy apartment, empty as her dad is still at the hospital, and try to get as much packing done as possible. She called Richie and Eddie to help her out last week, but Richie showed up with the last Wonder Woman comics and they ended up doing nothing but reading, smoking (to Eddie’s great displeasure) and watching cartoons until they fell asleep on the couch, Bev’s legs sprawled over Richie’s lap and Eddie’s head resting on Richie’s shoulder. It had been long before Richie could fall asleep, because he couldn’t find a way to be comfortable without waking the others up, and because Eddie’s hair was in his face. He could smell his shampoo, and the scent of him under.

“You’ve heard that rumor about me and Bowers, right?” Bev says when they’re about halfway through their second cigarettes.

Richie nods.

“That one’s true,” she says. Richie turns to her. Out of everything people say about Bev, he wouldn’t have thought that one could be — why would she have done that? “The others — they’re not,” Bev says. “That one is. But not like you think it is.”

Richie look at her, his cigarette hanging from his fingers. “How is that?” he says.

Bev takes a drag, still looking away. “I didn’t want to.”

And Richie’s a fast speaker, he’s always been. He’s never been a fast thinker. “What do you mean you—”

It clicks, then.

“Oh,” he says.

He wonders if he still should be looking at her, if she’s ok with that, and then decides it’s better not to — he follows her gaze, his eyes landing on a couple of birds pecking the ground. He wonders how many boys, how many men have looked at Bev and thought about doing gross shit to her, how many times she’s felt it, how many times she’s had to run. He wonders about Henry Bowers in his room in the mental institute, wonders if he could sneak in without being seen and kick the motherfucker in the nuts until he can’t ever get his dick up anymore.

“You don’t have to say anything,” Bev says. Richie turns to her again, unable to help it. His hands are shaking. “There’s nothing to say, I — I just wanted to tell someone about it before I left, and it never felt right when we were all together.”

Richie gets it. He’s the same. He would tell someone if he was braver — he would tell about —

He could tell Bev now. She’s leaving in a few days anyway — at least he wouldn’t have to live seeing her every day knowing she knows. Maybe she knows about him already. She’s a girl and girls don’t hate guys like him as much as boys do. Maybe she wouldn’t mind.

But it feels wrong to tell Bev about him when she just told him about her, and it’s not his time to speak, so he stays silent for a while more. He sucks on his cigarette and lowers his other hand to the ground, curling his fingers around Bev’s. He hopes this is ok — god, he hopes she’s not gonna think he wants to do anything.

Bev doesn’t flinch, though.

“Ok,” Richie says. “I’m glad you told someone, then.”

Bev smiles. “I’m gonna miss you, Richie,” she says, and if there are tears in her voice, Richie won’t bring it up. “I’m really gonna miss you. I know it hasn’t been long, but it feels like I’ve known you guys forever, you know?”

Richie nods. He knows. “Yeah,” he says. “Turns out having to kick a murderous clown’s ass back to Hell where it comes from makes up for strong bonds. Who would have thought? I think the Losers Club is about ten years old, in Normal Friendship years.”

Bev scoffs. “Is it like dog years now?” she says.

Richie shrugs. “Who the fuck knows,” he says. Then, “you’ll call, right?”

Bev looks at him, finally. Her eyes might be wet, or not. She’s still wearing her big sunglasses. “Of course I will,” she says.

 


 

Now the thing is, Richie hasn’t properly gotten out since they’ve been back from Derry. Which, in retrospect, probably hasn’t helped with the whole people thinking he’s dead thing. He’s hung out with Bill a couple times, on Bill’s initiative ; he’s the only Loser Richie’s seen face to face since Derry, although all of them have been FaceTiming and calling each other a lot. It’s about to change, though ; they’ve all agreed to meet at Ben’s beach house in Santa Monica in a couple of months. Richie kind of can’t fucking wait.

Seeing Bill has been nice. He takes Richie for fancy brunches and dinners in places Richie’s heard of but never been at and insists to pay everytime. “Keep your money for when your audience finally realizes you’ve always been a shitty comedian and the entertainment world finally decides to free us from your awful jokes,” he says. Richie pretends to be offended, follows up with a joke about how lame of a writer Bill is, tells him he doesn’t write his material anyway, reminds him to write a decent fucking ending before daring to criticize anyone, gets kicked in the leg for it.

And then later, when they’ve had a drink or two, Bill tells Richie that if he needs anything, he just needs to ring him and he’ll be there. He asks how Richie’s doing, really, tries to fish out for some answer to a silent why have you been looking so miserable?, or a why won’t you talk to us? And Richie looks away from Bill’s eyes and says “I’m fine, Billy, I don’t see why you’re all so worried about me,” and for a second, he means it.

This time, Bill takes him at some Chinese place (“no, dude, I haven’t been able to look at a fortune cookie since Derry either, but that’s precisely why we’re going, because I don’t wanna live the rest of my life scared of East Asian cuisine,”). For the first time, he brings his wife, too.

Richie knows Audra because she’s been in each of the five adaptations of Bill’s books since the first one, The Glowing ; looking back at it, it’s probably not entirely a coincidence that Richie has seen all of the movies in theaters, even if he’s never been a huge fan of horror. Audra is lovely, which is somehow a relief considering who Eddie and Bev ended up with as adults. She only had a secondary role in The Glowing, which was when Bill and her met, she tells Richie ; by the time another adaptation got scheduled three years later, Audra had gotten everyone’s attention thanks to that boring ass historical drama with Adam Driver.

“I’d never have taken you for a film lover,” she tells Richie somewhere between getting their drinks and ordering the meals. “I mean, not that kind of films anyway.”

“The smart kind of film?” Richie says, and Audra gives him a little embarrassed smile. Bill is smiling, too, definitely not embarrassed. “Oh, don’t worry,” Richie says. “I can’t blame you. I haven’t exactly had a brilliant journey as an actor. I mean, I did voice act for that part in the movie where a kid spends two hours figuring out to bottle people’s farts, but that was like, the peak of my career.”

Bill and Audra both crack up a little. “Do I want to see that one?” Bill says.

“You haven’t watched my entire filmography yet?” Richie says. “Jeez, talk about a best friend.”

“Bill was right, though,” Audra says. “You’re much funnier in person.”

Richie’s eyebrows quirk up. “Wait, he actually admitted I was funny? The laws of my universe are shattered, Big Bill. Who’s next? Eddie?”

Later, Richie gets home having decided he’s going to trash himself to sleep. He hasn’t had enough at the restaurant, and although it was a good evening, one of the nicest in a while, the perspective of falling asleep sober (or almost) makes him want to throw himself out of a window.

He bangs the door behind him when he gets out of his car. The keys to his house are lost somewhere in the pocket of his leather jacket, drowning under a pile of stuff that have been there for years since he got the damn thing ; cinema tickets and plastic wraps and a somewhat valuable piece of jewelry he once won gambling with a shady yet weirdly nice guy one of the only times Richie dared to set foot in a gay bar. He eventually finds the keys — they come out with the butt of a cigarette he can’t remember having put there, and as he gets a proper hold on them, Richie notices his neighbour’s big, orange cat looking at him from the other side of the road.

“I’d blame you for judging me,” Richie mutters in the cat’s direction, “but I guess I’m not really in the right position to do that, right?”

The cat, being a cat, doesn’t say shit.

“Yeah, whatever,” Richie says.

It’s only when he starts walking towards the door that he notices.

There is someone sitting next to a massive suitcase on the porch of the front door. The phone they’re holding is lighting his face — it only takes Richie half a second to recognize them. Him.

“Eddie?” Richie says.

Eddie raises his head, but he doesn’t seem surprised — like he’d heard him before, which he probably had, like he was just waiting for him to come this way and pretending to be on his phone in the meantime. That sounds like him. That’s something he’d have done if they were kids, if they’d had phones back then.

“Here you fucking are,” Eddie says as he gets up. “I’ve been trying to call you all evening, dude! Why the fuck weren’t you answering?”

“I forgot to charge my phone and I went out with Bill,” Richie says. And then — “What are you doing here?”

They haven’t seen each other in the six months that have followed Derry. They’ve barely texted outside of the groupchat, too ; not like Richie doesn’t answer that much on there anyway.

He thinks about Eddie, of course. It’s hard to avoid. Most of the time, he wakes up feeling like he’s still drenched in Eddie’s blood — most of the time, he finds himself drunk out of his mind on his couch at four in the morning, scrolling through miles worth of messages he didn’t answer, smiling at the shit Eddie says and at the old pictures of their kid selves that Mike sent before he left Derry for good. He thinks about Eddie when he’s drunk and he thinks about him when he isn’t.

But right now, it makes no sense that Eddie is here, really, because it’s what, almost midnight, and Eddie should be in New York where he fucking lives, and yet. Yet —

Here he is. Taking Richie’s breath away.

“I’m —” Eddie starts, looking away. “Look, I should have asked you before coming, I’m sorry, I really — I didn’t know what else to do. Can we —” He pauses. “Can I come inside? I’ll explain, I just —” Another pause. “Or I can find a hotel and leave, I shouldn’t —”

“Dude, no,” Richie says. “Don’t leave, are you crazy? It’s the middle of the night.” “Get that ridiculously massive suitcase of yours and come in. I’m impressed that you managed to carry all of that by yourself, Spaghetti.”

“Fuck you, Richie,” Eddie says as he steps into Richie’s house, and Richie smiles.

 


 

“So this lobsterman — yes, it’s a thing,” Richie starts. “This lobsterman, he goes — lobstering, I guess, and he finds a lobster that kind of looks like his wife, somehow, though I don’t know how a lobster can look like a woman, or a human being in general, but I don’t know, I guess it had hair or like, nice curves —”

“The point, Richie, for fuck’s sake,” Eddie snaps.

“Yeah, no one wants to hear about the nice curves of a lobster anyway,” Bill says as he opens another beer. Richie managed to get them at the only shop in town that doesn’t take IDs as long as you at least kind of look older than you actually are. Richie doesn’t, not really — he does have the face of a newly fifteen years old boy, but he’s tall and it does the trick, with the shop new enough for the owner not to know him.

“Alright, jeez,” Richie says. “Y’all can’t appreciate me trying to create an atmosphere, too bad for you.”

“How the fuck is that creating an atmosphere?” Eddie says, eyes rolling and palms facing the sky.

Richie takes a sip from his beer. “So, the lobster-guy gets this lobster that looks like his woman,” he goes. “And he shows it to the wife, who apparently finds it hilarious and like, surprisingly, doesn’t take it the wrong way — she’s apparently totally ok with the fact that she looks like a fucking lobster, which like, ok, cool. And so they eat the lobster. They boil it and they twist off the claws and rip off the legs and they eat it. And it’s some very fucking delicious lobster — it’s like, the best lobster of these poor fuckers’s lives. And then, once they’re done, the lobsterman turns to his wife —” Richie interrupts himself to burp, because he’s feeling up the beer suddenly, and he can hear Eddie mutter Jesus Christ next to him, “and he sees that she’s turned into a lobster. All of a sudden. No human parts left. She’s just a lobster now.” He grabs his beer and downs it.

“That’s all?” Mike asks with intrigued eyes genuine curiousness in his voice.

“Apparently they had a lot of children and lived happily ever after that,” Richie says. He grabs another beer from where they’ve left them, not too far away from where they’re sitting but far enough from their little fire for the cans to stay more or less fresh. He gets one for Ben, too, who politely thanks him once it’s in his hand.

“Wait, wait, wait,” Stan says, waving his finger in Richie’s direction, cheeks red from being drunk. “So that means the guy fucked his wife after she turned into a lobster?”

“Well, I don’t know the details, Staniel, but yes, I believe it is what the legend says,” Richie says.

“That’s bullshit,” Stan says. “You can’t — you can’t fuck a lobster!”

“I didn’t say it was true, dude,” Richie. “That’s just a story my cousin from Deer Isle told me. Apparently the ghost of the lobster guy and his lobster wife still live in their cabin up there. It’s local lore.”

“It’s stupid,” Eddie says. “It’s the lamest horror story I’ve ever heard. It’s not even a horror story.”

“It wasn’t very scary,” Ben admits.

“It was bullshit, Stan says.

“That’s because you guys have no sense of avant-garde,” Richie says. “Bizarrz is the new spooky. Read a book.”

“I do read books, Richie, they’re just not about lobstermen that fuck their lobster wives,” Eddie snaps.

“Alright, whose turn is it?” Bill says. “Ben?”

“Ah! Haystack!” Richie exclaims. “I was waiting for your part!”

And it’s true. Where Bill is the best of them when it comes to making a bunch words morph into something beautiful on paper, Ben is probably the best narrator when it comes to telling stories out loud. Not because Bill has a stutter (it’s actually been a lot better for a while now, and whenever it happens, it never stops the other Losers from listening to him with attention), but Ben just has this sort of poetry to his voice.

“Yeah, me too, mostly so we could finally hear a proper good story instead of your nonsense,” Eddie says. He reaches to take Richie’s beer from his hands, and their fingers brush.

“Alright,” Ben says, getting up on his feet. “This only works if you lay down and close your eyes.”

They lay on the ground then. The wet grass tickles Richie’s legs and arms where it meets the skin, and when Eddie finds a good position, their calves touch.

“See, that’s what creating an atmosphere actually is,” Eddie mutters in Richie’s direction. “Not talking about lobster boobs.”

“Christ, I get it, you didn’t like the story,” Richie says. “Can we move on now?”

“You did this to yourself, man,” Eddie says, smiling in the corner of Richie’s eye. “Just come up with something better next time.”

I didn’t come up with it, I told you, my cousin from Deer I—”

“God, shut up,” Richie hears Stan say. “Just stop with the bickering and shut up so we can listen to an actual scary story.”

“Alright,” Ben says again. “You’re all ready? Eyes closed?”

“Yup,” Bill says, and since no one else says anything, Ben takes it as a general yes.

Richie’s eyes aren’t closed, though. Ben either doesn’t notice or decides not to call him out on it, because he still starts telling the story. Richie doesn’t listen, can’t listen.

Eddie’s leg is still resting against his, soft hair brushing against his skin, and Richie turns his head just enough to see Eddie. Their faces are so close he could count his eyelashes, touch his freckles. He could lean in and kiss the bridge of his nose, the top of his forehead, the corner of his mouth.

And Richie shouldn’t do this, because it’s not fair. He has no right to be looking at Eddie like that. Maybe he is starting to get a little bit drunk, but although he tries his best most of the time, he doesn’t need alcohol to want Eddie. That’s just a truth, something that makes him.

I love him, Richie thinks like he rarely allows himself to. I’m in love with him, and I’m gonna be in love with him for the rest of my life.

Someday, Eddie will find a girl who will care about him maybe half as much as Richie does. They’ll be happy, and Richie will be happy too, sincerely. They’re best friends, and Eddie deserves to have someone good in his life, so Richie will be happy. He’ll come up with an embarrassing speech as Eddie’s best man, if Eddie lets him be that. He’ll watch them kiss and won’t think that could be me, I wish that was me, because it could never be. And it won’t be so bad, Richie thinks, because thinking about him that way is off-limits, but having him in his life is allowed, and it’s enough.
It’s enough.

Eddie opens his eyes.

“What the fuck are you looking at?” he whispers, as low as he can so he doesn’t interrupt Ben.

You, Richie almost, almost says. I’m always looking at you.

“Close your eyes, you dumbass,” Eddie says.

And Richie does. He closes his eyes. I love him, he thinks. It’s enough.

Ben is talking about a girl lost in the woods when Richie starts to listen. Eddie’s leg is still resting against his.

It’s enough.


 

“Thanks,” Eddie says, grabbing the glass Richie hands him. He takes a sip. “This is disgusting,” he says.

“It’s twenty-five years old bourbon,” Richie says. That doesn’t stop him from downing his own glass, leaving no time for degustation. The bottle is a gift — he doesn’t remember who from. “Not my fault you don’t have any class.”

“Oh, that’s so fucking rich,” Eddie says. “Richie Tozier talking about class.” He does finish his glass too, though, disgusting or not.

“You can, uh, sit, you know,” Richie says, like he’s a teenager waiting for his parents to drop him and his date at the school prom.

Eddie doesn’t sit.

Instead, he says: “I got a divorce.”

Richie blinks at him. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, I, uh — I know that.” Eddie’s looking at the floor, his hand a death grip on his glass. “Congratulations again,” Richie says.

“I know you’re thinking about another joke about how it was time I stopped fucking my literal mother,” Eddie says, “but if you say it, you should know that I’m probably going to kill you.”

And Richie wants to say are you ok? and does she just look like her or did she act like her, too? and it’s not your fault, you had forgotten, people do that, you know, repeating patterns, it’s something you do when you’re traumatized and I’m so proud of you for leaving, I’m so proud of you and you can talk to me, I’ll listen, I’ll always listen.

“It was time you stopped fucking your literal mother,” Richie says.

Eddie kicks him in the leg. “Fuck you,” he says. “I can’t believe I came to you, I should have known you’d be like this —”

“Sorry, sorry,” Richie says.

Sorry. It’s the only way I know. People think I have no filter and just say whatever’s on my mind twenty-four seven, but it’s not true it’s just because I’m good at what I do.

“So,” Richie says, then. “You wanna stay here tonight?” He gestures towards the suitcase — he already knows the answer.

Eddie sighs. “If you don’t mind, that’d, uh,” he says. “That’d be great. I thought about going to the others too, but Bill’s married and I didn’t want to have to hear Ben and Bev have sex either. And Mike’s away.”

“It’s ok, man,” Richie says. “No problem.”

“I just — I really needed to get away,” Eddie says. “I’ll stay in a hotel tomorrow.”

“You can stay,” Richie says before he can stop himself, and he hopes to God he doesn’t sound too desperate. He is good at what he does, good at pretending he doesn’t give a shit about anything, but this is Eddie. “You don’t have to go to a hotel, dude, I mean — if you’d prefer, I’d understand,” he says. “But as long as I’m concerned, you can stay here as long as you need to to get back on your feet, alright? I assure you that la Casa de Tozier is cheaper than any hotel you’ll find in LA — and by cheaper, I mean zero dollars. That’s how cheap it is.”

“That’s — that’s very nice, Rich,” Eddie says. His arms are crossed against his chest now. He’s still holding his half empty glass. “I can’t ask you that.”

“Good think you’re not asking, then,” Richie says. “I’m offering.”

Richie actually is the one who’s asking, really. And Eddie’s right, maybe he shouldn’t, because it’s selfish to want Eddie close to him when he’s so fucked up, it’s selfish to want him at all.

“I have a guest room,” he says anyway.

Eddie considers it. “It won’t be for long,” he says.

“I told you, bud,” Richie says. He’s already lifting himself up from where he was leaning against the countertop, emptying his glass then picking Eddie’s suitcase up to start walking towards the room. “You can stay for as long as you need.”

“But it won’t be for long,” Eddie repeats as he follows him. “And I can carry my stuff on my own, Rich — put that down.”

“Nah, can’t do that,” Richie says. “I’m a gentleman, my good sir. If I let a fine lady like you carry such heavy luggage they’ll revoke my title.”

“You’re so fucking annoying,” Eddie says.

And really, even with his memory back, Richie hasn’t changed at all. Doesn’t think he ever will. It might even be worse, now that he remembers.

But it’s comforting, almost. That it is how it is. It is Richie talking, and talking, and talking, saying shit that means nothing to him to try getting Eddie’s attention. It is how it is, and it will always be — like a known truth, like a fundamental force of the universe.

“Come on,” Richie says as he opens the door to the guest room. “Let’s see if I have some clean bedsheets for your tidy ass.”

 


 

The thing is, Richie was always supposed to leave Derry.

He knew this at a very young age. When he was eight, he’d been called a lot of names he didn’t know the meaning of before he reached nine, where he learned those were words directed specifically at boys like him, and that they were bad, and that it was wrong.

And then when he was ten, they’d visited Richie’s aunt in San Francisco, and that’s Richie had known he wanted to leave. He’d gushed about leaving for California when he’d grow up, and his mom had smiled, scratching his hair, warning him about how hot it would get there in the summer, how inconvenient it could be for him, who didn’t like the heat. But he hadn’t cared, then. Let the sun burn his skin off, let him melt on the floor as he waits for the days to pass every summer. He would graduate highschool and then leave for San Francisco, or Los Angeles, or San Diego, and things would be better there. Looking back at it, California was really just the first somewhat realistic destination he’d encountered, but he could have gone anywhere and it still would have been better than Derry.

And as Richie grew up, details would keep adding to the fantasy, changing it into an idealistic plan. He would take Eddie and Bill and Stan and Mike and Ben and Bev, and they would rent a big apartment that would kind of look like Richie’s aunt had in his memory — with a funky carpet and bead curtains as a door to the kitchen and enough room to put all their comic books and games. Bev would make them clothes, Ben would improve the place. They would have a garden, or a balcony, and Mike would teach them how to grow vegetables that Eddie would cook, making them taste good. They would put seeds on the balcony, too, and Stan could take pictures of the birds. Bill would get published. Richie would find a job on the radio. They would be happy.

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.

He wasn’t supposed to leave before before the others. Neither were Bev and Bill, but Richie was going to fix it ; he was going to leave at the same time as the remaining Losers and they’d look for Bev and Bill when they’d have settled down.

But Richie’s dad wasn’t supposed to find a new, better job in Los Angeles.

“Didn’t you always want to go to California?” his mom says when Richie starts yelling that he doesn’t want to go, and no, no, no, not like this. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.

He tells Eddie first.

“When are you leaving?” Eddie asks. They’re in his room and they have to be quiet — Eddie’s mom is still in the living room watching TV downstairs, and Richie is out of breath from running there and climbing the wall to Eddie’s window.

“End of June,” Richie says. It’s mid-March and he’s got three months and a half to bury the stupid dreams he never even talked about with the Losers except in jokes. It would never have happened anyway, would it?

“How long have you known?” Eddie says. He’s looking down at his crossed legs on the bed, fidgeting with the hem of his faded yellow sweater.

“My dad literally told me tonight,” Richie says. “I had no idea, dude, I — I wouldn’t have kept it from you. I mean, look at me — I just fucking ran to your house because I couldn’t —”

He doesn’t finish his sentence. Doesn’t need to.

“Fuck,” Eddie says. His voice is tearing up a little, and Richie hates it, hates it, hates it.

“Hey,” Richie says, looking up at Eddie’s face. He doesn’t trust himself not to take Eddie’s hands in his if he keeps looking at them. “Let’s make an oath, yeah?”

Eddie looks up at him, too. “What?”

“Yeah,” Richie says. “We have less than two more years until high school is over — that’s not that much, right? Let’s make a pact and say we’ll go to college together. You’ve always wanted to go to UCLA too anyway, right? Plus, my grandma still lives here and she’s too fucking old to travel across the country, so I’ll still be coming here to visit her and we can see each other then until you get to leave too, right?”

Eddie looks away from him. Richie sees the tears agglomerating at the corner of his eyes.

“Hey,” Richie says.

He hugs him. It’s an awkward position, because their legs are in the way and they’re still sitting pretty much straight, but Eddie buries his face in the crook of Richie’s shoulder and it’s the end of Richie’s composure, the end of his pretending any of this is ok. He claws at Eddie’s sweater, then, buries his nose in it, memorizing the smell, and starts crying too.

He’s been wanting to hug Eddie for most of his life, and they’ve done it a bunch of times even when they got at an age where they weren’t supposed to anymore, but he’s never wanted it like this, never as a goodbye. Fuck, he can’t believe he has to tell him goodbye.

“Hey,” Richie says again, wiping his nose with the back of his hand. They’re still tangled up in each other as he speaks. “I’m serious, though,” he says. “We can do that. Go to the same college. It’s not for now, but it’ll be worth the wait.”

They part away slowly. Eddie’s hands remains on Richie’s arms.

“Yeah,” Eddie says. “My mom would never let me leave the state, though.”

“Fuck your mom,” Richie says. And then, because it’s him: “Oh, wait. I already did.”

Eddie slaps the back of his head. “Fuck you,” he says, and he’s smiling, but it’s bittersweet.

Later, when they’re laying down under the covers, Richie tells him about the dream flat in California. He keeps his eyes closed the entire time. He doesn’t think he can bear spilling his guts on the floor while looking at Eddie in the eyes.

“That sounds nice,” Eddie says in the dark, listening to Richie’s tales about an imaginary dog they’d all adopt together and the big cage Ben would build in case Stan wanted to have parrots and the ways Richie would teach them to say fuck if they were talking ones.

“Richie,” Eddie says.

“Yeah?” Richie says.

“Open your eyes.”

And Richie does.

Eddie’s hair has gotten a bit longer over winter, strands curling up on his forehead. His eyes are dark and full of intent, his face serious.

“Don’t you forget about me,” Eddie says.

Richie almost laughs, then, because it’s ridiculous. Sometimes he thinks Eddie is part of his core — or his feelings for him are, at least. Taking them away from him would be equivalent to undoing him as a human, stripping him of what makes him a person. He could not see Eddie for twenty years and still be in love with him, because that’s just who he is.

“As if I could,” Richie says.

 


 

“Jesus fuck, your fridge’s emptier than your brain,” Eddie says the next morning as Richie comes down the stairs. “I didn’t think that was possible.”

“Good morning to you too, Eds,” Richie says. “Did my princess have a good night?”

“It was fine,” Eddie snaps. “How do you live, dude? Have you even been eating these last days?”

“Well, you haven’t checked my freezer yet,” Richie says, joining Eddie in front of the fridge to open the top part where the freezer is. “Ta-dah”, he says. “Ali Baba’s cave.”

The look Eddie gives him is serious, and for a second, Richie seriously considers backing off from his jokes and tell him that ok, he’s going to start eating better, he promises, only if Eddie stops looking at him like that.

“You can’t live off frozen pizza, Rich,” Eddie says. There’s no disdain in his voice, just concern, and that somehow makes it worse.

“I’ll have the groceries done today,” Richie says. “Pinky promise. You don’t have to worry, Spaghetti.”

Eddie sighs. “Whatever,” he says. “Can I take a shower? I told Bill he was in town and he wants to meet for lunch. You’re invited too, by the way.”

“Oh,” Richie says. “Thank you, but I think I’ll pass. Lots of things to do today. I saw Bill yesterday anyway. He won’t miss me.”

“Oh yeah?” Eddie says. “What do you have to do?”

Drinking. Self-loathing. Thinking about everything that could have gone better. “My agent wants to meet to talk about what I’m gonna do next,” he lies. It’s not really a lie, though — Steve probably wants to meet to talk about what he’s gonna do next. He’s begging for it, actually. Two months have passed since Derry, and there are very little days where he hasn’t sent Richie texts about how he needed to put his shit together, suggesting crazy shit like starting a YouTube channel or starring in some dickhead’s Netflix show to get his career back on track. “And doing the groceries,” Richie says.

“You’re actually doing the groceries?” Eddie asks.

“I’m a man of honor, my sweet Eds.”

Eddie rolls his eyes. “I’m gonna take that shower,” he says. “Thank you.”

“For what?” Richie says. “Buying food?”

“Letting me stay over,” Eddie says. “But that, too. I’ll pay you back.”

Eddie leaves for the bathroom, then. Richie opens the fridge ; Eddie’s right. There’s nothing there except a bottle of ketchup, a carton of expired milk, an unopened pack of industrial cheddar cheese and a jar of pickles.

He considers opening a beer. It’s only eleven, but he’s done worse — it’s close enough to noon for it to be acceptable, surely.

He’s got the bottle in his hand when he hears the water starting to run in the shower. He thinks about Eddie in the shower, washing with water that’s probably way too hot like he always liked to. Mostly, he thinks about Eddie staying here, for an unknown period of time — Eddie waking up to an empty fridge, or finding him passed out on the couch in the middle of the afternoon when he comes back from his lunch with Bill — Eddie seeing him like this, miserable and destroying his own life, bit by bit.

He puts the beer down.

Richie gets in the bathroom when Eddie’s gone. It’s still hot and foggy from Eddie being there before. He wonders, for a split second, what his body looks like now. It’s risky going there. Dangerous.

He didn’t shower yesterday, which is embarrassing, but again — he’s done worse than a one day streak in the last weeks — months — years. He gets out of the house before having lunch, then, and without drinking either. There’s a Whole Foods not that far away. He only knows it’s there because it’s two streets away from a venue he performed at on his three last tours and Steve decides he’s a health guru every few months before giving up — the first time Richie had performed there, before he had the house, Steve had forced him into the store three hours before the show, rambling about how he needed to have some fibers in his body or he was gonna collapse, because Richie had only had two cups of coffee and a glass of scotch that day and he was saying he couldn’t go on stage. Steve and Eddie would probably get along, Richie thinks. That, or they’d tear each other apart in a span of five minutes.

He buys fruits and vegetables, tomatoes and oranges and bananas, broccoli and carrots and spinach and zucchini, all things he hasn’t bought to cook for himself in a decade. His mother used to grow veggies in the yard, and Richie remembers Eddie wanting to get some of them one summer, remembers him cooking in Richie parents’s kitchen while they weren’t there, trying out different spices and seasoning and doing his best to do something good, something his mother would never let him do. He buys gluten-free pasta, even though he’s pretty sure Eddie’s not really allergic to gluten, and then he buys rice and cereals and fresh bottles of milk, some of them half-whole and the others soy, because he isn’t sure.

Eddie comes back less than five minutes after Richie. This has taken a lot longer than he’d planned, he thinks. He didn’t look at the hour before leaving.

“Holy shit,” Eddie says. “You weren’t kidding.”

They get to it, though. Eddie helps him store the food and they fill the fridge and cupboards little by little, milk carton by milk carton, tomato by tomato.

“Did you buy gluten-free pasta for me?” Eddie says, frowning as he’s holding out the pack at eye level.

“Yeah?” Richie says, raising an eyebrow. “For who else would I buy gluten-free pasta? I wouldn’t eat that shit willingly, you know.”

Eddie looks up at Richie, and for a second Richie thinks Eddie is about to go off on a rant about how he should eat them instead of regular pasta because gluten is bad for you and it clogs your blood vessels or whatever bullshit.

But Eddie says nothing. He looks at him with doe eyes and a confused expressions, lips parted slightly, and Richie thinks I’m gonna make a mistake, thinks I’m gonna kiss him. He doesn’t, of course. He’s made mistakes like this before and he knows better than to repeat them.

The moment is gone, anyway. Eddie goes back to emptying the bags, and they do that until they’re done, not looking at each other or touching.

“I can make dinner tonight,” Eddie says when they’re finished.

“You don’t have to,” Richie says.

“Oh, but I do,” Eddie says. “I don’t trust you with actual food. When was the last time you’ve actually cooked something?”

Richie doesn’t answer.

“That’s what I thought,” Eddie says.


 

Richie is still packing on the day they leave.

It’s not much, and it takes him less than an hour to finish up, but it annoys the shit out of his mom, who keeps showing up in his room just to tell him he’s had three months to do it, and that he didn’t make any effort to make this easier, and to hurry up, hurry up. The earlier they’d leave, the sooner they could stop to have dinner and sleep. It’s going to be a four days ride and Richie already wants to off himself, thinking about the perspective of spending that much time in a car with his parents and nothing to do but play on his GameBoy until the battery dies and read the books Mike gave him to avoid talking to his parents (“you’ll give them back to me when you come back,” he’d said, smile bright and eyes shining, and Richie had hugged him for longer than it was acceptable but it was Mike, and it was the Losers, and they have never been anywhere near acceptable to anyone anyway).

He gets down with the last box and decides he might as well get out in the garden and join the car from there. His mom’s gonna get pissy about it, but she’s pissy already, and a few minutes more won’t change anything to her and his dad’s plans. It’s not his fault they’ve decided to make it a road trip instead of just letting the moving company handle their stuff and take the plane like anyone in their right mind would.

He feels the warm summer air brush his legs as he gets outside and looks at the green grass stretching in front of him. It was only a year ago that they sat down at the back of this same garden, drinking beers they were too young to drink, telling stories that would never be as scary as theirs.

Here it is. The last time he will be standing here, the end of what the others and him have been building over the years. He’d been dumb to think all of them could stay together forever, even after Bev, then Bill, had left. He’s probably dumb to believe Eddie and him are going to end up in the same college, too. Maybe he can stand spending two years away from him, from them, if he holds on to that.

“Hey,” he hears behind him.

Richie almost drops the cardboard box he’s holding when he turns around and sees Eddie, out of breath and holding a kraft envelope in one of his hands.

“Your mom told me I could get in by the backyard door,” he explains as he walks towards Richie.

They saw each other last night for what Richie thought was the last time, and he’s been preparing himself to the fact he’s not going to be seeing Eddie until at least next Christmas — he’s tried to memorize his face, the sound of his voice, of his laugh, to take everything purely him in before he can’t anymore.

“What are you doing here?” Richie says. He’s still holding the box against his chest. It was the hardest one to pack, this box. It’s full of all things Losers — a short story Bill wrote for him for his fourteenth birthday, an old t-shirt of Ben’s that he didn’t wear anymore and gave Richie because he’d once said it was lit, one of the six mixtapes Bev had made for each of them right before she left, the wackiest patterned hawaiian shirt Eddie had managed to find for the Secret Santa they did last year. All these little memories, all these pieces of them, scattered through time but kept in the same space within the cardboard box, next to Richie’s heart.

Eddie holds out the envelope. “I wanted to give you this,” he says.

Richie takes it, pressing the box a little bit more against his chest so it doesn’t fall out now that he’s holding it with only one arm. “What is it?”

“You’ll see when you open it,” Eddie says. “Do it when you’re in the car.”

“Can’t I open it now?” Richie says.

Eddie raises his brows. “I, uh,” he says. “Yeah. I guess you could.”

Richie puts the cardboard box down on the grass. He hopes Eddie can’t tell his hands are shaking when he opens the envelope.

It’s a calendar. The boxes are very tiny and don’t have enough space to have anything written in them, just big enough for the numbers Eddie’s already written in black sharpie. He’s taped three sheets of paper together to have enough room for every month he wanted to fit there. It goes from today to September 1994 — just a little bit more than two years from now.

He looks down at the end of the last page. September first is marked down in red, and next to the box, in the remaining space, Eddie’s written UCLA in bold letters.

“I don’t know when the classes will begin, so I just stopped at September first, like I’m pretty sure it will be September,” Eddie says. He’s speaking fast, and when Richie looks up at him, Eddie’s looking at the ground.

“I made the same one for myself,” he says. “So we can both cross the days as they pass and feel closer to when we go to college.”

Richie looks down again, staring at the paper he’s holding in his hands, still shaking. Everything about the calendar screams Eddie, from the straight lined, even boxes that represent the days to his messy handwriting and the idea in itself.

“You don’t have to like it,” Eddie says, still looking away. “I know you’re probably gonna say something about how fucking cheesy I’m being, I’m just — I wanted you to have something to remind you of when we’ll see each other again.”

“It’s not cheesy,” Richie says. He folds the paper carefully, exactly as it was before, following the creases, and puts it back in the envelope. And it’s like he’s a child collecting clam shells or shiny rocks and calling it a treasure, finding the greatest value in things that aren’t supposed to have any. He’s holding three pieces of paper taped together in a kraft envelope, and it’s the most precious thing he’s ever had in his hands.

“It’s great,” he says. “I love it.”

Eddie looks at him, then. “You do?” he says.

“Yes,” Richie says. “I really, really do.”

A wasp passes and lands on the back of Eddie’s hand. Eddie yells, obviously. “Get it off me!” he says. “Fucking get it off me!”

The wasp is gone before Richie can even think about doing anything, though. Eddie just has to quickly wave his arms a couple of times, and it’s disappeared. He’s still breathing hard after, holding out his hand in front of him, checking if there’s anything wrong with it. Richie says he’d feel it if he’d been bitten — Eddie says you can’t be too sure.

Richie can’t really help what happens after, honestly. It’s the calendar, and the wasp, and Eddie, and Eddie, and Eddie, and it just happens.

He thinks I’m gonna kiss him and he does, easy as if he hadn’t been holding back for six or sixteen years.

He kisses him, bending over a little so he can do it properly, taking Eddie’s face between his hands, and it’s everything and nothing like he thought it would ever be. Eddie gets on the tip of his toes and clutches at Richie’s shirt, urging him forward, and holy shit, Richie thinks, holy fucking shit. He’s not pushing me away.

But then Eddie does. He pushes Richie away, punching himself out of his grip, and looks up at Richie with scared eyes.

“I have to go,” he says, voice trembling. “I have to go, my mom will — I have to —”

Richie doesn’t hear the wasp flying back to Eddie, doesn’t see it. He just hears Eddie scream, and urges towards him.

“Are you ok?” Richie says.

“Yeah — no, Jesus,” Eddie says. “The little shit. It bit me,” he says. “Fuck. It fucking hurts.” Richie reaches for Eddie’s arm close to where his hold hand is covering the bite. “Don’t touch me,” Eddie says.

“Eds, please,” Richie says. “Pour some cold water on it at least.”

“I have to go, my mom, fuck —” Eddie says. “Have a safe ride, ok? I have to go.”

After he’s gone Richie stays standing in the garden for a while, with the cardboard box at his feet, the envelope still in his hand, and the new knowledge that he’s just ruined his friendship with the person he loves the most in the entire world.

He looks down at the envelope — the gift Eddie made for him, probably spending too much of his night making it. A teardrop falls over it — two. He wipes his eyes with the back of his hand, pushing his glasses away.

“Aw, honey,” his mom says when he joins her at the car, a few minutes later. He must look really miserable, because she’s gone from pissed at him for taking so much time to putting a hand over his shoulder, rubbing the back of his neck in a comforting gesture as he puts the box in the trunk. “I know goodbyes are hard. You’ll see each other again in not too long, I promise. We’re coming back in December, remember?” The trunk closes with a big, banging noise. “It’s not like a friendship like yours is going to die off that easily.”

When they’re all sitting in the car and ready to go, Richie takes his glasses off as his dad starts driving, leaning on the headrest. The houses and fields and trees become a blurry mess, patches of greyish colors in this ugly June. He can still feel an ache in the palm of his hands where they’d been on Eddie’s face.

If only his mom knew. If she knew he’d just blown his chance at ever being friends with Eddie by doing the stupidest thing he could have pulled off, even for him. If she knew he’d just broken everything just because he couldn’t hold himself back, because he’s everything everyone has said about him and he’s just proven it. He’s ruined his last moment with Eddie, staining it forever for the both of them, and he can’t do anything about it.

Don’t you forget about me, Eddie had said, and Richie, for a split second and for the first time in the world, wishes he could.

 


 

So. Here’s how it goes.

  1. Eddie stays at Richie’s place. It’s a situation Eddie sees as something to solve at first, until Richie tells him he wouldn’t mind a roommate, because the house’s too big for one and he gets bored anyway. Eddie doesn’t mention looking for somewhere else after that.

  2. During the three months that follow, Richie learns a lot of things about Eddie.

  3. He learns that Eddie likes to cook, actually likes it — and he does it well, too. He was already good at it when he was a kid — sometimes they all would find themselves at Bill’s or Richie’s or Ben’s or Stan’s place with no parents in sight, house to themselves, and when they’d have finished emptying all the bags of chips and candies and cookies, still hungry because none of these things had any nutritional value, Eddie would get up, find whatever scraps he could in the kitchen and make something delicious out of it. Richie still thinks of the omelet Eddie made him the first time they’d gotten high together as the best meal of his life — but everything Eddie makes now comes pretty fucking close too. He insists on cooking everytime they’re both home. “Because I don’t trust you,” he says. “For letting me stay there,” he says, too. Richie doesn’t complain.

  4. He learns that Eddie is fit, too, and again, he always kind of was — Richie just wasn’t necessarily ready for him to be that jacked at forty fucking years old, and fuck if that isn’t unfair. Eddie goes for runs in the morning and at the gym twice a week. He also asks Richie if he can swim in his pool, but Richie doesn’t go with him when he does.

  5. (He doesn’t know if he can help wanting Eddie if he gets in a position where they’re half-naked in the same pool.)

  6. (He can’t help wanting Eddie most of the time either, but he can try.)

  7. He learns that Eddie likes to drive, which is a surprising thing. They’ve been in the same car a bunch of times by now, for groceries or to meet up with Bill or to go to the movies, and Eddie always drives. “It relaxes me,” he says, and Richie laughs because Eddie spends most of the time yelling at people on the road that can’t hear him through the glass, or complaining about the traffic, or pointing out LA’s stupidly specific driving rules and overall looking like a madman with a steering wheel in his hands. But he’s precise and careful and focused, and in the end, he does look more relaxed when he does — the Eddie Kaspbrak version of relaxed, anyway.

  8. Mostly, he learns that Eddie is the same than he was twenty-four, twenty-seven, twenty million years ago. He’s intense and loud and fast-paced, he’s all the rough edges and soft spots that Richie fell in love thirty years before. He still moves his hands way too fast around his face when he gets upset about something, still calls Richie a dickhead and a dumbass and a fucklord, still has moments where he can’t help but laugh at Richie’s jokes, still bends his head forwards to hide when he does. And Richie’s the same, too — still picking at him, still feeling proud whenever he makes him smile. He can’t blame him.

  9. But mostly, mostly, he learns that there is an Eddie he didn’t know, an Eddie he didn’t see grow. Richie knew that, because it’s obvious — despite having being stuck in a twenty-seven years long loop of repression and trauma, they all had to grow up, to some extent. They all had to learn to pay their taxes, they all made their ways through relationships and jobs and life. Richie changed. Eddie changed. He’s the same, but he’s also grown. Richie just hadn’t paused to think about it. He wasn’t ready for the possibility of more things to adore about Eddie.

  10. And so, Richie falls in love with him, again. He didn’t know that was possible — didn’t know he could possibly love Eddie more than he always did, and yet, he does.

 


 

It’s about half past noon on a Tuesday when Richie gets down the stairs to Eddie wearing a suit in his kitchen.

“I got a job interview,” Eddie says before he can ask. He’s clean shaven, hair combed back, and he’s buttering a toast with fucking margarine.

“That’s — god, Eds, that’s great!” Richie says. “I hope you’re gonna get it. I know you’re gonna get it.”

“Yeah, we’ll see about that,” Eddie says.

“What job did you apply for?” Richie asks.

“Driver,” Eddie says. “I used to work for that really big company in New York that’s kind of Uber for celebrities and the guy sounded pretty positive, but — I don’t know.”

“Wait,” Richie says. He takes the second piece of bread in the toaster and opens the fridge to get butter — actual butter — and jam. “You’re telling me you traded, like, driving Michelle Obama to places for whatever the fuck risk analysis is? Wait — what was the name of your company? Shit, I wouldn’t even remember — maybe you drove me somewhere?”

“I think I’d have remembered it when I saw you in Derry,” Eddie says. “I’d have remembered you the second you’d have gotten into my car. Your buffoonery would have brought back all the memories all by itself. And I didn’t drive Michelle Obama, you idiot. Michelle Obama doesn’t use — shit — my tie’s wrong.”

“Don’t move,” Richie says, putting his toast down the counter and taking a step towards Eddie. He’s still holding his own buttered piece of bread as Richie puts his hands on his tie and takes an attempt at tightening it before deciding it’s better to redo the thing entirely.

“Thanks, uh — thank you,” Eddie says. Their faces are close. “I didn’t think you knew how to do this.”

“What can I say,” Richie says. “I’m full of surprises.”

He only knows how to tie a tie because of Stan. Before his Bar Mitzvah, back in ‘89, Richie had said something about having never really had to wear a suit before, or not recently enough that he could remember. Stan had been fucking outraged, and Richie didn’t really get it because they were thirteen and they weren’t supposed to know how to tie ties, but he’d still sat down and let Stan show him, complaining when he couldn’t get it right until he finally did. He always remembered how to do it, after. Stan taught him good.

“Here you are,” Richie says when he’s done. He tucks the tie under Eddie’s jacket. “All professional now.”

“I’m going to therapy,” Eddie blurts out. “I mean — I haven’t been yet, but I’ve booked an appointment for next Thursday.”

Richie looks up. Eddie doesn’t. “Eds, that’s — that’s fucking great,” Richie says. “That’s awesome.”

“Yeah,” Eddie says.

Richie doesn’t have to ask for what, because they’ve all been through what is probably the most traumatizing shit you could endure two times — not that it’s something they could talk about to any kind of therapist.

But it’s Eddie, and Richie knows him, knows what happened to him. Eddie, with his mom who wouldn’t let him go out so she could keep him close, who convinced him he was sick and fragile and weak so long ago that he never know how to function any other way. Eddie, with the inhaler he kept using even after It, even after he threw it away, even if he knew his asthma was bullshit, because it was the only thing he could cling to sometimes. Eddie, with his bottled-up fears, bottled-up rage, with his made-up allergies and not so made-up pills.

Eddie, with his new (almost) job and a shrink appointment.

Richie is so fucking happy for him.

“You should go too, you know,” Eddie says. “To therapy.”

Richie freezes in the middle of eating his toast.

“Nah, I’m good,” Richie says. “I don’t think I need it, y’know.”

“Richie,” Eddie says. “Everyone should go to therapy. Normal people with normal lives should go to therapy, just so they learn to sort their shit out and get to have even more normal lives. We almost got killed by a murder clown from space and lost a friend in the process — I think it’s safe to say we all need therapy.”

“I have a normal life now,” Richie says. “As far as semi-famous mediocre comedians go, I’m fine. It’s good you’re going, though — it’s good for you, because I know you’ve been trying to unpack all the shit with your mom by yourself, but it makes it easier talking to a professional, you know?”

“You never told me what it showed you,” Eddie says. “Pennywise.”

Richie freezes again.

You dying. Me dying, also alone and unloved.

“I’m sorry,” Eddie says. “I shouldn’t ask you this. It sucks.” He pauses then. “I’m gonna be late,” he says.

“You’re gonna do great,” Richie says as Eddie steps around the kitchen island and leaves the room, thanking him promptly.

Richie waits until he hears the door closing behind Eddie. He waits until he hears the engine of the car — his second car, the one that he lets Eddie borrow until he gets one of his own — roar away, until he can’t hear it anymore. And then he waits some more, eating up his buttered, jam-covered toast then deciding on putting it away instead, not hungry anymore. He watches his bare feet, pale against the dark grey ceramic, then up the ceiling, white, white, white.

He waits a surprisingly big amount of time, considering everything, and it’s only one in the afternoon when he opens the bottle, but he’s done worse, really. He’s been through all of his last tours with whiskey in his morning coffee and at least one drink before each show, then more after, taking drinks from almost everyone — almost friends, almost strangers, almost lovers. He’s wasted himself night after night, day after day.

This is nothing like it, he thinks. This is ok.

This is ok.

 


 

“Richie,” a voice says. “We’re here.”

Richie’s lashes stick together when he opens his eyes, his vision is foggy despite the fact he’s wearing his glasses.

He can still see ; his knees touching the driver’s seat, his skin showing through the hole in his jeans that his mom keeps insisting on fixin. He can see her on the passenger seat, fixing her makeup in the rear view mirror, then putting her blue coat on before she goes outside. He can see through the window — more snow that he thinks he’s ever seen, his grandma’s house that he didn’t even remember the shape or color of before right now. Derry.

He hadn’t even thought about Derry in months before his mom announced they were going back for Christmas. Derry, he had thought, testing it out in his mind. He’d said the name out loud, later, when he got to be alone in his room, just to feel the sound of it, trying to make sense of a word that had lost a little bit too much of its meaning. Derry.

His moms appears in his field. She knocks on the window, then opens the door herself.

“Come on,” she says. “We’re late already, and your grandma’s old. She should already have gone to bed.”

“Jeez, one second,” Richie says.

The cold bites him as he gets out of the rental car. It hits his knee especially because of the hole in his pants, and he stops himself from complaining about it before it’s too late — he will not let his mom sew it back. Let him freeze to death..

His head hurts. It always does whenever he falls asleep with a car — it’s worse than when he stays awake for some reason, and he always wakes up with the exacts symptoms of a hangover. This is worse than he’s ever felt in a while, though. Worse than the times he woke up after getting hammered with his classmate Ryan and his friends, and definitely worse than any of the times he fell asleep in a car.

“Here, have this,” Richie’s mom says, handing him his leather jacket. As soon as it’s in his hand, she proceeds to wrap Richie’s scarf around his neck.

“Mom,” Richie protests. “The house is literally right there.”

“Not a reason,” his mom says. “You’re used to Californian climate now — a few minutes underdressed outside in this weather and you could catch a cold.”

“Not by walking fifteen feet,” Richie says, putting the jacket on anyway. “Don’t be so controlling.”

She flattens the scarf against his chest, looking up at him with a soft smile — he’d caught up with her height a couple years ago, but he’s really taller now, in a way where she has to get on the tip of her toes when she wants to kiss him on the cheek.

“You’re right,” his mom says. “Let’s not be Sonia Kaspbrak about this. It’s still so cold, though — I’d already forgotten how cold Maine could get.”

Richie feels the hair on the back of his neck prickle where it’s covered by his scarf. “Who?” he says. His mom is walking towards the house — his dad is already there, waiting for them before he rings the bell. Richie gets his backpack from the car, slams the door, and runs two steps to catch up.

“Mh?” his mom says.

“Sonia Kaspbrak,” Richie says. “Who is she?”

“Oh,” his mom says. “You don’t remember her? She’s this woman who used to live down Campion Street — weren’t you close with her son Eddie?”

It hits Richie like a freight train, like the ground after a free fall. He stops walking. The world stops spinning.

Eddie, he thinks. How could I forget about Eddie?

“I don’t think they’ve moved,” his mom continues. “I don’t really see hermoving anywhere, to be honest — it really screwed her up, when her husband died. She was so overprotective of Eddie — didn’t you convince me to not ever tell her when Eddie was at our old house, because he always pretended he was going at the library? Don’t you reme—”

“I have to see him now,” Richie says bluntly.

His mom turns around, finally noticing that he’s stopped walking.

“Richie, honey,” she says. “It’s ten thirty. You can see him tomorrow all you want.”

“But I have to see him now,” Richie says, pleads, and he doesn’t even know why. His brain keeps flashing him pictures, like stills of a movie he hasn’t seen in forever. Tangled legs in a hammock too small for two people, even thirteen years old — wet hair after dunking each other down the quarry — lips crashing against lips in the saddest summer day in existence — a wasp — a bite — Eddie — Eddie.

Oh, god. Oh, fuck.

“I have to see him now,” Richie repeats.

His mom frowns. It’s more confused than angry — maybe a little impatient, too. “Tomorrow,” she says, and Richie knows it’s final. He wants to fight, he wants to scream, he wants to run away to Eddie’s house, and he knows he’d still know the way because it’s engraved in his bones. He’d forgotten until Eddie’s very existence until now and it still doesn’t make sense, but you can’t delete body memory. Richie could close his eyes now and start running and he’d always end up there.

For a brief moment, he considers doing it. His parents would kill him, but it doesn’t seem like the most important thing at the moment. But then — what would he do, then? He didn’t even remember Eddie before now. It doesn’t even make any sense.

“Come on, Richard,” his dad says, firm and impatient. “Don’t be a child and come over here. We’ve all had a long day.”

And when Richie finally crosses the few steps that separate him from the house, when his dad presses on the doorbell with an exhausted finally directed at Richie, when his grandmother opens the door and hug them one by one as they come inside, when he gets up his dad’s old room (in which he always used to sleep in whenever he’d come over for the weekend) after excusing himself and saying he was tired because of the road, it’s still playing in his head. The hammock, the quarry, the kiss — but also the the cigarettes, the clubhouse, the bike rides — and Eddie, and Bev, and Bill, and Mike, and Stan, and Ben. How could he forget?

Tomorrow, he thinks. He will have it all make sense tomorrow.

 


 

“Jesus Christ, Rich,” a voice says.

Richie’s lashes stick together when he opens his eyes. It all feels like this exact moment has happened before, once or twice or a million times.

Or maybe he’s just drunk. Which is not new. He usually emerges past that point, though — waking up still bashed is weird as fuck. He can’t see shit, either. His glasses must be — somewhere.

“Richie,” the voice says. “Richie. Look at me.”

It feels like his face is covered in plaster and like his organs are being rearranged in his body. Richie tries moving the tip of his fingers and is pretty sure it’s working, but he barely feels it. His hands are numb where his head and stomach are very much manifesting.

“You sound like Eddie,” Richie says.

“Because I am Eddie,” the voice says.

Richie laughs. It hurts his head when he does. “No you’re not,” he says.

“Look at me,” the voice says again. “Rich.”

“Can’t,” Richie hears himself mumble. “The light hurts. And I don’t have my glasses.”

“You do have your glasses,” the voice says.

Oh. So they’re still on his face and he just — can’t see shit. Fuck. It really is the light then.

“Here, look,” the voice says, and suddenly something is blocking the light and Richie is looking at a blurry version of Eddie standing above him, holding his face. He’s beautiful — Richie doesn’t need clear vision to know it. He knows Eddie’s face by heart.

“You are Eddie,” he says. The rest of whatever he wanted to say dies in his throat.

“Yeah, we’ve established that,” Eddie says. “Come on,” he says. “Get up.”

Richie protests, but he does, eventually. It takes what feels like an hour and Eddie holding him up until he can stand, and it’s when he gets there that it starts getting really bad.

“I think I’m gonna puke,” Richie says.

“If you throw up on me, I will literally murder you,” Eddie says. “Come on. We’re close to the bathroom. It’s just a couple footsteps.”

Richie’s pretty sure Eddie is hurrying him up, but they could be running and it would still feel like he’s falling down a ravine in slow mo. It takes ages until they reach the bathroom, for Eddie to open it, sfor Richie to bend over the toilet. Then it happens real quick.

It gets out in acid, bitter waves that burn his throat and make whatever the fuck is happening in his stomach hurt even more, and that feels like it takes ages, too. Richie’s hands are a death grip over the toilet bowl, and it should hurt too but it doesn’t. He can’t feel anything besides his guts burning and then hands — Eddie’s hands — on his back and on his head. He tries to focus on that, then — the small circling motion between his shoulder blades, the warmth on his already too hot forehead, holding his hair back. He thinks, dumbly, that this is not the kind of scenario in which he usually fantasizes about Eddie touching him, but he’ll take it.

It ends up stopping after a while. Richie stays bent over the toilet for a couple more minutes after it seems to be over. He nods when Eddie asks if he wants water, and waits for him to come back.

“Thanks,” he says, taking the glass Eddie offers him. The water is a smooth balm over what feels like an open wound — although even thinking that feels a little bit insensitive, regarding the fact that Eddie got stabbed in the shoulder. Richie doesn’t have any wounds, not really. Just a tendency to self-destruct that he can’t even manage to get right.

“Get in the bathtub,” Eddie says.

Richie looks up. He really doesn’t have his glasses this time — he got them off some time between falling knees first onto the tiles and throwing his guts up. “What?” he says. His mouth still feels dry as fuck even after the water.

“I said get in the fucking bathtub,” Eddie says.

Again, Richie does as he’s said, and again, Eddie helps him up. His gestures are sweeter than his words, and Richie can’t blame it on his drunken state when Eddie’s fingers on his wrist make his heart skip a beat. For a split second, he thinks he might puke again.

He sits down in the bathtub and watches Eddie as he can with no glasses on. He can still make out the vague shape of his hands, his long fingers closing around the shower head as his other hand pulls on the pushbutton switch and opens the tap —

“Fuck!” Richie yells as cold water splashes his face. “Fuck, fuck, stop that!”

But Eddie doesn’t stop it — not right away anyway. He keeps holding the shower at Richie’s face, and the addition of pressure and cold (and also, probably, the alcohol in Richie’s system) makes the water feel like it’s made of tiny, tiny needles instead of droplets. Eddie does stop, eventually, and Richie wakes up.

He really wakes up. Water is dripping off his face and hair and lashes — one runs down his nose and hangs at the tip before Richie rubs it off. Cold starts propagating down his spine. His t-shirt is soaked. It’s the same t-shirt he slept in, he realizes. He’s only wearing briefs except for that. He doesn’t know what time it is.

Richie curls up onto himself, suddenly too aware, too naked, too exposed, and conscious that Eddie sees this, too. He’s still nauseous and his head is still killing him, even after throwing up and getting sobered up.

“I’m cold,” he says just to break the silence. He is, though. He’s pretty sure he’s shaking.

Eddie sighs. Richie wants to tell him to look away, please look away, but it’s too late. Eddie has already seen the worst part.

“Take your shirt off,” Eddie says.

Richie’s breath hitches. “What?”

“Come on,” Eddie says. He puts the shower head down and with it the pushbutton switch, and opens the tap. “Does a bath sound good?”

It does sound pretty good, actually. Richie nods.

“Good,” Eddie says. “Then take your shirt off.”

By the time Richie’s chest is bare and the tub has filled up with warm water, he’s not cold anymore. He’s still shaking, though.

Eddie sits down next to the tub with his back against the wall. Richie turns his back to him, curling back up on himself and putting his head to rest on his knees.

“You shouldn’t be sitting on the floor,” Richie says, voice small. “Aren’t you afraid to like, catch germs or something?”

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Eddie says, and Richie almost laughs. If this were another moment, if he had ten times the energy he has now, Richie would have kept teasing just to pretend he hadn’t just massively fucked up, but he’s too tired, too worn out. Eddie wouldn’t buy it anyway.

He should tell Eddie to go, so he can properly break down. Eddie’s seen enough of his bullshit for the years to come, and he doesn’t need to be there for the hangover. Richie fucked it up as it is and Eddie shouldn’t have to see more of it. Richie must look disgusting to him — miserable, and he should tell him to go.

“I’m so sorry,” he says instead. It comes out small and low, a little sound dying in his sore throat and against the skin of his thighs. He can’t help it when he starts crying ; it happens before he can anticipate it, although he should have seen it coming, and once it’s started, there’s nothing he can do to stop it.

“Richie,” Eddie says. He places a hand on Richie’s neck, gentle and careful like he were to approach a frightened animal, and starts rubbing there, scratching where Richie’s hair ends. This is nice, Richie thinks, and you have no idea how much I want you to touch me like this all the time, and I love you, and help me, please help me, I can’t go on like this anymore. And he should tell Eddie to stop, he should tell him to go, but he doesn’t. He lets Eddie rub the tense muscles of his neck, and he lets his own shoulders shake, and none of them speaks until his sobs have calmed down.

“I should have noticed,” Eddie says. His voice is softer than Richie’s ever heard him, as an adult at least — not counting Neibolt, because it’s not the same thing when your shoulder has just been perforated by the alien-demon-monster-whatever thing that used to torment you as a tween. “Fuck, I did notice,” he says. “I just didn’t know it was that bad.”

And if Richie’s completely honest, it’s not a revelation that Eddie has noticed. He’s been making efforts, sure ; he’s careful not to drink too much whenever Eddie is around, and although he usually keeps going for long after Eddie’s gone to bed, he never makes it past barely tipsy in his presence. Eddie’s got eyes, though, and he’s not stupid. Richie knows that.

“It’s not that bad,” Richie attempts.

“It is, though,” Eddie says. “It really is.”

He’s still scratching Richie’s hair, and it takes Richie every tiny bit of strength he still has not to start crying again. It’s a good thing he’s not facing Eddie — he’s not sure he could hold himself back if he was.

“How did your interview go?” Richie says.

“Good,” Eddie says. “I got the job.”

“That’s great, Eds,” Richie says, feeling sincerely happy for him. “That’s awesome.”

“Yeah,” Eddie says.

Richie has thought a lot about the day he moved out of Derry, and what happened after — he’s turned it around in his head a thousand times, before Eddie crashed at his house and after, mostly wondering whether Eddie didn’t remember it or just didn’t care anymore. Would Eddie touch him like that, if he remembered?

“I need you to talk to me, man,” Eddie says. “You can’t just keep doing that — you can’t keep destroying yourself and keep us all out of it.” He pauses. Sighs. “And I know it’s been hard,” he says. “I know it’s not just what happened this summer, it’s — it’s how Derry fucked us all over in different ways. I know it’s hard to go on like nothing happened after that, because it did happen, but you need to go on, Richie. And you can’t isolate yourself from me — or from any of the guys — because you think you don’t deserve to be happy.”

Richie lets out a tired sigh. He feels like he’s been ran over by a truck. “I know,” he says, and it’s true. “It’s just — I didn’t remember who I was,” he says. “Before we went back to Derry. I didn’t remember who I wanted to be. I had buried that guy six feet under, and I somehow got by fine that way, but then it all came back, and — it’s just harder, now.” He pauses. “I didn’t know what I was missing, before,” he says. You. Them, too, all of you but also, just you. “I had nothing to — I had nothing to lose. And then I got you guys back, and I am thankful for that, despite everything.” He thinks about the Jade of Orient, before it all went to shit, and after — the nights spent in the waiting room, the relief when Eddie was okay, picking up food for him to sneak in with Mike and Bill because Eddie didn’t trust hospital food, somehow, watching cooking shows on Bev’s new phone when they were too tired to do anything else, feeling at peace in the messiest way. He didn’t know you could love anyone that much as he loved them, but it all fell into place, then.

“But I’m still me,” Richie says. “And being back here, after everything — it feels so wrong to go back to the way things were. I can’t go on telling the same shitty jokes I didn’t even write and I can’t keep pretending I’m this guy I fucking hate. But I don’t know how to be anything else. I don’t know how to stop being stuck, and I don’t know if things will ever change.”

“But they will,” Eddie says. “It takes a lot of time to unpack the shit we went through, Richie.”

“But look at you,” Richie says. “Look at all of the others. You’re all moving forwards, you’re all building up to something better. I’m the only one who’s stuck.”

“You’re not stuck,” Eddie says. “And I’m not the epitome of self-improvement either. I still have nightmares. I still can’t eat anything if I don’t know exactly what’s in it. I still hear my mom’s voice telling me I’m too fragile to do anything. And I struggle, too — I have no idea what to do or where to begin. But I want to try.” His hand goes further up in Richie’s hair. “I think you deserve to try, too,” Eddie says.

“I think I need to go to therapy,” Richie blurts out. For the first time, he considers it. It feels real as he says it.

“That would be good, yes,” Eddie says.

They stay like that for a while, afterwards. Eddie moves eventually, but it’s only to get closer — he sits at the edge of the bathtub, still behind Richie, and he resumes scratching his hair. Richie leans into it. This is dangerous, letting himself slip like that — but Eddie is right. He can try to be alright, and he can allow himself things. He can allow himself this, just this once.

 


 

So here’s the plan.

Richie is going to show up at Eddie’s house. He will ring the bell, and if he’s lucky, he will have Eddie opening the door, not his mom, which will be easier. If his mom opens, then — well, if he’s lucky, still, she will accept to let him in for ten minutes after he says he just wants to catch up before leaving for California again. And then Richie will see Eddie, and he will hug him, if Eddie lets him. He will apologize properly, say he’s sorry for what he did six months ago. He will say it was the emotion and it won’t happen again. He will say he was just too sad to leave and he didn’t want to seem too gay by crying so he panicked and did something even gayer because that totally makes sense. He will lie through his teeth and say it didn’t mean anything, but he will really mean he’s sorry, he really is. And then, if he’s lucky, still, Eddie will forgive him. Then, and only then, they can try to figure out what happened to Richie’s memory.

He thought about picking up flowers on the way, too, the way he once did when he visited Eddie in fifth grade — he’d been in bed for two weeks because of a cold his mother said was a pneumonia, and Richie had climbed up his window as he often did to bring him flowers as people did in hospitals, as a joke. But it’s December now, and Richie doesn’t think the idea is very appropriate for what he’s trying to do, anyway. The plan is to convince Eddie the kiss didn’t mean anything, and well — flowers do sound kind of gay, in retrospect.

The plan, though, doesn’t work much past the first step.

“Richie Tozier,” Mrs K says. She pronounces his name like it’s a slur, not too loud so nobody can hear the profanity. Richie can’t properly see her from the slim space between the frame and the door, little as she’s keeping it open, but the first thing he thinks about is that he remembered her being taller. He’d kind of felt like he hadn’t grown up that much since last year, but maybe his mom was right.

“Yup, it’s me,” Richie says, bright smile and all. “My parents and I just got in town for Christmas,” Richie says. “Merry Christmas, by the way, Mrs K — I know it’s not quite the day yet, but I doubt I will see you tomorrow. I was just wondering if I could see Eddie before I go back home in California, since we haven’t seen each other for a while.”

Mrs K frowns at him. “Eddie is sick,” she says, and alright, Richie had anticipated this. It had always been the default answer whenever she’d decided Eddie would not go out, which was a lot of the time. They’d always have to make up stories about where they’d spend the afternoon or she wouldn’t let him go, and she would remind him to be careful about the ticks in the high grass and to take his meds, always. But if she had decided he was sick, then it was over. They could never get him the upfront way — but they would arrange a time for Eddie to sneak out at night, and they’d hang out far enough so his mom wouldn’t hear, but close enough so Eddie wouldn’t freak out about the time he’d take going home.

“It’s just for a few minutes,” Richie says. “I won’t stay long. I have to help my mom and grandma with Christmas dinner anyway.”

“He is sick,” Mrs K says. She looks down at the hole in Richie’s jeans — alright, maybe he should have picked up another pair of pants if he wanted to make a good impression on Eddie’s mom, but he only took one more with him and his mom would have killed him if he had let the snow ruin it when he was supposed to wear it for Christmas Eve. “He’s not in any condition to see anyone right now,” Mrs K says.

“Come on, Mrs K —”

“I was relieved when he told me you were going to move,” she cuts him. “You always were the worst in the pack.” Well. That’s not a surprise, really. Mrs K never liked him — she had hated the Losers for different bigot, paranoid reasons, but she’d always disliked Richie the most.

“I know about you, Richie Tozier,” Mrs K says, and Richie’s heart jumps in his throat. “I know what you are,” she says, “and I know how you look at my son. You should be ashamed.”

Panic boils in Richie’s stomach, his chest feeling empty but also like it’s going to explode. She can’t possibly know, right? People used to talk about him, but Mrs K wouldn’t have heard teenage rumours, and he’s always done his very best to hide it —

But then — maybe Eddie told her, the day it happened. Eddie had run back home when he’d kissed him, and maybe he’d told her, after. He used to hide a ton of stuff from her, but if he’d just realized Richie was just as disgusting as she’d always said, then maybe —

“He doesn’t want to see you,” Mrs K says. She gives him one last glance before closing the door in a final move.

Richie stays standing on the porch, his arms along his body and his hands freezing off out of his pockets. He feels cold at his nape and at his back too, though it has nothing to do with the winter. He lets it sink in viciously under his scarf and jacket, a spike of vicious panic that grows into shame, before he gets down the porch and leaves Campion Street.

 


 

They all finally meet again in March.

Eddie and Richie are the last ones to arrive, because of the traffic they got caught in. Bev jumps at their necks immediately, hugging them both and pulling them down to her level. She rests her chin on Richie’s shoulders, and he can tell she’s standing on her tiptoes. Richie’s also pretty sure Cleo the dog is there to say hello too, given the sudden weight that presses down his legs.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again,” she says, “it is not acceptable that it took us eight months to reunite. I need to see you guys at least once every two weeks. It’s non negotiable.”

They move to hug the others as Bev lets them go. Richie lets himself fall into the embrace of each hi, each I missed you, Trashmouth. Bev’s plans are not realistic, but she’s still right. They definitely need to meet up together more often than this. Richie doesn’t think he can go another eight whole months away from them all.

“Sure you wanna drink?” Ben tells Richie as he walks him to the kitchen. The place is spacious and modern but feels warm, resembling Ben in its genuinity.

“Yeah, it’s fine,” Richie says. “I only ever drink when I’m out with people, and that’s not that much considering you guys are my only social life, so. I’m pretty sure the last drink I had was last month with Bill and Audra.”

“I try to do that too,” Ben says. “It’s good that it works for you.” Ben starts filling two champagne glasses, way more gracefully than Richie ever could.

Because he wasn’t there to see it, Richie often forgets how deep in that shit Ben was, too. Ben told him when Richie opened up about this specific area of the mess he was trying to clean in his life — something his shrink advised to do. “Talk to your friends,” she’d said. “You don’t have to tell them everything, and you don’t have to spill it all at once. Little steps are enough of a change, and it will make you feel more at ease to confide when you’re struggling with something.”

“Don’t try to joke about this,” Ben says before he says anything else. “I’m really proud of you, you know? We all are.”

“Yeah,” Richie says, looking away, then at Ben. “Look at us,” he says. “We’re not doing too bad for two semi-alcoholic saps with codependent tendencies, huh?”

Ben scoffs as he keeps filling up glasses. “I guess that’s one way to put it,” he says. “We are a little bit codependent. So are the others — I don’t think it’s that much of a bad thing. I don’t think we’re the worst people to cling onto.”

They’re lucky to have each other, despite everything. There are probably not a lot of people who can understand what they have, and well, those people don’t know what it is to be tormented by a demon clown from space either, good for them, but the Losers, they have this. Nothing can take it from them.

“I guess you’re right,” Richie says. “Do you think Stan would have hung out with us, if he was still there?” he asks then. “I kinda feel like he would brush us off now. The little turd always was too cool for us.” He considers cheating taking a sip in one of the glasses already, but stops the motion before it’s too late — this is what he has to stop doing, this is what he’s mostly stopped drinking for. He will not drink the feelings away — he will have a toast with everyone else and take the first sip surrounded by the people he loves the most in the world.

“I don’t think that’s true,” Ben says as he puts the almost empty bottle down. “I mean, you’re right, he clearly was too cool for us. But he would have loved this.”

“I miss him,” Richie says. He wishes Stan was there so he could talk to him — he was the only one to know about his thing for Eddie, the only one he told to anyway — but mostly, he wishes he knew him now. He often pictures adult Stan as the same kind of quiet but sharp mouthed character he knew as a kid, with even uglier sweaters and and even sterner face. “Sometimes I wish I could kill the clown a second time for what he did to him,” Richie says.

“Me too,” Ben admits. “I like to think he was happy — at least happier than any of us was. He would want us to make an effort to be happy too, I think.”

“Well, he better fucking be proud of us from wherever he is,” Richie says.

“I’m sure he is,” Ben says.

They go back to the living room with the others, each with three glasses in their hands. Richie automatically goes at Eddie’s side. It could be a reflex born out of seeing him everyday, but he’d fallen into that habit way long before.

“Thanks,” Eddie tells him, still smiling from whatever Bill said to make him laugh before Richie and Ben made their way back into the living room. His eyes are bright and his dimples are showing, and it makes Richie want to kiss him so hard he feels drunk with it.

“To the Losers,” Bev says. It’s like the last time at the Jade of Orient, and for a split second, Richie pictures the chips and peanuts on the table turning into centipedes and tiny ghouls, but there’s no impending doom floating over them this time. Just the six of them healthy and content at last, holding up their drinks and looking at each other in the eye as they cling, unless Mike has another surprise going on for them.

He doesn’t, though. What Mike has is endless, fascinating stories about his travels that they sit through to listen attentively. He tells them about the Grand Canyon and all that cliché shit, all the cities and landscape and people he’s seen and met, and he’s beaming as he speaks.

“I think I’m gonna settle down for a while, though,” he says. “I really needed to move, and it’s done me good, but I think it is time that I find a place to stay now.”

“Do you already know where you want to live?” Bill asks.

“I, uh — I may have talked with Ben and Bev about that earlier last month,” Mike says.

Richie looks down at Bev, who’s smiling. She’s sitting on the floor as if there wasn’t enough room on the couches, one arm hung over Richie’s legs and her dog’s head resting on her lap.

“We were thinking it wouldn’t be so bad to move down here,” Ben says. “As in — to live there. Properly.”

“So it only made sense that I would be looking for a place in the state too,” Mike concludes.

“Man, that’s amazing!” Bill says, pressing a hand on Mike’s shoulder, smile bright as ever. It makes sense, suddenly, that Bev would demand a bi-mensual Losers meeting — Richie thought she was exaggerating, but it seems possible now, tangible.

They have a toast at that, too. “To now being able to hang out so much that we’re gonna go tired of each other,” they say, and they laugh, because how could that ever be?

Later during the night, Richie follows Bev to the beach as she gets out to smoke a cigarette. He throws his shoes away, someplace between the house and the sea, only realising later that they will be a pain in the ass to find in the dark. The water is cold where it washes over their feet — Richie screams, and Bev laughs. They walk like that for a bit, Bev hanging at his arm as they get used to the fresh feeling on their skin, until she picks a spot to have her smoke. The spot in question is just like any other they could have chosen on the way — plain sand facing the ocean — but Bev is a little bit tipsy, and she thinks it’s perfect. Richie sits down next to her as she gets her pack and lighter out from her purse.

He watches her as she lights a cigarette for him, and his minds flashes him with images from forever ago mixing with those he’s seeing now — Bev in the summer of 1989, hiding her smokes in the pockets of her large overalls, brown boots that she once admitted to him gave her an illusion of strength for no reason in particular, the scorching heat getting under their skins even as they were hiding under the nearest shadow they could find ; Bev with wind in her hair and softly creased lines at the corner of her eyes, the orange light of the lighter warming up the fresh Californian night, her legs spread out before her, tiny tidal waves washing over her bare feet.

“I missed you guys so much,” she says as she hands him the cigarette. “It’s crazy to think I spent almost three decades never remember any of you down to your names, and now I don’t spend a single day missing you. Which is weird, considering the shitstorm that happened last time we did.”

“Too bad we’ll have to make up new cooler memories to miss,” Richie says. He takes a drag. He hasn’t smoked in quite a while — not cigarettes, anyway. He remembers being in college and borrowing cigarettes from his roommates just because it reminded him of something he couldn’t quite place. He’d do it occasionally and stop for a few days or weeks whenever it got too confusing.

“Are you ok?” Bev asks after she’s lit her own cig.

“Why does everyone keep asking me that?” Richie says.

“Because we’re your friends that participated in the beating the shit out of our own monster under the bed with you,” Bev says. “And because you weren’t doing particularly bright these last few months.”

He’s about to make a joke when he thinks about what his shrink said, about opening up. More flashes of young Bev come up, and he’s hit with what he had wanted to say to her, that day around the field. It had seemed inappropriate when she had just told him about what Bowers had done to her, and he wouldn’t have wanted to make it about him. Would he have told her, otherwise? Probably not.

Little steps, Dr. Kobayashi said. This one feels like a pretty big one. He’s told his shrink, sure, and it wasn’t even this hard. He’s never told someone that really knew him — first because it was the eighties and he was afraid to lose the only people who ever loved him fully, and second because it never felt like someone ever knew him at all.

He’d told Stan, but well. It’s not like he can talk about it with him now.

He looks up to the clear sky, praying to a god he doesn’t believe in that Stan can hear his thoughts. With everything that happened, that wouldn’t even seem so weird. Come on, he thinks as loud as he can. Be with me for this one.

“I’m gay,” he says. His breath is shaking as the words get out, his hands trembling as he brings the cigarette to his lips. It feels too big and insignificant at once, and the world around them is quiet ; all he can hear is the smooth sound of the waves and the distant, muffled sound of their playlist from Ben’s house.

“Alright,” Bev says, her voice soft and kind, a smile inside that Richie can’t see. She takes his free hand, running her thumb on the back. “Thank you for telling me,” she says like it doesn’t change anything for her, because really, it doesn’t. It’s Bev. It’s them. It’s the Losers. Richie should have known it wouldn’t change shit.

“I haven’t told the others yet,” Richie says. “I never found the right moment to tell Bill when I see him, and it felt a bit overwhelming talking about it in there. And I don’t — I don’t know if I can tell Eddie.”

Bev takes a long drag. “Can I ask why?” she asks.

“Because I kissed him on the day my parents moved out and he ran away,” he says. “And I don’t know if he’s past it or if he just doesn’t remember it, but I don’t wanna fuck up anything between us.” He pauses. “I’m in love with him,” he says.

“Oh,” Bev says. She’s giving him an attentive look that he doesn’t return. “I kind of had figured out,” she says. “That you loved him.”

“Yeah,” Richie says. It’s not even a surprise. He’s not as good at lying as he likes to pretend he is.

“Why don’t you tell him?” Bev asks. “You don’t know how he feels.”

“He ran away, Bev,” Richie says.

“That was a long time ago,” Bev says. “You were seventeen.”

“It’s fine,” Richie says. “It really is — as long as I can have him in my life and he’s happy, I’m good.”

“Honey,” Bev says. “You deserve to be happy too.”

“I’m working on that,” Richie says. “I’ve been writing a lot these days. It’s not anything I can show to anyone yet, but it’s something. God, I don’t even remember the last time I wrote my own material. I’ve reduced drinking, too, and Mr. Health Guru over there makes sure I eat my three meals a day.” He gestures at himself. “Look at me. The epitome of self-improvement.”

He sees Bev smiling from the corner of his eye. She’s waiting for him to turn around to say something, he can tell, and he would, but he can’t. “You kinda are,” Bev says. “I’m proud of you.”

“Not to sound like a broken record,” Richie says, “but why does everyone keep telling me that?”

“Because we are, Trashmouth,” Bev says. She gives him a kiss on the cheek before leaning on him to rest her head on his shoulder. “We just care,” she whispers. “Simple as that.”

And maybe Bev’s right. Maybe it’s as she says. Maybe it is as simple as that. Maybe he doesn’t have to keep pretending, because they already know him and they love him anyway ; they choose him anyway. It’s still insane to him that they would do that. Care for him. It doesn’t make any sense. But then again, a lot of things in their lives have made a lot less sense.

“I think I lost my shoes,” Richie says when they’re done smoking.

“What?” Bev says.

“Yeah, I threw them away somewhere on the way,” Richie says. “I don’t know where they are.”

Bev rolls her eyes as she laughs. “Well, that’s fucking convenient,” she says. “Let’s go look for them, then.”

A few dozen feet away from where they are, the house is just warm lights and smooth angles, a lighthouse guiding their footsteps to where they’re always safe. Bev takes Richie’s hand and starts walking. Richie is on her footsepts, following her to that place.

 


 

Richie is ringing his second bell of the day when he realises that maybe, just maybe, this isn’t a good idea. He considers running away immediately, vanishing before anyone can open and notice him. Go back to his grandma’s and pretend nothing happened. The mere idea of someone even seeing him makes him want to crawl out of his skin and hide whatever is left in a corner until the night falls and hopefully eats him alive.

It’s too late before he collects whatever he needs to react, though. The door opens, and this time, it’s who he intended to see.

“Richie?”

The expression on Stan’s face is the most confused Richie thinks he’s ever seen him. He’s wearing a brown sweater that’s too big for him and beige pants that are cuffed to reveal a pair of thick grey winter socks, an outfit that makes him look even more like a granddad than he ever has. Richie almost cries on the spot. It’s Stan, and he can’t believe it.

“Hey,” Richie says. The dumbest thing he could possibly say. “Happy Hanukkah,” he says. “It’s still Hanukkah, right?”

Stan nods. He looks up and down at Richie. “What happened to you?” he says.

Richie looks down at himself. The second knee of his jeans is ripped off too, now, showing a patch of blood where the fabric, wetted by snow, sticks to the skin. It only occurs to him now that both of his knees are bare and scratched, and it hurts. “I ran on my way here,” Richie says. “Which was a fucking stupid move, in retrospect.” It was. It really was. God, this doesn’t feel good.

“Shit, come in,” Stan says, looking like he’s just snapped out of something too. At least it’s not only Richie.

Richie says hi to Stan’s parents and wishes them a happy holiday as they cross the living room on their way to the bathroom upstairs. They never really liked him either, which’s something that Richie can’t really blame them for, especially since Stan’s Bar Mitzvah, and well — he’s running around with holes in his blood-stained pants.

“Sit there,” Stan says, pointing at the closed toilet.

Richie sits, bringing up his knees close to his face. He makes a pained sound when it stings, and decides on bringing his feet down to the floor in the end. He watches Stan as he opens the pharmacy cupboard above the mirror, taking out a small box and opening it in the sink.

He didn’t really think this through when he started running from Eddie’s house, to be honest. He didn’t really think at all. It seems stupid now, being there with Stan looking for disinfectant and bandaids like Richie didn’t just spend six months away not calling him, one of his best friends, and forgetting him. He tries opening his mouth to say something, but nothing would come out quite right. He feels like an idiot.

“Take your pants off,” Stan says. “It will be easier.”

Richie does, wincing at the contact with the cold toilet lid against his bare thighs. Stan kneels before him, a bottle of alcohol in one hand and a cotton ball in the other. He doesn’t give any warning before pressing down one of Richie’s scratched knees, and Richie winces, again.

“Well,” Richie says. “This is not what I expected our first date to look like.”

But Stan doesn’t laugh.

“I usually take the girl out to dinner first,” Richie tries again.

But Stan still doesn’t laugh.

It all adds up, then — the realisation he’d forgotten everything, what Eddie’s mom had said, Stan’s serious face over his stupid legs — and Richie starts crying. He brings his hands to his face and under his glasses before Stan can see, but a pathetic sound makes its way out of his throat before he can stop it, and then it’s too late and he can’t fucking stop.

“Stan,” he sobs.

Stan is now looking at him with round eyes, his previous pissiness gone, only leaving room for concern. And Richie can barely see through the tears and the smudges on the lenses of his glasses, but he knows Stan, despite everything. He knows the shape of his face and what it looks like when he’s angry, when he’s sad, when he’s happy. When he’s worried. Richie starts crying harder, and he can’t fucking stop — because Stan’s got all sorts of rights to be pissed at him and now he’s worrying him, and he has no right to worry him.

“Richie,” Stan says.

It wasn’t his fault, though. Richie would swear it if it wouldn’t make him sound insane. He can’t tell Stan that — what would he think if Richie just said that he’d forgotten about him, about them all?

He was going to tell Eddie. Had his mother let him in, he would have told him before he could even stop himself. What was he thinking?

“Richie,” Stan says again.

Christ. Eddie hates him enough as it is. Maybe it’s a good thing that Mrs K didn’t let him in, in the end. Eddie would have been pissed if Richie had showed up six months after kissing him and said he’d just forgotten to call.

He’s not sure he would have called Eddie, had he not forgotten. He remembers climbing in his dad’s car after the kiss, a movie showing Eddie running away on loop in his brain, and thinking he could never talk to Eddie again, wishing he could forget. Is that what happened? Did he brainwash himself into forgetting Eddie and everything related to him because he was too ashamed?

“I’m in love with Eddie,” Richie blurts out, still sobbing. He feels small and stupid and miserable and this is all he can say, but suddenly telling Stan about the memory loss thing seems like a much better alternative. Richie can’t take it back now, and he can’t look at Stan, and he can’t stop crying or thinking about Eddie or hating himself.

“Oh,” Stan says. Richie can’t see him, won’t see him, but he can’t help but try and understand the tone of his voice — which is almost nothing but one syllable, at the moment, one little oh that Richie can’t figure out whether it’s shocked or disgusted or just quiet.

“I kissed him on the day I moved,” Richie says. “I haven’t been able to talk to him since, and I — I’m sorry I didn’t call, it’s just —”

A vision of Eddie’s face, disgusted and shocked, flashes in Richie’s head. Maybe he isn’t lying to Stan ; maybe he’s right about convincing himself he’d forgotten. He’d never have wanted to remember this.

“It was just hard to imagine talking to him, or to any of you,” Richie says. There was a time where he couldn’t spend a day talking to at least one of them. When did it stop being unacceptable? Has it ever? “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” he says. “I wanted to go and apologize to Eddie but his mom didn’t let me in and now I feel like an idiot and — don’t hate me, please, I’m sorry, I —”

He breaks into an ugly sob. He hasn’t cried like that in years.

“I don’t hate you,” Stan says, and now there’s a gentle hand on Richie’s shoulder. Richie believes him — Stan would say he hates him to mean he doesn’t, but never the other way round. It’s Stan, and Richie believes him. He still can’t look at him, still can’t get his own face out of his hands, but he believes him.

“I’d kind of always thought Eddie and you were a thing,” Stan says. “And that you wouldn’t tell us.”

“Well,” Richie says, “you were half right, I guess, but I’m the only one of the two who’s a fucking homo.”

“You don’t have to talk about yourself like that.”

Richie’s taken his hands off his face and grabbed some toilet paper to wipe his eyes. “Yeah, whatever,” he says. He blows his nose. “He probably doesn’t want to talk to me anyway. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“Richie,” Stan says. “Eddie’s been asking about you almost every single day I’ve seen him. Pretty sure he’s done the same thing with Mike too.”

Richie’s heart skips a beat. His eyes are focused on the tiles on Stan’s bathroom, blue intertwining with white intertwining with green. “That doesn’t mean he wants to have anything to do with me,” Richie says. “He probably wishes to hear I’ve died in a car crash or something.”

“Oh, shut the fuck up,” Stan says. “Rich, look at me.” Richie inhales, then does. Stan’s face is stern and serious, the way he always was. He used to be such a weirdly adult-looking kid — now finally, at the edge of adulthood, it starts to sort of make sense.

“I really don’t think he wants to see me, Stan,” Richie says. His voice is small and he hates it.

“Jesus Christ Richie, you don’t get to decide for him,” Stan says. “You should talk to him.”

Richie sniffs. The piece of toilet paper in his hand is now soaked in tears and snot. It’s disgusting. “And how am I supposed to do that?” he says. “You know how Mrs K is.”

Stan is frowning. Richie takes note of the way his face moves, the body language that is specific to him, and finds himself recognizing things ; that exact way his brows come together when he’s trying really hard to come up with a solution, very different to what his face does when he’s pissed at someone or something. It’s reassuring, somehow, to have it all come back, bit by bit.

“You want to get in my room?” Stan says. “I can get us something warm to drink, and you can tell me about California. We’ll figure out about what to do with Eddie after.”

“That sounds nice,” Richie says. It’s about the nicest thing he’s heard in forever.

 


 

“I can’t believe you have a pasta machine,” Eddie says. “You barely even cook regular pasta. Why the fuck would you have a pasta machine?”

“It was a gift,” Richie says. They’re laying down on Richie’s couch, their legs touching in the middle. It’s the laziest day he’s seen Eddie have in a while, because Eddie is always trying out shit he says he never allowed himself to do before. He wants to go swimming and hiking and trying out fast food places, and he takes Richie with him for most of these things, too. Says it’s because he gets bored alone, but Richie suspects he does it to get him out of the house, too.

“I don’t even remember who from,” Richie says. I never even got the thing out of the box.”

“Of course you didn’t,” Eddie says. “Tell me where it is.”

“Can you drop this?” Richie says. “Why do you want to make your own pasta anyway? The pasta we have is perfectly good. The pasta we have doesn’t need hours and hours of preparing and drying and whatever the fuck is part of the process.”

“Because I can, and it’s Sunday,” Eddie says. “Tell me where it is.”

“God, I shouldn’t have mentioned it,” Richie says. “It’s still in boxes.”

One of Eddie’s eyebrows quirks up. “From when you moved in?”

“Yeah,” Richie says.

“From when you moved in, like, five years ago?” Eddie says.

“Three,” Richie corrects.

“You still have things in boxes?” Eddie says.

“Oh, come on,” Richie says, throwing his hands in the air. “Everyone has shit in boxes. You have shit in boxes, and you don’t even have the boxes around, so don’t talk to me.”

“It’s been three months, and I just had a divorce,” Eddie protests. “It’s not the same.” He stretches his arms behind him, then raises his legs from the couch and puts his feet on the floor. “Now where are the boxes?”

“Dude,” Richie says. “You really want to go through my mess just to find one pasta machine? I can find us a place that serves fresh pasta for tonight, if that’s getting you that worked up.”

“No, I want to cook,” Eddie says. “And I’m pretty sure you won’t be whining so much when you’ll be eating delicious fucking pasta.”

“Ugh, fine, if I must,” Richie says. “They’re in the garage, like — you see where I keep the toolbox?” Eddie nods. He knows where the toolbox is because he’s taken over the task of fixing Richie’s sink a month ago despite knowing nothing about plumbery. The sink’s fine, though, thanks to him and a bunch of YouTube videos and a selection of different forum posts. “Well, there’s a big ass shelf right next to it, and then on the left — boxes.”

“I always figured you just had super secret shit stored in those,” Eddie says as he gets up.

“Nope,” Richie says. “Just, probably, like — embarrassing stuff from my college dorm, like I don’t know, a crusty whatever Quentin Tarantino movie poster and old socks. And also, apparently, a pasta machine.”

“Gross,” Eddie says, already heading for the garage.

“Good luck navigating through twenty years old condom wrappers, bud!” Richie shouts.

“I’m giving you the finger right now!” Eddie answers, and Richie laughs. Of course he does.

Eddie wants to try everything he never could before, and he’s stepping a little bit more out of his old habits, day by day. He took an allergy test, two weeks ago, but he’d started cooking and eating more diverse things even before that. Deep down, he always knew most of his health problems were bullshit — Richie knows that. It feels good seeing Eddie doing things that are simple but that he wouldn’t have done a year ago, fills Richie up with pride and so much love he doesn’t know what to do with it. It’s pathetic, how much he loves him. He’s forty — he isn’t supposed to feel himself melting at the perspective of the lost then found love of his life making pasta from scratch. Or maybe it’s exactly what it’s about to love someone. Maybe he just didn’t know before.

Richie grabs his phone on the coffee table. There’s a bunch of unread messages on the groupchat, which he answers first, and a few from Steve, too, asking him how the writing is going. Steve’s been pretty supportive, despite Richie still haven’t shown him anything. Richie’s warned him that it was going to be different, and that it might not suit his current fanbase. It is going to be complicated, Richie knows that. Some part of him keeps telling him to at least write something that somehow fits the brand of humor the rest of the world sees him in, but then there would be no point writing anything at all. He might as well let Steve pick up someone to do it for him, or have Randy compose an act like he’s done it for Richie’s latest skits.

Richie hasn’t showed anything to anyone yet. He doesn’t think he can, and it’s counterproductive, but he needs to get a couple things done first. Sometimes he re-reads what he’s already got on his Google doc file, and the same voice in his head tells him he’s never actually going to be able to tell all of this. Even if Steve gets the show validated, even if he manages to get him a Netflix special. There’s no way he’s getting up on stage and saying all of this.

I’ve done scarier things than this, he keeps telling himself. He’s fought the devil twice, he’s looked at It in the eyes and killed It. He’s lost a friend he didn’t even remember and he’s almost had to lose the others, too. He’s watched himself die in a thousand different days, and he’s seen everyone he loved disappear in every awful way, but he survived. He can survive this, too.

Richie is still writing to Steve when Eddie comes back in the room. He hears his footsteps coming from the garage and immediately moves his legs from where they’re splayed on the couch, making room for him.

“Found the pasta machine?” Richie says. “Thought you’d take more time, given how much shit there is in here. You know, like the entire box of sextoys.”

He expects a oh, fuck you that doesn’t come. Eddie stays silent, standing somewhere between the garage door and the living room, and Richie can’t hear his footsteps anymore. When he gets himself up in a sitting position, he sees him ; Eddie, standing right behind the couch and right in front of him, with his eyes on some paper he’s holding. Richie squints at it, at first, trying to see what it is.

But then he sees it. Three pieces of paper taped together. He doesn’t need to see the boxes just big enough to fit the numbers written down in black sharpie, or the 1 standing for September first written in red, or the UCLA in bold letters. He knows.

And he can’t look up at Eddie. He knows Eddie’s looking at him.

“Do you remember this?” Eddie says.

Richie sighs. “Yes,” he says. It’s a stupid question. He doesn’t think he ever fully forgot. He found these three pieces of paper a dozen times, over the years, and heard a voice in the back of his head saying this is precious. He’s folded it again and hid it like a treasure, everytime, keeping it for the time he would finally remember and having it all make sense when he finally did. Oh, he’d thought. It was him. Of course it was him.

“Do you remember —” Eddie starts. Richie waits for him to finish, but he doesn’t.

“Yes,” he answers anyway.

Richie’s still not looking at Eddie’s face. He can see that his hands are shaking.

“Why did you do it?” Eddie says. “That day. Why did you kiss me?”

“It was a long time ago,” he says. “Look, I still — don’t make me say it, ok? You know. You have to know. And I wasn’t going to say anything, and it’s fine, and I promise I’m not expecting anything of you.” He never expected this moment to come, because he’s always figured that if Eddie knew, from what happened more than twenty years ago or from the way Richie looks at him, he wouldn’t mention it.

“I’m happy,” he says. “With the way things are. I’m happy we’re friends — we’re best friends, and I couldn’t hope for anything more because it’s good as it is —”

“Richie,” Eddie says. His hand moves up to Richie’s neck, and his thumb is brushing on his jaw as he leans on.

Then he presses his lips on Richie’s, and they’re kissing.

Richie feels it in every inch of his body, like he’s being broken down to pieces and then rebuilt. Eddie comes closer, pushing himself against Richie’s body as he kisses him. He’s clutching at Richie’s neck, now, and his lips are soft against his but they’re demanding, too. He smells so good, Richie thinks stupidly, drunk with the thought of it. It’s something he’d already noticed, weirdly ; not a thing he’s particularly focused on, just another element in the long list of things that make him love Eddie even more. He smells so fucking good, he thinks, and then, he’s kissing me. Holy shit, he’s kissing me. Richie could cry with how overwhelmed he is, and it’s a bit pathetic because this is not even that much, but then —

It is, though. It’s Eddie. It’s the love of his life. It’s him pressing his hand on the small of Richie’s back and leaning closer and closer, as close as he can, and he’s telling him, Richie realizes. He’s telling him everything.

Richie is dizzy when they break. Eddie doesn’t go too far away, though, and Richie is relieved to realize that Eddie is panting like he is. This is driving him insane, too. They’re in this together.

And Richie can’t believe it, so he says, “but you ran away.” He inhales sharply, trying to regain the slightest bit of composure. “I kissed you,” he says. “And you ran away.”

“I was scared,” Eddie says. “I was fucking terrified. I didn’t know what to do. I’m sorry. I didn’t know what to do.”

Richie can’t blame him. He didn’t know what to do either.

He presses his forehead against Richie’s.

“I have been in love with you,” Eddie says, “for every second of the last twenty-seven years. Even when I didn’t know who you were anymore.” His hand rests at the junction between his throat and his jawline, fingers pressing over the stubbled skin. “It’s you,” he says. “It’s always been you.”

“I — fuck,” Richie says. He leans in to kiss Eddie again, hesitating for a second, but then he remembers he’s allowed to. It’s quicker this time, a second. “I love you,” he says. “More than anything. God, I love you so much, I — I never thought you would —”

“I do,” Eddie says. “I really do.”

Eddie kisses him again, hungry and impatient. He pushes further than before, a hint of tongue pressing on Richie’s bottom lip.

Their positions are awkward and uncomfortable, sitting on the couch as they are ; as soon as Richie thinks it, Eddie briefly breaks the kiss and throws a leg over Richie’s to settle himself on his lap. “Is this ok?” He asks.

“Yeah,” Richie says. His lips are still wet and sort of tingling, and the fact that it is Eddie doing this to him is driving him insane. “Of course it’s ok,” he says. Of course it’s ok. Doesn’t Eddie know? He’d let him do anything.

“What do you want?” Eddie says.

Richie wants —

He wants Eddie to pin him down and finger him until his legs are shaking. He wants to fuck him for hours, to keep him on edge until none of them can take it anymore, and he wants Eddie to hold him afterwards, to keep him close — he wants to wake up next to Eddie every morning and to know that he’s not going to leave because if he does, he will collapse. He’s been wanting for so long, too long to say precisely what.

“Touch me,” Richie says. “Please.”

Eddie nods. His hands are on Richie immediately, like he was just keeping them to himself as he waited for permission. It hits Richie that it probably is the case ; Eddie is there, sitting in his lap, and he wants to touch him. He wants to see him. You’re everything to me, Richie thinks, and he hopes Eddie can hear it.

Richie runs his hands over Eddie’s thighs as Eddie starts mouthing at his neck, kissing the skin there, biting it tentatively. He digs his fingers in the fabric covering Eddie’s legs, thumbs at the inside of his thighs where it’s taut. Eddie sighs in his neck as Richie’s hand go up, and up —

“Holy shit,” he says. Eddie is rock hard under his palm. “Holy fuck, Eds —”

“Yeah”, Eddie says. His hands slide under Richie’s shirt, touching all they can find, grabbing. “Jesus,” he says. “You’re so fucking hot.”

Richie doesn’t know what to answer to that, and somehow, that’s what kicks him into motion. He undoes the button of Eddie’s blue jeans and pulls them down. He doesn’t intend for Eddie’s briefs to go down, too, but they do.

Richie takes a second to take it in, what he’s seeing — the dark head of Eddie’s cock, the coarse hair at the base of it. Eddie gets Richie’s own dick out of his pants, too, snapping him out of it. “Come on,” Eddie says. “Please,” he says, wrapping his hand around Richie’s cock. Richie whiles. He’s harder than he’s ever been in his fucking life, he realises deliriously. They should use lube for this ; Richie’s got some in his bedroom, but he’s pretty sure he’s going to pass out if he tries to get up now. He spits in his hand and wraps his fingers around Eddie’s dick.

It gets messy, from there. Richie buries his nose in the crook of Eddie’s shoulder as they jerk each other off, and he’s pretty sure he’s not going to last very long. Next time, maybe, they’ll take the time to find something that works better. Next time, they will make it last. Next time, he thinks. Holy fuck. Holy fuck.

“Richie,” Eddie pants. “Rich — fucking Christ — you’re making me come,” he says like he can’t process it. “You’re making me come.”

When he does come, Eddie buries his fingers in Richie’s hair and pulls as he lets out a long moan, spilling all over Richie’s shirt and pants. He’s going to be mad about this later, Richie thinks. The movements of Eddie’s hand get uncoordinated from there, more and more as Richie keeps stroking him. Eddie lets him go on for a little as he comes down from his high, bucking his hips into Richie’s hand as he lets out little sighs that turn into whines. And that’s so hot, too ; the fact that he’s still chasing it, still going through it, the fact that he can’t focus on anything else but this.

Eventually, he grabs Richie’s wrist, making him stop.

“Let me,” he says.

“I’m good,” Richie says. Eddie’s still holding his wrist, a soft but firm grip, grounding him.

“You don’t wanna…?” Eddie says.

“No, I —” Richie starts. He’s still out of breath, and Eddie’s other hand is still on him, looser but there. “I just figured — since you finished. I can get off on my own. I don’t mind. If you don’t — wanna touch me anymore.”

Eddie looks at him like he doesn’t understand. His skin is still a little bit red, and he’s still a little bit out of breath. “Why wouldn’t I wanna touch you?” he says.

“Because — you finished,” he says. Because it’s never been about him before, because he hasn’t been touched in years. Because no one ever touched him like they really wanted to. “I don’t know, maybe you don’t — I don’t want it to be just gross for you now. That’s all.”

“Richie,” Eddie says. “You’re so fucking stupid.” He kisses him, short and sweet. “I love you,” he says. “And I wanna touch you.” The hand on Richie’s wrist moves up to his arm, caressing the exposed skin there. Eddie slides it under Richie’s now stained shirt, lets it rest on his chest, his thumb moving in circles over his heart. “You want this?” Eddie asks. Richie nods. “Then let me.”

Richie lets him.

It doesn’t take much, really. He was already close before Eddie came, and it only takes another couple of strokes to feel his orgasm building up, going from approaching to inevitable. He throws one of his hands over his face, hiding himself — the other is gripping at Eddie’s hip, fingers digging in the flesh of his thigh, turning the skin red.

“Look at me,” Eddie says. “Please. Let me see you.”

Richie lets him. He looks at him.

“Eddie,” Richie pants. “Eds, I’m gonna —”

“Yeah,” Eddie says. “I know. Come on, sweetheart.”

Richie comes so hard it undoes him. It hits him like waves against a rock, and then it doesn’t stop. It goes on until he can’t take it anymore, and then some more. Eddie holds him through it, his body pressing against Richie’s as he keeps stroking him, and Richie hears him saying that’s it, come on, I love you, I’ve wanted this for so long until he can’t understand anymore.

When he comes back to himself, there’s a hand stroking his scalp, fingers gently carding through his sweaty hair. His breath is still ragged, although he can feel it slowly going back to normal. His cheeks are wet, he realizes. He raises his head.

Eddie is smiling. His eyes are tired but content. He’s still a little bit flushed, and he’s still pressed against Richie. Like he wants to be there. Like he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Richie wants to capture this moment, make it a treasure to keep close to his heart. It hits him that he can, then, and he reaches up to kiss Eddie, taking a picture to remember for the years to come.

 


 

“Are you taking this shirt?” Maggie Tozier says from where she is standing, in the doorframe to Richie’s room. Richie looks up, but not at her ; he rolls his eyes and sighs.

“Mo-om,” Richie says. “I told you I wanted to pack alone! What do you not understand?”

“What I understand,” Richie’s mom says, “is that it’s still me doing the laundry in this house, and it’s still you leaving your clothes everywhere but in your own room, and I don’t want you to call me in a week and get mad because you can’t find your stuff. So if you want the clothes you’re taking to be clean for when you leave, you better tell me now.”

This is a voice that says that Richie is going to be in trouble if he keeps talking to her without looking at her in the eyes, so he does.

“So,” his mom says. “Are you taking it?”

The shirt she’s holding has little flamingos on it. It’s one of Richie’s favourites.

“Yeah,” Richie says, defeated.

“Good,” Maggie says. “I’d suggest you take a look at the house and get your things yourself, since you don’t want me in your hair.” She throws the shirt in the laundry basket that’s right next to the door. “Everything that’s not in there stays dirty.”

She’s gone before Richie can say anything, her steps resonating in the corridor as she gets down the stairs. He stares at the door frame for a moment, feeling like shit. The flamingo shirt is poking from the already quite full basket.

He gets his attention back to what he was doing, then. He’s already filled his suitcase with any clean piece of clothing he could find, and is now packing up boxes with whatever he’s not going to be able to live without. “Only take what you absolutely need and nothing else,” Maggie said earlier. “Your dorm is gonna be smaller than what you have here. Take that in consideration.”

What Richie absolutely needs is not exactly what his mom would consider useful, he imagines, but it’s not like he’s taking much either. Except for clothes, all he’s got for now is a cardboard box containing his PlayStation, his Game Boy, the games that go with them, his music, his red lava lamp and his Back to the Future poster, folded to fit the small space the box allows. He doesn’t think he really needs much else for college apart from what he’s already got in his backpack everyday — a pack of cigarettes, his walkman and headphones, a bunch of Marvel comics. That, the flamingo shirt, and the Pixies’s Bossanova album, which he can’t fucking find.

He bends over to reach the boxes he keeps under the bed, the only place he hasn’t looked at yet. He’s not looked at these boxes in the entire year he’s lived there, to be honest, so it’s not like he expects to find much there, but nothing wrong in trying his luck.

For a second, Richie feels a flicker of hope as he sees a little cassette tape poking out of one of the boxes — but when he brings the box closer to himself, it’s very clear it’s not the tape he’s looking for. This one doesn’t even have a proper cover, really ; just a white piece of paper tucked in between the two layers of transparent plastic and a few words written in blue glitter gel pen. Losers Club Mix: Tozier Edition - B.

Nobody has ever made Richie any mixtape. Not that he knows of.

He starts going through the rest of the box. None of the things he find hold any memory that he can catch, and every item comes across as someone else's stuff. But there’s his name on the mixtape — Tozier Edition — and there’s his name on the first page of the little red notebook — For Richie, something to remember me by.

But Richie doesn’t remember. He doesn’t remember who B is and if they also wrote the story that’s in the notebook, if they’re also the one who gave him everything filling this box ; the yellow tee with a tiger on the front, the pink hawaiian shirt with both bananas and little pigs printed on it.

The three pieces of paper taped together, forming a calendar with boxes too small when you unfold everything.

None of this belongs to him.

 


 

“When you kissed me,” Eddie says, “I freaked out.”

They’re in Richie’s room now, laying in their underwear on the bed. They’ve showered ; Eddie short hair is still wet where Richie’s hand is resting behind his ear.

“I mean, it’s not like I didn’t know I loved you,” Eddie says. “I just — I’d never really thought that anyone did this. Kissing other boys. I just assumed everyone repressed like I did, or — died, I don’t know. You know how my mother was.”

Richie nods. “Oh, yeah, I know,” he says.

Eddie grins. “Shut up”, he says. “Don’t say it. I’m gonna kill you if you fucking say it. It doesn’t even work anymore, you piece of shit. You’re gay.”

“Oh, you’re right,” Richie says. “Now I’m gonna have to switch to your dad jokes.”

“You didn’t know my dad,” Eddie says. “I didn’t know my dad. It’s not the same.” He kisses Richie’s knuckles. “Anyway,” he says. “I just never thought I was ever going to have anything with you, or any other guy — and then there you were, fucking kissing me like it was no big deal.”

“It was a big deal,” Richie says. “Believe me. I still don’t understand how the fuck I gathered the courage to do that.” Except he does understand, a little bit. Eddie giving him the calendar, asking him if he liked it — that’s what made Richie do it. Eddie always made him braver.

“I know,” Eddie says. “God, I know. I just flipped my shit. I let you kiss me, I don’t know if you remember that —” Richie does, he does remember that, “at first, I let you kiss me. I hadn’t even processed it, I just knew I’d wanted it and I had it, at this moment. And then the fucking wasp bit me and — I don’t know, snapped me out of it, and I started to freak out. I guess I thought you knew about me, and you were making fun of me. Because I’d just made you that gift, and it was cheesy as fuck and gay, I don’t know. I thought you hated me, and you wanted to punish me.”

“How could you ever think I’d hate you?” Richie says.

“I was sixteen,” Eddie says. “In mid-nineties Derry. Hating gay people kind of was the standard.”

Richie knows, and he knows that shit sticks. He’s going to be forty-one soon, and apart from the men he’s had sex with, he hasn’t told anyone but Stan and Bev. And now, Eddie. It feels unreal to get to see him like this ; barely clothed, content, vulnerable. In Richie’s arms, holding one of Richie’s hands close to his lips so he can kiss it when he wants to.

“I’m still sorry,” Eddie says. “That I ran away.”

“You said it yourself,” Richie says. “You were scared.” He could never blame Eddie for that ; he’s been scared his whole life.

“Yeah,” Eddie says. “But — I don’t know. Maybe if I hadn’t — we could have had time together.”

“You don’t know that,” Richie says. That’s forgetting about the fucking clown magic making them forget, and everything else in their lives that would have gotten in the way. “I’m just glad we got each other now.”

“Yeah, me too,” Eddie says. Another kiss on Richie’s hand — his fingertips. “God,” he says. “It was supposed to be one year.”

September first, 1994. UCLA in big, bold letters. “You know I tried to come to see you?” Richie says, suddenly remembering it. Eddie looks up at him, eyebrows quirked. “Around Christmas. I think it was on Christmas Eve.”

“Oh,” Eddie says. “I know. My mom told me.”

“She did?”

Eddie nods. “Yeah,” he says. “I don’t know how she thought any of what she said wasn’t gonna make me want to immediately storm out and see you — I think she’d gone delusional at this point. Didn’t stop her from locking me into the house for the rest of the week.” He sighs. “I was so pissed I didn’t get to see you,” he says. “How did you remember me?”

“My mom mentioned yours on the night we arrived in Derry,” Richie says. “She talked about you, too, and it kind of came back? It was like, scattered, and I was still missing a lot of pieces, the clown included. But I knew I had to see you.”

Eddie smiles. “What would you have told me?” he says.

“I’d have apologized,” Richie says. “For kissing you. That’s what I wanted to do, anyway — I think I’d just have pretended nothing happened and hoped you’d never bring it up.”

“Jesus,” Eddie says. “We were shit at talking.”

“Oh yeah,” Richie says. “Absolutely terrible.”

“But look at us now,” Eddie says.

Richie’s looking — at Eddie, at his own hands on his face and in his hair, right behind his ear. He’s looking at what’s coming, and at the perspective of getting to wake up besides Eddie everyday, and at the time they have now. He’s looking.

“We don’t look too bad,” Richie says.

 


 

Richie holds the calendar against his heart. He’s crying, he realizes. He’s still looking at the stupid pattern on the pink shirt, at the blue glitter spelling his name, eyes wide open, and he’s crying.

What the fuck is happening?

Without looking at it, he folds the three pages long calendar into the small, rectangular shape it was in and puts it in the box, tucked in between the rest.

He closes the box, puts it next to the other, with the videogames and the lava lamp, and resumes his quest for the Pixies album.

 


 

“I finished it,” Richie says in the middle of one afternoon.

Eddie looks up from the book he’s reading. He’s wearing his glasses and one of Richie’s t-shirts. It’s a bit too loose on him.

“What?” he says.

“My, uh,” Richie says. He’s standing in the living room, his laptop in hand. “My special. I finished writing it.”

Eddie’s brows go up. He closes his book. “Oh,” he says. “That’s great, Rich! That’s amazing!” And then: “You want me to read it now?”

Richie nods.

They’ve discussed this before. “I won’t send anything to my manager before you’ve read it,” Richie had said. In the end, Steve’s going to decide whether he gets to say all of this on stage or not, but he trusts Eddie more, for that kind of thing especially ; Richie’s spent all of their years together trying to make him laugh, and Eddie was the harshest judge of his jokes. He knows he’s being funny when he manages to make him crack up.

“Alright then,” Eddie says. “Let’s do this.”

“I’ll just let you read it here,” Richie says. “If you don’t mind. I’ll go in the bedroom — I can’t be next to you when you read it.”

“Why?” Eddie asks.

“Because I’m too fucking nervous as it is,” Richie says. “I can’t watch you read it. I’m gonna puke.”

“I don’t know if you know that, but I intend to be in the audience when you actually perform it,” Eddie says.

“It’s not the same,” Richie protests.

“Whatever you want,” Eddie says. “I’ll tell you when I’m done, then.”

Richie opens the laptop and enters the password. He barely watches the computer unlock to the still opened Google doc before he gets up again and flees to the room.

If he thinks rationally, he knows, deep down, that this will go good. If Eddie likes it, at least. He hasn’t written his own material in — god, a decade, and even when he did, it was mostly made-up stories or anecdotes he’d stolen from college friends and colleagues. He’s never done this — not like that. And it’s one thing to come out on Twitter — it’s a whole another to spill his guts on stage like he’s about to do.

“Listen,” Steve had told him when they met last week. “Considering your recent breakdown and, let’s be honest, the last five years of your career — at least, I don’t think it can be worse. I mean, what you used to do worked, but maybe making it more sincere would help. Though I’m pretty sure gay kids could do with a better role model than you.”

Richie doesn’t want to pretend he can be a role model, though, and he doesn’t think anyone is expecting him to be. Coming out at forty after a career mostly based off offensive jokes doesn’t exactly excuse the offensive jokes, even if he didn’t write them. Publicly admitting his entire act has been a scam for years doesn’t exactly help, either. He just wants to — hell, even he doesn’t know. Tell his story, perhaps.

Well. Minus the clown part.

“Aren’t you supposed to be mad at me?” Richie had asked Steve. “I basically lost half of my audience. Aren’t you supposed to, I don’t know — tell me how badly I fucked up?”

“What good would it be?” Steve had said, lighting a cigarette. “It’s done now. And I told you — I never liked your act to begin with.”

Eddie joins him in their room after exactly forty-six minutes. He’s taken off his glasses.

Richie is sitting on the edge of the bed, where he was texting Bev. He attentively watches Eddie as he steps towards him — then, as he pushes him further on the bed — then, as he settles himself on Richie’s lap — then, when he kisses the corner of his mouth, Richie closes his eyes. He hums in satisfaction — relief? — and raises his arms to hold Eddie closer, wrapping them around him as Eddie keeps planting little kisses on his face.

“Do you like it?” Richie says.

Eddie kisses him again ; this time, it’s on the lips. “I am so fucking proud of you,” he says. He places his hands on Richie’s neck, on the back of his head, holding their faces close. “You have no fucking idea.”

“Don’t make it a big deal,” Richie says.

“I’m very serious,” Eddie says. His eyes on Richie are so soft, so loving he can’t take it. He wants to hide in Eddie’s chest so Eddie can’t see him. “It takes a lot to write something like that about yourself. I know it takes a lot.” Richie pulls him even closer. It’s never close enough. More often than not, he wishes he could hold Eddie like that forever.

“I’m proud of you,” Eddie says again. “Really. I’m so proud of you. It’s brilliant.”

“You think?” Richie asks.

“I do,” Eddie says. “It’s funny, it’s witty, it’s raw. And I don’t think anyone expects that from you, even considering your coming out, because this is so different — it’s more you.”

“Yeah,” Richie says. “That’s what I’m scared about.” Because he always could deal with people not liking him when he was lying ; this is different. If he’s being honest, he’s putting himself on display for everyone to hate. It feels good, not lying anymore. And it’s scary as fuck.

“Well, I know about you,” Eddie says. “And I love you. The Losers love you. I’m sure at least a portion of the rest of the world can, too.”

“It’s not the same,” Richie says. “You’ve known me since I was a kid.”

“Oh, because you think that plays in your favor in any way?” Eddie says, smiling. “You were a hundred percent worse as a child. Fucking insufferable.”

“But you loved me,” Richie says.

“But I loved you,” Eddie says. And then he kisses him again.

It’s longer, this time. Deeper. Richie clings to it. To him. He shivers when Eddie slips a hand under his shirt to claw at his back, moans when Eddie bucks his hips, just a little, but enough so Richie can feel he’s hard through the fabric of their sweatpants.

“Fuck,” Richie says. “What do you want?”

Eddie plants a kiss on his jaw. On his neck. “I want you”, he says, “to fuck me until I can’t see straight.” He straightens up, then, looking at Richie in the eyes. “If you’re down for that.”

They have — not done this, actually. In the month that has passed since Eddie found the calendar, they’ve done quite a lot of things, but not this. Not yet. They’ve talked about it, sure, and Richie has thought about it, a lot, but the reality of having Eddie straddled over his lap, hard and demanding, asking Richie to fuck him, is something else entirely, and Richie feels kind of fucking insane.

It’s something he wants, though, so he says, “yeah,” he says, “fuck, yeah, please.”

They move so Eddie is on his back and Richie is over him, not letting go of each other. Eddie takes off Richie’s shirt, then his own — which is actually Richie’s too. “You look so good,” Eddie pants as Richie starts working him up through his briefs. “You look so fucking good.” And Richie doesn’t know if Eddie understands, how what he says during sex tears him apart. He’s always vocal, whether he’s loud or whispering, and he’s always holding Richie through it no matter which end he’s on, and he always says this stuff. Richie can’t fucking take it.

He presses a lubed up finger inside Eddie after taking off his sweatpants and briefs ; Eddie winces a bit, but then takes it easily. This, they’ve done a couple of times ; Richie is starting to know how Eddie’s body reacts to it, how he likes it, what to do and which way. He kisses Eddie’s stomach as he moves inside him, pressing his lips wherever he can.

“More,” Eddie says. One of his hands is clawing at the sheets ; the other at Richie’s shoulder.

Soon, Richie adds a second finger, then a third. He’s got one of Eddie’s legs hooked around him, bare calf pressing against bare thigh. He notices as it’s happening that he’s not just fingering Eddie anymore ; he’s started bucking his hips against Eddie’s leg, fucking humping him without even realizing.

“It’s good,” Eddie says, tangling his fingers in Richie’s hair to pull him closer. “I don’t need more, I’m — just fuck me. I want you to fuck me. Please.”

It’s not only Eddie panting in his mouth, but him, too. He’s breathless already, and they haven’t even gotten to the point yet. “Ok,” Richie says. “Ok, yeah, fuck, let me — let me get a condom, wait.”

He starts to move towards the bedside table, but Eddie grabs his wrist, making him still. “Go without,” he says.

Richie’s mind blanks. “You don’t wanna,” he starts. “It’s gonna make a mess,” he says. “I know you don’t like —” He doesn’t finish, making a gesture that means nothing in the air.

“We got tested,” Eddie says. He moves to a sitting position, facing Richie, his stand still on his wrist. He places the other around Richie’s waist, pulling him against his own body. “And I wanna feel this,” Eddie says. He bends over, kissing the spot right under Richie’s ear. “I wanna feel you come.”

Jesus fuck. “You can’t just say shit like that, Eds,” Richie says. Eddie laughs. Then he pulls him down over him and grabs the lube where they’d left it on the sheets.

“I’m really proud of you, you know,” Eddie says as Richie squeezes out some of the lube on his fingers.

“Do you get off on that?” Richie says. He’s about to touch himself, just to get some lubricant on his cock, but then — Eddie reaches for his hand, wipes the lube from his palm with his own fingers, and wraps them around Richie’s dick. “Fuck—”

“Yeah,” Eddie says. “I kinda do.” He looks fucking smug about it, and that makes it even hotter somehow.

He’s jerking Richie off right now, slow and measured, not really going anywhere. He soon stops, laying himself down on the bed. Richie settles himself between Eddie’s legs, bent over his hips. He can feel Eddie’s bony ankles pressing into the small of his back, his strong thighs tightening around his hips. He’s got his cock in his hand, adjusting himself ; he can feel the head of his dick pressing against Eddie’s rim and that, that alone, is too fucking much. He’s never going to last. He hadn’t even been paying attention to how hard he is, how close, and it doesn’t make any sense.

He feels a tap on his cheek ; Eddie’s hand. Richie looks up.

Eddie’s eyes are dark on him. His hand rests on Richie’s jaw, firm and soft at once. “Come on,” he says. “Are we just gonna mess around all day or are you gonna fuck me?”

And oh, ok, alright, fuck, that does kick Richie into motion.

He slides inside Eddie, slowly.

“Fuck,” Eddie says. “Jesus —”

It’s a tight fit — tighter than Richie could have imagined with just his fingers, and he’s immediately overwhelmed by the need to come right now. It takes a moment of not fucking moving to get his shit back together ; a moment that Eddie needs too, thankfully. He’s breathing heavily, his arms bracing around Richie’s shoulders. He opens up as Richie eases inside, and Richie just loses himself in the feeling of him — and god, Eddie looks so good like this too. Richie slides in a bit further, and it’s apparently just enough to hit that spot, because Eddie’s hips jerk against him.

“Oh, shit,” Eddie says. “That’s good, that feels so good —”

He’s laughing, Richie realises. He’s laughing in deliriousness and pleasure and whatever and Richie’s heart is gonna explode — he moves to be closer to Eddie, though he doesn’t think it’s physically possible. He wants to be close to him forever, all the time, but now it’s a need — an ache. He rests his hands on each side of Eddie’s face, fingers tangling in Eddie’s hair, wet from sweat. That seems to do something for Eddie, too, because he responds by moving one of his hands at the back of Richie’s head and closes his fingers in a firm grip on Richie’s hair, yanking him even closer to kiss him. Richie pants into his mouth as he keeps bucking his hips ; he holds Eddie into place and close as he rocks into him in deep moves that he can’t quite keep slow. Then —

Eddie pulls his hair hard, sending a spike of arousal down Richie’s spine — he could come right now, if he listened to himself. He wants to come, so bad — but he wants this to keep going, too — he wants to fuck Eddie until he’s screaming, until he can’t even think, and he wants to give him what he needs, and he wants, he wants

“Look at me,” Eddie says.

Richie’s eyes snap open. He hadn’t realized he’d closed them.

“Harder,” Eddie says.

The noise Richie produces doesn’t even sound like himself, but he’s too far gone to care. His right hand flies to Eddie’s ass, gripping the muscle and flesh there. Eddie spreads his legs wider, and his calves press against Richie’s back to pull him even closer, deeper. Richie starts going for it, really going for it, fucking Eddie hard like he asked.

“Yeah,” Eddie says. “Oh my god, I love you, yes —”

“You like it?” Richie pants.

“Yes, yes, don’t stop, fuck,” Eddie says.

It feels incredible, and Richie is so dizzy with want and need at this point that it feels unreal. Eddie digs his nails into his shoulders, bites into the flesh there. He feels like he’s gonna die in the best possible way, and he’s never, ever felt anything like this, never experienced anything so intense and intimate that he feels he’s gonna fall apart.

“Fuck!” Eddie shouts. “Fuck, right there, right fucking there, don’t you fucking stop —”

“Not gonna,” Richie says, in a whisper or a grunt, he honest to god doesn’t know.

He snaps his hips against Eddie’s ass until his thighs are shaking and it feels like he can’t physically go on anymore, except he does ; he goes on until he can feel Eddie clenching around him, until the grip around his shoulders is almost lethal. Eddie comes untouched between them with his face buried in Richie’s neck, his constant babbling turning into incoherency. And Richie keeps going, fucks him until he comes, too, and then fucks him after that. He fucks him through both of their orgasms, and Eddie had said something about wanting Richie to fuck him until he couldn’t see straight anymore as a joke, surely, but Richie can’t see, can’t hear, can’t feel anything but the overwhelming rush of pleasure that washes through him as he keeps coming, and coming, and coming. He can feel a hand on his face, distantly, gentle and soft, holding him through hit.

Eddie is still trembling under him when Richie comes back to himself. Their breaths are still ragged ; matching. Eddie’s running his fingers through Richie’s hair. He probably has been for a while. Richie is trembling too, he realizes.

He rolls off Eddie, eventually. He’s fucking spent, and he can’t fucking feel his limbs anymore ; he’s so braindead with pure bliss that he’s not sure anything has ever mattered, ever. Fuck demons from space, and fuck their cursed destinies — this is it.

Eddie reaches out for Richie’s face. He kisses him, slow and deep. Gentle. His fingers feel soft on his cheek, his jaw, his temple. “I’m proud of you,” he says, his voice so soft it makes Richie’s heart break.

Richie stuffs his face into the pillow. “Fuck you,” he says.

Richie feels it in every inch of his body when Eddie laughs, and he thinks — this is what peace feels like.

 


 

So.

Here’s how it goes.

 


 

“I’m gonna fucking throw up,” Richie says.

“You won’t do no such thing,” Eddie says, straightening the fabric of Richie’s jacket. “You’re gonna walk on there,” he says, “and you’re gonna make them laugh. Maybe cry, too, if there are enough gay people in the room.”

“They’re not gonna laugh,” Richie says. “They’re just gonna look at me and see this big fucking idiot fucking up all by himself, this time —”

Eddie kisses him, his hand a firm grip on Richie’s nape. Richie tries to relax into it ; he lets Eddie rub the skin of his neck, his hair. It’s soothing. Not enough to make him stop fucking vibrating, but it’s soothing.

“You’re gonna be ok,” Eddie says when they part. His hand stays where it is, anchoring Richie into his words.

Richie feels something buzzing against his leg. He checks his pockets, confused since he’s let his phone in the dressing room, but then Eddie gets his own phone out of his own pocket. The screen lights up his face as he unlocks it, and Richie watches his eyes as they move, pupils following a couple lines of text.

“Mike says they’re in,” Eddie says. He quickly types an answer before putting his phone back in his pocket.

“You should go too,” Richie says. “I’m gonna have to get out there soon.” Saying it in a way that implies temporal proximity makes him nauseous.

“Yeah,” Eddie says. “I probably should.” He kisses Richie again, quick and firm. Anchoring him. “You’re gonna be ok,” he says again. And then, “give them hell.”

Richie smiles.

“There he is,” Eddie says. “Alright. Gotta go. See you later.”

Richie watches Eddie leave until he can’t see him anymore. He turns his head to the audience, then, a hopeless tentative to see the Losers there.

He can’t, of course. He’s too far down backstage to see anything else than the front corner of the venue, and he knows for a fact that his friends aren’t sitting there, because he bought their tickets. They’d be too far to recognize anyway.

“Rich,” Steve’s voice says behind him. Richie doesn’t know how long he’s been there. It’s quite a miracle he’s left him some space before going on stage at all, considering how his last gig went. “It’s time.”

And maybe it’s time.

Maybe it is.

“Yeah,” he says.

He tries to visualize the Losers before he can see them ; he sees them smile. A flicker of red hair, a spark of one bright smile. The love of his life sitting there, too, between Ben and Bill. Maybe Stan is there, too, somehow.

“Rich,” Steve says. “You need to go.”

Richie nods. “Yeah,” he says again.

It’s time.

Richie walks on stage.