The barbeque pit was a massive, towering structure of brick and concrete. Richie’s dad had said something once about being able to burn up an entire body in it, and Eddie could believe him. It certainly could burn up a small body—like that of a little boy’s. It was something out of a fairytale, except clad in suburban trappings. Eddie’s stomach flipped every time he went near it. All the same, Eddie went near it a lot. He didn’t understand it, himself, but he found himself drawn to the barbeque pit more than he should be—more than his mommy certainly would ever let him be.
But his mommy wasn’t here today. Complained about it being too hot, and the fireworks being too loud, and said she had to stay in the house for the holiday. But Eddie cried and begged and got Richie’s mommy to promise to bring him home as soon as the fireworks were over, and even though his mommy and Richie’s mommy didn’t get along so well all the time, she trusted her, mostly, and so Eddie was sent off with a Pyrex dish of coleslaw as big as his torso. And now he was running around Richie’s backyard with the other kids from school… and the barbeque.
Eddie jerked back guiltily as Richie’s dad swooped in, arms laden down with barbequing supplies. He started the process of turning on the grill, scraping down the grates, all sorts of mysterious rituals Eddie knew nothing about. Eddie’s toes twisted in his shoes as he watched Richie’s dad work, not wanting to have to leave, not wanting to be a bother. Richie’s dad turned and smiled at him as he worked.
“What’s up, doc?”
Eddie just shrugged. Distantly he could hear Richie screaming at Bill. He liked playing with his friends, but he also liked Richie’s dad, too. He always made Eddie laugh, or tossed the kids around at the public pool, or snuck them candy (and toothbrushes, because he was still a dentist) at sleepovers. He was just… neat.
“Want to help me grill these meats?”
Richie’s dad was tossing the hamburgers and hotdogs onto the grill as he asked. Eddie could barely see the top of the grill, so he wasn’t sure how he was expected to help. He could get a stepstool? But once the plate with the meats on it was clear, Richie’s dad picked it up and held it in front of Eddie.
“You want to hold the plate when the meat is done? Bring it over to the table so everyone can pick up their patties and dogs?”
Eddie lifted the plate reverently from Richie’s dad’s hands. He nodded up at him, eyes wide, shaking a little with the thought of that much responsibility. Richie’s dad shot him a wink and a grin, big round glasses glinting in the sunlight. They weren’t anything like Richie’s glasses, with their thick black frames and square shape. His dad’s glasses were wire-framed and round, though still big, taking up most his face like Richie’s did, making his eyes look huge. Eddie thought they were cool and grown-up looking. Not like Richie’s, which just looked… they were just Richie’s.
“Alright there, hold it steady.” Richie’s dad started explaining things as he placed the burgers and dogs onto the plate. “See, hot dogs are pre-cooked. You could eat them raw if you wanted.” Eddie wrinkled up his nose. Richie’s dad saw that and chuckled. “Yeah, agreed. So we toss them on and wait for them to get a nice char on them. See the grill lines?” Eddie nodded dutifully. “That’s all we’re looking for. One side, then turn them and get the other. Burgers are trickier, because there’s different amounts you can cook a burger. There’s medium rare, which is what you want, okay? That’s how a real man eats his burger. Understand?”
Eddie’s stomach flipped, arms trembling a little under the weight of a dozen hotdogs on the serving plate. A real man. Richie’s dad was telling him that because he thought Eddie could be a real man. A real man that ate his burgers ‘medium rare.’ Medium rare, medium rare, Eddie repeated to himself over and over again in his head. That’s how he’d order his burgers. Medium rare. Like a man.
“-little bit of pink inside, see? So these are medium rare. Now, some people—morons and Richie’s Uncle Matt, but don’t repeat that, okay?—like theirs well-done. That means ‘burnt.’ And even though it goes against the rules of Good Grilling, well, we can’t force them to eat their hamburgers the right way, so we have to go ahead and burn a few patties for those heathens who want their meat tasting like cardboard. That’s the oath you take as a Grill Master.” Richie’s dad peered down at Eddie. “Do you think you’ll want to be a Grill Master one day?”
“What’s that?” Eddie asked, voice barely above a whisper.
“Well that’s what we’re doing right now. A Grill Master is the one who oversees the grill at cookouts and barbeques. See, some people bring casseroles, some bring pasta salads, some are big into the baking and confections so they bring the desserts, some people bring drinks and cups and plates.”
“Mommy made coleslaw,” Eddie piped up, because he wanted Richie’s dad to know he’d contributed, he’d brought something.
He was rewarded with another wink from Richie’s dad. Eddie’s stomach flipped. “See? Everyone’s got their thing. But you can’t have a barbeque without the barbeque, right? A Grill Master is the guy—or gal, I guess, it is the nineteen-eighties, after all; hell, they shot that girl up in the rocket last year, and Billy Jean kicked Riggs’ ass all up and down that tennis court—who handles the grill. And therefore, is the most important person at the whole damn barbeque. Without the Grill Master, this is just… a picnic!”
Eddie nodded eagerly. But then he bit at his lip, nerves churning in his gut.
“Mister Richie’s dad?”
“Could… can I… be a Grill Master? One day? When I’m big?”
Richie’s dad beamed down at him. “Why do you think I’m showing you the ropes?” Then, like he hadn’t just blown Eddie’s entire world apart, Richie’s dad started piling another set of hamburgers onto the plate Eddie was holding. “These are medium. You could tell people, but they’ll probably just figure it out.”
When he was finished Eddie’s arms were starting to tremble a little, but with the weight of the plate and grilled meats instead of nerves and excitement. Richie’s dad seemed to notice this, or maybe it was just because the plate was mostly full, because he nodded at Eddie.
“Go on and set that down at the serving table, son. Then come on back and we can get the well-done burgers on their own plate.”
Eddie trudged off carefully with the plate loaded down with grilled meats, face drawn down into what looked like a pout from the outside as he concentrated on not spilling any of the food. But inside, his brain was alight, repeating Richie’s dad’s parting words for him. Go on and set that down at the serving table, son. Go on and set that down at the serving table, son. Go on and set that down at the serving table, son.
Son. Son. Son.
“What chips do you want?”
Eddie stared up at the display of chips from around Richie’s shoulders, six different options all spread out before him on their hooks in a garish two-by-three rectangle. There was the yellow of the Lays originals, the red of Doritos, orange of Cheetos. That’s what Richie had already selected, the Cheetos, because he liked to get his fingers all coated in the orange dust and then lick it off. Eddie wasn’t supposed to have Cheetos, because of all the artificial preservatives. He was supposed to have a fruit cup or an apple or banana as his side, or nothing at all. At least, that’s what his mommy would have said.
But his mommy wasn’t here. Because he was spending the weekend at Richie’s house. And weekends at Richie’s house were when Richie’s mommy took a break from all the mommy stuff and Richie’s dad took care of the kids. Which meant trips to Home Depot and building decks and washing the cars, and baseball games and backyard wrestling and slip-and-slides. Dad Weekends meant no one to make sure Eddie dressed “nice,” and Richie would wear his baseball hat backwards, and scabby knees.
Eddie loved Dad Weekends. He figured it was just because his daddy was dead, and even though he loved his mommy more than anything else in the world, sometimes it was nice to hang out with Richie’s dad. It was just… different, was all.
Right now Richie’s dad himself was peering down at Eddie, big wire-frame glasses glinting in the sun. “Eddie? Chips?”
“Funyuns,” Eddie whispered. Because he loved Funyuns, but his mommy never let him have them. And if he managed to sneak a pack at school, Mommy could always smell it on him when he came home. But today he was spending the night at Richie’s. He’d brush his teeth twice (tonight and Sunday morning) before he saw his mommy again. He could eat Funyuns and she’d never know.
“Your burps are gonna smell like farts!” Richie announced gleefully.
“Your burps smell like farts!” Eddie shot back.
“Here you go, boys. Why don’t you grab a seat out here and eat your lunch?” Richie’s dad was craning his neck, looking in through the Home Depot’s big automatic doors. “You come find me when you’re done.”
“Okay Dad!” Richie chirped, already taking his bounty of Yoo-hoo, hot dog, and Cheetos over to the curb. Eddie fumbled as Richie’s dad tossed his bag of Funyuns on top of his hotdog, already in his hand.
“Okay, Mister Richie’s dad,” Eddie whispered. He blinked up at Richie’s dad in awe. His mother never let him wander a store himself—much less be outside a store that she was inside.
“You want ketchup?” Richie was asking. He’d set his Yoo-hoo bottle and Cheetos down on the curb and was standing there with his hotdog in one hand.
“Gimme. Stay with our stuff.”
Awkwardly Eddie passed off his hotdog to Richie, while keeping hold of his Funyuns and Yoo-hoo. Richie took off for the side of the hot dog cart where the condiments were, all spread out in a line. Eddie scurried to the curb where Richie had set the rest of his lunch, guarding it from other Home Depot patrons with a ferocity that maybe was unwarranted, but Eddie wasn’t about to let Richie down. In a minute Richie came back with their hot dogs: Eddie’s, slathered in ketchup; Richie’s, topped with ketchup, mustard, and even relish. Eddie wrinkled his nose as he folded the foil paper back carefully and took a bite out of his hotdog.
“Relish is gross,” he announced.
Richie took a huge bite of his hotdog, chomping on it messily until he had it good and masticated. Then he stuck his tongue out at Eddie, beige ball of half-chewed food piled in the center. Eddie gagged and looked away.
“Gross,” Eddie repeated.
“Relish is the shit,” Richie declared.
Eddie hurriedly looked around to make sure no one had overheard them. Shit was Richie’s new favorite word. He’d started saying it at lunch one day a month ago, and now he never missed an opportunity to use it in a sentence. He was probably inventing new parts of speech in his quest to use it as much as possible.
When Richie finished his hotdog he balled up the foil wrapper and tossed at the nearby trashcan, wrists flapping down like he was some pro basketball player. The foil ball missed the trashcan by like two feet, which Eddie giggled at.
“You stink,” Richie grumbled back. “Not like you can do any better.”
“Okay!” Eddie chomped down on his hot dog. “I juff have to finish my hof-dog.”
“Well hurry up then, geeze.” Richie ripped into his bag of Cheetos and stuffed a handful in his mouth.
Eddie polished off the last two bites of his hot dog probably too fast, not even taking a break for a swig of Yoo-hoo between every bite like he normally did. He took his time balling up the foil wrapper, making it as tight as he could. As he lined up his shot Richie tried swiping at him, waving a hand in his face, knocking his arm to the side.
“Quit it!” Eddie shouted.
“Miss it, miss it, miss it!” Richie chanted.
“You’re just scared I’m gonna beat you!”
“Then stop cheating!”
With a huff Richie crossed his arms over his chest and scooted two, three butts down the curb, away from Eddie.
“Fine, pansy. Just go already.”
Eddie eyed up the trashcan again, hefting his tinfoil ball in his right hand. One, two, and…
The ball sunk in the middle of the trashcan: nothing but net. Eddie jumped up, pumping his fists to the sky.
“Ha! Ha ha!! Kaspbrak in with the three-pointer! The crowd goes wild, ahhhhhhhh, aahhhhhh-!”
“Lucky shot!” Richie huffed. But he scooted back next to Eddie as he finished munching down his Cheetos.
Now finally Eddie had the chance to take a swig of his Yoo-Hoo, swishing it in his mouth twice before swallowing, to savor the taste. His mom never let him have sodas or chocolate milks at home—it was all juices, water, and regular, skim milk. He had to be careful to ration his Yoo-hoo so it would be the last thing he tasted of his lunch, because he wanted to save the best for last. He eyed up the one-third or so of the bottle that was still left. That should be enough to get him through his bag of Funyuns. So long as Richie didn’t swipe a sip off him, which he totally was going to try and do when he ran out of his Yoo-hoo before he finished eating his Cheetos.
“I got the new issue of X-Men,” Richie told him. “You can read it when we go back home.”
“Do you have X-Factor?” Eddie only really cared about Jean Grey, and she wasn’t in X-Men book, only in X-Factor. Carefully Eddie bit into his first Funyun, removing about a quarter of it at once. He let the airy onion treat sit on his tongue, sucking on it but not chewing as his saliva soaked in and melted the starchy treat down to a small ball of mush on his tongue. Then he swallowed and repeated the process.
“’Course I got X-Factor. Why: you want to read about your boyfriend Cyclops, mwah mwah mwah!” Richie leaned in and pressed kisses to the air just next to Eddie’s head.
“No!” Eddie shouted, shoving Richie away. Gross! “No, Cyclops is stupid!”
“You’re stupid!” Richie shouted back.
“Ugh, just shut up,” Eddie complained. He bit off another quarter of a Funyun.
Without even asking Richie reached out to grab Eddie’s Yoo-hoo. He slapped Richie’s hand away.
“I’m not gonna spitback!” Richie assured him. “Lemme.”
“No! It’s mine.”
“I don’t have any diseases,” Richie sighed.
Eddie’s face heated. He hadn’t been thinking that. Or, rather, he was, but just because he always was, because his mommy told him he could never share drinks with his friends at school, because there were diseases out there that could kill him. But that wasn’t why Eddie wouldn’t let him have a sip of his Yoo-hoo. It was because that Yoo-hoo was Eddie’s, and he’d carefully rationed it to have some left when he was done with his Funyuns. If Richie had wanted a drink to wash down his Cheetos, he should have done the same!
“Fine.” Richie jumped up from the curb, looking around the Home Depot parking lot. “I’m gonna go check out the power tools. See you inside.”
“Richie!” Eddie scrambled, holding his Yoo-hoo in one hand and his Funyuns in another. “Come on, don’t-!” Richie turned back and looked at Eddie, waiting. He even crossed his arms over his chest like he was a big kid, showing off how tough he was or something. Eddie scowled. “I’ll give you a Funyun,” he finally relented.
Richie’s face broke out in a grin so wide his cheeks pushed up his glasses. “A regular-sized one. Not one of the little ones.”
Fine by Eddie. He liked the small ones he could fit into his mouth in one bite better anyway. That way he didn’t have to bite them into quarters and get Funyun crumbs on the corners of his mouth.
He ended up giving Richie half of one more big Funyun before he finished, because Richie just chomped on his chips instead of sucking on them slowly like Eddie did. But Eddie still had a swig and a half of Yoo-hoo left at the end, exactly according to plan. Feeling generous, Eddie took the last swallow and then handed the bottle over to Richie, half of the nasty bottom-of-the-bottle sip left.
“You can have that if you want it,” Eddie smirked. Richie, because he was fucking gross, tilted his head back and chugged the swill. When the bottle was empty he smacked his lips loudly. In a terrible British Voice he announced:
“Thank you, mon-sores.”
But Richie was tugging at Eddie’s arm, dragging him into the store, so Eddie didn’t have time to come up with a witty response to Richie’s crummy voices.
“C’mon! Let’s go play behind the stacks of wood.”
That did sound like tons of fun. And it was a game Eddie could actually have an advantage at, being smaller than Richie.
A half hour later Eddie was sniffling as he stood in front of Richie’s dad, finger bleeding and turning purple in front of his eyes.
“I’m- s-s-sor-ry,” he hiccupped. “Don’t t-t-tell m-m-my m-m-mo-mommy!”
Richie’s dad was holding Eddie’s finger, turning it to and fro as he examined it. Richie was standing at Eddie’s elbow, compulsively adjusting his glasses as he looked between Eddie and his father.
“It’s okay!” Richie tried to reassure him in a rush. “It’s okay, Dad’s a doctor. Dad can fix it. Right, Dad?”
“What did I tell you two about playing in the wood piles?” Richie’s dad grumbled.
“I’m s-s-sorry,” Eddie hiccupped. Oh, no. He was in trouble. Richie’s dad was mad at him, and he was going to yell at him, and take him to the hospital, and then call his mommy, and Richie’s dad and Mommy would talk about what a bad boy Eddie was. He didn’t mean to be a bad boy, he didn’t mean to do something naughty! He was just playing hide and seek with Richie, he didn’t think, he didn’t-
“It was my idea!” Richie practically yelled. “Eddie wouldn’t’ve done it if I didn’t make him!” Richie’s hands kept adjusting and adjusting his glasses. His voice dropped back to indoor-voice levels as he muttered: “Don’t tell Eddie’s mom? Please?”
Sighing to himself, Richie’s dad picked up the corner of his shirt and wrapped Eddie’s finger in it, wiping off the blood. Then he held Eddie’s wrist carefully in one hand as he took the injured finger in the other. “Does this hurt?” He bent the very tip of Eddie’s finger.
“A little?” Eddie sniffed.
“How about this?” he bent the next knuckle.
Eddie shrugged. It was sore—a dull, throbbing pain, like the noise the boards made when they clacked together on his hand.
Finger firmly clasped between his index finger and thumb, Richie’s dad started wiggling it up and down. His eyebrows shot up behind his big oval glasses.
“How about this? Anything broken? Feel any bones popping out?”
He said it with a smile, and somehow that made the pain dull. Eddie giggled as Richie’s dad wiggled his finger up and down.
“You know I am a doctor, this is a very scientific medical procedure,” he told Eddie. “It’s the wiggle test. If your bones don’t shoot out of your skin, you’re going to live.”
Eddie giggled some more, ducking his head. His finger was still bleeding a little, but it was already slowing down. Richie’s dad released his finger and reached up to ruffle his hair.
“See? You’re fine. Just wrap it in your shirt for a bit until we finish up in here.”
Eddie shrugged and did as Richie’s dad said. It didn’t even hurt that much anymore, it was just still kinda bleeding so he had to keep it stuck into his shirt. Richie grabbed Eddie’s shoulders and shook him, heads knocking together with his exuberance. He launched into his British Guy Voice again:
“Right right, now that’s all ship-shape! Thank you, Doctor Tozier!”
Richie’s dad chuckled and waved him off. “Go on. And keep your hands to yourselves!”
Richie was tugging Eddie away, even though Eddie would’ve been happy just hanging out with Richie’s dad for the rest of the Home Depot trip. He kinda of liked listening to Richie’s dad talk power tools and building supplies with the orange-aproned workers at the hardware store. He learned a lot that way, and Eddie didn’t exactly have anyone else he could really learn this stuff from.
But Richie was yanking at Eddie, dragging him down the appliance section. “Come on! Let’s turn on all the fans and lights!”
By the time they were halfway down the ceiling fan aisle, Eddie had forgotten all about his throbbing finger. Richie’s dad must be a really good doctor.
The sticks flew from his hands for the millionth time, crumpling down to the forest floor together like used chopsticks. Eddie sighed and sat back on his butt, heedless of the threat of dirt or grass stains. Next to him, Bill was working steadily, managing to hold the sticks upright at least in their proper lowercase “t” formation as he slowly sawed the horizontal stick back and forth.
“That’s it, son. Now pick up the pace. Slowly…” Bill’s dad was instructing him. Eddie cocked his head as Bill’s stick gradually started sawing faster and faster at the vertical stick he was holding in place. It looked like an impossible feat of coordination that Eddie would never be able to achieve. Next to Bill, his dad was doing the same thing, except expertly: his sticks were already smoking. They were sure to be a fire soon. Probably would be, if it weren’t for him taking this easy so he could show Bill how it’s done.
At the center of their little camp group, Stan had, of course, already managed to get well past the “smoking” stage of the sticks and was crouched with his face pressed nearly to the ground, blowing on the kindling nest he had built with moss and wood shavings, one hand holding a bundle of dried leaves ready to alight the second the smaller kindling caught. His dad’s campfire had already roared to life, been smothered by dirt, and then roared to life again during his demonstration, and now was serving as their full-fledged, campsite campfire. Stan’s dad was adding whole logs to his fire, that’s how big it was. Not even twigs! Logs. Eddie looked back down at his sticks. Cautiously he reached out to feel where they had been rubbing against each other. Not even warm.
Sighing to himself, Eddie picked his sticks and tried again. He didn’t even want the stupid merit badge, he didn’t even like Scouts. And it wasn’t like his mother was going to let him stay in it much longer. The only reason she let him go on trips now was because there were nearly as many parents as kids on these trips. But pretty soon they’d start doing real wilderness training, with just Stan’s dad or something, and the Eddie would be out. Not that he cared; who wanted to spend time doing sticky nature bullshit when he could be inside reading comic books or playing with Richie on his Nintendo video game system?
“This is bullshit,” Richie grumbled on his left. Immediately his dad hushed him, and Eddie giggled, glancing over. Richie’s dad was looking around with an apologetic smile on his face, while Richie didn’t even seem to notice, because he was busy scowling down at his two sticks that didn’t seem to be any closer to making fire than Eddie’s.
Surreptitiously Eddie scooted closer, trying to watch Mr. Tozier and see what sort of advice he was giving Richie. Since Eddie didn’t have anyone to help him out.
“I think Don said you should…” Mr. Tozier glared down at his own two sticks with almost the same expression Richie had. With big hands he grabbed both sticks between his palms and started rubbing them back and forth, painfully fast. He grunted as he worked, hands dropping after only half a minute as he swore to himself, blowing on his palms.
“Well. That got them hotter,” Mr. Tozier mused. He scratched his head, then glanced over at Richie’s efforts. When he did he noticed Eddie looking over hopefully and smiled. “Not having much luck either there, Eddie?”
Eddie ducked his head and shrugged, trying to pretend like he wasn’t just mooching off Richie’s dad. He should be allowed to, though, since he didn’t have one around to help him. But it still felt weird.
“I’m never going to earn this stupid badge. You with me, Eds?”
“Don’t call me Eds,” Eddie shot back.
On Eddie’s right, Bill cried out in triumph. Bill’s dad said: “Okay, now blow gently, you don’t to blow it out…” as Bill dropped to the ground and started blowing on his tinder, which was smoking voraciously.
Eddie threw down his sticks. “It’s not fair!”
“What’s not?” Richie asked him.
“How am I supposed to learn this stuff if I don’t have a dad?!”
Richie stuttered like Bill at that, blinking heavily at Eddie through his thick glasses. “Uh.”
Eddie flushed. “I mean, it’s just…”
“C’mere, Eddie,” Mr. Tozier said. He gestured with his hand, encouraging Eddie to circle up with him and Richie. Together Richie and Eddie moved their fire-starting kits so they were sitting in front of Mr. Tozier, with their backs to Stan and Stan’s dad, Scout extraordinaires.
Mr. Tozier set up his fire-starting kit in front of him and waited for Richie and Eddie to follow suit. Then, with a quick glance up at Stan’s dad, Richie’s dad pulled a lighter from his pocket and started lighting their tinder on fire.
“That’s-” Eddie started.
“Look, I’m just here for the s’mores,” Richie’s dad admitted. He winked at Eddie. “And when are you really going to need this?”
“What if we don’t have a lighter! And get stuck in the woods!” Eddie rambled, remembering the speech Stan’s dad had given before they split up to test their survival abilities on their own. “And we’re miles from home and we have to build a fire or die from exposure, and we have to melt snow to drink, or we have to catch our own fish and cook it-”
Richie’s dad shrugged as he tossed twigs on top of his small fire. “Yeah, but you’ll probably be with Stanley anyway, right?”
Eddie stared at him. Then Richie burst into laughter, rolling on his side. “Pops gets off a good one!”
Richie’s dad winked. “Why don’t I grab some marshmallows? Watch the fires, I’ll be right back.”
Eddie sighed as he poked at his fire, lighting the ends of his sticks on fire and watching them burn down slowly, relighting them if they went out. Richie was busy throwing as much onto his fire as he could without smothering it, trying to build it bigger than Bill’s fledging spark or Stan’s now respectably sized campfire.
“What?” Richie asked. “Worried we’re not going to get the badge?”
“It doesn’t matter anyway,” Eddie moaned. “I’m not even going to get to stay in Scouts after next year, because we’re going to start camping without your dads and mommy won’t let me go out if it’s just us kids and Stan’s dad.”
“I’ll quit with you!” Richie announced. He didn’t even look for his dad, which was so cool. Like he made his own decisions, without worrying about what his dad thought.
“Don’t quit because of me, Richie…”
“Nah, I don’t like it anyway,” Richie admitted. “I’d rather play video games and read comics but Mom wants me to get out of the house and do manly stuff and whatever, you know.”
“Better not tell her about your dad and the lighter, then,” Eddie pointed out. Richie laughed and shrugged.
“Eh, she doesn’t care that much. Neither does Dad. I mean, who cares if you can light a fire, right? We should be learning like, about computers, or something. That’s what’s important. At least, that’s what my dad says.”
Well, if Richie’s dad said it, it was probably true. Eddie wondered if there was a computer club he could join at school. Maybe Richie could join with him instead of Scouts, and his dad would like that because he thought it was important.
“Alright!” Mr. Tozier was back with a familiar brightly-colored bag. “Come on: let us feast on the rewards of being manly men!”
Eagerly Eddie and Richie grabbed some sticks and Mr. Tozier stuck marshmallows on the ends of them for them. As the three of them started roasting marshmallows over their small campfires which were quickly merging into one modestly-sized campfire.
“Hey!” Stan’s dad called out to them. “It’s not time for s’mores yet.”
Richie’s dad waved him off. “Keep your shirt on, Don. Just giving the kids a break.” He held up the bag, dangling it to and fro. “And I even brought enough for the whole class.”
Sure enough, the other kids—and most their dads, too—soon scrambled to grab a marshmallow from Mr. Tozier’s bag as a reward for all their hard work. Richie nudged Eddie with his shoulder, and Eddie grinned back at him. For some reason it felt like they were in on a secret together, but he wasn’t sure what. How cool Richie’s dad was? Everyone knew that. And it wasn’t like he was Eddie’s dad, so he didn’t share that with Richie. Sometimes it almost felt like he did, though. When he forgot. Sometimes it felt like, him and Richie, they were family, or like, Mr. Tozier thought of him as family, or something. Even though he wasn’t.
Eddie pulled his marshmallow off the fire, having achieved next to no char on it—perfect. Richie kept his stuck directly inside the fire, more fascinated with the prospect of burning it than he was eating it.
“Gimme a bite of yours,” Richie ordered him.
“Eat your own!”
Of course Eddie gave him a bite, because Eddie was a sucker and Richie was a jerk. But Eddie didn’t mind, that much, as he passed over a quarter of a barely-cooked marshmallow into Richie’s waiting fingers. Now they both had sticky hands, but that was okay. That was camping.
“You boys brought your toothbrushes, right?” Mr. Tozier asked. Eddie shook himself, realizing belatedly that he was talking to Richie and Eddie.
“Yes, sir,” Eddie chirped. Mr. Tozier wrinkled his nose at the honorific.
“Yes, Dad,” Richie groaned. “You know I did.”
“Well I packed extras in case you conveniently ‘lost’ in on the hike over here,” Richie’s dad told him. “You’ve got adult teeth in your mouth now. No replacing those ones. Better keep them clean, because they need to last you the rest of your life. Unless you want to end up like great-uncle Herbie.”
Richie scrunched up his face in disgust. “Okay, okay! We’ll brush our teeth, geeze.”
It was all Richie’s fault, like everything usually was. He had goaded Bowers, he had ran towards the Barrens, so it was all Richie’s fault when Bowers dunked them into the river, soaking through their backpacks and all of Eddie’s clothes he had packed for the weekend at the Toziers. And of course, Eddie couldn’t sneak into his own house for new clothes, because then his mommy would ask him what happened, and find out, and end up bundling him up for the hospital to make sure he didn’t catch pneumonia, or a staph infection, or whatever other diseases might be lurking in the river. Unfortunately, that left him only one option: he had to borrow clothes from Richie for the weekend.
“Why are you trying to find clothes that look like yours?” Richie asked from the bed.
Eddie stuck his head back out of Richie’s closet, peering at him curiously. He resented the delay, because he was fucking shivering in his tightie-whities and wanted to just get on with picking out something he could stand to wear. Richie had already gotten to change into dry clothes, it being his house and all. “What do you mean?”
“You keep pulling out like, my church clothes. Like with collars and shit. And khaki shorts.”
Eddie held up the khaki shorts that he was indeed holding in his left hand. They were too big for him, but he had hoped that with a belt over-cinched he’d be able to get away with it.
“Uh, because I like my clothes?” Still, Eddie put the khakis away. “Besides, your dad’s driving us to the arcade.”
Eddie looked back in Richie’s closet. “How am I supposed to dress?”
“However you want.”
Eddie rolled his eyes. He knew what ‘however you want’ meant in parent-speak. ‘However you want’ meant ‘don’t embarrass me.’ ‘However you want’ meant ‘dress nice, I have to be seen with you.’ ‘What will the neighbors think?’ ‘When you step out of this door, you’re representing our family.’
Except… He wasn’t going out with Mommy. He was going out with Richie’s dad. And Richie’s dad didn’t seem like the type who would give a hoot what Eddie wore—after all, he let his son out of the house every day looking like that.
“Do you have any overalls?” Eddie asked, suddenly attacking Richie’s closet with renewed vigor.
“Maybe. They’d be old. But hey, they’d just about be small enough for you, squirt!”
“I’m not a squirt,” Eddie hollered back at him. “Where’s your old clothes, then?”
“I dunno, check the back? Mom puts my clothes away.”
“You’re such a spoiled brat,” Eddie muttered. Richie heard him anyway, because Eddie wasn’t speaking especially quietly.
“Hey: who’s borrowing whose clothes, huh?! I coulda just made you go naked to the arcade, but I was-” here Richie launched into some kind of Daddy Warbucks voice, “feeling generous and wanted to help the young man out!”
“Your dad wouldn’tve let me go naked,” Eddie pointed out, facetiously. There were some older-looking clothes back here, stuff Eddie vaguely remembered from second grade, third grade. As he grabbed at the piles of clothes, a hat tumbled down from between who knows where. It was neon color-blocked: flashes of lime green, hot pink, eye-clashing orange. Eddie grinned and stuck it on his head. After a second he picked it up and turned it around, backwards. Finally, under a box of sneakers and a sweater some great-aunt must have knitted for Richie, he hit pay dirt.
Eddie shimmied his way backwards through Richie’s closet, finally collapsing backwards in a heap of clean clothes and accessories. Richie was laughing at him from his bed.
“What shirt you wanna wear?” Richie asked as Eddie hopped into the overalls. He buckled one side, then as he went to buckle the other he stopped. It was Richie’s dad taking them out, today. Not Richie’s mom. And not his mommy. He could dress however he wanted! Richie’s dad never cared! He left the other buckle hang loose, feeling drunk with power.
“Something bright,” Eddie realized all at once. “And with like, patterns. Stripes! Or polka dots! Do you have, let me see-” Eddie dove back into Richie’s closet. “What’s the craziest shirt you have?”
“Uh… That’d be the one with the pile of shit on it.”
“That’s just stupid,” Eddie grumbled. “You’ve got something better. What about that Muppet shirt-”
“Hey, watch what you say about Kermit!” Richie threatened.
“Or- no, wait!” Triumphant, Eddie stepped back out of Richie’s closet, holding the t-shirt in front of him.
“Oh, yeah. That’s definitely a contender.”
Twenty minutes later Eddie and Richie were racing down the stairs, shoving each other into the banister and wall as they tried to make it to the bottom first. Richie’s dad was holding open the front door for them, trying to put on a serious I-Am-Not-Amused face at their antics but not succeeding. Richie made it to the bottom first, but only because he jumped the last four steps, like a fucking cheater. Eddie fell on his ass and bounced down the last three, Richie yanking him back to his feet with so little effort it was actually kind of annoying.
“You boys ready to go?”
“Yeah Dad let’s move it,” Richie whined. He twirled his finger in the air. “Rev your engines, start your horses, get the rubber to eat dust!”
Richie’s dad looked at Eddie, glasses glinting a little as his head bobbed down and then up in a long once-over. A chill went up Eddie’s back. Maybe he had made a mistake. Mr. Tozier was going to have to be seen out with him, after all. And heh wouldn’t want to, because Eddie was dressed how Eddie wanted to dress, instead of looking nice and tidy like his mommy always dressed him. He was going to embarrass Mr. Tozier, and so he’d make Eddie go back up to Richie’s room and put on some ‘normal’ clothes. The shame crept up the back of Eddie’s neck, reaching around to grasp at his throat, strangle him. He was sorry, this was a mistake, he never meant to be bad-
“Raid Richie’s closet, huh?”
The words were stuck in Eddie’s throat, and the shame throttling his neck so hard he couldn’t even nod. But next to him, Richie just sighed and shoved forward, towards his dad. “Where else was he supposed to get clothes? Julie’s closet?”
Richie’s dad shrugged. “I suppose her stuff is too big for you boys, still.” He ruffled Richie’s hair as he hurried past. “You’ll catch up to her one day!”
“I already am, geeze, Dad,” Richie huffed. He glanced back over his shoulder, already out the door. “Eddie, let’s go!”
Somehow Eddie managed to unstick himself from the foot of the stairs. He took one step, then another. Mr. Tozier was looking at him curiously, but he wasn’t stopping him.
Just when he was almost out the door scot-free, Mr. Tozier finally said something. Eddie braced himself. But then, the words were nothing like Eddie had been expecting at all:
“Groovy tie-dye, man.”
Eddie glanced down at the rainbow tie-dye shirt he had on underneath his half-unbuckled overalls. Then he looked back at up Mr. Tozier, who was just grinning at him.
“It’s, uh. Richie’s.”
Stupid. As if they hadn’t already established that. As if Mr. Tozier wouldn’t know what clothes were his son’s! But Mr. Tozier just laughed and clasped a hand to Eddie’s shoulders, steering him out the door.
“It takes me back. To my ill-spent youth. Hanging out with the hippies and summer of love, man, and meeting Richie’s mom…”
“Yeah?” Eddie breathed, because it was all he felt like he could do right now.
“Oh yeah. Hey, I ever tell you about how Richie’s mom and I met? Richie, get in the back, don’t make your friend sit alone in the backseat. Okay: so it wasn’t the summer of love, it was sixty-five, and maybe we weren’t tie-dying hippies so much as I was a kid in dental school and Mags was working her tail off as a legal secretary. But there was plenty of- Uh, ‘herbal cigarettes…’ to go around, so it was kind of like we were part of the counter-culture. Oh, and Mags, she had this gorgeous Gloria Steinem hair—Richie, you know your mom was a real looker, back in the day? So, we met at a party…”
“Okay, so then you just do your upper lip, but you gotta like, do it with the dip, so like, nyuh, and nyuh.” Richie flicked the razor in the sink, sending a gob of shaving cream flying against the sides. He rinsed the razor under the faucet for good measure before bringing it back up to his cheek. “And then with the sides, you gotta make sure you don’t fuck up your sideburns, you know? Keep ‘em even? So I just go like gwoop, and then other side, gwoop-”
“Fuck, can you fucking slow down?” Eddie swore. He was still trying to figure out how not to slice off his own upper lip. He kept bringing the razor up to his mouth and then pulling away, a nervous tick. After another three, four times of this Eddie growled in frustration. “My fucking nose is in the way! Isn’t your nose in the way?”
“Nah. Maybe you’ve just got a bigger nose than me?”
“I do not!” Eddie shouted. “Have you seen your nose? It’s like, it’s like a fucking-”
“A Jew nose?” Richie laughed.
“Fuck’s sake, Richie, I’m gonna tell Stan you said that. And it’s bigger than Stan’s nose, anyway!”
Richie shrugged. “Hey, I don’t know why they say Jews have big noses, but they do.”
“Who’s ‘they-’” Eddie shook his head. “It doesn’t fucking matter! Richie! You’re supposed to be showing me how to fucking do this!”
“Look, it’s not so hard, you’re just overthinking it.”
Without warning Richie grabbed Eddie by the chin, reeling him in. Eddie froze, shock thrumming through his body. With his free hand Richie swiped at his face, wiping some of the shaving cream off his own cheeks. He smeared it under Eddie’s nose, replacing where Eddie’s aborted attempts at shaving had wiped it away.
“Look, and then you just…”
Richie’s eyes looked like they were crossed, behind his glasses. Because he was so close, and he was looking down at Eddie’s lips. Squatting down, actually, so he could be roughly at level with Eddie’s face, which he never was these days (never had been, except a couple lucky times when their growth spurts misaligned and Eddie had some vague hopes of catching up to Richie, before Richie took off again like the lumberjack stock he was bred from). Carefully, slowly, he brought the razor up to Eddie’s lip. Richie’s face filled his whole vision, everywhere Eddie looked there was Richie. His eyes settled on Richie’s lips, where his tongue was poking out the side of his mouth in concentration. It made Eddie want to lick his lips in mirror, but he couldn’t, because Richie’s other hand was coming up, fingers spreading wide as he held Eddie’s lip down with his thumb and pushed his nose up with his index finger. Eddie trembled.
The razor touched his skin and Eddie’s eyes slammed shut. Every inch of his body was thrumming with the need to run, run, get away! But he had to hold still, Richie was holding a damn razor to his face, he had to hold… perfectly… still…
Richie’s voice was softer than Eddie had been expecting. Slowly he opened his eyes to Richie’s face, inches from his own, his eyes lowered as they examined his work on Eddie’s upper lip. Eddie turned to look in the mirror and Richie stumbled backwards, like he was coming out of a daze.
His upper lip was shaved, apparently. It didn’t look much different from before, except the shaving cream was gone, of course. Eddie shook himself and grabbed at the razor, rinsing it under the faucet.
“It doesn’t matter if you can do it,” Eddie told Richie. “I have to do it myself.”
“Well then do it,” Richie grumbled. He went back to shaving his own face. “Try your cheeks. They’re flat so it’s easier.”
Eddie straightened his spine, planting his feet. Sure. His cheeks. Should be easy. Cautiously Eddie brought the razor up to his face, touched it to his cheek. Okay. Not bleeding yet. He dragged the razor down his cheek, shaving cream coming away in spotty gobs.
“Press harder,” Richie told him. Jerk was already shaving his chin, cheeks clear. “You’re like, not even touching the skin, dude.”
“Shut up, you’re not my dad,” Eddie hissed.
“What, your mom didn’t tell you our good news?” Richie grinned.
“Fuck your mom!”
Growling, Eddie brought the razor back up to his cheek. Harder, fine. He could press harder. He swept the razor down his cheek, pressing hard enough that he could feel the razor tug at his skin. For a brief, shining second, it seemed like he had it. He could do this! Just like a man. And then, a sharp flash of pain, and Eddie winced, dropping the razor in the sink.
“Ah, fuck,” he hissed. Instantly a droplet of blood bloomed on his cheek, scattering on the shaving cream like freshly-fallen snow.
“Shit. Here, grab a piece of tissue-”
“I don’t even need to shave!” Eddie shouted, shoving Richie’s hand away. Leaning forward, Eddie splashed water onto his face, washing away the shaving cream. “It’s not like I have any hair to shave yet anyways!”
“Not everybody grows armpit hair when they’re eleven, Richie! It doesn’t fucking matter!”
Richie hovered next to Eddie, expression conflicted like he was stuck halfway between cracking a joke and sincerely offering words of comfort. Eddie pressed a tissue to his cheek and prayed he’d choose the former, because he didn’t think he could stand that latter.
Luckily, Richie seemed to get it, at least partially, because he settled on something halfway in between. “Aw, Eds: you’ve got pit hair, now. A perfectly respectable amount of hair for your pits.”
Eddie snorted as he held the tissue to his cheek. He met Richie’s eyes in the mirror, because he couldn’t look at him directly, just yet.
“Thanks, Richie. That means a fucking lot.”
Weeks later, Eddie was trudging through Richie’s house, stumbling his way to find a glass of orange juice and maybe some eggs or something, if Richie’s mom was feeling open to charming this Sunday morning. Richie was still asleep, and would probably stay asleep until noon, because Richie was a lazy butt like that.
That was Mr. Tozier, hollering from his bedroom. Eddie stuck his head in and didn’t see him. He made his way further in. “Yes? Mr. Tozier?”
“Oh, Eddie. Is Richie up yet?”
Mr. Tozier was in his bathroom. Since he knew it was Eddie he was talking to, Eddie took that as a sign that he was decent. He made his way to the bathroom, hovering in the doorway. Mr. Tozier was in pants and no shirt, face covered in shaving cream. He was swiping quickly, hands going through a series of motions that looked so expert, Eddie could only stare jealously at the bigness and the competence of those man’s hands. He clenched his fists at his side, feeling how skinny his fingers were, all bone and sinew, fumbling like they didn’t know how to do anything that well, that smoothly. Feeling like he never would, no matter how old he got. He wasn’t going to grow up big like Mr. Tozier, after all. Not if Richie was anything to judge by. Richie who was so tall, and smelled like b-o, who had hair in his pits and enough that he had to shave his face (even if it was just once or twice a week).
Eddie shook himself out of his stupor, face hot. Mr. Tozier must think he was such a spazz, just standing there staring at him shaving. Well, more of a spazz: he already knew Eddie was a spazz.
“Oh, uh, no. Do you want me to…?”
“No, it’s fine.” A flick of his wrist and the shaving cream disappeared off the end of the razor and reappeared dead center in the sink. Eddie swallowed as Mr. Tozier tilted his head back to shave his neck. His Adam’s apple bobbed noticeably. Just like Richie, with his giant fucking Adam’s apple. Another thing Eddie worried he was never going to have. Not like Richie did, or Mr. Tozier.
“Be glad you don’t have to do this every day yet,” Mr. Tozier suddenly commented.
Eddie felt like he flushed head to foot. “Uh…”
“I, uh. I guess.”
Mr. Tozier frowned and turned to look at Eddie, absently cleaning his razor off under the faucet. “Have you tried yet? You’ve got enough fuzz and stragglers coming in to practice on.”
Eddie shrugged. “I, uh. Richie… tried. Showing me. It’s… I don’t need to, so.”
Something seemed to click in Mr. Tozier. A light went on behind his eyes as he tapped his razor against the sink.
“Oh, well Richie’s awful. Did you go running for the hills so you could keep your face in one piece? Because that’s what you should’ve done. How many pints of blood did you lose? Because if it was only one Richie must have been in top form. Kid comes out of the bathroom looking like an off-rent mummy on the best of days.”
Eddie knew Mr. Tozier was just trying to make him feel better, but that didn’t make it much less effective.
“Eh, come on. Slap some Barbasol on those whiskers. Let me show you how it’s done.”
Now that it was Mr. Tozier telling him, and not Richie, Eddie found himself without a lot of the fight and embarrassment he had the last time he’d attempted this. So he lathered up and watched Mr. Tozier intently as he explained the mechanics.
“You always want to shave with the grain, okay? So your hair on your cheeks, it’s going to grow down, right? So don’t shave up, shave down…” Mr. Tozier’s hand moved in one long stroke, revealing a path of pink skin on his own cheek. He nodded at Eddie. “Give it a shot.”
Eddie lifted the razor to his cheek, but his hand trembled. He sighed and lowered it.
“I cut myself, last time. One time I pressed too soft, then too hard…”
“Oh, well, here, I’ll show you.”
With the utmost care, Mr. Tozier covered Eddie’s hand with his own and lifted it back to his cheek.
“Okay, so. You want about this firmly,” he explained, pressing the razor to Eddie’s cheek and letting him feel it. “See? And you don’t want to stutter. So just keep it this firm, and then pull it on down…”
One long motion, slower than Mr. Tozier had gone, but not painstakingly slow, either, and Eddie had revealed the same strip of cheek as Mr. Tozier. And no cuts, this time! Eddie grinned at his reflection in the mirror.
“Oh. That… I get it.”
“Yeah!” Reaching up, Eddie tried again. Another strip of cheek shaved clean! He grinned harder. “I’ve got it!”
Mr. Tozier laughed and ruffled Eddie’s hair. “There you go! Now rinse your razor. Do the easy parts, then I’ll show you the tricks for all the nooks and crannies.”
It only took maybe ten minutes, all said and done. Eddie rubbed a hand over his jaw, feeling the smoothness of his skin. And Mr. Tozier had been right: he had more peach fuzz than he had been giving himself credit for. Now that it was all gone, it was noticeable how much hair there had been.
“Thanks, Mr. Tozier.” Eddie rubbed the back of his head ruefully. “Even if I won’t need to know how to shave for years and years.”
“You know, the more you shave, the more hair you grow,” Mr. Tozier told him. He winked. “That’s an old secret: only men know that. So even if you don’t think you need to, try shaving once a week. I bet you’ll start seeing results. And if not, hey, it’s good practice, right?”
Eddie snorted. “Sure, Mr. Tozier. Thanks again.” Then Eddie beat it out of there, before he overstayed his welcome.
He didn’t believe Richie’s dad about that, of course. Sounded like an old wives’ tale, except for men—old husbands’ tale? Whatever it was, it definitely couldn’t be true. Probably just when you started shaving it was because you had started growing facial hair, and when you started growing facial hair, well, over time you grew more and more. Correlation, not causation. They’d learned about that in stats class.
Even so… On his way home, Eddie bought himself a new razor and a can of Barbasol. Like Mr. Tozier said, it was good to practice, anyway.
The grill wasn’t some home-made monstrosity like the crematorium Went had built when they were kids. It was just your average Weber: big enough to get the job done, not so top-of-the-line that it had a lot of bells and whistles. Opening the lid, Eddie examined the grates with a critical eye. Spotless. Still, Eddie ran a rag over them, just to make double-sure.
The snap snap snap of the lighter was drowned out by the porch door slamming open. For half a second Eddie thought it was Richie: the footfalls were the same, the height, the boisterous way of entering a room (or a backyard, as it was). But then his brain clicked over, at the same time the grill caught and lit.
“Hey-ya, yourself, Went.”
“What are you doing out here? Shouldn’t my deadbeat son be grilling in his father’s own backyard?”
Eddie snorted as Went set the plate of uncooked meats down on the side of the grill.
“I blame bad parenting,” he told Went. “Richie never learned how to grill. Must’ve had a neglectful father. It’s like that boy was raised by wolves.”
“Whoa!” Went’s hands shot up. “I don’t need to hear about you boys in the bedroom!”
Eddie groaned. That was such a… Richie-ism.
As Eddie started placing the hamburgers onto the grill (plus two hot dogs for Richie, because he never grew up), Went cracked open two beers and set one down on the side of the grill. Once the meats were all evenly spaced and cooking away, Eddie took up the beer bottle and held it out to Went. They clinked—necks, bottoms—and took a drink together in companionable silence. Eddie found himself studying the burgers as they slowly cooked, without much else to distract his attention.
Went cleared his throat lightly, and Eddie winced. He wasn’t sure if Richie had told his parents, after the last time…
“We don’t have to talk about it,” Eddie cut him off.
They sipped their beers in manful silence, watching meat sizzle on the grill.
“I wanted to ask how Richie was doing.”
Eddie sighed, running his hand through his hair. His left ring finger tapped against the beer bottle, the clink clink clink of his wedding ring a soothing rhythm to fill the silence.
“How’s he seem like he’s doing?” Eddie asked.
“Heartbroken,” Went answered immediately. Eddie sighed again. Richie had been… normal, today. Except, maybe had talked too loud, and laughed too hard, and hugged his parents for too long. Maybe his smile was too big and his eyes too bright. Eddie could see it: it was written all over him, in his every cell. He should have figured his parents could see it, too. Richie relied too much on his big personality to distract from the heart he wore on his sleeve, but if you just knew to look, it was right there, on the surface.
“He’s not upset, he’s just… disappointed,” Eddie finally admitted. The spatula tapped hollowly against the grill grates as he fought the urge to press down on the burgers. Mr. Tozier had taught him never to press down on the burgers. It squeezed the moisture out and made them dry.
Went pointed with his beer at one of the burgers. “That one’s ready to flip.”
Eddie glanced at it. No it wasn’t. “No it isn’t.”
“Yeah it is. Flip it.”
Without any real intent Went swiped at Eddie’s spatula. Eddie held it out of his grasp, nudging him with his shoulder to keep away. Went chuckled and sipped at his beer, peering down at the burgers through his rectangular wire-rimmed glasses.
“Well, I can understand why he’s upset. Disappointed,” Went quickly corrected himself. But the look he shot Eddie said he wasn’t buying it. “You both have been at it, what? Two years?”
“Three,” Eddie grumbled.
Went whistled. “Well. You ever think of the other things? Surrogacy, that’s one of them, yeah?”
“We’ve talked about it,” Eddie admitted. “Neither of us would mind having a kid that was biologically ours.” And Eddie had thought about it, a lot. A kid with Richie’s mop of impossible hair, terrible eyesight, awkwardly gangly limbs sprawled out all over the place, voice booming through their house as he played with his friends. “And we could afford it, but. We figure, if we’ve got to, you know, make an effort, why not give some kids a good home who really need one?”
“It’ll work out,” Went said. “One way or another, you two will make it work out.” Went gestured at the hot dogs and Eddie rolled his eyes but started moving them over to the plate.
“Yeah, well, we’d rather it work out a little faster than it has been.”
“Oh, fifty’s the new forty, so the news keeps telling me. You two’ll be fine.”
“It’s not just about us getting older…” Eddie admitted. He glanced at Went, who didn’t seem to get it, for a moment. Then he laughed and slapped Eddie on the back.
“Oh, hey, he can’t worry about his old pops. Julie already gave us grandbabies, we’re not pinning all our hopes on him.”
Eddie flipped the patties. “It’s not that. It’s, he thinks of you as the perfect dad, and he wants his kids to know you. As their granddad.” Eddie mock-sighed, trying for some levity: “Plus, no grandparents on my side, so you and Maggie are it for savings bonds and college funds.”
“Come on now, you act like we’re going to drop dead any minute. Me and Mags have a few good years left. At least five.”
Eddie poked a finger at Went. “Don’t joke about that shit.”
Went waved a hand, doing that Clint Eastwood old-man growl he was leaning more and more into these days, even though he was right, he wasn’t that old. Not yet.
“Eh, don’t worry about it. My dad died in his eighties, and he smoked a pack a day and drank the bacon grease from the skillet.”
Eddie frowned, eyes darting to the side as he thought back. “Your dad had a stroke in his sixties. He was a fucking vegetable our whole childhood.”
“Still! Didn’t die until he was eighty-two!”
“Ey, come on.” Went elbowed Eddie lightly in the side. “You kids are all set, whether or not Mags and I are around. You got each other.” He reached out, settling a hand on Eddie’s elbow in reassurance. “And if my doc has any say in it, I’m going to be around for a long time yet. Either that, or he’s one of you types, with the interest he shows in my prostate!”
Eddie spluttered, chugging half the beer as the tips of his ears turned bright red. Jesus, Went!
Eddie went to work flipping the burgers, which made Went happy because now he got to critique the other side of them, and start telling Eddie they were done long before they were.
“If you’re worried about college funds, I could set you up with my financial planner. Smart guy. Set me and the Missus up right for our retirement.”
“Thanks, but we’ve got it covered,” Eddie told him. “Between me and Stan we know our way around a five twenty-nine.”
Went grunted. “Still. Can’t hurt to have a professional-”
“Stan is a professional.”
“Alright, alright,” Went hummed.
Eddie heard Richie before he saw him, between the slamming patio door, his flip-flops slapping over the deck, and his voice booming out: “Hey there, lover!” Eddie sighed and braced himself.
Sure enough, Richie greeted Eddie with a smack on his ass and a kiss on his cheek. Eddie jabbed his elbow into his gut.
“I’m grilling here, asshole.”
“Oh so I can’t kiss my husband when he’s grilling.”
“You could maybe not slap me on the ass while I’m hovering over an open grill, yeah, fuck-face.”
“Dad,” Richie whined, draping himself all over Eddie’s shoulders. He pressed his head into Eddie’s cheek. “Dad, my husband is abusing me. Did you hear what he called me?”
“Well, you are kind of being a fuck-face, son,” Went told him.
“My own father,” Richie moaned. He buried his face dramatically against Eddie’s, which was all well and good, but not while Eddie was seriously standing right in front of an open grill. Eddie shrugged his shoulders, trying to nudge Richie off him.
Ultimately he had to give in, turning to give Richie a kiss, before Richie straightened up and removed himself from Eddie’s person. “What do you want?” Eddie asked.
“I can’t want to spend time with my pops and my husband? I can’t want to offer to help grill up dinner?”
“Food’ll be ready in one minute,” Went told him. Richie licked his lips.
“Yeah that’s why I came out,” Richie admitted. “Awesome, my guts are growling.”
“Did you dig into the ice cream before dinner?” Went teased. “That always gives you a stomachache.”
“Not in front of Eddie, Dad,” Richie whined. Then he leaned over and grabbed the beer from Eddie’s hand, taking a sip for himself. “And table’s all set. Anything I can bring in now?”
“Thirty seconds,” Eddie told him. “Just be patient.”
“Well we know I’m no good at that,” Richie snorted. He nodded over at Went while he sipped at Eddie’s beer. “Mom said there were some projects I could help with.”
“Your mother is a worry-wort,” Went grunted. “Thinks I need help taking care of my own house.”
“No one said you needed it, but I’ve got three weeks before my next job and I’ve run out of things to do at our house. Come on, give me something to do. Pruning? Gutters? I’m tall and have the back of a fifty-year-old, put me to work!”
“We’re forty-five,” Eddie reminded him.
“Yeah but I never work out my core so my back is fucked.”
Went sighed, scratching his chin.
“I guess you could come by and… pick up the debris while I’m pruning the trees this weekend. Hold the ladder.”
“Okay, Dad. I’ll come by and ‘hold the ladder.’” Richie made an exaggerated show of winking at Eddie and shaking his head. He threw his thumb over his shoulder like this guy? and rolled his eyes.
Eddie smacked him upside the arm and pointed at Went. “This weekend, why don’t you actually pay attention to your dad for once and learn how to do some stuff around the house? I can’t be the only one who knows how to do home repairs when-” Eddie winced. Trailed off. Richie’s good mood immediately faltered, naked hurt flashing across his face before he covered it up with the fakest smile Eddie had ever seen him attempt. It was actively painful to look at. So Eddie didn’t, dropping his eyes to the grill. Oh, the burgers were done. Okay. Silently Eddie transferred the burgers to a plate.
“You know…” Went started, then stopped. He coughed, then squinted up at the sky, like there was something interesting up there. Then he turned and looked at the trees. “Rich, come take a look at this tree for me, wouldya? Can’t tell if I should just take it down or not.”
Before Richie could protest Went had his arm wrapped around Richie’s shoulder, steering him for the edge of the yard. Eddie turned off the grill and put his back into scraping away any detritus. When Richie and Went strolled back a minute later, Richie’s glasses were shoved up on top of his head and he was wiping his eyes. Went grabbed for the plate of burgers (and two hotdogs) while Richie grabbed for Eddie, pressing a kiss to his hair. Eddie smiled and swiped both thumbs under Richie’s eyes, wiping away the last of his tears.
“I made you two hotdogs.”
“And two burgers?”
“And two burgers.”
Richie grumbled and pressed another kiss to Eddie’s hair. “I love you.”
Eddie laughed as he tugged Richie’s glasses back down onto his face.
Before they could say anything else, Richie jerked back. Eddie frowned at him uncertainly until he pulled his phone out of his pocket.
Eddie winced. What adult man answered a phone like that? And it wasn’t just when it was Eddie, or Bev, or Stan. It was just the way Richie answered his phone. For anyone! Speaking of teaching Richie how to be a man, maybe Went could teach Richie how to answer a phone properly, for fuck’s sake. Then again… Eddie thought back to the last time he’d called Went. He’d answered the phone with a loud “Hey-ya Hey-yo!” Okay, so maybe that was where Richie got it from.
“Are you serious?”
Eddie frowned. Richie’s other hand suddenly reached out, grabbing at Eddie’s wrist. A chill went through Eddie. What-
“A brother and sister?”
Eddie gasped. Richie was crying. Oh. Oh.
Eddie crowded in, trying to listen to the phone call. Fumbling, Richie slapped it onto speaker, holding it close between them. They crowded together, just the two of them, the phone held between their faces as they gazed at it like it held all their hopes and dreams. Which it did, it did.
“-could place them with you today, if that’s alright?” the woman on the phone was saying.
“It’s alright!” Richie practically shouted. “Yeah, we’ve- We’ve got-” Suddenly he glanced up at Eddie. “Two.”
“Yes,” Eddie shouted at the phone. He giggled helplessly, struggling to modulate the volume of his voice. “We can. What- Is there a time?”
“They should be all processed by five tonight, if that works for you.”
IKEA, Eddie mouthed at Richie. He nodded back, then clasped a hand to his mouth. Tears brimmed over in his eyes and then fell. Eddie couldn’t stop smiling. He must look deranged.
Eddie couldn’t even remember how they ended the call. But then Richie was shoving the phone in his pocket and grabbing Eddie, shaking, holding his wrists, turning in a circle. Eddie turned with him, then realized, fuck, they had to make his office into a bedroom like, now. Like, in… he looked at his AppleWatch. Four hours. Four hours! They were going to have a son. And a daughter. In four hours!
“We have to go,” Eddie finally managed to say. He looked at Richie, grabbed his elbows. Richie was holding onto his wrists. They grabbed at each other, like they were stacking hands in the schoolyard to decide who went first. Except, they were both going together. To be fathers.
“We have to go,” Eddie repeated, except this time he spun around to say it to Went. Eddie rushed forward and gave Went a hug goodbye, and Richie followed suit, and then they were racing off to the house together. They had to go, they had four hours to buy an entire bedroom set from IKEA, throw all of Eddie’s shit out of the office (it was fine, they had a ridiculous five-bedroom house, they had plenty of rooms), assemble the IKEA furniture and make it look like a welcoming space for… for their kid. Their kids. Plural. Eddie reached out to grab Richie’s hand, and Richie grabbed back, squeezing tight.
Richie and Eddie turned in unison back to Went. Next to him, Richie was trembling. Went lifted his beer to them.
“Happy Father’s Day.”
A sob ripped its way from Richie’s throat and he grabbed onto Eddie, crying into his shoulder. Eddie waved back at Went with one hand, while stroking Richie’s hair with the other.
“Thanks, Went. Happy Father’s Day.”