It’s fucking stupid, is the thing.
He knows it. He’s sure Richie knows it, too, if he would stop being a stubborn asshole and admit it.
“I took an online tour of the farm,” he says, rolling the jar between his hands, and Richie makes a vaguely interested noise as he unpacks the rest of the groceries. “It look up to your standards?”
Eddie glares at his back. He’s eye-level with it from where he’s sitting on the counter, still just a little bit shorter, and that just makes him glare harder. The view is nice, admittedly, but trying to wither Richie’s shoulder blades with his eyes isn’t really helping anything, so he steps it up a notch. “Pigs looked happy,” he says, doing his best to sound casual, and he has to hold back a smile when Richie takes the bait.
“Always a good sign.”
“Are you serious?”
That gets Richie’s attention. He leans out from behind the pantry door, looking over with a concerned frown. “What?”
“Why the fuck would there be pigs on a peanut farm?”
Richie blinks. “I don’t know.”
“He doesn’t know,” Eddie says to no one, throwing his hands up.
“That doesn’t mean I wasn’t listening,” Richie counters. “Am I supposed to be the expert on peanut farming?”
“It’s common sense! This is vegan peanut butter, Rich. Why would they make vegan peanut butter on an animal farm?” Eddie can see him slip into a fighting stance, eyes brightening and lips curling up at the edges.
“Maybe the farmer likes pigs, I don’t fucking-“
“Pigs are disgusting, what kind of farmer-“
“A pig farmer, obviously-“
“He’s not a pig farmer, he’s a peanut farmer-“
“Why are you putting him in a box? He can be whatever he wants!”
“You’re pigeonholing our poor hypothetical farmer, Eds, I really thought you were more cosmopolitan than-“ he cuts himself off mid-rant, pointing at Eddie and grinning. “No! I see what you’re doing, you little shit. I’m not falling for it.”
Eddie deflates a little. “You already did,” he points out, but there’s no bite to it.
Richie plonks down the rest of the soup cans and shuts the pantry door, crossing the kitchen to stand in front of him. He puts his palms on Eddie’s thighs, bracketing where his fingers scrabble anxiously at the jar’s surface and looking at him with eyes so soft it hurts.
“Stop being weird,” Eddie grumbles, and they’re close enough that he can feel the huff of Richie’s laugh.
“How d’you want me then?”
It’s meant to be a joke, he’s sure, a dig at his demanding tone, but there’s an edge of earnestness to it, a fond twist to Richie’s lips, and he has to duck away to hide his shaky smile. “Annoying. The usual.”
“Ask and you shall receive,” Richie says, all grand infomercial Voice, and plucks the jar from his hands to read from the label. “100% organic, vegan, and cruelty free.”
“Better be worth the twenty bucks,” he says, frowning when Richie just hums. “You’re not going to fuck with me for buying twenty dollar peanut butter?”
“How much is it normally?”
Eddie blinks. “Jesus. I get why Mike gives us shit now.”
Richie cackles, digging two spoons out of the drawer next to them and knocking it shut with his hip. “I’d take shit from him any day if Bill would let me.”
Eddie takes one of the spoons as Richie pops the lid off the jar. The smell of peanut butter wafts out through the kitchen, salty and sweet, and he can feel his stomach clench with anxiety. “Mike has standards, Rich,” he says, trying to ignore the sudden tightness in his throat.
“Standards, pshaw.” He leans against the counter, twirling his spoon around in his fingers. “You’re gonna share, right?” he asks, meaning Will it help if i do it with you? and Eddie nods, taking a deep breath.
He knows he’s not allergic to nuts. He knows. He’d had them run a screening at the hospital after Derry to see what he’d actually reacted to and had come back with a clean bill of health, other than a mild pineapple allergy. He’s eaten trail mix before on hiking trips with Ben and Mike, stolen pistachios from the little bowl Bev keeps at her sewing station, stood in the waiting area of a godforsaken Texas Roadhouse and inhaled more nut dust than oxygen. Peanuts are not an issue. They’re not.
He also knows the symptoms of anaphylactic shock. Weak pulse, nausea, rash, vomiting, fainting, constricting of airways. He can see it, bright flashes popping into his head before he can fight them off: his face getting pale, then blue, as he sinks to the floor, trying to suck in air through a passage the size of a coffee straw. Hives popping up on his skin like pox, angry in their intensity, and the sickly yellowish red of the lumps underneath. Retching onto the kitchen floor, hands sticky with bile as he struggles to hold himself up. Richie above him, his panicked yelling fading away as Eddie loses consciousness.
He sucks in a shallow breath, tries to blow it out less shakily. Richie mirrors him, falling into sync as they inhale together.
“Alright, Doctor K,” he says after a moment, nudging his thigh with the bottom of the jar. “Gimme the stats.”
Statistics had been Eddie’s thing, once. They’re still ingrained in his brain after too many years spent slinging facts and figures at insurance companies like they don’t scare the shit out of him.
“150 children and adults die each year from food allergies in the United States,” he recites, the number slipping into his brain easily.
Richie whistles. “Only 150? I like those odds.”
“What are the odds of being one of the seven children chosen by the universe to fight a demon space alien?” Eddie throws back drily, and therein lies the crux of it. Statistics don’t work anymore, not like they used to. It doesn’t matter if the chances are one in five or one in a million or one in eight billion. All it takes it that one. He’s been that one.
“What are the odds of winning?” Richie tosses back. They’ve been through this before, firing responses back and forth more out of habit than actual substance. A ritual, almost. Eddie pushes and Richie pushes back until they push each other somewhere safe, somewhere calm. Balance. “It doesn’t always have to be so doom and gloom, Eds.”
“But it usually is.”
“Not always! You got me out of it. Totally worth all that trauma.”
A slight deviation from the script, but it makes Eddie smile. And what are the odds of that? Of us? he wonders, letting the sentimental bullshit carry him away for just a second. What are the odds that I saw you once after thirty years and just wanted to give you hell for the rest of our lives? What are the odds that you wanted it too? What are the odds that we can have it?
“I regret it every day,” he says instead, nudging him gently with his knee to say I can’t think of anything I wouldn’t do, any monster I wouldn’t fight.
Richie clips him back and dips his spoon into the jar, finally, breaking the smooth surface and the soft moment in one efficient swoop.
Right, Eddie thinks, tearing his eyes away from Richie’s smile to peer into the gooey depths of the jar. Speaking of monsters. Anaphylactic shock isn’t the only thing that could happen, of course. His brain lights up, giddy with it. Contaminants. Always a favorite, ever since his mother had described the wiggly parasites lurking in ground beef to him as a child. The way they’d wriggle into his intestines, burrow down and deep until his insides looked like Swiss cheese. He can feel his pulse start to race, nausea hitting him like a truck. He’d gotten this brand specifically because he’d seen the recalls on some of the others, things like food poisoning and salmonella. Salmonella passes through households, his brain reminds him, gnawing at the back of his mind as he glances back up at Richie. Spouses. Caretakers.
“Hold on,” he mumbles, fumbling his phone out of his pocket. He snaps a quick picture of the jar and sends it to Stan, captioning it simply Therapy homework. He gets a response after a beat, a little thumbs up emoji. You’ve got it. He sucks in another breath. If he doesn’t do it now he’ll have to tell Stan, and there are few things Eddie likes less than admitting he couldn’t do something. Delicate, his brain croons, and he shoves it away, jabbing his spoon into the jar with a ferocity that makes Richie blink.
“Okay, killer. Count of three?”
Salmonella is often deposited in produce through contact with bird feces. What else could that cause? Could you get avian flu from bird shit? Blood poisoning? Stomach worms? What if you get bird worms on top of the worms that are already in the peanuts?
“As in one-two-three-go or just one-two-three?”
What if you have double worms and then the antibiotics to treat them can’t be taken at the same time and you just have to live with worms for twice the time? What if they breed in your guts and then you have a whole new species of worm that they can’t even treat and then they have to do surgery to remove them and then the surgery goes wrong? He can see it, lying on an operating table with an Alien-sized super worm erupting out of his stomach, doctors scattering away as scalpels fall to the floor.
Richie straightens up, clearing his throat. “As in count of three. One-“
Eddie startles, caught off guard. “Wait, wait, Rich, I-“
“I said wait, asshole, are w-“
“Technically if I go and you don’t you chickened and then you’ll have to tell Stan that you chickened and I’ll have to dip my spit spoon back in to do it with you again so you’ll be eating peanuts and the sandwich I had for lunch so really it’s way better just to do it now,” Richie practically spews, so fast Eddie can’t even try to get a word in before he hears the triumphant “Three!” and crams the spoon into his mouth without thinking twice.
Richie grins brightly around his own spoon, sucking the peanut butter off it and setting it aside. “You did it!”
Fuck. Even if there weren’t worms to worry about, or anaphylactic shock, or salmonella, what about pesticides? It says it’s organic and shit, sure, but who really knows? God knows what kind of weed killer they use for peanut fields. It’s almost definitely lethal in large doses, anything is. What if he’s got the one in a million spoonful?
“Eds,” Richie is saying, patting his thigh and looking at him with concern. “Eddie, dude. Babe. You gotta swallow it.”
The gob of peanut butter is just sitting against his tongue, spoon frozen in place like maybe if he doesn’t move it the bacteria will stay still. If it doesn’t make it’s way down to his stomach maybe he’ll be fine.
Richie’s hands move up, thumbs rubbing soothing circles into his sides. “That’s gotta be gross just hanging out in your mouth, man. C’mon. You got it.”
It is gross. Really gross. But so are worms, and pesticides, and the unmopped kitchen floor where he’ll pass out if he goes into shock.
“Digestion starts at the point of salivation,” Richie recites, looking at him closely, and Eddie blinks. “The second you put something in your mouth, your body starts to break it down. You’ve basically already eaten it.”
He knows that, theoretically, had poured over enough medical books as a kid to know the basics of the digestive system, but hearing it now makes his pulse skip suddenly. You’ve basically already eaten it, Richie had said. And it’s stupid, childish like this entire thing is, but he can’t help the whisper in his brain. You’re basically already dead. Why die a chicken?
He pulls the spoon from his mouth slowly and swallows, the blob sliding down into his stomach like glue. It itches the entire way down, burning from the inside out, and he grabs the edges of the counter to keep from scratching at his throat.
“So?” Richie asks after a minute, peering at him cautiously. “Whaddya think?”
“Count of three, asshole. You tricked me,” Eddie says, face scrunching in disgust as his stomach flips, and Richie snorts.
“It worked, didn’t it?”
“Tastes like chalk.”
“I didn’t want to ruin it for you,” he says, grinning brightly, “but this is the worst. Ever. It tastes like someone embalmed a peanut.”
“Jesus.” He swallows again, trying to get the taste out of his mouth. It’s caked to the roof of his mouth, somehow simultaneously sticky and dry. “Is this what all of it is like?”
He shakes his head. “We’ll get you some Jiffy or something when you‘re up for it. This is a disgrace.” He holds out the jar for him, tossing it in the trash can when Eddie shakes his head.
He leans back, sucking in more air as his head spins. His stomach roils uncomfortably, twisting into upset knots. Not parasites, dumbass, he thinks pointedly. Just you freaking out.
“Permission to approach the bench?”
Eddie laughs shakily. “Who let you in my courtroom?”
“I cut a deal with my lawyer,” he says, sidling up next to Eddie on the counter, and he’s grateful for the chance to lean his head on Richie’s shoulder.
“I’ll have him disbarred.”
They sit while Eddie calms down, silence settling comfortably. The sun starts to set outside the kitchen window, painting everything a soft orange that makes him think of cutie tangerines and the curl of Bev’s hair. He’s pretty sure he’s not going to puke, now, intestines settling grudgingly into something approaching digestion. He’s ridiculously tired, the underlying nausea still clawing at the inside of his throat. You’re fine, he thinks, breathing in deeply until his lungs get with the program. Chill out.
“You did research?” he asks after awhile, sagging against the backsplash, and Richie shrugs like it’s nothing, like Eddie didn’t spend years watching him try to claw his way through half-finished book reports and forgotten science projects.
“Found a biology podcast. Boring as shit, but,” he shrugs again, gesturing vaguely around the kitchen. “I got it eventually. Figured it might come in handy.”
There’s nothing he can say to that, all the words too heavy for the soft press of Richie’s shoulder against his, so he grabs a fistful of shirt instead, pulls Richie close enough to kiss him firmly.
“My ass is asleep,” Richie murmurs after a while, and Eddie snorts, sitting up and carefully hopping down from the counter. “And also most of my brain.”
“C’mon, old man,” he says, tugging at Richie’s wrist. “We’re going to bed.” One monster is plenty for one day. It’s stupid, he thinks, beyond ridiculous, but there’s a little scrap of accomplishment glimmering in his chest, something prideful that catches light when Richie hops off the counter and into his space, pecking him on the cheek with a smack.
“It’s like seven o’clock, Eds.”
Richie slings an arm over his shoulders with a grin, warm and soft as the setting sun. “And this is the life,” he says, not a trace of a joke on his lips.