“This is a phenomenally stupid idea,” Stan says.
“It is not!” Eddie exclaims. “It’s — not even a big deal, don’t make it a big deal!”
The stupid idea began, as many stupid ideas in Eddie’s life often did, because of Richie. A week and a half ago, he’d told the Losers that he was thinking about coming out to his family, that he’d like to do it during the Toziers’ family reunion weekend that was coming up. The problem, Richie explained, was that he didn’t want to actually have to say anything. He didn’t want to have the whole awkward conversation.
“It’d be so much easier if I had a boyfriend or something,” Richie said. “I could just show up and be like hey, here’s my plus one, and they could figure it out from that. Problem solved.”
And Eddie, the helpful best friend that he is, had said, “I can pretend to be your boyfriend if you want, Rich.” And Richie had agreed to this plan wholeheartedly. It was not a big deal. Eddie was just being a good friend! His recently realized less-than-platonic feelings toward Richie played absolutely no part in this plan. It’s not like all of the Losers haven’t done crazier things for each other — months after killing the clown they all ended up relocating to Los Angeles so they could live in the same city. Comparatively, this is nothing.
Stan is giving Eddie a capital-L Look, and Eddie scowls back at him. “So, what, are you saying I shouldn’t do it? It’s too late to back out now, the reunion’s tomorrow.”
“Oh no, you should absolutely do it,” Stan says, holding up his hands in a placating gesture. “It’s stupid but I want to see how it all shakes out.”
“You’re a terrible friend,” Eddie tells him, and Stan just shrugs a little and smiles, content to watch Eddie make an absolute ass of himself, apparently.
The Tozier family reunion is being held at Richie’s sister’s house in San Francisco, and Richie picks Eddie up for the six-hour drive early on Saturday morning. Richie is, for reasons unknown to Eddie, insanely energetic and cheerful in the mornings. Eddie squints blearily at him and grumbles incoherently as he lets him into his apartment, not dressed or fully conscious yet.
Richie laughs at him, jostling his shoulder. “Up and at ’em, Eds! We’ve got a fun-filled day of awkward social interaction ahead of us!”
“I hate you,” Eddie says. “I changed my mind, I’m not going.”
He’s obviously kidding, but he sees Richie’s smile falter slightly, taking on a more fixed, plastic look. “I mean, you don’t have to come, if you changed your mind —”
“What? Shut the fuck up, of course I’m coming. It was my idea, dipshit,” Eddie says, forcing himself to open his eyes all the way so Richie can see he really means it. “Just gimme a second, I’ll get dressed.” He turns to head back toward his room, and then pauses, spinning to face Richie again. “Do you, uh… have any requests? For like, what I should wear?”
Richie blinks at him. “What.”
“Like, you know. If I’m supposed to look like — like someone you would date. What would you want me to wear?” God, Eddie’s so fucking awkward. This is why he shouldn’t talk to people before he’s had coffee. He watches as Richie’s eyes widen in understanding, and he looks just as flustered as Eddie feels. Probably because it’s a weird fucking question.
“Um, you can just wear whatever you’re comfortable in, man,” Richie says. “There’s no dress code or anything, obviously.” He gestures to his own Muppets t-shirt and board shorts combo. “Just — dress like you.”
“Right. Okay. Be right back.” Eddie escapes to the bedroom, shutting the door behind him. Stupid idea, Stan’s voice sing-songs in the back of his mind. No, it’s fine, Eddie can be normal about this. He’s just helping Richie come out to his family. This isn’t about Eddie or his dumb little crush.
It is for decidedly not-crush-related reasons that Eddie chooses to wear an oversized Hawaiian shirt that Richie left at his house a few weeks ago. He puts on a pair of cuffed jeans and ties the front of the shirt together to make it fit a little better. He glances at himself in the mirror and wills the reddening of his ears to go away. Well — he sure looks like Richie’s boyfriend now.
He grabs his overnight bag from the foot of the bed and slings it over his shoulder, heading back into the living room. Richie looks up from where he’s been poking around at the stack of magazines on Eddie’s coffee table, and his expression shifts into one that Eddie can only describe as “mildly concussed.” He blinks rapidly, his jaw slack.
“What?” Eddie snaps, embarrassed. “Why are you being weird?”
“I’m not!” Richie says quickly. He straightens up so fast he almost topples over again. “I just — uh. Is that my shirt?”
“Yeah,” Eddie says. A little defensively, he adds, “It’ll make everything more believable if I’m wearing your clothes, right?”
Richie’s weird expression drops, and he laughs a little bit. “Right. Always one for the details, Eds.” He claps his hands together. “You ready to get this show on the road? Six hours of fun await us!”
Eddie groans, heading for the door. “I need about three cups of coffee before I’m fun.”
Richie waggles his eyebrows and says, “Do you promise?” and Eddie, pretending the flush across his face is all anger, punches Richie in the arm.
The drive actually isn’t bad at all — once Eddie’s more awake, the two of them jam out to their shared roadtrip playlist and have the sorts of loud conversations that get them constantly shushed by the other Losers whenever they’re all together. It’s a kind of exhilarating back-and-forth that Eddie’s never had with anyone else.
The only awkward moment comes about four hours into the drive, when Eddie says, “You know, we never really talked about like… how much you want to get into the PDA, in front of your family. Like, we’ll have to act like a couple.”
Richie’s hands shift on the steering wheel, and he glances at Eddie for a second before his eyes flick back to the road. “Oh. Uh, good point.”
“What would you do if I was your real boyfriend?” Eddie asks. He watches as Richie’s shoulders jump up toward his ears, and winces slightly at his choice of words. Don’t be so fucking obvious, dipshit, he tells himself. “I mean, how handsy would you be with your real boyfriend in this situation?”
Richie laughs awkwardly. “Uh, probably not much. I don’t know. Holding your hand? Putting my arm around you?”
“That’s fine,” Eddie says, extremely casually. Even more casually, he asks, “What about kissing?” and Richie’s foot slips on the brake and sends them both lurching forward slightly as he recovers. “Dude!” Eddie yelps, flinging his hands in the air.
“Sorry, sorry,” Richie says, adjusting his grip on the steering wheel. Eddie’s just relieved they weren’t close to any other cars. “So, uh. Kissing? You — you’d be comfortable with that?”
“I’m just asking what you want to do,” Eddie says evasively.
“Right.” Richie thinks this over for a minute, and then says carefully, “Maybe not on the mouth.”
This makes sense, both in terms of Richie not wanting to get too PDA in front of his family and also because he’s not actually into Eddie, which Eddie keeps forcibly reminding himself of. “Okay,” he says. “That’s all fine by me. Whatever you wanna do, man.”
“Cool,” Richie says, eyes fixed on the road. They change the topic shortly after, and the weird energy in the car dissipates.
Six hours later, they pull up in front of Richie’s sister’s house and Richie kills the ignition. He stares up at the house through the windshield, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel and making no move to get out of the car.
Eddie watches him. “It’s okay to be nervous,” he says.
Richie laughs shakily. “Yeah, I know.” He still doesn’t move. He hasn’t even unbuckled his seatbelt.
Gently, Eddie reaches over to take one of Richie’s hands, and Richie startles so hard that Eddie yanks his hand back, burning with embarrassment. “Rich,” he says quietly, “if you don’t want to do this after all, it’s fine, I can just drop you off and like, hang out around town or something —”
“No!” Richie yelps. He scrambles to grab Eddie’s hand, this time threading their fingers together. “No way, man. I — honestly I don’t think I’d be able to do this without you literally holding my hand.” He smiles sheepishly. “Thanks for like, putting up with this.”
Eddie squeezes Richie’s hand and tries desperately not to give too much away when he says, “I promise I don’t mind.”
They grab their bags from the backseat and then head up the walkway to the house. When they knock, Richie’s older sister Donna answers the door. She’s shorter than Richie but taller than Eddie, with the same dark hair and bright, mischievous eyes. She’s six years older, so she was already off to college out of state by the time all the clown bullshit went down, but Eddie has vague memories of her shooing him, Richie, Bill, and Stan out of the living room when she wanted to watch TV and they were busy yelling at each other over Monopoly or Clue.
“Richie Rich!” she says, flinging her arms wide and yanking him into a hug. Eddie stands there slightly awkwardly, his hand still gripped tightly in Richie’s. When Donna releases him, she turns to Eddie and squints slightly. “I know you, don’t I?” she says.
“Eddie Kaspbrak,” Eddie says, waving with his free hand.
Donna’s eyes widen. “Oh my god, little Eddie K! Oh wow, it’s been so long! Richie mentioned he’d reconnected with some old friends, what a nice surprise!” She turns back to Richie, mock-accusing. “I thought you said you were bringing a date!”
Richie’s fingers twitch in Eddie’s grasp, and he squeezes tight. “Yeah, I did. Eddie’s my boyfriend.”
Donna blinks twice, processing, and then smiles again. “That is so cute,” she says. “You two were close when you were kids, right? It totally makes sense. Here, come in, come in, Mom and Dad are already here and Aunt Linda will be here soon with Grandma.” She waves them both inside.
As Eddie’s bending down to take off his shoes, he sees Donna lean in close to Richie and murmur something too quiet for him to hear. Richie ducks his head, a nervous smile plastered onto his face, and Eddie feels a spike of worry before Donna tugs Richie into a one-armed sidelong hug, and his expression relaxes into one of genuine happiness. After that she disappears further into the house, calling back to them that the guest room is upstairs, first door to the right.
Still smiling, Richie turns back to Eddie, who straightens up and nudges his shoes over toward the pile of everyone else’s by the door. “Okay?” he asks Richie in an undertone.
Richie nods, sticking his hands in his pocket. “Okay,” he agrees. “Come on, one down, let’s keep ’em coming.”
They drop their bags off in the guest bedroom (where Eddie tries very hard not to think about cozying up with Richie in the full-size bed tonight), and then they head back down to find the rest of the family. On their way through the house to the backyard, Richie’s two nieces go scampering past them. Eddie can see who he assumes is Donna’s husband, Paul, in the back, along with Maggie and Went, who both look significantly older than Eddie remembers them. He feels a little nervous, about what they’re going to think of him as an adult. Donna seemed to remember him fondly, but she also barely knew him back then. Wentworth Tozier was Eddie’s dentist, for crying out loud.
Richie slides open the back door so the two of them can step out, and his parents call out a greeting. Maggie starts to rise from her lawn chair, and Richie waves a hand at her quickly.
“Don’t get up,” he says, pulling Eddie along over to his mother. “Mom, you remember Eddie, right?”
“Of course I do!” Maggie says, smiling at him. “When Richie said he was bringing a date, I didn’t expect —”
“A guy?” Richie offers. There’s the cadence of a joke to his tone, but Eddie can hear the tension behind it.
Maggie shakes her head. “Someone we already knew so well,” she corrects. “Of course, it’s been so long, but you can’t have changed too much if you two are still so close.” Her smile goes nostalgic and soft. “Oh, I remember when you two were little, you were so sweet on each other even back then.”
Eddie flushes at the implication, wondering just how obvious it had been back then, how he felt. He tried to hide it behind bickering and play-fighting and “don’t call me Eds!” but in retrospect that probably did nothing to mask the truth.
Richie, abashed, says, “Yeah, yeah. I was totally in love with him back then, it only took thirty years to get my shit together.” He says it with such an earnestness that if Eddie didn’t know this was all an act, he’d believe him. To really sell it, Richie loops his arm around Eddie’s shoulders and kisses the side of his head. Eddie’s face goes hot with embarrassment, but he leans into it, trying not to feel too guilty.
Over the course of the next hour or so, Richie introduces Eddie as his boyfriend to his dad, his nieces, his brother-in-law, his aunt, and his grandma. Everyone has a positive reaction, and those who had met Eddie as a kid start cooing away at how romantic the whole thing is. Richie keeps his arm around Eddie’s shoulder nearly the whole time, and Eddie just lets it happen, hooking his arm around Richie’s waist in return. It’s almost surprising, how easy it is. They’ve always been pretty physically comfortable with each other, but usually the touches involve arm-wrestling, punching each other on the shoulder, tackling each other into the pool, Richie trying to give Eddie a noogie or Eddie covering Richie’s whole face with his hand to shove him away. These new touches are much gentler, almost addictive in how warm and comfortable they feel. It feels good, to hold Richie like this, casually and comfortably, lingering.
Eddie has no idea how he’s going to go back to their normal after this weekend.
It’s not that Eddie’s afraid of losing Richie forever if he found out how Eddie feels — they’re best friends, it’d take more than an unrequited crush to destroy that. But it would certainly change things. Richie is so free with his affection, and even when Eddie came out to their friends several months ago (right on the heels of Richie coming out to everyone, as a matter of fact), it didn’t change how Richie acted around him. Eddie’s terrified of putting a new level of distance between them, of anything that would make Richie pull back.
He’s not thinking about that today, though. No catastrophizing allowed until Monday morning when all of this is over and Stan can gloat about being right when Eddie goes to him to complain about it.
There’s some peppy pop music playing from the radio on the back patio, and Eddie and Richie are sitting in lawn chairs side-by-side, semi-participating in a conversation between Wentworth and Paul about lawn care. Eddie has lived in apartments his whole life and knows nothing about lawns, but he’s too distracted by Richie’s casual hand on his knee to pay attention anyway.
Finally, needing a break before he does something crazy like kiss Richie full on the mouth in front of his entire family, Eddie stands up and says, “I’m gonna grab a beer.”
“Get one for me too?” Richie asks. Eddie nods, heading over to the cooler sitting by the back door. He grabs two beers, slippery with melted ice, and is making his way back over when he’s stopped by Donna’s younger daughter, Amanda.
“So are you our uncle now too?” she asks.
“Ha! Maybe someday,” Eddie says, internally kicking himself.
Amanda nods, absorbing this. “Uncle Rich must really like you,” she says. “He used to be kinda sad all the time, but he seems really happy today.”
Oh god. Eddie wants to cry a little bit. “He makes me really happy, too,” he says, too honestly. It’s fine. Amanda is nine, he can sort of admit the truth of his feelings to a random nine-year-old.
She smiles, seemingly satisfied by this, and skips off to another part of the yard. Feeling slightly rattled, Eddie returns to his lawn chair. He hands Richie his beer as he sits back down. Richie says, “Thanks, honey,” and Eddie feels like someone just dropped a cartoon anvil on his head. Why is Richie so good at this? Eddie’s overthinking everything he wants to do, even the agreed-upon level of affection. It’s probably easier when you don’t mean it, he reasons.
It seems like maybe they’re going to be able to get away with casual touches and brief pet names and that’ll be it, but then Richie wanders off to go get something from the house and Donna sidles up to Eddie with a knowing smile on her face and says, “So, you and Rich seem really happy together.”
If one more person says that to him, Eddie thinks his head might actually explode. “Ha, yeah, we are,” he says nervously.
Donna bumps him with her elbow. “Relax, dude. I think it’s really sweet you two ended up together after all this time. It’s like something out of a rom com.”
This is all too much. Somewhere back in LA, Stan is laughing his ass off at Eddie’s expense. “Yeah, I — I’m really lucky,” Eddie says. Then, realizing he’s acting like a weirdo and he’s supposed to be making this whole boyfriend thing believable, he adds, “I honestly never thought I’d find someone like Richie, you know? I mean, after we lost touch, I never really met anyone else who got me the way he does. He’s the best person I know.” Smiling a little to himself, feeling warm and too honest, he says, “I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather be with. Like, he’s it.”
“Sounds like he’s pretty lucky, too,” Donna says. “I love my brother, but I can’t remember the last time I heard someone say that many nice things about him in a row. You must really love him.”
“Yeah,” Eddie says quietly. “Yeah, I do.”
It’s only after she’s walked away that it really hits Eddie that he didn’t have to fake or exaggerate anything he just said. Richie is it for him, he does really love him — oh, fuck. Eddie’s in love with Richie, how has he never put it to words until now? It was easier to write it off as a childish crush, a holdover from their teenage days that Eddie could ignore and eventually get over, but this is —
“Wow,” Richie’s voice says from directly behind him, and Eddie nearly jumps out of his skin. He whips around and sees Richie is standing there and looking impressed. “You really commit to the bit, man, I’ll give you that.”
“What?” Eddie says, head still spinning with this new revelation.
“What you said to Donna just then,” Richie says, tilting his head in the direction his sister walked off. “Really selling it, Eds.”
“Oh. Yeah.” Eddie rubs the back of his neck. He feels vaguely feverish. “Well — I had to do something to keep up with that shit you were saying earlier.” At Richie’s confused look, he says, “You know, how you said you were in love with me when we were kids?”
Richie blinks, and he takes a beat too long to laugh and say, “Right. I did say that.” He’s making an odd face; smiling, but something in his eyes is more discerning than that. Eddie desperately wishes he could know what Richie’s thinking right now. But then, abruptly, Richie says, “Oh god, Paul is coming over here. If he tries to talk to me about lawn mowers one more time today I’m going to jump off the roof. Quick, c’mere and pretend to be madly in love with me so he’ll leave me alone.”
Eddie suppresses a nearly hysterical laugh and steps into Richie’s embrace. Richie’s hand is spanning the dip of Eddie’s lower back, warm and firm pressure. He brings his face close, his lips nearly touching Eddie’s ear. They’re so close, Eddie could feel Richie’s heartbeat if he wasn’t so focused on the sudden hammering of his own.
“Pretend I’m whispering sweet nothings to you,” Richie murmurs, his breath warm on Eddie’s cheek.
Trying not to shiver, Eddie murmurs back, “I don’t think you’re capable of that, Trashmouth.”
Richie huffs a laugh. “I can be sweet. You don’t even know.”
Would you be sweet to me? Eddie thinks before he can stop himself. If this was real, what would you whisper in my ear? Earlier, Richie had called him honey. Would he say that again?
“Okay, he’s been intercepted by Went, we’re good,” Richie says. He leans out of Eddie’s space, still closer than is strictly necessary. He’s backlit by the late afternoon sun, the ends of his hair edged honey-colored in the light. There’s a faint blush across his whole face, and he looks so handsome Eddie wants to cry. He loves him so intensely that in that moment, he wants to close the distance between them again and kiss him. He could play it off as part of the charade, if it weren’t for their agreement not to kiss on the mouth. In any case, Eddie’s afraid if he so much as held Richie’s hand right now, he’d give himself away entirely.
But Richie is blushing, and there’s a soft vulnerability to his expression that gets Eddie wondering again, what exactly is going on in his head. He looks like how Eddie feels right now — like he’s realizing that he doesn’t want all of this to be pretend after all. Is that wishful thinking? Richie watches him, looking anticipatory, and Eddie suddenly panics, not sure he wants to hear whatever the hell it is Richie might be about to say.
“I gotta — bathroom,” Eddie says abruptly, jerking a thumb over his shoulder before turning on his heel and speed-walking into the house. He locks himself in the bathroom and sits on the closed toilet lid, putting his head in his hands. What the fuck is he doing?
He pulls out his phone and texts Stan.
This was a stupid idea!!!!!
Nooo, really? 😱
Shut up. I hate you.
I’m in love with Richie.
See previous text.
I don’t know what you want me to say!
You love him. You should tell him. That’s what I think.
Ok but consider: he doesn’t feel the same way.
This was supposed to be about making him feel comfortable.
So he could come out to his family. I can’t make it about me.
Have you considered he agreed to this because he DOES feel the same way?
Wtf are you talking about.
Do you know something?!
I know you need to talk to him like an adult.
This, Eddie thinks, is why he shouldn’t talk to Stan about this kind of shit. Stan met his soulmate the first week of college and asked her out like a day after they met. He doesn’t get it. Doesn’t get how hard it is to talk when he’s looking at Richie. Sure, they talk all the time, but when it comes to saying things that really matter — the things he really means — he gets tongue tied.
Even so, he can’t hide in the bathroom forever. There’s a hammock at the far side of the yard, and that’s where Eddie finds Richie, lounging in the sun with his eyes closed. He opens them when Eddie approaches, and immediately his expression goes defensive.
“You better not be about to tell me it’s your turn on the hammock,” he says, pointing an accusing finger at Eddie. “I know your moves, Kaspbrak, and I just got in here —”
“Oh my god, shut up,” Eddie says, rolling his eyes, and then he ungracefully climbs into the hammock next to him. It’s not quite as easy as it was when they were thirteen and sharing the hammock in the clubhouse, but Richie shifts to make room for him like it’s second nature, still instinct after nearly three decades. Eddie settles against Richie’s side, their bodies pressed together, Richie’s arm tucked under Eddie’s neck. They are, for all intents and purposes, cuddling.
“How are you feeling?” Eddie asks, once the hammock has stopped rocking so precariously, and his head is on Richie’s shoulder.
Richie’s response is slightly delayed, and he clears his throat before he speaks. “Good,” he says. “This has been — really good. I couldn’t have done it without you, Eds. Seriously.”
“You think you successfully avoided having to have The Talk with everyone?”
Richie snorts. “Probably not, honestly. Now they’re all gonna want to interrogate me about you being my boyfriend. We didn’t really think that one through.”
Eddie hesitates. He doesn’t know if he can say what he means, not directly, but he can say something. He takes a breath. “I wouldn’t mind doing this again. If you want.”
“What, pretending to be a couple?” Richie asks. His arm around Eddie tenses for a moment and then relaxes again.
“Yeah,” Eddie says. “I can keep being your boyfriend as long as you want.”
Richie makes a noise that might be a laugh. “Careful with promises like that, Eds. You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.”
“I think I do,” Eddie says. He turns his face to press his nose against the spot where Richie’s neck meets his shoulder. He breathes in the sun-warm scent of him. God, Eddie loves him. He loves him. How can he say it without saying it? Eddie closes his eyes and kisses the underside of Richie’s jaw, just gently. Soft, barely a press of lips.
Richie’s breath still catches. Eddie feels the way Richie’s throat works when he swallows. “What are you doing?” he says quietly.
“What do you think?” Eddie says. His heart is beating so fast.
“No one’s watching,” Richie says.
“I know,” Eddie says, just as softly. “Is… is that okay?”
Richie’s arm tightens around Eddie again, this time hugging him even closer. “Yeah,” he breathes.
Eddie kisses the same spot again, firmer this time, and feels Richie shudder out an exhale. Neither of them say anything. Eddie doesn’t lift his head, doesn’t shift up to see what expression Richie’s making. He keeps his eyes closed, cradled against Richie in the hammock, and despite the racing of his heart he feels incredibly comfortable. Safe. A little drowsy, in the sun.
He doesn’t mean to fall asleep, but Eddie blinks awake some time later, still in the hammock, this time alone. He has no idea how Richie was able to slip out without waking him. The sounds of the Toziers chatting still fill the backyard, but Richie’s voice isn’t discernible among them. Eddie sits up groggily, knuckling at his tired eyes. He can still feel the phantom warmth of Richie’s body pressed against him. Can still feel the scratch of his stubble, where Eddie kissed him.
Eddie kissed him. And Richie said it was okay. He held Eddie close to him until Eddie drifted off. He must know, now. Or at least have some idea. Something is swelling like helium in Eddie’s chest, a slowly growing hope. Stan’s right, all he has to do is say something — he’s less afraid of the answer now.
“Looking for Richie?” Donna asks as Eddie passes her on the lawn. He nods. “I think he stepped inside. Had to make a call.”
Eddie nods again, heading toward the house. He doesn’t see Richie in the hallway, but he can hear the faint sound of his voice coming from the dining room. He wanders down the hall until he’s close enough, peering around the doorframe.
Richie is standing with his back to Eddie, his phone clutched to his ear. His shoulders are hunched, posture tense and anxious. “Stan, I’m telling you, this was a huge fucking mistake,” Richie says.
It feels like someone’s dumped a bucket of ice water over Eddie’s head. The flicker of hope in his chest is instantly extinguished, replaced with a cold, nauseating feeling of humiliation. Richie knows, alright. And he clearly regrets everything he’s allowed Eddie to get away with. Before he can get caught eavesdropping, Eddie backs away from the door and moves on autopilot back down the hall. He climbs the stairs and steps into the room he and Richie are meant to share that night. Their bags sit side-by-side at the foot of the bed. The singular bed, that they were supposed to sleep in together. Would Richie even want to sleep next to Eddie now, after his little stunt in the hammock?
Eddie’s lungs feel tight. He sits on the edge of the bed and presses a fist to his mouth. How could he have been so fucking stupid? Richie is his best friend, his favorite person in the entire world. Why couldn’t he have just been satisfied with things as they were, with this one day of pretending to be the object of Richie’s affections? Why did he have to push it too far?
He stands up again, gathering his bag. He shouldn’t stay here tonight. Richie deserves some space, and honestly Eddie’s embarrassed enough that he doesn’t think he can so much as make eye contact with Richie right now, let alone curl up under a blanket with him. He’s pulling up listings for nearby hotels on his phone when the bedroom door opens again.
It’s Richie, of course. He looks nervous but not unhappy, though his expression falls when he sees Eddie standing there with his overnight bag slung over one shoulder. “Eds?” he says uncertainly. “What, uh, what’s up?”
“I’m sorry,” Eddie blurts. He can feel how red his face is getting. He stares at a point over Richie’s shoulder rather than look him in the face. “I — I think I should stay somewhere else tonight, Rich, I really. I think that’d be best for both of us. Right?”
Richie’s eyes widen. “You — what? Why?”
Eddie winces. “Rich, come on. Don’t make me say it.”
A dawning look of understanding crosses Richie’s face, and his frown deepens. “Is this about what happened on the hammock?”
“It was my fault,” Eddie says quickly. “I shouldn’t have done that. This was just supposed to be pretend, and I — I overstepped. I heard you talking to Stan.”
“Fuck,” Richie says. “You did? Eddie, listen, I —”
“You don’t have to explain anything,” Eddie says. He doesn’t think he would survive if he had to hear Richie actually try to let him down easy. “I get it. And it’s — it’s not your fault, you know, you can’t help how you feel —”
“Jesus, you must think I’m such a creep,” Richie says miserably. “Like I was taking advantage of this whole situation. I… I get it if you don’t feel comfortable staying here.”
“It’s — I’m doing this for your comfort, dude,” Eddie says. “If anyone was taking advantage it was me, this whole thing was my idea.” He doesn’t understand why Richie looks so upset. Honestly, it’s kind of pissing him off. Like, Eddie’s the one getting his heart broken here! “What’s your problem anyway, man, is this really such a horrible thing to find out?”
Richie laughs, sharp and disbelieving. “Uh, yeah? The guy I’m in love with can’t even bear to be in the same room as me now. What the fuck kind of question is that?”
Eddie stares at him. “What.”
Now Richie’s scowling. Putting up a front to mask his hurt. Eddie remembers Richie doing the same thing sometimes when they were kids. “Don’t ‘what’ me, man, you said you fuckin’ heard what I said to Stan.”
“You — you’re in love with me?” Eddie manages. His voice comes out squeaky.
“Okay, are you just trying to be a dick now?” Richie demands. “Jesus, Eddie, you don’t need to rub salt in the wound here, I’m sorry I made you so fucking uncomfortable —”
“No, stop, shut up,” Eddie says, waving his hands around. “You — but — what are you talking about? I’m in love with you!”
Now it’s Richie’s turn to look like he’s been bonked over the head with a cartoon mallet. “No you’re not,” he says, staring at Eddie with wide, unblinking eyes.
“Fuck you, yes I am!” Eddie yelps. “What the fuck have we been talking about then?”
“How I’m in love with you? And it made you uncomfortable?” Richie says. The fight has gone out of his posture and his tone, and now he just looks bewildered.
“Uh, no, we’re talking about how I’m in love with you, and you told Stan this whole fake boyfriend thing was a mistake!” Eddie points an accusing finger at him. “I heard you say that!”
“Yeah, it’s a mistake because now that I have even a tiny idea of what it’d be like to actually have you love me, I don’t know how the fuck I’m supposed to go back to normal after tomorrow!” Richie says.
His words settle over Eddie, along with, finally, a sense of understanding. He takes a small step forward, closing the distance between them. Richie looks down at him, guarded. “Richie,” he says, much quieter than either of them has been speaking for the past several minutes. “You already have that. I do love you, idiot. How the fuck did you not notice?”
“I —” Richie shakes his head like he’s trying to clear it. “I thought you were just a really good actor.”
“I’m a really shitty actor,” Eddie says. “I didn’t have to pretend at all.”
Richie tips his head down, leaning into Eddie’s space. He reaches out carefully, lifting Eddie’s bag from his shoulder and setting it on the ground. He rests his hand where the bag’s strap was. Eddie shifts into the touch, going up on his toes a little bit. He leans in slow, giving Richie the chance to move away or tell him to back off. He doesn’t, so Eddie closes the distance with a kiss to that same spot below Richie’s jaw. Richie breathes out slowly. Eddie kisses his cheek next, letting his nose press into the soft skin.
Richie huffs out a soundless laugh. “Eddie Kaspbrak is a tease. Who knew.”
“Fuck off, I’m nervous,” Eddie says. He catches Richie’s eye, looking at how his pupils have gone wide, making his eyes look big and dark. “Anyway, you said no kissing on the mouth.”
“Fuck what I said,” Richie says fervently, and then he takes Eddie’s face in both hands and presses their mouths firmly together. Eddie sighs into it, one arm hooking around Richie’s neck to hold him even closer, parting his lips enough to offer the suggestion of deepening the kiss, leaving the ball in Richie’s court. Richie takes it, slipping his tongue into Eddie’s mouth with a muted, urgent sound. Their noses bump as they adjust, tilting their heads to fix the angle, and Eddie feels like he could melt right into the floor. He’s never wanted to kiss someone so badly in his whole life. Even as they’re kissing, he feels the want in his core, like he can’t get enough.
“Rich,” he pants, when they pull back for air. “Holy shit.”
“Yeah,” Richie agrees. He brings his fingers up to brush over Eddie’s temple, stroking the stray hairs that have come loose from the gel. “God, Eddie. Wow.”
“Guess Stan was right,” Eddie says wryly.
Richie snorts. “Did you talk to him too? What did he tell you?”
“To tell you how I felt. Although it didn’t work the first time.”
“You didn’t tell me shit!” Richie exclaims.
“I kissed you! I’m wearing your fucking shirt!”
“I thought it was a bit!”
“A bit. I can’t stand you, oh my god,” Eddie says, reeling Richie back in for another hard kiss. He sucks on Richie’s lower lip, eliciting a quiet whine, but he pulls away before they can get too carried away again. “I love you,” he says. It feels incredibly important to make sure Richie knows, for sure this time.
Richie’s eyes go glassy, his smile getting both wider and wobblier, but he just says, “I thought you couldn’t stand me.”
“It’s both,” Eddie says. “It’s always both. I’m fucking obsessed with you, dude.”
Richie laughs wetly. “God. I feel like I’m fucking dreaming. I love you too. Can I kiss you again?”
“Please,” Eddie says, and Richie does.
It’s many minutes later when they finally stop, and settle into just holding each other, swaying slightly in the middle of the room. Eddie’s lips feel a little raw from the kissing, and he’s definitely going to have some degree of beard burn going on. He tucks his face into the crook of Richie’s neck and stays there, feeling deeply content.
“So, what now?” Richie asks after a while.
Eddie hums questioningly, not lifting his head.
“I mean… are we…” Richie trails off, leaving the question unasked.
Eddie does lift his head this time. “Together?” he finishes. Richie nods, looking embarrassed. “I’d like that. If you would. Whatever you want to call it.”
“God, my family thinks we’ve been together this whole time,” Richie groans.
“Do we tell them?” Eddie asks.
“Fuck no, are you kidding me? They’d never let me live it down,” Richie says. “Would you mind keeping the act up a little longer?”
“I mean, it’s not really an act anymore,” Eddie points out. He hugs Richie a little tighter, a pointed gesture, and Richie grins dopily at him. “But yeah, we can do that. It’ll be easier now, anyway.”
“Officially lifting the moratorium on mouth-kissing,” Richie agrees, and then swoops in to kiss Eddie again, long and sweet, effectively distracting both of them again for a few minutes.
Eventually, they have to leave the bedroom. They head back down to the backyard, where Donna gives them a suspicious look from her place at the barbecue. “No fooling around in my guest room,” she says when they pass her, pointing her spatula at them both.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Richie simpers, hugging Eddie close to his side. A giddy thrill rushes through Eddie at the gesture, because this time he knows Richie means it. He can tell from the heat in his face that he’s blushing a little bit, and he can’t stop grinning like an idiot. Richie glances down at him, his expression just as lovestruck and embarrassing as Eddie feels.
“What is up with you two right now?” Donna says.
Eddie can practically see the gears turning in Richie’s head as he thinks up an excuse. “Oh, you know, young love,” he says eventually.
Donna squints at him. “You’re forty.”
Richie flaps his hand at her dismissively. “Semantics,” he says. “C’mon, Eddie my love.” He steers Eddie away from the grill and heads for the Adirondack chairs under the shade of the tree. It’s only when they’re sitting down, Richie pulling Eddie into his lap in a single chair, that Richie looks at Eddie’s expression and his eyebrows shoot up. “Dude, are you good?”
Eddie wants to physically hide himself. “Yes,” he manages. “I’m great!”
Richie stares at him for a moment, considering, and then a knowing smirk spreads across his face. “You like that one, huh? Eddie my love,” he croons.
“Shut up!” Eddie hisses, smacking his arm where it’s snaked around Eddie’s waist. “You can’t just drop that shit on me! We’ve been dating for like twenty minutes!”
“If you’ll recall, we’ve been dating for an unspecified several months, actually,” Richie says pointedly. “And I called you that when we were like twelve.” Then, finally having the decency to look a little sheepish, he says, “If you don’t want me to call you stuff like that, I won’t.”
“It’s fine,” Eddie says quickly. “It’s just — different. When I know you mean it.”
“Aw, Eds. I always meant it,” Richie says softly.
They’re interrupted by Richie’s nieces, who loudly complain that they haven’t talked to Uncle Rich all day, and end up sitting on the grass across from Richie and Eddie’s chair to interrogate him at length about which celebrities he’s run into at the grocery store back in LA and mostly listing Disney stars that neither Richie or Eddie have heard of. It’s comfortable, in the circle of Richie’s arm, leaning back against his chest, and Eddie doesn’t feel as self conscious about doing it in front of Richie’s family as he would’ve expected.
After the girls run off, Eddie tips his head back to rest on Richie’s shoulder so he can speak quietly and still be heard. “So. Pet names?”
Richie shivers a little when Eddie’s breath hits his neck. “What about them?”
“You like that stuff. And —” Eddie gestures to their current seating situation. “Just seems like a lot more PDA than you implied you were into before.”
“Well I was obviously full of shit before,” Richie says. “I was so fucking nervous about holding your hand, let alone letting you sit on my lap. If we’d pretend-kissed on the mouth I probably would have had a heart attack.”
It’s both bizarre and gratifying to know Richie felt the same way Eddie’s been feeling this whole time. It also makes Eddie feel a little bit like a moron for not realizing it sooner. “Oh. Me too, probably,” he says. “And now, a little bit. But if we’d actually been dating for a few months… I think maybe I like PDA? I always thought it was like, unnecessary, but I think I was just deeply unhappy in my marriage and assumed everyone else was just faking it when they wanted to kiss someone in the middle of the street.”
“Is this too much?” Richie asks. His nose is touching the side of Eddie’s neck. Eddie’s never been close to him like this — even when they were kissing in the bedroom earlier, it didn’t feel like this. An easy sort of intimacy, just a closeness of two people who love each other. He doesn’t think he’s ever been close to anyone like this, not really.
“No,” Eddie says honestly. “I mean. Yes, kind of, but it’s. It’s not bad.”
Richie squints at him. “Kinda getting mixed messages here, bud.”
Eddie laughs helplessly. “I’m sorry. It’s a lot, but it’s okay. I just… wish we could do this without everyone looking at us.”
Because it’s not that Eddie is embarrassed, exactly. He’s overwhelmed, but he’d be overwhelmed no matter how or where he found out Richie loves him back. It’s honestly thrilling to know Richie wants to be this open with his affections, in front of his family and everything. But it would be nice to be able to get used to this, adapt to this complete shift in his understanding of his relationship with Richie, without everyone here expecting anything of him.
Richie hugs him a little closer. “It’s just one more day,” he says. “Then we can keep this as secret as you want.”
“That’s not what I want,” Eddie insists. “Not even a little bit. I don’t want to keep you a secret, I love you.”
Richie doesn’t say anything in response to that, so Eddie shifts enough to look at him again. He’s a bit startled to see that Richie looks misty-eyed. When he catches Eddie looking, he laughs ruefully and ducks his head. “Don’t look at me,” he mumbles. “Jesus. I love you too.”
Eddie thinks he could hear Richie say that a million more times and it would sound like a miracle every time.
That night, Eddie and Richie share a bed for the first time since grade school. Back then, they’d wedged a pillow between them like a little barrier, crammed into Richie’s twin bed with his dinosaur sheets and glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. They’d whispered and giggled long past when Maggie told them to go to sleep, and Eddie had felt a thrilling sense of rebellion, those secret moments with his very best friend late into the night.
It might be decades later, but this feels sort of like that. Maybe it’s because they do have a secret this time, or because it still feels like a rebellion to lie next to Richie in a bed. This time, though, there’s no pillow between them, and no glow-in-the-dark stars. Just the two of them, curled up close enough that their noses touch, shadowed outlines in the dark room.
“I don’t know how I’m gonna fall asleep tonight,” Richie whispers. “When we used to have sleepovers, I’d stay up all night because I was wigging out about you being in my room. My heart is like —” He takes Eddie’s hand and presses it against his chest, so Eddie can feel the way Richie’s heart is hammering.
“Sometimes I wanted to hold your hand to fall asleep,” Eddie says, smoothing his palm across Richie’s pajama shirt, over the broad plane of his chest. “Especially after we fought It that summer. But I always chickened out.”
“You can hold my hand now,” Richie says. “Anytime you want.”
Eddie chuckles softly. “Thanks, Rich.”
They lie there for a long time, long enough that Eddie starts to doze, and then Richie says, “Hey. Can I… you can say no. If it’s too much.”
“Huh?” Eddie mumbles, blinking his eyes back open. He can just make out the lines of Richie’s face in the dark, the curve of his nose and the shine of his eyes. “What is it, Richie?”
“I just. Was wondering.” Richie clears his throat and starts over. “Can I hold you? While we fall asleep?”
“Oh.” A warmth spreads from the top of Eddie’s head all the way down to his toes. “Yeah. How do you — just tell me where you want me.”
“Oh boy,” Richie mutters under his breath. “You’re killin’ me, man.” He shifts, rolling over onto his back, and tugs Eddie closer until he’d pressed against Richie’s side, one of Richie’s arms curled protectively around him, Eddie’s hand splayed across Richie’s chest again. His cheek is resting on Richie’s collarbone, and he can smell the sleep-soft warmth of him.
No one else in this house knows what a novelty this is, for the two of them to sleep together in the most literal sense of the word. Eddie didn’t think he’d like cuddling in bed. It’s sweaty, and he can be a restless sleeper, and it was just something he never even bothered with when he was married before. He knows he could chalk this all up to his marriage being particularly awful, but he’d like to think there’s something significant about the way he and Richie seem to fit, their bodies made to hold each other like this.
“Is that good?” Richie asks.
Eddie hums, pushing his face against Richie’s chest. Maybe he nuzzles a little bit, so sue him. “Really good,” he says. “I could get used to this.”
“You can,” Richie says. “We can do this whenever you want.”
“Wow,” Eddie says. “We really can, huh. Today has been fucking crazy.”
Richie snorts. “Yeah, you’re telling me. I think I went through the entire spectrum of emotions today.” He rubs Eddie’s back gently. “You falling asleep?”
“Mm, in a minute,” Eddie says. He pushes up enough that he can kiss Richie clumsily in the dark, slow and slightly off-center. Richie hums into it, one hand coming up to card through Eddie’s hair, and Eddie lets some of his weight rest fully onto Richie so their chests press together. They kiss until Eddie starts to feel seriously drowsy, his mouth getting clumsier and slower until they’re not really kissing at all, and Richie laughs softly and nudges him back against his side.
“Thanks for being my fake boyfriend today,” Richie whispers.
Yawning widely, Eddie curls up against Richie and closes his eyes. “Thanks for being my real boyfriend.”
Richie laughs again, still sounding like he can’t quite believe his luck. Eddie knows the feeling. He hears Richie murmur “love ya, Eds,” and manages to whisper it back before he drifts off to sleep. It’s the best sleep he’s had in decades, and he looks forward to many more nights just like it.