“And now a special surprise for you all. Our final act of the night, back for the first time since his famed onstage breakdown - Richie Trashmouth Tozier!”
There was stunned silence followed by a sudden outbreak of applause as an anxious and slightly sweaty Richie came out with an awkward smile and wave. Someone in the audience let out an audible, “Oh, shit.”
Discomfort instantly diffused, Richie barked out a laugh and grabbed the mic stand, eyes squinting against the stage lights as he searched the audience of the small comedy club. “Did someone just say ‘Oh, shit’ when I walked out? I know I was thinking it, but why were you saying it?”
“I guess that’s fair,” Richie acknowledged. “I mean we all know what happened, right?”
“I won’t get into the dirty details, TMZ has that covered,” Richie tilted the mic stand and shrugged nonchalantly. “But I have to say, the reaction to me losing it was nothing - literally nothing. Most people seemed to have expected it from me by now and fuck you guys for thinking that, but also congrats on being right on the money.”
He rolled on the balls of his feet, looking up at the club ceiling. The room was silent along with him. “Now, the reaction to me being gay. That’s been wild.”
The crowd cheered and Richie looked over them with a disbelieving, but pleasantly surprised slant to his mouth.
“Thank you, thank you. That’s so nice.” He raised an eyebrow. “Some people are not as happy about it.”
A few people booed.
“Yeah, fuck homophobes!” More cheers. “God, you guys are easy. Anyway, obviously I have a lot of enemies of Dorothy showing up in my mentions telling me I’m going to hell and all that. Par for the course. Haters gonna hate crime. I expected this. You know what was weird about coming out though? The sheer number of straight men I’ve made sad.”
Half the room chuckled knowingly.
“Right?! Apparently I was really important to straight culture? Which is…just so disappointing. I didn’t realize heterosexuality was in such dire straits, pun fully intended.”
“You guys have to search my name on twitter, it’s fuuuuucked up,” Richie drawled. “Brads and Chads and Daves everywhere are bummed the fuck out. They’re pouring out light beer for me. Baseball caps are at half mast. Frat houses are being granted bereavement leave from classes. Single straight guys are jerking off to Game of Thrones compilation videos, black bands around their masturbating arms.”
As the laughter picked up, Richie started to move around a little more, face thoughtful.
“And people are so interested in when ,” Richie stressed. He put on a reporter voice, “ When did Richie Tozier realize he was gay? Seven signs your resident mediocre comedian might have been thinking about dick! ”
“Even the supportive people are worked up over the when!” Richie threw his free arm out helplessly. “Have you guys seen that meme?”
A few whoops punctuated the audience.
“Yeah, the Andy Samberg one. It’s been going around. It’s literally just a photo of me checking Andy out at an event we both happened to go to with the caption, ‘ The moment Richie Tozier realized he was gay. ’”
He laughed, but shook his head. “All my friends sent me that. Andy fucking sent me that! And no offense to the maker of that meme, it’s fucking funny, but like that is absolutely not what happened. I hadn’t realized shit. I was just checking Andy out like I always do when our paths cross. I’ve done it for literal years. Call me, Andy. I’d be so good to you.”
Richie made the phone sign with his hand, earning another laugh from the room.
“So everyone seems to want to know when and I’m going to give you guys an exclusive,” Richie told them, lowering his voice confidentially into the mic. “No one has heard what I’m about to say. Can you guys keep a secret?”
Some of the audience nodded and cheered.
“Ok. I trust you,” Richie told them, standing up straight. “Prepare yourselves. This wasn’t a later in life realization. I’ve known I was gay since I was twelve.”
There was a smattering of interested noises from the crowd and supportive claps.
“Yeah, isn’t that horrible? It makes all my past stand up super fucking sad,” Richie laughed, shaking his head and rubbing the bridge of his nose. “I really stood up on stage and talked about my fake girlfriends and our terrible fake sex for decades. And you guys paid me! I made a living off of it! I actually own a kind of nice house in Los Angeles! Lying about liking boobs and striking out with women I had zero interest in anyway paid the fucking bills and that’s on you, heterosexuals.”
“The straights and their bad choices aside,” Richie sighed. “I’m going to tell you exactly how I realized I was gay because I can point to one precise moment.”
Richie lowered his voice dramatically. “It’s the summer before the worst summer of my life. I’m in the grossest part of boyhood - not a cute kid anymore, not quite a teenager, just four feet of dick jokes and uncontrollable boners.”
Breaking out of storytelling mode, Richie gripped the mic with both of his hands. “It wasn’t actually the sex stuff that tipped me off. I was at the age where my dick was just going to do what it was going to do, you know? So getting hard in the men’s underwear section of a department store told me nothing, left me completely without self-awareness. Man, deep-voiced woman, a particularly sensual looking tree - all of it did something for me. Boners meant nothing to me at this point.”
“But that’s enough about my puberty afflicted dick, let me get back to setting the scene,” Richie told them with an eyebrow waggle. “It’s early summer and I’m hanging out with a few of my best friends. We’re fucking around like losers in the woods and I need more attention, so I decide to be a little shithead. I grab my friend’s inhaler and I pretend to lick it.”
The crowd’s reaction was a mix of disgusted and scandalized noises.
Richie looked at them incredulously, eyebrows reaching for his hairline. “I’m sorry, did I offend you? Did you think I got to do the kind of high brow comedy I’m famous for by being a normal fucking kid instead of a gross little weirdo who belonged under a bridge rather than among human society? Get yourselves together, fucking swooning like I just showed a sliver of ankle or some shit.”
That got him a big laugh.
“Where was I? Ok, so I pretend to lick his inhaler, right? And he. Fucking. Loses. It.” Richie laughed heartily, nostalgic and fond, as he took the mic out of its stand and started playing coquettishly with the cable. “He starts absolutely eviscerating me. I swear to God, you have never heard a twelve year old say the shit he’s screaming at me. It’s devastating! He is shredding me to pieces. He’s totally red faced and spouting the foulest shit I have ever heard in my entire life and I just think…I want to hold his hand.”
Richie dropped the mic, catching it by the cable before it could hit the floor. He sucked in an overdrawn and dramatic gasp, eyes wide in faux shock.
“Hold his fucking hand?!” Richie exclaimed. “What kind of gay shit was that?!”
He paced across the stage. “I start freaking out because what the fuck, Richie, hold his hand ? You want to hold your best friend’s hand ?! Might as well buy a B&B in Vermont and adopt a small dog because that was fucking Gay with a capital G, pal! Forget about the three fucking times you jerked off to Michael J. Fox that morning alone. Holding hands ? That’s some gay shit.”
Richie paused to let the laughter trail off.
“There I am. Twelve years old. Gay. Fully aware of the kind of narrow minded town I live in. And being hilariously reamed out by the boy I’ve just realized I’m in love with.”
“It was awful ,” Richie closed his eyes and moaned pathetically, getting sympathetic coos from the audience. He opened one eye and motioned with his hand to get a louder ‘awww’ from them. “Thank you, thank you. I appreciate that completely unprompted commiseration.”
“But back to the story. Now, I’ve just had a gay epiphany and an equally gay panic attack in the course of like two minutes. My best friend is still yelling at me. A couple of my other best friends, the assholes I love and adore, are watching on in amusement. And I have to say something. They’re expecting me to say something, right? I started the whole fucking thing by stealing his inhaler and pretending to lick it. I can’t just run home to cry about my homosexual hand holding daydreams. And I can’t just stand there, dumbstruck and staring at the most beautiful person I’ve ever known. The jig would be up! They’d all definitely know that I want to hold his hand!”
“So what is young Richie Tozier to do?” Richie asked rhetorically. “I’ll tell you what. I look at my friend - the person who made me realize I was gay, the person who unwittingly taught me what it means to love, the person whose eyes and smiles would go on to give me butterflies and make me weak in the knees and all that romantic shit - I look at the love of my life and I do the only thing a person like me can do in such an emotionally fraught situation…”
Expression neutral, Richie paused and looked side to side, stalling for time and letting the audience’s anticipation draw out.
“I tell him I fucked his mom.”
The crowd burst into laughter and Richie lost his stage persona, shoulders hunching as he put the mic back in the stand. He stuffed one hand into his pocket and held the other up appreciatively as he spoke into the mic, a sheepish expression plastered across his face. “Thanks for being a great audience, guys. I promise I’ll have the act finished before my next breakdown. Goodnight, enjoy yourselves, and be safe!”
He waved at them, smile nervous but relieved, and walked off stage to the sound of raucous applause.
- - -
In the back of the room, Bev carefully pulled her phone out of her cleavage and stopped the recording. She and Ben met each other’s eyes.
“Maybe you should delete that,” Ben suggested, looking around as if Richie was going to pop out from behind the nearest table.
“Or,” Bev started slowly, “I can send it to just Eddie instead of the whole group chat.”
“Bev!” Ben hissed, leaning in. “You can’t show Eddie that! Richie would be mortified. He’d never forgive us.”
Bev tugged Ben out of his chair and slowly led him out of the club, her eyes darting around in case Richie made a reappearance. “He’d probably be mad. But only if it didn’t work out!”
“Work out?” Ben blinked. “You think Eddie…would feel the same?”
“Like ninety percent,” Bev assured him.
“That’s a pretty high percentage,” Ben mumbled. He shook his head. “But we can’t. We shouldn’t have even recorded him. That was against the club’s rules anyway.”
“Technically I’m the one who stuffed my phone down my shirt and recorded him. You’re in the clear.”
“I’m still an accomplice,” Ben corrected, hanging his head.
“Richie’s been so cagey about his standup these last few months. I just wanted to be able to show the rest of the guys when he walked out,” Bev huffed, filing out from behind other eagerly chatting audience members. “I can’t believe he didn’t tell us he was already practicing his new act in clubs! It’s only luck that we happened to be here on the night he surprised the place.”
“Yeah...but I feel weird about showing Eddie what he said,” Ben admitted with a guilty frown. “Obviously, he didn’t want us to know even if he’s already performing it publicly. I mean, a bunch of strangers he’ll probably never see again is one thing. But the Losers? Who’ll know exactly who he’s talking about? I get why he wouldn’t want to tell us.”
Bev reached up and smoothed the creases between his eyebrows with her thumb. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to put you in an uncomfortable situation.”
“You don’t feel guilty about it at all, do you?” Ben asked, making a face.
Bev laughed. “I would feel bad if it upset Richie.”
“So you don’t!” Ben accused.
“I don’t, but only because I’m sure Eddie would like to hear it,” Bev defended. She spotted something over his shoulder and yelped. “Around the corner!”
Dragging Ben away, Bev peered past the building.
Richie stopped midstep, frowning in bemusement, but he ultimately shook his head and loped off in the opposite direction.
“He almost spotted us,” Bev giggled.
“We should go say hi to him,” Ben told her, linking their hands together as they headed off towards their rental car. “I don’t like that he’s right there and we’re avoiding him. Even if he might be embarrassed at us having seen his set.”
“We’ve only been in LA a day. Let’s ask him to meet up tomorrow,” Bev provided as an alternative. Then she held up her phone with a hopeful smile. “And tonight we can send the video to Eddie?”
“You’re going to do it no matter what I say, aren’t you?”
“Absolutely. But I’d still feel bad for disappointing you,” Bev grinned, shaking her phone in a persistent little motion.
Sighing deeply in defeat, Ben nodded. “Ok, but I won’t lie to Richie for you and if he’s mad at us, it’s your fault.”
“Deal!” Bev declared, sealing it with a kiss. She pulled up Eddie’s contact and made the call. “Hey, Eddie. No, everything’s alright. Yes, I know what time it is in New York. Sorry. We’re actually in LA. Yeah, sort of. Speaking of Richie…I’m going to hang up and send you something. Watch all of it, ok? Love you, bye!”
Bev ended the call and immediately sent the video.
“Are you sure that was a good idea?” Ben asked, chewing at the corner of his lips.
“Eddie’s reaction to hearing that we’re in LA was to immediately ask if we’ve seen Richie. I’d raise that ninety percent up to a ninety-five,” Bev told him with a satisfied smirk.
“God, I hope so.” Ben smiled gently and looked at her with a surprised laugh, “Who knew Richie was such a romantic under all the mom jokes?”
Bev kissed him again just because she could. “They’re going to make a cute couple. They’ll give us a run for our money.”
“No one can out cute you,” Ben told her at once.
Well, that certainly earned him another kiss.
- - -
Richie was just spitting the foam out of his mouth when someone started banging on his door. The knocks were fast and loud and insistent enough to have Richie frowning. Hardly anyone knew where he lived, hardly anyone ever came over, and the people who did usually called him first.
Putting on a shirt as he made his way to the front door, Richie adjusted his crooked glasses and scowled.
“Yeah, yeah, I hear you, I hear you,” Richie shouted, swinging the door open in irritation. “What the fuck do you-”
“Eddie?” Richie greeted dumbly, mouth falling slack.
With a shove and a push, Eddie bodied his way past Richie and into the house.
“What are you doing here?” Richie asked, feeling distinctly wrong footed as he watched Eddie throw a weekend bag down on his coffee table. “I’m really fucking thrilled to see you, but you’re on the wrong side of the country, bud.”
“Did you mean what you said?” Eddie demanded, making some truly fucking intense eye contact for seven in the morning. Richie had only just brushed his teeth.
Richie mentally filed through his memories of last night and came up with nothing to explain Eddie’s sudden appearance or his question. The last thing Eddie said to him was to shut up and leave him alone because he was going to bed and he had work in the morning and the last thing he said to Eddie was goodnight followed by a message that was just a photo of his face from way too close. A perfectly common exchange between them.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Richie told him honestly.
“Don’t play stupid, Rich!” Eddie warned, pursing his lips and pointing at him.
“This is not me playing,” Richie assured him, hands up in surrender. “The fuck did I do this time?”
Eddie huffed before shoving his hand into his pocket and pulling out his phone. He mumbled to himself the entire time he tapped away at the screen.
“This,” Eddie told him shortly, holding his phone out. “Did you mean it?”
Richie walked over, closing the space between them. “You smell like airplane.”
“No shit, fuck face. I took the first available red eye out here after I got this,” Eddie snapped, pointing at his phone.
Looking down at the screen, Richie managed to read Bev’s name at the top before Eddie hit play on a video with some Blair Witch level film quality.
His own voice came through the speakers, tinny and nasal, and all the blood in Richie’s body chilled.
Snatching Eddie’s phone, Richie shut the video off and threw the whole thing into the far corner of his couch.
“Don’t throw my phone! What the fuck, Richie?!”
Richie started pacing back and forth, trying to come to terms with what happened while running his hands through his hair and chanting, “Fuckfuckshitfuckfuckingshit.”
“Richie?” Eddie hustled over to Richie, backing up with a reproving scowl when Richie’s elbow nearly brained him.
Richie dropped his arms with an apologetic grimace, his hands clenching and unclenching at his sides.
A startling moment of realization set Richie’s ire blazing. He threw his hand up in a single, angry, sweeping movement. “I fucking knew that was her and Ben! I fucking knew it! Nobody else looks that much like a Ralph Lauren ad brought to life by a fashion forward and health conscious genie.”
“Ok, whatever, they’re hot, I get it, who gives a fuck,” Eddie told him, rolling his eyes. “Did you mean it?”
“Fuuuuuuuck,” Richie groaned to a stop and covered his face with his hands.
“Give me a minute,” Richie told his palms.
“What?” Eddie demanded.
Rubbing his eyes under his glasses, Richie sighed and resumed his pacing - this time slower and more thoughtful. “Just, fuck, give me a minute. I need to think of a valid sounding excuse.”
“I’m going to slap you,” Eddie said without hesitation.
“Oh, whatever. Like you’re so scary.”
Personally, Richie actually found Eddie pretty fucking scary. But mostly from an emotional standpoint. Like this entire situation that had Richie high key shitting his pants.
“I stabbed a guy,” Eddie pointed out. “I can be scary.”
“Yeah, and I killed the same guy,” Richie reminded him as he waved a hand around his own face. “Am I scary?”
Eddie looked him up and down, face scrunching. He bobbed his head in a quick nod. “Ok, you have a point.”
Saluting him sarcastically, Richie stopped pacing again and held his hands out like he was pitching a show pilot. “Alright, I can explain everything.”
They stood there staring at each other, Eddie looking more and more impatient with every breath.
“Fuck,” Richie exhaled, shoulders sloping in a defeated hunch. “I can’t explain anything.”
“Jesus fucking Christ, Richie.” Rolling his eyes, Eddie stomped over and grabbed two fistfuls of Richie’s shirt.
Eyes widening, Richie tried to put some distance between them, but Eddie’s grip stayed firm and Richie ended up pinning himself between Eddie and his own couch like the spatially oblivious dumbass he was. “I take it back, I take it back, you’re super scary!”
“Shut up,” Eddie ground out.
And then he dragged Richie into a hard kiss, teeth clacking in a brief spike of pain before Eddie eased up and turned his head and transformed the kiss into something soft, but still undeniable.
“Eddie?” Richie croaked, glasses fogged. His heart threatened to ratchet out of his chest and his breath stuck in his lungs. He licked his lips and tried to control the way his body started trembling.
“Yeah?” Eddie’s voice was rough and there was a creakiness to it that had Richie going limp in some ways and very, very much not limp in others.
“Want to hold hands?”
Eddie laughed one of his genuine laughs, the kind Richie spent hours thinking about. He still sometimes laid awake in bed, puzzling out the best ways to get them out of Eddie. “Sure, Richie. We can hold hands.”
One of Eddie’s hands slid into Richie’s, fingers fitting together as perfectly as he always dreamed.
They were still close enough that their noses brushed together and Richie could feel Eddie’s warm puff of breath.
“Richie,” Eddie spoke his name solemnly, pulling away so he could look Richie right in the eyes. “I have to tell you something.”
Holding his breath, Richie did his best to show he was listening and taking it seriously. “Yeah? What is it, Eds?”
Eddie cupped Richie’s cheek with his free hand. His fingers were gentle and his palm was warm and just a little clammy. He didn’t break eye contact.
“I fucked your mom.”
Richie cackled so hard he ended up head butting Eddie hard enough to send him reeling backwards. He had to catch him by their joined hands.
“WHAT THE FUCK, RICHIE?! I’m probably going to bruise and we’ll be real fucking lucky if I don’t have a concussion. Do you have any idea how serious head wounds can be? Jesus fucking Christ, how hard is your stupid head? Give me my phone or get your phone I don’t care which we need to set alarms so I don’t fall asleep. Motherfuck.”
God, Richie was going to keep holding his hand so fucking hard.