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I Was Not Born to Drown

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Sleep on the Floor

Eddie felt physically sick. He lay curled in on himself in his bed shivering, the letter he’d received that afternoon torn up in pieces on his floor. He let out another weak sob, his head throbbing. He hadn’t even realized that the room had gotten dark around him until Richie came stumbling through his window.

He froze. His heart started hammering in his chest, beating like a trapped bird. He didn’t want his boyfriend to see him like this, he wasn’t ready to explain yet. He considered pretending to be asleep, but an involuntary sob that he couldn’t hold in gave him away.

“Eddie?” Richie whispered, immediately making his way to the bed. He kneeled on the floor and tried to look his boyfriend in the eye, but Eddie buried his face into his pillow. Richie gently placed a hand on his shoulder. “Baby? What is it? What’s wrong?” Eddie just shook his head, his crying starting up again. His skin burned where Richie touched him, even through his shirt. The anger and loss and guilt were still too fresh to work through; he had no idea how he was supposed to explain it to Richie. The panic set in then, and as his chest began to feel more and more constricted he began to struggle to breathe. “Woah, hey, Eds, it’s okay. You’re okay, I’m right here. I’m right here.” That just made Eddie feel even worse. “Hey, can you look at me? Just try to breathe with me, okay?” It took a moment, but Eddie relented. He figured if he was about to break Richie’s heart he might as well spare him his current anxiety. He poked his head out from his pillow. He held Richie’s hand and looked into his eyes, breathing in and out in sync with him. “That’s it, that’s good,” Richie smiled once Eddie had calmed down. He rubbed his back and pressed a kiss to his forehead. It made Eddie’s stomach churn. “You wanna tell me what’s wrong?”

Eddie sat up weakly, his body trembling. He looked down at his lap. “Richie,” he started, already choked up. “Baby… I can’t go to California with you.”

There was a beat of silence. Richie’s hand was eerily still on Eddie’s waist. Eddie refused to look at him. “What?” Richie asked, his voice soft and broken. “Why not?”

“My mom, she found out.”

“Fuck your mom!” Richie whisper shouted. “What is she gonna do, huh? Slash my tires?”

Eddie looked up at him with dark eyes, nearly glaring. “She dragged me to the hospital. She forced the doctors to email admissions and tell them that I couldn’t attend the fall semester. They revoked my scholarship.” Richie’s eyes widened.

“She can’t do that! What does she think you’re gonna do? Not go to college? Live with her for the rest of your life?”

Eddie bit his lip, preparing himself for the explosive reaction he knew he would get from what he was about to say. “She’s letting me go to NYU.”

Eddie watched from beneath his eyelashes, his head ducked down, as Richie’s anger deflated.

“You didn’t tell me you got into NYU.” The hurt in his voice made Eddie want to sink into his bed until he disappeared. It was somehow worse than if he’d been angry.

“They took me off the waitlist last week.”

“And?”

“And… after I knew I wasn’t going to California, I told my mom the only way I was ever going to talk to her again was if she agreed to pay my NYU tuition. I committed today.”

Richie bolted up from the floor and started pacing. His nostrils were flared and his jaw clenched. “You could still come with me,” he said to the window.

“Richie, how? She’s monitoring my phone history now, and like you said, I have to go to college.”

“But we were supposed to go together!” Richie exploded, turning back to Eddie. “You and me Eds, that’s been the plan for years! You, me, and sunsets over the ocean every night. Freedom, Eds. We were supposed to get out of this shithole! Together! I mean Jesus Eddie, you’re a fucking adult! Start acting like it!” Eddie felt like Richie had just slapped him.

“I turned eighteen like a month ago, Richie!” he screeched. “That doesn’t magically make me financially independent! I don’t have the money for an apartment in California, or to pay my own tuition, or to even get my own fucking phone plan! This isn’t in my control.” He was crying again now, and hugging the blanket tighter around himself.

“My parents could pay for it!”

Eddie scoffed. “You parents are not paying for my fucking tuition, Richie.”

“Why not?”

“It’s tens of thousands of dollars! And besides…” Eddie took a deep breath and looked away. “I need to be my own person, okay?” He felt sick as he said it, but he knew he had to. At least, he told himself he had to. He couldn’t string Richie along if they couldn’t be together.

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“It means… maybe this is a good thing. An opportunity for a fresh start.” He couldn’t even look at Richie - he knew it would hurt too much - but he could hear the trembling in his voice as he spoke.

“We were supposed to have that fresh start together.”

“We’ve been together since we were fifteen, Rich. We were kids when we got together. And you’re right, we’re adults now. So maybe some time apart to figure ourselves out could be good.”

“Are you breaking up with me?” The way Richie’s voice broke made Eddie squeeze his eyes shut. Richie let out a humorless laugh. “Wow. Fuck. Okay.”

“Richie-”

“What? You have something else to say?” he fumed. “I can’t fucking believe this. I’ve spent the past three years dreaming about Saturday, dreaming about the day you and I would get out of here, just the two of us. And you made me think you wanted that too! And now you’re making me do it alone? I fucking love you, Eddie. How the fuck could you do that to me? You’re not even gonna try? Not even gonna propose we try long distance? You’re just gonna give up everything we’ve spent years planning?”

“I’m sorry,” Eddie sobbed into his lap.

“Whatever, Eddie. I hope you have fun at NYU.”

“Rich-” Eddie croaked, but he was already out the window. Gone.

Eddie cried himself to sleep. Did I seriously just break up with Richie? He could feel himself sliding closer and closer to panic mode, the thought of losing his best friend - of sending him away - making him feel like his ribs were closing in on his lungs and heart. I’ll see him tomorrow, Eddie assured himself. It’s graduation. He’ll be there. He’ll make inappropriate jokes at bad times and I’ll have to smack him on the arm, and we’ll walk together, and we’ll take pictures and we’ll be happy. He’ll be there. We can talk then.

 

 

But Richie wasn’t at graduation. As the other six losers lined up for the procession, an empty spot between Bev and Eddie where Richie should’ve been, he was crossing from Massachusetts into New York. He’d spent all night packing, then all morning packing up his car and avoiding his parents’ questions and attempts to persuade him. He nearly cried when hugging them goodbye, but he shoved it down, far down. He piled his passenger seat high with snacks, filled up his tank, and left, leaving Derry far, far behind. He blasted his music and left the windows down, even onto the highway, until he could no longer stand the repetitive beating from the wind.

He made as few rest stops as possible. He just wanted to keep driving, just wanted to get there already. He wanted to get as far away as he could as soon as he could. He felt better with every state he put between himself and Maine.

He had his phone connected to his car radio and was playing his music on shuffle. He was barely paying attention to anything but the road in front of him and the navigation when a specific but of lyrics caught his ear. “Cause if we don’t leave this town, we might never make it out. I was not born to drown. Baby, come on.” Richie’s jaw clenched. He knew he should change the song. He wanted to change the song. But he couldn’t get himself to. So on it went. “Forget what Father Brennan said; we were not born in sin. Leave a note on your bed, let your mother know you're safe. And by the time she wakes we'll have driven through the state, we'll have driven through the night. Baby, come on.” Richie’s eyes burned and pounded with the tears he refused to shed. But it was just so hard; Eddie was supposed to be next to him. They were supposed to be fighting over who got the aux. Eddie should be eating the snacks that sat where he should be, he should be feeding Richie as he drove. He could be sleeping, curled up against the window, and Richie would smile at him and gently rub his thumb over his calf just to feel his skin against his own. “Decide on me, yea decide on us.” Richie took a deep breath in through his nose. Eddie had made is decision.

He glanced at the navigation and was shocked to see that it was nearing one in the morning. He searched for hotels in the area and found one a little past Cleveland.

The bed felt too big. He was exhausted but found it hard to sleep. He couldn’t stop thinking that Eddie should be beside him, should be in his arms. He was at least happy to rid himself of his jeans, as there were two rings burning a hole through one of the pockets. He didn’t know why he’d even brought them - it just felt wrong to leave them at home. Maybe he was still holding out hope that he’d get to wear his one day, that he would get the chance to give the other to Eddie. The scene played in his mind as he failed to fall asleep, the scene he’d been imagining for weeks. He’d pull out the rings and Eddie would gasp, sputter, blush. He would look adorable, and Richie would laugh and explain that they were promise rings, not wedding rings. California’s a big state, Eds. And it’s college. I don’t wanna any guys putting their grubby hands all over my little Eddie Spaghetti. And then Eddie would smile. Don’t call me that. But he would let Richie put the ring on him, and he would smile so big and tackle Richie to the bed with an onslaught of kisses. And they would fall asleep together and wake up together, and as they drove the next day the sunlight would glitter off the ring on Eddie’s finger as he held his hand out the window and let the wind run through his fingers. Richie would drive with one hand on the wheel and the other, the one with the ring on it, holding Eddie’s hand.

For the first time since he left Eddie’s house, Richie let himself cry.

 

 

The Losers went about their graduation plans as usual. As Richie was settling into his hotel room, they were getting ready to leave the graduates’ dance and heading to Bill’s house. They did their best to have fun, to go about business as planned, but Richie’s absence was painfully obvious to everyone. They all huddled together in the Denbroughs’ basement, getting tipsy on wine and a water bottle of vodka. It wasn’t helping Eddie with the fact that he felt like he was on the brink of breaking down, of caving in on himself. He excused himself to the kitchen, hoping that maybe a glass of water might do him some good.

However, he never got to get his glass of water. He took it from the cabinet and held it under the fridge faucet, but his hand was shaking too hard for it to work. He set the glass down and leaned his weight on the counter, the tears springing to his eyes as his throat constricted. He kept his sobs silent - years of practice - which just made the pain worse.

Suddenly he was being turned around and pulled into a pair of strong arms. Eddie melted into the hug and buried his face in Bill’s chest. Bill rubbed his back as he sobbed. Eddie held his hands up by Bill’s sides, but he didn’t hold him. He felt frozen in that position, like he was preparing to deflect a blow. “I should be with him right now,” Eddie sobbed.

“No. He should be here.” Bill’s voice held such a finality in it that Eddie almost believed him. But he shook his head.

“No, it’s my fault. I-I pushed him away.”

“He should be here,” Bill repeated. And that was the last either of them said about it. Bill was silent for the few minutes it took Eddie to calm down.

The six of them all slept in a pile together. They were all upset, and Eddie appreciated that despite their own feelings they all clearly were putting a lot of effort into watching over him specifically. Bill spooned him from behind as they fell asleep and Bev curled into his front, holding his hand. It was a nice gesture, and maybe they were even doing it for themselves, but it was somewhat suffocating. Bill’s legs weren’t long enough, nor were Bev’s hands big or rough enough. Eddie didn’t even try to nudge his legs between Bill’s as he would’ve done with Richie. He took a deep breath and tried to keep from crying. He decided to listen to some music to help him fall asleep.

Careful not to disturb Bev or Bill from their sleep, he found his phone and headphones and let his phone play on shuffle. He nearly threw his phone across the room when he heard the first song come on. “Pack yourself a toothbrush dear, pack yourself a favorite blouse. Take a withdrawal slip, take all of your savings out. 'Cause if we don't leave this town we might never make it out. I was not born to drown. Baby come on.” Eddie shut his eyes. He couldn’t believe this was the song that came on, but he couldn’t get himself to skip it. “If the sun don't shine on me today, and if the subways flood and bridges break, will you lay yourself down and dig your grave? Or will you rail against your dying day?” Eddie grasped the blanket in his hand and held it tight. He thought about where Richie was right now, if he was sleeping okay. Maybe he was still driving. Maybe he was sitting at home in Derry, just waiting for Eddie to show up at his door. Maybe he was waiting outside Eddie’s window.

Decide on me, yea decide on us.”

No. He was likely states away by now, Eddie just a distant memory not even visible in his rearview mirror. Eddie wondered if Richie was hurting as badly as he was right now or if he felt free. Eddie wasn’t sure which one hurt more to think about. He imagined an open highway, Richie by his side, drumming on the steering wheel as he belted along to one of their favorite songs. He imagined lying in a hotel bed whispering with Richie beneath cool sheets. He let the song finish and closed his eyes. “'Cause if we don't leave this town, we might never make it out.” His chest heavy, he let himself settle back into Bill’s embrace as he tried to fall asleep. But he knew Bill wasn’t supposed to be the one holding him.

 

 

Ophelia

Eddie met Myra in an English class he needed to take to satisfy one of his Gen Eds. They got paired up for a project together and, well, that was pretty much it. That was the spring semester of their freshman year. They were now finishing up the fall semester of their junior year, and with the holiday break and inevitable return to Derry and his mother looming over one shoulder and finals over the other, Eddie was beginning to find his and Myra’s “charming little apartment” suffocating. He gathered his things into his backpack, slung his coat on, and headed out the door.

“Eddie?” came Myra’s voice, a sound that was gradually becoming more and more grating. Eddie stopped in the doorway, his shoulders going rigid. “Where are you going?”

“I’m just going to the library to study,” he answered, turning toward her slightly.

“But why? It’s freezing outside! You’ll get a cold!”

“Studies show it’s most effective to study in multiple different locations.” Myra pouted, but Eddie stood his ground. His instincts told him to give in, to stay home, to go to her. But the thought of doing that also made his stomach churn. “I’ll see you later, okay?”

“At least wear your hat!”

“I’m from Maine,” he said, forcing a grin onto his face, “I can handle a little cold.”

“Eddie!” she called, but he was already out the door and closing it behind him, shoving his headphones into his ears. He took the stairs down, worrying that she might chase after him and catch up with him only to force a hat onto his head if he waited for the elevator. His blood was near boiling, and he felt like a tightly wound coil. He was growing increasingly sick of Myra telling him what to do. He was torn, though. He didn’t want to leave her, he didn’t want to hurt her.

He also didn’t want to hurt himself. Ever since Richie left that night, Eddie had built walls around himself, around his heart. He didn’t know how he ended up with Myra, but he knew the fact that he knew he could never truly love her had something to do with it. She cared about him, she was company, and she could never truly hurt him. At first that had been good - but now he felt like he was drowning. He figured he would’ve gotten over Richie by now, that he would be ready for an actual relationship, one with a guy, with someone he actually loved. But he’d fallen into a routine with Myra, and he felt he had a responsibility owed to her. He rarely acknowledged that just the thought of Richie made him freeze, made his heart fall into his stomach, filling him with fear of ever feeling that again.

Much as Eddie would deny it, he thought constantly about Richie. It wasn’t as bad now as it had been originally, but a day never passed where he didn’t at least say one of Richie’s sayings to himself, Richie’s voice echoing through his head.

Eddie hadn’t talked to Richie in years. The Toziers moved out of Derry while Richie and the other losers were away for their first semesters of college. None of them would’ve even known if Stan hadn’t stopped by the Tozier house one day over Thanksgiving break only to find a SOLD sign standing in the front yard. Eddie and Bill had both stopped talking to Richie after he missed graduation; not telling them about the move was enough to get Bev and Stan to stop trying as well. By the second semester of their freshman year Ben and Mike were the only ones who still spoke to Richie, and even then they only spoke to him every once in a while. Or at least that’s what they told Eddie. Eddie tried not to ask them about him, but he wanted to know how he was so badly it hurt.

He kept his headphones in as he studied. He was able to focus for about an hour and a half, but then a song came on that caught his attention. “Ah, ah, when I was younger, ah, ah, should have known better.” He nodded his head along, pretending like he was studying when he was really getting lost in the music, in the lyrics. “Oh, Ophelia, you've been on my mind girl since the flood. Oh, Ophelia, heaven help a fool who falls in love.” If Eddie was focusing on his studying before, he certainly wasn’t anymore. Images of Richie flashed through his mind: his smile, his laugh, things he hadn’t seen or heard in two and a half years. Memories that solidified his childhood in his mind, images and sounds that painted his happiest memories. God, Eddie missed him so much. He’d never had a friend like Richie, not before or since. It made him so sad and so angry to think about - how in love they’d been, how horribly it ended. How in love Eddie still was after all these years.

Oh, I got a little paycheck, you got big plans and you gotta move. And I don't feel nothing at all. And you can't feel nothing small.” Eddie did his best to keep his tears at bay. He thought of Richie, of all of his exaggerated reactions, his emotions which he either hid like it was his job or let loose like he had no control and didn’t care to find any. It put a bitter smile on Eddie’s face. He thought of Richie’s big dreams of becoming a comedian, a talk show host, an actor, a ventriloquist. He remembered a hot summer day in the cool refuge of the Toziers’ garage when Richie babbled to Eddie endlessly about all of the careers he was going to pursue once he got to California. Golden Coast, baby! Eddie could hear him singing. They couldn’t have been older than ten, but even eight years later Richie had left with the same intentions. Eddie admired that in Richie, that he was so sure of what he wanted. Eddie felt a pang in his chest as he realized he would never step foot in that garage again. He knew Myra would never make him feel that miserable, nor that happy.

Honey I love you. That's all she wrote.”

And, well, it was, wasn’t it? Eddie was still in love with Richie Tozier. He always would be. And that was all there was to it. The thought made Eddie start to cry, something he let himself do in the secluded, walled off study area of the library. The silent tears came in handy again. Even if they didn’t though, he’d rather a stranger find him crying than Myra. Any other student would figure the stress of finals was getting to him, whereas Myra wouldn’t let him out of her sight for at least three hours afterward.

Eddie stayed in the library until Myra started calling him in a panic. He packed up his things with a heavy sigh and headed home, dread heavy in his chest. As he walked, he planned out how he could possibly break things off with her without ruining her holidays. He knew it would be hard, but he also knew it would be worth it. Maybe he wouldn’t find Richie, but he’d find someone. He owed himself that. He deserved that.

 

 

Gale Song

It was dark when Richie woke up, groggy and disoriented with a crick in his neck. He was sitting slouched in his bed, his glasses sliding off his nose at an odd angle. His phone screen lit up the room, the only other source of light the dim lamp on his desk. Richie pushed his books and binders off his lap and checked his phone. It took his eyes and mind a minute to adjust, but once they caught up a bit he realized that it was past nine. He’d fallen asleep around four after his last class of the day. “Fuck,” he muttered, rubbing a hand over his face. The text he’d received was from a guy in his philosophy class.

Tyler: Hey, a few of us are pregaming in my room rn if you’re down

Richie let out a sound halfway between a sigh and a groan. He didn’t feel like getting up or seeing people, but he didn’t have much else to do. He was all caught up with his work, so he really had no excuse not to go. I could start that paper that’s due in a few weeks, he mused, but they hadn’t even started discussing it in class. He looked around at his small, dark room, trying to think of any excuse not to go. He came up empty.

Fuck it, he thought as he swung his legs over the side of his bed. His comforter and pillows called to him, but he forced himself to throw on a flannel and some shoes. He threw on some cologne as well - the guy was cute, and flirted with Richie pretty much every chance he got. Mainly Richie was going because he felt like getting drunk.

Tyler’s building was about a ten minute walk from Richie’s, but he didn’t put a jacket on. The early April air was still a bit chilled, but it felt nice on Richie’s overheated skin. He got lost in the feeling and stumbled a bit, his head a bit light. He smiled wryly to himself. Then he shivered.

Tyler’s room was anything but cold. The air was stuffy and warm from the small room being stuffed with people. Apparently his definition of “a few” was about a dozen. Richie gave him an easy smile and a nod as he entered. “Richie!” Tyler exclaimed, pulling Richie into one of those handshake-hug hybrids. His hands were hot in Richie’s. “Glad you could make it, man. Help yourself to whatever. We’re about to do shots if you’re in?”

“Always.”

There was a ring of shot glasses in a circle on Tyler’s desk, and he filled five of them with gin. A few other people crowded around and claimed a glass, spilling gin all over Richie’s hand as he reached for his own. It irritated him, as did the bodies surrounding and bumping into him, but he didn’t let it show. He took the largest one, figuring he’d be a lot less irritable after a few drinks. He titled his head back with everyone else, the gin burning as it went down. Everyone else coughed or screwed their faces up in displeasure, but Richie was mostly used to it. His eyebrows drew together a bit, but the burn honestly felt nice as it sent another small shiver through him.

About an hour and a half later Richie was walking through the cold to whatever party they were going to. He didn’t know anybody in the group but Tyler, so he hung back, content to just feel like cold surrounding him. The alcohol made it feel even better, loosened him up. He was feeling it much more than he’d been expecting to, but he wasn’t complaining. More bang for his buck he supposed.

The party was fine. He mostly hung out in the corner and watched a game of pong, just feeling his buzz as he swayed slightly on his feet. Out of boredom, he pulled out his phone and started scrolling through some apps. His heart seized when he opened Instagram. There, staring up at him, was a picture Bev had posted of herself and Eddie hugging in some dorm room or apartment or something. Look who came to visit! the caption read, a series of heart emojis strung after it. Richie’s stomach turned. He was glad to be talking to Bev again, to at least be keeping up with her on social media, but he would never get used to seeing pictures of Eddie, voyeuristically watching the only person he’d ever loved grow and live his life independent of Richie. His eyes burned and his chest ached. Eddie looked so happy. Richie couldn’t even remember how it felt to be that happy. He wondered if Eddie was still dating that girl he’d seen in a few of Bill’s posts. The thought made Richie feel even sicker, made him burn with anger, with sadness, with guilt. So much fucking guilt. He couldn’t believe that after all Eddie went through to accept himself that he could revert so easily back into a lie. Richie hated himself for having a part in that.

“I know you didn’t come to this party just to be on your phone all night.” Richie nearly jumped at Tyler’s voice. He gave him a small grin and put his phone away, throwing his hands up in “guilty” gesture. “You wanna do more shots?” Richie was already fairly drunk, but he was also twenty-one and it was a Friday night. Fuck it, he thought, letting Tyler take his hand and lead him down a hallway to the kitchen. “Matt’s hiding the good booze back here, but he said we could take some,” Tyler grinned, like he and Richie now shared some sacred secret. Richie just smiled again and took the shot Tyler handed him. It went down much smoother than anything he’d had so far that night. His guess was Grey Goose.

He must’ve been drunker than he realized, because when he slammed the shot glass down in shattered against the counter, a piece of it slicing open his palm. “Shit,” Richie muttered, the pain hot and slicing as it throbbed through his hand.

“Oh my god, Richie!” Tyler exclaimed as Richie absently watched the blood drip down his wrist. “Come on, I think there’s a first aid kit in the bathroom.” Richie let Tyler lead him there, squinting at the bright lights as Tyler shut the door behind them. Richie sat on the toilet, thinking that he kind of liked the way his hand hurt. It was something, something strong and poignant and new. It felt the way sex used to feel for him. It made him feels things as strong as what he used to feel for Eddie.

He hissed as Tyler cleaned his wound with a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol. “I know it hurts. I’m sorry.” Tyler gave Richie a soft smile. Richie looked away from his eyes, instead focusing his attention on the way Tyler placed some gauze on the wound before wrapping it in an Ace bandage. It brought back a lot of memories, memories of the Kaspbraks’ bathroom, of dinosaur bandaids and lectures from a little boy who still wore Velcro shoes. Richie swallowed thickly.

“There! All better.”

“Thanks.”

“Are you having a good time?” Tyler joked. His hand was still on Richie’s wrist. Richie shrugged.

“I’m drunk, aren’t I?” he joked back, leaning into Tyler’s touch. Tyler laughed and rested his head on Richie’s shoulder. The picture of Eddie flashed through his mind. He stood up and pulled Tyler up with him, then wound his arm around Tyler’s waist to support him. Tyler looked up at him, looking like a fucking dream with his soft, honey blonde hair and his sparkly green eyes. But all Richie could see was Eddie’s face scrunched up in laughter, Eddie kissing Molly or Myrtle or whatever her name was on the cheek. He focused on Tyler’s eyes, on the way they fell to Richie’s lips, but it still didn’t help much. The alcohol was starting to blur things together. Tyler put a hand on Richie’s chest and smiled up at him. Guess I’m making the first move, Richie thought to himself. He brought his fingers up under Tyler’s chin and brought their lips together.

“God, Richie,” Tyler sighed into the kiss. He wrapped his arms around Richie’s shoulders and let Richie press him up against the door. His lips were soft against Richie’s, but they were too pliant, like he was expecting Richie to do all the work, like kissing was something he wanted done to him rather than something he wanted to do. But Richie could work with that, that was fine. “I’ve wanted this since I first saw you.” Oh. All of sudden Richie felt sick again, he felt that guilt crawling over his skin in chills again.

“Tyler,” Richie said as he pulled back. Tyler looked at him with hooded eyes. “If I’m gonna fuck you, you should know that it’s not gonna mean anything to me.” Richie almost flinched at the words that left his mouth - sure, they were the truth, but he wished he could’ve found some way to soften the blow at least a little bit.

Tyler laughed awkwardly. “Damn, you don’t pull your punches, huh?”

“I’m sorry,” Richie said, stepping back and rubbing his eyes. He stumbled as he did so, which must have gained him some sympathy points, as Tyler reached out and steadied him. “I guess I could’ve been nicer about that,” he chuckled humorlessly.

“Well, I could’ve given you less alcohol I guess.” Richie opened his eyes to find a soft, understanding smile. But it wasn’t the smile he wanted to see.

“I don’t do relationships is all.”

“That’s fine,” Tyler nodded. “Honestly I don’t know if that’s what I’m looking for either.”

“You wanna keep going then?” Richie grinned, turning the charm back on. Tyler smiled as he rolled his eyes and shook his head. It was such a familiar gesture, one that nearly had Richie’s knees buckling.

“I appreciate that, but I don’t think you’re in the right head space right now.”

“Damn, guess I’m not the only one not pulling punches.” Richie gave Tyler a smile, but he felt miserable, empty. He felt disconnected from the whole situation. “But you’re right. I think I’m just gonna go home, get some sleep.”

“Drink some water, too. Maybe order a pizza or something.” Tyler gave Richie one last smile and sent him off with a kiss to the corner of his lips.

Tears blurred Richie’s vision as he walked home. Why couldn’t he want that? What was wrong with him? He should’ve wanted that, he should’ve wanted Tyler. Tyler was considerate and cute and smart. But Tyler wasn’t Eddie. And that pissed Richie off. He hadn’t seen Eddie in three years, yet he couldn’t get him out of his mind. He wanted to fall in love again, but nothing made him feel the way Eddie had. He wrapped his arms around himself. The cold didn’t feel good anymore.

Richie took Tyler’s advice and ordered Domino’s when he got back to his room, only absently realizing that he was hungry. As he nursed a bottle of water and looked over his most recent assignment, Richie realized he couldn’t remember the last time he ate. But he shrugged that off; he was in college, it was normal to forget to eat. He buried himself in schoolwork all week and then sometimes booze and sex on the weekends. Sometimes the weekends were just more schoolwork. Not to mention he had an off campus job. Yeah, Richie assured himself as he handed the delivery boy a twenty dollar bill. This is normal. I’m fine. He ignored his own lightheadedness as he climbed the stairs, forced himself to find the way he scarfed down half the pie humorous.

But despite all the cheese and carbs, he went to bed feeling emptier than ever. Against his better judgement, he pulled out his phone and stared at the picture Bev posted again. As he did, he let his music play on shuffle, only absently registering the lyrics. “It's a lonely road, full of tired men… ” He studied the picture, the way Eddie fell into Bev’s arms. And he thought about what it felt like to hold Eddie. As many years had passed since he’d held him like that as he’d had to memorize what it was like. “I wasn't there to take his place. I was ten thousand miles away.” Richie searched through all five of his friends’ profiles then, tears springing to his eyes as they drunk in Eddie’s smiles. All Richie could think was that he should’ve stayed. He should be in those pictures, kissing Eddie’s cheeks and making him laugh. He missed his laugh so much, could just barely remember what it sounded like. “And I won't fight in vain. I'll love you just the same. I couldn't know what's in your mind, but I saw the pictures, you're looking fine.” Richie broke down then, letting himself feel his emptiness for the first time in months. He missed his friends. He missed Eddie. Sure, he was talking to the other five again, but it was supposed to be seven, all seven of them all together. “And there was a time when I stood in line for love, for love, for love, but I let you go, oh I let you go.”

He put his phone away and turned toward the wall, desperate to fall asleep. He squeezed his injured hand into a fist, pleased with the pain that shot down his arm and throbbed in his palm.

And he fell apart with his broken heart and this blood, this blood, this blood , oh, it drains from my skin, it does.

 

 

Stubborn Love

She'll tear a hole in you, the one you can't repair. But I still love her, I don't really care.

It's better to feel pain, than nothing at all. The opposite of love's indifference.

Eddie was feeling good. He’d broken things off with Myra months ago, had finally told her the truth. She was heartbroken, which was hard, but she had also been a bitch about Eddie being gay, insisting that he was just confused and would soon realize that he actually was in love with her, so he ended up not feeling as bad about it as he’d expected to. He was back home, which was also hard, but he was glad to be with his friends, and he was grateful for the sun on his skin - even as he walked to the pharmacy to do his mother’s errands for her.

Keene Pharmacy was as cold as it ever was, and it sent a chill over his skin. The smell was also sickeningly familiar. But what really made Eddie go cold was seeing Maggie Tozier walking toward him down the aisle. Eddie considered bolting into another aisle, but she had already recognized him and was giving him a smile. “Eddie!” she exclaimed, pulling him into a hug. Eddie couldn’t help but breathe in her perfume, and doing so nearly brought him to tears. It hadn’t changed in the past three years, and it sent vivid memories crashing over Eddie. “How have you been, dear?” she asked.

“I’ve been good,” Eddie smiled, trying to get his voice not to shake. Mrs. Tozier’s eyes looked a bit dull, and they had prominent bags under them. It worried Eddie, the way her skin sagged a bit and her hair was just a bit out of place. She was good at covering it up, but Eddie had learned to tell the signs of when Maggie wasn’t doing well. “How are you?”

“Oh, doing great,” she smiled. Her unconvincing tone made Eddie’s heart ache. “You should come over some time sweetie, we miss you!” Eddie’s heart seized in his chest. We?

“I thought you moved,” Eddie said, his eyebrows drawn together in confusion.

“Just a few towns away. The others have been over quite a bit lately! Did you just get back from school?” A few towns? The others? What?

“A few days ago, yeah,” Eddie lied. He’d been home for two weeks now. “How’s Richie?” He couldn’t help but ask, and his stomach swooped as he did so.

“Oh, he’s wonderful! Dean’s List for the third year in a row.” That made Eddie smile - he knew Richie was gonna do great things in college. He just wished that he’d been there to support him through it. He wished he could tell him how proud he was.

“That’s great.” Eddie’s voice was clearly breaking, and he wasn’t sure he would be able to hold off his tears much longer. “It’s been great seeing you, Mrs. Tozier, but my mom will have a fit if I’m not home soon.”

“Oh, of course,” she smiled softly, a gentle hand on Eddie’s shoulder. “Hopefully we’ll be seeing you soon!” Eddie just smiled as she walked away, not sure he could make that promise.

He picked up what he needed and walked home, both dumbfounded and fuming. Maggie couldn’t have meant anything else by “the others” than Bill, Bev, Stan, Mike, and Ben, but none of them had mentioned to him that they’d been seeing Richie. He went home and gave his mother her things before promptly turning out the door and heading to Bill’s house. He knocked hard on the door, forgoing the doorbell. Georgie opened the door a few moments later, so Eddie did his best to compose himself. “Hey, George. Is Bill home?”

“Yeah, he’s upstairs,” George nodded, letting Eddie in and closing the door behind him.

“Thanks!” Eddie smiled. He bounded up the stairs, thinking maybe he had his anger in check until he got to Bill’s room. He opened the door without knocking and slammed it behind him, surprising Bill who was at his desk drawing.

“Eddie?”

“What the fuck, Bill?”

“Eddie, what-”

“Why the fuck did none of you tell me Richie only lives a few towns away?” Eddie thought he’d feel satisfied by the look of guilt that washed over Bill’s face, but he didn’t; it just made him angrier. “You didn’t even tell me you were talking to Richie!”

“Eddie, can you sit down, please?”

“I ran into Mrs. Tozier and she told me that all of you are over there all the time! All the time and none of you ever told me he was right there!”

“You could’ve asked him yourself,” Bill scoffed, an edge beginning to creep into his voice. “You’ve had three years to ask Richie how and where he’s been. It’s not my job or anybody else’s to do that for you two.”

Eddie shook his head. “You shouldn’t have kept this from me.” Eddie was surprised when Bill looked suddenly… sad.

“Eddie,” he started, his eyes downcast. He forced himself to meet Eddie’s gaze as he told him, “We didn’t tell you because he’s not doing well.” Eddie’s heart dropped at that.

“What do you mean? His mom just told me he’s doing great, that he’s been on the Dean’s List for three years.”

“The Dean’s List part is true, but… Eddie, he hasn’t been eating.” Bill’s lower lip began to tremble, and his eyes filled with tears. “It’s like he doesn’t even think to. And his parents never notice. I mean I guess he has dinner with them a few nights a week, but other than that he just forgets. Ben went over to hang out with him once and I guess he was in his pajamas and had his shirt off because Ben realized how thin he’d gotten, and then they went to get food and he said Richie ate like he hadn’t in days… and then Ben realized that he probably hadn’t.”

Eddie shook his head, tears coming to his own eyes and blurring his vision. That was new information, and it was a lot to process. He’d learned a lot that day, and it was getting to be overwhelming. “Is- is he okay?” he nearly whispered.

“He’s doing better now. We all go over there all the time to look after him. At least one of us is there every day, or he’ll come here sometimes.”

Eddie nodded. “Thank you. I know it’s not about me, but still. I’m glad there are people looking out for him.”

Bill gave Eddie a small smile. “I think he really misses you. Maybe even more than you miss him.”

Eddie was tempted to scoff at that, to say well he could’ve reached out. But he knew he could’ve reached out as well, and the fact that Richie missed him made him feel a sense of hope for the first time in years. “When’s the next time you’re going over?”

“I’m supposed to go over tomorrow at like noon.”

Eddie took a deep breath. “Can I go instead?”

Bill eyed him warily. “You want to?”

“Yeah. I wanna see him.” And then all of a sudden Eddie was sobbing. It felt like it came on from nowhere, like the admission had opened the floodgates and allowed Eddie to finally feel everything he’d been pressing down for the past three years. Bill had him wrapped in his arms immediately, just holding him tight as he rode it out.

“I think he’ll wanna see you, too,” Bill grinned.

“I sure hope so.”

 

 

So pay attention now: I'm standing on your porch screaming out. And I won't leave until you come downstairs.

And I don't blame you, dear, for running like you did, all these years.

Eddie could barely sleep that night. He spent all morning fussing over his appearance and feeling like he couldn’t breathe. He tried planning out what he would say, but how do you prepare for something like that? He decided to just wing it. He’d be lucky if Richie didn’t slam the door in his face.

He drove to Richie’s new house and spent five minutes just deciding whether or not he should park in front of it or a few houses down. Eventually he convinced himself that there was no point not just parking out front. He then spent another minute giving himself a pep talk and only left the car when he realized Richie might’ve noticed the strange car in front of his house. His hands were shaking as he walked up the path to the porch, and as he knocked he kind of wished some stranger would open the door and tell him he had the wrong house, sorry, no Toziers in this neighborhood.

But the door opened and there he was. The sight of him knocked the breath out of Eddie. His dark curls were still long, though a bit shorter than they’d been three years before, and they were still damp from the shower he must’ve taken. His eyes were wide and even bluer than Eddie remembered. His lips were pink and spread apart in what Eddie assumed was shock, and Eddie knew that they were soft, he knew because he could suddenly remember them all over his skin. “Eddie,” he said, and even though his voice was rougher than it used to be it still sounded like coming home.

“Hi,” Eddie breathed, a soft smile on his face. Richie was starting to become blurry in front of him, so he took a deep breath and blinked the tears away with a small huff of a laugh.

“I guess Bill gave you my address?” Richie walked into his house, so Eddie followed and closed the door behind him. He looked around a bit, but his eyes inevitably fell back to Richie.

“Yeah.”

“Why’d you come?” Richie asked, standing awkwardly in the middle of the living room. Eddie stayed in the doorway, as he got the impression Richie didn’t want him to come any closer.

“I saw your mom at the pharmacy yesterday. I didn’t realize you lived so close to Derry.”

“You came for my mom?” Richie tried out a small smile. “I thought that was my line.”

Eddie let out a small laugh that threatened to turn into a sob again. “I wanted to see you, dumbass,” he said, and it felt simultaneously so easy yet so stiff. “I thought you left.”

Richie’s jaw clenched then, his smile gone. “I thought you told me to.”

Eddie’s heart dropped to his feet. “I didn’t have a choice.”

And suddenly Richie was yelling. Eddie didn’t know how it escalated so quickly, though he supposed he couldn’t be surprised. “You did though!” Richie shouted. “I gave you choices! And you chose to stay here and find out who you are or whatever. Did you do that, by the way? Is that Muriel chick or whatever helping you find yourself?” His words were bitter, biting. They hurt.

Eddie curled in on himself. “I broke up with her months ago,” he mumbled.

“Well I’m glad you’ve at least got that figured out,” Richie sneered.

“You know, you could’ve stayed. We could’ve talked about it. You didn’t just have to leave and then not talk to me for three years,” Eddie shot back.

“We’d been planning that trip for months! Fuck, years! And you made it clear you didn’t wanna talk.”

“You could’ve called.”

“You could’ve too.”

Eddie knew he was right. Tears of frustration welled in his eyes - he really didn’t know how they’d gotten to this point. He’d come over to fix things, and he’d just made them even worse.

Richie’s anger deflated at the sight of Eddie crying, his head ducked down and arms wrapped around himself. “Hey,” Richie said, his voice suddenly soft as he took a few tentative steps towards Eddie. “Listen, I’m sorry I left without saying anything, okay? That was shitty. I get that. But fuck, Eds, you broke my fucking heart.” He gave another weak laugh, and Eddie looked up to find that Richie was nearly on the brink of tears as well. “I get that you’re still mad, and that’s fine, but I planned my whole future around you, and then at the very last fucking minute you said you didn’t want me, that you didn’t want that future anymore.”

“I’m not mad,” Eddie sniffled, wiping his eyes. “I’m… I miss you. And I’m sorry, I’m so sorry Richie. I wanted that too, so bad, but I was still so scared of my mom, of leaving, of starting a new life. I shouldn’t have told you to go. I never wanted you to go. I still don’t know why I said all of that. I guess I just didn’t want to hold you back.”

Richie crossed his arms and let his eyes fall to the floor. “I miss you, too. I haven’t stopped missing you for three years, not even for a day.”

Eddie let out a small sob and stepped forward, wrapping his arms around Richie. Richie froze in surprise before slowly, tentatively wrapping his arms around Eddie. Eddie could feel Richie’s ribs under his shirt, but it wasn’t as bad as he’d been expecting; apparently the others were doing a good job of looking after him. That quelled his fear a bit, but he still felt miserable that he’d let Richie just forget about himself like that. He couldn’t believe how much of Richie’s life he’d missed. “No one has ever made me feel the way you make me feel. That’s why I was with Myra, because I knew that I would never actually love her, so for me it wasn’t like moving on. I could pretend I was but I knew it wouldn’t hurt, and I knew it wouldn’t actually be like replacing you.”

“I’ve never loved anyone but you either,” Richie admitted after a moment of pregnant silence, his hold on Eddie tightening.

“I can’t believe I went three years without you.” Eddie’s voice was muffled as he had his face pressed against Richie’s chest.

“I barely made it out alive,” Richie joked, but knowing what Bill told him the words made Eddie go cold. He pulled back and experimentally cupped Richie’s cheek in his hand.

“I don’t ever wanna go that long without you again,” he said. “If that’s okay with you?”

Richie smiled and nodded. “I agree.” There was a moment of silence where they just drank each other in, letting their eyes roam over one another. Eddie wanted to badly to kiss him, but he knew it wasn’t the time for that, not yet anyway. They’d both been through too much since they’d last seen each other to dive head in right away. “You wanna go downstairs and watch something? I’m free pretty much all day, and we’ve got three years to catch up on.”

Eddie beamed. “I’d love that.” Richie smiled, almost in disbelief, and held both of Eddie’s hands in his own. He leaned his forehead against Eddie’s, a simple gesture that made Eddie feel like his heart was about to burst out of his chest. He could feel Richie’s breath on his lips, and everything in him was screaming at him to lean in, to feel those lips against his own again. But Richie must have known better as well, as he pulled his face away. Still, he kept their fingers entwined as he led Eddie to the basement, and Eddie thought that was pretty nice way for them to start rebuilding that future.

Keep your head up, my love

Keep your head up, keep your love