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Baby, I'm Counting On You

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Two months ago, Richie won a Grammy.

Hell, two weeks ago, he played a sold out Madison Square Garden show.

But what mattered to everyone now was the trainwreck from two days ago.

Biting the ID wristband off, Richie spit the plastic onto the floor of the rental car. His head, although actively killing him, hurt significantly less than it did yesterday. Driving probably (definitely) wasn’t ideal, but he couldn’t stick around Los Angeles another minute. His hands trembled and he hit the steering wheel in frustration, unable to open his water bottle before the light changed to green.

Richie Tozier didn’t make plans. He made decisions.

And the decision today? Hop on a flight to Maine and don’t look back.

With no luggage to check, he passed through security easily - much easier than he had in his life. Part of him wondered why he didn’t tour this way. The belongings he traveled with didn’t exactly matter. Everything that mattered to him, he could carry in his wallet. Even his phone felt like dead weight in his pocket now. His hand twitched, but he restrained himself.

Before he fully knew where he was or what he was doing, Richie tuned in to the stewardess instructing them to fasten their seat belts and get ready for the flight. Then the captain came on and said the same spiel Richie heard a hundred times already. Pulling off his glasses and massaging the bridge of his nose, he slumped against the window, preparing for nothing more than sleep.

Of course, a tap on his shoulder thwarted his immediate attempts.

“I’m- Oh God, I’m so sorry to bother you-”

Richie stretched, groaning as his back popped. He recognized the tone and, upon opening his eyes, saw he guessed correctly: a teenage girl. She wore a t-shirt with his face, The Losers printed in white block letters under his head. She also wore army green cargo pants with a plaid mini skirt over them; he was thrown back to the 90s before he could process a response.

“You’re Richie Tozier!” she exclaimed. A few people looked over at them. Richie nodded, offering a small smile. “I didn’t mean to wake you, I thought you were just- I’m sorry- I can go-”

“No, no! I’m awake for the moment. What can I do for you?” he asked, easily slipping back into the charm which won over most of Hollywood. For the past decade, he relied on the skill to make a name for himself. He arrived in California with nothing more than a guitar and a dream. The Losers could’ve also been included in the list of things he brought, but at the time, he didn’t envision taking anything from his childhood.

“Would it be too much to ask for a selfie? And an autograph?” the girl asked. She held out a mixtape, and Richie pouted his lips, impressed. He knew cassettes were making a comeback, but he never legitimately expected to see one in the wild.

“Sure thing, miss..?”
“Aldys.”
“Ah, a challenge.” The girl laughed and spelled out her name for Richie, and he smiled for the selfie, thanking God that front cameras were a real invention. He struggled constantly to look in the right place; pictures rarely came out right, and fans turned it into a big inside joke. While he couldn’t truly be mad about it, he found it tiresome. In the first few years of stardom, he soaked up attention like a sponge. Then he realized he was a caricature. Fans expected the same inside joke. The same song. He was a small unit in the giant entertainment factory, pumping out goods for the greedy consumers. He learned he couldn’t just get tired of something when people still wanted it.

Shaking off the thought, Richie slumped back in his seat as the girl left. Pulling his beanie over his eyes, he yawned.

Aldys. Aldys. Why does that sound familiar? Richie thought, slowly drifting in and out of consciousness. Oh, that’s right... Nerys.

Chuckling, he turned over yet again to rest his cheek on the cold window. Sleep took over instantly.

“Alright, Alexander the... Great- Richie! Can you come up with a better name?”
“No.”
Eddie’s mouth twisted, his finger still held up. Huffing, he went back to his playbook, or whatever the Hell it was called. Richie didn’t have too much interest in Dungeons and Dragons, but Bill and Eddie did, so he wouldn’t argue. His turn for game night would roll around soon enough.

Besides, he had plenty of fun wreaking havoc on the adventure.

“Well, what are you gonna do, Richie?”

Peering at the board, Richie stuffed a handful of popcorn into his mouth.

“Probably gonna make out with the giant,” he said, snickering. Eddie groaned, slumping down on the floor.

“Bill!” His whines went unnoticed. Bill fell asleep, clutching one of the throw pillows like a teddy bear. Eddie grumbled, motioning for Richie to roll the dice. He swiped up the die, his expression dramatic as he shook his hands around. Instead of dropping it, however, he paused.

“Hey, Eds?”

“What?” Eddie watched him, all annoyance gone. Richie couldn’t help but smile. As much as he bugged Eddie, the slate could be wiped clean in no more than a moment. His patience seemed endless sometimes, in the grand scheme of things.

“Tell me about your character again,” he said. Eddie’s mouth twisted. “I’m serious, I have a question. I just.. wanna hear first.”

Fiddling with his twenty-sided die, Eddie’s eyes flickered from his player piece to Richie. The only noise in the Kaspbrak den came from the TV; music videos replaced reality shows at 2 AM. Sometimes Richie wished he were born much earlier, to enjoy the days where MTV was solely music. He feared he missed his window. By the time he was old enough to make a record, would he be stuck sharing it with the graveyard shift?

“Well... what do you wanna know?” Eddie finally asked, pulling Richie’s attention back. Richie leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees.

“Anything you think is important,” he said simply.

Eddie chuckled, looking through the notebook in his hands. Richie noticed he referenced it often, drawing a little doodle or taking quick notes as they played. He wasn’t sure what there was to take note of in a game of D&D, but he liked seeing Eddie show passion for something other than his medicine.

“Her name is Nerys,” he began.

Richie nodded. He hadn’t forgotten Eddie’s character was a girl. Neither he nor Bill commented. To them, it didn’t feel out of place. They knew better than to talk about it outside of their nights together, and they figured if Eddie wanted to say anything on the matter, he would’ve by now. Richie considered it punk rock, the way Eddie didn’t care. When he imagined Eddie bringing up the subject, he also imagined himself assuring Eddie by saying ‘they thought Kurt Cobain was gay; Billie Joe Armstrong wrote about fuckin’ guys, I think,’ because that was his job as Eddie’s best friend. Hell, he thought about kissing guys every now and then. It couldn’t have been that crazy.

“Nerys, got it. Cute name, by the way,” he commented. Eddie squinted, staying quiet for a moment before continuing.

“Thanks... Well yeah, um. She’s an elf princess- I wanted a fairy, but... I dunno. Elf worked better. I liked the abilities and stuff. She woke up in our adventure not remembering anything. No past, no... attachments. She just gets to be, and yeah she’s curious about her old self, but the adventure is more important. Her identity could be a side quest, if I ever decide to write that out,” he explained. Richie held his soda, having forgotten he wanted a drink.

“Hey Eds?”
“Eddie, but what?”

Richie set the can down, flicking the tiny aluminum tab. There was a plethora of questions he wanted to ask. Instead of asking any of them, he blurted, “If I roll a twenty, can Alexander make out with Nerys instead?”

“Richie!”
“Shhhhh! ... You’ll wake Bill up.”

Neither of them spoke for a moment. Eddie’s eyes were trained on Richie, and he saw no other choice but to roll the die. As it clattered on the coffee table, his heartbeat picked up. Hope rose in his chest, and for once, he kept his lips pursed from fear of what might escape them.

Twenty.

Richie’s eyes flickered to Eddie, but he was staring at the die. When he finally did look at Richie, there was a clear anxiety in his expression. A pang of guilt hit Richie; he didn’t want to push his best friend. He knew better, but he was just so good at being a piece of shit. Opening his mouth to protest, Eddie leaned over the coffee table and kissed him. It wasn’t much. No tongue, not even open mouth. He simply crashed his lips - which were remarkably smooth - against Richie’s, and pulled away the moment Richie thought to raise his hands and hold onto him.

“Sorry- I’m sorry-” Eddie began babbling, but Richie shook his head. He held up his hand and the two were quiet again.

“Was that your first time kissing someone?”
“Oh screw you, Rich-”
“No! No! I meant like...” Richie’s voice trailed off and he glanced at the TV. He could’ve let the music videos distract him. He could’ve let the moment shrivel up and die out like an old flower petal. Instead, he continued, “You seem nervous. I... Can I show you something?”

Eddie watched him, nervous and doe-like, ready to flee at the first sign of trouble. Richie crawled around the table, careful as he closed the distance.

“Relax,” he whispered, touching Eddie’s neck and giving him a moment to push him away if he wanted, before gently kissing him.

Richie jerked awake as the plane landed. His head hit the window, yanking him from his sleep. Rubbing the aching bump, he fished his glasses from his pocket, adjusting them on his face. When his vision came into focus, he saw everyone else already grabbing their overhead luggage. Stretching, his back giving a satisfying pop, he stood and meandered towards the exit.

Two hours later, Richie drummed his hands on the steering wheel, driving along the twisting roads, surrounded by thick trees on either side. His hometown awaited, mere minutes away - he could see the “Derry Welcomes You” sign. Slamming on the breaks, he jerked forward, choked by the seat belt of the fourteen-year-old Acura he bought in Bangor. He had to admit, he didn’t expect the car to stop as well as it did. Rubbing his neck, he glanced behind him to make sure the road was still empty before stepping out.

Part of him wanted to touch the welcome sign, as if it would disappear and all the jokes would be on him.

Ha ha, fuckface! Ha ha all over you! You can’t go home!

Shaking his head, ridding himself of the thoughts, Richie plopped back into the car and continued driving. His first stop, among many, would have to be fixing the license plates. He bought the car from a shitty dealership with the intent of paying in cash. None of the new models in sight; he specifically went for something at least a decade old so he could blend in with Derry. All of his transactions had been cash since... Tuesday? Wednesday?

His second stop would have to be anywhere with a calendar.

Entering Derry, Richie didn’t realize he held his breath until his lungs began to ache. Gasping, he tightened his grip on the wheel. Nearly everything changed since he left back in 2008. Almost eleven years, give or take a few months. Of course, the worst part of coming home was seeing how... nothing actually changed. Not at the roots. Sure the stores were updated. There were new markets and shops scattered around.

But Kansas Street was still Kansas Street. The Kissing Bridge still gave him anxiety to drive over. Main Street, the library, Bassey Park... none of it changed. The Paul fucking Bunyan statue somehow hadn’t been bulldozed, which he always secretly hoped for. These places and landmarks, untouched by his life outside of Derry-

(-KEEP MESSING UP MY LIFE-)

“FUCK!” Richie hollered, stomping on the breaks yet again. A car behind him honked angrily, swerving around him and speeding off while he scrambled to silence the radio. Veering to the sidewalk, Richie parked, catching his breath and angrily twisting the knob which controlled the volume. “Son of a bitch...” He’d been listening to static for over an hour, completely forgetting the station was on. If the ancient radio couldn’t get decent signal in Bangor, he had no hope for Derry.

Naturally, his own song would blast through the speakers.

Get it together, Tozier, he thought, rubbing his eyes in his suddenly sweaty palms. In the silence, he could faintly hear the disc jockey.

“That was Rad Drugz, by Trashmouth. Number one with a bullet; I told y’all, didn’t I tell y’all? Richie and The Losers is out, Trashmouth is in. Now the real question on everyone’s lips: Where is the rockstar of a generation? That’s right folks, Richie Tozier has gone off the gr-”

Turning the key, Richie cut the radio entirely. His forehead hit the dashboard, and he groaned. The only hope he could cling to was the fact that everyone who cared about him only listened to their Spotify when they hooked it up to their cars, and even the old cars could be rigged for it! Maybe no one knew yet. Maybe no one was looking. Yet even with the glimmer of hope, Richie glanced over his shoulder to see who might’ve been watching. Huffing, he started the car again and drove towards the nearest auto shop.

According to Google, the shop fixing his plates used to belong to the Tracker brothers. Reviews commended the upkeep and service, but there were one or two from old residents complaining about the loss of Tony and Phil. Rolling his eyes, he closed out of the browser, choosing instead to delete contacts. When he ran away from Los Angeles, he pictured himself throwing the phone from the Kissing Bridge. It would float down the river and vanish into the ocean. No more reaching Mr. Tozier.

Ultimately, he decided to change the number in Bangor’s Sprint store. Dramatics be damned.

When the mechanics sent him on his way, Richie stood on the sidewalk, trying to think of where to go next. The sun wouldn’t set for another few hours, but he ran out of excuses to avoid the only place he truly wanted to be. Sighing, he checked last six numbers in his phone. Two of them belonged to Abraham and Jill, his faithful bandmates, and the closest he’d come to best friends in a long time. The remaining four he selected, adding to a group message.

I’m in town. It’s Richie, btw. Gonna be real awkward if you losers all changed your numbers on me.

He gave it five minutes, but no one responded. Nodding to himself, Richie tossed the phone aside, finally making the drive home.

Much to his relief, there were some discernible differences in his childhood neighborhood. Whoever owned the first house on the block decided its old paint needed blue instead, and hunter green shingles. Additions were added to other houses; the owners of Stan’s old home installed a pool, from what Richie could see. There were two children’s bikes - one green, one purple - lying in the lawn.

Coming up on his old house didn’t feel real. Derry didn’t feel real. He liked the new stores and additions, because those were being touched in his memory with what he knew now. Everything else already had handprints, and those came before the music.

Before the fame.

Before the money, the women and men, the parties and dazzling Hollywood lights...

Parked in front of the house, Richie couldn’t help but smile seeing “Tozier” remained painted on their mailbox. His tiny handprint, from when he was no older than a toddler, dotted the “i” in lime green paint. Wentworth and Maggie refused to cover it, even when he was a teenager, and thought it was embarrassing. He could hear them now, so clearly in fact, he turned to make sure they weren’t in the backseat.

“I could always tape a picture of you on your first potty, Richie. How about that?” Wentworth teased. Maggie covered her mouth to stifle the giggles at Richie’s horrified expression. Clearing her throat, she rose from her chair to fetch the mashed potatoes from the kitchen, bringing them back to the dining room table. “Thank you, my dear.” Went kissed his wife’s cheek as she served more food, playfully pinching her hip and eliciting a giggle. Richie groaned, slumping in his seat.

In hindsight, he inherited his playfulness and laid back, dry banter from his parents. He supposed he owed them the majority of his fortune; without the charm, he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere with his first band.

Twirling the keys around his finger, Richie checked himself in the rearview mirror, running his fingers through his hair as he climbed out of the car. With each step towards the front door, he passed a memory. Catch with Wentworth on Sunday afternoons. Spraying Maggie with the hose, and her spraying him right back, when they were supposed to water the garden. Nights in the treehouse with Mike and Stan. Cigarettes in the garage with Bev. Pausing at the steps, Richie stared at the porch swing. He kissed Eddie for the first time there, on the Fourth of July, while everyone watched fireworks in his backyard.

Shoving the thoughts away, he took the steps two at a time, knocking rapidly on the door. He bit his lip, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet as he waited. Inside, he could hear shuffling, and voices. The curtain covering the glass panes on the door moved, and he smiled, offering a small wave. Maggie screamed, swinging the door open and rushing to hug her son. Richie’s eyes widened as she squeezed him, and he laughed, lifting her up and swinging her around.

“Good to see you too, Ma,” he said. Maggie laughed, wiping her eyes when she pulled away. “Aw, come on, don’t cry.”

“Hush, Richie. I haven’t seen you in a while. I can’t miss my baby?” she demanded. Richie chuckled, shrugging. “Well come inside, don’t be a stranger! I was just about to start dinner- are you staying? What are you hungry for?” Waving his hands, he shook his head.

“I’m- Ma, you don’t have to make a big fuss-”

“Richie?” Wentworth’s voice carried from the dining room. Richie heard the rustling of a newspaper, and felt a weight lift from his chest when his dad appeared at the end of the hall. With an arm still around his mother, he held out the other for his dad. “Good to see ya, kid!” From the surprise in his tone, Richie knew perfectly well how foreign he made himself here. Guilt threatened to creep in, but he only hugged his parents tighter.

With their arms around him, he felt weightless enough to float away.

“I missed you,” he whispered, his throat tight. Maggie rubbed his back, keeping her hand on him even as they broke apart.

“The feeling’s mutual, Richie. Sit down, come on,” she said softly, pulling out a seat for him before disappearing back into the kitchen. Being in this seat made him feel small again - smaller than he’d been in over a decade. “How have you been? How’s the band? Sandy?” Richie made a face, sinking a little in his chair.

“How do you know about Sandy?” he asked innocently, as if he didn’t already have a guess. His mother laughed from the kitchen; even Wentworth chuckled.

“All over the magazines,” she answered, poking her head from the other room. “That’s right, Mr. Tozier, we have US Weekly. Rolling Stones- all those old printed pages still exist! It’s not all Yahoo and MyFace.” At last, it was Richie’s turn to laugh. He hit the table, nearly choking.

“Facebook or MySpace, Ma? One of those has been deceased for as long as I’ve been gone,” he said. He could just picture his mother rolling her eyes, the smile on her face. Wentworth peered over his newspaper, folding and setting it aside so he could observe his son. Knowing he couldn’t avoid giving an answer, Richie sighed.

“Band’s good. I could call Abe and Jill, if you wanted to meet them. They’re great, I love them, I hope you guys will too,” he began, unable to fight the smile at the thought of his friends. The pair came at a strange time in his life; a time where he genuinely thought going home would’ve worked out for him. Two albums later, he safely said he made the best call sticking around. “Sandy... We broke up- It’s not a big deal, it just wasn’t gonna work out long term.” He quickly tried to cover the news with a happier tone, but Maggie caught on too quick.

“Oh, Richie, honey, what happened? How long ago did you break up? I wish I could’ve met her- you two were together for such a long time, I read that article what? Two years ago?” Maggie approached him, cradling his face in her hand. She pet his hair back, kissing the top of his head. Richie kept the small smile on his face until she was back in the kitchen. Of course, Wentworth saw the change in expression. “Maybe you could win her back, Richie! That would be so romantic. You wrote songs about her before, didn’t you? I love the one you have-”

“You listened to my songs?” Richie interrupted, covering his mouth to keep anything else from tumbling out. Wentworth nodded, answering for both of them.

“Of course we did!” Tilting his head, Went made a face and added, “Richie, we bought tickets you made out of construction paper and glue to shows you put on in the backyard. Did you really think we wouldn’t listen?” Immediately, Richie wanted to say yes. He never imagined Wentworth or Maggie buying a copy of his CD, fiddling with the CD player and arguing over how to get it working, until resorting to asking their teenage neighbor for help. Now, as he pictured it, he couldn’t think of a reason why he hadn’t before.

“I don’t understand this new song you’ve got on the radio, I can’t say I like it, but I enjoyed a lot of your other songs. We have all your CDs in the living room, go look,” Maggie called out. She returned to the dining room, phone in hand. “I’m just gonna order a pizza, I can’t figure out what to make in there.” Waving dismissively in the direction of the kitchen, she dialed a number. “You still like mushroom and pepperoni, right honey?” Nodding, holding up his thumbs, Richie stood up, walking through the house like a ghost. Everywhere he looked, he saw life before he was wanted by everyone. He never thought he’d long for these halls, and yet here he was, his eyes burning, tears threatening.

Although he couldn’t recall the exact layout of the living room, he sensed no change. Running his fingers along the knickknacks, he paused upon seeing the stereo. He cringed thinking of how old it was, and how old he was in comparison. Twenty years ago, on his tenth birthday, they bought it as a gift for everyone (but mostly Richie). Neatly displayed on top of the machine, his parents set up all of his CDs on a rack. Behind the first rack was a second, displaying the same album, but in vinyl format. Then, in front of the stereo system, where the cassette player was, they lined his tapes.

Richie and The Losers presents: A Penny For the Wise, followed by King of the Losers, and bringing the end to the R&TL era (as fans called it), I Wrote This For You. Three records which brought him to fame and fortune, allowing him the freedom to disband the group and move on to two people who understood his mind, rather than tagged along for a ride in Hollywood. His original band came together when he held auditions in his apartment, back when he worked as a busboy and waiter in Glendale, California. He liked them, Ross, Peter, and Gabriel, but they were coworkers more than they were a band. Their contributions to the music were few and far between. Richie wore himself ragged creating music exactly how he wanted.

When he called it quits with them, he had already met Jillian Fink and Abraham Prince. They worked as sound techs for the band, having grown up together and shared a dream of starting their own group. Richie bounced ideas off of them, received plenty of pushback, and created a sound more perfect than he envisioned. The difference between his latest work and old work was night and day; he (privately, anyway) compared it to Freddie Mercury working with the rest of his bandmates in Queen as opposed to writing solo.

The final two records on display were Richie’s pride and joy.

Trashmouth presents: I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Probably and The House On Jackson Street. He supposed he wasn’t subtle; he only had one friend on Jackson Street. Mike lived out on his farm. Bev lived across town further up on Main. Bill was on Witchham, he and Stan were here on Center. He couldn’t remember where Ben lived, whether it was Kansas or Costello Avenue, but either way, it left only one other person.

“Richie? Do your friends know you’re in town? I’ve got Beverly Marsh- oop, Hanscom now. I keep forgetting- of course we always knew she and little Ben would get together, I’m just so used to the bunch of you running through this place as kids,” Maggie said, holding out the phone. Richie’s heart skipped a beat. He smiled at his mom, turning away to let his expression fall to panic.

“Hello-”
“You really are back, huh, Rich?” Bev chuckled humorlessly on the other end. Scratching the back of his head, Richie ran through his list of curse words. He already received a slap from Beverly when he reunited with her in Los Angeles. Trashmouth’s management hired her to style him and the others for an awards show. She smiled upon seeing him, then immediately slapped him and began shouting. He assumed she got all of her anger out then; he clearly remembered them having breakfast before parting ways.

“Was I not supposed to come back?” he asked, treading carefully. By no means was Beverly Marsh a violent person. Unless you hurt her friends. She loved hard, and he knew the moment she smacked him. Of course, she loved him too, but the fact of the matter was... he hurt five of her friends when he left.

And then, most important of all, he hurt her.

“Richie,” her tone was stern, but after a moment of silence, the tension dropped. “I’m glad you’re home. I’m sure everyone else will be happy too, with some convincing. Some more than others.” As relieved as he was to hear that, Richie couldn’t help but notice the lingering uncertainty in her words.

“You mean-”
“Things are different now, Richie. I just hope you’re prepared for that,” she said. Richie’s heart sank, his stomach soured.

“Is he married or something?” he asked, his voice no louder than a whisper. Bev didn’t answer for a moment, and Richie thought he might throw up.

“No, he’s not,” she replied, and Richie let out a breath, for the second time today, he hadn’t realized he was holding. “Things are just... different. Come over later, we’ll talk about it.” He opened his mouth to respond, but Bev hung up. It didn’t bother him; he didn’t know what he wanted to say anyways. Setting the phone back in its rightful place, Richie took a different seat at the table, mentally queuing up questions for his parents to fill the silence.


Repeating the address under his breath, Richie sauntered along Main Street, searching for Bev and Ben’s house. According to Maggie, his old friends were all pretty close. Stan bought his house from his parents, Mike moved to the sole house on Palmar Lane, and Bev and Ben were between them on Main Street. Eddie inherited Sonia’s house after she passed away in 2014. Richie didn’t know his best friend lost his mom for five years.

Stopping in the middle of the road, he took a deep breath. The streetlights were on. No cars were around. Silence fell around him and Richie cringed away from it. Briskly walking across the street, he read the numbers on the mailboxes, knowing he was close. Only when he stopped in front of the Hanscom residence did the reality sink in. His friends all grew up. Got married. From the looks of it, they accomplished what they set out to do in high school.

Richie was the odd man out.

Of course, they all left him first.

Scowling, annoyed by the pestering thoughts, Richie shook out his limbs, preparing himself for whatever came next. His knock on the old mahogany door echoed in his ears, and in the distance, he heard the first car passing in over an hour. As it did when he heard his mother approaching, his heartbeat picked up speed. The locks rustled, and the door opened slowly.

Bev stared at him through a sliver just wide enough for her head to fit through.

“Richie.”
“Beverly.”

Neither of them moved.

Then a smile cracked her stoic expression, stretching from ear to ear. Throwing the door open, she ran out and wrapped her arms around his neck, hugging him tight. He choked, but laughed anyway, swinging her the same as he did for Maggie. When he let her go, he took in the sight of her, his eyes darting up and down. Her hair grew out again; she held it back in a tight ponytail the way she would in high school. Somehow it looked more red than he remembered. Other than the hairstyle, she hadn’t changed too much.

“Let’s go out back, I’ll get us some drinks,” she said, leading him into the house. The scent of apple pie filled the air, and from where he stood, he could see the dessert sitting on a breakfast bar. On his right, there was a short set of stairs, a small landing, then the real staircase; along the wall were pictures of Beverly and Ben over the years, the first being from their wedding. Forgetting he was supposed to follow her, Richie climbed up the first few steps, taking down the picture frame.

“Bev, you were glowing!” he exclaimed, holding up the picture. Bev’s brow rose, and Richie nodded, putting the photo back. She knew damn well what she looked like. This wasn’t news to her like it was for him. “Sorry, sorry.” Beverly shrugged, pausing to look him over.

“You look like you haven’t slept in a while,” she commented. Richie laughed, not entirely lifeless, but almost.

“It feels like it’s been weeks. This is, without a doubt, the longest day of my life,” he admitted. From checking himself out of the hospital at 6 AM on the West Coast, to visiting an old friend at 9 PM on the East, his body clock broke and there were no handymen to fix it. Before either of them could say anything else, Ben appeared at the top of the stairs. He squinted at Richie until recognition kicked in, his eyes now crinkling because of his wide smile.

Richie didn’t know what to expect, seeing Ben again. He hadn’t gotten any taller since high school, whereas Beverly had. She still had a whole foot on him, particularly highlighted for Richie when Ben leaned up to kiss her cheek. He shaved his head, but all hair was not lost; Ben was growing out quite the bushy mustache. He shook Richie’s hand firmly, beaming from his old friend to his wife.

“How’s Hollywood treating you, Richie?” he asked.

Without taking a moment to think over his response, Richie blurted, “Like an old dog. With lice.” Beverly snorted, thankfully not missing a beat as she intervened.

“Sounds like drinks are necessary, then,” she said, walking off to the kitchen. She mixed the last half of their pink lemonade with shots of strawberry vodka, throwing out the carton when she was done. It was a quick drink, but effective, and for a split second, Richie missed her more than anyone else in town.

“Trust me, Trashmouth, vodka by itself tastes awful. I snuck some from my mom’s glass one time,” Beverly said. After Bill, she was the most confident of the group. Nobody doubted she knew what she was talking about, which is why Richie hesitated with the bottle. He swiped it from his uncle’s liquor cabinet, eager to share with the rest of the club. Looking at the Smirnoff, his mouth twisted, but Beverly spoke again, cutting off any chance he had to complain. “Here, I’ve got a couple dollars. Run to the market on Costello and get some pink lemonade, an orange, and some strawberries if they have any of those big fat ones. The real juicy ones.” Shrugging Richie took the money, protesting when Beverly took the vodka.

“Hey!”
“I’m gonna keep watch on it, genius. How do you think the old man at the register would react seeing you with alcohol?”

Grumbling, Richie threw his hands up, whirling around to fetch his bike and pick up Beverly’s grocery list. He repeated the items to himself for the entire ride, still almost forgetting the orange. By the time he pedaled back to the clubhouse in the Barrens, Mike and Stan were waiting with Beverly. Stan brought his pocket knife, while Mike took a pitcher and wooden spoon from his house.

“Did you get the lemonade?” Bev asked, tilting her head for a better look at what was in the grocery bag. Richie nodded, handing the carton over. “Minute Maid? Snapple is way better-”

“Then go buy some yourself!” Richie shouted, huffing. Stan and Mike snickered, all of them watching as Beverly poured the lemonade and vodka into the pitcher.

“Mike, peel that orange and pull apart the slices for me, would you? Stan, cut the tops off those strawberries and toss ‘em in,” she instructed them, stirring as they added ingredients. When the last of the fruit went in, Beverly studied the mixture. “I feel like it’s missing something...”

“Hey guys!”

As if on cue, Ben appeared through the thick brush, carrying a large styrofoam cup with the McDonald’s logo printed on the side. Beverly lit up, pointing to the drink.

“Ben, quick, what is that?” she asked. Freezing in his spot, Ben looked from the drink, to Beverly, to the rest of his friends.

“Uh, Sprite?”
“Perfect! Can I borrow some? We’re making a drink.”

Without hesitation, Ben handed the cup over and said, “Sure. Take the whole thing. What are you making?”

Eagerly, Beverly poured the soda in, giggling gleefully as the ice tumbled out.

“Nice! It’s gonna be cold now! Good one, Ben!” she cheered, causing him to blush. Richie grew impatient, unable to sit still. He began to complain, but Beverly held the nearly full pitcher up and shouted, “Voila! Vodka, but good!” She looked around at each of them, frowning when she didn’t see Eddie. “I told Kaspbrak to get here quick with some paper cups...” Glancing at the drink, she shrugged, taking a sip straight from the source. Her face twisted for a moment, but she kept grinning. “Pass it around, it’s good!”

Richie didn’t have to be told twice. He slurped a large gulp, nearly spewing the drink out from how sharp and sour it immediately was. However, he forced it down, feeling a swoop in his belly. Laughing, he handed it to Mike. The pitcher made two rounds between them, when Bill and Eddie finally showed up. They drank themselves sick, each of them grounded for a week by sunset.

“Richie?” Beverly yanked him back to the present, much to his relief. Richie sipped from his glass, looking around the backyard. Ben set up a grill in the far left corner, and two picnic tables filled most of the remaining space. They sat at a small square table on the back porch, protected from mosquitoes and other insects by patio screens. He watched a fairly thick caterpillar inching up the nearest tree, probably in search of the perfect place to nest. “I said, how long do you think you’re staying in Derry?” Sitting up straighter, Richie’s eyes widened. He drank more, his brain on alert, screaming for him to slow down. Wiping his mouth on his sleeve, he tried to scrape together an answer.

But all that came out was: “I don’t really know.”

Beverly was about to ask another question, but a light bang on the door startled them. Richie jumped from his seat, backing away. His eyes rapidly searched for whoever made the noise, surprise rolling over him in waves when he looked down. A tiny person stared right back at him, his large brown eyes shining. His dark blonde hair stuck out in every direction, a swoop of it falling over his eyes. His tiny, chubby hands peeled from the glass door to push it back, and Richie smiled.

“You guys... didn’t tell me-”
“He’s not ours!” Bev quickly explained, opening the door to let the child out. Staring up at Beverly, then Richie, the tiny boy took one step out of the house, careful before taking a second step. “We’re babysitting tonight.” Richie’s brow rose.

“And you poured drinks?”
“He was supposed to be sleeping,” she reasoned, lifting the toddler onto her hip, and shooting Ben a look while he raised his hands defensively. Richie bent lower to be level with the kid. Seeing he was coming closer, the child covered his eyes, hiding his face against Beverly. “Hey, don’t be scared. This is just Richie. He’s a friend.” Unsure of what to do, Richie held out his hand.

“Hey there, little guy. I’m Richie,” he greeted, his voice soft. He thought about how strange Beverly’s voice became when talking to the kid, but the same effect took over him. Did adults always talk to kids this way? Thinking to his own childhood, he grimaced. Clearing his throat, he changed his tone. “What’s your name, man?” Ben snorted behind his wife, and Richie quickly flipped him off before the kid could see. The boy peeked through his fingers, glancing down at Richie’s extended hand. Nervously, he reached out to shake it.

“I- I Stevie,” he said, patting his chest. Richie chuckled, charmed by the simple action. Copying him, he patted his own chest.

“Well, again, I’m Richie. Richie Tozier, at your service,” he said, putting on his best Curly Howard voice. He even added the classic Three Stooges laugh. Stevie giggled, hiding his face again. Ben stood up, taking Stevie from Bev and heading back inside.

“C’mon Stevie, it’s way past your bedtime. Your daddy’s gonna be upset if he finds you’re not sleeping. You want Daddy to be upset?” Ben asked, the baby voice now infecting him. Richie turned back to his glass, finishing off the drink.

“So when you guys aren’t expanding the town, you’re... expanding the town?” he questioned, picking up Ben’s glass and sipping. Beverly rolled her eyes, groaning. Richie held up his hands in surrender. He didn’t want to fight so soon after getting back. At the moment, it didn’t matter to him.

The Losers Club, their circle of best friends, made an agreement in high school. Each of them possessed an idea - a talent - that could make Derry better than any small town within miles. No longer would they crave to abandon this shitty dump. Instead, they would make it the best. Beverly would bring her fashion industry. Ben would design buildings; out with the old, in with the new. Stan would open a law firm, Eddie would open an auto repair shop, and Bill would take over at the hospital. Mike would open a bar, but a gimmicky one - something cool to lure tourists and make their town cooler than it actually was. He loved history; he knew the town like the back of his hand, so it seemed perfect. Richie... didn’t have much to bring to their full table. Eddie suggested he go into business with Mike, turning the bar into a part time concert or comedy venue.

Richie fully believed his friends were all in the dream for the long haul.

Brushing off the thought, he placed his attention back on Beverly.

“What did you expect, Richie? We’re thirty. I’m still waiting a couple years before Ben and I even start trying, but that’s us. Stan’s already got two-”

“What?” Richie nearly dropped his glass. Suddenly, the two bikes lying in front of the Uris house made sense. Clearing his throat, he swirled the drink in his hand, the ice clinking against the glass. “What are they?” His voice became softer, although distant. Beverly’s shoulders slumped. She knew perfectly well when Richie was closing himself off.

“A boy and a girl. Andy and Jenny,” she answered. Licking his lips, Richie set the glass down, walking inside. “Richie, you should stay.” She followed close behind him, grabbing his wrist. He didn’t move. “Bill never came back when he left.” Freezing, Richie let the information sink in. When it finally registered with him, he slowly glanced over his shoulder at Beverly.

“And are you all mad at him too?” he asked. His tone, while soft, was accusing as well. Beverly bit her lip, and Richie knew before she said anything. “Of course not. Big Bill never did anything wrong, did he? That’s typ-”

“I’m furious with him, yes! But damn it, Richie, he at least warned us!” she shouted. Richie’s fists clenched at his sides, but Bev didn’t stop. “We were all just as in love with you as we were with Bill, you idiot! If Bill led the group, you held it together when he couldn’t! Which, this may come as a surprise, was more often than not. All of us felt it when you left! All of us! You didn’t say goodbye, you didn’t leave a note- Maggie called each of us every single night, Richard-”

“Beverly, I’m sorry! What else can I say? What else can I do? I ran! I ran before the rest of you could beat me to it!” he cried, biting the inside of his cheek only when it was too late. Beverly’s brow furrowed, but someone knocked on the front door, distracting both of them.

Leaning against the wall, Richie’s head tilted as Bev breezed past him. His eyes landed on the bathroom underneath the staircase, and he stepped in, splashing cold water on his face. Outside, he heard an unfamiliar voice, but he didn’t think much of it. He dabbed the pink towel over his eyes, walking out with full intention of leaving. The house, or Derry, he hadn’t quite decided.

However, he froze in place when he saw who stood in the foyer with Beverly.

“Eddie?”

Upon hearing his name, Eddie froze, his hand mid-brush through his hair. Richie gulped, taking in the sight. Eddie held a fairly large, blonde wig in his free hand. He wore a seafoam green dress that came down to his knees; one of the straps slid off his bare shoulder. His face was layered in makeup, his cheeks decorated with a deep rosy pink, his eyes highlighted with a darker fuchsia. Even with his nose altered by the makeup, Richie knew Eddie Kaspbrak when he saw him.

And much like the last time they were together, Eddie took Richie’s breath away.

“Eddie Kaspbrak-”

“Don’t even think about it,” Eddie scowled, holding up his hand. He faced Beverly, completely shutting Richie out. “Is everything okay?” Richie, of course, wouldn’t be easily ignored.

“Eds come on-”
“Do not call me that-”
“What’s all this? It’s not Halloween-”
“No, it’s not.”
“Are you one of those drag queens or something?”

Richie lived and breathed pop culture. He met his first drag queens when he moved to West Hollywood in 2009. A reality tv competition went on air, but it wasn’t until a few years later they became mainstream. Last he checked, they were commonplace in the modern household, but he could’ve been misguided measuring solely by Los Angeles standards. The thought of Stan, his wife, and two kids surrounding the TV to watch a drag queen cracked him up, and unfortunately for Richie, he couldn’t stifle the laugh.

“Oh fuck you! Don’t laugh at me!” Eddie shrieked, unmistakably livid. Richie shook his head frantically.

“Eds- Eddie, that’s not how I meant it! I was just thinking about- about the queens I’ve met, and then Stan-”
“What does Stan have to do with it?”

Beverly watched them go back and forth, taking a seat on the stairs and resting her chin in her palms.

Richie threw his hands in the air and shouted, “Nothing! It was dumb! I just-” His arms fell to his sides. “I’m proud of you, Eddie. This is awesome; I can’t believe you turned makeup into a career.” As kind as he tried to spin his response, Eddie wasn’t impressed.

“Why not? You turned screeching into one,” he said coolly. Richie placed a hand over his heart, as if shot.

“Ouch, Eds. And the ref takes a point away,” he mumbled.

“Bev, honey, can you unzip me please?” he asked, ignoring Richie once more. He grabbed the jeans he’d set on the stairs, most likely while Richie was in the bathroom, tugging them up under his dress. Bev nodded, still snickering at his insult.

Watching Eddie shed the dress, Richie bit his lip, averting his eyes and only looking back when Eddie pulled a shirt on. Richie tilted his head, observing him in the familiar Eddie Kaspbrak clothes, with a completely painted face. He wanted to laugh again, but bit his tongue, knowing better. Folding his dress, Eddie stared at the top of the staircase. Richie followed his gaze, hearing soft footsteps approaching rapidly. He’d nearly forgotten the kid in a matter of minutes.

“Hey Bev, how much do you get paid to babysit? I could use an easy gig while I’m in tow-”

“DADDY!” Stevie screamed from the top of the stairs, his voice piercing Richie’s eardrum. Flinching, he shut his eyes, opening them just in time to see Stevie leap into Eddie’s arms. “Daddy, I miss you! I miss you, Daddy!” Stevie kissed all over Eddie’s face, and Richie nearly staggered back, blown away at how soft Eddie’s expression became. Over a decade later, and he could still knock Richie on his ass.

“He’s yours?” Richie asked, barely loud enough to hear. He shot Beverly a glance, unsure if he was angry or confused. Her eyes were pleading, he knew she had more to say, but he didn’t entirely want to listen. “How did-”

“I have to go,” Eddie blurted, but not before Ben jogged down the stairs, happily calling out to him.

“Eddie! Look who’s back in town,” he said, gleefully. Richie made a swiping motion at his neck, wishing Ben grew out of his naive hopes of keeping the peace. Eddie’s lips were pressed thin in a tight smile. He nodded, shooting the same fake pleasantry to Richie. Stevie looked at him as well, holding out his hand and laughing. “And check that out, Stevie likes him!” Both Eddie and Richie’s eyes bulged. They stared at Ben, but Eddie looked away first. Richie wasn’t sure why it mattered, but Ben didn’t make him wait long. “Did you say you were looking for a job, Rich? Cause Eddie’s had a listing post-”

“No! No, absolutely not-”

“Daddy, no shout!”

“First of all, it’s not a gig, I need a nanny for my son while I’m out of town. Second of all, Richard Wentworth Tozier has zero experience being a decent person, let alone watching children! It’s not happening! Now Ben, Bev, I appreciate you both for looking after him-”

“Daddy, no shout!”

Stevie went from covering his ears to covering Eddie’s mouth, and Eddie sighed, staring apologetically at the toddler. He kissed Stevie’s hand, ruffling his hair.

“Your ad’s been in the paper for a month now. Still no responders-”
“Thank you, Ben,” Eddie stated firmly. His gaze shifted from each of them, then to Stevie. “I’ve gotta go. Say goodnight, baby.” Stevie waved, resting his head in the crook of Eddie’s neck as they walked out. The trio stood in silence, until Richie cracked his knuckles stepping towards the door to follow Eddie’s example.

However, Ben placed a hand on his shoulder, stopping him.

“He could use the help. Go to his old house in the morning; there’s no good reason for him to say no,” Ben insisted. He trotted down the last few stairs, sifting through pile of mail on the table by the door. Pulling out a newspaper, he handed it to Richie. Sure enough, there was Eddie’s listing.

Seeking Energetic Nanny For Three Year Old!
Full-time/live-in, for the months of June-Sept.
Experience a plus! Tasks include light house-
keeping, meal prep, and driving to/from app-
ointments. $17/hr. Call 207-339-0127.

Richie read and reread the ad, chewing his bottom lip. Ben shook him by his shoulders, grabbing a quilt from the storage closet. He exchanged a look with Bev, a grin on her face.

“Stay here tonight, sleep on it, apply in the morning,” he said, shaking out the blanket and passing it to Richie. “I’m heading to bed. G’night!” He left knowing exactly what tools he gave Richie, and Bev was right on his heels, kissing Richie’s cheek before going up. They let him stand in the foyer, wondering what the fuck just happened, and what the fuck he was going to do next.

On autopilot, Richie took his spot on the couch, groaning as he relaxed his body.

The newspaper ad was visible through the sliver of street light pouring in through the blinds.

I’m not doing it. I’m not gonna do it, he thought, rolling onto his other side, eager to pass out.


 Knocking on the door, Richie tried to justify his choices. All he could come up with was: Hi, I’m Richie Tozier, and my pride is buried in the backyard of my childhood home!

He didn’t like the sound of it, but what else could he do? Nowhere else in the world would grant him the same anonymity. His mind was made up; he was staying in Derry until further notice. Spending the next four months here fit with his plan, and the job didn’t sound incredibly difficult. Worst case scenario, he’d give Ben or Stan a call.

The door opened, but the moment Eddie saw Richie, he slammed it shut once more.

Richie barely had time to flash his signature smile.

“Eddie, that’s not nice!” he shouted, banging his fist on the door again. “Eddie, don’t you need someone to watch uh- Fuck...” Richie stopped, racking his brain for the name he heard last night. “Steven!”

No response.

Richie debated walking away, when Eddie appeared again.

“It’s Stevie. Like Stevie Nicks? I only call him Steven when he’s in trouble,” Eddie explained. His mouth twisted into a pout, his expression contemplative. “Richie-”

“Eddie, before you say no, let me plead my case,” he said quietly, desperation clear in his tone. Eddie didn’t speak. He motioned for Richie to continue, refusing to move from the doorway and let him in. “I can be responsible. I can take care of a kid. I’m good with them, fans would bring them up sometimes- you’d be surprised. You need the help, I need the job. I’ll even take lower wages. If anything serious goes down, I’ll call Maggie for help. She’s experienced! Mom for thirty years. How’s that sound?”

For a long few minutes, Eddie didn’t speak. Then, when Richie nearly gave up hope, Eddie held the door open fully.

“Come in, I’ll show you around,” he sighed, resigning to the circumstance. Richie’s smile stretched across his face, and he didn’t hesitate.

All he could think was: how hard can watching a toddler really be?