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A Broken Puzzle

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When Georgie died, Bill didn’t just lose a brother; he lost both of his parents too. They became standoffish, almost offended that Bill - their stuttering, imperfect and useless son - had been the one that had lived, that he hadn’t been the one to go out into the storm by himself and never come back.

But they weren’t the only ones that changed, Bill had too. He became quiet, silent to those who weren't the Loser; silent to his parents, to Henry. He was scared, alone. He was surrounded by his family at all times, but he always felt so alone when the one he wanted to be there, Georgie, wasn’t.

Sometimes from the corner of his vision, he would see a yellow storm coat and he would spin around, tripping over his own legs to spot it, stuttering quiet excuses to anyone who questioned him. It was never Georgie, it was never his little brother, and he knew it never would be again.

His parents had been going through similar things. He could hear his mom crying to herself, speaking to something that wasn't Georgie. His dad would hide away in the garage, hide away from both Bill and his mom, pretending that Georgie would come in after school asking for help with a new project.

Bill just wished he could see him one final time. Instead, he was the one that essentially sent him to his final moments, and it wasn't something his parents - nor Bill - would ever forgive him for.

Just over a year after his little brother's death, his parents seemed to reach a wall; a wall with him, a wall with each other, he still didn't quite know. Bill had followed a different root, and started to take time to heal: he started speaking to his friends, telling them what was going on in his head, the fear of getting them killed, of being a failure. Of death. He started to dig himself out of the quiet grave that he had believed himself to be stuck in.

There was still a lot of fear.

It was a similar time where he had made the stupid stupid mistake of believing that he could help his parents follow the same path. He didn't know that healing was something you had to choose.

He mentioned Georgie a few days after the anniversary of his death, a day spent in silence and alone. His dad backhanded him; Bill stepped back into the hallway wall due to the force of it, his dad's wedding ring cutting a small cut into his cheek. He looked up, eyes wet, at his mom - expecting some kind of defence, anything. He got nothing.

It wasn't the last time he was hit. It wasn't the last time he was disappointed.

It didn’t start obviously. He wasn't hit again for a while; it started with small comments if he did something his parents believed to be wrong, if he stuttered, if he stayed out a minute late past his curfew. It moved into small pushes to get out of the way, if he tried to leave the house without permission, if he wanted to get a snack from the fridge.

Bill didn't fight back against them - if this way their way of dealing with the death of their youngest, one that was caused by their eldest, what could Bill do to stop them?

It became harsh verbal comments; harsher shoves; no meals as punishment. The second he walked in the house, he dreaded what he would find in there, or who would find him. It just got worse and worse and worse.

(“You were a failure to your brother and you’re a failure to us”, “You killed Georgie, you weren’t there!”).

Almost three full years after his brother, Bill turned 16. It also happened to be the year he grew, he grew into his own body. He grew four inches in less than 2 months, his shoulders got broader, his voice got deeper and he finally started to lose his stutter he was so well known for.

He didn't use it to defend himself.

Four years after Georgie, he turned 17. His birthday present was a hospital visit. He missed his brother, he missed him so much that he wanted to go into his room for just a moment. Just one fucking moment so he could feel his presence, celebrate with him, his best friend. His mom caught him, his dad punished him. Bill was out of the room and down the stairs before he could blink; the cast stayed for 6 weeks.

His friends suspected nothing. As far as they knew he was still adjusting to his height and fell down the stairs. An accident, that's all it was.

He knew it was wrong. He had been taught about abuse situations when he was 15 just like everybody else. But his parents were healing, they were talking to each other about Georgie, his mom had stopped talking to the walls, his dad started building again.

So it carried on.

He turned 18, five years after Georgie's death. He had stayed out late with the Loser on his 18th, hanging out at Richie's place watching bad movies and drinking the night away (apart from Ben, the innocent, and Bev who said it reminded her too much of her dad).

He was opening his presents, when he arrived at Stan's. He carefully pried the paper apart so it didn't set off his OCD, placing it aside, before studying what was in front of him. He stared at the photo of Georgie and the rest of the Losers, one that he himself had taken when he was 13, just after Ben, Mike and Bev had joined their little ragtag group; Bev still had her long hair.

A drop of water dropped onto the glass of the frame and he didn't realise he was crying until the Loser's rallied around him, staying close until the tears had dried.

He wasn't sure whether the tears were from the love he felt for Georgie, for the Losers (his family) or the fear of what he would have to deal with when he arrived home.

The night continued.

The next day, he hid the photo in his bedside drawer. His friends never questioned why it wasn't on the bedside table alongside his photo of them earlier that year, but he saw the looks they gave each other the first time they were in his room after he got the present.

It turns out he was right to be scared, when he walked into his room to see his dad looking at the photo, sat on Bill's bed.

“What is this?” He asked, quietly. Too quietly.

“Um, St-stuh-stan got it for me for my buh-birthday.” He replied, anxiety seeping into his voice, his stutter coming back with vengeance.

“Stan huh? I didn't think he was the type to throw death in a grieving parent's face.” He said, standing up slowly before throwing the frame across the room, the frame smashing against the door. Bill flinched, but didn't move away from his place next to the door

Typically, Bill would stay silent. His dad would rant his anger out and he wouldn't always rise to violence, but Bill, always one to let himself be hurt but never anyone else, wouldn't let him talk about Stan; “No! That wasn’t what he meant buh-by it!” Bill spoke, voice rising.

“Then what did he mean by it?” He said, walking over.

“He j-just m-mea-“ He was interrupted by his face cracking to the side with the force of his dad's flat hand.

“Stop fucking stuttering! Georgie didn’t stutter, and he would be fucking disappointed in you as you are now!” His voice cracked as he got louder and louder.

Bills face dropped, becoming harder, clenching his teeth when the change in his expression meant his bruised cheek was also agitated, “Georgie would n-never.”

His heart began to beat faster as his dad grabbed his chin forcing him to look at him - “What did you say?” - he said, voice low.

He swallowed but repeated himself, “I said Guh-Georgie would never be di-disappointed in me, he luh-loved me. Unlike you.” Bill knew he would regret it as soon as he started speaking, but he had to get the words out - if only to make himself believe them.

His dad paused, looking at him confused for a moment, before punching him in the stomach. Bill bent over with the force of it, and before he knew it, his dad was beating him within an inch of his life. He partially blacked out when the foot aimed at his already bruised ribs was too much to handle. He woke up back when he felt himself being pulled down the hallway to the stairs by his arm. He fought back, doing his best to move onto his feet before being hauled down the stairs, barely able to balance on his feet, and to the door.

“Get out, getoutgetoutgetout!” His dad was saying, getting louder and more upset.

He picked Bill up and almost threw him out the door, putting him outside on the path in the rain.

It took him well over an hour to get up onto his feet, and almost 35 minutes to get to Bev’s Aunt’s place, despite it being 10 minutes around the corner. When he reached the door, he rung the bell. And then rung it again, and again until he heard feet walk towards the door.

He could hear Bev inside, “...o the hell would be ringing the bell” - the door opened - “at 11 o’clo- Bill? What the fuck happened to you?”

Bill swayed, keeping himself stable by holding on to the edge of the door, “My puh-parents, I thought you would, would-” He finished before passing out and landing hard on the porch floor.

When he woke up, he was in Bev’s room. Bev, he noticed, was sitting in the chair next to him, dead to the world (and snoring, but he wouldn’t mention that to her). He forgot why he was there for a moment before the pain of his own body brought it all back. His parents, they had kicked him out.

It hit him. All the hitting, all the verbal abuse, the grief. It all hit him at once. He started crying, his whole body moving with the force of his sobbing; the force of his tears seemed to wake up Bev as she was by his side in an instant, curling around him, taking on his pain like it was her own. They stayed there for hours until his deep sobs had turned to stray tears.

“How long?” Bev said after a few minutes of silence once he stopped crying.

He knew she would understand.

“Years. Since about a year after Guh-Georgie died.” He replied, wearily.

She gasped quietly, “Bill why didn’t you tell us?”

He explained everything, how he was feeling when they started hitting him, how he let it go since it was in grief and he was definitely one to understand how grief could get the best of you.

She tapped him lightly on the shoulder “Don’t be an idiot! Nothing, and I mean nothing, is ever an excuse for anyone to hit their own child.”

Bill nodded, staying silent. He knew he would always believe that it was in their grief, and to some extent, he was the reason Georgie went out that night, but he also didn’t deserve any of it.

“Do you want me to call the Losers over?” Bill nodded, smiling. The losers were exactly what he needed.

When they arrived, they all looked a bit confused to be dragged out at just before 7 am. Eddie walked in hands in the air, “You” - he pointed at Bev - “are very lucky I'm here, my mom almost didn’t let me leave.”

Bev surrendered, “Sorry but we have something to talk about.”

Richie laughed and said “Yeah, Eddie's mom is pregn-“ Eddie elbowed him in the stomach.

“Beep beep Richie.” Bev said, serious. Stan was just looking at Bill.

“What happened to your face Bill?” he said loud enough the all of them to hear.

Bill just sighed and said, “Take a seat,” before he explained it all to them, just as he had with Bev this morning. No one spoke, they all sat patiently, listening to his story despite the stuttering, something that they had barely heard at all since his 17th.

Stan was quiet, so Bill enquired whether he was okay and he looked up so fast he thought he would get whiplash. “No, I’m not okay - I just found out my best friend was getting beat up by his parents and that he didn’t tell us, and that we didn't notice in the first place. Did you not trust us?”

Bill shook his head, ignoring the pain the motion caused him. “No! No! I trust you w-with all fiber of my being, but I had excused it all for their version of guh-grief, which was always going to be different to my own and I didn’t want you to stop it because I wanted them to heal! But I’m beginning to think that they had changed in a way th-that couldn’t change back. You were the only pe-people keeping me afloat. None of this was your fault.”

Stan looked slightly calmer by the end, but still angry, if only at Bill's parents rather than the boy himself.

“Bill.” - he turned to look at Mike who spoke quietly - “You realize none of this is your fault either, right?”

Bill paused before deciding to speak the truth. “Suh-sort of. I know that if I didn’t let Georgie leave that day then he might still be alive, but I’ve dealt with that and I have moved on. It's been five years, but in some wuh-way, I still believe that I’m the one who made my parents hate me because I let him leave.”

“Bullshit!” Richie said, loudly, “They blamed you for everything Bill when nothing was in your control. God, we should go to their house and burn it the fuck down.”

Bill laughed, feeling lighter than he had since he left, “You do realize that's my house too right?”

"Not anymore it's not," Bev said, before moving on and suggesting they marathon a few movies.

Before they all left, Stan stopped at the door, Bev turning back to go to her room to give them a bit more privacy.

“Are you really okay?” he said, voice quiet and soft. It calmed Bill on his worst days, and it did the same now.

Bill shrugged lightly, “I could be better but I’m getting there. I promise I’ll tell you if I feel otherwise.”

Stan nodded before putting his hand to his cheek, “I'll see you tomorrow then, Big Bill”, he said before laying a fast and light kiss on Bill's cheek, and then turning away to walk back home. Before he turned the corner to get to his own home, he looked back and saw Bill leaning against the front door with his hand to his cheek, smiling brightly, bruises and all.

He carried on home, with a matching smile on his own face.