The air is cooler, soon the days spent wandering the Derry streets will be nights cooped up in arcades and living rooms. Summer is almost over, it’s both a tragedy and a weight lifting off their shoulders. The sounds of footsteps and voices barely register over the splashing water and gusts of wind through the pines. Bikes are propped against trees or lying on the ground, clothes are strewn among the dirt; a trail toward the edge of the quarry where some of the Losers stand. It’s supposed to be their last hurrah before school starts again, but a few can’t make it. Beverly left a week or so ago, too busy settling in at her aunt’s to visit. She promises to come to Derry a weekend of every month, but this time is the exception. Eddie’s been stuck in the house since the blood oath. His mother doesn’t want him to see anyone and turns them away whenever they call or show up. Ben hasn’t left home in days. He says it’s to catch up on summer reading, but everyone knows it’s because of something else; he still looks cautious with every step. There are three now — Bill, Mike, and Stan — with Richie still on the way.
Bill is broken, wanting any excuse to leave the house and get away from cherished, painful memories. His dreams are flashes of yellow raincoats and paper boats with thunderstorms roaring in the background. Lost arms, galoshes, and walkie-talkies. Sometimes it’s sadness when he wakes up, sometimes it’s anger. That always changes, but the end result doesn’t. The reminder that Georgie is gone forever and that Bill still can’t deal with it, so wandering or wallowing are his fix-its; if he isn’t out for hours, he’s in bed for days at a time. Sunlight touches his skin for the first time in days today, but food still hasn’t reached his lips. He doesn’t know how long it’s been since his last meal, lethargy weighs him down too much to care. No one’s noticed the slightly bolder outlines of his shoulder bones or how much paler his face seems. He promises himself that it won’t get worse than this, but October looms closer and the last words he spoke to his brother repeat louder in his head by the day. Be careful.
Mike spends every moment of free time away from home, but out of town, if he can help it. Places are poisoned for him. He’s been hiking and wandering, trying to find just one spot where the whisper of summer reminders can’t be heard anymore. His shoes are muddy and worn and scraped. Mosquito bites and, sometimes, tick bites are the most annoying reminder he has from those walks. Lately, Ben’s been tagging along. Mike doesn’t know what he wants from it, but he won’t deny the company. Their collection of found things has grown larger with each trip. Sometimes, he tells Ben that he’s too busy to tag along and meanders on his own, wishing he’d get lost in real life instead of the books he buries himself into. Writing in the margins appears during half-minded rests and he reads it all the next day. Sometimes, the words scare him, but none more than what caused them to take root in the first place. The writings will never see the light of day.
Stan is a ghost. Blank stares and distant screams and lulling flutes. His trauma is silent and haunting, it lurks behind every corner. Everything is fear. It doesn’t matter where he is — jumping at sudden noises, heart pounding with classical music, hands shaking with every painting walked past. Nowhere feels safe anymore and peaceful sleep is rare. Nightmares rear their heads during most attempts, they’re all blurs of teeth and staring down It’s throat while bracing for death. Abandoned. The word resounds in his bones and writes itself along the still-healing scars on his face, even when he tries to reassure himself that his friends won’t leave him again.
The three stand at the edge of the Quarry, waiting for the last of them to show up and watching the blue water slap against the rocks. Richie, late as ever, finally skids his bike to a stop by the trees and throws it to the side. No one turns to greet him at first, expecting a loud, obnoxious joke to be screamed at the top of his lungs and echo throughout the swimming hole. But, when the joke doesn’t come, they turn their heads and pause at the sight of him. Creamy skin riddled with galaxy bruises and fine gashes, his glasses have a crack in them. The pause becomes a grave silence when Richie sheds the colorful shirt from his chest and more things come to light. He’s beaten and marred. Before his shorts hit the ground, they hold their breath; his legs aren’t as bad, the occasional mark with knees scraped up as if he’s taken a bad fall off his bike. He doesn’t notice the staring until he takes off running to jump toward the chilly water, when pairs of hands grab his shoulders and halt him in his tracks.
“Wh-what happened to you?” Bill hardly knows what to focus on. The split in his lip? His nearly swollen shut eye? The explosion of black, purple, and yellow across his stomach? “You l-look like you got the sh-shit beaten out of you.” He looks like a punching bag; Bowers and his goons hadn’t even hit him like that. Then, the reminder of what happened to them jolts through almost everyone at once. The rumors are flying around town, all the blame is on Henry. They’ve only heard bits and pieces. Dead in the car, dead in the house, necks cut open, and blood all over the place. It might just be the only saving grace that he got arrested days ago.
“Oh.” Richie’s shoulders slump and his eagerness to get in the water almost fades completely. Of course they noticed. How can he possibly expect them not to? “I got into a few scraps. They look worse than I do, darling.” He smiles, but it can’t hide what he wants it to. Stan frowns at him, eyes lingering on the crack that grows in the left lens of his glasses. Mike starts to count the bruises, but keeps losing track.
“N-no.” Bill shakes his head. “You sh-shouldn’t start fights as a—” He stops, pursing his lips and sighing, “I know th-that you’re still trying to d-deal with shit, Richie.” Stan sees the pain in Bill’s face with the gears turning in his head, figuring out how to dance carefully along the outskirts of this topic and still get the point across. He jumps in to help.
“Picking fights to distract yourself is stupid.” Stan’s arms fold over his chest and Bill lets a grateful glance slip between the scolding. It almost lingers. Now it’s Richie who shakes his head, hands going up and smile wavering. He traps the wince that wants to escape from his throat when he moves. Muscles sting and ache while the smell of a dirty alley comes back to him. Insults thrown and curses yelled, he doesn’t remember who he antagonized into a brawl last night. He just remembers that he lost, how he scrubbed the dried blood off his skin and dirt swirled down the shower drain after he slipped back through his window at one in the morning. Metallic taste in his mouth and cigarette smoke clinging to his clothes, he didn’t know how bad it was — until he looked in the mirror this morning. A laugh erupts from Richie mid-thought, a sound that feels so foreign to him now. It feels forced.
“I don’t have to pick fights, Stan. They always manage to find me.” Then, without another word, Richie bolts off the edge of the quarry and plunges into the water. Bill, Mike, and Stan follow, but not before sharing a concerned look between them. No one is exactly coping well, but at least the others haven’t put themselves in danger like that. Maybe Bev or Eddie can talk some sense into him. Maybe they can try.
Things have been ready for days in advance; candy stocked, snacks hoarded, and movies planned. Beverly can’t make it down for actual Halloween, so they all decided to have an early one at Ben’s house while his parents are out for the weekend. Days of planning have gone into it, the one blessing being a science project that Eddie and Bill have to do together — it’s the only thing that convinced Sonia to let him out of that house in the name of finishing it and, sure, they’re going to...but not now. These two days are for the Losers only, even if it took a few times to convince some of them to go. The last time they were all together was for the blood oath. The crescent scars on their palms remind them well enough.
Bill and Eddie are the earliest ones, arms piled with soda and chips that were thrown into backpacks for the bike ride there. They make a point to warn Ben, lest someone’s want for a drink turns into an explosion of root beer or cherry cola. Stan and Mike show up with hands full of stacked VHS tapes for the movie marathon. Some of them are on the list that they created weeks ago, some of them are crapshoots in case they want to watch something else. No scary movies. The thought of horror was too much, so everyone agreed on more light-hearted films when the list was being made. Instead of blood and death and chase scenes, they’ll try to laugh again. Bev is after that, greeting them all with hugs and kind words. Jingling necklaces and twisted rings are a comfort. The whole house blooms and they almost feel complete again.
And last, as usual, Richie steps through the door, not two seconds after knocking. The joke he’s been repeating in his head suddenly disappears when it reaches his lips, because his eyes are locked on Eddie — standing near Bill and Ben, smiling so wide that his eyes are almost squeezed shut. Thank god, he thinks, he can still smile. He’s been scared that solitary confinement would take his joy away. No one says anything when they realize Richie is completely blank-faced, with relief swirling through his blood, but Stan and Bev share a look that he makes a note to ask about later. For now, they start the marathon and stuff themselves with junk food while stock-piled in Ben’s living room. Ghostbusters is first, then Beetlejuice, then Labyrinth; watching David Bowie sing with puppet-goblins is entertaining without images from the summer.
Amongst whispers and muffled laughter, Bill falls asleep first; hair a muddled mess, limbs thrown about, and shirt slipping off his bony shoulder. Seeing him destroy two bags of gummy worms and four bags of cheese puffs made all the Losers’ hearts swell with joy. He’s wasting away, the year that’s passed hasn’t been kind and now, more than ever, they’re seeing the effects of it. He still has the yellow raincoat. His dreams are still paper boats and thunderstorms; some nights a bang and a thud wake him up, gasping for air, and he swears that he feels the cold metal of Mike’s bolt gun in his hand. His room stays spotless after the one time of mistaking laundry on the floor for Georgie’s body before him. Stan gets calls in the middle of the night sometimes and they spend hours slowing the drums in each other’s chests. When Bill’s blessed enough to sleep without the plague of terrifying dreams, guilt radiates through him; maybe one of the Losers needed him, maybe Georgie would want him to be sad if it meant not forgetting about him. A few teachers have asked how he’s been, but don’t get anything more than a forced smile and reassuring words while his eyes show the real sadness — if they care enough to look.
Mike and Ben are passed out, surrounded by empty cans of soda, by the time Labyrinth is over. Stan notices when he puts in the next tape, Dirty Dancing, and Richie makes a crude comment that has Bev laughing but Eddie punching him in the arm. Not one of them stirs with the noise. There are notebooks full of mapped out hikes for them to go on in the coming days and more found objects in their bags. Ben hardly leaves Mike’s side now, neither can stand being alone and neither can stand being home. No one really knows where they go, but it seems to help them, so nobody says a word. On bad days, Mike’s phone rings twice before he starts to throw on his shoes and run out the door. Reading under trees and talking out the poison never fails to make them forget their heartache — at least for a little while.
Stan is next. His eyes get heavy mid-movie and he’s out before the credits, sound asleep on the couch despite Bill’s long legs thrown on top of him. A hand is on his face, fingers slightly curled from tracing the almost-healed scars. They will never go away, not a soul believes that it doesn’t bother him. Hundred yard stares always end with someone grabbing his hand when it finds its way to the harmed skin, but he still never says a word...until the outbursts. It’s sporadic — ire fueled words hurled at anyone who will listen, accusations of secret hatred, and screams of I know you wish It killed me. There isn’t a lot that the Losers can do when that happens, just try to talk him down and show how much they love him. Usually, it’s Mike or Bill that ends up helping the most. The longer it gets between outbursts, the worse they get.
Eddie’s eyes flutter shut as Back to the Future starts. The cast is still on his arm, insisted upon by his mother even though the doctors said it was healed. The snap still fills his head, it echoes in every nightmare. Sometimes, in the better ones, a voice echoes louder. Eddie, look at me. Sometimes, in the better ones, he feels a warm pair of hands on his face. Eddie, look at me. Sometimes, in the better ones, Richie is by his side in Neibolt and making him look in his dark eyes, the pattern of bark on old trees and soil just washed by the rain. They escape, but he’s still scared. Each night that the terror wakes him, he knows that he could call — that he should call — but something stops him. Maybe fear of being caught, maybe fear of not having words once Richie answers. He knows that his best friend worries about him. He saw it on his face when he walked into the house today. But, even still, something stops him.
When they’re sure everyone else is sleeping, Bev and Richie slip out the back door and sit in the grass. The lit ends of their cigarettes illuminate their faces in the dark and crickets chirp despite the chill, his hoodie sits on her shoulders. A metal flask shines in the moonlight when she pulls it from her waistband, the two pass it between them and try to ignore the strange taste of nicotine clashing with cherry vodka, the one thing her aunt has and won’t miss. Only quiet, but not quite silence. The TV is distant yet distinguishable, the random car passes by, and wind whistles every so often. Bev’s voice, soft and light, floats through the air with puffs of smoke.
“So,” She starts, glancing at Richie with a suggestive look in her eyes, “that entrance earlier was quite something. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you shut up before.” A smile tugs at the corners of her lips and he shoves her slightly, rolling his eyes while a giggle escapes from them both — just a little bit too loud for the stagnant night. It’s humming, underlying sadness again once they’re done. She tries to cling to the glee. “I’m just saying! You looked, I don’t know, different. Relieved, I guess.” She glances at him again, hiding another smile as he snatches the flask from her hands and downs a few sips before handing it back. She doesn’t want to push the topic too much. She remembers the anger that flickers in under her skin whenever her aunt tries to ask about the smile that disappears from her face whenever Derry is mentioned. The questions asked, the answers spat back out. Why do you insist on going back if the thought of it seems to haunt you? Haunt her it may, but with the rest of the Losers she feels content.
“I looked the same.” Richie says, flicking ashes and taking long drags. Did everybody notice? He can feel Bev looking at him, she doesn’t have to say a word for him to know what she means. “He’s trapped in there, Bev.” He feels himself start to splinter, where words will spew out and he can’t take them back; they’re real if he says them, they’re fleeting if he doesn’t. His mind runs miles a second to think of a joke, even if it’s a bad one. “I mean, how am I supposed to hook up with his mom if he’s there all the time? Kinda spoils the mood if ya know what I mean.”
A voice comes from behind them.
“Beep beep, Richie.” The two leap to their feet, whipping around and ready to fight or flee until their eyes land on Eddie. Not It, they breathe. Eddie’s eyes go wide when he realizes. “Oh god, I’m so sorry. I didn’t—“It’s okay.” Richie interrupts. He says it again, but his heart still won’t slow. They sit back down, Eddie settling between them and flashing a grateful look when the cigarettes are put out for his sake, another grateful look when Bev slings Richie’s hoodie over him once he starts shivering. He grabs the flask from Bev as she starts to pass over him. Neither say a thing, but he shrugs and takes a few swigs, handing it off as if he’s expecting them to.
“I thought you were sleeping.” Bev says, resting her head on Eddie’s shoulder and watching wind billow over blades of dewy grass. His cast grazes against her arm and the markers rewrite the words in her head.
Loser. Lover. He hasn’t told them who wrote it, he doesn’t think he will. The red V is bright enough to make him forget what it really says, but only sometimes.
“I couldn’t.” He watches the darkness, scanning for anything that could be lurking there. His other arm, uncasted, falls to his side and his fingertips brush against Richie’s leg. Ignore it, his brain hisses at his heart.
“Seems like all of us are doing shit then, huh?” Richie takes another sip, the last one, and hands it back to Bev with a shit-eating grin once she notices. Eddie laughs in response, too sardonic for anyone to pretend it’s genuine. Imagination and denial can only go so far.
“I’m a prisoner in my own fucking house. The only human interaction I get that isn’t my batshit mother is at school.” And some company that is, he sees the lingering gazes on the cast and hears the whispered insults. The Losers are his saving grace. He expects a joke from Richie, even a half-hearted one, and looks to him expectantly — but it doesn’t come. His hand grazes his leg again. Ignore it, his brain hisses again. Was it an accident this time? Then, a yell pierces the quiet like a nail popping a tire and the three run back into the house. Everyone’s awake, standing on the edges of the living room and watching in fear. No, not fear. It’s a sad, desperate understanding. Stan is sitting on the couch, tears streaming down his face and an earthquake in his bones. Bill kneels in front of him, trying to lessen the magnitude. Panic grips his heart, another nightmare; suspended children and his friend held by his throat while beckoning for them to leave but no one does. Not like they left him. Abandoned. The word resounds so loudly, taking root in his lungs and climbing up his throat until it forces its way past his tongue.
“YOU LEFT ME!” He cries, fighting for the smallest breath. Dry heaves and gut-wrenching sobs. The words burn into everyone’s skin and the room starts to smell like the sewers. I’ll take all of you! The light of the TV is the flickering of their flashlights thrown in the dirt. Feast on your flesh. Piles of blankets and pillows almost look like a mountain of stolen toys. Feed on your fear. A hand finds Richie’s in the dim room, he doesn’t look to see whose. Another finds his shoulder when Bill cups Stan’s cheek and tells him to look at him. The sight slams into Eddie’s chest and the grip on Richie’s shoulder tightens; no matter how much it burns to have fingers pressing so deeply into the bruises that still linger, Richie doesn’t let on. Stan starts to breathe, eyes shut while he grabs Bill’s hand.
The room is silent. The room is motionless. The room is painful. They’re all too familiar with the feeling. Slowly, the living room isn’t the sewers anymore. His other hand finds Bill’s thigh and he takes a shaky, deep breath. When he opens his eyes, his gaze lingers on Eddie; on the bright hoodie wrapped around him, on the redness in his cheeks from cold autumn air, on his hand and whose shoulder it’s clasping onto — he’s all Richie. The moment is short, but feels so drawn out. Stan nods at Bill, things are okay now, and arms are thrown around him in an instant. Something soft and unintelligible is muttered, then they all join the hug. It’s a mess of warmth and love and tears. No one knows how long they stay that way, until Richie pipes up.
“Listen, I love you guys, but I need my space.” Small, exhausted chuckles disperse the group hug and, slowly, they’re back in their spots with another movie on the screen. This time it doesn’t take long for everyone to find sleep. Stan and Bill are huddled together, limbs tangled and blankets lazily thrown on them by Bev, who crashes between Richie and Eddie. In the solitude, Ben and Mike are scribbling down another adventure to go on, with only the TV as their light.
Light from the small television screen flickers bright enough to illuminate the swirling smoke in the air. That pungent, skunky smell fills up the entire room; even with the windows thrown wide open, the smell lingers. Heaps of worn-in blankets and piles of fluffy pillows are thrown about the floor in an attempt to make it more comfortable while Richie and Beverly huddle together until sleep reaches them — it almost never does anymore. Nights are made for pacing and tears, where too loud noises drag them back into sewers and phone calls with quiet crying on the lines aren’t sparse. Nightmares prey on them all, but no one as bad as Eddie and Stan, or so Richie hears. He can’t bring himself to ask, especially if the weekend at Ben’s was anything to go by. He doesn’t doubt it, but he does most, if not all, of the talking now more than ever. He can’t stop himself; when silence threatens to quilt the air, he floods it with jokes and cursing and snide comments. Anything’s better than silence.
“Portland’s weed is better.” Beverly says, watching the O’s she made disappear into the rest of the haze. She’s almost gotten used to life there, but the Losers will always find her in Derry that one weekend of the month she takes the trip. Sometimes it’s hard, guilt racks her brain when thoughts of bailing on them rear their heads and the bus ride is only shallow breathing. It was tonight, when Richie slid a joint out from his shirt pocket with a shit-eating grin, that she realized he’d been experimenting too. Which high will make them forget the things they saw? So far, none of them. But, Richie claims to have gotten so drunk earlier this week that he couldn’t recognize himself in the mirror. It scares her, even when she can’t stop wondering if that would work for her too. Distorted reflections and blurry movements can do wonders for bad nights, when hands crawl on her skin and familiar voices haunt her with whispers. Are you still my girl?
“Lucky Portland. This tastes like shit.” Richie croaks with smoke still held in his lungs, trying and failing to make O’s that look as good as Bev’s. He doesn’t say it, but she looks better without Derry’s presence haunting her every day. Where his eyes are kissed by insomnia’s dark circles, hers seem to shine. It’s probably a coincidence. He has to be an idiot to think that she’s anywhere close to okay — that she’s flourishing instead of surviving tooth and nail with what she has left. He has to be an idiot to think that any of them are close to okay. He always sees the damage; that festering, rotting poison still spreading through their veins. It’s like a wound that’ll never close. He never knew how observant he was until Mike’s shoes started looking muddier and Bill’s shirts started looking loose; maybe everyone else notices too, but no one says anything about it.
“How’ve you been, Rich?”
“You know me, hotter than a Playboy model in a volcano.” He smiles just a little too wide and just a little too fast. She doesn’t laugh at the joke — if they could call it that, he’s lost the energy to try as much as he usually does. Blue eyes stare through his skin and bones, a plea to stop joking for just a few moments and talk to her. Tension stiffens in his chest and he takes another long drag, shutting his eyes when the smoke dances past his lips. What’ve they said to her? Does she know about the fights? Does she know about the times he comes staggering home, the stench of metal and dirt still on his clothes from dangerous words thrown around? A sigh escapes him before he realizes that his mind wants to pry the ache from his heart.
“Stan’s a ghost.” Richie says, staring at the pattern of colors on the screen. He doesn’t remember putting on Spaceballs, but the empty case is laying next to the VCR. His memory hasn’t been the greatest lately; apparently last week he’d called Mike just to ramble about being bored for a good ten minutes and hang up, but he can’t recall a single word from the conversation. “He just...he stares off all the time like he’s never with you. When it’s real bad, he starts picking at the scars on his face till one of us has to stop him.” He misses the insults they’d spew back and forth between them, but he’ll never say it out loud. Sometimes Richie’ll say something outrageously stupid just to get a reaction, but Stan still stares off and says nothing. He needs more time. They all need time.
“Ben’s grades are trashed, he acts like he’s fine otherwise, but him and Mike take every free minute they got to explore the parts of this shithole that aren’t ruined for them. I don’t know where they go, but I know Ben can’t go to the library anymore and Mike hates being home. Neither of them like being alone.” He blurts it out, the words are like water from a broken dam. He can’t rebuild the walls fast enough. Bev just waits, saying nothing and making no expressions until she’s sure he’s done; more words keep coming.
“Bill looks like a goddamn skeleton. He hides away in his room and only leaves when we make him. I bet his bed has a perfect mold of him laying there. He still has the raincoat. It’s hidden in his closet.” He remembers the anger that burst from him when the rest of the Losers tried to tell him to part with it. How could you know what it’s like? They haven’t seen anger like that in Bill before, maybe in anyone. It could have been you. Rageful screaming and pounding hearts, teary eyes with red cheeks; he was bitter and cruel until they gave the raincoat back, something they didn’t think was in him at all. Nobody would’ve cared. That insult carved itself into Richie’s bones, even though Bill apologized right after seeing the look on his face. Who would look for you? It haunts him still, echoing in the middle of sleepless nights and dreary afternoons; it never goes away. Just another missing kid poster taped over and forgotten about. There’s a small piece of Richie that’s scared Bill always thought of him like that, managing to hide it for years until he got too fed up to pretend. He remembers what Eddie said the next morning when he heard about it. I would look for you. There’s a bigger piece of Richie that clings to that thought. More words keep coming. The dam is still broken.
“You’re miles away and Eddie is trapped in that fucking shithole. Everyone acts like everything is the same and it isn’t. People pretend that nothing happened, but they’re junked from the summer. There’s this sadness with everything we do, always watching us. Things are all fucked up.” Richie’s words finally lose him, flooding the empty spaces in his skull and reverberating off the insides. She’s somewhere safe and he should be happier about it, but he still turns his head to look for her whenever he makes a joke no one else would laugh at. It’s gotten to the point where he’s tempted to run off to Portland too, but then thoughts of Eddie swarm his head. What if he needed him and Richie wasn’t there? His hands itch to pick up the phone and ask how he is, make sure his mind isn’t lost and he can still smile. He keeps his bike ready to go, just in case he hears Eddie finally whisper the words to help over the line. When Richie does manage to sleep, he falls asleep with his shoes on, so he wouldn’t have to waste time looking for them before running out the door.
Bev looks at him and takes his hand, her eyes are warm and kind like always. Concern radiates from each movement she makes. His room is always a mess, but this is different; it’s strewn with a mess that she’s never quite seen before, something so chilling. She can’t forget the bruised knuckles that Ben said to look out for, trying not to stare has been the challenge of the night — especially when Richie slipped his shirt over his head to change, she caught a glance of a body beaten black and blue. Images of flying fists and bits of screamed curses flash through her mind whenever she looks at him, her heart tries to memorize the sight of him in case he picks a fight with the wrong person and never comes home.
“How are you, Richie?” Bev asks softly, watching his face twist and contort when her hand finds its way to his. Tears form in his eyes and threaten to fall, he tosses his glasses to the side and wipes them away before shaking his head. He will not let them fall. He will not cry. He will not break. He can’t. Not now.
But the tears don’t listen, and they roll down his freckled cheeks.
“I’m fucked up too.” He mutters, loud enough for Bev to hear and quiet enough to pretend it wasn’t said at all. Has she ever seen him cry? He’s wrapped in her arms in an instant; curled up together amongst the heaps of blankets. Warmth and safety — two things they haven’t had for a while. Her fingers comb through his wild curls and his head lays on her shoulder, the world could end right now and they can’t bring themselves to care. But lights still flicker and smoke still swirls, she tells him things will be okay. She repeats the words so many times that they almost forget they don’t believe them.
A loud, sharp ringing cuts through the sounds of rain beating on the windows and thunder rolling amongst the clouds. Groans slip from Richie's throat as he forces himself up from the crevice in his bed that formed around him hours ago, it has to be one of his parent's friends or coworkers calling — the Losers, save for him, are at the movies to see the newest Disney flick. Stairs creak with each step and the phone keeps ringing, annoyance flickers in his bones. Today is supposed to be his, a lonely and cold day to wallow in while the storm rages outside. Things have been too much for the past few weeks. For once, Richie Trashmouth Tozier wants silence. He might want silence for a long time, maybe forever. It seems to work at least a little for Stan.
"Richie!" A voice cries from the phone before he can open his mouth. Eddie's voice. Fear grabs his throat and squeezes the air from it. Of course he isn't with the others. His mom won't let him go. "I'm trapped." Eddie sounds hysterical, words tumbling out of him so fast that Richie can't catch them all. He hears the gist. Going insane, prisoner in my own house, can't escape, stuck forever. He keeps crying and, as Richie races to grab shoes, the cord of the phone nearly snaps off. He curses at himself for not remembering to get in bed with them on. He doesn't know how, but he knows he has to save him.
"Eddie." Richie's voice is delicate, walking on eggshells and trying to scream the words he wants so badly to blurt out but can never find the courage for. The rambling on the other end of the line slowly dies down and a crackling silence replaces it. Now he doesn't know which he prefers, but the want for quiet suddenly starves. "Can you slip out and get to the end of the street?" Seconds drag on and on and on. "I can take you to my house." More seconds. He wants to hear the hurricane of words again, just to know he's alive. The static makes his heart thump against his ribcage so hard he’s scared it might break the bones. He’s still breathing, Richie assures himself, I can hear it. But, between the assurances and stillness, he remembers Neibolt; the thought sends shivers through his body.
"Okay." Eddie mumbles into the phone, hanging up before anything else can be said. Richie is out the door in an instant — mismatched shoes shoved onto his feet and bike slashing through the puddles on the road. Fat, freezing raindrops thwack against his skin and bead up on his glasses. Thunder still rumbles above and lightning cracks every so often. The weight of the back-up inhaler is heavy in his pocket, at least he hasn’t forgotten to keep doing that. Eddie rarely forgets his own, but Richie will never leave home without it just in case. The jacket flaps with the gusts of wind that threaten to screw up his balance. He doesn't think the whole ride there, save for the constant loop of pushing himself to pedal faster. When he reaches the street signs, there's nothing to do but wait. He counts the claps of thunder.
Eddie will leave his bike at the house, a small way of making his mom think he's there before she can't find him; unless she's out for some reason, that would give them a temporary peace. They’ve done it enough to have a system, even if it isn’t used that often. Eddie’s mom hardly pushes him this far. This summer was the first time he’s ever fought against her. It was for his friends, not himself; Richie hopes that this time is the same, that Eddie knew how much he needed him and decided to make an excuse to say hi. He doesn’t know what he’d do if it isn’t. Could he stand to see his best friend at a breaking point like that? Could he even help, or would he make things worse like he always does?
Sounds of the storm flood his brain and his socks are soaked with cold. He doesn’t notice when he starts pacing, only grits his teeth at the annoying sloshing noises that his shoes make with each step. Cars pass by, just a few of them have the courtesy to slow down and avoid showering him with run-through puddles, and he gets strange looks but no one stops. No one ever stops.
He doesn’t know how long it’s been since the call ended. Maybe five minutes, maybe thirty. The storm is getting closer. Does rain still make Bill’s soul wither away? The gritty, dirt-filled puddle water feels disgusting against his skin.
Maybe this is what dying feels like — cold and scared and alone. Richie’s chest hurts and his limbs shake, his heart hasn’t stopped racing. The blue on his shirt is paler than the blue of his lips. No more cars pass him by.
He turns around and Eddie is there. Even the rain can’t hide the tears he’s been shedding as it plops against his skin, his hair soaking wet and slicked against his face. Neither of them move, just stand deathly still and memorize the details of the other’s eyes until thunder nearly shakes the ground. They drop everything and run to one another. It’s warmth in a cold storm. No space for rain to creep between them, muscles aching from squeezing so tightly. Richie’s hand is on the back of Eddie’s neck, lips brushing against his forehead and other arm wrapped around his waist. Eddie is buried in Richie’s chest, arms now castless from a night too overwhelming to wait for the greenlight from his mother. Their worlds remeet. The smells of cigarettes and cologne collide with raw honey and cleaning supplies; obnoxious Hawaiian button-ups clash with pastel shirts. Nothing else matters. Incoherent words are mumbled into the crook of Richie’s neck and it’s like they just now notice the rain. The two get on his bike, racing through the wet to get home for towels and dry clothes.
The storm doesn’t let up while the boys change. If anything, it rages on stronger. The cleanest hoodie that Richie can find for Eddie is thrown toward him without a word or glance, the same goes for the sweatpants he manages to pull from the depths of a drawer. For himself, the least disgusting clothes are a dull t-shirt and obnoxiously bright pajama pants with holes scattered about. His bruised skin peeks through and his damp hair occasionally drips, the drops slither down his back like chills. Their towels are tossed to a random corner, both plopping down onto the edge of the unmade bed and saying nothing. Richie doesn’t mention the panic attack, how much of a wreck his friend seems to be even now that it’s subsided. Eddie doesn’t mention the mess, how much of a wreck the room is and at a point it hasn’t gotten to before — worse than it’s ever been. Their eyes study different things. For Richie, it’s empty bottles and crumpled paper and blood-stained tissues; remnants of the bad nights. For Eddie, it’s stacked VHS tapes and food wrappers and blackout curtains; hints of how often the bad nights may be. He looks for more, but then...Richie knows almost immediately, just from the frown on his face. A desktop littered with what’s left from smoking with Bev yesterday. He opens his mouth to explain, but gets cut off.
“Don’t be even more of a moron than you already are, Rich.” The nickname makes his heart flutter, but the words brew anger in his chest. He wants to throw it all in the desk drawer and pretend it doesn’t exist. He almost tries.
“Bill told me not to fight.” He defends himself. A blooming bruise on his right cheek is the only thing that’s left over from the last one. Why is this all happening now? He stopped fighting. He stopped drinking. He stopped sneaking out at night. What more do they want from him? How is he supposed to forget?
“I’m pretty fucking sure he would tell you not to do drugs either!” Eddie snaps, standing up and starting to pace between what he can step over. Words start to tumble out of him, rants and raves about what could happen, what could kill him, what it would do to people. His cheeks paint themselves red and, eventually, he needs to reach for his inhaler; begrudgingly snatching the spare from Richie’s hand when he realizes he left his at home. The pause from flurries of lecturing makes Richie’s anger burst.
“Do you know why I talk even more now?” His voice is cold, the volume enough to make Eddie’s shoulders tense and pacing stop. Confusion pulls at him, but he doesn’t dare interrupt. They’ve been waiting for Richie to do something for months, do anything besides act things are fine. “Why even I can’t get one fucking moment without hearing my voice go a mile a minute?” He pauses again. Not to think, but to let his friend try to figure out the answer. He knows he won’t, but he waits anyway. Seconds go by and, still, nothing happens. Even more time passes, the silence almost starts to ring, until Richie’s breath shakes and his hands along with it.
“I talk so much because it’s easier than silence.” He spits out. Silence means the way Bill sobbed when he saw Georgie’s yellow raincoat, the way everyone’s arms were thrown around him while he tried to expel the grief. Silence means the look in Stan’s eyes when It’s jaws were pried off him, the way his voice rasped to accuse a lack of friendship. Silence means the claw marks that cut Ben open, the way blood and skin became a blur behind torn cloth. Silence means Mike screaming and fighting off Henry Bowers, the way that a few moments of quiet meant no one knew who won. Silence means the fear on Eddie’s face when he thought he was going to die, the way his arm twisted in directions that arms should never go. Silence means the missing person’s poster with his name on it, the way he doesn’t know if anybody would have bothered to look for him or remember his name once the next kid vanished. Silence is the leaden, sickly poison that soaks his heart and mind.
Richie doesn’t say any of it, but Eddie still seems to know.
They’re both motionless. Thunder still detonates among the sky and rain still pounds against the windows. He sees the way Eddie’s body stiffened at his words, like he slammed against the ground from a ten-story fall. An apology pushes its way past his lips, artless and soft. His eyes are on his palm — the white, crescent shaped scar that screams at him every morning and whispers terrors in his ear at night. The last time him and Eddie held hands, when blood dripped into the soil and watered the earth with a promise to come back. Could they really keep it?
“I don’t know what to do.” Richie says. Waves break before the shore and air is stagnant. His anger’s dissolved into stillness. Eddie knows. He finds his place next to Richie again, much closer this time, and neither can find more words. Their knees touch and short breaths make their shoulders graze; insults flood Eddie’s head and concerns flood Richie’s. Finally, they look at each other.
“I don’t know either.” Broken voices. The cracks that still won’t heal. Maybe they never will.
“We’ll figure it out, Eds.”
“Don’t call me—"
“I know.” Among the thunder and rain, warmth finds Eddie’s hand. Among the insults and concerns, Richie’s fingers lace themselves between his. Among the poison and damage, neither pulls their hand away. A different kind of silence blankets the room, something peaceful. So there they sit without words, on the edge of Richie’s unmade bed and holding hands still, staring out the window while the storm goes on.
Stan’s outburst has been sudden and cruel. The music can’t drown out the yelling between him and Bill, who went outside, behind the garage, to talk it out. Mike’s already fiddled with the stereo dial enough, almost every time he passes it, pacing a rut into the ground. The rest of the Losers — save for Eddie — are staring at anything but one another, sitting on a ratty old couch that they helped drag in from a neighbor’s yard sale last week. There are blankets on the concrete floor, trying to block out the cold, with a portable heater to surround themselves with warmth.
Something’s different about it this time; more personal than any of the others, only directed at Bill. Painful, uncomfortable silence hangs thick in the air, nobody wants to say a word but nobody wants to keep listening to their conversation. Until, finally, Richie can’t take it anymore. He stands up and quickly, almost violently, wraps a red scarf around his neck. His hands are shoved into his pockets, letting in a gust of frigid air as he walks out of the side door and down the driveway. The yelling gets more distant once he reaches the curb, watching his boots make impressions in the fresh snow. He can barely see his breath through the flurrying snow, heading toward the earth in like fallen angels. He’s not paying attention to what’s in front of him and walks right into someone, feet almost coming out from under him on the ice. His hands seize the person’s arms like they do his, trying to stay steady.
“Fuck.” He hisses, gaze trailing up to catch a glimpse of Eddie; his hands are tight on his shoulders, worry for the slippery ice and pink cheeks kissed by the cold. There are snowflakes on his eyelashes, melting against his warm skin in a way that makes his eyes shine brighter. Richie stills when he realizes who it is. A smile almost starts to pull on his lips, until he hears the yelling again. Eddie’s smile fades too. “I couldn’t listen to them from there. I’m about ready to tear my hair out.” He glances at the garage and then back to the curb. “You can stay out here if you want.” With me, he wants to add. But, he doesn’t. They just stand at the edge of the driveway, coat sleeves occasionally brushing against each other while the cold causes their bones to shake. The stillness is eating them alive.
“Your bruises are gone.” Eddie says, voice soft like the snow. His finger pokes the creamy space on Richie’s cheekbone where the purple used to be weeks ago, it drags down the curve of his cheek for a moment; it’s too cold for hands to be outside of pockets for very long. Richie nods slightly, wishing he could say that a lack of fighting has helped the nightmares. It hasn’t. He’s still searching for something to make the pain stop. Some days are easier, at least he’s noticed that. The quiet lingers for a bit, until Stan and Bill’s voices carry with the wind.
“It would’ve been easier for everyone if I’d just gone missing. Nobody would’ve noticed and you wouldn’t have to abandon me.” Stan is bitter and harsh, but there’s something else there, like he really believes that things would be better if he were gone.
“Do you r-really think I wouldn’t notice if y-you were gone?” Bill is scared and sad, almost astonished. Those are the words that crack Richie’s heart. Eddie remembers a morning from the other month, Ben told him what Bill said to Richie because of the raincoat incident. He tries not to be angry over it because Bill was hurting — is hurting. But, he can see the flicker of pain on his face and the rage refuses to die down. Going missing, being forgotten about by his friends, getting written off as unimportant; Richie’s worst fears. Everyone knows, It went to the trouble of exposing him to them at Neibolt. The thought makes him sick, stomach churning and fingers twitching in his pockets. Memories crawl up his throat. He tries to break the silence again.
“I’m off house arrest.” A shit-eating grin blooms across Eddie’s face. “She thinks that I couldn’t finish that project with Bill because she wouldn’t let me leave.” Actually, they got an A on that project, but every other excuse he’s tried to use came up with nothing. Now, even though he’s sure she doesn’t really think he’s doing schoolwork every time he leaves the house, she at least won’t stop him — just on the off chance that he truly does have something to do. Richie laughs, head thrown back and hand hitting Eddie’s shoulder, the sound is like bathing in sunlight. He’s almost proud.
“Did she notice when you ran away?”
“Of course she did, I can’t leave the house for two hours without her noticing, let alone two whole days.” A small blush paints itself on his cheeks, as if something happened those two days besides movie watching and catching up. Both of them remember the mornings. Rays of golden sun dancing through the spaces between the curtains and TV static humming with the birds; Eddie’s head on Richie’s chest and their limbs tangled under the blankets, they fit together like a puzzle. It makes their hearts race.
“What happened when you got back?”
“Oh, you know, the typical reign of terror. The note I left didn’t really help much.” Eddie flashes a knowing look toward Richie, curls whipping about in the cold, “It was still worth it.” Richie can feel his cheeks get hot despite the freezing wind that nearly slices his skin open. Then it’s nothing again. Wind whistles and the snow still flutters down, the two are near frozen to the core. It’s only now that they realize the absence of Stan and Bill’s voices. Eddie glances at the pile of bikes on the driveway. “We should probably, uh, go back. We could get pneumonia from being out here so long.” Richie doesn’t mock him, he doesn’t joke at all. He just nods, standing perfectly still as Eddie starts toward the garage, staring out at the snow-covered street. Everything reels through Richie, like pulses through his skin. Eddie’s halfway to the door when he notices him totally lost in thought, walking back and putting a hand on his shoulder.
“Hey, Rich.” Richie won’t look at him. “Are you…” He pauses, “are you alright?”
And, when he finally turns, Richie looks scared. The last dam breaks and out comes the things he’s been trying to trap behind it. The wavering of sadness in his soul causes it to crack under the pressure, the glossy tears over his honey eyes have finally fallen, and he’s buried against Eddie’s chest in a matter of moments. The calloused tips of his fingers almost feel scorching hot, like they’ll leave him blistered from the slightest of touch, something so welcome in this cold. Is it really? Or is it in his mind?
“I’ve been trying to be.” Richie sobs, hands squeezing the fabric of Eddie’s coat. It almost hurt. Almost. He remembers real pain from nights he’s tried to cope with the summer; how it radiated through his body, so much that he couldn’t tell where it was coming from or what it was specifically caused by — a fist, a baseball bat, maybe even a knife — but screaming came from his mind and resonated throughout. Richie’s words and pleas had felt as if they scratched themselves into his tongue, the stings escaping whenever he tried to open his mouth to beg for this to stop. The sound of his head smacking against the pavement with every punch, the burning in his chest from being deprived of air, the pressure on his throat from a hand clasped around too tight, the spots in his vision, the feeling of blood smearing on his face. A piece of him had wanted things to go too far, for them to get too carried away and kill him on accident just so everything would be over. No more fear, no more anything. The pain had only stopped when Richie’s vision faded completely, re-emerging when he was pulled from unconsciousness by the smell of cigarettes and iron. It was always then that he realized, trying to drag himself home with the searing aches in his body, the fear might never go away. He’s still scared he’ll never not be scared again.
The look on Eddie’s face is enough for him to realize he’s saying this out loud.
The words Richie cries are like razors to the heart. Eddie wants to tell him that it's okay, that he knows how he feels — and he does — but he scoffs at the word 'okay' as if it’s a morbid joke. The word isn't in any of their vocabulary anymore, why should he expect him to remember the term too? Richie’s hands are shaking, turning white in the cold while he tries to hold the lapels of his coat even tighter. Eddie grabbing them and holding them against his chest makes him cry harder. His eyes are puffy, the small capillaries inside are a bold crimson, and full of tears. Snot is dripping from his nose while a concoction of drool and spit drips from the corners of his lips. He just stares at him and the expression on his face causes tears to fall from his eyes. Eddie’s never seen someone look so broken. It’s not poetic or beautiful. It’s ugly and devastating.
“I was so worried about you.” Richie says, tears blurring his vision as much as the snow. He’s talking so fast, he might not even be using real words. The second something leaves his mouth, he forgets it entirely. “I kept falling asleep with my shoes on, just in case you called at night, so it wouldn’t slow me down to look for them.” Eddie’s heart flutters. “I was so fucking worried because I love you and I didn’t want—” The words stop when Eddie kisses him. It’s like a fire lights in his chest, so many feelings bouncing off the inside of his ribs but he can barely focus on anything except Eddie’s kissing me, Eddie’s kissing me, Eddie’s kissing me. He only realizes halfway through that he isn’t kissing him back, grabbing the edges of his coat and yanking him closer. Smiles grow as the kiss ends, they just look at each other until Eddie takes Richie’s hand in his.
“I love you too.” Eddie whispers. They walk into the garage together and see the Losers huddled together with the portable heater and hot chocolate. Bev’s eyes land on their hands and Stan smiles at Richie, quite possibly the first time he’s seen him smile in weeks. The music is still playing, only softer now, and it seems quiet for a while.
“About goddamn time.” Mike says, arms folded over his chest and a smug grin on his face. No one seems to disagree; Eddie tugs at the scarf around Richie’s neck, trying to bring focus on something else. They find a place among the blankets on the floor, in the horseshoe around the warmth and cocoa. Richie notices Stan while he searches for another smile and finds Bill’s hand clasping onto his. He just stares at them wide-eyed while a sheepish grin pulls on the corners of Bill’s lips.
“You really are a dumbass, Trashmouth.” Stan smiles once more, it’s like a treasure they’ve all been missing. Then laughter floods the room. It’s a clash of noise but it’s beautiful to them. As all their sides start to burn, they realize they’ll be okay. They’re broken, maybe they always will be a little bit, but they’re healing.