"How long?" Bev asks after. They're sitting off to the side, letting the sun dry them off. Bill and Mike and Ben are still splashing around in the water, like they're kids again. Richie wishes they were.
"Don't know what you're talking about," he says, and Bev sees right through him like she's always been able to. She looks at him and raises an eyebrow and he sighs. No point in keeping secrets anymore, he supposes. "Since we were thirteen."
"Jesus, Rich," Bev says softly. "I'm sorry."
"He didn't know. I never told him, anyway. Couldn't do it."
"You could have told us, Richie."
"I told Stan."
"What?" Bev asks. It's the first time they've really mentioned him since they found the clubhouse again and Richie doesn't want to start crying, not again, not now, but it's hard.
"I told Stan when we were fifteen. Well, I didn't tell Stan, he guessed. I thought I was hiding it pretty well but Stan... Stan could always see through my shit." It dawns on Richie for the first time since leaving Neibolt that in the last few days he's lost his childhood best friend and his - he's not sure, the love of his life? It feels right. And he lost them and got them both back for a brief moment and lost them again. It feels pretty fucking unfair.
"He was good at that," Bev says. "Good at seeing through our shit." She leans her head against Richie's shoulder and it helps for a second, but then it feels suffocating. He stands up, stretches, looks out at Bill and Ben and Mike and then back to Bev.
"We should do something for him. Eddie. Something nice. Nicer than what he got, anyway," Richie says. "I'll see you guys at the inn."
The streets of Derry are familiar to Richie in a way that makes him feel sick to his stomach. He knows all the twists and turns it takes to get from the quarry to his old house, knows which loose brick to kick away from the stairs to get the spare key he kept hidden there. A voice in the back of his head tells him don't stick your fucking hand in there, Richie, that's disgusting, you'll get tetanus and die if there's rusty nails under there, Jesus Christ, and he almost laughs, but his hand shakes when he's putting the key in the lock.
He hasn't been in this house since the day he left Derry for California and never looked back. His parents don't even live here anymore, they moved to Florida after he moved out, but they still own it. Vacation house or something. It all sounds like a load of shit to him because there's nothing about Derry that incites the feelings of getting away from all your problems on a dream vacation. Derry feels like a nightmare. Nonetheless, his parents kept the house and they left behind whatever they didn't want to take with them to Florida. He goes up the stairs - skip the third one or it'll creak and my dad will kill me if he catches us sneaking out, guys - and to the door at the end of the hall on the left. There’s a Lost Boys poster hanging on it, an act of defiance when his mother said not to hang it on any of the walls. It's not on a wall, mom, it's on the door and you never said not to hang it on the door, he'd said, and she'd laughed and let him keep it up. When he opens the door it squeaks like it always has. The room, for the most part, is the same. Star Wars sheets on the bed, a shelf full of comics next to the desk, faded posters covering the walls. On the dresser there's a ratty old stuffed bear Eddie won at a fair when they were fifteen and gave to Richie because he was being a sore loser. He’s not sure why he didn't take it with him when he left. Maybe things would have been different.
The room - his room, he knows, but it hasn't felt like that for a long time now - seems so much smaller than it used to be. Smaller than it did when he would climb out his window and onto the roof, Bev and a pack of cigarettes in tow, or when he and Bill sat across from each other on his bed and played card games the week after Georgie went missing. Smaller than when he would use the phone his dad agreed to let him have in there and call Eddie every time he got a new comic so he could read it first, before it became group property in the clubhouse. It feels suffocatingly small, actually, but he doesn't need to be there long. He crosses to the other side of the room and opens the closet door and grabs his old backpack, throws it onto the bed, then gets on his knees and starts digging. And there, under clothes and old yearbooks and shoes missing their mate, he finds it just where he hid it all those years ago.
Their sophomore year, Eddie rebelled against his mother. He didn't leave home or anything like that, but he raised a little hell and spent as little time there as he could. He spent a lot of time in the clubhouse, Richie knew, because Richie spent a lot of time there too. And Eddie had decided he wanted to take up a hobby, something to distract himself, so he started helping Ben fix up things that broke around there. He wasn't an expert, but he was pretty good, and they all knew he liked doing it, liked fixing broken things and building new ones. Richie wonders absentmindedly if Eddie ever knew that he'd fixed more broken things than he realized. If he knew that he'd fixed Richie.
Richie shakes his head. He can't live in the past now, but he pulls the box out of the closet and opens it. It’s small, flatter than a shoebox but wide enough to fit comic books inside, as was its intended purpose. Eddie made it for Richie for his sixteenth birthday, told him to use it to carry his comics back and forth between his house and the clubhouse so he wouldn't drop any more in puddles or get them dirty or wet in the rain. Richie told Eddie it was stupid and then went home and put all his favorite comics in it - Eddie’s, not his own - and carried it to the clubhouse the next day. It was his favorite gift anyone had ever given him. And he left it behind when he moved, maybe because he thought he could leave and get a fresh start, maybe because it was just a little too much. But now, sitting on the floor of the room he grew up in, he runs his fingers over the RT Eddie had carved onto the top and wonders how he could have ever parted with it.
After what feels like a lifetime, he pushes himself up off the floor and goes over to his bed, opens the old backpack, and loads the box inside. He takes the bear off of his dresser and puts that inside, too, then opens the top drawer of his rickety old desk and digs through the mixtapes he spent hours making until he finds one at the very bottom, no cover art, just an E, and takes that too. He leaves, shuts the door back and practically runs out the front door before he can change his mind about anything or before he lets himself think for too long.
It’s an eight minute walk between his house and Stan’s. He remembers that, remembers he used to leave Stan's at 10:51 to make his 11 o'clock curfew with one minute to spare. His mom would be looking through the kitchen window, watching him haul ass back up their street, and sometimes he'd catch her smiling. Glad he had places to be other than in their house, he was sure. Derry was never a good place to live, Richie never liked it, but he liked the boy he met when he was five years old with curly hair and a shirt tucked into khaki pants and too many books about birds. He liked the boy who was the first friend he ever had and he liked the walk between their houses.
He doesn't like it so much now, walking slower than he needs to, taking more time to think. To think about how he never got to say goodbye, about what Stan was like as an adult, if he had any kids - he would have been a good dad, Richie thinks. Mostly, he takes the extra time to think about what he's going to say to Stan’s mom when she opens the door. It had been pretty easy to find out that she still lived in Derry - Stan’s dad had died a few years ago, he'd learned, but his mom still lived there, in the same house Richie had done half of his growing up in. He wonders if she'll remember him at all. If there's anything he could ever say to her to make her feel any better. Based on how he feels, he doubts it.
The walk takes him eleven minutes instead of eight at his slowest pace. He stands in the street outside of the house for three more before he takes a deep breath and walks up the stairs. It takes another minute for anything to happen after he rings the doorbell, and then it opens wide and for all that he was worrying, seeing Andrea Uris is actually a little comforting.
"Oh, Richie," she says, offering up a sad smile. "It's so nice to see you."
"You too, Mrs. Uris," he says, and she waves him off.
"You can call me Andrea, Richie. Given why I think you're here. Come in," she says, steps back to let him in. The house looks almost exactly as he remembers it - nice furniture, not a lot of color, but still lived in. He notices there's more blue now. Blue pillows, curtains, a vase with fake blue flowers. Stan's favorite color.
Richie takes a glass of water at Andrea’s insistence and sits across from her at the table, thinking of what could possibly be the right thing to say, after a few minutes, he settles on, "I'm sorry."
"Don’t be silly, dear. You didn't do anything wrong." Then why does he feel like he did?
"How are you holding up?" He asks. He didn't come here for conversation, necessarily, but he figures it would be rude to just barge upstairs into Stan’s old room.
"I miss him very much. I hadn't seen him in some time. I wish I'd known last time would be the last. I would have hugged him longer."
"Yeah," Richie says. "Yeah, me too." One of the things Richie had always loved and hated the most about Stan was that no matter how much he tried to hide something, Stan could always see right through him. Sitting there, Richie decides he got it from his mother, because she looks at him and says,
"You remember which room was his, I know. You can go up if you'd like." He thanks her and crosses over to the stairs - thirteen stairs, be careful, sometimes the floorboard on the ninth one comes loose - and goes up, over to the second door on the right and pushes it open.
It looks the same, blue walls and no curtains and books everywhere they could possibly fit. Richie decides he's sick of the color blue.
"I think I always knew I would lose him early," Andrea says from the doorway, startling him. He didn't know she'd followed him up. "Call it a mother's intuition, I suppose. That’s why I kept his room the same even after he moved out for good. It feels like I still have a little piece of him."
"That makes sense," Richie says. He wonders if it would be selfish for him to take something, to have his own little piece, but he doesn't have to ask.
"You two were the best of friends for years. Don’t pretend you aren't hurting on my account, Richie Tozier. If there's something in here you want, you can have it."
"Thanks, Mrs. Ur- Andrea," he corrects himself, and she smiles and closes the door and leaves him with everything that's left of the Stan he knew. He doesn't have to think long about what he wants to take with him, luckily, because he wants to get out of there and go somewhere with as few memories attached to it as possible. The book he wants is at the bottom of a stack on Stan’s desk, perfectly organized. He pulls it out, careful not to mess up the others. "You’d kill me if I messed up your room," he says to no one, and he hopes Stan can hear him.
It’s a birdwatching book, thick, with a laminated cover because Richie had checked it out from the Derry library and never returned it. He’d given it to Stan as a gift and Stan was so upset he'd stolen it that he insisted he was going to take it back, and then he flipped through the pages until he found a picture of a little bird with markings that looked a bit like glasses. And Stan who would never write in one of his own books, much less a library book, but loved beating Richie at his own game, circled it and said this one looks like you, and Richie laughed so hard he thought he'd bruise his ribs or something. And standing there in his old room looking at the stupid stolen library book, Richie realizes for the first time how much he misses Stan. It's too much, the entire fucking town is too much, so he puts the book in the backpack and goes back downstairs, promising Stan’s mom he'll come visit sometime. The walk back takes almost twenty minutes and it's close to dark out when he makes it back to the inn, but he doesn't see the others anywhere. His phone buzzes right then, a text from Bev - we're going to dinner, want to meet us there? - and it feels way too fucking normal given everything they've been through, so he texts back a no and tells her he'll see them later when they get back and to drink for him, like saying that will bring some fucking levity to the situation.
"Eddie, move!" Someone yells from the other side of this fucking cave-lair-whatever-the-fuck that they're in. Richie can't tell who it is. He feels like he's floating outside of his body, his ears are ringing, but Eddie is standing over him and Richie registers that Eddie is about to be fucking impaled by that fucking clown's fucking claw thing and Jesus Christ, Richie’s life is fucking weird, and he pulls Eddie down just in time for his upper back and shoulder to get grazed by it instead of, like, literally dying.
"Thanks, Rich," Eddie says in his slightly panicked voice, shaking a little. Richie wants to comfort him, calm him down and check and see if he's seriously injured but there's no time for that right now, so he just says, "No problem, Eduardo. Now come on, let's kill this fuckin' clown."
They kill it. They actually kill it for real and then they wash off in the quarry, only Eddie doesn't because he says that's disgusting and because they have open wounds and are susceptible to flesh eating viruses or something like that. So they clean off there and then Eddie convinces them to go to the hospital and get looked at by professionals, so they do. And Eddie gets a room because it turns out his shoulder is sliced open pretty fucking bad. Richie’s okay though, so he sits with him. He still feels weird, hazy, like he's in a trance.
"Thanks for saving me back there," he says to Eddie.
"No problem," Eddie says. "Wish you'd returned the favor."
"You didn't save me Richie. Why didn't you save me? You could have done it but you didn't. I'm dead, Richie. I'm dead and it's your fault, all your fault." He repeats it over and over, louder and louder, and Richie is frozen to the spot while Eddie talks and talks and Richie can just listen, can just watch in horror while the front of Eddie’s shirt starts turning red and redder and redder and it's Richie’s fault, it's his fault, he let Eddie die, he-
He wakes up crying. Before he can register his movements he's up, out of bed and on his knees in front of the toilet, losing what seems like everything he's ever eaten. When he stops he goes down to the bar and pours himself a shot of whatever he sees first, slamming the shot glass back down harder than is absolutely necessary.
"Want to talk about it?" Richie looks up to see Ben standing in the doorway, giving him that fucking look, the one he used to use on them to make them talk about their feelings or some shit. Richie wishes he could hate Ben.
"Not in the fucking slightest," he says. Ben nods and sits down on one of the barstools, watches as Richie throws back another shot, eyebrows raised. "What," Richie groans, "I'm fine."
"Obviously not. I'm not gonna make you talk about it if you don't want to, though."
"You’re a real stand up guy, Ben Hanscom, thanks so much," Richie fires back. He doesn't mean for it to come off as, well, dickish as it does, but as lives go he's not having the best one at the moment. Ben doesn't seem phased by it at all. Richie really fucking wants to hate him. "I think I could have saved Eddie. I could have, like, pushed him down or pulled him away or something, right? He was standing right over me and he had his back to that motherfucker. Didn’t even see it coming, but. But I should have."
"If Eddie was here he'd tell you you're being stupid," is what Ben says. Richie snorts.
"If Eddie was here I wouldn't be feeling like it's my fault he's dead. Because he wouldn't be."
"It’s not your fault, Rich. It’s nobody's fault except that evil fucking thing and we did everything we could."
"You should have let me stay there," Richie says, voice a little too shaky for his own liking. "I should have been with him."
"And what, died there? Why? So Eddie could kick your fucking ass in the afterlife for being an idiot?" Ben asks, and Richie laughs for the first time since, well.
"He would have, wouldn't he?"
"Absolutely. He’d be so mad. He’d kick my ass too, eventually, for not dragging you out by your thinning hair."
"When did you turn into such an asshole?" Richie asks, and Ben grins. They sit in silence for a few minutes, not uncomfortable, just heavy, and Richie breaks it with, "I love him. Loved him. Whatever."
"I know," Ben says, sounding completely unsurprised. "If the roles had been reversed and Bev was the one we had to leave behind, you would have had to drag me out kicking and screaming. So, I know. I'm sorry, Rich." Richie nods but he doesn't say anything, and after a few more minutes he gets up to go back to his room, even though he knows he won't sleep. He’s almost through the doorway when Ben says, "I think he loved you too. For what it's worth."
Richie doesn't turn around, can't, he's not going to make Ben see him cry again, but he lets out a shaky breath. "Maybe. Tell everyone to meet at the clubhouse in the morning. And bring something that reminds them of Eddie."
Richie doesn't sleep at all, and he packs all his shit into his car and leaves with that and the backpack at six. He drives around for a while before he parks somewhere and walks to the barrens and down into their clubhouse. While he waits he pulls out the box, opens it and puts the mixtape inside, then he opens up the library book and rips out the page with the circled bird, folds it up and puts it in there too. Sure they'd burned up the shower cap, but Stan deserved more than burning synthetic materials releasing fumes into the fucking air or whatever. And then, from the pocket of his hoodie, two letters he wrote before the drive over. Not very long, he's no Bill Denbrough, but just enough.
dear stan, i'm sorry i forgot about you. you were my best friend. i’m sorry you were so scared that you would have rather died than come to face it again, but i can't say i blame you. maybe someday i'll understand why you did it. maybe not. maybe i really do look like that fucking bird. i love you, stan the man. i’m not gonna forget you again.
dear eddie, i'm sorry it was you and not me. i would have gone in your place a million times over if i could. but you were so brave. braver than i could ever be. i was never even brave enough to tell you i loved you, but i did. i do. r + e forever, even if you never knew about it. i’m sorry i let my fear get in the way of telling you that you were always my favorite. i hope you knew. i’m sorry i couldn't save you.
Richie folds them up and puts them in the box, and then he waits. It takes an hour for everyone else to get there, but Richie doesn't mind.
"What are we d-doing here, Rich?" Bill asks, not having shaken the stutter quite yet.
"We’re having a funeral. Sort of. Did you guys each bring something?"
"We did," Ben says. "Well, they did. Mine’s here. But yes."
"Okay. Whatever you guys have got, put it in the box," Richie tells them, watching as Ben walks over and picks up the broken paddle ball, and he smiles just a little.
"I was mad about this. Way too mad about this cheap fuckin' thing," Ben says, and he puts it in the box with the letters and the mixtape and the book page. Mike puts in Eddie’s old watch - where'd you get that fuckin' thing, man, - and Bill puts in a drawing he did of Eddie once, years ago, and then,
"What the fuck," Richie says when Bev pulls out a fanny pack, and then he starts laughing, properly laughing for the first time in days. "Where did you guys find this stuff?"
"When his mom died a few years ago the city bought the house and I asked if I could go through it first. I took some stuff from his old room,” Mike says.
"I love you, Mikey," Richie says through laughter, looking at the fanny pack in Bev’s hands. She puts it in the box, and then gives Richie a look.
"He made you this. Are you really burying it?"
"Not burying it," Richie says. "Leaving it down here. I threw something for Stan in there too. They both deserved something nicer. Eddie loved it down here. Stan too, and they - they were the best of us, I think. And maybe one day some other kids will find this place and they'll find this and know that the best fucking group of friends in the world loved this place, and they loved each other too." Bev hugs him so hard he thinks she might break ribs, and then they close the box and wrap it up in old fabric from the hammock and put it on the shelf between old records and comic books and a dirty coffee tin with shower caps inside. They don't say anything, but they don't need to. When they leave, Richie tells them he's leaving to catch his flight back to California. He promises to visit Bill, and Ben and Bev in New York, and Mike in Florida, because he's finally going, and he promises to write and call and everything else. And he promises, to himself, that he won't forget them again.
He drives over the kissing bridge on his way out, and something inside him is telling him to stop, so he does. He crouches down and pulls out a pocket knife and goes over the R + E until it looks like a brand new carving. And in a split second decision, a moment of not wanting to forget but not wanting to take everything with him either, he walks back to his car and pulls the ratty old bear out of his backpack. He’s fully aware someone will probably steal it, but he doesn't care. For now, it's between him and Eddie, and he props it up against the wood, goes over his letters one more time, then he gets back into his car and drives out of Derry.