Each one of them deals with what happened in different ways, by changing slightly, personalities pivoting a little to the left. Bill becomes harder somehow as if the experience has given him some kind of iron core. Mike throws himself into research, obsessive in his need to make sense of the senseless; understand the why? and most importantly why us? Ben, quiet in his suffering, chafes against the confines of everything - the town, school, his home - as if the experience had somehow made him bigger, more grown-up, restless with the tireless longing to be free. Beverly, whose nightmare isn’t over yet, remains her old unflappable self, staunchly brave and loyal to a fault and yet out of the seven of them the one who most often wakes screaming. Eddie starts at shadows and twitches incessantly, irritable and restless in a way he’d never been before. While Stan, by contrast, grows incredibly still inside himself, sleeping more often than not, speaking in monosyllables his eyes staring holes into nothing. Richie for his part grows louder. He yells, curses more creatively, jokes obsessively, He keeps himself busy so he doesn’t think and swears loudly into dark corners just in case… just in case something is out there.
September brings high school like a plunge into cold water, the return to normalcy and routine shocking. During those last weeks of summer, spent catching their breath and jumping at their own shadows, it had been easy to imagine that everything else had changed too, that there would be some exemption for them, that they were somehow immune to the everyday. The others seem to fall back into school without much trouble, almost welcoming the chance to brush it all under the rug. Richie however, can’t stand it. He fights with the older kids, swears during class, kicks rocks at the principal’s car; he feels jumpy and restless in his own skin, making himself big and loud and hard to ignore in the hopes that someone will notice his absence when he disappears, the image of his face on the missing poster still sharp and frightening in his mind.
Eddie becomes a constant, perhaps the only constant, in Richie’s life. Over the summer, his role had slowly evolved from old friend to signpost by which Richie charted the course of his life; an alarming development that Richie tries to ignore. On Thursdays Eddie waits by the bike racks for Richie to get out of detention, they fight like they always have, Richie calling him “shrimpy” and “spaghetti”, Eddie firing back with a middle finger or a well-placed shin kick. But yet those long, gilded, early autumn afternoons take on a mythical quality in Richie’s mind; just the two of them walking side by side through the woods or sitting on the edge of the quarry to share the bag of chips leftover from Eddie’s lunch.
Some afternoons they meet up with the others or go down to the clubhouse but, as the days grow shorter and dark begins to close in earlier the Losers see less and less of each other; each too afraid of the dark to be caught out in it for too long. Often after a gathering at someone’s house, Richie walks Eddie home, leaping from streetlight to streetlight, talking loudly to calm the rabbit-fast beat of his heart that is only half to do with fear.
He doesn’t want to examine his feelings for Eddie in any detail, he’s been perfectly happy ignoring them up until this point, thank you very much. The only difference is that now there’s a name for what he is and how he feels (courtesy of Bowers) where before there had only ever been a feeling, too big and bright to explain.
The names for it are faggot, sissy, queer, poof, and they are names to be spit in anger and disgust only, because that’s what he deserves. Ignoring that none of the names sound right, that they don’t even begin to do justice to these feelings that roil in Richie’s heart at even the quickest glimpse of Eddie’s head among the school-hall crowd, the barest echo of his laugh. But, like with stray dogs, as soon as you name something it will never leave you alone again.
Fighting has become a favorite pastime of Richie’s after the summer discovery of his own capacity for violence. Although unlike before, he is mostly content to let himself be beat to shit. Physical pain is distracting, it reminds him that, even after everything, he is alive, he's not missing.
He’s careful about who he goes after, someone big enough to hurt but not mean enough to kill, someone kind of stupid and easily goaded. Today he sets his sights on Jim Hesketh, shittiest running back Derry High has ever seen; and tells him so to his face. The others have gone to the clubhouse, with Richie making a promise to follow that he doesn’t plan on keeping. It only takes a little bit of goading, one or two good “yo mama” jokes, and Hesketh is on him like a wild animal.
Richie, still fast, and definitely smaller than the musclebound hulk, gets in a couple good kicks before Hesketh slaps him so hard he spits blood and falls to the ground. Hesketh drags him by the ankle through the parking lot. People are laughing, out of focus, all the colors overbright.
“...curb stomp your fucking teeth out, faggot”. Hesketh is growling, pulling Richie up by the back of his shirt just to throw him back down on the pavement. Richie feels the skin on his forearm scrape, the audible crack of his glasses and bright burst of pain when his face connects with concrete feeling better than anything has in a long time.
“Hey, you jackass!”
Richie would recognize that pubescent yell of implacable rage anywhere.
Hesketh’s hold loosens by a fraction, distracted, as Richie hears him curse. Eddie’s distinctive hardcover copy of “French for the High School” thunks off of something meaty and hits the pavement by his head with a slap.
Richie wrestles out of Hesketh’s hold with little difficulty, distracted as he is, and grabs Eddie’s book before taking off running. Eddie, right behind, narrowly avoids Hesketh’s groping hands as he shoots past the older boy. They make for the woods, bobbing and weaving through the trees like rabbits, knowing that Hesketh, bound as he is by the rules of planet earth, is much too big and lumbering to follow.
They make it to the clubhouse entrance, bending double for a moment to catch their breath, wheezing like death. There’s blood on Richie’s shirt, on his face, a steady throb in his arm. When he looks at Eddie he finds him white-faced and scared, mouth a grim line; he stands up to take a drag from his inhaler. Richie spits a gob of blood into the bushes before pulling up the trap door.
“Jeez-US Tozier, what’ve you gotten yourself into this time?” exclaims Mike, leaping up in alarm as Richie stumbles down the ladder into the clubhouse. Stan whistles long and low, impressed.
Richie barely has a second to explain before Eddie is on him like a whirlwind, taking stock of the split lip, the bloody nose, the road-rash beginning to scab over and go purple on his arm.
“You mother fuck, Richie!” he yells, his voice cracking, high and panicked and still a bit out of breath, boyish like he gets when it starts to rain and he doesn’t have an umbrella. He fumbles around for the first aid kit they keep for just such occasions, pulling Richie down to sit on an old milk crate which he does without complaint. “What the actual fuck? Why’d you do something like that? Fucking moron…”
“No one asked you to jump in and save me, fuckhead! I can handle myself”
“You were getting your ass kicked!” Eddie argues, snapping on a pair of latex gloves so he doesn’t get Richie’s blood on him and catch some horrible made-up disease.
“Well, maybe I wanted to get my ass kicked!”
Eddie doesn’t reply, lip held between his teeth in concentration as he scrubs with anxious care at Richie’s lip, tsk-ing at Richie’s flinch away from the antiseptic. He reaches out his free hand to cradle the back of Richie’s head, to hold him still like a naughty kitten held by the nape of its neck.
Thank you, Richie thinks, thank you for coming back for me.
Eddie’s closeness, his hand in Richie’s hair, the pressure of his bare knee against Richie’s clothed thigh as he washes grit from the deeper scrapes on his arm is unbearable. Richie’s heart is pounding a mile a minute. Everywhere Eddie is touching him feels electric and he can’t breathe for the weight of what he’s feeling on his chest, head full of static, terrified of what it all means.
“Eat a bag of dicks, Eds,” he says, wrenching his arm out of Eddie’s grasp, heartbeat loud in his ears.
“Fine! Get infected and die, asshole!” Eddie retorts, handing him the gauze, disinfectant, and tape but continuing to linger, concerned, just over Richie’s shoulder, his presence almost as distracting as his touch.
“Shut up, I’d make a hot amputee” Richie replies trying, without much success, to fasten the bandage one-handed. Eddie leans over to do it for him, fingers cool against feverish, throbbing skin even through the gauze. When he pulls away Richie almost cries with the loss of him.
“Here,” he says, picking up Eddie’s French book from where it had fallen to the clubhouse floor. “Rescued your fucking schoolbook, nerd”
“Thanks,” Eddie says, the minute smile he gives Richie bright and warm like the sun coming out.
The feelings follow Richie, slimier, more elusive than the ever-present memories of Pennywise; hiding in his shadow and in the quiet parts of his mind, leaping out suddenly to cut off Richie’s breathing with their sheer immensity. Eddie impatiently blowing a lock of hair out of his eyes in art class. Eddie rain-soaked and shivering telling Bill in no uncertain terms to go fuck himself for making him come all this way in the rain about “...algebra, goddamnit Bill I thought it was an emergency! I’m gonna catch pneumonia!” . Eddie, flickery and unreal in the light from the TV, picking up popcorn by the handful and eating it by sticking it to his tongue like a frog. Eddie smiling, Eddie calling him an asshole, Eddie, Eddie Eddie Eddie… Eddie.
In these situations, breathless, all Richie can do is joke, crack a non-sequitur that will deter further inspection, hide him from himself.
Bill’s parents go away without him for Thanksgiving so, on the day before, the Losers go over to keep him company. They spend the evening eating all the junk food in Bill’s house and helping themselves to Bill’s father’s prodigious liquor collection. Bev burns the turkey breast Mike had provided so they all chip in to order pizza, eating it outside on the porch, bundled in their winter coats, with every fan inside turned on and the smell of burnt turkey wafting, miasmic, from every window and door.
Afterward, they race each other down the street, full, drunk and overwarm, shrieking with laughter. The lighted windows of the other houses on the street give momentary glimpses into other people’s lives, family dinners, a mom and child in the kitchen making apple pie, a dad asleep in front of the TV - cozy, safe, so different from the world they’re living in. They are, as they’ll always be now, on the outside looking in.
Bill catches Beverly in a circle of streetlight, swinging her round and round. Stan simply falls on his back in the middle of the street, panting, his breath making ghostly puffs of fog in the cold air. They laugh like jackals, a hysterical, terrified edge to it, reaching for each other in the dark. Richie ends up squished between Mike and Eddie as they stumble back towards the house, breathing in the slightly coconutty smell of Eddie’s shampoo.
They watch TV until they’re too drunk to see and then Ben turns the channel to MTV. Eddie and Bev jump up suddenly and start singing, leaning on each other for support. Bev has her arm around Eddie’s skinny shoulders, half-full bottle of vodka in her hand sloshing alarmingly as she dances.
(We didn’t start the fire! It was always burning since the world’s been turning)
Eddie reaches for Richie’s hand, pulling him up from his seat on the floor. He’s not dancing so much as twisting his hips, practically falling over himself, still singing along with the song. Eddie’s honey-brown eyes are wild, his cheeks pink, lips red and bruised-looking from where he’s been biting them. The alcohol is making Richie loose, creating starbursts of light that explode at the edges of his vision and frame Eddie in fireworks all his own. Eddie’s hand is warm and solid and slightly sweaty in his and Richie wants to kiss him, God he wants to kiss him.
He doesn’t. He pulls away abruptly and sits down on the pulled out sofabed causing Eddie to stumble, cursing, into Mike who is just coming in from the kitchen with a leftover slice of pizza in his hand.
“What the fuck!?” exclaims Mike, picking cheese off the front of his shirt, just as Eddie drops to his knees against the wall and starts to cry.
“Eddie, man, oh my god” Bill is trying not to laugh, trying his hardest but the snort comes out anyway, drunk and loose, in harmony with Beverly’s slightly guilty chuckle.
“It’s official!” Stan crows from where he’s made a nest against the couch armrest “Ed is a sloppy drunk!”
“You’re so sloppy” mumbles Ben, half asleep.
“That’s what I say to your mom when I fuck her, Eddie,” says Richie, deadpan - still reeling and scared of what he’d almost done.
And then they’re all laughing for some reason, except Richie. Even Eddie bends over backward to lie on his back on the floor and laugh with tears still streaming down his face.
They fall asleep in a pile; Bill and Stan curled up face to face together like babes in the wood, Ben with one arm around Beverly and one leg hitched over Mike’s thighs, Eddie with his head on Richie’s chest, curled up small against Bill’s back.
Richie awakes from a dream where Eddie ate his heart out of him, blood around his mouth and the horrible empty ache in Richie’s chest that still hasn’t gone away.
The TV is still on, the images on the screen indistinct blobs of color without his glasses but the music is clear enough.
( whenever I’m alone with you, you make me feel like I am whole again…)
His mouth is fuzzy and tastes like sawdust and there’s a pounding in his head.
Eddie has rolled over onto his back and his arm is slung over Richie’s stomach, dead weight. He looks almost angelic in the fuzzy light from the TV; his mouth half-open in a silent snore his chest rising and falling peacefully in his sleep. It’s soft and gentle and entirely too much for Richie to bear.
He carefully extracts himself from the mess of sleeping limbs and wanders into the kitchen for a glass of water. Bev is on the front porch, only the storm door shut, smoking meditatively. Richie fills his cup with ice from the freezer and goes out to be with her, tucking his knees up to his chin and fumbling about for her pack of cigarettes. They sit in silence for a time, smoking, watching, half-scared, for yellow eyes in the impenetrable darkness; Twin insomniacs, lovelorn and tired, just so fucking tired of it all.
"Do you have nightmares too?" She asks, not looking at him. Richie starts at the broken silence, turning to look at her. Haloed like this, in porch light and smoke, she looks like Joan of Arc, shorn head, clear eyes, something battle weary in the set of her mouth.
"Yeah," he says, at last, hoping that this vulnerability can be forgiven in time.
Bev nods, stubbing out her cigarette on the concrete. Richie is glad she didn't ask what kind of nightmares his were, he would have gotten scared and said something crass, some joke to break the tension. But Beverly knows him, knows how far she can push before he cracks. At this moment Richie is profoundly grateful for the chance to let himself live in the memory of Eddie’s warm arm over his chest a moment longer, the chance to just be .
Winter rolls into spring by torturous degrees, thawing the snow only to freeze the meltwater into dangerous slicks. The residents of Derry shed layers of outerwear in hope of warmth only to be forced to replace them the next day.
Eddie gets properly sick in March, a harmless head cold, but his mother checks him into the hospital anyway. It’s a tense couple of days, during which Richie stops sleeping and eating, spending the long nights petrified by the idea of a world without Eddie in it.
With the spring comes the fear again. Warm weather means summer, means Pennywise, means death and terror in redux. Richie finds himself flashing back, stopping dead in the middle of the road or the hallway at school or his own bedroom, caught up in a sudden flash of summer, heart-wrenching whirlwind of pain. He keeps the lights on when (if) he sleeps and jumps at his own shadow and his own reflection in mirrors.
The other’s aren’t doing much better. Bill’s stutter is back with a vengeance, Stan starts skipping school, Bev works her way through a pack of smokes a day now, eyes sunk deep in their sockets by exhaustion. Eddie shakes, traumatized and jumpy, talking a mile a minute and taking pulls from his inhaler every 10 minutes or so - as if by performing this ritual of constant motion nothing will have a chance to catch him up.
In mid-April Eddie starts coming over more often, keeping Richie company on weekends when both his parents are out of town. The weekend sleepovers had started in 6th grade and dwindled in frequency over the years before stopping altogether after Eddie broke his arm. Richie isn’t sure what brought about this change of heart in Mrs. Kaspbrak but he’s not going to look this particular gift horse in the mouth.
The fact of the matter is that the only time Eddie stops moving and twitching is with Richie. Likewise, the only time Richie can truly ever sleep is with Eddie close enough to touch.
The feelings have gotten bigger, more painful. Richie almost covets them, poking at the painful area in his heart like one might worry an empty tooth-socket, enjoying the ache and the tang of his own blood. He knows, with a sick despair, that he’ll never have Eddie; and slams his fists into walls for daring to be sad about that fact.
‘Eddie isn’t like you’ he reminds himself one night, watching Eddie carefully separate the green skittles from the other colors on a paper plate ‘ Eddie is good’.
He thinks about it, what it would be like if Eddie were like him. He doesn’t even know what boys do with other boys, how that whole thing is supposed to work, not that he hasn’t tried to puzzle it out late at night and alone with his hand down his boxers…
“Hey, Eds, you think Bill and Bev fuck?” he asks, poking Eddie’s thigh with his toe, steering his thoughts towards the acceptably heterosexual and distracting.
Eddie makes a face “That’s fucking gross”
“Poor Bev, it’s probably not all that good. I don’t think Bill has any balls, fucking dickless…”
Eddie throws the entire handful of green skittles at him.
Richie reaches over to punch Eddie on the shoulder. He was expecting to be yelled at or punched back, he was not expecting Eddie’s retaliation to be a bodyslam that knocks the air out of him completely. Eddie is still small, especially when compared to Richie’s sudden gangly height, but he’s solid. There’s a long moment where Eddie’s full weight is on Richie’s hips, his breath, warm and candy-scented against Richie’s mouth. Richie’s heart is going a million miles an hour and he wonders if Eddie can feel it where his hands are pressed against his chest - the violent beat of it, the fear. They stare into each other’s eyes for a momentary eternity before Richie takes back his presence of mind and pushes Eddie off him.
They sit on opposite sides of the couch for the rest of the evening, barely glancing at each other.
Eddie is there, in the dream. They’re in some kind of cave that reminds Richie uncomfortably of the sewers; stalactites dripping like hungry teeth into brackish water below. It’s cold and clammy and not exactly pleasant but Eddie is there! In his arms! Warm and real like he never is in Richie’s dreams, solid, beautiful.
“I love you Eds” He says, breathless, cupping Eddie’s cheeks and looking him straight in the eyes with courage he didn’t know he possessed “I love you”
Eddie’s expression softens as they lean in for a kiss that feels like nothing and everything rolled into one.
Richie pulls back when he feels something slippery under his hands. At first, he thinks that Eddie is crying
“What’s wrong Richie?” says this rotting thing with Eddie’s voice “don’t you love me?”
“You’re a dirty boy aren’t you Richie? Dirty boy with a dirty secret.” That all to familiar clown laugh that sends Richie's heart into overdrive, breaking into a terrified cold-sweat. “Dirty boys get punished,” says Pennywise’s voice “Dirty boys get forgotten.”
“You’re dead!” shouts Richie, hysterical, trying to back away from the slimy writhing thing that used to be Eddie which reaches out for him pleadingly “We fucking killed you”
“You killed me, Richie,” says the thing, in a garbled facsimile of Eddie’s voice, “this will be all your fault”
Awakened by terror, Richie lies awake for some time, heart beating rabbit fast in his chest, breath coming in great sobbing gasps. Beside him, Eddie stirs, curling closer on himself, body a little C-curve in the gloom. His bare back is tiger-striped with the streetlight coming in through the Venetian blinds, washed-out white and black shadow in the incandescent glow. Shaking still, from the dregs of the nightmare, moving as if he is possessed, Richie leans in and kisses a nub of Eddie's spine, the shadow under a shoulder blade, the place at the nape of his neck where his hair curls. Eddie’s skin is sleep-warm and soft under Richie’s chapped lips, the smell of him salty and slightly medicinal.
“ ‘kay?” Eddie mumbles blearily, wiggling himself closer to Richie.
“Yeah” Richie replies, almost choking on the word.
He sleeps dreamlessly for the rest of the night, curled tight around Eddie's back, their legs intertwined.
If, upon waking, Eddie is weirded out by their proximity he doesn't show it, simply puts on cartoons in the living room and throws corn flakes at Richie out of the box as they sit on the floor and eat dry cereal and jellybeans for breakfast. Richie calls him a piece of shit and tells him that his mother has better aim, they fight, argue, rib each other; It's normal, it's good.
“I’m moving to Florida,” Eddie says suddenly, throwing a red jellybean in the air and failing to catch it in his mouth.
Richie who had been laying upside-down off the couch with his legs in the air falls to the floor with a thump. On the TV Tom and Jerry blow each other up with sticks of dynamite.
“You’re what?” he asks dully after a long moment. His stomach has dropped out of his body and it feels like there are bloody pieces of himself spread across the room like a grenade went off in his chest cavity, a personal detonation that Eddie can neither see nor hear.
“Moving to Florida. Mom says it’ll be better for my health down there, it’s warm and tropical which will be good for my asthma ...”
Richie stares at the ceiling in shock, willing himself not to cry. The sob is there, in his chest, tight and aching and full. His eyes prickle with tears that he won’t (can’t) let fall.
“Shit dude,” he says instead, flatly “you’re such a grandma even your mom wants to check you into a nursing home. Didn’t know that was possible. You’ll get so much old lady vag...”
“Fuck you, Richie” Eddie replies without any venom, eyes carefully trained on the TV.
The silence that falls is suffocating; broken, after 20 minutes or so by Richie’s retreat to the bathroom. He doesn’t cry, there’s no time for that, simply splashes water on his face, holding his eyes closed for longer than he needs to in order to try and catch his breath. He thinks about begging Eddie to stay, or maybe figuring out some way to go to Florida with him.
Of course, that would be stupid, not to mention selfish and wrong wrong wrong.
Dirty boys get punished. Maybe this was his punishment.
Eddie leaves the first week of June. The Losers all come to say goodbye on that last afternoon, gathered around the moving van in the driveway, helping Eddie carry boxes and trying to keep the mood light. Mrs. Kaspbrak orders them pizza in an ominous show of goodwill which they eat on the lawn, laughing and talking and trying to pretend it’s just a normal day. They peel away, one by one, as the whole thing becomes too much to bear; first Mike and Ben, then Stan pleading the imminent beginning of Shabbos. Bev sneaks away quietly, an Irish goodbye (her specialty), and Bill follows after her as soon as he realizes she’s gone. Eventually, it’s just Richie, standing frozen in the hulking shadow of the van, light moving towards sunset and his heart turning into stone.
“Hey, Eds?” Richie begins, kicking at a pebble with the toe of his shoe.
Eddie stops in the middle of the driveway, cocking his head in that uniquely Eddie way, to show that he is listening. He has a box in his arms and a smear of dust on his nose, one of his socks has fallen down and his hair has curled from sweat. Richie thinks he’s the most amazing thing he’s ever seen.
"Eddie, I..." and here it is, the aching crescendo, the waves of so many things, unsaid and heavy crashing down around his head. The words are there, at the back of his throat, rolling around in his head like clothes in the dryer, they beat themselves against his carefully gritted teeth in their efforts to break free. He’s so afraid he shakes with it.
‘ Thank you for believing in me’, he wants to say ‘thank you for coming back for me all the time, thank you for being there…’ and, most importantly, ‘I love you'.
"I fucked your mother" is what comes out instead.
Richie spends a long moment staring into Eddie's face, looking for some kind of recognition, some kind of understanding of what the words really mean.
Eddie opens his mouth to say something, expression terrible and sad, but Richie is already running. The slap of his shoes on the pavement is muffled by the thunder in his head, the urge to scream and kick things or maybe just lay down on the road and die, overwhelming and unbearable.
stupid Richie, stupid stupid stupid
He throws himself blindly into the woods, tumbling through a pricker bush and down a hill to land on his knees in the undergrowth. The rocks cut his knees, fresh blood seeping through a fresh hole in his jeans.
Eventually, he finds himself at the quarry, throwing rocks into the water just to hear them splash. Screaming himself hoarse just to hear his own heartbreak echo back at him. He imagines he can hear the engine of the moving van, start-up, idle for a moment and then slowly fade into the south.
Sometime around sunset - one of those early summer sunsets that linger like grenadine, cherry red and wild - he ends up on the kissing bridge. His face is crusty from crying and his hands tacky with dried blood from his fall through the pricker bush. His knee aches, his heart aches, and he’s not sure what to do with himself.
On a whim he takes out his pocket knife and carves two letters into the rail of the bridge; edging them in between the decades of full names and initials, squeezing in his heartbreak among the memories of every happy couple who had ever come out this way.
Don’t forget me he thinks, putting the middle rung on the ‘E’ with perhaps a bit more force than necessary Please don’t forget me.
Already on the outskirts of town and driving south, Eddie, through no fault of his own begins to do just that.