He told her not to call 911. Consciousness quivered, flashing its darkness across his eyes, a flame the color of nightfall. He told her he’ll come to on his own, it’s fine, there are things a kid like him can’t tell the authorities.
“Don’t. Is stupid, don’t.” And then when he sees her start towards the phone, “Please.”
The last thing he remembers is her voice, in and out, “--I think he took too much. No, he can’t walk,” and the thought that he’s brought this on himself. He should have fucking checked what that pill was before he crushed it, before he breathed it in and laid down. He dreams of the Vegas strip, though if he sees it, his mind doesn’t give it to him.
He wakes to a bleach-white room, things hooked up to him like he’s some experiment in the movies. If they gave him a needle of adrenaline, his heart’s got it now. It’s pumping the blood so fast he can feel it all racing through his body, can feel every beat, feel it reverberate in a skull-deep ache. Hands grab at the tubes, pulling them free, biting his lip as a bit of blood follows.
Nurses feel like they’re swarming him, speaking to him rapidly in English, pulling his hands apart, forcing the medicine back into his veins. He feels like Renfield, the vampire’s lackey, maddened and made food for heartless men of science, not listened to as he says—first in Russian, then in English—to let him go, that he cannot be here, to let him go back to KT’s house, she’ll give him a place to sleep! He swears it, over and over and over again.
The nurses don’t listen, but they, monstrous in the panic of a sixteen-year-old's delirium, friendless in a too-white room, aren’t the things that struck real fear into his heart. The man and woman in a suit swear they aren’t cops. Caseworkers, they call themselves.
“So you’re fucking kidnapping me,” he growls, tubed arms as crossed as they’ll go, and he glowers at the man, tall and imposing, meets steel grey eyes.
“We’re not kidnapping you, Boris,” the woman, voice dripping syrup and sharpness, and she reminds him of the doctors when his father had collapsed, lost the feeling in his feet the first time, “you’re a ward of the state, technically. We’re just looking for a place for you to go. We think we found a relative of yours.”
“Idiots,” Eyes roll. “Have no family. Mother’s eight years dead. Father may as well be.” It’s funny, how they’re not kidnappers only because they claim to own him already. What he hears is that he has no say in where he goes, that they know best, that he’s a rat to be caged and shipped and sterilized. This, he realizes, is what Kent was afraid of when he ran to the Big Apple, and for the third time this week, Boris wishes he’d gone with him. He thinks of his backpack, blessedly still with KT, and wonders where he’ll be taking that little bird he’d broken his own heart to protect, now.
“That’s the thing, Boris,” she keeps saying his name, like she wants a treat for remembering it. It makes Boris sick to his stomach. “Your parents, when we looked a little closer into your records--” her partner mumbles something about how hard it had been to find a damn thing about them, and Boris doesn’t even judge him for that; he is not surprised, “--had two children. One of them was adopted in ‘68. He’s living in Maine, now.”
Boris feels like he’s fucking dreaming, like he never came off an acid trip he could have long ago. This doesn’t make sense, and his brain feels fuzzy around the absurdity of it all. He needs them to slow the fuck down, and he wishes the bitch nurses and their judging glares hadn’t stopped giving him morphine. It’s all he can do to try and make them explain themselves.
“You’re telling me I have brother?”
His mom has been on the phone a lot, these past few days, and when she isn’t, she’s got papers to sign, or she’s pacing back and forth with his dad.
“They’re selling you on the black market for extra cash,” Eddie, ever the fucking charmer, when he confessed to things being weird. “Got sick of your ugly face.”
“It’s fine, I’ll just shack up with your mom.” He shoves him. “I’m your dad now, bitch.”
“Fuck you!” Eddie’s shoving him back. He’s gotten stronger, summer spent waiting tables and carrying heavy trays and days off spent in the sun at the quarry. Richie’s bowled over more than he used to be, when they’d been young and much smaller.
“Show some respect, son,” He jumps at Eddie, nearly misses, and they both go down, toppling off of Bill’s couch, finally causing their host, nose to his book, to pull his eyes back up again, tell them to knock it off, though he’s trying not to laugh.
When Richie goes back home that day, they’re both sitting in the kitchen, his father’s knuckles white around a cup of coffee. The kitchen has been cleaned. It’s too clean.
“I didn’t do it,” is the first thing out of his mouth. His mom only smiles fondly, and frankly, that makes his stomach tie in a worse not. Richie’s jaw goes slack for a moment. “Is--did grandma die?” His voice hikes up a bit. He’d have expected more fanfare, flowers, hospital visits, not the sudden spring of death.
“No--Richie, no one died,” his father’s voice, kind and level. “You’re not in trouble. Everything is fine.” If he had any reason to worry, still, it gives way to confusion.
“Okay,” brows pull his face upward, past the frames of his glasses. “Why are you guys being so weird?”
“Richie,” his mom, now, “There’s something we should have told you a long time ago. We were looking for the right time, but—well, things have come up. We need to have a talk.”
Richie’s trying to make sense of this, but if he’s honest, it feels like his door had been planted in front of the entrance to the Twilight Zone. “What?” He takes a seat before this gets anymore unreal and cliché, while his dad drains what’s left of his coffee.
“Richie, did you know we struggled to have children?” His dad, leaning back now, clearly leading him somewhere that Richie’s not quite sure where to follow.
“Uh, no.” Why would he, frankly?
“We did. After a while, your mother and I decided—well, we considered our options, and after a lot of deliberation, we decided to adopt.”
Richie can’t even call this the weirdest part of the conversation, by the end of it all.
He’s adopted. One of a pair, apparently, of boys who were scattered around the fucking globe. The other one’s a proper orphan, fifteen years after Richie Tozier had ceased to be called by some name that sounds like a side freak in Rambo. Richie Tozier has a long lost twin, and the words are about to collide.
The first person he mentions it to is Stan, after school that Friday. His parents have been showering him in compensation raises in his allowance, so he’s got a milkshake piled high with fudge and cream and cherries.
“--So basically some Russian chick didn’t want me, and now I’ve got an evil twin. They found him like, washed up in a hospital in Vegas or something.”
He doesn’t know how to feel. He hopes if he says it aloud, it’ll start to make sense. It doesn’t. Stan doesn’t know what to say, and he confesses as much, but he tells him he’s here, you know, if he needs anything or wants to talk. Richie never doubted that.
“Yeah. I just—you know what’s I can’t get out of my head?”
“His name’s fucking Boris . Like, Boris-and-Natasha, Boris? How fucking stereotypical can my secret Russian twin get?”
Derry, Maine is cold. He remembers days in the sun, shrinking from it, but glad, at the least, he was not cold. It was cold in the Ukraine, on streets he’d nearly been left to wander for who knew how long, and the Las Vegas wisdom told him never to so much as take ice in his drink—but he’s two feet out of the little airport when wind and drizzle whip him in the face, leave his eyes stinging and his body shivering despite the sweater. He does not belong here—he is a boy made to belong nowhere, but some places, truly, seem like they have no space to hold him. He wraps his arms around himself as he steps off the platform, fingers digging into his arm like it’ll hold him together.
Maggie Tozier has a sign with his name on it when he lands. WELCOME, BORIS. By the din of the plane, he’s the only Boris flying from Nevada to Nowhere. She’s a beautiful woman, all dark ringlets and sunny smile, violet coat and perfume that wafts to his nose when she hugs him. It’s the nice kind of perfume, not Xandra’s drugstore chemical wash dumped on herself to cover the scent of vodka and cigarettes. She has a man next to her, manicured and official looking, her husband. Their son, he learns, will be at school, probably home by the time they arrive.
He gets into the Toziers’ car with the woman and her husband, hugging the bag that contains his clothes and something more important, to his chest, keeping it when Wentworth Tozier offers to help it.
“Thank you. Am alright. Would like to hang onto it.” He can’t tell him what he’s holding, but Wentworth seems to realize it’s a part of Boris, or something close enough to it, that he is not yet ready to hand off to someone else. He nods, gently touches his shoulder in a fatherly squeeze, the likes of which Boris knows from the movies more than life. He’s a good man, if there are any.
Maggie is nothing like his mother, nothing like anyone he’s ever known for more than a few days at a time, but when she sees him shivering, she takes him to a store, off the side of the road and buys him a new jacket.
“Cannot pay you back for it,” he says, not offering or apologizing, but resigning to it. He cannot imagine he has much to offer such a picture of American-groomed, picture-perfect life. This is a life of trimmed lawns, to a boy who comes from sand that blows in your eyes when the weather turns. She’ll grow sick of him before the month is out, he is certain, and what blood he shares with her son will be choked out by the weeds of whatever disdain must grow for the interloper thrown into her family. He cannot let himself hope for me, and he does not. Kent had that fancy family in New York he claimed never wanted him. This will be like that.
Maggie’s eyes, hazel and round, look at him, a little lost. “Pay me? You’re not my guest, Boris. Besides, the weather’s turning here. You’re going to want that coat, especially once the winter comes.”
On the drive to her neighborhood, she turns up the heat and turns on the radio. “Do you mind?” He tells her he doesn’t, and he learns back in his seat, while they ask him questions—does he have a coat, what does he like to eat (anything, but if you’re offering, he’ll put away enough Italian to feed the Vatican), does he have school books yet (he doesn’t), what does he like to do (he’s at a loss and they see that he’s a dog in the headlights), so he likes to read, what’s his favorite book (The Idiot, Civil Disobedience, Dune, Demons, Pushkin).
He’s finally warmed up by the time they reach the house, and they order in, Maggie quickly adding--“Please, don’t think poorly of us, we were just so busy getting everything ready, I haven’t had the time”--and he can barely believe that warrants an apology--“Do not mind at all, would not turn down any food” insistent, eyes a little wide.
While Wentworth orders Chinese, a teenage boy comes down the stairs. He has glasses bigger than his head, makes him look like he’s more eye than skin, hair as wild as Boris’s own, standing at the same height. The first thing Boris notices, after the glasses and the hair, is the pattern of bright flowers on his shirt, open over a plain grey t-shirt below it. He’s dressed like KT’s dad used to dress when he picked her up from school.
“You are—Richard?” Boris is bad with names, when he hasn’t made them himself. He’s got an ex-girlfriend in Vegas, and he couldn’t tell you what name her mother gave her. He thinks he remembered the right name; the man and the woman in suits had given him a Russian name and an English one, and told him a thousand other things that sounded like ambient white noise while he recovered.
“Dude, Richie,” There’s a wrinkle to his nose when Boris calls him Richard. He understands, he supposes—Kent had hated it when old people called him ‘Theodore,’ and his dearest Katya in the Ukraine would have put your lights out for calling her Ekaterina. There’s an awkward pause, and Richie holds his hand out and to the side. “Uh-- mi casa su casa. ” His accent’s terrible, it’s kind of hilarious.
Boris takes his hand and through the hand shake pulls him in, an awkward side hug of attempted fraternity. “Nice to meet you, brother,” he says, abandoning Richard, Richie, or what the thinks might have been his name at birth (Kolya? Anatoly? Whatever).
The Chinese takeout feels gourmet after a day of nothing but airline bags of nuts—tiny, oily, made his mouth feel burned with all their salt—and water. He’s had worse, but he isn’t usually miles above the earth for those days. Through a hearty mouthful of lo Mein, Richie asks him “Do you like arcade games? There’s a decent one in town.”
Boris doesn’t tell him that the Strip is filled with slot machines were idiots and tourists lose it all, without much fun not meant to scam. “I know nothing of these games,” he confesses.
This doesn’t daunt Richie, or if it does, he doesn’t show it. “I can show you sometime. I’ll go easy on you at StreetFighter.”
Boris snorts. “Am new, not deficient. Will catch up to you, probably, in no time.”
It isn’t quite natural, the two of them, not yet. Richie looks at him like he’s scrutinizing his reflection in a faulty mirror, not quite sure what’s his face and that’s the medium, not sure what he likes and what he doesn’t. Boris doesn’t mind, he supposes, and he wouldn’t have been too shocked to come to more hostility, for an intrusion into the life that’s been his without interruption for ages. This is, if anything, a surprise so pleasant he keeps looking for the place where the ground will give beneath him, he’ll crash back into nothingness, or worse.
He spends his first two days aloof, hiding up in his room, always saying he didn’t need anything when asked, waiting until voices have died down in the sitting rooms.
Sunday night he catches himself feeling hungry, half his body adjusting to this new world, half in dread of a new school full of new bullshit looming, just eight hours away from him. He slips from his room, sure not to close it too quickly, but more importantly, too slowly either. Without a creak, socked-disguised feet traverse the stairs, a thief in the night.
The dark of the kitchen is broken by a sliver from the fridge—he'd be nervous in a one-floor home as he’d had before, but here, with stairs between him and anyone else, he risks little in opening wide, pulling all the makings of a sandwich for late night feasting, a stolen pleasure that feels like being home.
Home, never a place for the vagrant he’d been raised as, was a sensation, a set of things he relied on, or more dangerously, a set of things he’d needed. Making home a person left him a vagabond for months, but making it the simple thrill of taking care of himself while the world was quiet had been learned in spite of violent rages, of guests who had guns in the backs of their cars.
He’s halfway through putting the bread away when he hears the light flick on behind him. Fuck . He stops, shiny plastic frozen as it catches the light; his only movement is a hand gripping tighter, feeling the loaf get smaller beneath his hand, deflating with the strike of fear while his heart stops for a moment.
Maggie Tozier is standing in the entryway, bathrobe fluffy, looking like mint ice cream molded to float around her. “Oh,” she blinks, as she takes in the sight of a teenage boy in her pantry.
Boris swallows, says nothing, and doesn’t face her fully, just looks out of the corner of his eye. This, he thinks, should be where the shoe drops. He is heavy with memory, laden like a wet winter coat, from all the times his father hadn’t wanted the sight of his son to interrupt his fitful sleep on the couch, raising hands or canes or glass bottles, shouting in some slurred half-language of a drunken maniac, while Boris either stood there and let it fall, or shouted something back, tempting fate like a madman in his own right, or cut and ran.
He barely remembers that he is in Maine, his mind lost in Texas, Alaska, Poland, Autralia, Vegas and who knew were, until it’s a woman’s voice—it brings him back. There hadn’t been a woman’s voice at home since he was small, and he couldn’t recall it being so clear.
“I didn’t hear you come down, you scared me,” there’s something like a laugh in her voice, and Boris’s breath comes back to him, he can feel his hand enough to set the bread town, slowly turn back to her. “Hungry, too?” She asks.
Boris nods, gestures towards the snack he hadn’t made purely for the fuck of it. She looks It over, with a little interest, but then back it him. Her eyes are the same vibrant, light-brightened warm they had been in the airport.
“Don’t stay up too late, okay? Tomorrow is a big day.”
He agrees not to, shuffles back up the stairs. When he passes her, there’s something sad in her eyes.
“Are you okay, Boris?”
“Never better.” She doesn’t press him, but she gives his shoulder a squeeze before he disappears up the staircase.
High school in Vegas and high school in Maine vary only in the coats that replace the tank tops he sees everywhere. The same kinds of burnouts, geniuses, children of important types, and the like run around, all with their groups, none of them of much interest to Boris. What differs, mostly, is what a spectacle a new kid is in a town so small.
He’s whispered about, but he doesn’t care, but for when one kid, tall, dark-haired and menacing corners him in a bathroom, to ask if it’s true he’s a criminal, that he had drugs. Boris leaves the room with three fewer pills--“can last you longer if you crush them and snort it,”--and fifty dollars pooled between the kid and two of his friends. He doesn’t tell him that’s the shittiest of his batch, not quite worth what he charged. A man had to make a living, and wasn’t that the American way? Scamming for capital? He’s pretty sure that’s part of a day in the life in America. It certainly served him damn well on the strip, buying new jackets and eating caviar like a Polish mogul.
Lunch bell comes, and he enjoys it alone with The Idiot . He does not sit with his brother and friends, despite an invitation on the bus. “Do not want to seem needy, Richard--”
“Name is Boris, Richard, not Jesus. Think Jesus was probably swarthy.” Richie rolls his eyes. “Anyway, cannot seem too needy, clinging to twin for friends. Looks pathetic. Will play the field for a while. See if people come to me.”
“What, going to turn on the million dollar charm?”
“Charm is middle name, Richard.”
“Isn’t it V—fuck, I don’t know, Sputnik or something?”
Boris had laughed, enough it made his cheeks hurt at that. “Volodomyrvych,” he corrected.
“Fuck, dude, how’d you say that with your mouth?” He likes Richie more when the parents arent around to insist he be gracious. He’s got a mouth on him, and a mouth suggests he’s got a brain.
“Whatever, Richard. Maybe some other week.”
It’s AP English class, for the second time in his young life, that gives him something to think about beyond slogging through. He’s got his glossy textbook on his lap, trying to pick up from the board where they are, when a young man with a headfull of curls is the only one without a partner to talk to.
He’s nervous, not much of a talker, and that suits Boris just fine from the start. Stanley Uris, so the boy’s name is, may not have the gift of the gab, but Boris Pavklikovsky may well have deep-throated the Blarney stone. It takes two minutes and he’s got him laughing, a smile that melts away all the nervous ice. Finally, he thinks, someone worth talking to in class.
Stanley is as brilliant as he is endearing. His presentation on the Odyssey speaks to Boris in the way an oracle must.
“Odysseus is left feeling like twenty years were wasted, like the loss, love, mistakes and monsters were a footnote in the life he should have been living. But when you consider that twenty years is nearly half his life—his son’s whole life, we have to wonder why life is only life if it’s in Ithaca. Shouldn’t he consider, wherever he is, on whatever course, everything to be part of the same life?”
It’s the kind of thing that Boris has felt in his soul for ages, that he cannot exist with an endgame on some path determined by God or America or the writers of fairytales. He can only be, wandering or still, but never fixed.
He goes home that night and dreams about Kolibri. He’s sitting next to him, heat of some unfamiliar place on both of their backs, and he’s telling him about birds while Boris lies on his front in the grass, content to listen. Though Boris keeps his own body shielded from the sun by a dark umbrella, the other boy is shining under its glow in his hair, cheekbones seeming sharper. When Boris sits up to ask him a question, Kolibri’s hand is on his cheek, and their lips are close, closer, he can feel the heat of them--
He wakes up feeling breathless, like the kiss had truly happened.
The next morning, a Saturday, he walks to the corner store. In it, a little bird, green and luminescent, puts his little break in a flower. Boris swipes it, and spends the next five days deciding to put it in Kolibri’s locker.
Men are shot for feeling like this, for doing the kinds of things he used to with another boy a world away, touching one another, lost in kisses and gentle touches that turned into more. He would have been killed if his father so much as suspected his son had once gripped the sheets and let himself play the girl in bed.
Boris had let himself feel it once unexamined—life was such that a man felt strange things, surely. But a second time, compared to so many kisses from girls he wiped off his mouth afterwards, meant something more. Kolibri, as much as the look on Maggie’s face when he’d brought home a passing exam, kept him waking up through hidden hangovers and going to school.
Boris was in love, whether he was allowed to be, who could say?
He found himself rereading Anna Karenina, laughing madly as Levin entered a damned flurry of feelings he ought not to have. He knew why every great lover was a lover of those he should not adore; the people who make the rules, who hold their fists high, are ever the enemies of love.
After he puts the note in his locker, a boy from his English class bumps against him, calls him a dirty commie, says he ought to be expelled for the freedom of everyone else.
Boris spits on his shoes, “Yet it is American telling fellow man how he should live.” He knees the boy where he’ll feel it for a while, shoves him away and runs to Richie’s locker, to catch up , he insists.
He wonders if that boy knows it’s Reagan who thinks men should die for who they fuck. He doesn’t think a patriot pig like that cares.
Friday following that first note, he’s sitting in their usual seats. If Kolibri knows who sent it, he doesn’t shows. Boris half-wishes he never does. It can be something between the two of them, this connection that bathes them both in golden light for an hour every day. They need not share it with the world and all its bastards who would make a mockery of them both.
“You know, is laughable, really, Americans all assigned to read The Jungle ,” he says, flipping through a copy Wentworth had read in college, had given to him with a smile, apologizing for leftover notes. He would never know what a treasure it seemed, to Boris, to have someone’s thoughts entrusted to him like that.
“Yeah? Why’s that?”
“Whole book is rage against communist system! Do you not see how poor man has no means to advance himself and goes every day to mutilation and corpses of thousands of rats to package the fucking sausage his boss buys for dime? That man came to America for better life? Is life better? He found competition with thousand hungry mouths, the money means no one cares about quality only make, make, make, finish, finish, finish. Do you really think Sinclair would be happy to come here now, see all of us breaking back to buy mass produced garbage from descendents of same wealthy sons of bitch?” He’s hot under the collar, wishes he had something to support his point further.
Kolibri pauses for a while. His brows are closer together than they were a moment ago. “No, I guess I don’t think he would. You know, you bring up a good point—can they even afford the things they’re making?”
“Not under system,” Boris snorts. “Why do you think there are so many poor man thieves, eh?”
“Like in Victor Hugo. Les Miserables .”
“Have not read,” he confesses. “What happens?”
A smile, and Kolibri seems pleased to have something to add. He cares as much as Boris does, a thought that gives him something like hunger pangs. “I’ve been going through it. I’m trying to make my French more fluent. But the main character stole bread to feed his sister’s child. He served nineteen years hard labour for it.”
Boris nods, and adds, in French, “ There are a thousand of those men in every nation .” How better to tell him he had learned that tongue well before English?
They speak in French often after that day, Boris feeling more at ease, Kolibri delighted to stretch his legs.
Richie brings Stan along when they finally play StreetFighter for a second time. Boris may have went away with egg on his face, but he vowed revenge with enough gusto that Richie had trouble taking him seriously.
“Kolibri! Did not tell me you were going to be here!” He pulls Kolibri in, grabbing at the arm, hugging him with the aggression of a bear, clapping him on the back as he pulls away. Stan, for his part, gave a tentative squeeze around Boris’s middle, nervous, quick, like his namesake’s kiss to a flower.
“Stan, you know Sputnik?” Richie’s head tilts as he looks between the two of them. Kolibri pauses for a reply, mouth open and wordless.
“Of course I know Kolibri. Is best part of shitty, cold wasteland.”
“Wait, Kolibri is—this guy?”
Kolibri’s looking at Boris with those eyes of his, and his cheeks pick up some color they hadn’t had before. “You mentioned me at home?”
Boris shrugs, sweater feeling suddenly hotter, scratching him more than it had before. “A little. We went home together once—to work on English Project, eh?” It’s an admission that he cares (veiled, because anything too explicit will become a confessional on his knees, and he’ll be mad with embarrassment, surely) as much as it is a promise that Boris’s blow to Hockstetter, the drinks they shared in one another’s company, and the like, were all kept safe, something only they knew. He would never share something that might come back to Kolibri that he would rather keep quiet.
“Yeah--” oh, his smile, paired with that flush are going to be the death of him. His heart aches and something else, too. “We should hang out again sometime.”
“Any time, Kolibri. Say the word.” He flashes fingers like guns at him and they stand their for a moment, basking in it.
“Hey, uh,” Richie’s cutting in. “I’m gonna hit the payphone and see if Eddie’s coming. So uh, you to go play.” Boris catches his eye and his heart twists. He remembers himself, vodka-drunk after Halloween, telling Richie what a treasure Kolibri was, how he would kill for this boy from English class, how he’d already done violence for him, how he makes Derry worth it all.
Richie lets them take their moment, and Boris could cry and embrace him. “Catch you later, Brat. ”