Georgie’s dead, Bill! You couldn’t save him, but maybe you can still save yourself.
This is what It wants…to divide us.
It was real enough for Georgie!
Because you weren’t there.
The last statement echoes in Bill’s head like it did in the sewer drain and for a fleeting moment Bill almost turns around and climbs right back on Silver. He can see it so clearly in his mind’s eye, taking off like a bat out of hell and letting Silver lead him right up to the edge of the Barrens before breaking through the fence and plunging him to his imminent death. It would be…right. It would be just. It would be exactly what he deserved for punching Richie in the face, nearly getting Eddie and Ben killed, and not being there for Georgie all those months ago when he needed him most. For letting Georgie die.
Because Georgie is dead and Bill knows it. He thinks he knew it all along.
But even now Bill needs something to believe in, so he imagines his father’s face when Bill doesn’t return home that night. He imagines his mother’s tears when Bill’s mangled body is found by the police and she’s informed that she’s lost both of her sons. She cries and cries and cries and won’t be consoled until she falls into a fitful sleep, hugging his old, faded quilt to her chest.
Bill’s always had a good imagination.
Hands shaking with the last wisps of adrenaline called up by that godawful voice in the sewer, Bill clomps up the porch steps instead, leaving Silver in a heap on the front lawn. The house is quiet as always, not a trace of life left in it. He’d give anything to hear his mother play piano again.
The only noise is the low hum of the TV and when Bill peeks into the family room he finds his mother on the couch, the duvet from her and Dad’s bed draped around her shoulders like a cape. She doesn’t even look up when he walks into the room. He wonders how long she’s been sitting there.
“Mama,” he says quietly, voice shaking. When she still doesn’t look up, doesn’t acknowledge him with so much as a blink, it sends a wave of pain zinging through his stomach and up into his chest like he hasn’t felt in months. Being thirteen is being adaptable, being able to get used to anything – even silent parents and an empty bedroom down the hall – but he’s weak today. His little brother is dead and his friends are scattered to the wind and Bill is weak, so fucking weak, and all he wants is his mom to hold him. He wants her to take care of him, but even on his weakest day Bill knows that that part of his childhood is over. So instead he tries, “Do you want me to g-g-get you some w-w-w-w—” He cuts himself off, face going warm. “Some w-w-w—”
His mother sighs in annoyance. “Some what, Billy?” she demands, the words loud and ringing in the hush of the house. “Just say it, for God’s sake.”
Bill flinches, sweat beading at his hairline. Some water! he wants to shout. I want to get you some water because you’re wasting away and I love you and I want you to love me, too! But he knows his tongue is too tangled up to form even half of that, so Bill finally just shakes his head and clamps his mouth shut. He backs out of the family room and into the hallway without so much as a n-nevermind in explanation. Mom doesn’t call after him.
Throat thick with emotion, Bill bypasses his own bedroom at the top of the stairs to nervously push open the door to Georgie’s room. It creaks in warning – get out of here while you still can! – but Bill doesn’t heed it. He’s used to Georgie’s room being haunted and a part of him even invites it. He’s so weak it’s pathetic and he needs his little brother, dead or not.
There are no ghosts today, though. Just folded clothes Georgie will never wear again and scattered picture books full of short words and big letters. Bill doesn’t cry, but he does curl up on his brother’s bed and hug the old, faded quilt to his chest. When he drifts off it’s to the muted sound of the TV downstairs and the scuffing of the Losers’ sneakers against the pavement as they left him behind.
Dinner, unsurprisingly, is a somber affair.
Bill used to try to fill the silences with idle chatter about his day or desperate questions about his dad’s work, but after being snubbed and dismissed time and time again he gave up. Besides, with the aching hole in his chest where his friends are supposed to be and the leftover nerves from his earlier confrontation with his mother, he knows he won’t be able to choke out anything resembling a complete sentence. So he eats in silence, the food tasteless in his mouth.
He leaves his mashed potatoes for last because he hates them. He’s always hated them and back when he could speak with some level of competence, he was sure to remind his parents of that fact whenever possible. “Just a couple bites, Billy,” his father would order, tone brooking no argument. “Your mother worked so hard on them.”
He was a good boy back then – he always did what he was told, swallowing the potatoes down with a huge glass of milk so he wouldn’t have to taste them. Georgie’s giggles and his mom’s tolerant but appreciative ruffle of his hair always made it worth it.
But Bill’s not so sure he’s a good boy anymore. His knuckles are bruised from colliding with Richie’s jaw and his teeth ache from clenching them in his sleep, his nap far from restful as a creepy, almost alien voice carved because you weren’t there into his dreams. The blankets beneath him had been soaked with sweat when his father woke him up for dinner.
Good boy or not, he dutifully shoves his mashed potatoes into his mouth, trying to be quick about it. He can’t help it – he gags out loud, face going hot with embarrassment when his parents turn to look at him for what feels like the first time in days. “S-sorry,” he stutters out, ducking his head. “I’m sorry.”
Then he tries one more bite – the requirement was always just two, sweetie – and chokes again.
Dad is looking at him like he’s crazy. “What’s wrong with you? You love potatoes,” he snaps and that’s when Bill starts crying.
The tears are huge and gross and pour down his cheeks like he’s out in the middle of a rainstorm with his face tilted toward heaven. They leave dark spots on his t-shirt when they drip off of his chin, looking like little drops of blood on the red fabric. The thought makes him cry harder and he ends up drooling into his plate because he just can’t help it.
Neither of his parents move to comfort him, staring at him with wide eyes, and that’s what finally makes his mouth come to life, his stupid fucking stutter be damned.
“No, I d-don’t!” he wails, knowing how unhinged he looks and unable to care. “I don’t! I hate them! It’s G-G-G-Georgie that liked them and he’s not here anymore because he’s f-fucking dead!”
“Billy!” his mother cries, pressing a shocked hand to her heart. “Language!”
As if that’s the point. As if that’s the fucking point.
Hysterical, Bill jumps to his feet, nearly upending his tear-soaked dinner plate. “He’s dead, Mama!” he cries, more to himself than to anyone else. It’s the first time he’s said it out loud. “And I know you wish it was m-m-me instead – shit, I wish it was me instead – but that’s not what h-happened! I can’t bring Georgie b-b-b-b—” He groans wetly, scrubbing at his burning eyes in annoyance when his tongue knots up. “—back and I can’t b-be him, either!”
“No one’s asking you to be Georgie!” Dad shouts, getting to his feet as well. His chair scrapes against the linoleum floor and it makes Bill recoil, stumbling away from the table. His father is scary when he’s angry. “How can you say that?”
When Dad comes to stand before Bill, towering over him with eyes full of fire, Bill is struck with a feeling of insignificance so strong he thinks he might throw up. He feels tiny. He feels stupid, crying into his mashed potatoes like a fucking baby. It makes him shrink away, his back colliding with the kitchen counter. “I can’t fill up the empty space,” he finally whispers, speaking at a glacial pace so as not to stutter. “There’s n-not enough of me.” He gulps. “I’m not enough.”
His parents drop their gazes like it hurts to look at him. It’s an answer, just not the one Bill was hoping – wishing, praying, begging – for. He leaves the kitchen without another word.
But, unlike pretty much every other night of Bill’s life, this time there’s nowhere to go. No brother, no Losers’ Club, not even little Eddie who’s been by Bill’s side since they were eight. He’d thought he’d known what it was like to be alone before, but this kind of alone scoffs in the face of all that. This kind of alone is oppressive and ugly and sneering. For a fleeting second, this alone looks kind of like a clown and Bill shudders, eyes filling with fresh tears.
Because you weren’t there, It had said. That’s why It killed Georgie. That’s why It chose him when It could have chosen any little kid in Derry.
And now the Losers aren’t here, either, and Bill can feel It breathing down his neck. But that’s right, he figures. That’s just.
What’s a little more empty space, after all.