The night after they killed the clown, Eddie started to dream.
He didn’t, as a general rule. Between the melatonin and the Paxil, he was knocked out cold for nine hours every night. It was one of the few areas of his health that he was satisfied with, and so of course Derry ruined it.
It wasn’t a nightmare, which would have been bad enough. He remembered having terrible ones as a kid, waking up on the verge of screaming, hiding under his covers with his inhaler so his mother wouldn’t hear him and want to know why, Eddie, why are you having such bad dreams? What have you been doing that’s giving you such terrible nightmares? Instead, it was lucid but muted, like he was watching someone else’s life through a blue-gray filter over his eyes and inside his head.
He came into awareness standing next to the bed in Richie’s room in the Derry Town House, looking down at his own body. Richie was on his back, and Eddie was wrapped around his right side—almost on top of him, actually. Richie held him close even in sleep. It was strange, Eddie thought. He always slept ramrod straight on his back with his arms at his sides, but there he was, his head on Richie’s chest and his fingers wound in the fabric of Richie’s shirt like he was afraid he’d let go in the night. It made something inside him shiver, and he felt goose bumps rise on his arms.
“He can’t even keep his mouth shut when he’s unconscious,” Stan said, gesturing to Richie, whose mouth was indeed open.
“I don’t know why I’m even surprised,” Eddie said. He ran his fingers along Richie’s arm, the pale inner curve of his wrist that was somehow so vulnerable that even within the emotionless walls of the dream, he felt struck by his own affection. Richie made a faint displeased noise and kicked his foot, and Eddie pulled away.
“Remember how he thought none of us knew he sucked his thumb?” Stan asked. “He didn’t stop until he went to this quack hypnotist in college. Or maybe not such a quack. It did work, after all.”
“How did you know that?” Eddie asked. There was something else he was supposed to ask Stan, but he couldn’t quite remember what it was.
“One of the great benefits of being dead.”
Oh, he thought. That’s right. Stan’s dead. And he looked it. He was so pale he almost glittered in the dark room, bloodless and hard, somehow. It was Stan, though, and Eddie hadn’t even realized how much he missed him until he was right there, soft spoken and firm and sensible.
“Why are you dead?” he asked.
“That’s a rude question,” Stan said. “Why are you dead?”
“I’m not,” Eddie said, but when Stan looked pointedly at his torso, he followed his line of sight and saw that there was a sizable hole where his ribs should have been. It didn’t hurt, but it was disgusting. “God, that’s a lot of—what is that? Is that my fucking liver?”
“Yeah, that does look like liver,” Stan said mildly. “Definitely gall bladder.”
He was starting to panic despite the dream’s dampening effect, his breath gasping out in thin whistling sheets until Stan put a cold hand on his arm.
“I’m dead because I remembered,” he said. “I knew I’d have to remember it the rest of my life. It would wake up with me, go to bed with me. While I was making love with my wife, it would be in the room with us. Staring me in the face.”
“No,” Stan said. “Not we all. The rest of you, you can live with it. I don’t know how. I never could. It’s not sane. Do you see?”
Stan’s voice contained some emotion for the first time, a strained plea. Eddie wanted to see, and he almost could, but there was always something different in Stan’s makeup and he couldn’t quite reach far enough to figure it out.
“I don’t know why I can live with it either,” Eddie said. Stan gestured at the collapsed ruin of his chest again, but he lifted his chin toward his sleeping self, who was very much alive. “We’re not forgetting, but I don’t know how.”
“You and Richie,” Stan said.
“Me and Richie.” He got goose bumps again, a quick shiver that made his scalp tingle. He had felt like that about Richie a lot when they were younger. It was something that hadn’t really come back until he saw him—the flash of irritation along with the little drop in his stomach. It was so familiar, that sense of Richie, the energy that rose just from being near him, all his nerve endings alight, the strange comfort and excitement of touching him, without the barrier that existed between Eddie and every other person in the world. The anxiety of how other people felt and what they might have touched and whether the invasive species of their living and breathing would take over his immune system made some social interactions a nightmare. He had lived with Myra long enough that he viewed their household as some sort of amorphous biome blob, but they didn’t touch much anyway. And that’s fine, he told himself, the way he always did. But none of that had ever been an issue with Richie.
“You have a lot of things to think about,” Stan said.
“Everything about my life,” Eddie agreed, and then sighed and felt as if he were deflating. “I don’t want to. I wish I could just go on not knowing.”
“Think of yourself as the opposite of me,” Stan said. “My life was perfect and remembering destroyed it. Destroying your life would be a blessing. You have nowhere to go but up.”
“Jesus fuck, that’s harsh,” Eddie said, but he was laughing anyway, for a moment at least. “We needed you, Stanny. I wish you had been here. I wish we could have saved you.”
“The turtle couldn’t save us,” Stan said, with terrible gentleness.
“I know,” Eddie said, but Stan was gone. The bed was gone. Eddie was in the pit again, the clown’s lair, pushing at the rocks falling around him but unable to lift his arms enough to stop himself from being buried alone in the dark.
On occasion, when he was returning from a business trip, he’d tell Myra he was coming in the day after he was actually coming in, and he would stay in a hotel in the city alone. It was just a break, he rationalized. Everyone needed some alone time. It took a lot out of him to recount every minute they had been apart while he was fussed over from top to bottom, all his suitcases scoured and searched through to make sure nothing bad had happened while he was out of sight even though he texted her constantly to let her know what he was doing.
She worried. She loved him. She wanted him to be safe. He knew all these things and also knew that none of it was actually about him. He loved her too, when it came down to it. They loved each other in the way of two people stuck in a sanitarium together for eternity. If he cared a little more or a little less it would be easier, perhaps, to leave, easier to be cruel for the sake of being kind to them both. But their sicknesses needed each other, and he didn’t know how to separate them.
That was what he had told himself any number of times over the years. Myra needed him and he needed her, and he was not going to abandon her just because sometimes he woke up in his own body and realized he had spent weeks completely checked out. Just because he went to a meditation retreat upstate on a recommendation from his cardiologist and when the woman leading the morning meditation said, “Reach for the quiet inside you, the quiet that comes after a bell is finished ringing,” he reached for the quiet inside him and had such a bad asthma attack that he had to be taken to the hospital. Just because he and Myra together had a monthly self-care budget that was more than their car and mortgage payments together and he still felt like he was holding himself together with a very frayed and shaky thread.
Just because he had crushed an alien demon’s heart in his hands and remembered the childhood he’d forgotten and had spent the night curled up in his best friend’s arms, when he usually needed absolute silence and darkness on top of the Paxil and melatonin to stay asleep or he’d be a total dick, but here he was in a hotel room by himself, having told Myra he wouldn’t be home until the next day, and he was as rested and calm as he had ever felt in his life. His weird dream aside, he had slept amazingly well, although now when he thought about why he had slept so well his brain snapped automatically to the Kissing Bridge and he felt flushed all over. It was twelve degrees hotter in New York than in Derry according to his weather app, and he had clearly not acclimated to the end of spring.
Reach for the quiet inside you, he thought, and sat down on the floor of the hotel room, ignoring the fact that he was sitting on the floor of a hotel room. He had spent a good twenty-four hours with leper vomit in his hair and he was fine; the fact that there was no way this room had been disinfected properly was not going to kill him. He reached for the fucking quiet inside his brain and found it there, for the first time. There was nothing but the breath sliding in and out of Eddie Kaspbrak’s healthy lungs, the beat of Eddie Kaspbrak’s healthy heart pumping blood through his healthy arteries to his strong, healthy limbs.
I’m not just not sick, he thought. I’m alive.
There was something underneath the thought, a feeling threatening to overtake him, and he shut it down fast. The thought was enough on its own; he was alive. That was more than he had let himself have, if he had to be honest, for most of the time he had actually been alive. And what was the point of everything, anyway, existing and just holding everything together as tight as he could so it wouldn’t fall apart? What did he even want?
Well, a voice that sounded a lot like Stan’s asked him, what do you want, Eddie?
What are you looking for, Eddie? asked the leper’s voice.
“Fucking nope,” he said, jumping to his feet, and went out to get some something to eat.
But for all that, he probably would have slid right back into his old life, sleepwalking except for the occasional awakening during which he looked around and saw it all with clear eyes and then shut them again, if it weren’t for Stan.
The letter arrived a week after he flew back to New York and went home and did not leave. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to, because he was far from the same person who had left only a few days before, but he simply couldn’t figure out how to begin. Every path toward changing his life started with explaining where the hell he had been and why he was different now, and he knew there was no way he could figure out a reasonable lie and stick to it for however long it would take to extricate himself. He’d break down in no time and once that happened, the battle was as good as lost.
It took Myra a visit to a doctor who assured them four times that the stitches he had received in Derry were perfectly fine to accept that he was really okay, that it was just an accident in his hotel room. Hadn’t he always said bathrooms were dangerous? Lacking any reasonable explanation for running off like a thief in the night, he had told her that it was a memorial for a childhood friend who had died. It was a shitty lie, and he knew she’d research Derry while he was gone. He would have, if he were her, and if she had seen even half the statistics that were out there about his hometown, for once in Eddie and Myra Kaspbrak’s lives, reality might have finally justified their usual level of caution.
“I just don’t understand,” she said as he drove back from the follow-up visit, staring sightlessly out of the window of his rental. “If you slipped in the bathroom and this happened, wouldn’t the hotel be negligent? I can’t believe you didn’t even take pictures. That town is a nightmare, Eddie.”
“I don’t want to sue anybody,” he said again. “It was my fault, anyway. I was drinking.”
“Drinking,” she said. “Drinking?”
“Can we not talk about this? I would really like to never think about it,” he said. Not any of it, not Derry or the Losers or his fucking face, none of it, ever again. There was a tight burning sensation under his ribs and he shuddered. He had spent most of the time since he’d returned at work, and he realized he hadn’t eaten all day. “Do you have Tums with you?”
She did, and handed three to him in a silence that pointedly did not tell him this was what came of drinking enough that he tripped over his own toiletry bag and landed on the corner of a towel rack. The doctor had kindly not questioned his story, although the look he gave Eddie spoke of deep disappointment at his inability to tell a credible lie.
The mail had arrived by the time they got home. “Who’s Patty Uris?” Myra asked, holding up a thin envelope and squinting at it.
His heart gave a painful slap and he reached for it without thinking, snatching it out of her hand as if he thought she might be able to read the truth through the envelope. “That’s his wife,” he said when he had it in his hand. “The guy who died. Stan.”
She handed him the letter opener and watched him open it, the way she always did. Myra was not exactly a nosy person, but opening a letter was a dangerous undertaking, and he had already proven he couldn’t be trusted near moderately sharp objects.
He read the letter—in Stan’s rigorously neat handwriting, which Eddie remembered being a little jealous of because he had always gotten terrible grades in penmanship—as he walked absently through the house, up the stairs, and into the guest bathroom. It was short enough that he had finished it by the time he got there, shut the door behind him, locked it, and sat on the edge of the bathtub. He read it through once more and reached for his phone, but his hands had gone unsteady and he fumbled it and the letter. As they both dropped to the floor, he wrapped his arms around himself and cried so hard he could feel the stitches in his cheek pulling. After a second he had to cover his mouth with his shaking hands to stifle the screams that threatened until all that came out was quiet choking noises.
When the worst of it had passed, he called Richie. There wasn’t any thought behind it; it was Richie he wanted and he reached out blindly for him. He got his voicemail—What did you expect? Just text me—and sighed shakily, staring at his text screen for a while and trying to write something before he gave up.
He spent a few minutes blowing his nose and trying to look normal, but there was something really fucking weird happening in his head and he stared at himself in the mirror and thought Who cares if you don’t look normal? Who cares? Fuck it. Just lay it all the fuck out. The voice sounded like his own as a child, frantic and a little shrill, ready to pop off the second Richie was near him.
He put the cap back on the Visine, set it back in the cabinet and shut it, and walked out of the bathroom and down the stairs into the living room where Myra was watching television. The room smelled like the calming candles she liked. He got the sense that they were really for him, which made the strange nihilist suddenly taking up residence in his head want to tear out his own hair.
“Myra,” he said. He almost added honey, but stopped himself. Whatever was going on, that was not the right thing to say. There was a sudden, intense desire to be scrupulous with his language, with his actions, even as he felt like he was jumping off the rocks into the water at the quarry, the exhilarated terror of not knowing what was under his feet. Be honest for once in your life, the nihilist said. Why the fuck not? Stan was right. You have nowhere to go but up, do you?
“Oh my god, are you all r—” She was already on her feet at the sight of him, and he shook his head. He opened his mouth to say something and then—had no idea what to say. He tried to visualize himself forming the words I just spent a week killing a child-eating clown, and could not do it.
“I’m fine,” he said. “Let’s just…watch your show.”
Fuck you, Stan, he thought, and when Richie called him back a few hours later, he didn’t say anything about coming home.
He didn’t have the bizarre, lucid dreams every night now, but almost, standing watch over Mike, or Bev and Ben. Bill, only a few times, usually when he was asleep at his desk. Most of the time it was Richie, who slept worse than a colicky baby. Once in a while he stood beside his own bed, watching himself.
While he and Richie were packing to leave the hotel in Derry, Eddie had seen the t-shirt Richie had slept in, crumpled up on the bed along with his open toiletry bag. There was something about the sight of the toiletry bag—empty spaces where the toothpaste and brush should be, small neat packets of Advil and bottles of shampoo stolen from other hotels, an old watch, a disposable razor—that made Eddie feel some complicated mixture of affection and something else he couldn’t identify, something possessive. He would have liked to pack that toiletry bag, to take better care of the man who owned it, but it was also so unmistakably Richie that he almost wouldn’t have wanted to change anything.
He heard Richie shut off the water and tap his toothbrush against the sink three times, and without thinking about it, he grabbed the t-shirt and put it in his own bag. He still had no idea why he had done it. It wasn’t like it would fit him, and it was so old it was only good for sleeping in, thin and soft and weird under the armpits, the Who bullseye logo faded until it was barely recognizable. He didn’t wash it, which was only slightly less bizarre than stealing the shirt in the first place, but it smelled like Richie and that was just—that was something Eddie didn’t want to think about yet either. He hung it up in the very back of his closet in the spare room, where he usually slept.
Myra both talked and kicked in her sleep, and a few months into their marriage she had finally suggested they sleep separately. She called it a marriage saver during their couples’ health retreats, but neither of them mentioned how rare it was for them to share a bed for any reason. By mutual but unspoken agreement, they sometimes made a gesture toward sex, but alternated giving excuses or providing them for one another. Eddie had a big presentation to make the next day. Myra didn’t have a cold, but she was concerned that she might pass something onto him after she had held a friend’s baby. Eddie thought there was something in the stir fry that had might upset his stomach. The last time they had run out of excuses and he was actually in the mood had been at least three months previously. It wasn’t that it was bad. It was just that there were so many other things they both would rather be doing, which was totally normal. Only 26% of married couples had weekly sex after they had been together more than five years.
So he slept in the spare bedroom most nights, and after he had been back for ten days, he gave in and wore Richie’s t-shirt to bed. It was pretty big on him, and he was surprised by how much he liked that. It wasn’t like being touched by him, not really, but when he wore it he was reminded of the fact that Richie hadn’t let go of him the entire night. Richie, who had loved him when they were children, if he understood the confession correctly—and he wasn’t sure he did. I’m sick of being afraid of it, he had said, but Eddie didn’t know what it encompassed. If he had learned anything in his life it was that it was a versatile pronoun, and in this case Eddie wasn’t sure if it referred to liking men or liking Eddie specifically. Thinking about the former made Eddie feel flustered and strange; when he thought about the latter, which he tried not to because it felt like—like he was married and shouldn’t think about it, he got those goose bumps again, the ones that made his whole body light up. Kind of how he felt wearing Richie’s shirt, which he also knew he shouldn’t be doing.
Stan showed up in his dreams every fourth or fifth night, appearing beside Eddie’s elbow without surprising him. He liked to tell Eddie little stories, things Eddie had forgotten or never known. “Remember when we took that slingshot out and we thought we were such hot shit, and then Bev destroyed all of us?” he’d say, and Eddie would suddenly remember an entire day he had lost, shooting glass bottles at the Barrens.
The two of them sat on Richie’s bed, cross-legged, watching him twitch and mumble in his sleep. Eddie always had an almost unbearable urge to put a hand on his back and soothe him, but he had tried it once and Richie had woken up screaming, so he didn’t do that in the dreams anymore.
Once, Richie suddenly said, his voice heavy with sleep, “I know you’re there.”
Eddie was alone, stretched out beside Richie in the bed, and if he had had the ability to be startled in these dreams, he would have jumped out of his apparently dead skin. He debated what to say and settled on, “How?”
“The turtle,” Richie said. “He brought you back.”
“Not me,” Eddie said. “I think I’m dead.”
“No,” Richie said, and he took a harsh, shuddering breath. “I miss you.”
“I’m here,” he said. “Don’t worry. I’ll always be here.”
Richie drifted back into a sleep that seemed deeper than usual, not moving or making any noise, and after that whenever Eddie dreamed he was in Richie’s room and Richie’s sleep seemed particularly troubled, he said the same thing, I’m here, and he’d settle again.
He always woke up feeling raw and hurt after he dreamed of Richie, wanting to see him so much that he’d go back over all the stupid videos he had sent the previous day just to hear him complaining about traffic. It was almost a relief when his dreams took him somewhere else instead. Mike’s were the most peaceful, sitting on the balcony with him and watching the ocean at night. He had a rocking chair and would stay in it for hours, eyes closed, sometimes drinking tea or beer, listening to the waves. Sometimes he spoke to Stan, saying, Oh, we miss you, buddy. I wish I could go back and do it better, but he was mostly silent.
Eddie wasn’t getting great sleep anymore, if he had to be honest, but there was something about the dreams that kept him from sliding entirely back into the frozen gray slush of his former life. When he woke, he sat up and pressed his fingers to his throat to feel the pulse there and wondered how it was supposed to feel, being alive.
Part of the problem of change was that he really did like his job, and he wasn’t sure how to overhaul everything when there was one area that he was happy with. He liked the completeness, the finality, of identifying every scenario and impact. When he was finished assessing a claim, he was confident he had addressed all possibilities. It was all there in the numbers, and when he was done with the numbers and had made his recommendation, he never thought about it again. It wasn’t like anything else in his life, which was never finished. There was never an end point with his own body. It was at risk in ways he couldn’t predict or prevent.
Maybe if he had remembered breaking his arm it might have been different. Now he could clearly remember thinking, in the hospital while the doctor tried to calm his mother down, This isn’t as bad as I thought it would be, which was exactly what he had thought while the doctor was stitching up his face in urgent care. Something bad had happened and he had survived without losing anything. He wasn’t sure what he was afraid of losing; the panic that overtook him was never specific about that, and he was never sure what it was that finally pushed him to the point where the panic didn’t matter anymore. Seeing Richie floating and about to die when he had the ability to stop it right there in his hands was what had done it most recently, but he didn’t know why it had happened then and not a dozen other instances. Richie had spent half the time Eddie had known him verging on mortal peril.
If Eddie performed a risk analysis on their friendship, his recommendation would be to cut ties immediately, but instead they had settled into a pattern of talking on the phone at least once a week and texting more or less regularly throughout the day. The others texted once in a while, with normal variations in frequency depending on who was traveling and who was shacking up with whom on a houseboat, but he could rely on Richie to send him at least three videos using a hot dog filter, one incomprehensible message when he woke up, and a good night, dickhead text.
Two weeks after he returned home from Derry, he called Bev.
“I’m getting the sense that this isn’t just a catchup call,” she said after they had finished with the pleasantries and he was sitting there in his office staring at his desk. He remembered once he had gone down to the quarry and found Beverly throwing stones into the water. On a normal day he might have said hello and goodbye and left her to it, but that day he had just gotten back from a doctor’s appointment where he had had an asthma attack and then his mother had cried and then he had cried, and he was feeling prickly and upset and shaky, his skin buzzing all over with adrenaline. Richie would have tormented him out of it, but Richie was visiting family in Waterville. Come on, let’s break rocks, Bev said, and they sat throwing stones the size of their hands at the bigger rocks below, cheering whenever one of them shattered.
“No,” he said. “I have a question. It might be kind of uncomfortable.”
“Yeah,” she said without hesitation. “You can ask me anything.”
“You left, right? For good?”
“Yes.” Her voice wavered a little, but she sounded determined.
“How did you do it?” He rolled his tie around his finger and then unrolled it, slowly, again and again. “Did you have to go back after we were done in Derry?”
“No, I couldn’t go back,” she said. “He would have—no. I got a hotel room and had a friend go in while he was at work and grab the few things I actually wanted to keep. She got my laptop and all my old sketchbooks, some of my mother’s jewelry. I had so many things, but none of it really mattered.”
“I didn’t know what else to do,” Eddie said, so quietly he wasn’t sure she could hear him, but he couldn’t be any louder. There was no one else in his office and his door was closed, so he wasn’t sure who he thought might hear him, but he had a vision of people popping up from behind his cabinet. “It’s like Neibolt all over again. I know I need to do something, but I’m fucking frozen.”
“Well,” Bev said carefully. “You were frozen because you were scared, right?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Like always.”
“But you saved Richie,” she said. “So you know you can get un-frozen. It just takes you a while to get there. Maybe you need a plan.”
“I’ve been trying to make one,” he said. “That’s what I do for a living. I just don’t know what I want the end result to be, so I don’t even have a first step.”
“What do you want to change?” she asked.
“Everything,” he choked out, and swallowed a few times until he was sure he wasn’t going to break down in the middle of his lunch hour. “I want…it feels like I need to set my entire life on fire, but I don’t even know where to start.”
“Maybe you could start with getting a place of your own,” Bev said. “Is that too much?”
He grasped for the inhaler he had just picked up from the pharmacy that morning and held onto it, not using it yet but shaking it gently just in case. “I don’t know. I don’t know,” he said. The panic was rising a little, the familiar icy gray water threatening to overtake him.
“That’s okay. You don’t have to be sure,” she said. “You don’t even have to live in it, you know? But just having it there might be nice.”
He sat and breathed in and out. Quiet, he thought, and there he was falling back into his body again, waking up. Where did he go when he was out of himself like that? “I can do that,” he said shakily. “Can you do me a favor and not tell anyone about this? Not even Ben.”
“Of course,” she said. “You know it’s going to be okay, honey, right? It’ll be hard, but then it’s going to be so much better.”
“Thanks, Bev,” he said, and three days later, a box arrived in his office. Inside it was a hypoallergenic pillow with a little note that said, Just a housewarming gift. As long as you have one pillow, you always have somewhere to rest.
It still took him another week to start looking for an apartment, and he figured he’d be searching for a while, but an opportunity fell into his lap the very same afternoon.
“Hey, my brother-in-law is looking to sublet his apartment, if you know anyone looking,” his friend Jack said when they were on their way to a retirement lunch for some fucking asshole in the mortgage department. Mortgage was slightly higher up in the hierarchy than the risk analysts, and they always booked expensive restaurants for retirement and going away parties. Fuck this guy, he thought. The beet salad was going to cost him like forty dollars.
“Uh, I am, actually,” he said. He should have been surprised, but things like this happened to him a lot. He had received offers from three companies during the last year of his MBA, equal in pay and benefits, equally promising in terms of upward mobility, and had chosen one that would have seemed random to anyone outside his own head. There was no method to it; he just knew it was the right one, and when the other two companies restructured over the next few years, he didn’t even reflect on how lucky he had been. It wasn’t luck. It was the correct choice. The same thing had happened with his car, the house, his portfolio—there were some things Eddie didn’t stress out about, because he knew.
“Oh yeah?” Jack asked. His wife was an underwriter and was friendly with Myra, and the four of them had gone on plenty of dinner dates over the past decade. Eddie braced himself for questions, but instead Jack gave him a side glance that said perhaps a little too much.
“Yeah,” Eddie said. “When would it be available?”
“He just got an offer in London for a position that starts in two weeks, and he won’t be back for at least three years, but he definitely wants the apartment when he gets back. It took him forever to find it. I thought he was going to be sleeping on our couch until he was forty,” Jack said. “Here, I’m sending you his info right now.”
“Thanks, man,” he said, and then, feeling like he was going to be saying it a lot in the near future, he added, “Can we keep this between us for a while?”
“Sure,” Jack said. “You know I have to tell Sarah, but she can keep quiet. For how long, though?”
“God, I don’t fucking know,” Eddie sighed. He slid into a parking spot three seconds ahead of a guy in a Miata who looked like he had been waiting for a while, and half-heartedly flipped him off. “It could be a while. Right now it’s like…it’s just an extra place I might use for work.”
“All right,” Jack said, and by the following weekend he was standing in the empty apartment and setting Bev’s pillow down on the marble top of the island in the kitchen. He took a picture of it and sent it to her, texting All my furniture.
It’s all you need, she wrote. A few minutes later, when he hadn’t texted back, she added, I’m really proud of you, monster slayer.
And still he didn’t tell Richie.
He wanted to. He talked to Richie all the time, but Richie never asked about his home life, never even mentioned that he had one. Whenever he thought about telling Richie anything, he felt the same rush of guilt that came with wearing his t-shirt to bed. That in itself was a betrayal of something, he knew, but telling Richie that he was leaving, that he was trying to leave, would be worse. He was not a good husband. The realization had come to him sitting in the living room of their house, staring at the television without seeing it and wondering how he was going to get up the courage to leave. Before Derry, he probably would have thought of himself as an all right husband, if asked, not one of the greats but not terrible either. He remembered significant occasions and did not turn to anyone else for needs that should rightfully be satisfied by a spouse; he gave her what he could give of himself, and took as much of what she gave him as he could. And of course, he did care about her. He had changed a lot in the last few weeks, but that didn’t make everything that had come before a complete lie. On the other hand, if you gave a penny, believing in good faith that it was all you had, and then found out you were a millionaire, being unwilling to give anything more than the penny probably didn’t speak all that well of you.
No, he was not a good husband, and moreover, he didn’t want to be, but he didn’t want to also be a bad person, and saying the words, “I am going to leave my wife,” to Richie before he said them to Myra was a very faint, very pathetic line he had drawn in his own moral sand.
All the same, he used the excuse of a work trip to test out the apartment. Just to see. He slept there on an air mattress, on the floor of the living room, looking out the big windows into the city, the flat dark sky lit up from below. He hadn’t talked to Richie for a few days and wanted to hear his voice, but speaking to him now, in the dark, in this apartment, was something else that would cross the line, so he settled for texting and fell asleep in the middle of typing.
He dreamed again, sitting beside the air mattress and looking down at himself. Stanley was nowhere to be seen, which was always a disappointment, but this dream was different from the others anyway, warmer and less leeched of color and emotion.
He had fallen asleep with his phone still clutched in his fist, and as he watched, it lit up several times. Richie liked to text him stupid things he had found online, god only knew where, interspersed with pictures of whatever darted to the surface of the chaos of his brain. He had a real talent for sending Eddie something that would pop up in the middle of a client meeting and make him choke on his own laughter, and late at night he liked to take little videos of himself watching whatever TV show he was using to procrastinate. He was always soft-voiced and sleepy and Eddie wished he could be there with him, sitting on his inexplicably hideous couch in his inexplicably tiny apartment watching television on his inexplicably enormous television. The first thing Eddie did in the morning after silencing his alarm was to open whatever Richie had sent him and watch, almost without listening to what he said—the first time through, anyway. He always watched a few times, which was a good thing because apparently no one else in Richie’s life was willing to discourage him from getting a Peaky Blinders haircut.
There was something trembling on the edge of his consciousness, about to break through. Eddie observed his sleeping self, the loose sprawl that was so contrary to how he had always slept before, the way his face was turned toward the phone, the shirt he wore to bed every night, giving him a fraction of the same comfort he had felt with Richie’s arms tight around him.
Oh, he thought. It was quiet and calm and the sound stayed there in his head, reverberating. Oh, that’s what this is. The emotion on the edge of his consciousness bloomed within him like a field of sunflowers bursting out of the ground at once, fields upon fields, shoving through his muted dream with such force that when he woke, he curled up into a ball at the onslaught. His inner world, cramped and gray, drawing everything deep inside for protection against the cold, suddenly refused to remain in its winter, and the lumbering awakening of feeling, real feeling, tore through him with a pain as beautiful as it was familiar. It hurt so much he reached for a way to push it away again and stopped himself, rolling onto his back and putting his hand over his heart to feel it beat. His own body, under his own fingers, a body that could do anything—anything. He had known how to do this before, how to be alive, how to know things would be taken from him someday and want them anyway. This was it, the ocean of joy with the undertow of loss always there inside it. His nose and eyes and throat stung and he realized he was crying.
I want Richie, he thought, and there was that eruption of feeling again, fields and fields of brilliant love. He reached for his phone and saw that Richie had actually called him. Eddie wiped his face and almost called him back before he remembered it was five-thirty in the morning, but part of him wondered if Richie would pick up anyway. Yes, he would, he realized with absolute certainty. He tested the thought to see if the ferocious power of this new-old emotion might be bleeding into his own perception of Richie’s feelings for him, but he didn’t think so. Call him and see, he thought.
“What the fuck,” Richie said on the second ring. His voice was rough and Eddie curled up in a ball on his side again, loving him so much it felt like it was drowning him.
“Why’d you call me at one in the morning?” he demanded when he could speak.
“I wanted your chicken cacciatore recipe,” Richie said. Eddie realized he was still mostly asleep, but he could tell he was smiling and he wanted him, wanted to be warm beside him.
“I miss you,” Eddie said, unable to stop himself from saying it and not caring.
“I miss you too, baby,” Richie murmured. “G’night. Love you.”
“L—good night,” Eddie said, choking on it. He lay there for a while with his eyes shut tight, breathing painfully and wrapping his blanket around him like a shield.
So there was no question of leaving, not any longer. The only thing left was how and when. He spent a few weekends at the apartment with the intention of not coming back, and still didn’t know how to stay gone. He had bought a bed and a couch and moved one of his paintings from the garage, where it had been stowed for years. It was very, very gradually becoming the place he wanted to live in, and he couldn’t quite get there. Not yet. He was so sick of himself he could hardly stand it, and called Richie more than he ever had before, resulting in at least twenty percent more bickering that never felt resolved and left him wanting to claw his face off.
Richie kept testing out jokes about the type of men he wanted to fuck, and Eddie fucking hated them. Hated them. He had told Richie plenty of his material wasn’t funny before and it hadn’t seemed to ruffle him at all—he would either agree and sign off to go rewrite something or tell him to go fuck himself—but there was something about the latest set that made Eddie want to be mean about it. Finally Richie stopped for a while, and things smoothed over for a few days, largely because Richie had gotten his hair cut and they were both very distracted by it.
“I took your advice and now I look like a fucking risk analyst,” Richie said when he Facetimed him, unable to stop messing around with the back of it.
He looked—well, not like an adult. He was still Richie, in his black Depeche Mode 1988 tour t-shirt with the hole Eddie knew was lurking under one armpit. But he looked handsome, and it shook Eddie so much he blurted out, “No, it’s good.”
Richie gave him a slow smile. “Oh yeah?” he asked, sounding like he was trying to tease him, but he was far too pleased to make it land. His entire face lit up, and Eddie lit up right along with him.
“Yeah, dude,” he said, trying to keep his face neutral. “You look about fifty percent less like an old man clinging to his cool skater kid youth.”
He expected something sharp, but instead Richie’s smile turned uncertain—on anyone else he might have called it shy, but he didn’t think Richie’s brain had ever let him be shy. “So you don’t think I look like a banker who’s about to evict some poor old lady so I can build a new Walmart?”
“No, you do a little,” Eddie lied. “But that’s not a bad thing.”
“I mean, I guess I always knew there were people out there who wanted to fuck Wall Street bros, but I never thought you’d be one of them,” Richie said.
The next time I see him, I’m going to kiss him, Eddie thought. It set off such a blizzard of pleasurable anxiety in his stomach that he ended the call immediately, ignoring Richie’s confused, “Eddie?” and the next time he called Richie he was almost out of his mind.
He hadn’t had any dreams for almost a week. His old daily routine—wake at five-thirty, run on the treadmill, shower, eat breakfast with Myra, drive to work, come home, eat dinner with Myra, watch television, sleep—was completely disrupted because he couldn’t bear to have her do anything kind for him, and the more he pulled away the more she pulled him close, and the more she pulled him close the harder it was for him to get his shit together and hurt her. She had mentioned planning a spa weekend and he panicked and left the house without his wallet, so he was stuck at work without breakfast or lunch. He wasn’t hungry—he couldn’t even remember the last time he had been hungry—but it made everything feel even more unstable and he was even more furious with himself because he knew he deserved it.
He called Richie, pacing around his office like he was about to throw a chair through the window. His jacket and tie were off, his shirt sleeves rolled up for possibly the first time since he had started working there, and the knife wound on his face had healed almost entirely but made him look more than a little crazy. He almost hoped someone would come in. He wanted to yell.
“Nothing, man, I’m just fucking around,” Richie said when Eddie asked what he was doing.
“Tell me something that’s happening,” Eddie said. “Anything.”
“Got your mom laid out on the bed. Ice cube tray and rubber gloves ready to go,” Richie said, almost absently.
“Rich,” he said. “Come on, man.”
“Sorry, sorry. I’m doing this one bit and it’s just sort of falling flat.” Eddie bristled, waiting for him to start in on the stupid fucking Grindr jokes again, but he only said, “I tried it out at a club the other night and even the guy who steals my shit wouldn’t touch it.”
“It had better not be a joke about fucking my mom,” Eddie said.
“Nah,” Richie said. “Besides, that’s your job at this point.”
Eddie froze in his office, staring at his stupid fucking framed diplomas on his stupid fucking wall. “What the fuck?”
“Um,” Richie said.
“No, dude,” Eddie said, not even sure what he was angry about. “What the fuck?”
“I mean, it can’t have escaped your notice that your wife resembles your mother more than a little bit, or a lot. They could be sisters,” Richie said in a rush. Eddie could almost hear him wincing.
“What the fuck,” he said, and hung up on Richie mid-sentence. He stared at the floor, his hands shoved into his hair, for an unknown amount of time, and then threw his tie and jacket on and left, texting Jack on his way down the stairs—not the elevator, not for Eddie Kaspbrak, no thank you—to let him know he would not be at their two-thirty.
He almost expected whatever was happening inside him to burn out before he got to the house, as it had so many times before, but the little nihilist that had appeared in his head after he’d gotten Stan’s letter had apparently returned with an army, and he could barely contain it.
“What are you doing home so early?” Myra asked him. She had been watching television, and he walked past her to mute it. “Are you sick? You look terrible, Eddie Bear.”
He knew he looked like shit, and nodded and then shook his head. “No, I’m not. I mean, maybe, but here’s the thing: I don’t give a shit if I am. I have a lot to tell you. I wasn’t going to, but I seriously don’t think I can go through the rest of my life being like this and I can’t lie, I’m so bad at it, and you deserve to know.”
Her hands were on his shoulders now, reasonable and encouraging him to sit, and he backed away until he had almost hit the wall before he took a deep breath and refused to move. “Come on, honey,” she said. “You seem feverish.”
“No,” he said, and something in his voice or his face stopped her. Her eyes were enormous and anxious, afraid—yes, afraid he was sick, but also afraid, he knew, because he was about to acknowledge that something had been wrong with him since he had returned from Derry, and they had both been trying very, very hard to pretend that nothing was wrong at all. “I’ll sit down, but you need to sit down too, because everything I’m about to say is gonna sound insane.”
He waited until she was in her Lazy-Boy, turning it to face him, and then he sat down across from her on the couch. She clasped her hands together in the strange almost-prayer gesture that was so similar to his mother’s that it always made him shudder, and nodded at him to go ahead.
“I didn’t get drunk and cut my face on a towel rack. That was a really terrible lie and I’m kind of shocked anyone bought it,” he began.
Myra opened her mouth, but closed it again when he held up both hands.
“I got stabbed in the face by an escaped inmate who used to beat me up when I was a kid,” he continued. “Then I stabbed him, and then he tried to attack one of my friends and then another friend killed him with an axe. In a library. The first friend told the cops he did it because the other friend is kind of famous and none of us wanted it to make the news, but honestly I think the police weren’t even listening.”
She stared at him without blinking for a moment. “How famous?”
“Pretty fucking famous, okay, but that’s not the point.”
“Okay,” she said slowly. “What is the point, then? You’re really scaring me.”
“Yeah, I’m scared too,” he said, “but you need to pace yourself, because it’s about to get so much weirder, all right? It started the summer I was thirteen, and all I was trying to do was take my fucking vitamins and not get murdered by a fucking clown.”
He spoke for almost half an hour. It was not an uninterrupted half hour; Myra stopped him frequently, and he had to backtrack several times because once he started talking about the clown things got garbled. But eventually he said, “That was the summer of 1989, and that’s what happened when I went to Derry, and now I remember, like, my entire childhood.”
Myra had curled up into the Lazy-Boy at some point, and was making a face he didn’t think he’d ever seen before on her. It was thoughtful, assessing. “Okay,” she said.
“Okay?” He wiped his face, realizing how sweaty he had gotten. “Do you believe me?”
“I believe that you believe it,” she said. “So I’m going to call Dr. Blevins and see if he’s got an opening this afternoon.”
She reached for her phone and he stood, gently removing it from her hand and putting it on the end table. “Myra,” he said. “I have to leave. I don’t need a doctor. Or maybe I do, because I did just remember an entire decade of my life and had to kill an alien in a sewer, again, and also I got fucking stabbed this time, so clearly I have some issues to work through. But I’m not sick. I’m completely healthy.”
She raised a concerned eyebrow and shot a fleeting glance at the damp patches all over his work shirt, but only said, “Leave?”
“Yes,” he said. “I’m leaving, for good this time.”
“Wait,” she said. “Leaving?”
“Leaving,” he said. “This, Myra, this is not. We’re not. I can’t do this.”
And there it went—the energy he had brought home with him collapsed. Facing her, he still couldn’t say most of the things he needed to say, but he tried to get through the major points before his courage failed completely.
“The person I was before—I was asleep in my own life. I was unhappy but I didn’t know how to fix it,” he said. “It’s not fair to either of us if I stay. I’m sorry.”
Nothing was coming out right, he realized, and he sounded like a man having a midlife crisis and bailing on his family to go off to the Bahamas with his yoga instructor, but that couldn’t be helped. He didn’t know how to say it in a less stupid way.
“I’m sorry,” he said again, and that was all he could say as he packed a few of his suits, the contents of his medicine cabinet, a bag of books, and his favorite coffee mug, while Myra followed him around the house and tried to make sense of what probably seemed like a nervous breakdown. He said it again and again and again, mumbling it in the car even as he drove away, and again when Myra called him while he was driving until he finally told his phone to decline her calls.
A few minutes later, the dash lit up again. It was Dr. Blevins, his primary physician.
“Hi, Jim,” he said, resigned.
“Edward,” Dr. Blevins said. “Are you doing all right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said, and wished he could have said it in person. Blevins, who had been a medic in Afghanistan and had never once looked surprised in the eight years Eddie had been darkening his doorstep on an almost biweekly basis, might have actually raised an eyebrow.
“Your wife has some concerns that you might have encephalitis,” Blevins said.
“That’s…actually a fair concern,” he said, reviewing his behavior for the last twelve hours, and then thinking further back to the water in the quarry in Derry. “But no. I did tell her some seriously insane shit, so I can see why she called you, but I’m in perfect health. How many times have you said that to me?”
“Every single appointment you’ve ever had,” Blevins said mildly. “Why do you believe me now?”
“I went back to my hometown,” he said. “I learned some things about myself.”
“Ah,” Blevins said. “You met someone.”
“You could say that,” he said. “Look, I have to go. I know Myra’s worried, but I don’t have encephalitis. I don’t even have allergies.”
“Very good,” Blevins said. “Do want me to transfer you over to Todd so you can book an appointment?”
“No,” he said, and he hoped he wasn’t imagining the sharp intake of breath on the other end of the line. “I’m fine.”
He was not fine.
Jack suggested he take a few personal days, but he had tapped out his PTO and didn’t really want to just sit in his apartment feeling like shit, so he stayed in his office and did paperwork rather than be part of the client-facing team. It was the part he liked best anyway, just digging into the research. Very neat, very certain. He did a lot of overtime, but there came a point where even he had to go home. Leaving his life, leaving his marriage, had been the goal for so long that he had pushed everything else away, and now that he had fulfilled it, there were so many things rushing in to fill the void that he could barely hear himself think when he was alone in the apartment. How, he thought, had he forgotten how difficult it was to leave? How had he managed not to think about his mother the entire time?
His brain remedied that oversight by dreaming of her for the first time since she had died. Nothing he had dreamed, not even the sight of his own bone peeking out through his skin, had really scared him, but opening his eyes and realizing he was sitting cross-legged in front of the house on Neibolt Street—still upright, if you could call it that—made him give a low, strangled shout.
“Oh, Eddie Bear,” his mother whispered, and her shadow fell over him. She loomed from behind and when he turned around to face her she blotted out the thin white sunlight, so much taller than he was that he might as well have been a little boy at her knee again. She was young and old, to him, that eternal parent age that was always older but never elderly, and she wore the beige flowered housedress he remembered her wearing for most of his eighth and ninth years, one he particularly hated because when she clutched him to her chest his face always went right to the sharp buttons down the front.
“My- mommy?” he asked. “What are you doing here?”
Standing up reduced the difference between them, and then age reduced it further—she was as he had seen her right before her first heart attack, when he had come home during Thanksgiving break and noticed for the first time that she was listing a little to one side and that her hair was almost completely gray, her skin graying too, and he had really understood for the first time that his mother wouldn’t live forever. Thank god, he had thought, buried so far down he almost didn’t know he thought it.
“Eddie, sweetie, I told you this would happen,” she said. “You never listen to me.”
“Told me what?” he asked. “What would happen?”
The door to the house swung open and he reached for his inhaler—not there. He was still in the clothes he had worn into It’s lair and he had burned his inhaler and the sun was going down and it was almost curfew. He was going to be caught there when the evening light died and his mother—his mother would be there too.
“How many times did I tell you not to play with them?” she asked. “Every day little boys and girls, innocent little boys, go outside and play, and they cut themselves on the merry-go-round or the slide or the swing set, and everyone thinks, Oh, it’s just a little cut, it’s no big deal, but it gets infected and they get lockjaw. And once you’ve got lockjaw, it’s all over.”
He remembered the note she had sent to school forbidding him from running, touching any of the toys on the playground, or going near the trees, the way he had had to sit on the wooden steps leading to the playground at recess and watch. Richie brought jacks to school and he and Stan and Eddie played some days, but the lure of standing in line to ride the merry-go-round, to be one of the kids on the outside, running around to make it go faster, and then if you were lucky, to be on the inside where you got the dizziest, was too much. It was rickety and there was metal flaking off all over it and it did pinch your fingers, and he was sure it had been replaced by something far safer, but it was all Eddie had wanted in the world.
“I’m all right, though,” he said, as he had said hundreds, thousands of times in his life.
“You’re not all right, Eddie. You’re not,” she said, as she had said hundreds, thousands of times in his life. And this time, she was right. He wasn’t all right. She had banned him from seeing his friends after he had broken his arm; what would she do now that he was dead?
“Mommy, it’s curfew,” he said, and he could hear the faint beeping of a watch. There was a white face peering around the open door of the house, smiling out at them. “We have to go, okay?”
“We can’t go,” she said. “You’re here, sweetie, right down in there with the rest of them.”
And he was—he was there, she wasn’t exaggerating. He was inside the house, down in the dark, alone with them forever.
He woke with what felt like a scream but was really just a cough, and turned all the lights on immediately, jumping like a frightened cat when he swung his legs out of the bed and his blanket brushed his leg. Before he went to sleep, he always did a pass through the apartment to check up in the loft, inside the closets, under the bed, and inside the shower, just in case, and he did another round before he pulled out his phone to text Richie. He had forgotten they weren’t speaking—or maybe they were speaking. He wasn’t actually sure. He had stopped being angry the moment he had hung up on him, but the moratorium on talking to Richie about leaving had seemed to intensify throughout the week until exactly this moment.
sorry about the thing. i shouldn’t bring up ur personal shit. i know u don’t like it, Richie had texted, as if he had felt Eddie reaching for him.
I need to talk to you, he wrote back, and then deleted it and called instead. It was one o’clock, but he knew Richie would answer whether he was awake or not.
“Are you okay?” Richie asked.
“No,” Eddie said. “I’m not okay. I left my wife.”
He both had and had not expected Richie to show up at his doorstep. He had, in a way, because he wanted him there so badly that it felt like he was bending reality by brute force, but he had not expected it because why on earth would Richie fly out on a moment’s notice just because he was upset? It wasn’t reasonable at all, but it was Richie, who was hardly ever reasonable, and if Eddie had thought he wanted him while Richie was 2800 miles away, it was nothing to how he felt with him slouching around the apartment, poking into everything and looking like he was the very last thing needed to make the place fully belong to Eddie. He took off his jacket and sat on the couch with the little cozy gesture Eddie didn’t even think he knew he made when he was trying to get comfortable, like the world’s tallest Goldilocks, and for some reason, possessed by the spirit of insane honesty that had driven him for the past two weeks, it made Eddie tell him things he had never said aloud to anyone, had barely been able to say to himself.
“Myra didn’t make you sick, though, right? Not like your mom,” Richie asked after Eddie had blurted everything out, feeling more than a little stupid for being so upset.
“My mom didn’t make me sick,” he said automatically. “It wasn’t like a Munchausen’s thing.”
He hadn’t paid a lot of attention in the gen ed psych class he had had to take in college, and he certainly wasn’t the kid who sat at the front of the class and asked a lot of questions, but they had done a unit on abnormal behavior and factitious disorders, and he had underlined and highlighted some important points and finally, during one class, he had raised his hand. It did not count as child abuse if the child was not physically harmed in any way, did it? he asked. It did not count if the medication wasn’t real, did it? It did not count if the child was fine, did it? If the parent was simply overcautious? Did it? Yes, the professor had said, actually it did. They were too far into the semester to withdraw from the class without having to pay for it, but Eddie withdrew anyway and took a nutrition class that ruined his GPA and gave him a permanent dread of the word kilocalories.
“Maybe she didn’t poison you, but she still hurt you,” Richie said. Eddie had forgotten that Richie would do that, fucking around until everyone forgot about his big fucking brain and then coming out with some insightful bullshit. He wondered if they had all seen it, all his friends, and if everyone who had known him and Myra had seen the truth too, if everyone had always seen it but him.
“I know,” he said, and sighed. He felt like his dreams had carried into the light of day and he had been impaled somehow, hurt and weirdly needy with Richie sitting in front of him. “Myra was so upset when I got home. My face was all fucked up, I threw away my inhaler, I wasn’t acting like myself. I mean, I was acting like myself, my real self. I knew I had to leave but Rich, I didn’t want to hurt her. It took me five tries because I just—I just couldn’t fucking hurt her. She didn’t make me sick. She just liked that I was sick so she could take care of me, and I was never brave enough to stop it.”
Richie sat up straight, snatched the whiskey right out of his hand, and set it on the table. Eddie opened his mouth to tell him to use the fucking coasters, but suddenly Richie was hugging him and god, nothing felt this good. Nothing. He felt his entire body go loose and warm just at the feeling of Richie’s arms around him, and tried not to make it too obvious that he was rubbing his face against his shirt.
“I wish you could see how brave you are,” Richie said, as gently as if he were talking to a spooked animal. His hands were on Eddie’s back and Eddie sighed in pleasure, and then, still slow and gentle, he began to stroke Eddie’s hair.
Suddenly Eddie remembered the merry-go-round again—not recess, but summer time, unsupervised. No stern letters from his mother to make the teachers and teachers’ aides roll their eyes, just Eddie and his friends at the Derry Elementary School playground until the big kids showed up and chased them off. Richie would shove him toward the merry-go-round and tell him to get on in the prime spot, the very middle, and he would hold on tight and close his eyes, listening to Richie’s feet thudding against the ground while he got the thing spinning faster and faster and faster, feeling the disk wobble when Richie jumped on. Don’t barf, Richie would shout, or if you have to, do it on Stanley, and it would take forever before Richie would get tired of spinning and drag Eddie off to go swing. Richie was the one who could skip three on the monkey bars and Richie was the one who taught him that if you spun around in a circle with your arms out and then tilted your head, you would fall down and it was almost as good as being on the merry-go-round.
I love you so much, he thought, feeling dizzy. This is fucking ridiculous.
“Do you remember the last night in Derry?” he asked. “We fell asleep like this.”
“Yeah, I held you all night,” Richie said, his voice shaking a little, and there was a wild rollercoaster drop in Eddie’s stomach at the realization that he wasn’t the only one who had turned it into something important. I’m going to kiss him, he thought, shivering with a flash of excitement that landed and grew until he leaned in and kissed him without nerves or hesitation.
Richie made a soft, longing oh into his mouth that drove the excitement higher and higher, in waves spreading outward from his frantic heartbeat, and the second Richie really started to kiss him back, he wanted more. Richie was already tugging him closer, and he looked so lost when Eddie pulled away so he could climb into his lap that he pressed back in and kissed him again fast because he hated the idea of Richie worrying even for a second.
Being turned on made him into a fucking idiot, he thought, but the undercurrent of aching sweetness that had threaded itself throughout their entire friendship was overwhelming his usual desire to push-pull. He slid his fingers into Richie’s hair and kissed him until his brain was entirely off-line and when Richie said, again and again in a low, shaky voice, What do you want, oh god, Eddie, oh, I want to make you feel good, please let me make you feel good, he couldn’t even answer with words.
Richie tightened his hands on Eddie’s ass and twisted them until Eddie was under him on the couch, his weight pressing him down, and he was—just completely fucking losing it. It felt so good, not just the hard slide of Richie’s cock against his through their clothes but the fact that Richie was doing it to him at all, that Richie wanted him. He remembered when Richie had started to get taller, his wrists and ankles sticking out of his clothes and his hands suddenly bigger, everything just bigger, and how he liked it when he had to look up to see Richie watching him. There wasn’t any space then to wonder about what or who Richie wanted, because he’d tell anyone who looked at him funny that he was a boob man, or that he was into some weird sex term he had read in Penthouse that he couldn’t even pronounce right. Anyone who could get through that and still wanted to know who Richie liked—and they sometimes did talk about it, in whispers, Who do you like? Who do you think Bill likes? Ben likes Bev. What about Stan? Stanley’s true love is postage stamps—would be informed that Richie was into one person and her name was Sonia Kaspbrak.
But now Eddie knew better. Richie kissed his ear, his neck, fit their hips together and just fucked against him until Eddie was moaning like he had never done in his entire life, Richie’s big body surrounding him, immovable and heavy. The feeling of hands smoothing over him made him push up over and over, his cock twitching hard, skin tingling, and then it hit him again that they were Richie’s hands and it was Richie whose hips he had wrapped his legs around, Richie who had wanted him all that time.
“What do you want me to do to you?” Richie asked. His glasses were gone, his hair damp at the edges and messy where Eddie had pulled on it, and the look on his face was close to pain. “Please.”
Just the thought of Richie begging to be allowed to make him feel good, for Eddie to tell him what to do, was almost enough to push him over the edge, but he wasn’t quite there and he didn’t really know what he needed, he only knew that he needed it from Richie. “Make me come,” he gasped. “I’m going crazy. Just whatever, please make me come.”
As if he had only needed Eddie’s instruction, Richie slid his pants and underwear down a little and suddenly his mouth was on him, all heat and pressure, and Eddie tried not to arch up because it seemed impolite, but then Richie was holding him down anyway and doing what Eddie said and that, more than anything, was what finally got him. All Richie had to do was stop holding him down and he was coming, so fast he couldn’t even warn him, he could only hold onto Richie’s hand and let it take him over until he was blinded by it.
It was the first time—well, it was the first time for many things, but the first time he had ever come so hard he didn’t know what was happening. Richie’s hand anchored him tight, and when his head had cleared he saw that Richie was sitting up and watching him, tense, looking almost on the verge of flight. He was shaking, Eddie realized as he sat up to face him, fixing his clothes. Not shaking a lot, but enough that Eddie could tell.
“You okay?” he asked, and Richie nodded jerkily, but when Eddie let go of his hand so he could touch Richie’s face, his lower lip quivered just slightly before he bit it and looked for all the world like he wanted to be anywhere but right there on Eddie’s couch.
“I’m good. You don’t have to. I said I’d make you come,” Richie said. The sleeves of his shirt were pushed up and Eddie had a brief, distracting desire to kiss his hands and forearms all the way up to his elbows before he realized Richie was trying to give him an out.
“Rich,” he said, pulling him close. “Let me just—I want to, of course I want to.”
Richie rested his forehead against Eddie’s neck, his breath spasming when Eddie unbuttoned his jeans. He held onto Eddie’s shirt like he might fly away otherwise and Eddie kissed his jaw, undone by how much he loved him. Wanting to touch a man, liking the look of a man’s body, wasn’t new to him at all, although before Richie, it had been years since he’d even let himself think about it. It wasn’t like he had repressed it, not entirely, repression seemed like too strong a term—or maybe it wasn’t, because he had done the same thing with any attraction he felt to women, ruthlessly ignoring it because what was the use in noticing, in wanting? The very fact that he was allowed to touch Richie was so much that he was suddenly greedy, wanting to get him naked, wanting to get his mouth and hands all over him but especially his cock, thick and wet—Richie sobbed against his neck when he started to stroke it and he wished he had done this first because he would have liked to come while he was doing it, had a feeling he was going to be fantasizing about it all the time for the immediate future.
“I wanted to kiss you so fucking much,” he whispered, unable to stop himself from talking. “I wondered what it would be like with you, if you wanted me as much as I wanted you.”
That was as much as Richie could take. His breath went tight and convulsive before he came with a choked shout, pulling hard on Eddie’s shirt. Eddie had a quick instinct to pull away but ignored it and was glad because he realized with a little shock that he liked it, he liked Richie coming on his hand, all the more because it was a little disgusting and because it was only Richie he would ever allow to do it. He felt both possessive and possessed right in that moment, viciously satisfied by the fact that he belonged to Richie and Richie belonged to him. Richie sagged against him and he held him tight, kissing his neck and wondering how the fuck he was going to get through however many hours it would take until they could do this again.
And just like that, Eddie was hungry, for everything.
Food had always been a tricky thing in both his households; he had never enjoyed eating all that much and so it was easy for him to abstain from anything that could conceivably upset his stomach or bring on anaphylaxis. He hadn’t had peanut butter since the year his mother had discovered how common nut allergies were, and milk was right out of the question. Fish had too much mercury and pork too many antibiotics, chicken was a breeding ground for salmonella no matter who cooked it or for how long, and shellfish were shellfish. Tofu had soy and a gluten sensitivity cut out seitan and pasta and bread, and rice was full of arsenic. He ate eggs for a while but then stopped again because he honestly just didn’t like them that much. All told, Eddie had spent the last fifteen years or so eating a lot of organic, grass fed beef and vegetables. Not spinach though. Fuck California e coli.
He and Richie ordered steak and mashed potatoes and ate half of it standing up in the kitchen, arguing about what to watch while they were eating. Richie threatened to smear steak grease on Eddie’s face and Eddie told him to fucking do it and then Richie did it, twice, and Eddie retaliated by stealing his potatoes. The steak was only all right, but the potatoes were heavy with butter and sour cream and garlic, and he went after them like he’d been starving for months. Years, really.
“This is the best fucking thing I’ve ever eaten in my life,” he said, scraping his spoon along the bottom of the bowl to make sure he hadn’t missed a single bit of potato and enjoying the way the noise made Richie cringe.
“That’s because you haven’t eaten me yet,” Richie said. He sat cross-legged on the couch in his t-shirt and boxers, messing with the television.
“Now that you mention it, I do kind of want to bite you,” Eddie said. “Really hard.”
“Oh no,” Richie said. “I’m talking about the life-changing magic of eating ass.”
“Oh my fucking god.” Eddie rinsed his bowl out, considering, and said, “Is that something you like?”
“Hm?” Richie asked. He had finally gotten to a login screen, but couldn’t remember any of his passwords. “No, dude, I was fucking with you. I…goddammit. I think it locked me out.”
He gave up after a few more attempts, turning on the news instead with a pained sigh. Eddie sat at one end of the couch and gestured for Richie to stretch out with his head on Eddie’s leg. It was only six o’clock and already dark, a time he was usually lonely and feeling sorry for himself and for Myra, enough that he almost answered when she called. He had spoken to her on the phone once and regretted it because for a few minutes, he really, really did want to go back. He had no idea why, but the longing to have things return to how they were before he left for Derry was so intense that he almost said, “Yes, I’ll come home. You’re right, this is just temporary insanity,” and only avoided disaster by blurting out that he had to go to work and he was sorry, good-bye.
The apartment was completely different with Richie there, and not just because he wasn’t lonely. Talking to any of the Losers always snapped him back into the reality he knew he wanted if he started to drift, but Richie was like a homing beacon. He slowly stroked the hair on Richie’s arm the wrong way like he would have done if he wanted to annoy a cat, and Richie made what seemed like a happy grumbling noise and dozed off.
“I’m actually really boring,” Richie said later, when they were in bed. “Sex, I mean. I’m boring.”
“Yeah, I almost fell asleep earlier,” Eddie said. “Because of boredom.”
“I just want you to know what you’re getting into,” Richie said. “We’re talking three hour conversations about the Ice Storm of '98, in a waiting room at the dentist, with no wifi or television or Highlights For Kids.”
“It’s a good thing I like boring shit,” Eddie said, curling around him and waiting for Richie to respond in kind. “That was the first time anyone’s ever done that to me.”
“You’ve never gotten a blowjob before?”
“No.” He stifled a yawn against Richie’s shoulder.
Richie’s voice flattened and went very casual. “Did you like it?”
“It was the best I’ve ever felt in my life,” he said, smiling into Richie’s shirt, and fell asleep without dreaming.
But the dreams certainly didn’t stay away. If anything, they increased for a while afterward. For an entire week, he sat on the living room floor with Stan, backs against the couch, and said nothing every night. Finally, he asked, “Did everybody know?”
“About your mom, or about you and Richie?” Stan asked.
“About your mom, yes,” Stan said. “My parents used to talk about it. If it were today, they would have called CPS, I think, but not back then.”
“Shit,” Eddie breathed. “I always thought—she did some upsetting things, but she was just worried about me, you know?”
“That’s not worry,” Stan said. “Worry doesn’t put you in the hospital.”
“All right, what about Richie?” he asked. In the blue gray light, Stan’s eyes were almost silver, and the lines of his face were almost painful to look at. Even when they were children Stanley had seemed molded from much finer clay than anyone else, and in death he was beautiful.
“No, I didn’t know,” Stan said. “Richie kept his secret pretty well. I don’t even think you knew you had a secret to keep.”
“I didn’t,” he said. “I thought that was just how you felt about your best friends.”
“Oh yeah?” Stan asked, nudging him with his cold arm. “You wanted to kiss me and Bill?”
“Sometimes, in an innocent way.” He smiled down at his blood-stained lap. “I thought Richie was different because he pissed me off so much, but that wasn’t it. I wanted to impress Bill, but—”
“You wanted Richie to see you,” Stan said. “I did notice that. It was hard to miss.”
“I still want him to see me,” Eddie said.
“I know. You’re actually fucking gross, both of you.” Stan waited several beats before he smiled. “I love you, you know. All of you. It wasn’t because I didn’t love you enough.”
“No, I know,” Eddie said. “I just miss you.”
“Yeah,” Stan said. “Who else can you really complain to about Richie?”
“No.” Eddie grabbed his hand. It was like marble, and still wet. “I miss you. Just you.”
“See what I mean? Fucking gross,” Stan said, but he didn’t let go. Eddie hoped he’d see him again the next night, but instead he wound up in Bill’s study watching him sleep on his desk until his wife came in and kissed him, tucked a pillow under his head, and saved his files.
“Do you ever think about the clown?” Richie asked one night.
“Not if I can help it,” Eddie said. He was sitting up in bed with his laptop in front of him, his knees drawn to his chest. He had brought the laptop with him while he did his nightly sweep of the apartment, forcing Richie to participate in what he called Eddie’s Henry Bowers Trauma Tour, and the thought of the clown made him scoot back farther on the bed so he had his back firmly against the headboard. “Why the fuck are you thinking about it?”
“Oh, I thought I could create a bit around it and then realized if I even started talking about it I’d probably have a panic attack onstage,” Richie said. “And then I started thinking. You remember how he told us he could give us anything we wanted, give us long happy lives, if we let him have Bill?”
“Yeah.” Eddie shivered and rubbed his arms.
“Do you think that’s what happened in between?” Richie asked. He pushed his glasses up to his forehead for a second, rubbing his eyes, and Eddie thought how tired and punchy he looked. He had been working almost nonstop for three days and wouldn’t let any of the other writers on his team help, and it showed even through the computer. “Did we forget and…I don’t know, get successful because of him?”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Eddie said. “If he wanted us to forget and be successful so we’d stay away and let him chow down in peace, why did he call us home again?”
“Yeah, I don’t fucking know.” Richie sighed. “Sometimes I just wonder if all this is me, if I made this happen, or if I have no control over it.”
“I think…some of it isn’t us. You remember we used to talk about how it was just sort of right when we all met?” he asked. “Like, we had other friends but they weren’t the Losers, and then Mike showed up and it was—”
“Like it was supposed to happen, yeah,” Richie said. “Lucky seven.”
“But it never felt like it happened because of the clown,” Eddie said. “We were so powerful together. He’s not the one who made us powerful.”
“You’re probably right,” Richie said. “I just need sleep.”
“Yeah, you look like shit,” Eddie told him, grinning. He shifted around to get more comfortable, and saw Richie rear back a little.
“Dude,” he said. “Is that my shirt?”
“Uh,” Eddie said. “No?”
“It is,” Richie exclaimed. “Did I leave it there?”
Fucking shit, Eddie thought. “Yeah,” he said. “A couple weeks ago.”
“No, I fucking didn’t,” Richie said, so smugly that Eddie wanted to reach through the screen and push him. “How did you get it? I haven’t seen it since—”
“Nope,” Eddie said, shaking his head.
“Since fucking Derry.” Richie clapped, looking absolutely delighted. “You stole it. What the fuck?”
“Fine,” he said, glaring, three seconds away from hanging up. “Yes, I took your shirt.”
“You did, didn’t you,” Richie said, but suddenly his face softened into confused affection. “Do you sleep in it?”
“Yeah,” he admitted. “It’s comfortable.”
“That’s really…” Richie reached out and touched the screen for a second before he snatched his hand back, adjusting his glasses. “I wish I were with you right now, baby.”
Eddie’s entire body suddenly went hot, hotter than his already burning face. Richie’s voice was so low and overwhelmed and god, he liked it so much—too much.
“Sorry,” Richie said, clearing his throat. “I sound so fucking sleazy when I say shit like that. You want Al Pacino in your ear going oh, baby when you’re trying to come?”
Richie tended to call him sweetheart when they were having sex, actually, and it had the same affect it was having now, but Eddie wasn’t about to tell him that. “I can give you your shirt back,” he said instead.
“Yeah,” Richie said. “What the fuck.”
“All right,” Eddie said, grabbing the hem and stretching it over his knees, pulling it all the way down to his bare feet. “It’s all yours.”
“You realize you’re only hurting yourself,” Richie said. “I have other shirts, but now you’re wearing a muumuu.”
“Maybe I’ll set all your other clothes on fire,” Eddie said. “There are a hundred thousand Buzzfeed readers who would thank me.”
“If I recall correctly, one of us said the other day that he wanted to have my dick inside him 24/7,” Richie said. “And it wasn’t me, so I think I see where this is headed.”
“Oh, fuck you,” he said, and hung up on him laughing.
With the exception of the first dream, he generally didn’t end up watching himself and Richie together, although he wanted to. He liked the memory of seeing the two of them tangled up in sleep, and sort of resented it any time he woke up and realized he had spent his night dreaming of sitting next to Ben’s and Bev’s dog and listening to the refrigerator make ice.
One night, he opened his eyes standing beside his bed and realized, with a slow little current of shock, that he had somehow entered a very, very different dream. The light in the room was low and the sheets were tangled up everywhere and he could see and hear everything with the kind of hyper detail that would have made him faint with embarrassment if he were not dreaming or getting his brains fucked out.
It didn’t seem like something he’d enjoy, watching himself during sex, but he did like it. A lot, actually. Something about these dreams didn’t leave a lot of room for shame or discomfort, so he was free to watch dispassionately and notice, from a distance, that he enjoyed seeing himself under Richie, his back arching a little more with every thrust of Richie’s hips because it felt so good. Maybe when he woke up, he’d be embarrassed by the quick, breathless cries he never even knew he was making, but not now.
He always went so mindless when he was getting fucked that he had never fully noticed how close Richie held him, how slow and gentle he was. There was something about the size of him that drove Eddie crazy—and it was still a little weird thinking of Richie like that, but he was tall and broad and big, everywhere, one big hand on the back of Eddie’s knee keeping his leg up and the other holding his wrist to the bed, big thick cock inside him, big heavy body keeping him in place. Richie maintained a lot of control over everything and Eddie would never have expected that either, but from this vantage point he could see how hard he struggled to do it. He looked almost as out of his mind as Eddie was, resting his forehead on the arm he had stretched above Eddie’s head and closing his eyes, panting. Eddie dug the nails of his free hand into Richie’s back and Richie gave a pained moan, helplessly rocking into him faster until Eddie arched up hard and came. He was always so caught up in it that he hadn’t seen how desperately overwhelmed Richie was too, burying his face in his neck and choking out his name.
He woke up pinned half under Richie and uncomfortably turned on, breathing hard. Shivering, he wondered what it would take to get Richie to that state when Eddie wasn’t completely out of it too. It wasn’t that Richie didn’t like anything else they did—there was always a touch of stunned, joyful disbelief that Eddie wanted to touch him at all, even now—but he liked best to focus on what Eddie wanted, and Eddie had let him carefully set himself to the side because it was always so good.
He found himself thinking about it at odd times, driving to work and picking out green peppers at the grocery store and right after he was done running—though he supposed that wasn’t all that odd, since Richie had stayed with him during the week one time, woke up when he came into the bedroom to get his clothes, said, “Wait, were you exercising?” like he was asking if Eddie had been watching porn, and fucked him against the wall of the shower so hard that his legs were shaky all day. Wanting things so much, food and sex and music and books and most of all Richie himself, was too new for him to sort through it all just yet, but he got the sense there was something going on with Richie that he didn’t understand, and he wanted to understand it very, very much.
“Question,” he said that night. “Aside from, like, going to town on me, which by the way, I’m always fully on board with, is there some sex thing that feels really good to you?”
“You really like it, huh?” Richie asked, reaching for him with a slow smile, but Eddie smacked his hand.
“Focus, dickhead,” he said, not missing the way Richie’s breath hitched. He liked to be bossed around so much.
“Kind of, I guess,” Richie said, and then fell silent.
“Kind of, you guess,” Eddie said, patting his stomach encouragingly.
“Yes,” Richie said. “Um. I like…I don’t know why I’m so embarrassed about this shit.”
“I don’t know either. Is it feet?” he asked. “I’ll try. I really will, but I don’t know if I can do feet.”
“It’s not fucking feet, calm down,” Richie said. “I just really like to get fingered.”
“Oh.” Eddie squinted at him. “I mean, okay? Do I need to be wearing some kind of costume or something?”
“Yes,” Richie said. “Liza Minnelli, Cabaret. I need that little fucking bowler hat to get off.”
“I know you’re joking, but I would do it,” Eddie said. “But like, is there something I’m missing here? What’s so embarrassing about it?”
Richie sighed and put his arm over his eyes, but Eddie could still see that his entire face was scrunched up. “When it feels that good I get kind of—it just feels really good. It’s overwhelming. I look stupid.”
“Dude, have you seen me while you’re fucking me?” Eddie remembered his dream and the sex that had inspired the dream and his breathing went a little shaky. “I don’t even know what the fuck is going on half the time.”
“Yeah, but that’s amazing,” Richie said, reaching for him and blindly pulling him close. “I’d look like, I don’t know, Bigfoot getting his ass eaten.”
“Jesus Christ,” Eddie said, blinking. “How am I supposed to fuck you with that image running through my head?”
But he was pressing tight against Richie, his fingers curling against Richie’s skin so he wouldn’t grab him.
“What if you were on your stomach?” he asked. “I wouldn’t be able to see your face.”
“Seems like a win for you,” Richie said, and Eddie finally wriggled away and straddled him, pushing his arm from his face and leaning forward until their noses were touching.
“I like your stupid fucking face,” Eddie said. “But if you don’t want me to look at you while I have my fingers in your ass, that’s fine. I just want to make you feel good.”
Richie stared up at him, eyes soft and serious, and ran his fingers over the scar on Eddie’s cheek. “Okay,” he said, putting his arms around him carefully. “Can I make you come first?”
“God, yes, please,” he moaned, and Richie flipped them over and had his boxers down to his thighs almost before his back had even hit the bed. It always wrecked him when Richie did things like that, and the move knocked the breath out of him even as he pushed his hips up, begging to be touched. Richie slid down, pinning him and kissing sharp little bites across his stomach that made him cry out in trembling desperation.
“I’m so glad you have a nice dick,” Richie said, kissing the tip of it. “I don’t think I could respect you if you didn’t.”
“I always hoped you’d respect me someday,” he said, trying to keep still.
“No, babe, this is between me and your dick,” Richie said, and took him in his mouth, sucking slow and thorough. It was a pleasure that verged on pain, and Richie was so good at that, making him dance right on the line between until he was an aching mess. He suspected Richie wanted to draw it out longer—and he wondered how much of that had to do with wanting to put off getting to what he wanted—but he was too close to the edge, and when Richie sucked slow and pressed one finger into him, he lost it completely and came so hard he dug his heel into the mattress and pushed hard enough that he slid up the bed and hit the headboard.
“Jesus,” he gasped, rubbing his hands over his face. “Every fucking time, man.”
“It’s good?” Richie asked. He always looked so fucked up after he went down on Eddie, like he was about to come out of his skin but was also sleepily turned on, and the combination made Eddie a little crazy.
“Yeah, it’s good,” he said, reaching down to cup his face. “It’s always fucking amazing. You know that.”
Richie gave him an uncertain smile and kissed his thumb, and knelt when Eddie twisted around to get the bottle of lube out of the nightstand.
“You want to do this, right?” he asked when he had tossed it onto the bed, because Richie was looking down at the towel Eddie had laid out dubiously.
“Yeah.” Richie nodded. “I really like it. It’s just…intense.”
“I literally just kicked myself into the headboard,” Eddie said. “I get it.”
“All right, fine,” Richie said, dragging off his shirt and throwing it over his shoulder. “Stick your fingers in my ass, whatever.”
He shoved his shorts off and settled down onto his stomach, face pressed into the pillow, and Eddie pushed his legs apart and watched, fascinated, as he shivered. Eddie didn’t like to talk about it, but he knew it was pretty obvious how obsessed he was with Richie’s body, and he realized he really hadn’t been taking advantage of how much Richie liked to be told what to do. He could just kneel here and run his hands up and down the insides of his thighs and listen to him try to muffle his cries in the pillow, and Richie would do it because Eddie told him to. As he slicked up his fingers and rubbed his thumb behind his balls, he bent his head and kissed the curve of his ass.
“There,” he said. “Now you can always say I kissed your ass.”
“Nobody would ever believe me. You’re the Michigan J. Frog of ass-kissers,” Richie said, and then whatever else he was going to say was lost in a wild gasp when Eddie slid the tip of his finger inside him, and then two fingers, not very far but enough, apparently, to make Richie reach out to grab onto the sheets. Gradually, trying to remember what he liked best, he worked his fingers inside him and spread them a little, and Richie shouted into the pillow, loud and hoarse and shocked.
“Sorry,” he said shakily. “Fuck, sorry.”
“It’s all right, I want to hear you. I know it feels good,” Eddie whispered, running his free hand over Richie’s back and realizing he was wound up so tight he was shaking. Amazed, Eddie watched him shift around restlessly. He couldn’t figure out whether he was trying to get away or push down onto his fingers, and he almost stopped to ask what was wrong. But just then he changed the angle of his wrist a little and Richie’s entire body felt like it relaxed—no, not relaxed, gave in. This time when he cried out, it sounded as if the breath had been knocked out of him.
Eddie did it again, a smooth slide forward with his fingers, and Richie tightened around him and gripped the sheets so hard he pulled them off the mattress, and Eddie opened his mouth to protest but then forgot to do it because Richie was shouting until his voice broke and rocking down against the bed over and over. Oh god, Eddie thought. He came just from that, not even a minute, not even thirty seconds, and regretted letting Richie go down on him earlier because he wanted to get off again just watching Richie come undone. He was never going to forget it, the sight of the muscles in Richie’s back and ass and thighs tensing so beautifully in pleasure at something Eddie had done to him. Jesus, he was going to have to jerk off twice every morning just so he wouldn’t think about it all day at work and never get anything done.
Richie let go of the sheets and clutched the pillow again, shoving his face into it as he slowly relaxed enough that Eddie felt comfortable pulling his fingers out. He wiped his hand on the towel right away and was about to run to the bathroom to do more thorough cleaning when he realized Richie was still trembling all over and his breath hadn’t started to even out, but had instead veered closer to crying.
“Hey, okay,” Eddie said nonsensically, curling up beside him without even thinking about how much he wanted to wash his hands and tugging Richie, arranging him so he was sprawled heavy on top of Eddie’s legs, head resting against his stomach.
He wasn’t crying, not quite, but was right on the verge of it, shoving his face in Eddie’s shirt. Eddie stroked his hair with his clean hand, the other firmly clenched in the towel, and listened to him try to calm himself. His breath shuddered hot against Eddie’s stomach through his shirt and suddenly Eddie remembered watching Richie floating, looking down at the fence spike in his hands and being overcome with the calm knowledge that he was about to run toward his death. He thought, I’d do it a hundred times if it meant saving you, and the sheer breadth of what he was willing to do for Richie made his lungs feel like they had abruptly shrunk to the size of peas. He gasped twice, loud and harsh in the quiet room, and jerked away from Richie, fled to the kitchen, bracing himself against the island while he shook the inhaler and shot it into his mouth and welcomed that bitter licorice taste that always meant he was safe again, for the moment.
When he came back into the bedroom after washing his hands for a possibly unreasonable time, Richie was sitting on the bed in his pajamas, looking so tired Eddie wanted to make him sleep for the entire weekend.
“Sorry about that,” he said.
“No,” Eddie said, climbing across the bed and pushing him onto his back, holding onto him fiercely. “Do not fucking apologize. That was an unrelated freakout, okay?”
Richie was silent for a little too long before he said quietly, “Okay.”
Eddie kicked him. “I’m fucking serious, Rich. It wasn’t about the sex at all. Get that out of your head, because if I have my way, we’re doing that all the fucking time.”
“Maybe not for a while, though.” Richie’s voice was unsteady.
“Hey.” Eddie put his hand on his cheek and guided him until Richie was forced to look him in the eye. “Whatever you want. I just need you to know that I loved doing it.”
Richie nodded, his jaw clenched. Eddie ran his thumb over the tension there until he relaxed into sleep, and watched over him for a little while afterward, loving him too much and hating himself for never being able to stop fucking it up.
In April, he finally met with a divorce lawyer. He had actually called three months previously, but had rescheduled until the exasperated admin finally asked him to call back with his availability. Myra had stopped trying to contact him every day, although they had spoken a few times. Their last conversation had not ended well. She had an extensive list of things that might be affecting his cognitive abilities, and he finally explained that even if he did have a head injury, or cancer, or encephalitis—and he had to admit, his actions did lend themselves to neurological concerns—he was feeling pretty great and didn’t want to get better. He had eaten almond encrusted trout the previous week and hadn’t had so much as a hive or a stomach cramp, and he was quite happy and was not coming back.
He called Beverly before the meeting. “Did you feel like he was going to jump out from behind the door as soon as you talked to your lawyer?” he asked her.
“Yes,” she said. “I still do, actually, every time I say the word divorce, but he doesn’t even have any idea where I am.”
“Shit,” he said. “I know—I know our situations aren’t exactly the same, but I’m scared that if I see her again, somehow I’ll end up going back. I won’t even know why or how, I’ll just give in because I always give in, because she’s right and maybe I do have a head injury or something.”
“Even if you do see her, you won’t go back,” she said. “That’s the Eddie who forgot about Derry. You were never really that Eddie.”
“I mean, I was that Eddie for a long fucking time,” he said. “But thanks, Bev. I feel like I should have brought Richie for moral support, but I don’t really want him to have to be involved with any of it.”
“Can you imagine Richie in a lawyer’s office anyway?” Bev asked.
“I absolutely cannot,” he said, but when he was in Kenneth R. Alger’s tasteful greige and gold office, he thought of Richie walking around the room like a bored house cat, slyly making fun of all the framed pictures of Kenneth R. Alger with various New York City mayors, and realized he wouldn’t have minded having him there.
“Here is what I want,” Eddie said, pulling a thick folder from his briefcase.
“I see,” Kenneth R. Alger said, taking it gingerly. “You have done your homework.”
“Yes,” Eddie said, and pulled out his inhaler as well, gripping it tightly in his left hand. “Just ignore me if I start wheezing, okay? This is probably gonna get weird.”
The next night, describing the meeting to Richie after they were already in bed, he admitted that it had gone a little better than he had expected, although the moment Kenneth R. Alger had said the words “contested divorce” his breath had started whistling like a tea kettle, and by the time he got to “mediation with both parties,” he just kept the inhaler in his mouth and waited for the meeting to be over.
“Are you really afraid of her?” Richie asked. “I don’t think you are.”
“No, I’m afraid of me,” Eddie said. “I need you sitting on my shoulder telling me I’m brave all the time. I’m fucking weak.”
“You want me to come with you?” Richie asked.
“No,” he said. “Well, a little, but that would make things…complicated.”
“Things are complicated,” Richie said. “You let me know if you ever want me there, and I’ll be there.”
“Thanks,” he said, gripping Richie’s hand tight. “At the risk of saying it too much, I really do love you.”
“You’ve pretty much worn it out already,” Richie said. “It’s meaningless.”
“I take it back. You don’t deserve it,” he said, reaching under his shirt and pulling on some of the hair under his navel. Richie jerked under him, laughing, and he did it again.
“Fucking stop, you sadistic little shit.” Richie pushed him away and rolled onto his back. “Look, I just find it hard to believe. I remember this entire other life where you died, you know? It feels like maybe I’m dreaming. Or like the clown is tricking me and I’ll turn around one day and you’ll be a fucking zombie.”
“How did I die, anyway?” he asked. “I have these weird fucking dreams that I’m dead. I think I am, anyway.”
“Yeah, they are not exciting,” he said. “I’m like, watching us sleep most of the time. Me and Stan. I think I’m dead, or at least I’m hurt pretty bad, and I’m just hanging out in the afterlife watching you fucking twitch and mumble all night.”
“You’re what?” Richie said, and Eddie turned to him because it sounded like he had been hit in the stomach. He looked tense with shock, and grabbed Eddie’s arm like it was a security blanket.
“I have, like, this big fucking hole right here,” he said, tapping in between his ribs. “And I watch over you a lot while you’re sleeping, tell you it’s all right, that kind of thing. Sometimes Stan’s there and we have, like, weird afterlife water cooler gossip about all of you. Like one time he told me you went to a hypnotist in college to stop sucking your thumb.”
“Fucking seriously?” Richie said.
“Yeah, man, I’m not sure if you thought that was some big secret, but we all kind of knew,” Eddie said.
Richie’s face crumbled, and he reached for Eddie, tugging him on his side and dragging him close so their foreheads were touching. He didn’t speak, just held onto Eddie’s arm tight and breathed out slow, careful, painful breaths. Eddie closed his eyes and tried not to panic, understanding, with a sudden full body shudder that didn’t stop, whose eyes he had been looking out of while he was asleep. Richie’s arms slid around him and he tucked himself in even closer, trying to get warm.
“I didn’t, by the way,” Richie said after a while. “I didn’t know you guys knew. None of you could have given me a heads up at any point, like, hey, Rich, you’re not very good at hiding this embarrassing thing you probably want to hide?”
“I mean, it was kind of a drop in the ocean of embarrassing things you did,” Eddie said. “You threw up in class every single year. Like, multiple times. That’s way worse.”
“Oh no, I have no fucking shame about that,” Richie said. “It was always because Bowers had threatened to beat the shit out of me as soon as school was out, and I’d tell the teacher and none of them cared. So yeah, they deserved anxiety barf on their floors.”
“I didn’t know that,” Eddie said. “You never seemed like you were afraid of anything.”
“Well, I’m very cool,” Richie said. “That’s why you love me, right? The coolness.”
“The money helps,” Eddie said. He grabbed Richie’s hand and kissed the knuckles, then left it there with his lips pressed against Richie’s skin. Richie had long fingers, nails bitten, a random cut or pen mark here and there. Eddie would have liked to believe he wouldn’t love Richie’s hands as much if they were manicured, but that would be a lie. He would like it very much, actually, if Richie would go to a manicurist, but he loved his hands anyway. They were hands that loved him in return, exactly as he was.
“You do, though,” Richie said, almost a question but not quite.
“I do,” he agreed. “I should have said it before, but I was scared. I have no idea what’s a normal amount of loving someone and what’s too much.”
“You’re asking the wrong fucking person,” Richie said, kissing his forehead. “I think…it’s about what you need and not how much you need it. Like, what do you need from me?”
He took a deep breath and considered it. “I need you to—don’t fuck with me about this, but I need you to love me. I could live without sex—”
“No, you fucking could not,” Richie said.
“—but I need you to be around annoying the shit out of me until we’re both dead.”
“Doable,” Richie said. “Right in my wheelhouse.”
“I need you to make breakfast tomorrow, also,” Eddie said.
“Good fucking luck with that,” Richie said, but when Eddie woke up the next morning, he found Richie in the kitchen making waffles and doing a passable Supertramp imitation.
“Fuck you, dude,” he said. “I’m an amazing girlfriend.”
“Sorry to say it, babe, but you are in fact not much of a girlfriend,” Richie said, kissing the top of his head as he walked behind him to get coffee. “I was singing it to your—”
“Don’t do it,” Eddie said. “I swear to god I will beat you over the head with the waffle iron.”
“Mummy dear, mummy dear.” Richie pointed the dripping spatula at him to the beat, and Eddie shoved him out of the way to check if he was undercooking the waffles. The kitchen was a mess and he caught himself getting a little panicky and backed up from the emotion to take a look around—at the butter melting on the counter, the syrup that he could already tell was going to get everywhere, crumbs and dried waffle mix and Richie sticking his fingers into the bowl and licking them—and then farther back, outside of the bright, beautiful chaos of this particular moment, into the realization of how much he loved the life he had built and how hard it had been to build it.
“Hey,” he said, ducking under Richie’s arm and sliding in between him and the waffle iron to kiss him. “Will you help me clean up after breakfast?”
“Eat shit. The cook doesn’t clean,” Richie said.
“Don’t be a dick, Dick,” Eddie said.
“All right, yeah, fine,” Richie sighed, kissing him back and tasting like the strawberries Eddie had bought because he hadn’t had one for twenty-five years, and it was as easy as that, being alive.