Few things go through Eddie's mind at that moment.
Had I been trying to kill him when I held his head under water?
At that age, I'd thought that maybe he knew what I knew, that this dirty water could hide what was already dirty inside, that I am trying to kill you because I am you, and we are ready to die in this quarry because a boy who likes a boy is a dead one, and it is better to be dead than to be alone.
But you are buoyant; you float.
The restaurant bar is alive at this time of night, the dance floor doused in neon purples and blues with couples swaying to a Madonna ballad on the stereo: entangled and breathing without a gasp, so as not to miss a single second nor forget a moment.
She's attractive and he feels self-destructive, enticing himself to the curves of her body through her sundress. It's a hot night and sweat curls his hair, and across the dance floor her thigh presses between Richie's legs like it belongs there.
Ben and Beverly are somewhere further in the crowd, his hands flat to her shoulder blades while her nails trace his spine—his petulance keeps him staring at them, chest to chest, forehead to forehead, Ben Hanscom adore's a woman's smile while she nonchalantly hitches up her chest. Smoke from Stan beside him has him waving a hand distractedly, reaching for his drink with the other and taking a short swig; Bill and Audra are all over each other in one seat, legs hooked high to hide and support and hands wandering further than mouths. There's a safe distance between Stan and Mike, but they have just finished sharing a Coke. Audra giggles loudly.
"She has no shame", Stan says eventually, flicking ash into the empty can. On the dance floor, the girl tucks her hands into the back pockets of Richie's jeans. He thinks he might be inclined to agree.
"How long have they been together?", Mike asks, leaning over to take a breath of Stan's cigarette. Stan doesn't even blink.
"A couple of weeks", Audra answers, pulling away from Bill to tie her hair back. "Are they serious, Eddie?"
"I don't care."
His hand drags up her side.
"Oh, I'd love to be in her shoes."
"H-hey", Bill teasingly slaps Audra's ankle. She giggles again, a warm flush across her chest and neck.
"Well, are you going to ask me to dance or not?"
And Bill does, dragging her into the crowd just as the song changes. It is so incredibly easy for them, he can't help but think. For Stan and Mike, too. And though he might recognise that he is the cause of his own problems, the internal sting of it doesn't hurt any less at the sight of an insistent fever like Bill and Bev's, like Mike and Stan's hooked ankles or Ben and Audra's doting, coaxing smiles. There is a sharp flare of red that Eddie knows is Beverly's skirt and her laughter fills his ears; from the corner of his eye, he sees Stan lean into Mike's side, cigarette poised near his chin.
"She's really into him", he states, tapping excess ash into the tray at the centre of the table. Mike has his head tipped back and is tapping his fingers along to the song, his arm loosely wrapped around the back of Stan's chair.
"I wonder if they'll get married", Eddie ponders. He can't help but feel bitter at the sight of them, their tension palpable even from so far away. Tonight, already so fragile, attempts to cauterise the open wound that he had so agitatedly titled DO NOT DISCUSS.
It only takes the silent sound of Stan blowing smoke away for him to realise that neither of them had been speaking about Bill and Audra, that subconsciously he had tuned in to Richie despite a lack of clarification. Richie dances obsessively to the new song, the girl suddenly a ghost of Madonna as he favours twirling himself to Richard Butler's croon, starkly decorated in new-wave rock. She's easily lost in the crowd as he spins himself to the beat, Audra and Bill dizzy against each other and Beverly eagerly giving in to Richie's antics, a devoted arm still hung around Ben's neck.
Eddie forces himself to look away and takes the cigarette when Stan offers it, rubbing his tired eyes and breathing a cloud of grey out into the strobe lights, lights that almost degrade the whole night. The nicotine feels good going in, like breathing with an extra added purpose. He's underestimated addiction before (he's read the statistics and everything, gone through so many pamphlets that he’s lost count) and it must've taken years for him to stop taking placebo pills with every day seeming like the last, every night becoming tomorrow, and anxiety clouding the reality of what was essentially clumped sugar.
Pinching the cigarette between his thumb and forefinger, like the morning paper, like his ballpoint pen, Eddie thinks he might need to get away again. He hid from Derry, he can hide from this too. He's fine at making friends, fine at cutting connections—the smoke burns his throat. He spots the girl in the crowd: does she know? He spots Beverly's greeting wave to Audra: can they tell?
He hands the cigarette back to Stan, who goes on to pass it to Mike; Eddie thinks they might have guessed a long time ago.
"The night's young", Mike suggests lightly. The night is long. He feels bare, here, in the middle of nowhere. Strangers might not care in the company of other strangers but somehow this feels too close to home—this holiday is homecoming and he feels vulnerable to the hungry eye. He needs to find a girl to fuck tonight.
"I'm tired", his brain says for him. "I might go back to the hotel."
Richie dances like he has something to reach for, a high shelf, a jar, and an offer—or something of similar sequence. His arms have a natural affinity for the air and he sings along horribly, face to the sky and skin reflecting those purple and blue lights.
"Go dance", Stan kicks his foot. "We'll keep your seat warm."
Reluctance wanes into childlike joy when Bev shimmies toward him, bouncing against his chest with a brutal cry of I follow where my mind goes! Ben is close by, leading them both into a more seamless rhythm and further into those mesmerising lights. He can smell too many brands of perfumes, can feel Bev's skirt against his thigh, can taste the alcohol as it warms his cold hands and that something mesmerising tucks him close. Further, further in, Bill dips Audra and she squeaks into a kiss, hands gripping his biceps—there's a buzzing generosity on the dance floor, a promise of momentary amnesia and anonymity, but his eyes themselves dance around the colours. Richie's lanky form is at the corner of his eye no matter how many times Ben spins him—he's left a piece of himself at every table, on every person, under each shoe. Eddie shuts his eyes as the noise blares into them; tonight feels no better than any other. Terrible and bitter resentment tastes like ash in his mouth, intolerably persistent, intolerably close, and completely unstoppable.
His eyes open to a cherry red smile, Richie's own open and gushing wound. Arms sling around his waist and cool sweat drowns his clothes, strangers loiter in his periphery and a kiss presses to his forehead—when had the song changed?
The desire to have Richie is possessive and domineering, a bland inside joke that needs clerical-level entrance to be heard. He aches for possession, gross and complete ownership of the naivety that allows his hands to crawl the taller man's chest. The joke, he can imagine Richie saying, goes like this:
A head over heels fool goes bar crawling with an asthmatic.
He feels like a spinning top tonight, toyed easily by Richie and so off balance that he lets a fond kind of irritation slip into his smile when Richie pinches his cheek, a reprimanding itch under his tongue—it's punishable to keep him so close. A bottomless and paralytic feeling that smells like Richie's breath and the lips of the girl he'd kissed warns him of possibility; they’ve easily kept in beat with the song, almost like an afterthought.
To feel so doubled over and sick at the thought of it all, Eddie thinks, does not make him homophobic. He almost wants that, to remember the feeling and never forget it, like some kind of contraceptive for self-indulgent behaviour. Richie doesn't get any closer than whispering in his ear and it feels like a win for his pushing and pulling psyche—Bev pulls him one way as Richie's retreating shadow pulls him another.
"I think he's gone to go look for her", she says in his ear, smothered and apologetic. He uses her hand as leverage, a quick fix for sudden exposition in what he thought were the dull purples and blues of an uninterested dance floor, each inhabitant looking to get away for just one more song.
"Who?" He's sure to grin bright, tease tight, and twirl her wide, her laughter trickling into the change of song—You hear her voice everywhere, taking the chair, she's a leading lady!
Eddie feels sick with it all.
So the head over heels fool goes back to the bar to cool off after dancing for so long and oh, he's so in love that he can't take it! The bar tender asks him: why the red face?
I've got asthma, the fool says, and I've been smoking all night.
Not you, the bar tender tuts, jutting his thumb at a man with his head in his hand. Him.
Oh, the man says. I'm head over heels in love.