Eddie has been awake for nearly thirty minutes.
The clock tells him as much, red lights angry in the darkness. 3:26, a terrible time of day, and he wishes even a part of him just wanted to throw the covers over his head and try to fall back to sleep. But there isn’t. He’s not in bed, he’s not under the covers. He does not plan to return to them either.
Eddie has been awake – wide awake – for nearly thirty minutes, pacing up and down the carpet runner over the wood paneling that makes up his bedroom floor. The movement is blessedly silent; always light on his feet. He didn’t think it would have mattered if he had tied bells to his ankles, though. At this point, he finds he wouldn’t give two shits about it if someone actually heard him.
Nearly thirty minutes, although maybe twenty of those had been aimless pacing, when he tried to talk himself out of whatever this feeling was. Or talk himself into going with it, this pulling, this heart-squeezing, stomach-twisting need to – to go. Eddie had practically jumped out of bed upon waking up with this feeling, convinced at first that he didn’t belong there, that he wasn’t home – but of course he was. His sheets, now made to damn-near military perfection. His light blue curtains, drifting in the summer breeze. His rugs safely spread across the room.
It is not the first time it has ever happened to him, this feeling of not belonging. Possibly not even the first time this week. But this happens to everyone, Eddie always tells himself, everyone experiences those funny moments when they first wake up and have no idea where they are.
He knows it’s not quite the same feeling. He’s being pulled somewhere, towards something. Pulled straight out of bed. Tugged right out.
His bed, his sheets, his curtains.
Eddie’s stomach rolls. He continues to pack.
He’s not bringing too much this time (‘this time,’ as though he often flees in the middle of the night), barely enough to fit the duffel. Clearly, he has the room to bring more, but he finds that he just doesn’t care to. Six of the nearly thirty minutes pacing had been Eddie going back and forth from closet to bed. A full minute spent looking at his closet and having that same feeling twist around his heart.
None of this is mine, it tells him.
It’s stupid, really. Like, ridiculously fucking stupid, because he bought most of those clothes and happens to like them. There’s a nice white polo with varying colors of green striping at the top. He brings it. A long-sleeved, deep maroon sweater that is tempting to bring, but he doesn’t because it’s summer. There’s a light blue polo as well, and it’s plain but it’s extremely comfortable, why doesn’t he wear that on the drive there?
(the drive where?)
Another polo makes the bizarre choice of being a dark, wildly patterned blue with a black collar. Eddie doesn’t like that one, has no idea why he has it. For some reason, any time he looks at it he pictures a sweaty gigolo, maybe one who’s favorite sport is bowling.
It’s weird. So maybe Eddie doesn’t like all of his clothes, but they’re all still his. Presumably he even wore the gigolo shirt at one point. Maybe. The point is, this feeling is ridiculous; it’s a newer apartment, sure, but all the furniture is his, the clothes are his, all of it is his, all of it is home.
But he’s taken precious few of his favorite shirts, jackets, and some pants. He only owns one pair of jeans, so he takes those, too. He hasn’t really bothered to ask himself why he thinks he needs a duffel bag on this trip he apparently needs to take. But when he closes his closet door, he has a feeling he won’t be seeing the contents for some time, if ever again.
Any toiletries he wants to bring are thrown into the bag after a brisk shower. At first, he has his hands full with three different types of body wash before tossing two of them back into the sink with disgust. He doesn’t need to take gentle care of his skin; it’s not over sensitive or prone to hives or rashes or whatever the fuck his mother or Myra have been telling him most of his life, he knows that. He knows that now.
It is his third day without taking any of his medication. The world has yet to stop, and he has yet to self destruct, and that’s good enough for him. Whatever this pull is, it came with a strong sense of rebellion that he had experienced just about all week.
Determined, he tosses the body wash of choice into the duffel, along with deodorant, toothpaste (in a carefully sealed travel bag), only one of his shampoos, and his face wash.
He is halfway down the stairs when he runs back up, grabs one of the two body washes in the sink anyway.
Then the other bottle of shampoo. And a moisturizer.
So Eddie likes to be clean. Fucking sue him.
What he doesn’t take still sits inside the medicine cabinet. He had stared at the clear plastic, each pill visible and separated by the little compartments, each representing a different day. He usually takes three pills in the morning; one on an empty stomach, the two others after breakfast. Two afternoon pills. Four at night, with dinner. One before bed.
Monday and Tuesday’s containers are empty. Wednesday through Friday’s containers still have their pills inside, untouched. He has no plans to empty Saturday’s.
He shuts the cabinet, looks at himself in the mirror. Scrubs his hand down his face, pausing only to rub at his cheek a moment.
You don’t need any of this, he thinks, and eventually walks out of the house without even his inhaler for comfort. You knew this when you were a kid. Remember? It’s bull shit. Fuck all of it.
Around 4am, Eddie drops the duffel and his cell phone onto the passenger’s seat, not particularly bothered when the phone bounces off the seat and tumbles onto the floor. Who would call him at this hour? Who would call him, period?
Probably not even Myra, at this point. And if she did, he wouldn’t answer.
That and, well. Having a hands-free smart console spring to life with the engine turning makes the whole phone thing kind of redundant. The point still stands.
The console is left alone as Eddie pulls out onto a normally busy street. The GPS goes untouched. What would he enter? Eddie has no fucking clue where his destination actually is. He meanders through New York City, driving on complete instinct as he makes his way to the highway, because apparently, he’s going out of state. Wherever this feeling is tugging him towards, it’s not in the Big Apple. He thinks he probably already knew that, at the very least, but everything else is a complete mystery.
He has to go. Go there, wherever it is.
Eddie clenches his jaw. Somehow, he knows it’s going to be a long drive. A forever drive. Maybe he should have grabbed something to eat before shoving what little he could call a ‘life’ into a bag and blazing off towards the unknown. He will later, pick something up at a gas station or McDonald’s, even as his stomach turns at the idea of fast food. He never eats fast food, too unhealthy. But he doesn’t want to give a shit about what is unhealthy. This rebellion, this pull. If he wants a Sausage McMuffin, he will get a fucking Sausage McMuffin. It will be nothing like it looks on TV, it will be flat and greasy and unappealing and god damn delicious. He probably will stop eventually, on this trip to somewhere. Later.
Right now, Eddie Kaspbrak is going for a drive.
So, turns out when someone has been driving for an hour and a half straight on an empty stomach, it doesn’t matter what they may have previously thought about fast food delicacies, they just need to devour them as quickly as humanly possible.
They also settle for Burger King if it’s closer.
At least, that’s why Eddie thinks this sandwich (croissant?) tastes as good as it does, and he does not happily sigh in relief (ecstasy?) after his first bite, but it’s a damn near thing. Sausage, egg, and cheese; his hash browns are pretty good, too. He wonders if forcing himself into cardiac arrest by eating more of this shit would be as great of a fuck you to his mother as he thinks it is.
The drive so far has been silent, leaving Eddie to think. Mostly he has tried to figure out where the hell he was actually driving to, even as he took exits on auto-pilot, knew when to stay on which interstate for how long. The GPS was already a wash and he didn’t feel like listening to anything on the radio just yet. So the car has enjoyed a quiet passenger, unaware of the jumbled tirade going on in Eddie’s mind, thoughts piling on top of each other in a mess.
Visually, his mind is like a medicine cabinet.
Only this one has been violently shaken open. There are pill bottles and their caps tossed to the floor, multicolored pills lining the shelves like dead Christmas lights, ointments and bandages spilling out in ribbons. There is a large pill box, just like the one he left behind at home, except instead of the compartments being labeled as days, they are labeled Richie, Bill, Stanley, Ben, Beverly, Mike. Even their contents have been scattered across the ground while the pill box gapes open. It’s a fucking mess.
But he knows he can think of his mother very clearly. The lone, opaque pill cannister still standing tall and fat, unmarred by the chaos around it. He can see it; he can see her.
He can see the way she would grip his wrist, firmly, when it was time to leave the park, even though he was the only kid who had to go home before sundown, because mosquito bites can lead to all sorts of illnesses, sweetie, have you forgotten? The way she would explain, sadly, to Mrs. Denbrough that her little Eddie couldn’t risk playing with Bill and Georgie in the snow, of course not, he could so easily catch pneumonia. The way she had screamed at his gym teacher about how delicate Eddie was, how he couldn’t possibly keep up with his asthma, and threatened to get the Board of Education involved if he wasn’t excused from further physical education classes.
The way she tutted, venomously, one time when an eight-year-old Richie turned up at his house, asking if Eddie wanted to see his new bike. Eddie had already been grabbing his fanny pack from the hall table when he heard his mother telling his friend that Eddie has been very sick all day with all the pollen in the air this time of year, come back another time. Richie may have even heard him shouting in protest before the door slammed. Not shouting at his mother, of course not, just a sharp sound of dismay, or surprise, maybe even betrayal. But he wasn’t sick. Yeah, the pollen was annoying, but he felt fine. Could breathe fine. Why couldn’t he go see Richie’s bike?
“That bike is much too big for him,” she explained, her massive weight blocking him inside of the hallway where he could barely see the front door behind her. He wondered if Richie was still there. “He is such a careless little boy. He’s going to get himself killed.”
Eddie had no idea why his friend having a big bike meant he couldn’t go out. It wasn’t like he was going to ride the stupid thing.
But he did. Rode double with Richie for the first time years later, fucking terrified and exhilarated the entire way.
He thinks it was after school one day – some time in March, or April; when the spring weather had yet to warm up, but damn if the sun didn’t try its best. It was definitely a Friday, school letting out excitedly for the weekend after an eternity of watching the minute hand click forward. Sixth grade.
Eddie remembers it pretty clearly now, actually, turning over the scene in his head like a snow globe. Or, more appropriately, plucking the medication off of the shelf and studying the words on the label. The warnings, side-effects, how many, what it was supposed to relieve. Except they read as memories, stories of his past. Action and dialogue that slot back into his head slowly but surely. Remembering.
(pills collected and placed back into their compartments, one by one by one)
Eddie remembers taking his third round of medication for the day with a small bottle of water, letting Richie crush the thing “with his bare haaaands!!” before tossing it into the trash. Bill stopping him in the hall on the way out the door, seeing if he wanted to sleep over that night. It was the weekend, after all, Stan and Richie were already on board, and they—
“—w-were going to watch E.T.,” Bill explained, as if Eddie needed any more information other than the fact that everyone was sleeping over at Big Bill’s house. “Georgie’s never seen it b-b-be-be-before. Wanna come over?”
“Sure, that sounds fun,” Eddie replied easily. He would have to call his mother when he got there, but his mom liked the Denbroughs. They were an easy family to like. She found them “positively wholesome”, so it should be no problem.
After debating for a moment internally, he looked up at Bill and hesitantly confessed, “I haven’t seen it before either.”
“What?!” Of course, this was Richie, who gaped just a second before setting a hand over his heart. “You’ve never seen E.T.?!”
Immediately on the defensive, Eddie set his jaw. “I was like, five when it came out, dickwad.”
“Georgie’s only six!” Richie’s arms flailed out before him, like evidence of Bill’s brother’s age had been presented at his feet. Eddie scowled, which only egged Richie on further. “You’re such a baby, Eds!”
“It’s a PG rated film, idiot, which means Parental Guidance required and that means it’s inappropriate for little kids for like swearing and violence and stuff.” He noticed Bill making a face. “Uh, except for Georgie, ‘cause we’re all watching it with him.”
“So your mommy wouldn’t let you?”
“Edward James Kaspbrak, you kiss your mommy with that mouth?”
“Shut up, Richie!”
“‘Cause I know I would!”
“That doesn’t even make any sense!”
“Let’s get this show on the road, assholes,” Stan quipped sharply and that was the end of it. Stan was probably the only person in the world who could get Richie to shut his trash mouth and Eddie was intensely jealous of this sacred power.
They all started walking towards the school’s front doors, chatting away about how boring Mrs. Wagner is and how disgusting the pizza slices were at lunch today (not that Eddie, with his Mom-Approved-and-Prepared lunch, would know aside from how the slop looked). Stan zipping shut the pocket Eddie had accidentally left open on his backpack. Bill complaining about how much homework their math teacher had given them while Richie bemoaned how much “basic ass shit” the lesson had been. Standard Friday fare.
By the time they reached the bike racks, Richie was trying to sell the privilege of copying his homework to Bill, who seemed just desperate enough to take the bait. Eddie spared the two of them an eyeroll before walking sullenly past the boys unchaining their bikes.
“Eds, where’re you going?” asked Richie, his eyebrows furrowing above his thick glasses. Even Bill and Stan seemed confused.
“Aren’t you c-c-coming?”
“Well, yeah,” Eddie replied, dully. “My mom should be able to drop me off after I get home.”
Bill and Richie looked at each other, still perplexed. Eddie looked to Stan like he might know what the hell the problem was, but he was looking at Eddie just as awkwardly as before.
“That’s such a waste of time,” Richie whined, pushing his bike towards the sidewalk where Eddie stood. “You can blow your mom off for one afternoon. I’ll make up for it with her later.”
“Ugh, shut up, Richie.” Eddie gestured around himself. “Do you see my bike anywhere, numbnuts?”
(It had been a very trying day when Sonia Kaspbrak yielded to her son’s request for a big boy’s bicycle, but she had only allowed him to circle the surrounding blocks - and not too far – and only with a helmet and pads.)
“I’m not walking miles behind you guys. I’ll just get a ride once I’m home.”
“Just ride with me,” came Richie’s answer with a shrug. He immediately looked panicked for no reason Eddie could fathom, adjusting his glasses and stammering out, “Or Bill, you could ride double with Bill.”
Eddie gaped. “Like, two people on one bike?”
“Y-y-yeah, Georgie rides with me s-ss-sometimes.”
Eddie bristled at that; not because he disliked Bill’s brother, but because that was the second time someone has brought up how much better at being a kid Georgie was than Eddie. Or something. That’s what it felt like. Well, Georgie probably didn’t have asthma and allergies and delicate bones like Eddie did.
“That sounds like a really great way to get myself killed,” he snapped.
“Actually, you’re small enough that you should be pretty safe,” Stan informed him casually. “As long as whoever’s pedaling isn’t a complete moron.”
Eddie snorted. “That leaves Richie out.”
“Hate to say it, but his bike is probably better for this,” continued Stan, looking like the words made him physically ill. He did not offer his own bike into the equation and no one pressured him to do so.
Eddie still did not look very happy with this information. “Why’s that?”
“His is b-b-bi-bigger,” Bill explained, looking down at his bike forlornly. It was still a kid bike. Just a month later, he would buy a new one and name it Silver, and Eddie would have sat much more comfortably on that. But that afternoon, Bill felt entirely inadequate.
Eddie could hear his mother screaming about this, all too perfectly. All the ways he could hurt himself, little things like scrapes or sprains all the way to, you’ll fall and break a bone! Crack your head on the sidewalk! He’s likely to swerve into traffic and get you hit by a car!
At the other boy’s obvious hesitation, Bill made a face like he wanted to swerve into traffic himself.
“It’s okay, Eddie,” he assured him, “you can catch up with us later. We’ll wait to ss-s-start the movie.”
Eddie grimaced. Feeling like he was somehow letting down Big Bill was the worst. He looked at Richie. “Have you ever done this before?”
“Okay, okay, yes, I’ve done it plenty of times before. I clearly lived to tell the tale, Eds.”
“Don’t call me that,” Eddie replied absently. He felt the fabric of his fanny pack beneath his fingers and realized he had reached down, likely to grab his inhaler out of the bag. It was not a conscious effort. He was unnerved by the action, like he was being mind-controlled. He stopped, letting it go, and glared at the seat of Richie’s bike.
(“But I feel fine, Ma!” The door slamming. Hallway blocked. The top windows of the front door beaming around her silhouette like prison bars. “I’m not sick!”)
If Bill’s kid brother could do this, why the fuck couldn’t Eddie? People still rode bikes with asthma, or like, he was pretty sure. Even Stanley Uris said it would be okay.
He stomped over to Richie, assertively grabbing the handlebars to make his point clear. “If you kill me on this thing, I’m gonna come back and haunt you for-fucking-ever.”
Richie seemed delighted. “Promise?”
“Shut up and show me what to do.”
Rolling his eyes behind his Coke-bottle glasses, Richie patted the seat. “You sit down and enjoy the ride. I do all the hard work.”
For some reason, Eddie thought it was going to be more complicated than that. That was better though. If he wasn’t the one pedaling, surely his asthma wouldn’t act up. He just had to sit there. It sounded so simple. Richie was standing up, feet planted on either side of the bike as Eddie got onto the seat behind him.
It was surprisingly awkward for a reason Eddie could not place. He was awfully close to Richie. Like, was this normal? Eddie looked to Bill for some confirmation that he had been somehow doing it wrong, but the other boy barely spared them a glance as he got on his own bike. Stan didn’t look any different, either, passively watching the two of them like he was waiting for something.
Well, he probably was. Waiting to hurry up and get to Bill’s already.
“Keep your legs out, like, away from the pedals. And hold onto my backpack,” Richie instructed, not looking behind him until he felt Eddie do as he was told. If Eddie didn’t know any better, he would guess that Richie was pretty uncomfortable with the whole thing as well. This had to be weird for him, too, right?
The thought vanished as Richie put one foot down on a pedal and finally grinned over his shoulder to the smaller boy behind him. Evidently, not feeling weird. “Ready, Spaghetti?”
Not wanting to lose his nerve, Eddie tugged hard on the shoulder straps. “Hurry up and go already!”
The movement was thoroughly strange, the world shifting around Eddie without any input from him. He was so totally focused on keeping his legs out of the way that before he knew it, they had already long since left school grounds. He saw that the bicycle caravan had collectively swerved off-road. A shortcut to Bill’s, Eddie knew, but it was a lot different on a bike than merely cutting through on foot. For some reason, he had anticipated flat sidewalks and safe crosswalks. But this was all grass and uneven dirt beneath the wheels. He could feel himself bouncing. Eddie gripped Richie’s backpack so tight he thought he might tear the damn thing right off.
This was terrifying.
He felt like he was going to fall off the bike any moment now, topple them both over and crack both of their heads. The thought absolutely chilled him. Why hadn’t he worried about Richie getting hurt before? What if the extra weight threw off his rhythm? What if he exhausted himself pedaling while standing like that? What if Eddie’s feet got in the way? What if the straps on his backpack broke? Why didn’t Eddie argue harder, tell them that his mom was right, that she’s just trying to keep him safe, this was a terrible idea, and he had no control over the bicycle—
“Hold on, Eds!” Richie exclaimed, as though Eddie wasn’t already, and the smaller boy realized they were about to go down a hill. Panic seized his heart in an instant.
“Rich, wait, no— shit!!”
They may as well have been dropping off into the Grand Canyon at seventy miles per hour. Eddie’s stomach was in his throat and his heart had most certainly stopped. You’ll get yourself killed! echoed over and over again, and he could all too easily imagine himself slipping from the bike, up away from the seat, losing his grip on the straps of Richie’s bag. Richie still pedaling away beneath him.
He could see himself float frozen in the air, fingers fruitlessly reaching for anything to grab onto as the bike dropped from him, down the hill. Canyon. While he soared to his death. The feeling seemed to drag on, leaving him terrified and suspended in mid-air like in slow motion. The only reason he kept his eyes open was to see, with clarity, with horror, his final moments on this sweet green earth.
And then the path leveled out.
Richie’s shoulders were solid and firm under his white-knuckled fingers while Eddie felt his insides settle back down where they were supposed to be. He was silent, dumbstruck. Not dead. Nothing broken, nothing cracked.
Completely unphased, Richie pedaled onward. Moments after the trail flattened, they went down another hill, much smaller and far less steep, and Eddie couldn’t help but giggle at the sensation. It was as though his stomach bounced right along with them and it was actually kind of – well, it felt funny as hell. He still could not bring himself to let go of Richie’s shoulders, but at least it no longer seemed as though any of his organs would try to escape up his throat anymore.
He could breathe.
It was really easy to breathe, he was surprised to find, big gulping, excited breaths that filled his lungs as they blazed down the path. Having someone tangible beneath his hands helped ground him, because Richie would never let him get hurt. Neither would Bill or Stan. His mother’s shrill voice faded away; these were his friends and there was nothing in the world that could harm them. They were immortal. Eddie, for fucking once and for what felt like the first time fucking ever, just enjoyed the ride.
The rest of the journey went on without incident and likely took about ten minutes all told. Eddie felt the elation of his survival buzz through him all the same.
When they pulled up to Bill’s house and Eddie was finally able to put his feet back on solid ground, he admittedly felt a little quaky at the sudden change, but not… not bad. It was a bit like the first time he had been daring enough to jump off of a swing mid-air, and realized that he had survived the leap. Again, a childish voice cried in his mind, let’s do that again! His heart still crashed against his ribcage, but he didn’t think it was out of fear. The inhaler stayed tucked away in his fanny pack, and he playfully shoved Richie’s shoulder on the way inside the house.
“Learn to drive, asshole.”
“Aw, come now, old boy!” Richie and his awful British accent. It would not get any better for quite some time. “I dare say you are much too cute for your brains to get splattered all over the pavement!”
“Ew, what the fuck?!”
The four boys piled onto the large couch in the Denbrough living room (after quick calls to the Kaspbrak and Uris households), with Georgie hopping on Bill’s lap without a second thought. Eddie sat between Richie and Stan. Evidently the latter had decided he did not want to suffer through an entire movie with Trashmouth next to him, and it was with a rather dramatic sigh that Eddie resigned himself to the torture instead.
Luckily, he was able to enjoy the movie anyway. Richie was probably keeping quiet(er) for Georgie’s sake more than Eddie’s – evidence by the occasional poke to his side, lean on his shoulder. How he swung his leg over Eddie’s at one point. Likely Richie forgot that this was his first time seeing the movie, too, though Eddie wound up not missing any of the really good parts. Georgie gasped and giggled conspiratorially every time one of the kids on screen swore.
But Richie damn near howled at the bike scene, pointing at the screen as though they would be looking at any place else.
“That’s Eddie! On the bike!”
“Oh, shut up,” Eddie snapped back over the snickering, “He’s in the front and there’s a basket, it’s not the same at all!”
“We could get you one,” offered Stanley, and Richie just about choked, cackling wildly.
In spite of himself, Eddie slowly smiled and couldn’t help cracking up shortly after. It was pretty funny, and Stan just about killed him saying that. Georgie joined in the round of laughter, not really understanding what the joke was but wanting to be included anyway. The swell of the music on screen as the bikes soared magically into the air captured the boys’ attention once again and they all fell silent to enjoy the rest of the movie.
Overall, it was a lot of fun, although the three of them had to endure Richie’s E.T. impression for the rest of the night. He kept rasping with the same inflection, “Eddie, phone hoooome!” Stan had trouble deciding just what he would do if he found an alien in his closet because it might not be worth the trouble. Bill and Georgie kept doing the finger thing back and forth with each other as Bill’s dad made enough hot dogs for everyone. They ate them with chips until they were absolutely stuffed, sprawled all over the living room and completely satisfied with life.
In seven months, Georgie would meet Pennywise in a storm drain and never return home.
But for that moment, Eddie enjoyed himself. He may have dutifully taken his medication as soon as his watch went off around dinner, but he found there was no need for his inhaler a single time the entire night.
It was easy to convince his mother to let him take his own bike to school after that.
No helmet, but what she didn’t know couldn’t hurt her.