Eddie comes off the morphine.
It turns out that he’s not actually doing as well as he thought he was.
“How are you feeling?” Dr. Fox asks him, the morning after his first night’s sleep minus the intravenous opioids.
Eddie stares at her. He’s kind of baffled, actually. He thought his body was fairly manageable, and now he discovers that western medicine is just full of all kinds of wonders. Devotee of prescription pills as he was for many years, he still had no idea.
“Ow?” he offers her weakly.
“Yeah, that sounds about right,” she says. “You’ll be taking painkillers by mouth for now. We still don’t want you getting up without help, so please call for a nurse instead of getting up on your own.”
She gives a stern look, like Eddie’s just ready to throw himself out of the bed. He’s not even ready to move his arms. He’s afraid that he’s just going to stay in this bed forever. His mother would love that. It just took forty years to break him.
“I promise not to get up on my own,” he says.
The last time he even brought up the subject, Sarah vanished and came back with a pamphlet titled Call, Don’t Fall! And what’s worse, she handed Eddie one and left a couple on the visitors’ chairs for his friends when they came in. Richie spent the rest of his visit coming up with increasingly unlikely rhymes, finally escalating into something incredibly contrived involving autoerotic asphyxiation (“Angle, Don’t Strangle!”), which sent Eddie into a coughing fit.
“Good,” Dr. Fox says. “And while we’re on the subject. Nathan says that you’ve been reluctant to use the bedpan or urinal.” She means the plastic one that’s supposed to guide his stream into a small jug now that the catheter’s out; Eddie’s general reluctance to use a urinal in a public restroom has, for his entire adult life, been based on the opaque social etiquette of which urinal to use when one in the row is occupied.
Eddie wants to sigh at her in response, but he also doesn’t want to make his ribs angry by drawing a full breath. “Yeah, I don’t want to do that.” He’s been impaled through the torso. He feels like he ought to retain some agency.
“Well, good news—you have a urinary tract infection.”
Eddie stares at her and then says, “Motherfucker.” That’s a bad habit; he hasn’t cursed in front of a doctor in years. It’s Richie’s fault. “Sorry. How the—how can I possibly have a urinary tract infection. Aren’t I already on antibiotics?”
Nathan made him pee in a cup. At the time Eddie thought it was because they needed to see how his body was metabolizing his morphine, but also Nathan probably noticed how he was hissing and cursing under his breath when he tried to use the toilet, because that’s what happens when someone’s job is to watch you take a piss, they notice you cringing. Eddie tries to feel less resentful of Nathan for ratting him out.
“You were on antibiotics, but we’re pretty satisfied that your initial infection has cleared.”
Eddie raises his eyebrows. “My what?”
Dr. Fox grimaces and looks down. “Sorry. You had a fever almost immediately after your surgeries, but it cleared with antibiotics. We think that, combined with the anesthesia, is probably why you’re having memory loss. Your MRIs showed no cranial trauma or inflammation in the brain, so we’re pretty sure it’s not injury-related, except for the shock of the blood loss.”
“What got infected?” Eddie asks, because that’s the most important question at the moment.
“Your posterior incision,” Dr. Fox replies. “We were pretty sure it had cleared by now, based on your drainage and the actual site itself. Your healing looks very good, considering the environment. We think that the amount of blood loss helped flush organic material out of the wound, because we didn’t find any wood in the injury.”
Eddie cringes hard, trying to project squeamishness as a way to get around discussing the holes in his cover story as well as his actual body. “So I had an infection,” he prompts.
“You did,” she says. “Which means that this one is likely antibiotic-resistant to what we’ve been giving you. So we’re going to take a second urine sample, do antibiotic testing, and find an antibiotic to target that infection specifically. In the meantime, I’m increasing your required fluid intake. You’re going to be drinking eight ounces of water every half an hour, and if you feel the urge to urinate—” She gives him a hard look. “—you may have to use the urinal, if none of the nurses are available to escort you to the bathroom.”
Oh god. There are no words for how much Eddie does not want that to happen.
“Does it have to be a nurse?” he asks. He will ask Ben to carry him to the bathroom before he uses the bedpan. Ben is not only capable but he probably wouldn’t even hold it against Eddie.
“Every time you get up,” she says. “Out of bed, out of a chair, off of the toilet. As long as you’re in the hospital, we’re liable if you’re injured—and forgive me, but we’re also responsible if one of your friends tries to take you to the bathroom and you fall and are injured. Also we don’t want that to happen, and our nurses are really good at catching people when they collapse.”
“I have noticed that.”
It’s her turn to raise her eyebrows at him. “Have you collapsed?” She glances back down at his chart, probably checking to see if there's a note about a fainting episode that she's missed.
“No, they’re all just really strong.”
Dr. Fox looks appeased. “They have a lot of practice. So. Do we understand each other?”
“Can I bribe them to take me to the bathroom?”
“I’m afraid that would be unethical and might interfere with other patients’ care,” she says dryly. “How are your bowel movements?”
The rest of the brief rundown of Eddie’s major organ systems is just as unpleasant, and ends with her prescribing him a powdered laxative to mix into his beverages (“or pudding, if you prefer,” as if Eddie’s going to spoil perfectly good pudding like that) until he stops puking from constipation.
The hospital food is doing nothing to help his constant low-grade nausea, but it’s also not that different from the food he ate when he was living at home with Myra. Myra cooked, and he appreciated that because he hates cooking and never learned how to be any good at it, but she had a lot of the same hangups regarding food and foodborne illness that he did, aggravated by nutritional concerns about weight. Mealtimes were always stressful, and they functioned best when they didn’t have to comment on or think too much about what they were eating. The night after the dinner at Jade of the Orient, Eddie was so sick from just the departure from his gastronomic comfort zone (as well as probably all the alcohol, since he definitely binged on that too) that after they had that revelation about Bev’s prophetic dreams, he had to go up to his hotel bathroom and lay down with his head on the side of the porcelain bathtub and try to keep it all down.
“The good news is,” Dr. Fox says with a smile, because Eddie’s doing absolutely nothing to hide how miserable both his physical condition and this check-in are making him, “we’re reasonably sure that your lung is no longer leaking air. And the drainage from your chest tube is decreasing at a very promising rate.”
Eddie nods blandly, pretending he knows what that means.
“Which means,” she adds, her smile a little wider, “if you keep this up, we’re looking at removing your chest tube at the end of this week.”
If he had the energy he’d sit up; instead he just tilts his head back, shifting her in the frame that is his field of vision to give her better attention. “This week?” he asks. “Do you mean Friday or Sunday?”
“We’re looking at Friday,” she replies. “Because your injury was so traumatic, I’d like to keep you for another day after your tube is removed, just to make sure there are no complications, but you could be discharged as early as Sunday. Have you worked out what your plans are once you’re out of here?”
He lets his head tip back a little further, taking the support of the pillow. “Well, I live in New York,” he says. “So. I’ll be going back there.”
“And is there someone at home who will be there with you?” she asks. “Or do you live on your own?”
“No, I’ll—I’ll have someone there,” he says. “My—I have friends offering to stay with me, so. I won’t be alone.”
“Okay,” she says. “You’ll be driving? Or, traveling by car—I don’t want you operating a vehicle.”
“Good. You need to stay off of planes until you’re otherwise instructed,” she says. “Do you have a PCP at home?”
A PCP who’s been happily prescribing things to soothe Eddie’s internal and Myra’s external anxieties for the last ten years.
“I’m—in the market for a new one,” he says.
“Hmm,” she says. “New York City?”
“No,” he says. “No, upstate.”
“Well. You’ll have plenty of instructions for your discharge, about what to look out for with your incisions, the kinds of exercises you should do at home, the kind of physical therapy you should receive. We’ll give you print-outs so you can refer to them.”
“I normally have fairly good memory,” Eddie says, and then remembers that not only did he forget the first eighteen years of his life, he also forgot about his wife in favor of his car this week. But he doesn’t want to walk that back in front of his doctor.
“Standard procedure,” she says. “Also something your caregivers can refer to. Before you’re discharged we’ll schedule your follow-up appointment—will you be able to come back to Sovereign Light so that we can see how your outpatient healing is progressing?”
Eddie is reasonably sure now that he might as well quit his job, because if his job gets in the way of him healing from his gaping chest wound, he needs not to have it in the first place. He nods.
“We’re looking at anywhere between one and three weeks for you to come back for your checkup,” she says. “And remember—I’m not promising discharge on Sunday. If something happens—if your lung starts leaking, or if you have problems with your heart or breathing, or if you develop a fever, we might want to keep you a bit longer. Understand?”
“I understand,” he says.
“Good,” she says. “I’m going to get a nurse in here with your oral painkillers—I’ve prescribed them every four hours, but if you’re in unmanageable pain we can revisit that. We’re not medicating to no pain—especially not after your response to the morphine earlier.”
Eddie feels in a weird way like she’s blaming him for passing out, when he not only had absolutely no control over how much morphine he received while he was unconscious, but he was also there and didn’t exactly enjoy the experience. He tries to put aside some of that sensitivity and focus on his impending release.
“Do you have any more questions for me?” Dr. Fox asks.
“Yeah,” he says slowly. He tries to assess how much he wants to get into this right now, but he has a lot of free time on his hands and his sleep schedule is pretty bad at this point in his life; he has a lot of time to lie in the dark and think about his situation. “Uh, you said that there were… events, while I was in surgery. That I had some events.”
She lowers the clipboard and tucks it into her side, then nods slowly, so deeply that Eddie can see the part in her hair from his recline on the bed, and then back up. “Yeah,” she says. “You went into cardiac arrest during your initial surgery at Derry Home Hospital. I wasn’t there and I can’t speak to the events themselves, but when you arrived they told us that you had two periods of cardiac arrest during which you had to be resuscitated.”
“Oh,” he says. It wasn’t here. He feels a little weird asking her about it, because she also got this secondhand, but he also feels he really ought to have been told that he died, first thing when he woke up. “Uh—do you know how long?”
“The first time, about one minute,” she says. “The second time, about four minutes. You were on a ventilator. Your heart responded to the defibrillation, but you did have a brief period where you had no heart activity.”
“Oh,” he says again, and looks down at his right hand. It lies curled on his thigh on top of the cream blanket—they haven’t taken away his second blanket after his panic attack, and the part of him that’s still fucking cold is fiercely glad of that. They took out his IV and now he’s not so afraid to move the arm, now that he’s not afraid of jostling either the needle or the plastic tube, but its clumsiness is more pronounced now. Like trying to walk on a foot that’s still asleep.
“We think the interrupted circulation may have resulted in some nerve damage,” she says, following his line of sight. “How does that arm feel?”
“Uh,” he says, trying to think of an answer that isn’t cold . Then he reconsiders and says, “A little cold? And—clumsy? Like I’m trying to use my left hand instead of my right, except I have two left hands.”
“Is it numb?”
“A little,” he says. “I can still feel things with it—I can feel this.” He rubs his palm back and forth across the waffle weave of the blanket, feeling the roughness against his skin. “And I can feel cold, like—” He reaches out and touches the safety rail on the right side of his bed. “It just doesn’t seem to react like it used to—like, if I try to make a fist, I can. It just doesn’t feel right.” He shows her, holding out his fist with his palm facing up. The cotton ball taped to the inside of his forearm faces the ceiling. “My fingers don’t line up where I’m used to.”
“Uh-huh?” she asks. “Can you sit up for me?”
She comes around to the right side of his bed and puts a hand on his back to help guide him into an upright position. Then she puts one hand on his shoulder and asks him to extend his arm, carefully touching his elbow and following down to his wrist and then his fingers. She has him twist his wrist to turn his whole arm, asking him what hurts and where.
“Okay,” she says, helping him lower his arm back to his side without his whole back rebelling. “I think we might want to schedule some nerve conduction tests, maybe EMG to rule out muscle problems. We’re pretty sure we know the cause, so I don’t want to do a nerve biopsy. Have you broken this arm before?”
“Yeah,” he says.
She nods. “Yeah, we saw it on your X-rays. How old were you?”
“Thirteen,” he says.
“It… looks like it was set by an amateur?” she says slowly.
Eddie closes his eyes. “It was,” he replies. “My friend did it.”
She blinks at him. “Also a thirteen-year-old?”
“Yeah. He saw it on TV.”
“Oh my god,” she says. “Did you have radial nerve damage before this?”
He shrugs. “Probably not. I’ve always been pretty healthy.”
He reconsiders that, later, when Sarah brings him his cup of water and a smaller plastic cup with some pills resting in it. As soon as the pills hit his tongue he gets a wave of nausea that makes his throat close up. He used to be so good at dry-swallowing medicine that he could shake them out into his palm and gulp them down while he was driving a car on the phone. Now he gags on the pills and water and coughs a little.
“Not good with pills?” Sarah asks, a little concerned.
He clears his throat and drinks more water. “Guess not,” he says.
“My mom’s like that. My grandma used to hide her pills in peanut butter and she would still find them and spit them out.” She smiles. “My dog does that too—her dad gives them to her in hot dog, and she eats the hot dog and then drops the pills on the floor.”
Eddie elects to ignore the idea of a dog having a human father. “What kind of dog do you have?”
“Shepherd,” she says. “She’s really smart, but she’s also an idiot.”
Eddie nods. “I know a little bit about that.”
“Oh yeah? Do you have a dog?”
He shakes his head. “No, I just have some wonderfully stupid friends.”
Sarah beams at him.
He sets his cup down on his little tray. “What’s your dog’s name?” If she’s talking to him, it will distract him from this bland oatmeal that is his breakfast.
“Daisy Belle,” she replies. “Like the song.” She sings a little of it: “Daisy, Daisy.”
Eddie frowns. He’s pretty sure he remembers that song, but only in the context of a Peanuts cartoon. “Is that one about a bicycle?”
“It is! A tandem bike.”
He’s thirteen years old, clutching his broken arm to his chest and perched in the basket of a bicycle as Mike pushes the wheels over the broken ground of Neibolt House, his teeth chattering like it’ll do anything to make him feel better.
“I don’t like Pomeranians,” Eddie declares.
Sarah shakes her head in agreement. “Nah, big dogs all the way.”
“Not too big,” Eddie says. “No dog bigger than me.”
She laughs. “No Russian bear dogs for you?”
“I feel that. I only have fifty pounds on my girl. My husband’s six-four, though, so when we were training her not to jump—” She mimes pushing at something. “—he only had to flip her on her back like twice, and she never did it again.”
Eddie stares at her. “Your husband is six-four?” She’s five feet tall. She fits under his armpit when he stands up.
She shrugs one shoulder. “Yeah. His brother’s six-one, our brother-in-law is five-eleven. I like big dogs, big men.”
Eddie lowers his gaze to his oatmeal bowl and says, “I feel like I ought to salute you, but I don’t know why.”
Sarah laughs again, and then her gaze flicks to the side, looking for something to dwell on while Eddie eats his breakfast. “Hey, can I ask you something?”
And maybe he’s a little paranoid because the first thing he thinks of is please don’t ask me about my relationship to Richie, I’m forty years old and I don’t want to have to say ‘it’s complicated’ out loud.
“Sure,” he says, full of oatmeal and pain.
“What’s the deal with that balloon?”
It slowly rotates in the corner. The unicorn’s wild eye seems to roll.
The nice thing about Mike is that at the moment he’s so clearly brimming with his own excitement about his travel, it forms a kind of white noise for Eddie’s baseline energy level. It’s a low-stress interaction—Mike pulls the chair up beside the bed and sits so that Eddie can see as he shows him the trip itinerary he’s building. Eddie feels comfortable with the level of sleepy interest he can bring to the table.
“Because it’s the first national park in the world,” Mike says, quiet glee on his face. “Not just America—the world. I know people are always saying that North America is bigger than you think it is, Europe is older than you think it is—but I think there’s something there, you know?”
Eddie blinks a few times, trying to figure out whether Mike means that Yellowstone might also be harboring a demon alien. “What kind of thing?”
“Like—rhetorically. Symbolically. There’s a lot of loss to the idea that the natural beauty of Europe that could have been preserved in national parks… the idea wasn’t around then. You know?”
Eddie doesn’t have a lot of opinions about the natural beauty of Europe, or indeed natural beauty in general. He likes civilization, he likes cities despite the grime of New York. There’s something reassuring about the presence of infrastructure, of accessible transport, of the ability to get to where you need to go, of variety at your fingertips. A city is what you make of it—for all that for most of his NY residency he made very little of it. But he still associates the countryside with rural Maine and the feeling he got of longing, walking through the old trainyard. The desire to be anywhere but here.
But that’s not entirely true. The Barrens were a different sort of comfort.
“There are still forests in Europe,” he says, nonplussed. “The Black Forest? Are you going to Europe?”
“Maybe,” Mike says. “Depends on whether or not Bill’s still there by the time I finish with North America.” At Eddie’s confused eyebrows he explains, “I could fly in to where he’s staying, do touristy things, get a flight from England to the continent, take trains. I’m ready for America to have a high-speed rail, man.”
Eddie sighs, “I like trains.”
Which is of course when Richie walks in, plastic bag in hand, just in time to hear Eddie sound very stupid. He doesn’t acknowledge it—yet—but he instead says, “All right, I have completed your fetch quest, may I please be rewarded with the hand of the princess now?”
Eddie scowls at him. Mike straightens up and as soon as he’s less close the antiseptic smell of the hospital fades back into his notice again. Mike always smells nice. Eddie smells like disinfectant.
“What’d you get?” Mike asks.
Richie reaches into the bag and starts pulling out packets of candy. “Jellybeans, peppermints, Jolly Ranchers, Junior Mints, Skittles, butterscotch, Lifesaver gummies, Swedish fish, and a two-pound bag of assorted Hershey chocolates.” This last he hoists up and waves at Eddie. “What’re you starting with?”
“Skittles,” Eddie says. Richie throws a movie-theater sized bag of Skittles onto his lap and he and Mike pretend not to notice while Eddie struggles to tear it open. His index finger and thumb don’t want to cooperate with the perforation.
“Are you celebrating something?” Mike asks, tone slow and careful.
“Tentative release on Sunday,” Eddie replies. He gives up and rips the bag open with his teeth. A spray of rainbow-colored pellets spills down his front and land on the blanket.
“That’s great!” Mike says. “What’s your plan?”
“Ben’s house,” Eddie replies. He knows he’s being uncommunicative, but he’s both tired and distracted with scientific experimentation. Holding the bag in his right hand, he shakes some Skittles into his left palm and then takes a deep breath. Then he tosses the candy into his mouth like he’s throwing back pills.
The second the pellets hit his soft palate he gags. He tries to keep it mild, to conceal his sudden retching from Mike and Richie in case they have questions, but some of his revulsion must come through. He holds his hand over his mouth, trying to hide the way he almost wants to spit them out.
“You okay?” Mike asks.
Eddie works the candy into the front of his mouth and begins chewing. Searching for a distraction, he asks, “What the fuck did they do to the green ones?”
“Oh shit, you didn’t know?” Richie throws himself down on the open chair; it creaks dangerously. “They changed them to green apple. Like, years ago.”
“How is that any better than fucking lime?” Eddie demands, muffled around his mouth full of candy. Once the Skittles are pulverized they go down fine without making him nauseous; he holds the bag out to Richie. Richie leans forward and takes them without question. “Jellybeans.”
Richie trades him the Skittles for a pack of Jelly Belly 49 flavors. “Are you going through some shit here, or can I eat these?” he asks, holding up the red bag.
“Go for it.” Eddie has an easier time opening up the plastic on this bag. Different material, thinner cellophane or something.
“Hell yeah,” Richie says, and pours Skittles into his open mouth. Eddie does not watch this time.
Mike does, in something like horror. “Isn’t your dad a dentist?”
“Retired,” Richie says. “And if you think he’s disappointed in me now, you should have seen me like when I was just out of rehab, I could have done sponsorships for Skittles.”
That does make Eddie look up. Richie is eating more Skittles. Mike has a patient look on his face that tells Eddie this is not new information for him.
“Rehab?” Eddie asks.
Richie blinks twice and swallows his mouthful of candy. “Yeah, man, it was in the papers and everything. Like two-thousand…” He tilts his head to the side and his gaze flicks up, visibly counting. “2013?”
“Oh,” Eddie says. It’s recent. Not that there’s any period of time that he’d be cool with Richie having some kind of substance abuse problem, but three years ago is really recent, and Richie has been really stressed lately.
“You knew,” Richie says, looking at Mike, as though this is nothing more significant than a vacation Richie posted Facebook photos of. Mike nods. Richie smiles. “You fucking stalker,” he says affectionately.
“I had very little going for me in my life,” Mike says.
“Happy to provide that Schadenfreude,” Richie says. He glances back at Eddie and holds up the bag of Skittles, shaking it so that there’s a dull rattling sound from within it. “Anyway, cravings respond to inadvisable quantities of sugar.”
“Cravings,” Eddie repeats, and then shakes his head. “You don’t have to—“
“Cocaine,” Richie says patiently. There’s a moment of faintly awkward silence before he sings, “She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie.”
Awkward silence is replaced by flat incomprehension.
Eddie asks, “Is that Eric Clapton?”
Mike says, “Oh, it’s Eric Clapton. I just thought he was being weird.”
“I mean, he was absolutely being weird.”
“Tough crowd,” Richie says. “Anyway, what are your other demands, my liege?”
“Well,” says Mike.
Richie blows a raspberry.
“My clothes,” Eddie says, because his ass is definitely currently touching these hospital sheets. Which are also not changed every day, and Eddie is still in desperate need of a shower, so it is as pimpled as his face and back at the moment. “New shoes. Since the hospital probably burned mine for being…” He tilts his head to the side, trying to indicate dragged through a sewer and full of my blood.
The jellybeans also activate his gag reflex. When he bites through them with his incisors, however, that nausea fades a little. Since Richie seems a little busy at the moment, Eddie hands the jellybeans to Mike.
“An insult to life and property?” Richie suggests.
“No problem,” Richie says. “I’ll get you new shoes before you make your escape attempt. What are you, size three?”
“Fuck off,” Eddie says.
“Two and a half?”
“Give me the fucking Junior Mints.”
The Junior Mints do not make Eddie sick. He assumes it’s because they’re larger than the Skittles or the jellybeans. Eddie knows that the mint flavor doesn’t actually do anything for his dental health, but it does make him feel better about the state of his breath. He brushes his teeth gingerly in the morning and the evening, during his first and last bathroom trips of each day, but the hole in his face makes him anxious about brushing with any real dedication.
He doesn’t know what a week of being seriously injured and receiving all of his medication intravenously instead of popping pills the way he did under his own power, but now he knows that he’s conditioned in some way to get sick at the very suggestion he might be swallowing a pill. It’s the shape of the candy that’s getting to him. He can only hope that will help him to commit to his new resolution, now that Bill’s thrown out all his pills.
Sarah says, “Today’s the day!”
Eddie blinks at her. It’s Thursday, not Friday as he expected. “Am I getting my chest tube out?” he asks.
“Not today,” she says. “Barring any unforeseen events, tomorrow. Today you’re gonna look at your incisions.”
He feels his eyebrows climb up toward his hairline. “Oh,” he says, somewhat alarmed. He’d like to think that he’s brave about his injuries, especially since he… survived them, in a manner of speaking. But maybe the care that the nurses have taken to keep him from seeing his incisions has built it up in his mind. He feels a little pulse of anxiety at the idea. “Okay.”
“When you’re home, it’s going to be important for you to check for any changes that could indicate an infection,” she says. “They’re starting to heal—that’s why we’re releasing you—but if you have any fluid draining from the sites, write down the amount, the color, and the smell. You’ll need to talk to the doctor about that when you come back for your follow-up.”
Eddie is not enamored by the idea of writing down the smell of his own chest pus, but there has been very little about this entire experience that has been pleasant. “Okay,” he says.
He can sit up now on his own and support his own weight while Sarah removes his bandages, still talking.
“You don’t have stitches in the wound itself,” she says. “Aside from repairing the damage to blood vessels, and closing up your chest after repairing your lung—but that’s not in the original wound itself. And that’s a good thing, because you had an infection immediately after surgery and you don’t want material in the wound when it’s draining like that.”
“Okay,” Eddie says. He keeps glancing down to where she’s working steadily at his chest. He still has ring-shaped bruising on his chest from where he eventually picked off his suction cups from the heart monitor, but she’s very careful peeling off the waterproof bandage.
“Ready?” she asks.
He decides that watching is not going to help this process and closes his eyes. “All right.”
His skin stings as she pulls off the waterproof bandage. He continues feeling weirdly self-conscious about his nipples.
“Okay,” she says.
Eddie opens his eyes, and then he’s not so concerned about his nipples anymore, because his injury is kind of a feature dominating his entire chest. Purple and green bruising stretches across his ribs, far beyond the boundaries of either the stab wound or the surgical incision. The closer to the center of the injury the darker the bruising gets, until it’s almost black. The incision is, in comparison, pretty clean, with tiny neat dark blue stitches going up almost to his collarbone and almost down to his navel.
And the wound itself… When he looks at it, some part of his brain so deep says You should not have a hole there, your body is wrong, wrong, wrong —that he doesn’t realize he’s starting to pass out until sparks start coming up in his field of vision. Then he blinks and he realizes that he can’t really see because his eyes seem overtaken by gray fog.
“I’m passing out,” he says to Sarah, because it’s important she know that.
“Gotcha,” Sarah says. She puts one hand on his temple and the other on his shoulder, and guides him back down onto his right side. “Can you tuck your hand under your head?”
Eddie has no problem tucking his hand under his head and bending his knees. After a moment she pulls the blanket up over him to keep him warm. Eddie focuses on breathing and thinks about that feeling of clarity he got when he was bleeding out, the realization that nothing had been wrong with him after all this time. He meditates on it.
Sarah brings him some water and offers it to him in little sips. Eddie apologizes for his faint heart. “It’s all right,” she says. “The last time I had blood drawn I didn’t faint when I was in the chair, but I started to faint the next day when I took the bandage off. Seeing the bruise.”
“I didn’t know bruising could do that,” Eddie says.
“Yeah,” she replies, her tone resigned acceptance. “The worst part was, I was on the toilet and everything.”
That makes Eddie laugh, and he wraps his left arm carefully around his torso to support himself.
“Maybe we should look at it while you’re lying down, just to get you accustomed to it?” Sarah suggests.
So they do that. Sarah peels the blanket off his chest again and Eddie tries a kind of exposure therapy with looking at his own injuries, glancing down at his chest and then looking up at the balloon. The balloon is the antithesis of a gaping chest wound. He wonders if association with his injury is going to affect his perception of Jesus in general, as Jesus stares back at him from atop the unicorn.
Stan and Patty come to visit him later that day. His hospital gown is tied behind his neck again and he’s as decent as he can be while in the hospital bed and not wearing nearly enough layers. For some reason the fact that he has a hole punched through his body makes him feel less uncomfortable about his vulnerable state of dress. His body feels both like it does and doesn’t belong to him, and he’s in enough pain at the moment that he doesn’t have the energy to care about it.
“Richie said you wanted candy,” Patty says. “My kids are really into these.” From her purple Scandinavian backpack—one of the expensive ones Eddie associates with college students—she produces a box of Japanese chocolate biscuits labeled Pocky . They all sit around and eat them, letting them hang out of their mouths like cigarillos. Eddie feels like a 1920s flapper.
“So you’re going to stay with Ben in New York for a bit?” Stan asks.
He nods. If Richie were here, he’d put two Pocky in his mouth and do the walrus tusk trick. Eddie won’t do that, but he’s definitely thinking about it.
“Are you taking Trashmouth with you?” Stan asks.
Eddie blinks blandly at him. “Ben and Beverly are going to be traveling,” he says. He wonders whether it would be appropriate to suggest he thinks she’s avoiding her abusive husband. The fact that he has to wonder about it makes him think it’s probably a bad idea to bring it up. “So he asked me to house sit. But…” He grimaces and his Pocky snaps; he catches the rest of the biscuit stick in his left palm. “I’m not allowed to drive while I’m on heavy painkillers.”
“That’s a good call,” Patty says. She has opened up a second box of Pocky. This one is pink instead of red and has a strawberry icon on the front. The part of Eddie that knows that sugar is addictive and has consumed an awful lot of it this week is very curious about them.
“And I’ve been told… repeatedly… that I’m going to need assistance.” He crunches his Pocky and swallows before he says, “I’ve been thinking about hiring an in-house nursing service.”
“Why?” Stan asks.
Eddie blinks at him. “Because the last time I left my medical health in Richie’s hands I spent the next thirty years being told that my arm looks like it was set by an amateur.”
Stan snorts. “Yeah, that’s fair.” He holds his hand out to Patty. “May I have more?”
“I share with you.” She places a stick in his hand.
“You’re so nice.”
“I be your friend.”
Stan’s smile is somehow tucked-in, like he wants to hide it, but it’s nothing less than besotted. Eddie stares at them, somewhat bewildered by the display of affection. From Stan of all people. When he looks back up at Eddie he’s all business again. “What kind of help do you need?”
Eddie grimaces. “I don’t know. Lifting things. Picking up prescriptions.” That one makes Eddie incredibly anxious. He doesn’t like the idea of having to take more pills, but he also doesn’t like the idea of there being an intermediary between the pharmacist putting the pills in the bottle and Eddie shaking the pills out. It’s absolutely related to his mother, but he had that kind of pet peeve with Myra as well. “I still can’t get my arms over my head.”
When Sarah took his bandages off, she also walked him through the process of doing some exercises he’ll have to do on his own once he’s released. They seem to involve sitting in a chair and holding a towel over his head. When she supported his elbow he was able to lift his arm that far, but lowering his arm again felt like his whole back was going to split.
“So you’ll need food,” Stan says. “Are you sure you want to trust Trashmouth with that?”
Eddie wobbles his head because he wants to shrug but he’s slowly learning not to do that. “I trust him to order takeout.”
“Not Chinese?” Stan asks.
Eddie scowls. He’s just accepted that there’s a new world of culinary flavor out there. “I’m not letting that clown take Chinese food away from me.”
“That’s the spirit!” Stan says, and seems to toast him with a candy biscuit.
“Would you like another Pocky?” Patty asks him.
He accepts the strawberry Pocky she hands him. Both flavors are very good.
Stan and Patty are going back to Georgia. Eddie’s actually a little bit surprised that they’re still here. They seem to have every intention of sticking around Bangor until he’s released.
“Do you want to have, like, a celebratory meal before we all split up?” Stan asks.
It won’t be exactly the same, because Bill has already left. But Eddie says, “Yeah. Let’s get dinner.” Then he remembers: “I have no access to my money right now.”
“Man, you died,” Stan says. “Do you think you’re buying your own dinner?”
“Yes,” Eddie says, frowning.
“No,” Stan says.
“Eddie,” Patty says, her voice suddenly taking on a slightly admonishing tone. Parts of Eddie’s brain that he hasn’t accessed since he was in grade school suddenly sit up and pay attention. Eddie was the kid who had to go cry in the bathroom when the teacher yelled at him, which considering that Richie Tozier was one of his closest friends, made being seven through ten years old very difficult, until he developed a thicker skin. “We are so happy that you are okay. You should let us buy you dinner as a treat.”
Stan says nothing but he leans back a little, the corners of his smile becoming faintly satisfied. Eddie can read the warning quite plainly: Don’t upset my wife.
“I need a new phone, too,” Eddie says. “So I’ll have to do that before I get out of Bangor.”
“And,” Patty says, some of that urgency still in her voice. Eddie glances back at her. Her eyes are just huge, like cartoon-character large behind her glasses. “You know you are always welcome to come visit us, when you feel up to it.”
Oh no. That urgent thread in her voice is sincerity.
“I—thank you,” Eddie says. He clears his throat a little bit. “If you’d like to come visit once I have a housing situation worked out.”
Apparently Stan and Patty are planning on going to Buenos Aires in the near future, but they assure him that they’ll let the Losers know about the dates so they can make arrangements around them.
Eddie has a future now.
Richie leaves Eddie his clothes on Saturday night at the end of visiting hours, so that Eddie can be ready to go when he comes to pick him up on Sunday. The shoes are new—running shoes, nothing too extravagant. They make Eddie feel weird as he laces them up, in a way that has nothing to do with the pressure on either side of his feet. Something about the fact of Richie buying him shoes. If he dwells on it for too long he feels like squirming, so he tries not to dwell on it.
His clothes are familiar. Reassuring, kind of. Richie went into his suitcase and pulled out underwear—and what a relief it is to be wearing his own underwear again—and socks, and his own trousers. No belt—one of the casualties of Its cavern. He keeps fidgeting with his waistband—he’s always been kind of skinny, but now his hipbones are basically the only thing keeping his pants up. He’s almost afraid to move, so he keeps sitting on the end of the hospital bed and tries not to fidget.
Nathan is there to offer Eddie help with his balance while he gets dressed. When Eddie squints at his folded shirt, Nathan considers and then nods in understanding.
Eddie wears mostly polos, and this is one of them. But polos are among those shirts that require him to be able to lift his arms over his head. And he can’t do that right now without feeling like he’s being stabbed again.
“I can support your arms,” Nathan offers. He does that sometimes when Eddie has to do his stretching exercises. Lowering his arms again when he’s done is almost as bad as trying to lift them.
Eddie’s considering the logistics of trying to take off his shirt again at the end of the day. He sighs and then says, “Yeah, this isn’t gonna work.”
“We can get you a shirt from the gift shop,” Nathan suggests.
Eddie looks around at him and slowly realizes that the incredibly bland look on Nathan’s face is actually deeply ironic. “To commemorate my stay?” he asks.
Nathan nods slowly. “To commemorate your stay.”
But a t-shirt from the Sovereign Light Hospital gift shop has the same limitations that Eddie’s polo does, and Eddie doesn’t want to have to ask for help with getting undressed at the end of the day. He puts his jacket on over his bare chest and zips it up carefully. There are patches of numbness around his incisions, but he can still feel the cold of the zipper teeth where they rest on his bare chest.
Dr. Fox gives him the rundown of how he’s supposed to behave once he is out under his own power. “Keep your bandage on for forty-eight hours,” she says. She means the one under his armpit from where his chest tube was installed. Eddie’s the kind of machine who has things installed in him now. “Make sure that you keep to your medication schedule. If it doesn’t relieve your pain—and I know you have a high pain tolerance, Mr. Kaspbrak, but don’t subject yourself to strain unnecessarily—please call. Do not drink alcohol, do not drive a motor vehicle while you’re taking your pain medication.”
Eddie blinks up at her. “Or operate heavy machinery?” he asks.
She gives a faint smile. “Or operate heavy machinery. Are you likely to be operating heavy machinery in the near future?”
He tilts his head from side to side. “You never know when you’re going to get the urge to operate a forklift.”
“I can honestly say, I do not know when that urge might come upon me.” She nods and looks back down at her clipboard. “But it better not come upon you while you’re still on the medication. You can supplement your meds with ibuprofen as your incisions heal and as you start to taper your prescription. Do not stop taking it cold turkey, you might get some nasty withdrawal symptoms.”
Eddie, who is accustomed to telling his doctors literally every tiny concern that he might have in the hopes of getting someone to fix the overwhelming sense of physical wrongness within him, tries not to grimace at that.
“Your pain level will probably increase as you increase your level of activity,” she says. “That’s normal. When you start to feel pain, that’s when you want to take your medicine. It can take half an hour to forty-five minutes to kick in, so don’t try to tough it out.” She narrows her eyes at him. Eddie feels himself smile a little at that. She’s different from most doctors he’s had, and he kind of likes the idea that she knows him enough to be suspicious of him.
“If the bandage from your chest tube incision gets wet within the next twenty-four hours, change it immediately. But after today, if the incision has no drainage—check the bandage when you take it off and see if it’s wet—you can leave that incision uncovered. If you still have drainage, however, you should keep it covered. Sometimes it might stop draining for a period of time and then start up again—that’s fine, that’s normal, we can talk about it at your follow-up appointment. Just make sure that you take note of any weird smells, weird colors that look like pus, anything that might indicate infection. Call us if you have any questions.”
“Okay,” Eddie says, though he’s privately resolving not to have questions if he can avoid it. “When can I take a shower?”
“Tuesday,” she tells him. “Forty-eight hours from your discharge.”
Eddie blinks at her. “That seems… arbitrary.”
“You seem like the kind of man to set a phone timer for forty-eight hours,” she replies.
This is true.
“Nuh-uh,” Eddie says intelligently.
She raises one eyebrow. “Oh?”
“No, I don’t have a phone.”
She does smile at that, lowering her gaze to her clipboard again. “Wash gently with soap—unscented soap, trust me—and pat gently with a towel to dry them after showering. You can leave them uncovered unless they’re draining. Do not take a bath.”
“Okay,” Eddie says. Even as a kid, he never liked baths. As soon as he got over the toddler fear of loud noises, he was in the shower. He has memories of being anxious about getting water in his eyes, so he wore sunglasses to protect them. He’s pretty sure his mother had a photo of that—him as a toddler, naked, with sunglasses too large for his face as he stood in the little shower stall.
“We’re giving you some informational handouts on your diet for your recovery. You’ll want to increase your protein and your calories, and drink plenty of water to prevent constipation.”
Eddie makes a resigned grunt.
“Call if you go more than two days without a bowel movement. You should aim for thirty minutes of exercise every day—walking and climbing stairs. Don’t overdo it, keep it light. No sexual activity for three weeks—you don’t want to get sweat in your incisions—and then afterwards wait for your incisions to heal, don’t do anything that will cause pain or fatigue. Don’t overdo it.”
His mouth is open. He consciously closes it and then manages, “Okay.”
She makes him sign some forms and then he waits in his own chair, his stack of instructional handouts and his folded shirt in his lap. Tracy asked him careful questions about who was picking him up and then instructed him to call when Richie arrives. But Richie comes in with his phone blasting ACDC without speakers or headphones or anything, so Eddie is sure the whole ward is aware of his arrival.
“Really?” Eddie asks over the sound of “Back in Black.”
Richie grins at him. “Really!”
“Tracy’s around here somewhere,” Eddie says.
Richie murmurs, “Oh shit” and quickly turns off the music. He drops his phone back in his pocket and then tucks his hands back in them. Then one of his eyebrows goes up and he squints at Eddie.
Eddie resists the urge to shrink a little further in his jacket. “What?”
Richie lets his head tilt to the side lazily. “Are you naked under there?”
“What?” He hunches his shoulders and feels the stretch of the adhesive on his back. The teeth of his zipper scrape against his throat. “Everyone is naked under their clothes, Richie!”
“Not Ben,” Richie says. “You seen how many shirts that guy wears? He’s just like… shirts all the way down. Meanwhile, it’s still fucking cold in this hospital room and your nipples tell me you can still feel it—”
“Jesus Christ,” Eddie says, and covers his chest with his hands. His stack of papers goes sliding off his lap onto the floor. He glances down but his jacket is thick enough he’s pretty sure that Richie can’t actually see his nipples poking through it, and he’s just being an asshole.
“—so I’m guessing there’s something wrong with your shirt,” Richie continues, unfazed.
Eddie glowers at the floor. “Can’t lift my arms over my head,” he says.
Richie blinks once. “Can Purple Haze lift your arms?”
He lifts his eyes to glare at him. “Tracy’s not coming home with me.”
“Not with that attitude, she’s not,” Richie says.
Eddie rolls his eyes. “You can’t be like that about people at work.”
“Be like what?”
“Be like…” He struggles for words, but Richie is looming and filling up the doorway and he’s not sure how to verbalize it.
“I’m not being like anything,” Richie says. “You don’t want help.”
“I don’t want help,” he confirms.
Richie stands there for a moment, watching him. Eddie can see wheels turning behind his eyes. Then Richie shrugs and starts taking off his jacket.
“Uh,” Eddie says.
Richie’s wearing his usual uniform of short-sleeved button-down shirt over a t-shirt, under his new leather jacket. It’s not a Hawaiian shirt, but it does have a repeating pattern of bright colored lines over it. The t-shirt’s black. Richie drops his jacket onto the spare chair and starts unbuttoning his shirt.
Again Eddie manages, “Uh.”
“I’m not helping,” Richie says.
Eddie doesn’t know where to look. Richie did this once in the Jade of the Orient—not the taking off his shirt, but the peeling off his jacket. Eddie was more than a little drunk and happier than he’d ever been in his life and Richie had a straining tendon in his forearm and Eddie had no words of his own, so he resorted to some South Park he’d seen once upon a time. Myra would never have approved of him watching that, so he only saw it when he was traveling for work in a hotel room by himself. He felt like that, in the moment.
Let’s take our shirts off and kiss.
Richie shrugs out of his outer shirt. It’s a casual motion—he does it every day, and pays the gesture no more mind than he seems to when he walks through the door. He rolls his shoulders back to pull his arms out of the sleeves and his t-shirt pulls taut across his chest. He’s. So fucking wide. What the fuck. He still wears his outer shirts big but at some point in adulthood Richie learned how to buy a t-shirt that fits him, so Eddie can see planes where the breadth of his shoulders smoothes down into his pectorals, clear defined lines in his biceps as he works the shirt back and forth to pull it off, and then he holds the shirt out to Eddie.
“Try that,” Richie says.
“I—” Eddie realizes he’s staring and jerks his eyes down to the outstretched shirt. Slowly he realizes that the short vertical stripes are a pattern of watches. It rides the line between preppy and tacky and somehow comes out the other side as appropriate for Richie Tozier. It’s nothing that Eddie would wear of his own accord.
He wants it. Like, really wants it.
Slowly he takes the shirt out of Richie’s hand, carefully not touching his fingers. The fabric’s warm to the touch. Maybe Eddie’s imagining it. He glances up at Richie, who reaches for his leather jacket and slides an arm through the sleeve—Eddie can’t trust himself to watch that any longer, so he jerks his gaze down to the shirt. Eddie slowly, awkwardly, turns in his chair so that his back is to Richie, and unzips his jacket.
His shoulders don’t want to cooperate, but he can pull each side of the jacket down one at a time. His arms don’t want to lift, but they can stretch just fine, and he gets one arm through the sleeve of Richie’s shirt. It’s not actually as warm as it feels—he knows that intellectually—but he’s aware of how exposed he is in this cold white hospital room with the waterproof bandage on his back and the other one under his armpit, and there’s something psychological about coverage. His range of motion is, predictably, better on the side of his body he didn’t have a tube installed in. He buttons up the shirt slowly, the white bandage on his chest vanishing under the colorful stripes of the watches. He can feel himself taking deep breaths, like he can catch Richie’s scent. When he’s dressed and has his jacket back on he leans down to pick up his papers and his folded shirt.
“All right?” Richie asks.
“Fine,” Eddie says, too quickly. He presses the button to call for the nurse. The shirt’s too big--he’s not swimming in it, he’s not that small compared to Richie, but there’s absolutely no danger of it catching on any of his bandages. His outer jacket covers most of the bright pattern, making it feel almost like a secret against his skin. Eddie cannot get used to this. He cannot use his injury as a reason to wear Richie’s clothes.
It would be kind of nice though. There’s a ghost of warmth in here, caught in the fabric.
Tracy comes back in, and Eddie understands why she didn’t wait with him. She’s pushing a wheelchair when she comes through the door. The second he sees it something in Eddie’s chest sinks down into his stomach.
“Oh god,” he says. “Can I sign a waiver? I really don’t want that.” The risk analyst part of Eddie understands about liabilities, but the part of him that was a boy whose mother wouldn’t let him participate in PE is balking.
“I’m sorry,” Tracy says. In the same way that Dr. Fox knew he was going to be resistant over the painkillers, she knows him pretty well by now too. “It’s policy.”
And Eddie understands that, but he’s trying to institute some kind of new policies himself. Get some kind of control. But the hospital can’t sue Eddie if his belated attempts to grow up result in another catastrophic injury. Spinal damage.
“Should get Bill in here to drive you,” Richie says lightly, watching Eddie melt down like it’s nothing new—and it’s nothing new, because Richie is used to him freaking out like this, and Eddie doesn’t want to be freaking out, but the freaking out is partially triggered by how much he doesn’t want to freak out. “Go really fast downhill, and tilt you like—” And then he leans forward at a forty-five-degree angle, which seems more than someone as large as Richie should be able to do without falling over.
Both Eddie and Tracy stare at him.
“Are you a smooth criminal?” Eddie manages, because he recognizes that lean.
“How long can you hold that?” Tracy asks.
Richie responds by trying to do the Michael Jackson “hoo!” and Tracy looks so alarmed that Eddie starts frantically apologizing on Richie’s behalf, because Richie doesn’t look apologetic at all. That’s how they get Eddie into the freight elevator and down into the lobby—with Eddie picking at Richie for his inability to use an inside voice after thirty fucking years. Not because it actually annoys him, but because he needs to focus on something other than the steady ticking of the floor numbers passing by, and Richie’s there, taking up space behind Eddie. Being pushed in the hospital chair makes Eddie feel like at any moment Richie will suddenly lay hands on his shoulders to startle him, but it never comes, and the anticipation is almost worse.
An orderly asks Richie if he wants to bring the car around. If so, he’ll wait with the patient in front of the door.
“Nah, I got him,” Richie says calmly.
“Yeah, he’s got me, we’re fine,” Eddie agrees without even thinking about it.
The orderly looks dubious.
“I’ll bring the chair back,” Richie says, like that’s the concern. “Is this like the grocery store? We’re over in that lot right there, it’s no problem.”
Apparently the orderly has had enough of Richie singing, “Annie, are you okay?” under his breath on the way down, because he agrees to let Eddie go without further supervision. About ten yards away from the sidewalk, out on the concrete, Richie suddenly leans down and mutters in Eddie’s ear, “Our brave heroes escape the torture facility!”
It’s cold out. Early fall in Maine. Nothing new, but Eddie feels almost numb by now, especially his ears. Richie’s proximity makes his skin prickle.
Richie makes like he’s about to speedup and Eddie grabs the seat of the chair. “Don’t you fucking dare, Richie.” But he wouldn’t mind if he did, actually. Now that Richie mentioned the grocery store Eddie’s thinking about shopping carts instead of wheelchairs, imagining them small again, Richie pushing him along in the basket and putting his feet up and gliding. It never happened—Eddie’s mother would never allow that, and Richie never had money or inclination to take Eddie grocery shopping when they were kids—but Eddie can imagine it. Them sailing under some dark sky, going fast and out of control but going together.
“Do not fucking touch me,” Richie parrots back in a strained high-pitched voice. It takes Eddie a second to recognize it as his own from 1989, after he broke his arm.
“Is that what I said?”
“That’s what you said, it was the best thing I’ve ever heard in my life—”
“Well you thought you knew how to reset an arm, you were thirteen and you were just like ‘I’m gonna set it’ as if you knew what the fuck that meant—”
“And yet I still notice that you still have full use of the arm, thanks to my medical intervention,” Richie says loftily.
Eddie’s looking kind of absently for Richie’s douchemobile rental car, but he doesn’t see it. He keeps searching, absently saying, “My doctor told me that it looked like a real amateur did it.”
“No, she didn’t.”
He remains kind of nonplussed even as Richie steers the chair up beside a tall rust-red truck. It’s only when Richie releases the handles of the chair that Eddie realizes this is their ride.
“Oh,” he says, looking up at it.
Richie unlocks the truck with a clinking of keys and says, “Okay, so Mike’s six-four, which is cruel and unusual for like a lot of reasons, but you’re gonna have to climb up. I mean—gaping chest wound or no gaping chest wound, this is gonna suck.”
Eddie looks up at the roof of the truck, the height of the seat—cloth interior—and then up at Richie. For some reason he hadn’t consciously processed that Mike is taller than Richie, but as he rifles back through his memories of them standing side by side, he knows it again. Richie seems to take up the whole world.
“You all there, Spaghetti Monster?” Richie asks.
Eddie grimaces. “Fuck you,” he replies. “I’m getting up. Hold the chair.” It would be just his luck for him to knock the chair away in the middle of trying to stand, lose his balance, and fracture his tailbone in the hospital parking lot.
Richie clamps a hand on one of the handles. “Okay. If you need a boost—”
Eddie stands up slowly, puts one hand on the bench seat in the cab of the truck, and plants the other in the middle of Richie’s face.
“Oh, the glasses, man,” Richie complains, but he doesn’t try to move. His nose is squashed against the heel of Eddie’s palm.
Eddie relocates that hand to Richie’s shoulder and steps up to the cab. There’s a small step for just this purpose on the passenger side, and he doesn’t feel great about the amount of effort it takes for him to hoist his body up into the truck, but it could be worse. He doesn’t black out or get dizzy or start coughing up blood, so he’s gonna chalk it up as a win. When he glances at Richie, Richie’s arms are up like Eddie’s about to fall and he’s gonna catch him.
“What are you doing?” Eddie asks, incredulous.
“I have no idea,” Richie says.
With that extended hand he grabs the buckle of the seatbelt and hands it to Eddie. Good thing, too—if he’d tried to buckle Eddie into the seat, Eddie would have had to physically fight him or something. He’s not a child. Eddie buckles himself in and finds Richie watching him with a familiar anxiety.
Package secured?” Richie asks. Eddie has a moment of flat incomprehension where he assumes Richie is talking about his dick, and then Richie appears to speak into his own wrist, putting on an official and top-secret kind of voice. “Package secured. Return to the rendezvous point.”
“Oh man,” Eddie says slowly, remembering. “We used to play that game.”
“We did,” Richie agrees.
Richie would always start it, because Richie usually started things. Mike usually caught on pretty fast—he had played before anyone introduced him to it, probably at his church group or something—and he would grin and raise a hand to his ear, and then Eddie, who was always looking at Richie, would catch on and put a hand up, and then Bev, and then Ben, and it was almost always either Bill or Stan who was the last to catch on before Richie screamed “Protect the president!” and they all pounced on him. Ben had never played the game before them, and was completely baffled on the way back from a day in the Barrens when suddenly his new friends just leapt on him shrieking, but afterwards he said You guys are so cool. Eddie showed him how to flip his bike upside-down and turn the pedal and make ice cream, which was a game Stan would go along with but Richie always ruined by ordering one dead fetus, please or something like that, and—
“Don’t you dare jump on me,” Eddie says.
Richie grins and widens his eyes at him threateningly, and then says, “Okay, I’m dropping this back off. Crack the window if it gets too hot in here, and remember, bystanders are allowed to break in if they see a dog in a hot car—”
“Get the fuck out of here,” Eddie tells him.
Richie closes the passenger door on him and goes, leaving Eddie in the artificial quiet of the cab.
It smells sweet in here. Like sugar and time, and something green—maybe cut wood. And then Richie, of course. Where did Richie’s flashy rental car go? It would be like him do declare he was busting Eddie out of the hospital in style, as if Eddie was ever in the mood to appreciate a convertible. He likes cars, sure, but he doesn’t like bugs in his teeth.
It’s September. What the hell was Richie doing with a convertible in September in Derry of all places? Who’s going to see him in that car?
Me, Eddie tells himself, looking a the tape deck in the cab console. He opens the deck to see if there’s a cassette in there, but it’s empty. He closes it again and then opens the glove compartment. There are some old tapes in there—the clear plastic ones with the dark tape winding through them, but none of them are labeled. Gotta be Mike’s, right? He sets them carefully back in their boxes and closes the glove compartment. He leans back gingerly.
The seatbelt goes straight across his chest. If it locks, or if they’re in an accident where it actually tries to hold Eddie in the seat, it’s gonna hurt like a motherfucker.
He fucks with it a little bit, pulling out the belt far with his arm until it locks, and then unbuckling it. He remembers too late that he can’t reach up to reset the belt, but he unbuckles the belt and carefully guides it clear of his body, and then watches it slide back up into the ceiling. Some kind of snake slinking into a tree and out of sight.
When Richie comes back, will he notice that Eddie’s unbuckled? Does he look at Eddie half as much as Eddie looks at him? Or is it all just in anxiety—Eddie’s fragile, Eddie’s a glass statute, Eddie’s about to shatter into a million pieces?
The idea of driving off—just going anywhere and throwing caution and law to the wind—makes Eddie feel like a wind is blowing through his body, scattering leaves and hair and bandages and papers in its wake. In the sense that all roads lead to Rome, once the car gets moving they can go actually anywhere. The limiting factor here is time.
And Eddie’s body.
He drums his fingers on his knees. They’re a little slower to respond than he might like—is it just paranoia? Is it nerve damage? Are they just stiff? He doesn’t know and part of him’s afraid to investigate it.
What do I want?
And then, a faint mocking voice: What are you looking for, Eddie?
And, If you lived here, you’d be home by now.
He shakes his head. He doesn’t feel much of anything when he does it; the painkillers are definitely working in his system. He’s going to have to stop by a pharmacy or something and he doesn’t know when, but he suspects it’s going to have to be soon—and he doesn’t have his insurance card or his ID. God, this is going to be a nightmare.
He tilts his head all the way back on the seat and closes his eyes and breathes in. Sugar and grass and varnish and motor oil and Richie. What does he want? And then he remembers, glances out the window to make sure Richie’s nowhere in sight and guiltily tucks his chin down until he can press his nose inside the collar of the shirt.
Somewhere in the last thirty years Richie started smelling good. It’s completely at odds with how unkempt he looks—he chooses to look, anyway—and the memory of the reeking teenage boy he used to be. The shirt carries the smell of new leather, of detergent, of soap and something dark and animal he’s convinced wicked off Richie’s skin. He breathes, glancing guiltily out the window, until he can’t smell anything other than clean fabric, and then he lifts his head.
He wants Richie to get in the truck, to lean across the bench seat, to kiss him. He wants to put his hands in Richie’s hair, to sink his fingers into the shoulders of his leather jacket—not warm enough for a Maine winter, no matter how many button-down shirts he piles on underneath it—to grab hold of his belt loops and feel up his back. He wants to hold Richie’s jaw when he does it, to feel the push and press of his mouth.
The idea starts an ache under his tongue that he doesn’t think he’s felt before. The need to be kissed as something his body wants, not just something it feels like the correct moment to do, like it’s the last thing on the checklist of what to do on a date. But he’s also faintly nauseated from the painkillers and the hospital breakfast. He doesn’t know what he wants, but he suspects fruit would be a good place to start. How has Richie been living, if he’s coming to the hospital every day and staying as long as visiting hours will allow him? What’s he eating?
And what the fuck did the rest of the Losers do about Bowers? Ben said It’s taken care of with such an air of finality that Eddie was ready to believe him because of how he said it, not just because it was the easiest thing not to worry about it in the hospital. Just to let it be taken care of. He doesn’t want them to take care of him, but if he has no choice but to let them take care of the rest of the world around them… well, he has no choice.
He raises one hand to touch the puncture wound on his face, gingerly. It’s healing now. He keeps probing at the inside of his cheek with his tongue, just gently. The doctor told him that the sutures will dissolve on the inside on their own. It ought to surprise him how fast it’s healing. A dental hygienist once told Eddie that the mouth is the second-fastest healing part of the body, and Eddie made the mistake of asking which was the first. “The eye,” she replied cheerily. Wentworth Tozier was probably the first dentist Eddie ever went to, and he used to get in with his reflective mirror and ask Eddie knowingly if he was sneaking cigarettes like Richie, and Eddie was horrified because the answer really was no.
Mouth and eyes. That’s Richie, all the way. What does it mean if those parts heal fast? Does Richie regenerate? Is that why as soon as Richie banged on the gong in the Jade of the Orient, Eddie felt that old quiver in his chest pick back up after thirty goddamn years—Richie’s just someone who can’t be kept down?
At that point Richie opens the driver’s side door and swings himself up. “Okay, Eduardo.” He slams the door. “Let’s blow this popsicle stand.”
Eddie moves his hand from the wound in his cheek and presses it over his mouth. Guilty, almost. He doesn’t know why, but he doesn’t want Richie to see him probing his injuries. He stares at the closed glove compartment.
Richie stops moving in his peripheral vision. He holds still and quiet for a moment and then asks, “What?”
Eddie braces one hand on his ribs to take a deep breath. Then he asks, “What did you do with the body?”
The silence holds for a moment, and then Richie reaches out and hits the button to lock the car doors. The locks click into place with a metallic chunk! Eddie lifts his head. Richie’s hands are resting on the steering wheel, knuckles loose.
“I don’t know,” Richie says.
Eddie stares at him, imagining he can hear a clock ticking. “You don’t know,” he repeats.
Richie doesn’t look at him, just stares at the logo in the center of the wheel. “Bill and Ben took care of it,” he says. The same words. Took care of it. It’s taken care of.
I don’t want to be taken care of.
“After they got tested to see if their blood types matched. They didn’t. Stan and Mike got cleaned up. They said you crashed. Ben held me down in a chair and someone stuck a needle in me. Then Bill and Ben vanished for a couple hours. I don’t know what happened. I didn’t ask. Maybe they went off to fuck in a supply closet and left me to hang.” Richie shrugs, but there’s no humor on his face even as he makes the joke. “Ben says it’s taken care of. That’s all I know.”
Eddie stares at him. All he can think of is that Bowers went after Mike in Mike’s place of work, and that Mike was suspended and then basically lost his job over this. People in Derry, Mike says, are starting to experience consequences. So what happens if someone finds Bowers’s body?
“You can ask Ben about it when we get back to the hotel,” Richie says.
“You haven’t asked?”
At that Richie turns his head to look at him, his eyes wide and his mouth stretched in a rictus sort of grin. “I don’t ask questions I don’t want to know the answer to,” Richie says. Then he turns back and reaches for his seatbelt.
“Uh,” Eddie says. Richie looks up, eyebrows all polite inquiry. Eddie swallows. “Can you—” He points up at the buckle where his seatbelt is retracted into the car roof.
Richie’s brow furrows, creases forming between his slashing brows and faint lines on his forehead, but he stretches out and leans across the cab without question. “Yeah, sure.” His body crosses Eddie’s for just a moment. His arm forms a barrier to Eddie’s torso, and that’s a good thing. If they were in Europe, in a car that drove on the right side, Richie’s chest would press right up against Eddie’s shoulder, and Eddie doesn’t know what he’d do then. If he’d have to put his face against Richie’s throat and breathe deep, get a hit of his scent straight from the source where his skin is warm.
What is he supposed to do with all this want? It’s more than his body should be able to hold. Do people walk around like this every day? How does anyone get anything done?
Richie hands him the buckle and returns to his side of the cab. “You thinking about making a break for it?” he asks as he pulls his own seatbelt into place.
“Hmm?” Eddie asks, trying to focus on the Richie in front of him instead of the one in his mind’s eye.
Richie lifts his eyebrows and inclines his head toward the seatbelt.
“Oh,” he says. “I was just testing the give, so it doesn’t…” He slides his thumb under the belt and pulls it gently away from his clavicle, demonstrating the space between the strap and his sternum.
It’s clear Richie gets the point, because he winces suddenly. “Jeez, if that’s not pressure to drive safe…” He turns the key in the ignition and Eddie almost jumps as the engine rumbles to life under them.
“You should drive safely all the time!” Eddie insists.
Richie puts both hands on the wheel and just grins at him, then lifts his chin to check his mirrors. Then he reaches out and puts a hand on the back of Eddie’s seat to twist around and look behind him. “I’m a paragon of responsibility, Eds,” he says absently, as he puts the truck in reverse and slowly backs out of the parking space.
Eddie might have resolved that there’s no reason to push back when Richie does that, but the nickname combined with the reach is too much. “Don’t call me Eds,” he mutters, feeling himself blush. But Richie, mercifully, has his eyes on the road.
Eddie gets to have bad posture now. He sits carefully so that his shoulders are pressed to the seat, instead of his spine.
“Why do you have Mike’s truck?” Eddie asks.
Richie shrugs. “It was between that and Patty’s sedan. And I figured it would be better if it was something that… you know.”
Eddie, who has no love of convertible tops on cars, immediately feels himself bristle at the idea that Richie’s trying to protect him and keep him out of the wind.
“Belonged to us,” Richie finishes, which is not what Eddie thought he was going to say at all. “Not that Patty isn’t great, she’s hysterical, but. You know.”
He does. She’s not one of the Lucky Seven. The Losers Club that walked out of hell. Twice. He looks down at his own knees, looking at how sharp and thin they look under his pants, and waits.