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Now What I'm Gonna Say May Sound Indelicate

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It’s not that Eddie isn’t totally aware of his situation, because he is. He smells like he hasn’t showered in a couple of weeks, because he hasn’t. There’s still dry shampoo, probably, caked down near his scalp, because when you have a powder like that how are you supposed to brush it all out? He’s been brushing his teeth gingerly using a cup of water and the generic toothbrush and tiny tube of toothpaste available for him at the hospital, and he’s sure he’s missing big spots because he’s avoiding the stitches in the side of his cheek, and he needs to see a dentist to see if Bowers damaged his tooth when he stabbed him. There’s a hole in his chest that, while no longer technically gaping, still stinks of old blood.

And Eddie has problems to deal with, now that he’s out of the hospital. Namely, what the fuck did Bill and Ben do with Henry Bowers’s dead body, after Richie killed him? How are Eddie and (apparently) Richie getting to Ben’s house in New York when Eddie’s car is still in New York City in the shop getting the dents popped out of the door and Richie has abandoned his douchemobile rental car? Is Eddie even going to have the energy to actually initiate divorce proceedings now that he’s announced to Myra he wants them? He doesn’t have a cell phone. He needs to call work and explain what the fuck happened to him.

And Richie’s being careful with him.

Maybe Eddie was too vehement with the don’t help me, don’t try to take care of me speech, because Richie keeps up a running string of commentary as they creep at a snail’s pace from the parking lot to the hotel lobby, but he doesn’t try to touch Eddie. This shouldn’t bother Eddie; he’s not really used to being touched, to the point that when someone actually embraces him he realizes all at once how the space around him aches a little just all the time. And he’s never really liked casual touch—his mother wiping his hair out of his eyes or cleaning dirt off his face, or Myra straightening his collar, or all the little casual touches that people use to assert affection. They always seemed performative, in some way—Myra loved them, asked for them specifically, but it never felt natural for Eddie to reach out and maintain her the way she did for him.

Richie, though, was always casually tactile when they were kids. Eddie was apprehensive about it when he met Richie—they were seven and Richie was always reaching out and putting a hand on Eddie’s shoulder—but Richie was just always like that, and with Bill and Stan too, and then he met Richie’s parents and saw how they casually held hands when they came to school events, how they sat shoulder to shoulder and tilted their heads to murmur to each other in the audience of the class play, and he figured this must be something that normal people did, something that his mother would do if his dad hadn’t died, and then Eddie would be used to touch instead of being scared of it. And Richie never had a problem with pushing Eddie on the swings, grabbing him by the ankles and yelling “Underdoggy!” as he sprinted under the parabola of Eddie’s feet on the playground, and that was convenient; and no matter how often Eddie lectured him on grass allergies he never seemed to think twice about wrestling Eddie to the ground like he did Bill and Stan and. It was kind of nice. That Richie didn’t change his approach at all. Sometimes he remembered when Eddie complained and apologized, but that happened less in later years as Eddie’s complaints and lectures got more and more frequent and Richie learned more swear words.

He was like that as soon as they showed up in Derry, too—grabbing Eddie’s wrist and taking things out of his hands and game for arm wrestling and standing at a slight stoop to stay at Eddie’s eye level even though he looked ridiculous. And Eddie knows Richie helped stop the bleeding, Richie did chest compressions correctly despite the consequences, Richie was able to physically lift him and carry him out of the pipes and into the Barrens. Eddie’s not saying he wants that right now.

But it is taking him far too long to pick his way across the parking lot on his own two feet. He’s got Call! Don’t Fall! stuck in his head, and while Richie’s clearly within arm’s reach, his hands are jammed deep in his pockets again and he’s making fun of Eddie like it’s his job.

It’s kind of a relief, actually, that he’s talking about it instead of politely ignoring it. When they were kids, Bill’s stutter embarrassed adults to the point it seemed they couldn’t stand it. Richie was always in there calling Bill Mushmouth, asking if he handed out towels with his showers—but he always let Bill finish his entire sentence, no matter how long it took Bill to get there. And considering how desperate Richie was one-hundred-percent of the time to get the last word, that meant something.

“It’s just ’cause of your short little legs,” Richie assures him. “Don’t worry about it; I knew when I offered to come pick you up it would take us two full days to actually get inside and that’s a risk I’m willing to take—”

Fuck you,” Eddie says.

He’s not quite panting but his breath hurts the back of his throat like it’s something sharp and solid there. And it’s cold—still morning, the sun hasn’t burned off some of that early mist—in a way that reminds him of the hospital, but it’s a humid kind of cold, so he feels clammy and sweaty at the same time, and he’s been reliably informed that sweat is the enemy of wound care. His jacket is warm enough for now, but just barely; his hands are freezing. If Eddie stops now to take Mike’s mittens out of his pocket, Richie’s going to mock him within an inch of his life. His fingers ache with cold.

“I’m average height. In most parts of the world.”

“Oh, most parts of the world,” Richie says. “I’m pretty sure that doesn’t include this parking lot, considering it’s you and it’s me, and by definition, that means you are below average.”

Richie’s strides aren’t even noticeably bigger than his, though maybe he’s adjusting to match Eddie. He’s absolutely playing up how tall he is, though, hands in his pockets but his shoulders back and stretched so he can look down his nose at him.

The fact that Eddie likes it makes his insides squirm. It keeps him from reaching out and leaning on Richie like he’s tempted to do. Instead he puts his hand on a stranger’s car to catch his breath, and Richie stands there and shifts like he doesn’t know what to do with his arms and keeps chattering about mathematical concepts that are activating Eddie’s deep memory from like the fourth grade and seem to have no purpose.

“—so while I wouldn’t say you’re the average height in this situation, I’m very impressed by how you’re able to be the mean despite your stature,” Richie finishes, his tone trending towards something like pompous British professor without actually committing to the voice.

Eddie, aware he’s being incredibly rude by leaning on the trunk of this rando’s Pathfinder, looks up at him incredulously. “Are you telling me—” Inhale. “—that you can give me shit for forty-five minutes straight—” Bigger inhale. “—but that I have somehow hurt your feelings?”

“Oh, don’t be silly, I don’t have feelings,” Richie says so seriously and loftily that Eddie almost forgets to be horrified by the words themselves. “I’m just impressed by your badness level. It’s unusually high for someone your size.”

Eddie squints at him and asks, “Lilo & Stitch?”

Richie shrugs, unrepentant. “Hey, you recognized it. I’m a Loser—” Eddie can hear the capitalization. “—who goes to see kids’ movies by himself, but you don’t have kids either.”

Eddie blinks at him. “You just like the alien voice, don’t you?”

Richie grins and says, “Okay, okay, okay,” in the thick back-of-the-throat voice of Experiment 626. In his own voice, he says, “Bet you cried buckets during Lilo & Stitch, didn’t you? You look like the type.”

Eddie has a lot of complicated feelings about his “badness level” and his looking like any kind of type. He fires back, “You look like you can pick your nose with your own tongue.”

“Ha!” Richie barks. “Eds gets off a good one! Get your chucks right here, folks, hot fresh chucks—”

“Shut the fuck up,” Eddie hisses at him.

He did cry buckets during Lilo & Stitch. That was during the phase in his life where he liked to watch all of the Academy Award nominees so he could have opinions on them if anyone ever asked him about them, which no one ever did. He sat through Ice Age and the deeply disturbing Japanese movie about the bathhouse that year, and the opening to Treasure Planet made him tear up though he wasn’t sure why—something about the music—but the little animated child said “If you take him away, you’re stealing” and Eddie fucking lost it and had no idea why until right about now.

He watched all the Academy Award nominees until 2005 when he had to sit through both Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Corpse Bride in the same year and then he gave up on the Oscars as a whole, and only saw the movies if Myra expressed interest.

Eddie needs another rest when they actually get into the hotel lobby. There are lots of spindly little tables with cushy armchairs in there, and Richie proves that at some point he learned an inside voice, because he delivers his seemingly endless stream of chatter in such a normal and polite murmur that if Eddie reacts to any of the batshit things he’s saying he’ll be the one who looks crazy. And he’s definitely doing it on purpose, smirk widening every time Eddie breaks and asks, “What the hell are you talking about?” like that’s the game in the first place and he just never mentioned the rules to Eddie.

Eddie has a little bit of a fantasy in the freight elevator, though. On the way to the freight elevator, anyway. Reaching out with his useless arm and Richie ducking to hook it under the back of his neck, and then maybe Richie slinging his free arm around Eddie’s back and taking hold of him at the hip. Three-legged race all over again. He wants it, and the ferocity with which he wants it is dangerous and startling, so he doesn’t touch either. Just lets Richie stick a hand in the elevator door to stop it from closing while Eddie shuffles over to the control panel.

“What floor?” Eddie asks, resigned.

“Three,” Richie says, and then, “Wait, do you want to go to Ben’s first or do you want anything out of your bags?”

Eddie stands there with his index finger hovering over the elevator buttons, flatly uncomprehending.

“Because the Losers are there,” Richie says obviously. His fingers are still wrapped around the edge of the elevator door. The machine makes an urgent sound, tries to close the door, and relents as soon as it detects Richie standing there blocking it. “For, like, your victory lap, or whatever. I should probably text them and tell them to move the finishing line like real close so we’re not there for the whole month of September.”

“Richie,” Eddie says, meaning get the hell to the point.

“But your bags are on the fourth floor,” Richie says. “If you wanted to, like, I don’t know.”

He doesn’t know either, so he considers it. What he’d really like is to take a shower, but his doctors banned that. He’d like his phone so that he can really set a countdown timer for forty-eight hours until he can clean himself up, but his phone is currently in the lair of a hopefully-deceased pedophagic hell-clown. He needs a new phone, but he’s reasonably sure he can’t get one of those in this hotel, so it’s a moot point.

“I want to brush my teeth,” he says. Weirdly, he missed his toothpaste. Logically he knows it’s very unlikely for there to be sugar in toothpaste, but the little tubes of travel toothpaste the hospital provided for his careful and delicate usage were bright blue with sparkles in them, and Eddie’s a grown-ass man who doesn’t need sparkles in his toothpaste. Not that there’s anything wrong with men who do need sparkles in their toothpaste, he reminds himself immediately. If the best part of brushing your teeth is sparkly toothpaste, who is he to take that away from anyone? But Eddie’s been using Sensodyne for as long as he’s been able to buy it at the grocery store because it makes him feel better about his ability to eat cold or sweet things—not that he ate a lot of those, because he’s a grown-ass man who—

Wait a minute. Eddie just got out of the hospital. He can eat ice cream.

Richie is still standing, still ignoring the complaints of the elevator as he holds the door open. When Eddie turns his face up to him—and Eddie’s not sure what his face is doing—Richie immediately gets a suspicious sort of look on his face. “What?”

“Tell me someone grabbed my toothpaste from the Townhouse,” he says.

Richie rolls his eyes. “Yes, we got your toothpaste, we got your toothbrush. You didn’t even unpack that room. If I didn’t know you I’d be like ‘Did Eddie brush his teeth at all the whole time we were in Derry?’”

“Did you brush your teeth the whole time we were in Derry?”

“It’s hit or miss,” Richie replies blandly. “I mean, I forgot a lot about being a kid and a teenager, but turns out disappointing my father is just like a constant. Like a core part of my personality, you know?”

Eddie curls his lip in revulsion and Richie grins. His teeth look basically the same. White enough—not the blue-white of people who pay to whiten them, but like Richie has mostly taken care of his teeth as an adult, which is more than teenage Eddie would have expected out of him. He still has that fucking overbite, which always seemed like a cruel irony when he was growing up the son of the local dentist, but now just looks familiar and… weirdly comforting. Eddie feels like he shouldn’t be allowed to take comfort in someone else’s teeth, but a lot of weird things have happened on the inside of his head lately and he’s well past self-policing.

“So your toothbrush is on the fourth floor,” Richie says, and Eddie realizes that he’s basically looking a Richie Tozier in the mouth and quickly averts his eyes back to the button panel. “If you’d rather see that before all of our friends who are so glad you’re alive and recovered—” He says it breezily but Eddie feels his hackles go up.

“Don’t,” he says.

Richie’s brow furrows in something like confusion and he waits.

“I know you’re kidding,” Eddie says. “But don’t.”

Richie blinks at him and then his eyes flick up and away, unfocused. Eddie can practically see him rewinding the tapes in his mind, looking for the error. He used to do that a lot when he was talking shit back in school, trying to figure out what he said that crossed the line that made them all shout beep beep or that finally got the teacher to kick him out into the hall. Eddie remembers the oh shit moment of realization and kind of waits for the ghost of it to reappear on Richie’s new, square, adult face.

The elevator beeps for the third time and then starts to close the door without regard for the human being blocking it. Richie and Eddie snap back to reality at the same time and Richie says, “Oh shit,” and steps out of the way and into the elevator itself before it can crush him.

“That’s a safety hazard,” Eddie says.

“Yeah, you think?”

But Richie does not get crushed to death in an elevator door, and Eddie pushes the button for the fourth floor so that he can go brush his teeth and set his paperwork down and try to look a little bit less deranged by the time he sees his friends.

For some reason it does not occur to him until Richie unlocks the door and holds it open for him that, if Richie was able to bring Eddie his clothes from his suitcases, it means that all of Eddie’s stuff is in Richie’s hotel room. He comprehends it with sharp and completely unwarranted surprise as soon as he sees his three bags, all lined up with military precision, next to the couch.

Richie has a suite. This should not surprise Eddie, but it kind of does. There are a couch and two armchairs and a coffee table and a television, and a kitchenette with two rickety chairs and a microwave and a minifridge, and then two doors. The one directly out of the kitchenette leads to a tiny room with a toilet and a bathtub. Eddie can see straight through the other door to a queen-sized bed with rumpled sheets.

This is where Richie has been living when he’s not squeezing all the time possible out of Sovereign Light Hospital’s visiting hours, or trading vigils with the other Losers to allow Eddie to see the rest of his friends. And that’s where Richie’s been sleeping.

“Bill went digging through your stuff,” Richie says. “I asked him what the fuck he was doing and he told me to fuck off, that you asked him to get something, but if anything’s missing that shouldn’t be, you can blame him.”

“I did tell him,” Eddie says, and realizes he’s standing uselessly in the hotel room doorway. He takes a small step to the left to let Richie into his own suite. He puts his discharge papers on the countertop—this is a nice hotel, but it’s clearly fake marble or granite or whatever—next to the sink and concludes it’s probably best to sit down for a minute. Carefully he picks his way over to the table and its spindly little chairs.

Richie’s still looking at him as though for an explanation, but there’s a deliberate casualness to his face, like he’s ready for Eddie to tell him to fuck off too.

“It’s fine,” Eddie says. He’s about to open his toiletry bag and see it completely bereft of pills, if Bill followed his instructions. And he’s also going to get the sinking panicky feeling of when he doesn’t have all his stuff, when anything could happen and he’s not prepared for it; but he’s having that every time he remembers he lost his phone anyway, so maybe it’ll be manageable. “Can you do me a favor?”

Richie makes prayer hands over his chest and wobbles his head back and forth in wordless reference to I Dream of Jeannie.

“Can you bring my toiletry bag over here?” Last time lifting it was a strain; Eddie’s not even gonna attempt it in his current state.

“Yeah.” Richie effortlessly hooks it by the handle, crosses the room, and swings it up onto the table in front of Eddie. “Do you want your own shirt, too, while we’re going through your luggage?”

Eddie blinks at him, confused.

Richie shrugs. “I swear I’ve done laundry since we were here—Stan took us all to this laundromat—but if you have a shirt you can get your arms into I won’t be offended.”

Eddie remembers he’s wearing Richie’s shirt and almost blushes. “I don’t have any button-downs,” he says. He just tipped the next week’s worth of work clothes into his suitcase when he started packing. He was prepared for any number of business meetings, but not, apparently, for fighting a killer clown or getting out of the hospital. He remembers rolling up his pants to pick across the Kenduskeag down in the Barrens.

Also, he kind of doesn’t want to give up this shirt. Not just because he doesn’t want to go through the ordeal of changing in front of Richie again.

Richie gives him a grin that’s only half-leer, so that could be worse. “Well, my floordrobe is open to you,” he says. Eddie grimaces again and turns to start unzipping his toiletry bag. “Can I get you anything else? Sparkling water? Hot towel? Complimentary chocolate mints?”

Eddie has never eaten chocolate mints in a hotel. They buy them in bulk, and you never know how long it’s been since the hotel got their shipment in. And Eddie has read conflicting reports of whether dark chocolate or extra-dark chocolate is actually good for your heart, the same way the medical community is always waffling about red wine and tannins and everything, so he’s tried to steer clear of chocolate for a long time.

Eddie would actually like some chocolate now. Chocolate pudding cups were one of the things provided to him in hospital, as a dessert or as a snack or whenever Sarah seemed to think he was having a hard time. The chocolate helped ease the pity.

He looks around at the fancy hotel room. “Do they actually do chocolate mints?”

“They do,” Richie says on a laugh, “but I ate that shit like as soon as I got here. If you want them I’ll take the Do Not Disturb off the door and we can see if it’s a check-in benefit or if I have to go down to the front desk and beg for my friend just out of the hospital or what.”

“Aren’t we leaving tomorrow?” Eddie asks.

 Richie’s eyebrows climb in a way that Eddie notes with something like foreboding. “If you want,” he says.

Eddie doesn’t look away from him, letting his hand rest frozen on the toiletry bag. He’s trying to pin Richie with his eyes.

“Why wouldn’t we leave tomorrow?”

Richie shrugs. “Gotta get a rental car that can carry all your baggage,” he says. “So like a tractor-trailer. See if you feel like being in the car for ten hours.”

Really that shouldn’t sound like exertion but Eddie’s well aware of the micro-adjustments that your abdominal muscles make to keep you upright when you’re traveling at sixty-plus miles per hour. He’s gonna be tired and he’s gonna sleep a lot and he’s gonna be sore, and he really thinks he’d just rather put some distance between himself and the state of Maine, if he has the choice. He’s going to have to come back in three weeks for his follow-up, but he’d like to use the time that’s his while he has it.

“I feel like being in the car for ten hours,” he reports back.

Richie snorts. “No one really feels like being in the—” He interrupts himself and his eyebrows lift and his eyes widen. “Oh.”

Eddie was returning his attention to his toiletry bag and his impending dental hygiene, but at that he snaps his head back up to look at Richie, hands on the table. “What?”

“I forgot about your car thing,” Richie says. His expression is completely serious.

Eddie blinks twice, trying to figure out what his car thing could be. His Escalade, back in New York and still having the damage popped out of the body? The fact that while he’s on heavy painkillers—a thought which makes him feel weirdly nauseated despite the fact that none of the pills are in his possession yet—he won’t be able to drive? If anything, that last gives Eddie the most pause. It feels weird to demand Richie drive him ten hours away to New York to wherever Ben lives. Weirder than it feels to demand that Richie hand over his coffee or pick up some candy from the local big box store. Eddie’s going to have to go back in three weeks, and does he think that Richie’s going to drive him a collective twenty hours across New England, just because Eddie’s working through some stuff? The inconvenience feels bigger than should be allowed.

“My what?” he asks, nonplussed. He’s swallowing, trying to work out how he can make this fair—Ben offered the place, and if he and Bev and Richie have two cars and a rotation and Eddie is stoned in the backseat or the passenger seat it’ll be more of a group trip, less of a personal imposition, but that feels just as greedy to ask too.

“Your car thing,” Richie says. “Your raging hard-on for the automobile.”

Eddie blinks at him, then without looking wrenches the zipper of his toiletry bag open, fumbles inside with his useless right hand, and throws the first thing he touches at Richie. It turns out to be his little travel bottle of face wash.

Richie laughs, puts his hands up to cover his face, ducks. “Yeah, planes, trains, and automobiles. Your fucking fetish for the Industrial Revolution—hey!”

The moisturizer hits Richie in the eyeglasses, right on top of the frames. Eddie has a panicky moment where he thinks he’s going to break them, which would suck for so many reasons. But then Richie’s just laughing, looking a little dazed the way Eddie used to feel in school when the screen for the projector would wobble—whole perception of the world shaken.

“I’m sorry!” he blurts out automatically, surprised at himself. He puts both hands over his mouth.

That just makes Richie laugh harder. “Fucking why? Are you sure you’ve got nerve damage, because that was a beep beep motherfucker right there.” He tugs his glasses further down the bridge of his nose and—

“You’re bleeding,” Eddie says.

Richie frowns at him, incredulous. “No, I’m not.”

But basically right between Richie’s eyes there’s a little red line too bright and vivid to be anything but blood.

“Yeah, you are,” Eddie says, waving him forward. Richie stoops, brow still furrowed, and blood wells up and starts dripping. “Ah, shit.” Eddie flips the toiletry bag open and finds the pack of travel tissues—why the fuck didn’t he throw that at Richie?—and clumsily fumbles one out, presses it to the bridge of Richie’s nose.

“Uh?” Richie says, nonplussed.

“Shh.” Eddie hooks Richie’s glasses off his face and inspects the nose bridge on the frames. The outsides are black plastic—Richie wears the stupid Buddy Holly glasses, because of course he does—but on the inside there’s a clear plastic triangle to help keep them on his nose, and that’s much smaller and narrower than the blunt black frame, and when Eddie hit Richie in the face he managed to jam that back into Richie’s brow and it cut him. He dabs at it like he might a shaving injury. Head wounds bleed a lot. Richie has expressive eyebrows; the skin’s soft there.

“What the fuck?” Richie asks.

“I’m really sorry,” Eddie says, and means it.

“For fucking what?”

“Your glasses cut you.” He holds his thumb over the spot and watches Richie try to blink clear of the ends of the tissue where it touches his lashes. They’re very black, short and stubby. Richie’s looking at him—of course he’s looking at him, Eddie just wounded him with a skincare product. “Fuck, I didn’t mean to get you in the face.”

“I mean, I figured you didn’t mean to get me in the face, I’m just surprised you learned to throw somewhere in the last thirty years.”

Richie was unconscious in the deadlights when Eddie lanced It.

“Can you not?” Eddie demands, pulling the tissue away and finding a fresh new spot to blot on. “I’ve got Neosporin in here—should fucking clean it, your glasses are dirty.” If he’d hit Richie in the face with the bottle of hydrogen peroxide he would have really hurt him. What the fuck was he thinking?

“They’re not dirty, they’re new,” Richie replies.

Eddie blinks once and then looks down at the glasses, turning them this way and that as if he knows anything about the way glasses age. “Since when?” They look identical, not just to the glasses Richie showed up wearing at the Jade of the Orient, but also to the beer-bottle specs Richie wore when he was a kid and broke over and over again.

“Since I broke the old ones.” He gestures at the space over his eye, miming a lens. “Just shattered it. Fucking annoying, full of blood. That was dirty. These are clean.”

Eddie stares at him, because when he says full of blood he can remember, all of a sudden, the sudden spray of blood across Richie’s face. In the stinging moments of incomprehension—the obliterating pain that his body floundered trying to convey to him—Richie’s horrified expression was not quite the first, but one of the earliest warnings that something was seriously wrong.

Richie got new glasses because they were covered in Eddie’s blood.

“Shit,” Eddie says. “Hold that.” He waits until Richie yanks the other chair closer, sits down properly, and pins the tissue to his forehead.

Richie looks odd without his glasses on. They don’t have the magnifying effect of the glasses of their childhood—and thank god, Eddie likes Richie’s eyes as much as (more than) the next person, but it was a wonder Richie didn’t go outside on a sunny day and burn his eyes out like they used to roast ants with a magnifying glass. But Eddie’s used to the black lines around Richie’s eyes, making them seem to take up more of his face, interrupting the slashing lines of Richie’s brows.

Richie’s very close.

Eddie pulls the brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide out of the mesh pocket in the side of the toiletry bag and Richie tilts his head all the way back, leaning away from Eddie but keeping his elbow propped on the table.

“Uh-uh, don’t think so,” Richie says.

Eddie ignores him, going for the little travel case of cotton balls. “We gotta clean it, Richie. If you’re careful it might not scar—shit, I’m so sorry.”

“Oh, I don’t care about that,” Richie says. “But I’m not an eleven-year-old boy who fell off his bike, so I don’t need the hydrogen peroxide, thank you very much.”

Eddie scowls at him. “Are you still a big baby about it?” he asks, because Richie bitched and moaned about vaccines every year, about dental checkups, about papercuts, about pain in general. And Eddie’s sympathetic to a lot, but also. He has a big hole through his torso right now.

“There is no medical benefit to hydrogen peroxide,” Richie says matter-of-factly.

Eddie stares at him. “What?”

Richie lowers the tissue and waggles his eyebrows at him. The little cut between his eyes remains bright red, but doesn’t actively drip blood. It wasn’t that deep to begin with, but this is still reassuring.

“It’s a disinfectant,” Eddie says. “Why—it fizzes when it goes on, that’s how you know—”

“Oh, it reacts with blood,” Richie says confidently. “You get blood on a t-shirt and it’ll fizz, it’s got nothing to do with germs, baby.”

Now Eddie’s staring for multiple reasons. “It—it kills bacteria, Richie, you’re supposed to put it on a cut to clean it, everyone knows that.”

Richie’s grinning and he shakes his head, smug about knowing something Eddie doesn’t. It’s an expression Eddie recognizes—and not necessarily one he’s fond of. “Damages tissue, too,” he says triumphantly. “Look it up.” He fishes his phone out of his pocket and throws it on the table between them like a gauntlet.

Eddie blinks down at the phone and then back up at Richie. “You’re full of shit,” he says.

Richie sits back and then hooks one hand behind his head, his arm going up effortlessly, casually. “Look it up.”

Eddie, apprehensive and mistrusting, holds eye contact with him for several long moments before he breaks and grabs the phone.

“It’s—” Richie says.

“I know,” Eddie says, tapping in the passcode without looking up. “Thanks for not telling me that before leaving me to make a very important phone call on a phone I couldn’t open, by the way.”

Some of Richie’s casual confidence seems to fade a little. He doesn’t move in Eddie’s peripheral vision, but he sounds less sure of himself when he asks, “So what did you do?”

“I hacked your phone,” Eddie replies. “What do you think I did? I guessed.”

“You—guessed?” Richie asks, like he thinks Eddie hacking his phone would be more likely.

“The whole time I was out you talked about Buddy Holly. I made one of the nurses look it up on Wikipedia.” Eddie pulls up the web browser and finds that the last thing Richie Google searched was the phrase when the jaws open wide. Eddie closes his eyes, frantically hoping that has nothing to do with blowjobs or anything, but the results page seems to be full of pictures of eels.

“I—you heard that?”

Eddie looks up from Richie’s screen full of morays before he can search hydrogen peroxide cuts. “I told you,” he says, nonplussed. They’ve already had the conversation about Richie’s old school taste in music to go along with his fucking hipster glasses.

Richie’s watching him with a wariness that makes Eddie nervous in turn. “What’d you hear?” he asks.

“I—” Eddie blinks, because he was stoned out of his mind, missing most of the blood in his body, and only partially conscious. Immediately thoughts of proving Richie wrong filter out of his mind, ravenous curiosity seething at the forefront of his brain with What did he say? Because what could Richie have said that would make him react like this? He has to blink a couple more times as he tries to remember.

Did he say ‘I love you’? Did he say it and then you said it and now he’s not saying anything about it because he thinks you have an understanding and—

He tries to get a leash on that particular rampant bullet train of thought.

“Uh,” he manages. “You kept singing. That’s why I woke up, you were singing ‘American Pie.’”

He finally finds the word for how Richie looks without his glasses. Vulnerable. Like a wall has come down between him and the world, which it has, and now he can’t quite see, and his eyes look soft and naked, somehow.

Their knees are almost touching, with how close Richie has pulled his chair so that Eddie can tend to his wounds.

“I mean, I would come out of my grave for ‘American Pie,’” Richie says. There’s an intensity to his stare that doesn’t match his words. “You didn’t seem the type.”

Eddie snorts.

The corner of Richie’s mouth drags up in a lopsided grin that doesn’t reach his eyes. “What, was my rendition not worth coming back to life for?”

Richie’s rendition was basically tone-perfect except for his inability to stop interrupting himself to run commentary and chatter with Eddie, but that’s not the problem.

He pushes the phone into the space between them, calling attention to the fact that Eddie was able to guess Richie’s passcode after thirty years apart, since the last time they knew each other passcodes weren’t even a thing.

“I know you, so cut the bullshit and tell me what it is you didn’t want me to hear.”

Richie’s mouth is a little open, overbite resting on his lower lip in an almost contemplative look. Then he mirrors Eddie’s posture, and when he folds his arms his biceps are much more impressive than Eddie’s, even with the stupid leather jacket covering them.

“That’s some pretty big talk for a man who just cut me between the eyes,” he says coolly.

And Eddie is. So tired. He thinks for a moment of telling Richie to cut the bullshit, telling him that he’s being honest about his type for once in his life. Imagines Richie changing his mind, deciding to go back to Los Angeles. Or worse—coming along, but resenting.

“I heard you talking about World War Two fighter pilots,” Eddie says. He died. He’s gay. He’s clearly having a midlife crisis. His chest hurts a lot. “Why?”

Richie seems to consider this for a moment. Mouth still open, he runs his tongue over his front teeth contemplatively. Then he nods. “The helmet paradox,” he says.

Eddie raises his eyebrows and does not look at Richie’s mouth. Just at his soft eyes.

Richie says, almost casually except for the physical wall he’s made of his forearms, “All your docs were pretty clear about what would’ve happened if It’d hit you an inch left, an inch higher, whatever.” He nods again slowly, agreeing with himself, though this is the first Eddie has heard of any of this. “You hear a lot of those stories when people are talking about their injuries—if it had been an inch this way, an inch that way, I would have been fucking dead.”

The voice he does for the random patient, is, he’s pretty sure, Eddie’s own. Eddie has no idea what to make of that and looks at him incredulously. Richie shrugs, an old familiar gesture, and seems to visibly set the impression aside.

“Anyway, I was thinking about how everyone seems to have a one-in-a-million story like that. Like, in shows, in media, in real life, whatever. I mean, pretty unlikely things have happened to me too.” This last he says with the irony thick as paint.

Eddie waits. Richie talks for a living. He might not like his material—if it can really be called his material, even though it’s out there under Richie’s name—but Richie, somewhere, learned to read a room to his advantage. Learned to make people hang on his words. And Eddie wants his answers, so he’s going to wait and see what Richie says.

“But I was thinking, how can everyone have a one-in-a-million kinda story like this?” Richie grins without humor, showing all of his teeth. “And I thought, it’s because the people who don’t have a story like that—the people who don’t have that one-in-a-million kinda luck—those people are fucking dead. Obviously.” He shrugs. “It’s gotta be like, after they started requiring—I think it was motorcycles—motorcyclists to wear helmets, suddenly all these people started showing up in the ER with serious head injuries. So at first everyone was like, wait, do we really suck at designing motorcycle helmets?

“Is that Mike?” Eddie asks. “Are you doing Mike?”

Richie shrugs again. “He’s a researcher. And then someone made the brilliant leap of logic that said, No, wait, actually—” This is Ben’s voice now. Richie’s just showing off. “—all those people who were in the ER with head injuries, they would have been in the morgue if they weren’t wearing helmets.” He grins again and in his own voice says, “DOA.”

Eddie fails to see what this has to do with him.

Richie makes a ridiculous face at him, something between tongue sticking out and crazy eyes. He drops it almost immediately. “And the same thing happened with World War Two fighter planes,” he goes on. “All of these planes come back with holes through the hulls. Engineers look at them and think: the Germans are aiming here, this is where we should reinforce. Except—these are the planes that came back instead of wrecking somewhere over the Eastern front. Gotta reinforce all of the other parts of the plane.”

Eddie waits.

“You died,” Richie says. He’s the one who broke it to Eddie in the first place, but the words don’t feel any more real than they did then. “So that’s why I was talking about World War Two fighter pilots. Because all of these doctors and nurses kept walking in to get a look at the guy who died twice and telling us what a miracle it was that you survived that kind of injury. Except you didn’t. Because you fucking died.”

And that’s still not an answer.

Eddie considers his options and then gives up, leans back, and puts his feet up on Richie’s thighs so that Richie can’t get up and leave. His new shoes look very clean, considering that he technically wore them in the street. They look huge and insulating, like Richie went out and bought him some armor.

“What didn’t you want me to hear, Rich?” he asks quietly.

Richie considers and says, “What I said to everyone who got you killed.”


Ben’s hotel room is down on the third floor. Leaning over the bathroom sink turned out to be a lot for Eddie’s back to take, which is disappointing, but he brushed his teeth with his own toothbrush and toothpaste and he feels marginally better. About as much better as he can, considering all the things he’s either not allowed to do or can’t do on his own right now. Richie, checking his phone—Eddie forgot to look up the things about hydrogen peroxide, damn it—tells him that the Losers are ready to celebrate Eddie’s “release from captivity” (Richie’s words) “as calmly and boringly as you could wish” (also Richie’s words).

Riding in the elevator makes him nauseated. The second the floor starts moving under them Eddie scrunches his eyes shut as something shifts in his inner ear. On the way up he dismissed it as hyperventilation from his trek across the hotel parking lot or something, but there’s no reason for this.

“You good?” Richie asks him.

“Guh,” Eddie groans.

“You gonna hurl?”

“Shut up.”

“Okay.” And, bizarrely, for perhaps the first time in his life, Richie does.

As soon as the elevator stops moving he releases the handrail and straightens up. The door slides open slowly and Richie holds out his arm like they’re in a Jane Austen novel and he’s offering to take Eddie on a stroll.

Eddie eyes his bent elbow. “I will literally kill you.”

“Oh, literally,” Richie laughs, and drops his arm.

He has to lead Eddie down the hallway past the many identical doors, and it takes an embarrassingly long time. Eddie’s not quite winded but he’s not sure of himself either, not knowing where he’s going, and every time he asks Richie for the door number Richie says that it’s 69 or 420, so fuck him. Eventually Richie stops in front of a door and knocks, and Eddie tries to discreetly lean on the wall.

The door opens.

Richie announces, “Package delivered, mostly intact.”

The door opens a little wider and Stan peers around the edge to look at Eddie.

Eddie smiles at him, feeling caught with his shoulder pressed up against the wallpaper. “Hi,” he says.

Stan ignores Richie and steps right past him, basically shoving him out of the way. Richie reaches out and holds the door open. Stan hugs Eddie so hard around the shoulders that Eddie loses his balance a little and has to brace himself on Stan, who’s just barely taller than him but drops his head onto Eddie’s shoulder so that all Eddie can see is his crazy curls. Eddie blinks at Stan’s hair and then looks up at Richie for some kind of explanation.

Richie, still holding the door open, just shrugs. His eyebrows are a danger to low-flying aircraft.

Awkwardly Eddie puts his hands on Stan’s back. “You okay, man?”

Stan sobs.

Oh shit.

“Okay,” Eddie says, and tries to hug Stan back properly without actually putting any pressure on his chest. “I—okay.” He pats Stan between the shoulder blades.

Richie, eyes wide, watches and says, “Well, don’t hog him.”

“Fuck you, Trashmouth, you’re always hogging him,” Stan says, muffled into Eddie’s shoulder. He stands up and takes a step back, swiping at his eyes with the back of his hand, and clears his throat. He’s flushed but seems to have his tears in control. He clears his throat again and then says, “Sorry, Patty.”

From inside the hotel room, Patty’s voice comes: “You know what? I think it’s warranted.”

Then Bev: “Yeah, fig newton you, Richie!”

Mike echoes it. “Fig newton you!”

Eddie ducks under Richie’s arm to follow Stan back into the hotel room. It’s set up identically to Richie’s suite upstairs, except that this one is scattered with Losers: Ben at the spindly table, Bev on the couch, Patty and Mike in armchairs on either side of the coffee table.

Patty’s folding her arms as Eddie walks in. “I’m not apologizing.”

“Nor should you,” Ben agrees, his tone very hear hear.

The door swings shut behind them and locks with a metallic click. Eddie’s very aware of Richie standing behind him, as Stan walks over to his wife and perches on the arm of her chair. He glances from Patty to Ben and then back.

Stan nods.

“Uh,” Eddie says. “So, Patty.”

Patty smiles. “How are you feeling?” Her voice is effortlessly sweet, the way that Eddie slips into his customer service cadence when he picks up the telephone.

“I’m not bad,” Eddie says.

Ben asks, “Do you want to sit down?”

Mike is already getting up. “Nah, let him have the—”

“Dibs,” Bev says loudly, and draws her feet up on the couch.

“I,” Eddie says, and then because he doesn’t like feeling like the spotlight’s on him, he goes over to join Bev on the couch. It’s a respectable-sized couch, three cushions and all, and Bev’s tucked up in the corner against one of the armrests. Mike sits back down in the armchair.

For long moments they all just look at Eddie.

“You guys gotta stop,” Eddie says, which draws a general chuckle out of the rest of the group. It’s nice and warm in the hotel, especially with all of the people in it. He relaxes against the overstuffed back of the couch and tilts almost sideways into Beverly, who responds by slinging an arm around him and drawing him into something close to a recline.

“You want a blanket?” she asks. “Ben, go get Eddie a blanket.”

Ben’s already getting up.

“I don’t need a blanket,” Eddie says quickly. Bev’s really warm. Her freckled shoulders are exposed even in September, but she’s very warm and soft and not at all threatening, and it’s nice to be pressed up against her side. Safe, in a way.

Stan asks, “Is that Richie’s shirt?”

Eddie glances down and the hem of the watch shirt is poking out several inches beneath the bottom of his zipped jacket. “I can’t get my arms over my head, I need button-downs,” he says  defensively.

The whole couch bounces as Richie flops down onto the other side. He mimics Bev’s posture, pushing his shoes off and onto the floor and drawing his legs up next to him, putting an arm over the back of the couch. “No one offered me a blanket,” he says, squinting past Eddie at Bev.

“Would you like a blanket, Rich?” she asks.

“Maybe I would.”

“Good, go get it yourself.”

Everyone laughs.

Stan says, “If you need shirts I have button-downs. They’ll fit better than Trashmouth’s.”

Eddie shakes his head, feeling his face glowing a little. “I’m good for now. I just—I wear a lot of polos, I’m sure I have something in my suitcase.” It’s the middle of the day and he doesn’t want to go through the ordeal of changing shirts again. That’s all. It has nothing to do with wanting to wear Richie’s clothes. He doesn’t know how long Beverly’s been sitting here, but he’s content to lounge here in the shadow of her warmth. “I have to go shopping anyway.”

“You can barely stand,” Richie says.

“Fuck off,” Eddie replies immediately, and then remembers Patty just three feet to his right. “Sorry, Patty.”

“Let’s get one thing clear,” Patty says. “Eddie can do whatever he wants.”

“Agreed,” Mike says, and toasts her from the other armchair. He’s drinking coffee; Eddie can smell it.

“I like this rule.” Eddie pushes his shoes off his feet and then sticks his toes under Richie’s thighs.

Richie glances at him, then adjusts the position of his legs so it’s a little easier for Eddie to fit his feet under his knees. “Just don’t stick your socks in my face again and we’ll be fine.”

“I can do whatever I want,” Eddie says. He tilts his head in Patty’s direction, behind Bev’s shoulder. “Teacher said so.”

Richie’s eyes light up and he immediately looks towards Stan, a no-doubt dirty joke visibly waiting on his tongue. But Stan knows him just as well as they all do, and he leans forward and looks at Richie as though from the other side of a chessboard.

“Try it, Rich,” he says. “I dare you.”

Richie seems to weigh his chances and then blows air straight up out of his mouth, the lone Clark-Kent curl on his forehead thrashing. He shrugs. “I’ll save it for later.”

“Oh, I’m counting on it,” Stan says dangerously.

“So what do you want, Eddie?” Bev asks.

Some answers would be nice, but they’re not exactly alone. “Uh, Patty,” he says, “can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” Patty says brightly.

He swallows. “What do you know about Henry Bowers?”

Patty’s eyes go hard immediately. Eddie’s a little taken aback, actually, by how fast that switch flicks. She says nothing and averts her gaze, looking down at Stan’s crossed knee and idly picking a piece of lint off his trousers.

“Good riddance,” she says, her voice still very pleasant.

Holy shit, Stan’s wife.

Eddie’s pretty sure his shock shows on his face. He glances around at the other Losers to see their reactions. Stan doesn’t look surprised at all, but even Ben’s looking a little wide-eyed. Richie’s mouth is open again.

Patty gives a massive shrug. “I don’t approve of hate speech!” she says, suddenly defensive. “It sounds like he was trying to kill Mike, and in that situation—well, you didn’t mean to, did you?”

Richie’s jaw snaps shut with a click of teeth and he looks away, staring down at Mike’s coffee balanced on the table. “I didn’t,” he says. “At the time.”

“Well, there you go,” Patty says, shrugging as though it can’t be helped. “Stan’s told me what it was like, growing up here.”

“He has?” Eddie says, and then shakes his head. “Sorry, I didn’t mean—”

“I’m not gonna lie to my wife, Eddie,” Stan says flatly, his expression sharp.

Well, Eddie’s not going to ask him to do that. Not like he has any real expertise on functional relationships with one’s wife. Bev’s side is warm against the incision where his chest tube was, and he remembers at the same time that he’s not allowed to sweat and that heat is good for healing. He glances down and fidgets with the placket of his zipper.

“Uh,” Eddie says. “So, if Patty’s all caught up on Henry Bowers. Uh. Where is he?”

He keeps looking down at his own clothes, at the stray thread near the hem, but it gets extremely quiet. The friendly air of the room stills a little; Bev leans just marginally harder into Eddie’s side, like she’s trying to offer emotional support with the physical.

Ben says dully, “Clubhouse.”

Nobody says anything.

Nobody will ever find Henry Bowers if his body is left down there.

“The trapdoor,” Richie says at last, because Ben broke the trapdoor when he fell through it.

“Fixed it,” Ben says. Eddie glances up at him and finds that Ben is staring straight down into his own mug of coffee on the little dining table. “Put new sod on top.”

Eddie’s heart is beating hard. Killing a man in self-defense is one thing. Hiding the body afterwards is something else entirely. It’s not that he wishes Richie had surrendered himself to the police—without the protective fog around Derry that makes people not care what happens to others, he has no reason to believe Richie would ever leave prison; and if Richie were in prison when Eddie woke up, he doesn’t know what he would do. But.

It might be the worst thing they’ve done to a human being. Any of them. A clown is one thing. A man is something else.

He closes his eyes, thinking of their old hideout, the place that was just theirs. Dust and sunlight filtering through that little square in the roof. His mother never would have approved of him playing under the earth with the Losers, down in the Barrens, that dirty place with those dirty children who were his friends.

He used to climb in the hammock with Richie down there. Used to read over the comic books Bill was trying to draw himself, give him feedback; he was one of William Denbrough’s first readers! And now Bowers is down there. And Bill and Ben put him there, but it feels like an invasion all the same.

“Did you—” He clears his throat again and has to lean away from Bev to cough into his elbow. Then he says, “Did you have to put the trapdoor back together?”

There’s a faint scratching sound; Eddie checks and finds that Ben is dragging his thumbnail across the woodgrain on the table.

“Yeah,” he says. “You saw how hard it was for us to find. And we knew that it was there in the first place. You can’t even hear that it’s hollow. The boards must have rotted, I don’t know.”

“But—” Parts of his brain that watched crime drama with Myra in the evenings—she was as fascinated as she said she was disgusted and horrified; she said that they were too dark and awful television even as she buckled down for the next episode of Law & Order: SVU—are whirring, teaming up with the risk analyst part of his brain. He takes a deep breath. “Could it look like he’d fallen through the trapdoor? And died down there?”

There’s a silence as they all consider that. The way that Ben suddenly plummeted through the earth, the wood compromised after twenty-seven years in the suburban swamp that is the Barrens. The astonishing fact that the clubhouse rafters had even held, dirty and dusty and full of spiders but still preserved as though by something outside of time.

“No,” Ben says. “He took an axe to the skull. That’s gonna do something to the bone. They’re gonna know how he died, if they ever find him.” There is basically no inflection to his voice.

Eddie’s stomach twists, thinking about how Mike was suspended over the tomahawk, even though as far as the Derry Public Library knows he had nothing to do with the broken displays.

“Your work,” he says to Mike.

Mike closes his eyes. “Yeah. I know. But I think it would be a longshot, if anyone even cares enough to investigate.”

Eddie closes his eyes too and covers his mouth. He hates this part of himself—the one connecting the dots, seeking patterns, even when there’s no reason for any outsiders to assume there’s a connection—except the timeframe, and the murder weapon, and the way that Mike is planning to leave town, the state, maybe even the country if he was serious about going to visit Bill in Europe. He can’t help but think of some kids tromping through the Barrens, finding the door, walking down there and discovering something out of their nightmares.

Eddie knows what that feels like, after all.

The kids would call the police. Now that the veil or whatever it is is off of Derry, that’s the logical thing to do, right? Parents will care when their kids say Listen, this is what happened instead of saying This is what comes of hanging out with those dirty boys or We can’t afford to keep buying you new glasses! or Have you been playing down there? Playing with boys? What are you doing?

The Irish cop came to confront them about the dam in the Kenduskeag, and though Eddie knows the man is probably either dead or a nonagenarian now or something, Eddie imagines him climbing down the ladder to take a look at the body. Forensic investigations opening up. Surely there are dental records for Henry Bowers, who was institutionalized for his entire adult life. He was in the custody of the state of Maine. Placing a time of death relative to his escape—and the Derry Public Library had a break-in and a destroyed display right around the same time—and Mike had a key—

“Eddie,” Ben says.

Eddie opens his eyes and looks at him, at his painful earnestness.

Ben visibly swallows. Then he says, “We buried him. He’s not just there in the clubhouse. He’s under it. And no one’s going to find him.”

Bev says quietly, “I hate the thought of him down there.”

Exactly.

“That place was ours,” Eddie agrees.

“I hid from him down there, once,” she says. “He and his friend walked right over the top of it. They were looking for a treehouse. They never thought…” She shakes her head.

“Yeah,” Richie says, voice too loud and blasé. Everyone looks at him. He shakes his head. “Well, the only one who ever thought about what was under Derry was Bill, wasn’t he?”

“Yeah,” Ben says softly. He grabs his coffee suddenly and drinks from it, large gulping swallows that Eddie can hear from over here. Then he sets the mug down.

“It’s over,” Mike says.

“Is it?” Stan asks.

“It is,” Mike says, “because if they find him, and if they figure out who he is, and if they put all those pieces together, they’re going to go after me for it anyway. And I intend to be long gone.”

Richie folds his arms up behind his head and stretches. Eddie looks down at where his toes are jammed under the crooks of Richie’s knees, the way his thighs shake slightly as he strains. Then Richie relaxes and puts his arms back down.

“Mrs. Uris, what do you know about the clown?”

“You can call me Patty, Richie,” she says. “Or Pat. Or Patricia.” She leans to the side a little, her hand reaching up for Stanley’s, and they loop together over the back of the chair. “Stanley’s psychic,” she says matter-of-factly.

Everyone, including Stan, blinks at this pronouncement.

Bev twists on the couch to make eye contact with her. She’s clearly choosing her words carefully, cautious as she says, “When you say psychic…”

“I mean he knows things he can’t know,” Patty replies, just as easily. “He knew we should move to Georgia. Trainor, Georgia. I’d never even heard of the place until I was looking for jobs. We were just out of school, we were poor. He told me not even to apply to anywhere else.”

Stan grimaces. “I didn’t mean you couldn’t apply for anywhere else.”

“You said Georgia was it,” Patty says. “And you were right.”

Stan blinks twice and then colors so pink that Eddie’s a little worried about him.

“And then,” Patty says, “you said, ‘The turtle couldn’t help us.’” These words she pronounces so carefully she sounds like she’s reciting Shakespeare.

There is a silence in the wake of it.

“Uh,” Stan says.

Patty turns her head to look at him, all calm concern. Eddie lowers his eyes immediately, feeling uncomfortable and not sure why. “Do you remember?” she asks. “I was filling out applications, and your eyes got all funny, and you said, ‘The turtle couldn’t help us.’” This time Eddie recognizes the falling cadence of her voice—it’s Stan’s words, not the way that Richie does impressions, but in the way that two people who have grown together know each other’s intonations and can invoke them effortlessly. “And I asked you what you meant, and you said you didn’t know what I was talking about. And you have a funny sense of humor, Stanley—I love you, but you do—but you don’t lie to me.”

Eddie sees her turn her head in his peripheral vision and looks up. She makes eye contact with each of the other Losers, her expression almost defiant. “Stanley doesn’t lie ot me,” she says.

Eddie’s stomach rolls.

Don’t you lie to me, Eddie, I know you’ve been running around with that Marsh girl and the Tozier boy, I can see the dirt on you, go take a bath right now and you better scrub, mister, I don’t want you getting sick, it makes me sick, how can you look me in the eye and lie to my face like that, whose child are you—

He pitches his head sideways into Bev’s shoulder.

“You okay?” Bev asks.

“Dizzy.”

She shifts a little bit, moving her arms so her lap is free. “You can lie down if you want.”

“I’m okay.” Then he remembers that he needs to make sure Beverly’s okay with him hanging off her like this, effortless as it feels. “Am I too heavy, or—?”

“You’re fine, sweetie,” she replies, and pats the top of his greasy, greasy head.

Patty is politely quiet while this exchange happens, and then she says, “So if Stanley tells me about a  clown that he forgot all about for most of his life—then he believes there’s a clown. And seven people’s a little big for folie a deux, or whatever you call it. And I saw the scars that night—after you called, Mike—” Mike inclines his head almost guiltily. “—Stan had scars around his face that I’d never seen before, and we’ve been married for sixteen years, I would have noticed. They asked me at the hospital how he got the scars on his face and I didn’t know what to tell them, because they weren’t there until then.”

Stan’s blush has faded. Completely disappeared, actually. He’s gone deathly pale. And there are no scars on his face now.

“So, either Stan’s mentally ill and all of you are going along with it—which seems unlikely after twenty-something years apart—or there’s a clown.” She pauses for a moment and then says, “And then I saw how you all were after Eddie got hurt, and I decided no one’s playing games here. Stan’s completely sane.”

Stan gives a short humorless laugh.

“I mean, for a grown man obsessed with birdwatching, sure,” Richie says. “Sanest of all of us.”

Patty pauses for a moment and then says, “When I got in, I don’t think you could have lied to me either.”

Eddie looks at Richie almost automatically, trying to figure out whether Patty means you the group or you Richie Tozier. He has the fascinating experience of watching Richie blush all the way up from his throat to his ears. He looks up at the ceiling, not making eye contact with anyone.

“Well, yeah, I was a little bit stuck on The Ramones when you arrived,” he says in an airy voice that doesn’t match his expression at all. “And a nurse was yelling at me for singing too loud. You know what they say about singing—you can’t hide anything when you do it. I truly did wanna be sedated.”

“Then why did I have to wrestle you into a chair?” Ben asks dryly.

“Just wanted to see if the muscles were for show,” Richie replies immediately, which makes Eddie blush inexplicably. Ben coughs into his coffee.

Stan offers, “Mike’s pretty sane.”

“Eh,” Mike says, which makes everyone laugh.

“So,” Patty says. “Not much seemed important after… all that. I asked Bill’s wife—did you know she’s a movie star?” She sounds enchanted by the concept.

“Patty doesn’t like Bill’s books,” Stan reports with something like glee. “But she likes Audra’s movies.”

“You shouldn’t have told him that!” Patty says. “I didn’t want to hurt his feelings!”

To the Losers, Stan says, “He just said, ‘I don’t blame her.’” He smiles at his wife. “You didn’t hurt his feelings at all.”

Patty’s voice sounds faintly wounded. “It’s rude.”

“Darling,” Richie twangs, lowering his head and affecting a Deep South accent, “you’re in a room with me. By comparison, nothin’ you do or say can be rude.”

There’s a brief pause and then Stan responds in a startlingly good Deep South accent too: “Don’t you darlin’ my woman, Tozier, ’less you wanna take this ou’side.”

Richie recoils so hard he lifts his feet off the table and curls in on himself as he laughs. “Holy shit!”

“Get good,” Stan invites him flatly in his own voice.

“Holy shit!” Richie repeats, delighted.

“Your woman?” Bev echoes coolly.

“Oh, I don’t mind,” Patty replies. “I own him too.”

Richie seems unable to cope with this and keels sideways onto Eddie’s legs, still cackling. Eddie winces at the sudden weight but doesn’t move. “I can’t,” Richie mumbles. “I love her. I have never been happier. Fuck.”

“Fig newton,” Mike corrects.

“Fig newton me,” Richie murmurs to the room at large.

Bev shakes her head.

“And, um,” Patty says, and they all look back at her. She’s blushing. She blushes very prettily, little flags of color on her cheeks instead of an all-over flush like the rest of them. “Stanley says that you all talked, when he arrived in Derry?”

“We did,” Ben says hesitantly. Like the rest of them, he can sense that this is delicate ground, so Eddie is glad that of all of them Ben responds to it.

“And—and none of you have children,” Patty says.

“Oh, please don’t make Richie tell his vasectomy story again,” Bev groans.

Richie sits up, expression bright.

Eddie says, “His vasectomy spontaneously reversed but he still has no children. And—” He grimaces. He and Myra never had sex often enough for it to be a concern, especially in recent years, but they decided not to use birth control either. Eddie thinks, quietly, that if he’d wanted to use birth control but she’d had her heart set on children, he couldn’t have trusted any condoms left in the house with her. He would have had to sneak out and get a vasectomy too, disgusting as it would make him feel to hide that from her. She wouldn’t have accepted his no, and that’s part of why Eddie never bothered to give it. “—most of us had the opportunity, but no children.”

“Well,” Patty says. Her lips press together and she tries again. “We’ve been trying for fifteen years. And—doctors said there was nothing wrong. But—I think, based on what you said, Stanley—there was something to it. You know.”

Bev asks, “Do you ever dream, Stan?”

He arrived at the restaurant after the revelation about Bev’s dreams, just as they were all opening up their fortune cookies, looking like a madman with bandages wrapped up both his forearms. He heard what she said.

“Not about you all,” Stan says. “Sorry. I didn’t remember you guys at all. And—I don’t remember any turtle. But—” He looks back at Patty. “I believe that I said it. I just don’t remember saying it.”

“Richie?” Bev asks.

Eddie looks across the couch at Richie.

Richie beams. “Only the hot wet dreams about Eddie’s mom.”

“If I could pick my legs up, I’d kick you in the face,” Eddie tells him.

“Oh!” Richie sits up and yanks his glasses off. “Eddie hit me in the face and made me bleed, take a look, guys!”


Ben, Mike, and Patty have all heard the thing about hydrogen peroxide, and they are so rarely on Eddie’s side that he is forced to concede that Richie’s right. Internally. Out loud, he’s still withholding that particular acceptance. Richie looks smug anyway, which is part of why Eddie’s refusing to admit it.

With Eddie’s questions satisfied, Ben becomes fixed on planning. He has a pad of hotel paper and starts asking everyone what they want for lunch. Eddie can’t think of a single food that isn’t fig newtons right now, but Ben is being insistent on accommodating everyone’s needs.

“Gotta admit, I have been better about the kosher thing in my whole life,” Stan says drily when Ben turns to him.

“Did you eat shrimp again?” Patty asks.

Stan did, indeed, eat shrimp at the Jade of the Orient. He was shaking when he came in and looked about an inch away from death (which was truer than any of them knew at the time) and everyone was so concerned he was going to keel over that Mike ordered him a Coke and brought him a plate from the buffet. Mike looks stricken when he realizes he was responsible for this breach.

“I can’t help it,” Stan says seriously. “I can’t stay away from those prawny bastards.”

Eddie expects Patty to respond with the faint disapproval she’s been showing for swear words in general, but she surprises him by bursting into giggles.

Richie is watching too. “Prawny bastards?” he repeats slowly, like he can’t believe those words came out of Stan’s mouth.

“Richie, did you or did you not call a supernatural entity that was actively trying to kill you ‘a sloppy bitch’?” Eddie asks.

Patty is still giggling and at this she tips sideways into Stan’s chest. Stan puts an arm around her and holds her there.

“I did,” Richie allows. He sounds disappointed in himself.

Ben is still holding his pad of paper and a ballpoint pen with the hotel’s logo on it. He’s staring at Stan. “Do you want shrimp?”

“No,” Stan says.

Ben turns back to Eddie.

“Uh,” Eddie says. “I’m supposed to have protein and lots of calories.” He swallows and then admits, “And I don’t know what I’m actually allergic to or not, I didn’t have any reactions while I was in the hospital, but I decided a full allergy panel was too expensive.”

“Ah, the American healthcare system,” Mike says dreamily.

Richie is still twinkling at Eddie. “What happened to ‘if I eat a cashew, I could realistically die’?”

“I’m not taking criticism from a man who doesn’t recognize his own shows when he hears them,” Eddie replies.

Ben gives up on all of them. “Beverly, what do you want for lunch?”

“How about sandwiches?” Bev asks, perpetually reasonable.

Eddie knows he needs to get up from the couch and put on a warmer coat and get ready to go to the store so he can pick up his stuff from the pharmacy. He’s really comfortable, though, and his brain has the faint fogginess that tells him it’s getting ready for another nap, whether or not it plans to cooperate. He looks down with faint resignation at his own shoes.

“What?” Bev asks, so quiet that only he can hear her.

He shakes his head. “Just tired.”

“You don’t have to go to the store,” Bev says reasonably. “If you want something, one of us can pick it up. I’ll pick it up if you want.”

He shakes his head. “No, I want to walk.” He needs to walk, actually, needs to keep moving. He feels like a shark. If he doesn’t keep eating up the ground under his feet he doesn’t know if he’ll ever move again.

Then he imagines creeping at a snail’s pace through the aisles of a grocery store. He used to get so angry at slow walkers in New York—and not regular anger, anger that burned real hot, anger that made him understand why people always talked about erupting like volcanos, when he’d never felt anything like that in his life. He doesn’t want to be that guy. Doesn’t want to hear the impatient sighs of people behind him, doesn’t want to find he doesn’t have the energy to turn and demand what their problem is, doesn’t want to shuffle by pretending he doesn’t hear anything.

“Maybe not,” he mutters, tilting his head all the way back onto Bev’s shoulder. Then he remembers that he stinks and sits up again. “Sorry, I know I’m gross—”

“We hung out in a sewer together,” Bev reminds him. “Twice.”

Eddie gingerly lowers his head again.

“I know we were talking about doing dinner,” Stan says, “but it can be a weird hotel kitchenette hangout. Anything can be a dinner if you try hard enough.”

Mike offers, “Technically dinner is just a term indicating the largest meal of the day.”

“I’ve heard that,” Patty agrees. “We can do dinner without it necessarily being supper.”

“All of you are making stuff up,” Eddie mutters, still a little bitter about the hydrogen peroxide thing.

Ben and Richie go to the store. Eddie doesn’t truly understand that Richie’s planning on picking up his prescriptions until Richie is standing in front of the couch at that odd half-stoop that’s gonna give him neck problems.

“Eleven one seventy-five?” he says nonsensically.

Eddie stares at him. It’s a number out of Richie’s mouth that isn’t four-twenty or sixty-nine, so it takes him a moment to cotton on that it’s his own birthday.

“Oh,” Eddie says. “You don’t have to pick up my prescriptions, I can wait until—” Richie’s expression goes so blandly disbelieving he looks ten seconds away from death. Eddie glares at him. “I’m fine.”

“I know you’re fine.” He lifts up one grasshopper leg and nudges Eddie with the toe of his shoe. He bought new shoes at some point too, and thank god, because if he was still running around with his sewer-shoes and he touched Eddie with one Eddie would have to scream. “Drugs are for keeping you fine.”

Eddie has been prescribed so many drugs in the interest of warding off infection, pain, fluid buildup, and all manner of things, that he cannot remember how many prescriptions he currently has waiting for him. He also has no idea what the copays are going to cost, but he has a suspicion it’s going to be bad.

“I can pay you back,” Eddie says.

Richie tilts his head back and starts snoring again. It’s probably one of the least attractive gestures a person can make. Eddie’s eyes still snap to his Adam’s apple.

Fuming at himself and Richie both, Eddie says, “I don’t remember how much stuff there is. It’s on my papers upstairs.”

“Gotcha,” Richie says, snapping upright again. That’s twice he’s done that now. Twice is a pattern. Eddie is… concerned.

Are you going to be like this the entire time we’re home?

“Other requests?” Richie asks.

He already knows Richie for new shoes, dry shampoo, and a fuckton of candy that he barely made a dent in. Where did all that candy go? He hopes Richie didn’t eat it all, partially because now he’s craving chocolate and partially because he would be concerned about Richie’s teeth.

Richie leaves his toothbrush and toothpaste out on the counter when he stays in a hotel. There’s no travel cap, no accommodating smaller sizes that would indicate Richie did anything other than throw his main toothbrush into his bag and head out to Derry.

He and Richie use the same kind of toothpaste.

“No,” Eddie says. “I’m—I’m fine. I’m all set.”

Richie winks at him and says, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” as he and Ben leave the hotel room.

Eddie has another little stab of panic when he again remembers that he doesn’t have a phone, but then he reminds himself that he’s in a hotel room with four other people, all of whom presumably have the ability to contact emergency services if necessary, and anyway Eddie has some kind of a duty to entertain them as they entertain him in turn. It’s just a reflex from years of business meetings that should have been emails—here is Eddie’s computer to hand, ready with an entire world of amusements for him to distract himself with.

He really does feel tired.

And hungry, weirdly. Thinking about the doll-sized portions of what he was allowed to eat in the hospital—not that he can blame them based on how frequently he vomited—just makes him want food. Not in the way that he’s been hungry for most of his life, feeling the emptiness in his gut and resigned to filling it in the near future or trembling from low blood sugar. His body was a disobedient robot that didn’t respond to maintenance in tried and true ways. Eating, no matter what he put in his stomach, always left him feeling a little bit off, a little bit queasy. And when he went to his doctor about food allergies, his doctor told him about restricting his diet to rule out things that might be causing a reaction. He tried it but it never seemed to do anything.

He’s absolutely fantasizing about cookies right now, thanks to Patty. Fig newtons, dense and sticky in his teeth. Oreos he snuck out of the cabinet when he was a kid and crunched in silence, standing in his mother’s kitchen, afraid to be caught. One time in college he ate a whole tin of shortbreads in one sitting and they filled up his stomach like a meal. Snickerdoodles with the cinnamon sugar coming straight off them and coating his tongue. Chocolate chip cookies warm and soft or guiltily picked out of a Chips Ahoy package, hard little knobs of chocolate mashed in his molars. He would eat raw cookie dough right now. And he has opinions about salmonella and the American poultry industry. But he would absolutely just cram raw cookie dough in his mouth right now.

He doesn’t say any of that. Instead, he sits and listens while Stan, Patty, Mike, and Bev compare travel plans. Bev keeps looking to Eddie for his input, but it quickly becomes clear that Eddie knows even less about what’s going on than he thought.

“How are we doing cars?” Eddie asks. He’s creaky with phlegm again and he sits up and scoots a little further down the couch so he can cough without getting germs on Bev. Mike wordlessly passes him a box of tissues.

“I flew here,” Bev replies. “Ben drove, so he has the car. Mike has his car, Patty—did you fly or drive?”

“We flew,” Patty replies, as Stan blanches a little bit at the mention of how he arrived in Derry in the first place. “We’re flying home.”

“And Bill wanted a favor—wants to know if one of us will hang on to Silver,” Mike says.

Eddie blinks a couple of times before he remembers—Silver! Bill’s bike, Silver! As much a part of Bill as a child as his hair or his shorts or his stutter. Silver made Bill into Big Bill Denbrough, to the point where when Eddie ran into Bill downtown after the pharmacy he stepped up onto Bill’s rear-wheel without thought. The bike was too big for the boy then, but Bill going fast down the road with his feet splayed out to show they were off the pedals and he was just coasting—that made Bill seem bigger than any of them, that was what turned being Bill’s friends into running with Bill Denbrough.

Eddie never rode on the back of Bill’s bike when they were kids—riding double, they called it. He was full of ferocious pride about it, didn’t want anyone to drag him around, wanted to move under his own power, didn’t want to be the baby. Georgie rode on Bill’s handlebars a couple of times, shrieking with joy, when they were kids, until Sharon Denbrough found out and forbade it, and then Georgie went to school and started getting his own friends and stopped begging so much to be allowed around Eddie and Richie and Stan. Eddie associated that with a young child; would never have permitted himself to be driven around on Bill’s handlebars. Even when he broke his arm and was too exhausted and shocky to walk under his own power, Mike put him in the basket of his bike instead of Bill putting him on Silver, and that was okay, because Mike carried meat in that basket and Eddie felt like meat, clutching his own arm and understanding his body in ways he hadn’t before. He can’t remember ever riding double on Silver.

But Richie did. Richie wouldn’t hug Bill in the street with the same abandon with which he threw himself at Eddie, but he rode double on Silver. The bike was big enough and Bill went faster than any of them. Eddie can remember Richie plastered up against Bill’s back, all wild hair and big eyes and sharp nose. He remembers feeling… jealous.

At the time he chalked it up to “wish I could go that fast, my mom would never let me.” Now Eddie’s reading through the lens of hindsight he wonders how badly he wanted to be looking over Bill’s shoulder, seeing the world like he did, borne away by him. And—he suspects a little—his memory might be colored by how badly he wants Richie close to him now. Ah well.

“He left Silver in Derry?” Eddie asks.

Mike shakes his head. “He’s in the back of the truck, didn’t you see?”

“Richie took it out and put it in Ben’s car to go to the hospital,” Bev replies. “We’re kind of playing hot potato with Silver.”

“I can’t believe he found it,” Stan murmurs.

“Doesn’t he want it?” Eddie asks.

Patty looks nonplussed.

Stan holds her hand and explains, “Silver was Bill’s bike when we were kids. He was hooked on The Lone Ranger, you know.”

Eddie and Mike cry, “Hi-yo, Silver, awaaaaay!” in unison. Bev laughs and Eddie breaks down coughing again.

“He found it in a pawn shop in Derry,” Stan goes on. “Didn’t even remember selling it. Some kind of miracle.”

Patty smiles and just listens.

“Stan took better care of his bike than any of us,” Eddie tells her.

“But Bill went the fastest,” Stan says.

“Bill Denbrough biked to beat the devil,” Eddie says without really think about it. The words come out like some kind of sacred pronouncement.

Patty closes one eye and squints, smiling. “Does the devil bike pretty fast?”

“Oh, the fastest,” Eddie says.

“Not anymore though,” Bev replies. “He went down to Georgia. Been to any fiddling contests lately?”

“Oh, who has the time?” Stan asks as Patty grins.

“I do love that song,” Mike murmurs, a little dreamily.

They go back to discussing travel plans. Stan and Patty are flying back to Georgia at their earliest convenience—Patty took some emergency time off work for a family crisis (there’s a certain sharp defiance in her face when she says this that no one presses, though Stan still looks sick and pale at the mention) but she’d like to get home soon. Eddie is immediately abashed that she would take off work while he was in the hospital despite that she barely knows him at all, only knows that Stan had a crisis and didn’t want to leave while Eddie was still an inpatient. He didn’t have to do that—and she really didn’t have to do that. Bill left for work and Eddie doesn’t blame him at all.

He’s definitely putting off calling his workplace. They have definitely fired him by now.

Eddie tries hard not to think about that any more than he thinks about his lack of a phone.

Ben drove here and he has a car. Bev flew into Bangor and took a taxi into Derry—which would have been expensive, but not out of the question, Eddie guesses. Now they plan on driving back. Bev suggests that they had better hang on to Silver, since Ben at least has a garage and a house, and Mike is planning on traveling for a little bit before settling down anywhere in particular. It would be more convenient for him to do that with a car than with a car and a bicycle, unless he’s planning on doing biking tours of national parks. Is that a thing?

Mike is not sure whether or not bike tours of national parks are a thing, but he’s sure there’s a market for it somewhere. It’s been a long time since he rode a bike, though, and that feels like more of a summer thing than anything else. At the moment the plan is to head out west instead of south to Florida. Patty tells him that he’s welcome to stop and visit in Trainor, Georgia—not Atlanta—on his way to Florida; Mike smiles and thanks her, but he’s definitely planning on going to Yellowstone before the weather turns. Did they know that the Yellowstone caldera has been due to erupt for some time now? Eddie did not know that. Eddie thinks he was happier before he knew that, actually. Catastrophizing about volcanic eruption is a problem he doesn’t need.

Mike turns to him and says, “Now, son, do you wanna tell me what you’re doing out here?” Except Mike’s face is obscured by bright sunlight and Eddi realizes, with a slow and unfrightening understanding, that he is dreaming.

He gets to his feet—he’s been crouching in bark mulch under the window of the Neibolt Baptist Church. It’s easy to catch him here most evenings, on his walks home. The choir practices before dinner, so he takes a detour and sits under the windows, listening. He can smell the mulch very clearly, actually, as he swipes bits of bark and dirt off of his pants. If his mother sees.

“I—um, I just—I’m sorry, I just—the choir, I like to listen to—um.” He falls silent in front of the man who is not Mike but looks like him, and Eddie stares a long way up to make nervous eye contact with him.

The man is unconvinced—Eddie can’t see his face too clearly, but he knows that, in the way you know things in dreams. “Uh-huh,” he says. “What’s your name?”

Eddie swallows and looks down at his shoes, but his feet are bare. That’s not right—he’d never do that, never walk around outside without shoes or socks on—this is Maine, there’s farmland nearby, he’s not looking to get hookworms, and this mulch is bits of wood, does he want splinters in the bottoms of his feet? This is how he gets splinters in the bottoms of his feet. And his toes are so cold.

Usually he stays until the sky starts threatening darkness, but here he is on a bright morning and no smoke from the volcano is clouding the blue overhead. He saw flyers for a performance by the choir—not a Christmas performance, because he wouldn’t have been able to sneak away, but it’s early spring now and the cold is clear but bearable—and it’s a Saturday performance, not a Sunday. He’d never have gotten away from his mother for a Sunday, but he’s able to sneak away on a Saturday. He likes to sit with his knees tucked up to his chest, but now he’s standing and the hole straight through him must be clearly visible to this Mike-who-is-not-Mike. The white siding of the building; the window behind him.

“Edward Kaspbrak speaking, sir,” he says, looking at his white toes in the brown mulch.

There’s a long pause and then when the man speaks again his voice is much warmer, almost jovial. “Your friends wouldn’t happen to call you Eddie Kaspbrak, would they?”

Eddie glances up and finds the man is smiling. His smile is bigger than his face—not that his teeth are large or that his smile stretches beyond the bounds of his head, but in the way that it takes over his features and produces light.

“Uh, yes, sir.”

The man laughs. “I’m Will Hanlon. I’m Mike’s dad.”

That’s no guarantee of safety—there are all kinds of parents in the world. The Denbroughs were all right until Georgie died and then Bill stopped inviting the Losers over so much and Eddie didn’t really see much of them, didn’t hear much about them except his mother tutting about how sad it was that they lost their little boy, how devastated she’d be if anything ever happened to Eddie, it would ruin me, Eddie, if anything ever happened to you, I couldn’t go on without you, it’s not natural, and Eddie sat there and thought about the trainyard where he saw It.

And Stan’s parents were rigid—oh, his mom was all right, but sometimes she would say things that sounded like she was quoting something and Eddie felt nervous being out of the loop, not knowing what reference books or Merck manuals or Dr. Spock she had used to raise Stan and what his mother would do if she got her hands on them. Eventually Eddie learned what a proverb was and how some of Stan’s wild intelligence clearly came from her, the way they talked about books together and she always asked Eddie what he was reading even though the answer was never anything as interesting as what Stan was reading for pleasure. But when Stan’s dad was home Stan always became a little bit less of himself, a little bit more the reserved shell he defaulted to when he was at school, when he wanted the teachers to look at him only long enough to see that Stanley Uris was doing what he was supposed to and he was quiet and he was smart that meant he was a good kid, and being a good kid meant that whenever Stan pulled a prank Richie was always the one who got blamed.

Richie’s parents were friendly and congenial in ways that made Eddie afraid to slip up and say something wrong, though he wasn’t sure why—Dr. Tozier was a good dentist and never hurt Eddie and counted his teeth out loud with him when he was nervous, though he was never as afraid of the dentist as his mother was afraid of him going to the dentist, and her anxiety wound him up until he could hardly breathe and he felt the removed sharpness of the metal tapping on his molars and Dr. Tozier saying in his faintly nasal voice, “One… two…” He knows that Dr. Tozier was actually doing his examination, in his routine of counting teeth, but Eddie was always a little proud of having the full set of thirty-two, of living up to expectations, so that whenever he had a loose tooth or an empty spot in his mouth it made him feel nervous and off-kilter, until Richie offered to help him with a bit of string and a slamming door and Eddie shrieked at the very suggestion—what would your dad say? But Eddie had been at Richie’s house when he and Dr. Tozier were going back and forth, in comfortable patter that would suddenly flip when Richie went too far and Dr. Tozier had to remind them both that he was a dad, not that Eddie knew how dads were, and Eddie sat there wishing to vanish while Richie teared up over his scolding. Eddie felt sick and furious in those moments even when he knew Richie was in the wrong, and he would wonder about having a dad and wonder if he should be grateful he didn’t have one anymore or just be grateful that Dr. Tozier’s scoldings never involved crying in front of them. And Mrs. Tozier would say, Oh, Richard, really in ways that meant she wasn’t happy, but she never burst into tears and said Richie-bear it’s like you don’t love me at all.

Eddie didn’t grow up with the others the way he grew up with Richie and Bill and Stan, but he knew Mike smiled when he talked about his dad. And that was reassuring, but you had to love your parents, didn’t you? Eddie spent years and years thinking he loved his mother before he uncovered the seething pit at the heart of him, and then he went through the motions anyway.

“Is Mike in the choir?” Eddie asks Will Hanlon. He’s pretty sure Mike would have mentioned that, or that Eddie would have asked some questions about it if he got the sense that Mike could sing the music he likes to listen to during the long summer sunsets, but sometimes Mike mentions being busy for “practice” and Eddie’s not quite sure what happens at the Neibolt Street Church School.

Will Hanlon shakes his head. “Mike’s mom is, though, so he’s in here too. You the kid who’s been hanging out under the windows for weeks?”

Eddie nods guiltily, nervously. It’s a parent’s job to tell you when you’ve crossed the line and Eddie doesn’t have a dad, but his mom wouldn’t like him sitting there in the dirt—in the mulch, under the bushes—listening at windows. She would be irate with the idea.

Will’s smile does not fade. It puts off light like the sun. “What’s your favorite song, then?” he asks.

Every song that Eddie has ever heard goes completely out of his head, “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and all. Five minutes ago he knew there was a song that was nothing but the word Hallelujah sung over and over and overlapping and driving and rising and ringing and then melting away, and even though the choirmaster was having the darndest time with it it sounded pretty good to Eddie. The audition for the solo in the set had been grueling, and one of the sopranos kept singing a high note that wasn’t written in and the choir director made them all go down the line trying to work out who was sliding up into “an open fifth” but on the spot the culprit stayed silent. And there’s one where the choir sings no more weeping and a-wailing but the choirmaster can’t get them to wail on it precisely the way that he wants them to. And Eddie knows all of this and has loved it for months and showed up here on his Saturday to hear them sing, but he can’t think of a single song.

Will Hanlon makes Eddie sing for him, right there.

Even the dream makes Eddie want to cover his head with his arms and hands. Once he proves he’s really a fan of the music, Will’s happy to bring Eddie inside—Eddie’s dirty jeans next to Will’s nice clothes—and sit him next to Mike for the duration of the concert. Mike leans forward—tall and flushed proud as he points out his mother in the alto section—and explains in whispers about which of the singers his mother has a rivalry with. And afterwards Eddie eats not just lunch with them, but a luncheon, a spread Eddie has never seen the like of in his life and is too hesitant about not going here to fill his plate at, so Mike distracts him by talking and then thunks big spoonfuls of Jell-O and pasta salad onto the little paper plate and, once Eddie has obediently cleared that, sets a cupcake in front of him. It’s the best cupcake Eddie has ever eaten.

But he still remembers, in startling clarity, how it felt to walk into the church with Will Hanlon’s arm over his shoulder and see any number of faces staring at him from the pews, and realize that if he could hear them outside they could hear him inside. Everyone in here heard his warbling attempt at the melody.

He wakes up with his heart racing. Someone threw a blanket over him and he’s limned in sweat, which he’s absolutely not supposed to be because of his incisions. Worse than that are the pinch of a headache at his temples and the very real concern that he might throw up.

Bev left the couch at some point and Eddie can’t see her but Patty is in the chair as Eddie tries to bat away the blanket with his limited range of motion.

“Hang on, hang on,” Patty says, and helps pull the blanket off him. It’s some kind of wool blend, tan in that way that seems unique to hotels. The second that it’s off him he feels like he can breathe again.

“You okay?” Mike asks.

Eddie slowly sits upright, feeling a scream in his chest and back as he levers himself up, and holds himself still for several moments to see if the nausea will go away. Like if he doesn’t move, it won’t be able to see him, like his stomach problems are the T-Rex from Jurassic Park.

He swallows. “I think I’m—” Gonna be sick is right there, loaded up in his throat, but he’s not sick, he’s not. “—dehydrated,” he finishes, and gets up to walk to the bathroom. The door is open so Bev’s not in there. He moves slowly, his balance wavering because his body’s still half-asleep.

The bathroom is partitioned almost like a jack-and-jill. In one of the little rooms is the shower and the toilet; then there’s a door closing off the room with the two sinks, so that two people can get ready at the same time. Then there’s another door on the other side that leads into the hotel bedroom. This one’s closed at the moment, so Eddie can only assume that Bev must be through there.

“You want some water?” Mike asks.

“Yeah,” Eddie pants, and sinks down onto the tile floor. When he pulls his knees up to his chest it feels like he’s sheltering his front incision a little bit. There’s dampness under his arms all the way down to his elbows from how far his sleeves were rucked up when he was sleeping, and he thinks with a little pang that this is not his shirt and how disgusting and dirty it is for him to ruin someone else’s clothing like that, and he’ll have to apologize to Richie. And he can’t do his own laundry. He leans his head against the cool side of the bathtub and contemplates the toilet bowl from floor-level, wondering if he’ll have to throw himself forward to vomit again.

He hears Mike come up behind him and then Mike is handing him a cold bottle of water. Eddie cracks the cap immediately and drinks from it in small sips, waiting for his stomach to calm. “There are a couple of these in the minifridge,” Mike says, and then lays a second cold bottle across the back of Eddie’s neck. Eddie sighs in relief. “Better?”

“Yeah,” he says honestly. His heart rate is still fast, but it’s not racing like an engine getting ready to shift gear. He can walk himself back from this, he’s pretty sure.

“Too hot?”

“Yeah,” Eddie says, though now he’s cold again, especially his feet. “I’m not supposed to sweat, but jeez I’m so cold all the time.” He wonders if this sudden flush of heat is indicative of a fever and he blots at his cheek and forehead, trying to tell if his flush is normal.

Mike adjusts the way the bottle of water rests on Eddie’s spine and sits down next to him. Eddie’s just barely of a size to fold up comfortably like a child in this bathroom, but Mike is absolutely too big, one of the knees of his crossed legs pressed up into the far wall. “Your body temperature lowers when you sleep,” he says. “We just worried you’d get cold.”

Eddie pushes the sleeves of his jacket up and runs his fingertips across his inner arms, trying to see if he has the uncomfortable sensitivity that means he has a fever. A fever means infection and that means right back to the hospital, and he’s only just gotten out.

“I dreamed I was cold,” he says.

“Yeah?” Mike asks, politely encouraging.

Eddie smiles and sips more water before he says, “I dreamed about your dad, actually.”

Mike is quiet.

“Do you remember the day he made me sing in front of your whole church?” Eddie asks.

There’s an audible click as Mike’s lips pull into a smile. “Yeah,” he says, tone suddenly warm. “Everyone was like, ‘what is this white boy doing outside? Someone go find out if he’s planning a hate crime’ and Dad was like, ‘I got it.’”

“Oh, jeez, is that what they thought?” Eddie asks, chagrined. If he’d known that, he’d never have hung around scaring everyone.

“Well, not once Dad made you sing instead of you taking off,” Mike replies. “You weren’t half-bad, if I remember right.”

Eddie laughs shallowly. His back is aching from the position, but the rest of him feels better this way. “Of course I wasn’t half-bad, my voice hadn’t broken yet.”

Mike laughs at that too. His voice echoes in the little room through the open door out into the living area of the suite, where Patty and Stan are presumably still curled up in the armchair like kittens. “Do you remember it?”

“Even if I did,” Eddie says, “I have a hole in my chest. I’m not singing for you.”

Mike gives a noncommittal grunt. “Mom sang that while she was doing dishes, I can remember that.”

“You sing it, then.”

He’s mostly joking, but Mike straightens a little and draws a breath. He’s a rumbling bass and sounds nothing like Eddie did when he nervously sang the soprano part outside the Neibolt Street Church for a suspicious Will Hanlon, but the words are familiar. Eddie didn’t know he remembered them until right now.

“Precious Lord, take my hand, take Thy child home at last.” He interrupts himself. “I don’t know, man, I played the trombone.”

“You did play the trombone,” Eddie remembers suddenly. “I forgot.” He reaches out and nudges Mike’s knee with his elbow. “Do you remember the good part?” he asks. The reason the song was his favorite was because it rose to a high crescendo that felt better than anything when they held that note.

“I don’t remember the words,” Mike says, but he hazards a guess anyway, eyes scrunched in something like distaste as he approaches the top of his range: “with my dream of a world that is free…

Eddie nods and manages the highest part of the song at something like an airless whistle: “I have been—

Mike beams. “There you go, there you go, man. To the mount.” He’s grinning. “I have seen the promised land. Precious Lord, precious Lord, take my hand.”

In the wake of that, Stan and Patty applaud from the living area. “If you can do ‘Hanerot Hallaluh’ I’ll give you ten thousand dollars,” Stan says.

“Man, I’ll look it up on my phone, that’s how much I make a year after taxes,” Mike says.

“Need a better accountant then,” Stan replies.

Eddie grins a little and drinks more water and sweats, and when Richie and Ben come back from the store with his painkillers he takes them.