Eddie wakes up and he’s warm. Not hot, not sweaty, nothing that’s gonna make him anxious about his incisions or his injuries. When he glances down he sees that Richie didn’t flick the seat warmer on while he was out (Eddie would yell at him for that; he said no already), and the electric blanket is folded on his lap, more puff than actual protection from the elements. The sun’s coming in through the window. Part of his brain begins to panic, trying to assess whether he can feel that reflective glow coming off his skin telling him he’s going to have a sunburn, whether you can get sunburned through a car window. He should know that by now, right? He should know whether you can get sunburned through a car window. But he can feel the sun on the back of his hands, on the side of his neck, cooking warm through the sleeves of his hoodie, sinking down into his bones.
He’s clean. He’s… comfortable. That’s what this is. This is comfort. And he’s in a car with Richie Tozier, and he’s heading out of Maine.
“Good morning, sunshine!” Richie singsongs. Only when he turns down the volume on the speaker does Eddie realize that the music he’s listening to is—dear god—“Doo Wah Diddy Diddy.”
“What the fuck, Richie?” Eddie demands.
“You’ll have to be more specific,” Richie says, voice lapsing down into the serious and clinical. “There are so many objectionable things about what I am and what I do.”
He blinks a couple of times and his vision fogs over; he’s definitely dehydrated. He blinks again, trying to clear it, and grabs the bottle of water in the cupholder. It’s unopened. He doesn’t remember putting it there. He braces the bottle between his thighs and cracks the cap with his left hand. “Stripes,” he says, and drinks.
Richie cackles. “Well, you’re awake. I was having to entertain myself, and I can’t do that the way I usually do, I’m operating a motor vehicle—” Eddie’s tired, but it’s Richie, he gets the joke; the illustrative pump of his hand is completely unnecessary.
Eddie swallows a mouthful of bottled water and says, “Jesus Christ.”
“So here we are,” Richie carries on doggedly, unencumbered by Eddie’s exaggerated disgust.
“I’m pretty sure that would be a crime.” They’re in a Subaru. They’re pretty low to the ground. People in tall vehicles—like, truckers, could see in. Truckers don’t want to see Richie’s dick.
The fact that it’s the very pinnacle of unsafe driving goes without saying, of course. This is all hypothetical.
“Yeah, can you see me not doing it?” Richie asks. His smirk looks like it’s out of control; one corner of his mouth is twitching a little. There’s something almost like a dimple tucked into his nasolabial crease, indentations within indentations. Eddie can see his crooked tooth from here.
Eddie tilts his head all the way back against the seat and sighs. “I’ve changed my mind. I want to ride with Ben.”
“Too late!” Richie crows. “Everyone wants to ride with Ben, but you’re trapped. There are childproof locks on the doors and everything.”
This offends Eddie almost more than the implication that Richie would jerk off while operating a moving car. “I’m not a child.”
Richie makes a noncommittal noise in his throat. “Uh, you’re short like one.”
Eddie flounders for an insult related to Richie’s appearance, because his brain is torn between five-nine is the average height in the world and holy shit Richie is built like a rectangle, what am I supposed to make fun of about that? He swallows and says pointedly, “You look like you emptied the chamber of a vacuum cleaner and glued what you found to your head.”
Richie’s cackling scales up into a shriek of laughter. Eddie immediately gets concerned that he’s the one operating the car. When they were kids Eddie always knew when he’d gotten off a good one because Richie would go boneless with his hysteria, and often silent. Depending on who was misfortunate enough to be within reach he would slump onto them, trying to hold himself up and, with the inevitability of someone drowning trying to clasp onto their rescuer, drag them down onto the ground with him. They had all been that person at one time or another—Bill, good-natured and tolerant, letting Richie sprawl across him; Stan, snapping Oh no you don’t, get off me, and shoving Richie away and Richie, too limp to press his point, would lie there heaped on his own limbs like a leafpile in fall; or Eddie, saying No! No! Richie! Not again! Richie! and Richie would fall on him with the weight of a collapsing skyscraper and pin him and Eddie would shriek at him and beat at him with the sides of his fists and kick, and Richie would laugh harder, seemingly unable to draw breath, until Eddie thought Richie was dying on top of him and made Bill drag him out by the wrists.
“I’m quitting my job,” Richie says, wiping at his eyes. “You be the comedian.”
“Absolutely not,” Eddie says. He closes his eyes again, though not because he’s tired. He screws the cap back on the bottle without looking, just because having any kind of open bottle in a moving car makes him nervous. The fingers of his right hand feel numb, but he holds the plastic cap between his knuckles and rotates it in place. “I have self-respect.”
“Do you?” Richie asks. “That’s new.”
And fuck him for that, since everything Eddie’s done since he’s woken up has been about walking the fine line of self-respect. Self-respect while coming out, self-respect while another man carries him to the bathroom, self-respect while choking down pills. Richie knows how much this bothers him.
Eddie, without thinking twice about it, reaches out and thumps Richie across the upper arm. The backs of his hand hits Richie in the bicep; his fingers hit just the edge of Richie’s chest. It’s completely automatic, a relic of an age where engaging with Richie just meant a certain amount of grappling—Richie folding his arms around Eddie’s shoulders, leaning on him, driving his knuckles into Eddie’s scalp, picking him up off his feet, wrapping his arms around Eddie’s knees and making Eddie collapse to the ground. Eddie opens his eyes and looks at his hand with surprise. He’s forty years old. He doesn’t think he’s struck anyone—anyone—since he entered the adult world.
But he’s not an adult, really, when he’s with Richie, is he? He’s an adult overlaid with the seven-year-old boy who met this kid with giant eyes behind his glasses on the playground.
Where is Eddie? When is he?
Richie is still laughing. “You’re here in a car with me,” he says, answering at least one of the questions without knowing. “How much self-respect can you have?”
Some of Eddie’s ire stills and fades. It wasn’t a dig on him in the first place—of course, of course, Richie knows where to cut where it’ll hurt, but he’s never maliciously cruel. Insensitive, sure, but he’s not gonna actually try to humiliate Eddie. And everything that Richie says comes back around to self-deprecation eventually. As if Eddie would actually drop Richie and hop into the backseat of Ben’s car, and sleep the ten hours to New York. As if a secret guilty part of him isn’t thrilled just to have the excuse to sit next to him.
Eddie rolls his eyes and says none of what he’s thinking except, “Where are we?”
“Still in Maine,” Richie says apologetically. “You were only out for about an hour.”
Eddie turns to focus on the road signs. I-95 is regrettably familiar, though he’s glad to be heading south on it this time. “295 coming up?” he asks Richie.
“I forgot you did that,” Richie murmurs, almost under his breath. At a normal volume, before Eddie can ask what that’s supposed to mean, he says, “Yeah, any minute now.” He yawns as though bored. “I’m fading, switch the playlist.”
“Playlist,” Richie repeats. “Look for ‘Songs That Never Fail to Make White People Beyond Turnt.’”
Eddie says again, “What?” for completely different reasons.
Richie lets his tone pitch into whiney. “Come on, Eddie, I’m driving responsibly, I need the energy boost.”
Eddie picks up Richie’s phone from its awkward perch under the dashboard and looks at the GPS app. There’s a little banner underneath the live map that shows what’s playing on Spotify; “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy” has shifted to a song called “I Like It” that Eddie doesn’t recognize. He taps on the banner and he gets a warning about operating a phone while driving, to which he hits the I’m a passenger button (as though the app has any way of verifying that) and enters in Richie’s passcode. The playlist that’s currently running is titled “Girlfriend in a Coma.”
“Oh my god, Richie, are you still hung up on fucking Morrisey?” Eddie demands.
He remembers that from the 1988 school year—the Smiths had just broken up, and none of them had any idea what to say to Bill—at forty, Eddie still doesn’t know what to say to someone whose brother has just been murdered, so how could he have been expected to know at twelve?—and half the time they were too afraid to go to the Denbrough house and see Georgie’s room in its perfect timeless preservation. The rest of them had minded Georgie less than Bill had, it seemed, and every one of them remembered in vivid detail all the times Bill had said Go away, Juh-Georgie! and Georgie shouted back I’m gonna tell Mom! and ran back to the house, and then the kid was dead. Kids were dead all the time in Derry; kids were missing; but Bill was broken up, and none of them knew how to be broken up then. Richie seemed to be trying it out, that year, lying on the floor in Eddie’s room with his hands folded behind his head, the volume turned all the way up on his Walkman so Morrisey played tinny through the headphones. And you’ll never see your home again/ Oh Manchester, so much to answer for.
Inexplicably, Richie says in a deep metallic Voice, “How your backyard barbecue going, the Smiths? Pretty good, it doesn’t seem.”
“What the fuck?” Eddie asks, and Richie breaks out of the Voice and gives a full belly-laugh that fills up the car the way a mushroom cloud balloons into the air and then expands.
He clicks out of the playlist and looks at the array that Richie has available, genuinely curious. Growing up he always figured that Richie had his finger on the pulse of everything music—he talked about staying up recording things off the radio—and then they met Mike and Mike knew all about rock and roll. Between Mike’s height and his effortless grin and his wisdom and the way he looked at Bill Denbrough like he understood him, Eddie used to wonder what would have happened if Mike went to their school with them, if he’d have had the patience for their little pack. Richie was cool, but Richie was just cool to them, cool in a secret way that belonged to Eddie, in a way that snuck up on them over the course of years; Mike was cool from the beginning, and Eddie was a little jealous of him, a little jealous of the way he and Richie were always passing tapes back and forth. Getting to look at Richie’s playlists now feels a little bit like opening a vault—even if he is a grown man who voluntarily listens to “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy.”
Richie’s playlists are inscrutable from their titles. “Girlfriend in a Coma.” “Into the Ocean.” “SMOOTH.” “Weepinbell.” “Metal Sound.” “Mail Goblin.” “Freezer Tetris.” “Do This Anymore.” “Real Quick.” “A Bit of a Reputation.” “Not a Good Person…” “Skeleton You Are…” Eddie can’t even credit these to song names. One is just titled “Valentina Tereshkova.”
“Is that the first woman in space?” Eddie asks, thrown.
“Who?” Richie asks.
“Prost,” Richie says, cracking down into a Russian accent.
More. “He Doesn’t Look a…” “Stop Lying.” “Thankful for Spiders,” and what appears to be its sequel, “Thankful for Knorr Pasta Sides.” “Here for the Cheddar.”
“What cheddar?” Eddie asks.
“I had a gig in Vermont,” Richie says.
Eddie stares at him. “What happens in Vermont?”
“Cheese,” Richie replies, as though it’s obvious. “Of the cheddar variety.”
“Fire On The Mountain.” “I have to tell you a…” “Phlebotomy.”
“That’s what I play when I have a blood draw!” Richie says brightly, seeing Eddie linger on this last. Eddie opens it up and sees that it is all, indeed, puns on hearts, blood, and variations thereon. “Drops of Jupiter” is on there, as is “Big Girls Don’t Cry (Personal)” by Fergie.
“Is this what you listened to while you were donating me blood?” Eddie asks.
“Yes,” Richie says, “and then I started crying along to Herman’s Hermits, and Bev took my phone away.”
Eddie has no idea how seriously to take that claim. “You are a nightmare person,” he says, instead of saying Thank you for your blood and also for saving my life. “And you are forty. I’m pretty sure you are legally banned from saying ‘turnt.’”
“I didn’t make that one,” Richie admits. “I found it online. Come on, it’s full of road trip staples.”
“Road trip staples?” Eddie asks, skeptical, and when he opens up the playlist he sees that the first track on it is Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” “Oh no.”
“Eddie,” Richie says.
“No, no, no.”
“Eddie,” Richie wheedles.
“Eddie,” Richie whines.
Twenty minutes later, Eddie is surprised to learn that he does know the song “All the Small Things” by blink-182, just because he only recognizes the chorus. Eddie doesn’t have enough breath in his body to sing along, but he doesn’t mind Richie bellowing along, and he gives it his best shot. He’s never been the best singer anyway.
They stop at a rest area in New Hampshire, because it’s about time for lunch. While the Dramamine means that Eddie isn’t hungry, he suspects that if they wait for him to get hungry before they stop and eat something, Richie will be ready to resort to cannibalism by the time that they get to his parents’ house.
Eddie feels no input from his innards at all—no nausea in his head, his throat, his stomach, his bowels—and this is such a pleasantly alien sensation that he immediately gets anxious about his dependence on pills again. He told Bill to throw them all out for a reason. He has ibuprofen, Tylenol, and his painkillers and antibiotics. He also has a powder laxative he’s supposed to mix into his beverages at mealtimes, but so far he’s been able to avoid the indignity of having to do that in front of other people. The texture makes him think he’s drinking, like, those silica packets you get when buying a new suitcase, melted on a stove.
He stresses a little bit, once he’s out of the rest area bathroom, considering his options. He’s dependent on Richie to buy his lunch (and his dinner, and his breakfast tomorrow, and in fact every meal until he can sit down in front of a computer and work out what’s going on with his bank, because he does not believe that a prepaid cell phone is a secure method of organizing one’s finances), and he’s tempted to just tell Richie to buy two of whatever he’s getting, eliminating the pressure of choice. Then he stares from the Starbucks to the McDonalds to the Popeye’s to the Sbarro. Sbarro is a safe choice, right? Eddie could just have a slice of pizza and call it a day. He’s trying to broaden his horizons, but he doesn’t think he’s ready to try eating red meat from a fast food place; he and Myra watched Super Size Me once upon a time and, while he read many criticisms about the misrepresentation of the scientific method done in that film, it all kind of blended together with what little he remembers of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle from college. He is unable to differentiate between his reasonable health concerns about fast food and his intrusive thoughts that some of the meat in his burger might be human.
He’s trying to get over his hypochondria. Replacing it with a phobia of accidental cannibalism will not improve his mental health.
Hands come down on his shoulders and he startles; he can smell the artificial cherry scent of the pink soap from the men’s room. He almost tilts his head back in relief at confirmation that Richie washes his hands—it’s not that he thought Richie didn’t wash his hands, but Myra talks about her past in foodservice sometimes, explaining how washing hands after shaking hands with men is standard protocol, and Eddie immediately adopted that as another reason not to touch other men more than he had to shake hands in a business setting.
He does tilt his head all the way back to look up at Richie, reminded of the way Richie would just grab him in high school, trying to startle him. “Uh-uh,” he says calmly at Richie’s broad smile. No dice. Eddie has lived through the most terrifying thing a human being (seven human beings) can live through. Richie’s gonna have to try fucking harder, or bust out the psychological horror, or threaten Eddie with a Big Mac if he wants to get a reaction out of him.
Richie puts on an exaggerated pout and then sticks just the tip of his tongue out at Eddie, a childish gesture curiously understated considering Richie’s usual showmanship. Eddie’s entire body flushes hot and he looks straight ahead, staring at the line for Starbucks.
Should he decide where he’s eating based on line length? That would be practical, right? And his stomach has shrunken that maybe he just wants something small. He’s trying to make serious decisions here, all right? What’s Richie distracting him for?
“Hey,” Richie says.
Eddie does not tilt his head back to look up at him again; it would feel too much like baring his throat. “What?” he demands.
Richie’s hands, still on Eddie’s shoulders (big, touching his collarbone, almost touching the side of his neck, what the fuck does he need such big hands for do not think of possible answers to that), slide down and tighten on Eddie’s sleeves, and then he physically turns Eddie in place. Eddie goes along with it for reasons he can’t articulate, except that it was always easy to let Richie manhandle him when they were kids, because Richie was immune to Eddie’s reprimanding slapping hands, and Eddie is obviously regressing.
Eddie twists his head to try to get a read on what Richie’s doing from his face. Richie is hunkered down into the perpetual stoop he has when interacting with Eddie, trying to get at his level. There’s an almost manic look behind his eyes, the same excitement with which he spat back Fuck you! at the restaurant in Derry, the joy of falling back into a comfortable pattern like a well-worn pair of shoes; and the twist of his mouth is almost triumphant.
He brings Eddie to a standstill and leans down so his chin is on Eddie’s shoulder, and Eddie leans his head back so Richie’s not quite so in his face, bewildered, before he thinks to look in the direction Richie has pointed him.
It’s a Cinnabon.
Eddie makes a little involuntary noise deep in his throat.
Richie loses it completely, nearly falling over; he tries to steady himself on Eddie but Eddie hisses a little at the sudden weight and Richie lets him go almost immediately, reaching out to brace himself on one of the little square tables. Eddie blushes for reasons he doesn’t fully understand as innocent passersby look around at the crazy man yukking his head off in the rest area.
“Stop it!” Eddie hisses. “Shut up! Stop!”
Richie has tilted forward and is clutching at his own chest and seems to be trying to get his breath back. “Oh my god,” he gasps. “So I know what you’re having.”
“I’m supposed to have protein,” Eddie hisses. He wants to fold his arms over his chest but he’s leery about putting pressure on his surgical site; he’s about due for another dose of painkillers and he’s trying not to make it angry.
“I will buy you protein bars,” Richie says. “I will get you a thing of protein powder and one of those gallon tanks of water and you can lick at it like a little hamster all the way to my parents’ place, but you have to eat a cinnamon bun. You have to.”
Eddie, who has previously been a big believer in supplementing one’s diet with the vitamins and nutrients necessary, is now accustomed to swilling powder laxative mixed with bottled spring water out of a hotel coffee cup in the middle of the night when no one is there to see his shame.
“Protein powder is disgusting,” he says, a hard stance he has never felt the urge to take before despite his affinity for hard stances.
“So not that,” Richie says. “I’ll go out into the wilds of the greater Boston area and bring you back a cow you can eat raw, I do not care. Tell me you do not want a cinnamon bun.”
“Uh,” Eddie says.
Richie grins at him.
“I shouldn’t,” Eddie says.
Richie grins wider.
The cinnamon bun is so huge that Eddie has serious concerns about his ability to finish it on his shrunken stomach—or worse, what if he does finish it and it exceeds his stomach capacity but he can’t tell because of the Dramamine and he throws up without warning in Richie’s new car? He unwinds it very slowly and eats carefully, remembering Bubble Tape. Richie brought it to school one day and Eddie—who never got junk food or things from the check-out display at the grocery store because his mother had opinions on what was healthy for young boys—got very excited, because usually when Richie brought a treat to school he was willing to share, until Richie opened up the big plastic puck it came in and revealed he had taken a bite out of the side of the roll. You can have a piece, Richie told him, grinning widely, like he expected to turn down the segment of tape marked by Richie’s teeth marks, Richie’s saliva. Eddie glared at him and took two strips, looking at the odd flat shape of his incisors and how it had crushed the gum in the middle of the wheel.
Richie also gets a cinnamon bun, just aggravating Eddie’s feelings of we are apparently not adults after all. And to make it even worse, he’s ignoring it in favor of scrolling through his phone, his glasses pulled low on his nose, his chin tilting his head down, holding the phone up high in front of his face so he can see it. Eddie remembers seeing press photos of Princess Diana; Richie is absolutely Princess Diana-ing at his phone right now. If Richie’s taking photos of himself Eddie’s going to mock him within an inch of his life.
“Okay, so Maggie’s texting me,” Richie says.
This does not surprise Eddie, since they’re going to Maggie Tozier’s house.
God, is Eddie going to have to call Richie’s mother by her first name to her face? Is he going to have to interact with her and accept that she’s opening her home to him in his hour of need, knowing that in a dire and extremely inappropriate moment he said to Richie I fucked your mother? Is Eddie going to have to meet the Toziers for the first time as an adult with a serious injury, a horrible itchy beard, a still-healing cheek wound, wearing their son’s clothes?
Is it too late for Eddie to shave and buy a suit and pretend he’s Edward Kaspbrak speaking again? He never had any problem calling Myra’s mother Judith. It was how she introduced herself. She fed him chicken-noodle soup and told him how nice it was to finally meet one of Myra’s boyfriends, which made Myra blanch but say nothing. Later she explained to Eddie (furiously kicking off her shoes and flinging them across the apartment) that there were no other boyfriends and Judith knew it and this was all her being a passive-aggressive bitch who always moved the goalposts as soon as Myra came in sight of them.
God. Not only does Myra probably hate him, he’s kind of anxious about how her family’s taking the news. Not because he cares about them as people—Myra was frequently enraged by her mother, her much older sister, a niece who’s an evangelical Gnostic Christian; and Eddie of course had no desire to talk about Sonia, so they had a real self-contained relationship that slowly began stifling the life out of Eddie—but because Eddie cut and ran, and who does Myra have if not him?
Fuck, he’s going to have to call her.
“So do you want to get dinner on the road?” Richie asks him. “Because we’ll probably get there around like four, so we can either eat at old man standard time, or my parents can—” His voice drops into a Voice, inexplicably low and hoarse: “—start making a casserole. Does Eddie like chicken? Which of your little friends was the one who wouldn’t eat chicken?”
Oh fuck Richie’s parents want to cook for him? And Eddie hates chicken—or more appropriately, the chicken farming industry. He hates Big Chicken.
“No,” Eddie says immediately. “Do not—do not let your parents cook for me. Listen. Look at me.”
Instead of putting the phone down Richie moves it to the side like a slide transition and stares up at Eddie from under his short black eyelashes. Eddie reconsiders his life choices, momentarily stunned.
He fumbles back to his intended purpose. “Do not let your parents cook for me,” he says. “Do not. Not today. Not tomorrow. No.”
Richie grins suddenly, his face going soft under the glasses, his eyes big and black. Something wrenches in Eddie’s chest. “Guess I’ll tell Maggie you hate her cooking,” he says, raising his phone again, eyes going half-lidded again as he focuses on the screen.
“That’s not what I said! That’s not what I said!” Eddie grabs for the phone with his icing-sticky fingers, and Richie laughs and holds his wrist in the air, twisting in his chair to play keep-away. “They didn’t invite me, they’re not allowed to put themselves out for me, do not let them cook for me.”
Once he gets Richie to concede (smirking, “okay, okay”), the cinnamon bun is really good. He can only manage about three quarters, but he saves the last small central whorl of the roll in the little box container. It’s always the softest, sweetest, best part.
Richie turns the music off basically as soon as they cross the Massachusetts state line. Eddie, who has been getting more and more nervous since they entered New Hampshire, is secretly a little relieved. Richie’s not a terrible driver, but once the Massholes enter the arena he chokes up on the wheel and sits up straight for once in his life. He hates Priuses, is appropriately impatient with minivans, and cusses out an Audi A4 that deliberately drives at a pace to prevent him from switching lanes. At one point he mutters, “Oh, Corolla,” and inclines his head in a way that makes Eddie think he’s about to thump it on the steering wheel, just giving up.
The closer they get to the city, the closer bumpers get. It’s after three PM on a Tuesday; their Subaru has it a little bit easier than everyone trying to exit the city on their approach, but when they cut sideways around Worcester (which Richie says loudly every time he sees a sign for it, all too much enthusiasm: “WUSS-TAH!”) they get stuck in the rest of the corporate rush. Eddie starts stomping on his imaginary brake and contemplates taking another Dramamine, just while they’re here, to knock himself out through the state of Massachusetts. Then he decides that would fall under the umbrella of “abusing medications for other than their intended purpose” and is, regrettably, out of the question.
Actually Richie doesn’t do terribly. Eddie has high standards for driving, and the fact that he was recently in a car accident while driving while talking on the phone has not changed that at all. He isn’t sure how Los Angeles traffic compares to New York traffic, but he’s certainly of the opinion that Boston traffic is entirely lawless; that people make up lanes where they don’t exist; that instead of waiting their turn like every other motherfucker in this city they try to bend their cars like they’re trying to bend bullets in that movie with Angelina Jolie and somehow it all seems to work. Eddie is furious about Boston drivers both on behalf of the city of New York and the laws of physics.
Richie says nothing but he grits his teeth and leans forward in his seat and occasionally mutters extremely uncreative insults to himself. Eddie watches the little muscle pulsing near the corner of his jaw and eventually becomes aware of a smell very much like hot metal. At first he assumes that this used car that Richie paid cash for is about to catch fire, Eddie should have bothered him more about the car when he got in, he should have, he should have.
Then he realizes that it’s Richie. This is Richie stress-sweating. He has a certain smell.
Eddie’s body, surprisingly, has no input on whether a sweaty metal-smelling Richie is more or less appealing than a cool space-invading leather-smelling one, because it is too busy involuntarily clenching his hands on his electric blanket and his Cinnabon container and sliding his feet into the corners of his footwell, looking for pedals. Eddie’s brain decides it’s a good time to stop thinking about Richie’s jaw muscle and just to tilt his head back and recount the reasons he’s glad he’s alive, and not think about getting into an accident in the Greater Boston Area or the awkward phone call he’s going to have to make to his wife sooner rather than later or how he’s avoiding checking his email because he’s afraid that Erika fired him in his admittedly unexcused absence or whether Richie’s parents are going to assume Richie has brought a vagabond with him. Thinking about Richie sweating makes Eddie worry that he might start sweating, so he turns up the air conditioner and points all the passenger vents more effectively at himself, and Richie says nothing as the temperature in the car slowly trends toward the sub-arctic.
When they get clear Richie’s mouth opens and he sighs and slumps back a little in his chair, and then he glances at Eddie. “We made it!” he says, and then does a double-take, looking at Eddie for a longer moment, and then starts laughing.
“Eyes on the road!” Eddie snaps at him. “What?”
“Oh my god, you look like I took you on a rollercoaster,” Richie says. “You have crazy hair and everything.”
Eddie, well-aware of his hair’s tendency to become fluffy when it’s clean, self-consciously pushes his fingers through it. “Fuck off,” he says. “I can’t believe you bought a red car. Don’t you know they get stopped more than any other car? Combined?” He can’t actually remember if the combined statistic is true, but he knows that red cars are stopped most frequently by police.
“Nobody actually gets stopped for traffic offenses in Massachusetts,” Richie says.
“That is not true,” Eddie says hypocritically.
“It is true. As long as your car doesn’t touch another car, it’s the wild wild west out here, and you don’t wanna see my hand where my hip be at.”
Richie reaches out and punches the power button for the speakers, and they wait for a few moments while the system tries to identify the aux cord. Eddie watches the screen, watching it flick one by one through sources before landing on AUDIO CD and then spitting out a track number.
“Did you bring CDs to Derry?” Eddie asks, just making sure.
Richie glances at him and then at the screen in a neatly-executed double take. “No,” he says.
The speakers warble, “Advances in Geriatric Medicine: Disk Three of Eight.”
Eddie bursts out laughing. Richie bypasses laughter and goes immediately into silent convulsions, his hands tightening on the steering wheel like it’s a life raft, his head sinking down as he strains to keep his eyes on the road while also doing his can’t contain the hilarity of the situation and also remain upright routine.
“I guess now we know why your used car was in such good shape,” Eddie says.
Richie gasps, “Text Stan. Text Stan right now.” He draws in a breath and then says airlessly, “Oh my god what’s that doctor going to do when he realizes he’s missing a whole twelve-point-five percent of the latest advances in geriatric medicine.”
It’s not funny. It’s not funny at all. “Kill one in eight patients,” Eddie replies seriously, and waits.
Richie, clinging to the steering wheel, grinning so hard it looks like his teeth have to hurt, squints and blinks as his eyes water. “I’m driving. I’m driving,” he begs, his voice all have mercy.
“But he’s in geriatric medicine, so no one will notice,” Eddie portends ominously. It’s not a Voice; but if he were to do a Voice, which he isn’t, he’d be going a little bit for spooky fortune teller. “It’s our duty to listen to this CD so that we can save them.”
Richie howls and slams the power button for the speakers. “Put on the fucking music, I don’t wanna spend any more of your nine lives. Fuck.”
Trees line the highway. Eddie has never driven on Connecticut-66 before, but it’s activating old parts of his brain the way that driving into Derry did that first time. Here are towns you can drive through. Here is a little narrow pizza place with an inaccessible parking lot. Richie’s no longer even bothering to follow the GPS; he knows where he’s going.
“How often do you come see your parents?” Eddie murmurs. He doesn’t know why he’s getting so quiet, but something about the gray and green of the surroundings makes him feel like coming home from church on Sundays, knowing that if he’s quiet and he eats his lunch his mother will fall asleep in front of the TV and he can escape out to the Barrens. Something about the safety of the woods, so close by.
“I’ve been here like twice since they moved,” Richie says, frowning. “And that was, like…” His brow furrows hard, squinting at the road like he’s doing the math in his head. “Oh fuck, ’95?”
“Really?” Eddie asks. He’s trying to remember when they actually left Derry. Eddie went off to college the fall after he graduated high school, so that has to be something; and he knows that the Denbroughs left before that, sold the house and moved on and Eddie never heard from his old best friend again until he walked into the Jade and saw Bill in front of the fish tank. When was that? Ben was gone long before that, he did high school somewhere else; and Bev, after the whole thing with her dad, Eddie’s pretty sure she became a ward of the state or moved in with an aunt or something. But Eddie doesn’t remember the last time he saw Richie.
He decides to stop pushing that particular mental bruise. He’s afraid to know the last time he saw Richie. The last things they said to each other. Whether they cried.
The man in question has a faraway kind of look in his eyes now they’ve relaxed. “Christ, yeah,” he says. “I’m pretty sure it was ’95. Fuckin’ shit.”
He turns onto Connecticut-85 and drives. Trees. Eddie looks at them—big old stands of pines, dark green as though to spite the turning of the seasons. It makes him think of Mike out in Yellowstone to see the changing of the leaves; Mike was always there, to the very last moment. Mike’s dad got sick in their very last years of high school, when Eddie was eighteen and hiding his scholarship applications from his mother, and Mike was walking around as volatile as he’d ever been, unlike himself, and Eddie didn’t know what to do. He’d lost a dad at three; what did he know? Ben lost a dad in Vietnam, but he wasn’t there to consult. And—Zack Denbrough had died, Eddie remembers suddenly with startling clarity; that was why the Denbroughs had left, just Bill and Sharon in the end. Just a boy and his mother.
Richie slows and hits his turn signal. There’s an old movie rental place up on the left, with its windows boarded shut but the film reel art around the crest of the building still vivid. Eddie thinks of B-movies again, of Gremlins. Behind that lot there’s a grocery store; Eddie automatically turns his head to look at the sign as Richie guides the car past that particular turn. A bank. A dental office.
“Is that your dad’s place?” Eddie asks. “I mean—was that your dad’s place?”
“God, for a while, yeah,” Richie says. There’s a big window sticker of an anthropomorphized tooth and toothbrush that’s visible even from here. The name on it now is—
“Is that Dr. Molere?” Eddie asks, incredulous.
“Yep.” Richie pops the P; it makes Eddie think of Greta Keene snapping her bubble gum.
“Did you know about this?”
“No, I didn’t fucking know about this, don’t you think I would have made the Dr. Molere joke already?”
“Your dad got replaced by a Dr. Molar.”
“Serves him right for all the wisdom teeth he yanked. Someday the tooth fairy will do all our jobs, Eddie, and we will be slaves in the bicuspid mines.”
Eddie cringes reflexively, imagining the thump of the pick like something out of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. He knew that whatever Dr. Tozier did during dental examinations, it wasn’t all counting his teeth and congratulating children on growing the full set, but he always managed to close his eyes when that sharp little metal implement came out. Eddie knew that if he made a fuss, his mother (in the chair in the corner, fanning desperately at herself with a trifold handout) would make a bigger fuss, and Eddie didn’t want that, couldn’t afford the consequences.
They drive on. It’s a series of narrow residential streets beyond that, all the families served by the long strip of a grocery store. A white picket fence comes up on the left, but it doesn’t bracket a house, it brackets a round pond full of weeds. There’s an old-fashioned white archway with a metal gate in front of it, but there’s a padlock hanging on it. He doesn’t know why but he shivers and tucks his hands under the electric blanket.
“You good?” Richie asks him. “You can fuck around with the AC if you want, I don’t care.”
“How far are we?”
“Like three streets.”
Eddie will make it.
At some point Richie mutters, “Fuck, I think it’s this one” and turns left onto another residential street. Then he says, “Yeah, this is it, they still have the goddamn deer. Look.”
Up on the right, toward the very end of the road before it vanishes into the woods, is a big square planter box. Eddie can’t see what’s growing there, but he sees two small deer standing very still beside the mailbox, and as they draw closer he realizes from their stillness that they are statues. He wonders if the Toziers got very into lawn art from 1995 onwards, but Richie makes no move to guide the car into the driveway of that particular house, and Eddie realizes they’re driving into the woods.
Not so far, though. Richie turns right just after the deer, after a narrow strip of pine trees separating the standard suburban cookie-cutter house from… what Eddie strongly suspects to be Richie’s parent’s house. There’s a big outbuilding garage straight up ahead from this narrow path, and on the left is a massive lawn.
“Richie,” Eddie says. “Do your parents keep bees?” Because there are two bee boxes there, standing on either side of a tall garden planter. Wire trellises stand empty of tomatoes.
“Yeah,” Richie says, and then starts laughing. “Hey, do you remember how you said you had birth control you were saving for my sister? Because Went and Maggie went out and got like a hundred and twenty thousand of them, go stick your dick in that hive.”
“Fuck you!” Eddie says automatically.
The gravel driveway is long and well clear of the bees. As they creep up toward the garage, a gray-haired man creeps out from behind the house, his arms wrapped protectively around his chest.
Holy shit, Eddie thinks, because he understands suddenly what Richie’s going to look like at seventy.
He has no real memories of what Wentworth Tozier looked like when Eddie was a kid, but now Eddie can see the similarities between him and the man Richie grew to be. Dr. Tozier’s face is thinner, more rectangular to Richie’s square, and a little rounded in the face and cheeks from fat. Ruddy, almost, though that could be from cold. The hair on the top of his head has mostly given up, but on the sides it’s pale gray and kept very neatly. He’s barefoot, wearing sweatpants and a navy T-shirt, and his glasses are very like Richie’s except for how thin and rounded the wire frames are. But he has the same slashing brows, the same chin and jaw. The same inexplicable height.
Richie parks the car and rolls the window down. “The fuck are you doing out here? Don’t you have, like, Minnetonkas or something?”
“Ah yes,” Dr. Tozier says, and Eddie startles at how hard it is to hear him over the muted sound of the engine, because his voice is hoarse, hoarser even than you expect from an old man. Exactly as hoarse, in fact, as the Voice Richie did at the rest area. “The kind of respect I come to expect from my son, throwing himself on me for sanctuary.”
Richie grins and tilts his voice up into something Eddie finds old and familiar. “I brought my laundry. Can Eddie stay over?” He cuts the engine.
In the sudden quiet, Dr. Tozier leans forward a little. He doesn’t step onto the gravel, but he does peer into the car to look at Eddie. “Edward Kaspbrak,” he says, and Eddie’s almost startled to hear his full name out of the man’s mouth. “Well, you look just the same. What’s with the beard?”
Eddie resists the urge to cover his own face with his hands. “Your son kidnapped me. Please call the FBI.”
Richie snorts and gets out of the car. He and Dr. Tozier exchange a perfunctory hug, Richie uncharacteristically careful as though his dad is fragile, Dr. Tozier with no such compunctions, slapping Richie on the back. Eddie, awkwardly, unbuckles his seatbelt and climbs out, leaving his electric blanket and his square little Cinnabon box on his seat. When Dr. Tozier straightens he’s almost of a height with his son, and Eddie realizes with a shock that there’s a hole at the base of Dr. Tozier’s throat with a little plastic device in it. He’d guess that at some point Dr. Tozier had a tracheotomy.
When Dr. Tozier turns to Eddie, he covers the hole with a fingertip. “They don’t take my calls anymore, they just assume I’m using a vocoder. Last time I tried to report on what Richie was doing I was almost framed for the Zodiac killings, so.” He shrugs.
“I hear they got Ted Cruz for that,” Richie says.
Dr. Tozier snorts, and when he does that he looks and sounds identical to Richie. “That’s right.” He tilts his head toward the house; Eddie realizes he’s standing not on grass, but on a path of round stepping stones set in the yard. “Come on in.”
Eddie looks to Richie and Richie jams his hands deep in his jacket pockets before following his father. Eddie follows his lead. Dr. Tozier leads them up to a back porch with multiple stories, up four stairs, and into the back door.
“The front’s swollen shut,” he says. “Weather. We finally got central air, though.”
“Oh, just in time for October?” Richie asks.
“Couple years ago, wiseass,” Dr. Tozier says. He holds the door open and calls inside, “Maggie my love, I’ve brought you a gift.”
Richie blanches as he steps in onto a thick wool weather mat, and Eddie looks at him sharply but Richie doesn’t seem to notice.
“Are you regifting after forty years?” Mrs. Tozier asks, coming into the kitchen. “Did you labor thirty-six hours for it too? Hi, Richie.” Eddie’s startled by how tall she is; he knows that when he was a kid all adults looked tall, but Mrs. Tozier must be at least five-eight, standing eye level with him. She leans around Richie and grins at him. “Eddie Kaspbrak, don’t you look just the same.” She holds her arms out.
“Eddie’s had surgery, Ma, don’t break him,” Richie says, and Eddie’s inexplicably relieved to hear him call her by anything other than her first name.
“I’m fine,” Eddie snipes back.
Mrs. Tozier immediately raises her arms and clasps the back of Eddie’s head instead of his torso. She presses her temple to his and then lets him go; Eddie looks at Richie in something like alarm, but Richie has gone tight-lipped and pale. Mrs. Tozier holds Eddie at arm’s length, inspecting him. “The beard is new,” she allows.
“That’s what I said!” Dr. Tozier says, closing the door behind him.
“That’s not what you said,” Richie says immediately.
Eddie wonders if he should apologize for his facial hair. He should have just bought a Conair trimmer or something at the drugstore—now that he’s confronted with the consequences, he can only think of all the non-blade options available to him.
“Can’t hear you,” Dr. Tozier says without missing a beat. “Enunciate, Richard.”
“Enunciate this,” Richie suggests, and flips his dad off. Eddie is horrified, ready to grab Richie by the sleeve and drag him out to the car, apologize for bothering the Toziers, call Ben and explain that they’ll get there around nine or ten, maybe.
“I’ve missed you,” Dr. Tozier says seriously. “Who else can I rely on for wit as precise as throwing a lump of fecal matter at someone?”
And Richie—laughs. A real laugh, too, one of Eddie’s laughs. He puts his hand on the door behind him and begins trying to toe out of his shoes instead of unlacing them like a reasonable person. Making himself comfortable. Eddie absolutely can’t bend over to unlace his new shoes, and he’s not going to ask Richie to do it for him, so he regretfully does the same. He hasn’t walked far enough in these to leave any stains or marks on the back of the fuzzy red material, he’s pretty sure, and sneakers are meant to be forgiving.
The kitchen is very white and very 1980s; all the appliances are black and glossy, and there’s a wall of glass bricks separating the glass-topped dining table in the corner from the next room. Eddie can hear music playing—Rod Stewart?—from deeper in the house.
“Eddie, you’re in the blue room,” Maggie says. “There’s a little step at the base of the stairs, will that be a problem?”
“No,” Eddie says. “One step’s fine.”
“I would put you in the purple room, but I can’t do the stairs with my knees,” she says, as though Eddie has a blueprint of the various rooms in the house and their advantages and disadvantages. “Richie, you’re in the basement.”
“The Richard Tozier suite,” Dr. Tozier quips, fingertip held to the base of his throat again.
“Does it have a bathroom yet?” Richie asks.
“No. Pee outside.”
Richie shakes his head, making a small tch sound. “Not a suite then, old man. You got central air but not a bathroom?”
“You are welcome to use the storm doors should the urge take you in the night,” Dr. Tozier says. “Just remember not to piss into the wind.”
Mrs. Tozier shakes her head. “You’re in fine form tonight,” she says. “Eddie, I’ll show you your room. Do you have a suitcase?”
“Does he!” Richie says. Eddie feels inexplicably betrayed. Dragging two and a half suitcases into Mrs. Tozier’s house seems rude now. Eddie glares at him, and Richie holds up both hands. “I got it,” he says, turning back toward his abandoned shoes. “’Scuse me, Went.”
“I don’t need it right now,” Eddie says, feeling a surge of panic at the idea of being left alone in the house with Richie’s parents.
Richie shrugs as though it’s all the same to him. Mrs. Tozier waves a hand and beckons him out of the kitchen.
There’s a carpeted living room immediately behind the kitchen, the height of the room suddenly lifting up into loft ceilings. Eddie looks up at the lights.
Richie says what he’s thinking. “How do you change those bulbs?”
“Wait for my son to come home and put him to work,” Dr. Tozier says.
Mrs. Tozier is smiling. There’s a big leaf-patterned couch and, pressed up next to the stairs, an end table decorated with—
“No,” Eddie gasps automatically, leaning down slightly to inspect a picture of what is definitely baby Richie on Santa’s lap. His hair is bowl-cut but still flyaway, and his round glasses sit crooked on his face, which is so chubby-cheeked that it looks like his mouth won’t close properly, sitting there half-parted in a little goldfish pout. Eddie experiences a chest pain—a quick ache that fades almost immediately.
Richie leans over him to look at what he’s inspecting, then groans. “Ma, it’s September!” The frame has little dangling candy cane charms along the top. The Santa looks very authentic, actually, in his red velvet vest and with his gold wire-frame spectacles.
“You can decide how you decorate in your own home, Richard,” Mrs. Tozier says crisply. To Eddie she says, “There’s more where that came from.”
“Oh god,” says Richie.
“No god here,” Dr. Tozier intones. “Only Maggie May. You’re lucky we don’t have pictures from a bris to show off.”
What is a bris? Eddie starts giggling a little hysterically, bracing his hand on his chest and standing up straight to do so. “Hang on, hang on,” he says quietly, and gets out his phone to snap a picture and send to the group chat. Then he turns to Maggie. “Okay, I’m ready.”
The blue room is so named because it is painted blue and has a nautical theme. There’s a row of white bookcases to the left, and Maggie says, “Here are more embarrassing photos of Richie. You might be in here somewhere, actually,” as she floats over to them. Eddie glances at what looks like a small mountain of pillows stacked on the bed—all white with navy patterns, one with a fish, another with an anchor, another with what looks like a pair of crossed oars—and then follows her.
There’s a tiny Richie from a pre-glasses era, apparently flattened into a leaf pile. One of his feet is elevated into the air, the grippy rubber sole of it clearly visible; Richie’s massive buck teeth are balanced on his lower lip as though he’s not sure about this whole thing. Eddie gets a picture of that too and feels his phone buzz as comments start coming in, but he’s watching Maggie hmm around, inspecting. There are collections of books on the shelves—what looks like a complete set of Charles Dickens, a bunch of broad Calvin & Hobbes collections stacked up behind a photo of a very small Richie standing next to a very ugly snowman, looking delighted. Maggie’s in this one, her hair dark brown and voluminous. When she smiles into the camera Eddie can see that her left eye does the thing that Richie’s does, crinkling further than the other. He gets a photo of that one.
“Oh, no, it’s just the cat,” Maggie says apologetically. “It was at one of your little friends’ birthday parties, I thought you might be there in the background. Here.” She taps what is admittedly a pretty good picture of Richie—before It, but after Eddie met him in the second grade, maybe ten if you split the difference—in a blue tie-dye shirt, looking up from under his eyelashes at the camera, what looks like a long white cat hanging over his shoulder.
Eddie takes a photo, something scratching at the back of his memory. He’s pretty sure that the Denbroughs didn’t have a cat. When he sends this one to the groupchat he asks, Stan, was that your cat?
“Who are you sending those to?” Maggie asks.
“Uh, Bill Denbrough and Stan Uris, actually,” Eddie says.
She smiles suddenly. “Yes, Richie said all of you got back together and had your own little reunion. I am sorry that you got hurt,” she says, glancing down at Eddie’s chest; Eddie guesses that Richie gave her the same spiel as the hospital but he decides not to respond in too much detail. He has a vague memory of showing up to Richie’s house to bring him homework from missed classes and being the reason that Richie’s parents figured out he’d skipped school. Maggie’s face pulls into a faintly doubtful grimace. “Doesn’t seem very… auspicious,” she says.
“You could say that,” Eddie concedes.
“Or,” Richie says brightly, looming in the doorway so that he takes up the whole space. He blocks the light coming in from the living room; he’s huge and dark and—casual, with the way he puts his elbow on the doorframe. His sock feet—
He’s wearing weed socks. They are bright yellow and decorated with green patterns of five-leaved weed plants. Eddie hates him again, a little.
Oblivious to Eddie’s rapidly shifting opinions, Richie goes on, “You could say that he was astronomically lucky. All the docs kept coming in and looking at him while he was asleep, it was fuckin’ weird.”
“Oh, Richie,” Maggie sighs. She looks around to Eddie. “So will this work?”
Eddie has several seconds where he does not understand what she means before he realizes she’s asking whether he’ll be comfortable in the room. “Oh,” he says, almost startled. “Yes, this is great, thank you so much.” He almost calls her Mrs. Tozier and thanks her for having him.
She smiles. “Good. Come on out here and tell us what you’re up to. Did you eat on the road? We were thinking about just ordering pizza.”
It is very difficult to conceal the sheer fuckery of what Eddie Kaspbrak is up to from Dr. and Mrs. Tozier. Eddie carefully deploys the understatement and more than once looks to Richie for help as he tries to engage without admitting to coming out or his impending divorce proceedings. Weirdly, neither of the Toziers ask if he’s gotten married; Eddie knows that Richie’s been texting with his mother but doesn’t know if Richie has warned them off asking any Myra-adjacent questions, or whether Richie would have the tact to do that in the first place.
At one point Eddie admits that he hates his beard and everyone in the room lets out a sigh of relief—except Richie, who starts cackling. His parents ignore him.
“It’s not that you couldn’t look nice in a beard,” Maggie hedges. “It’s just that it’s in a bit of an awkward state.”
“Like when Richie was sixteen,” Went adds. “Every time he talked it was like, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t hear you over the sound of your dirtbag mustache.’”
Richie snorts but looks unoffended by this reminiscing; as well he should, as a man who not only can grow an adequate beard, he has a five o’clock shadow by ten in the morning.
“I told you not to call it that,” Maggie says. “When you call it that, it’s child abuse.”
“Arrest me for emotionally belittling my dirtbag son,” Went says, which makes Richie chuckle more and lean back in his chair, like let me have it.
Maggie, on the couch, is inspecting Richie’s face. “I know that facial hair is trendy these days,” she says doubtfully, “but you always look so nice clean-shaven, Richie.”
“Ma, I can’t be shaving like once every six hours,” Richie says. “It hurts my face.”
Went sits up and his hand flies to his throat in his eagerness. He and Richie chorus at the same time, “It’s killing me!” Then Went leans back in his big squashy armchair and says, “Not the most graceful setup.”
“It’s all about the enthusiasm,” Richie replies easily.
Eddie feels… trapped. Simultaneously on the spot and awkwardly tucked into the background in the light of the Toziers’ enthusiasm. “I, uh,” he begins, and then looks to Richie for help as to whether he should explain the whole stabbed in the face thing to justify his terrible beard.
Richie seems to be on the same wavelength as him, because he crosses his legs in the his armchair and leans forward. “Hey, remember Henry Bowers?” he asks, voice suddenly loud and bright in exactly the way that Henry Bowers’s name never made people feel.
Maggie frowns. “Was that one of your school friends?”
“No,” Richie says, just as cheerful. “He was the kid who chased me all the way to Freese’s department store in the sixth grade because he and his friends were going to kill me. Him and—Victor Criss, do you remember him?”
“And why’d he chase you?” Went asks immediately.
Richie’s gaze flicks up contemplatively over his glasses and he bobs his head a little, contemplatively. “Because I called him Bananaheels when he wiped out in gym class.” The corner of his mouth draws up crooked, like he can’t decide whether the memory of the laugh he got was worth the immediate consequences.
Went sighs and adjusts his glasses with one hand, holding the other to his throat to speak. “Richie, you were always getting in fights. Which was weird, because you didn’t seem to be very good at them.”
“They outweighed us by like a hundred pounds,” Eddie offers quietly, looking down at his sock feet. The coffee table in the living room is also glass-topped, but it’s shaped like a cabinet, so the contents of the top drawer are on display. At the moment it’s just the green velvet lining, but Eddie watched Maggie pull leaf-patterned coasters out when she asked Eddie if he’d like something to drink.
“Which was weirder,” Went agrees, “because in all other aspects of your life, Richard, you were very intelligent, but in this one you seemed to fulfill Einstein’s definition of insanity.”
Richie’s face goes extremely still and—polite. That’s the word. Richie’s putting on a nice face, putting on a mask. Instead of picking at all other aspects as Eddie expects him to, Richie puts on a storyteller kind of voice and goes on.
“So the day we graduated from eighth grade,” Richie says. “Bowers got held back again, which makes sense, because he was dumb as, I dunno, a can of refried beans. And he decided it wasn’t his fault, he pinned it on the new kid in class who wouldn’t let him cheat off him, and that happened to be my buddy Ben Hanscom. Do you remember Ben?”
Maggie’s gaze has flicked up and to the side, but not in an eye-rolling way, in the way of someone searching for a memory. She shakes her head. “No.”
“He was the little round kid you could have fired out of a cannon,” Richie says drily, and mimes a massive stomach.
Eddie gets a strange impression of him holding court, what with the casual drape of his elbow over the back of the armchair, the splayed fold of his knees. Maggie sits on the couch adjacent to him, knees tucked tightly together and listening, and Went sits in his own armchair in much the same pose as Richie but with a skeptical eyebrow raised. They mirror each other—Richie’s right arm slung on the back of his chair, Went’s left. Eddie, opposite Maggie across the room on the loveseat, touches his knees a little closer together just to feel the bones come into contact for a moment, then relaxes.
“So Henry Bowers chases my friend Ben down after school lets out, and he and Belch Huggins—he’s the kid who liked to hold Eddie down and burp in his face, in case you don’t remember him—” Richie jerks his chin in Eddie’s direction and Eddie feels himself go tense with scrutiny and mortification, but Richie goes on. “—and Victor Criss—you know, you really should remember Victor Criss, he only broke my glasses three fuckin’ times—”
“And how many times did you break your glasses?” Wentworth asks, his tone low and flat as though everyone in the room should know the answer. “Richie, we love you, but when you were a kid nothing was your fault, even when you decided to shut your eyes and walk into a fireman’s pole.”
Eddie, who remembers that incident, winces.
“Oh, yeah, totally,” Richie says. “Hey, Went, out of curiosity, how many times did I break my glasses by punching myself in the face?”
Silence. Eddie, falling back into years of watching Richie wind Stan up until Stan finally exploded and ripped Richie to shreds, mentally awards one point to Tozier the younger.
Wentworth sits up a little bit and presses his fingertip to the little valve at the base of his throat. It’s called a stoma, he explained to Eddie; he had a complete laryngectomy ten years ago and he’s been in remission ever since. “Richard,” he says. There’s tiredness pressed into the downward slant of his eyelids, the prominent external fold. “You’re forty. You want to tell me why you’re getting all fired up over this?”
Richie pauses and then says, the arch tone gone out of his voice, “It will become clear as the story goes on.”
Wentworth’s eyebrows go up and he leans back in the chair, half a smile on his face as he indulges. He gestures with his free hand. “Then by all means, go on.”
Richie lets his arm slide off the back of the armchair and shrugs his shoulder a little bit, like he’s shaking something off. “So Henry Bowers decides to teach my friend Ben a lesson by taking his flick knife and carving his name into Ben’s stomach.”
Maggie gasps. “No, he didn’t,” she says quickly, swatting at the air like she can push the words physically away, as if Richie would lie about something like that.
“Oh yes he did,” Richie says just as fast, his timing perfect. “Ben was one of the ones I saw this morning in Derry, he’s driving right now but if I get him on the phone I’m sure Bev will take a picture of his goddamn abs and you can see the scar yourself. He only got as far as the H before Ben got away but it’s still there.”
Maggie’s eyes are wide but Wentworth has gone almost wooden-faced. Eddie presses his heels a little further into the carpet, bracing himself to see if Richie, at forty, is about to get reprimanded for talking back to his mother.
“Henry Bowers,” Wentworth repeats.
Richie nods, inclining his head, the corners of his mouth tucking up a little bit in something less than a smile but more than a grimace.
“The one who killed his father with a flick knife?” Wentworth asks.
Maggie covers her mouth with both hands, elbows tight to her sides as she draws in on herself. “Oh, god, and little Georgie Denbrough?”
Richie smiles, though it’s not funny, and puts his index finger in the air. “Ding ding ding,” he says. “Do I gotta ask why you remembered that one, Dad? Did all the dads in town get nervous?”
“I have seen you injure yourself on a fork and a frozen hamburger patty,” Went says. “If you were going to commit patricide, I was reasonably sure your clumsiness would give me a chance to escape.”
Richie does seem to find this genuinely funny, eyes scrunching up and everything as he chuckles. Eddie sits on the loveseat across the living room, gaze sometimes flicking to the TV unit with the old-fashioned speaker system. They’ve moved on from Rod Stewart. Eddie doesn’t know for certain who the current singer is but he’s pretty sure it’s Celine Dion. He remembers that scar—Richie coming into school with a bandage on either side of his hand and explaining he’d been trying to pull a frozen hamburger patty out of a pack of six, and punched the fork right through his hand in the process. Eddie was horrified at the possible thought of cross-contamination and had Richie down as died of mad cow disease at ten.
“Is that what you talked about?” Maggie asks, looking from Richie to Eddie. Eddie feels caught in a way by the aghast expression on her face. “You just all got together and hashed out growing up with a serial murderer?”
“Yes and no,” Richie says. “Because the thing I didn’t tell you over the phone, Maggie May, is that while we were in Derry having our little reunion, Henry Bowers escaped from the mental institution out by Shawshank—do you remember that?”
“Juniper Hill,” Wentworth says quietly.
“Yeah, that one,” Richie agrees. “And he decided that he was going to finish the job by killing my friend Mike Hanlon, because it’s not enough to grow up a serial killer, he had to be a racist serial killer.”
Eddie is starting to feel lightheaded just sitting here drawing in breaths. He’s pretty sure Richie’s not about to confess to manslaughter in front of his parents, but the fact that he’s starting with Mike makes Eddie nervous. Are you okay? Ben asked, and Richie turned around and said No I’m not okay, I just killed a guy.
“Mike stayed in Derry,” Richie says, seemingly suddenly aware that this backstory is necessary now. “Became a librarian. Figures. But.” He grimaces hard. “Bowers goes looking for Mike and happens to run across Eddie here first.” He indicates Eddie like an exhibit in court.
Maggie’s mouth is open. Quietly she says, “You said it was a collapsing building.”
“Oh Jesus,” Eddie says quickly, because he doesn’t want to have to explain to the Toziers that no, it’s not like Bowers drove a spear through him or anything. “He caught me in my hotel room and he stabbed me. Completely different thing.” He gestures at his own cheek, where he knows the red line is clear, the immediate vicinity of the beard seeming to shy away from it. “In the cheek. Not a big deal.”
“Not a big deal,” Wentworth repeats. “An escaped mental patient stabbed you in the face and it’s not a big deal.”
Maggie says, “Richard, if you’re making this up—”
“Look it up, Ma, you know I don’t write my own shit, I promise you I could not make this up,” Richie says. He holds up one pinkie finger as though offering to make a solemn vow. That wasn’t how he promised things to Eddie when they were kids, Eddie made him spit-swear, clasping hands and hocking loogies simultaneously, explaining that spit was blood but clear. It was the most serious promise that either of them ever made until Stan cut their palms with the broken bottle.
“Did he get your gum?” Went asks, looking at Eddie with a look of almost disgusted concern. It’s extremely similar to Richie’s; Eddie tries to answer while dealing with the déjà vu of having Richie copy-pasted slightly to the right in this room.
“Yeah,” he admits.
“Tooth?” Went asks.
“Let me see,” Went says, getting up, and Eddie, not knowing what else to do, gets up as well. Went shuffles him over toward the lamp on the end table and physically turns his head toward better light; he tells Eddie to bite down so he can see the lineup of his teeth. “Oh, yeah,” he agrees, looking in Eddie’s mouth. “Hang on.” He opens the drawer in the end table and pulls out something small; he presses a button and reveals it to be a penlight.
“Oh my god,” Richie says, sounding every inch the embarrassed teenager—and there are a lot of inches.
Not like that.
Absolutely not like that while Richie’s dad is literally holding Eddie’s chin.
Went whistles and asks in a whispery airless voice—because one hand’s operating the penlight and the other is holding Eddie’s face in position—“Did you get that looked at yet?”
Eddie shakes his head. “No, sir.”
Went’s nose wrinkles as he inspects it. “Not if you were in the hospital, I guess.” He rolls his eyes. “You shoulda had that pulled already. Is it hurting you?”
“I am on a lot of painkillers,” Eddie admits.
Went starts chuckling—it’s soundless, like Richie in his hysterics, and Eddie is thrown for a moment before he clicks off the penlight and covers his stoma again to speak. “Yeah, I guess after a crossbeam going through you, your threshold for pain might be a little different. You were always tough, though. That one—” He points at Richie. “—cried the second you threatened to put him in the chair. You were good, though; you behaved.”
“I did not,” Richie says. “What are you talking about? I did not.”
“My little bleeder,” Went says fondly. To Eddie he says, “Sorry about sticking my hands in your mouth. If you want I can call Molere down the road, see if you can get that taken care of. It shouldn’t be bad, should just be the laughing gas.”
Eddie, alarmed at the prospect of sudden dental procedures, says, “Uh, I think I’d have to call my doctor to see how what she gave me would interact with nitrous oxide?” And he doesn’t currently have access to his insurance card, because that, along with everything he needs to identify himself, was lost somewhere in his wallet under Derry.
“MAOIs?” Wentworth asks. “Methotrexate? Eldepryl? Don’t answer that. Can you brush that?”
“That, uh, hurts a little.”
“A little, he says.” Went grimaces. “You ought to be rinsing with salt water. Call your doctor. Trust me, you want that taken care of. If you want to stick around a little longer, I’ll see if I can talk Molere into it. If not.” He gives the same one-shouldered shrug that Richie gave and then sits back down in his armchair. “So what the fuck happened to Bowers?”
Richie, whose watching my father perform an unlicensed medical examination face is bland and somehow sad, shrugs one shoulder. “Dunno. Police came to talk to us at the hospital. Didn’t have any news for us.”
And Eddie almost believes him. Eddie knows for a fact that Henry Bowers is currently buried in the floor of a subterranean clubhouse in Derry, and saw the body on the floor of the public library, saw Mike on the floor bleeding and Richie reeling. And if Eddie didn’t know these things, he would believe Richie when he lies.
“Where did it happen?” Maggie asks. “In the house? Was he in the house with you?”
The call is coming from inside the house! Eddie thinks gravely, not remembering any movies but instead remembering the spooky urban legends Richie terrified them with in middle school. He and Bill would go back and forth—Bill loved them, but Richie loved performing them, doing the singsong voice of animated dolls or growling Psychoes can lick hands too, Eddie, and then lunging for Eddie to hold him down and lick his hands. Eddie slapped Richie across the face when Richie sucked on his fingers, not sure why it tickled, and slept with a light on in his room for over a week.
“At the hotel,” Eddie replies softly, trying to be serious. He knows that when he said Bowers is in my room his voice was twisted with incredulity that this was really happening, that everything was happening to him all over again, that he couldn’t get away. Bev was horrified, trying to squeeze the hole in his face shut with her fingers. Is it bad? Blood running down his neck like Bowers had made good and slashed it after all.
“Jesus,” Maggie says, looking at Eddie in something like horror. Maybe just horror. Maybe horror through the lens of a spectator, of someone wandering after the fact—Are you okay? No, I’m not okay, I just killed a guy! Horror by proxy. “Eddie, are you okay?”
Eddie’s a little startled by that and glances at Richie. Richie’s still wearing his liar’s face, quietly observant. He looks back at Maggie, at what looks like her sincere concern. If Eddie tells her yes, will she believe him?
“Oh, I’m fine,” he says. “I mean—” He smiles automatically, trying to placate, trying to de-escalate, it was a big problem for him when he was early in business meetings and being put on the spot, he went to a performance coach who told him not to do that but he finds in this moment he doesn’t care so much about that. “I’m fine,” he says.
“Jesus,” Maggie says again, as Wentworth looks on, eyes very solemn and blue, wearing almost the same watchful face as Richie.
Discussion of injury flows into discussing their medical problems; it’s already been established that Wentworth had laryngeal cancer that resulted in a full laryngectomy. Richie seems to enjoy doing his father’s voice very much, and Wentworth seems more patiently amused by this than Eddie would expect a parent to be.
“So we decided we were going to get tattoos in celebration of his remission,” Maggie says to Eddie.
Richie groans and averts his gaze, looking down at the green seat cushion.
Eddie sits up a little straighter. “Who’s we?”
“It was Richie’s idea,” Maggie says.
Something shorts out in Eddie’s brain and he tries to keep it off his face. He’s never thought of himself as particularly interested in tattoos—Myra is certainly disdainful of them, talking in a self-satisfied way about how now being a person without tattoos is the rarity, though Eddie has no idea what the statistics on that are; as if the rarity of tattoos is what makes them popular. All Eddie knows is that he’s far too afraid of needles and bloodborne illness to ever want one himself, but.
He doesn’t think so much about the actual tattoo—he’s seen a lot of Richie in the last couple days, and by process of elimination is working out where a tattoo might actually be, and if he really sits down and asks himself if Richie has a tattoo on his ass in front of Richie’s mother he’s just going to go insane. But. The idea fits, somehow. Eddie can’t really imagine Richie peeling out of his clothes and showing Eddie his ink and—ahem. Richie actually having a tattoo on his person, but he can imagine Richie in a tattoo parlor. Admittedly, Eddie has very little concept of what a tattoo parlor might look like on the inside, aside from the big glass-front ones in the city, but he can imagine Richie shouldering his way out after a session, leather jacket once more in place, smelling of smoke and—
Eddie turns his head to look at the actual Richie to remind himself they’re in Richie’s parents’ living room, not in a fantasy world where Richie’s the bad boy from an after school special. “You have a tattoo?”
Both of Richie’s parents are grinning. Richie tilts his head all the way back on the armchair and covers his eyes with one hand and pretends to be dead.
“No,” Went says. “He set up the appointments and helped us pick out the design—”
“It’s just the ribbon,” Maggie says. “Head and neck cancers are burgundy and white, there’s a big umbrella.” She folds one arm across her body and pats her own left shoulder. “I won’t show you, I don’t want to scandalize you.”
“I won’t show you, I don’t want to traumatize you,” Wentworth says. He looks at his son again and says, “He chickened out in the parlor.”
Eddie is delighted. “Did you really?”
“After his mother went first,” Went adds.
“Dad, I’m very happy that you lived, do I have to inscribe it on my skin to prove it?” Richie asks from under his hand. “Is it not enough to share your DNA?”
“You suggested it,” Went says.
“I don’t like needles!” Richie says. “How do you think I avoided the slippery slope to heroin? It was fear!”
“Went was talking about the anesthetic he uses in his practice,” Maggie says, apparently unfazed by Richie’s oblique reference to cocaine usage. “And about giving the shot in the roof of the mouth—” Eddie winces a little but Richie gives a full-body shudder that the armchair doesn’t seem big enough to accommodate. “—just winding him up a little, and Richie threw up.”
Very, very different from Eddie’s fantasy of cool Richie. Eddie looks at Richie and waits for him to emerge from where he’s trying to pull the I can’t see you, you can’t see me trick. Slowly Richie lifts his hand and raises his head just enough to make eye contact with Eddie.
“You know I’m telling everyone about this, right?” Eddie asks.
Richie drops his head back again. “Oh, yeah.”
Once Eddie’s and Went’s medical issues are gone over, Maggie reveals that she’s had bilateral knee replacement surgery. Richie seems heartened by this shift in topic and begins chanting, “Show us your scars! Show us your scars!” while drumming his fists on the arms of his chair.
Maggie looks up at Eddie. “Do you want to see my scars?” she asks.
Eddie feels a little hysterical. “Sure,” he says.
She rolls up the legs of her capri pants to her knees and shows the room the thick, short, straight white lines cutting down across her patellas. “And they feel much better,” she says, rolling her cuffs back down again.
“My mother’s the bionic woman,” Richie says.
The pizza from the local place is thin-crusted and speckled with herbs on top. Richie insists on them getting two pizzas—“Ma, look at me. Look at Dad. You could have married a shrimp. But you didn’t, and now you have to put up with ordering two whole large pizzas when I come visit you once a decade. Ma, look at Eddie—you’re not gonna tell Eddie he can only have three pieces of pizza, are you? Ma, I will pay for the additional pizza, please, I’m starving.”
“We were so happy when you moved out,” Went says gravely. “We both got two extra slices.”
Eddie didn’t think he was very hungry, probably because of the Dramamine still in his system, but as soon as he smells the food—Went has to go pick it up, since apparently this little place doesn’t do delivery—his mouth floods so hard he’s in danger of actually drooling. His stomach gurgles threateningly, so loud that Richie starts laughing.
He only eats three slices of pizza anyway. Any more seems like tempting fate. While Went was out picking up the pizza Richie went back out to the car and brought in the luggage, dragging Eddie’s suitcases without complaining across the house and into the blue room, while Maggie asked Eddie once again if he’d like anything else to drink—tea?
“Eddie doesn’t like tea, Ma,” Richie says, as though he knows that Eddie would feel too awkward to refuse.
Apparently tea after dinner is part of the Toziers’ ritual; once the remaining slices of pizza have been crammed into the refrigerator, Went sits up and looks at his wife. “Tea?”
“Please,” she says.
Went looks at Eddie. “Tea?”
Maggie interrupts. “Eddie doesn’t like tea, Went.”
“Are you heat sensitive?” Went asks, which devolves into a discussion of the pros and cons of various toothpastes. Went looks pleasantly surprised that Eddie uses Sensodyne, which satisfies a part of Eddie that still craves medical approval.
“Sure likes hot chocolate, though,” Richie says.
Maggie sits up. “Oh! We have some hot chocolate mix, that—” She snaps her fingers several times, like catching an errant thought is akin to striking a lighter. “—the gift thing in the cupboard, from the white elephant.”
“The white elephant?” Richie repeats, voice thick with skepticism. “At Christmas? Ten months ago?”
His mother ignores him. “It’s fancy, it’s like, Ghirardelli or something. Went, do you remember?”
“I do not,” Wentworth says cheerfully. “I hate those parties; you always let those women hug me.”
Maggie scoffs. “I don’t let them hug you, they don’t ask me.”
“She said, ‘But Maggie says it’s okay to give him hugs.’”
“Why would I say that’s okay? Those are my hugs, I’m not about to invite the old biddies of card club to steal them.”
“They are your hugs,” Went says. “You should be charging them every time they steal them; either money or with legal consequences.”
Richie sits there listening and then tilts his head to the side. “Did you just suggest that Mom pimp you out?”
“Yes, I did, son,” Went says serenely.
Maggie looks at Eddie and says, “So, would you like some hot chocolate?”
“Yeah, Eddie, would you like some ten-month old hot chocolate mix that my mother prostituted my father to acquire?” Richie asks.
“She hasn’t prostituted me yet,” Went says. “Otherwise we would be able to offer much better hot chocolate.”
Eddie realizes that Maggie is still waiting for a response, apparently unbothered by the double act going on in the room with them. “Um, I’m okay,” he hedges, shrinking a little into the loveseat.
“It’s no trouble, we’re going to make Richie fix it anyway,” Went says. This seems to be news to Richie, who looks around as though surprised. “That’s the point of having adult children.”
“Oh—” Maggie stands. “Richie, did you say you had laundry?”
Richie stares at her. “Why are you getting up? I’m forty. I can do my own laundry. Sit down, that’s the point of having adult children.” He hasn’t taken his duffel bag down to the basement yet, just left it in front of a door that Eddie guesses must lead downstairs; and he gets up and swings it over his shoulder. Maggie sits back down, apparently satisfied. “What kind of tea do you want?”
“French vanilla decaf,” she says promptly. “It’s in the cabinet to the right of the microwave.”
“Decaf Irish breakfast,” Went adds.
Richie leans in the entryway to the kitchen. “Eds?”
Eddie glances around to find that Maggie and Wentworth are both watching him. “I really am okay,” he says.
“Okay, but you better not be being polite with me,” Richie says, walking into the kitchen and disappearing from sight. “God knows these two aren’t.”
Maggie begins humming and then jumps up, saying, “Ooh, I know what I want to listen to,” and goes to switch the disc in the CD player. Soft guitar strumming begins. A strange, flat, childlike woman’s voice sings.
“Truly an anthem for the ages,” Went says, his voice so serious that Eddie understands he’s being deeply sarcastic. Maggie ignores him, humming along and obscuring the words. Wentworth sits up a little straighter and speaks louder, finger pressed over his stoma. “Mags?”
There’s a clatter from the kitchen. Everyone stills, waiting to hear what, if anything, Richie broke. There’s a backtrack of someone whistling in this song.
“It comes in a sock monkey mug?” Richie says. “Fuck that, I’m drinking the hot chocolate.”
Went seems to relax, looking from Richie’s general direction back to Maggie. “As I was saying before my son interrupted me,” he says. “Would you like some ice cream?”
Maggie’s mouth puckers into a pleased little O.
Apparently taking that as acceptance, Went looks at Eddie. “Would you like some ice cream? We have cherry vanilla.”
Eddie is… strongly tempted. “Is Richie getting that too?”
“Yes, Richie’s getting that, too,” Richie almost shouts from the kitchen. “Richie’s getting the tea, Richie’s getting the ice cream, Richie’s changing the light bulbs, Richie’s laying the tile.”
“If I trusted in your home repair skills I’d make you fix the leaky pipe under the sink,” Went says.
Maggie looks at Eddie. “I remember his college apartment,” she says seriously. “Instead of fixing the showerhead he duct-taped half a Solo cup to the wall to catch the leak.”
“Oh my god,” Eddie says.
“That was a group decision and I can’t be held personally responsible for it,” Richie says.
“In this court you can,” Went says.
There’s a clatter of more dishes from the kitchen. “Eddie: ice cream?” Richie prompts him.
He feels weird about coming into the Toziers’ home and eating their ice cream. Ordering pizza is one thing, but in his head ice cream is like a resource that they’ve stocked up on, and one that Maggie clearly enjoys.
“It has whole Maraschino cherries in it,” Maggie says, smiling like she’s trying to tempt him.
Eddie likes Maraschino cherries. “Yes, please,” he calls to Richie.
Richie comes back out some minutes later with two bowls of pink ice cream studded with Maraschino cherries, spoons standing straight up in the middle. He hands one to his mother and one to Eddie, then points at Went.
“I couldn’t,” Went says seriously. “I’m a dentist.”
“Retired,” Richie says. “Now if you yank someone’s teeth out, you just go to jail.”
“Oh,” Went says, as though this is news to him. “Well, in that case, since I can’t have the joy of yanking out teeth—yes, I will have some ice cream.”
It’s very good. Eddie eats his ice cream while the Toziers let their tea steep on their leaf coasters and Richie waves a sock monkey mug at him from across the room. It’s… comfortable. Eddie feels like he’s slotting into place in some kind of established ritual, like it’s so powerful it goes on with or without him, and he’s just surprised there’s room for him in it.
Richie says no more about Derry that night, and neither of his parents ask why they went to a condemned house instead of to the police to report a stabbing.