It was only a little under two hours to the Uris house, and Richie turned down the music a few miles out, before Eddie asked him to. He rubbed his palms on his shorts and bit his lip, but didn’t say anything.
“You’re nervous, huh?” Eddie asked.
“Yeah,” Richie said. “I don’t know why. It’s Stan. I barfed on him like six times and he was still friends with me.”
“I’m scared too,” Eddie said. “Like…what if seeing us does something bad to him? It always felt like we were dragging him into dangerous situations. Remember in the sewers, how he said we made him go in and we weren’t his friends?”
“Yeah,” Richie said in a low voice. “He hated it so much. Being dirty. Being afraid.”
“It’s not like any of us loved it,” Eddie said, turning onto Stan’s street.
“No, but it was easy to distract you. Stan just shut down.”
“So did I,” Eddie whispered, then shook his head, grimacing. They were at Stanley and Patricia Uris’s quiet, tasteful house, set far back in the big yard, and he parked in the road so Mike would see him. He turned to Richie. “I shut down too.”
Richie’s mouth tightened. “You and Stanley both pulled it out when it mattered, Eds. All of us have done some stupid shit out of fear and desperation. At least neither of us drugged each other, which seems like it should be a low bar to clear, and yet.”
“Thanks,” he sighed. “I feel like I’m gonna be fucked up about that for a while though, just so you know.”
“That’s cool,” Richie said. “You remind me that you don’t hate me and think I’m repulsive because I love you, and I’ll remind you that you saved my life.”
Eddie leaned over the console to kiss Richie’s cheek, and when he pulled back Richie was smiling down at his own hands, his face a mixture of bashful pleasure and nerves. He was still so jumpy when they were in public, like he just barely wanted to be touched more than he wanted to be left alone. Eddie wasn’t used to being the one to reach out, and especially wasn’t used to wanting to touch. He hadn’t enjoyed being that close to anyone since…well, since the Losers, since the summer of 1990 when he had moved away from Derry, but what that really boiled down to was since Richie. Everything was different when it was his friends, and everything was still more different when it was Richie.
“I don’t hate you,” he said. “You’re not repulsive. I wanted to show you how much I don’t hate you and how not repulsive you are this morning, but we slept in too late.”
“Cool,” Richie said quietly. “And you’re the bravest person I know.”
Eddie wondered what on earth Richie was seeing in him that made him say that kind of bullshit, but decided he’d rather soak up the good feeling than know just then. Mike’s car was pulling up behind them anyway.
“Time to see Stan,” he said.
“Do you think he still irons his shorts and tucks his shirts into them?” Richie asked.
“What’s wrong with ironing your shorts?” Eddie asked. “You don’t iron anything.”
“It’s going to get wrinkled anyway,” Richie said. “What are you wasting that electricity for?”
“Oh, like you don’t fucking just throw your shit in the dryer for fifteen minutes and hope for the best,” Eddie snapped.
Bill tapped on the window. “D-do you want to actually go inside the h-h-house or just argue until you run out of gas?” he asked.
“Fuck you, dude,” Eddie said.
“Yeah, fuck you,” Richie added cheerfully.
Oh, Eddie thought when he shook Patricia Uris’s hand. Stan married a nice person.
Not just nice—anyone could be nice—but a kind person. Different from the Losers. Eddie liked to think maybe he could be kind, that all of them could be, but it wasn’t right there on the surface with any of them the way it was written all over Patricia Blum Uris: a nice woman, kind and in love with Stanley, someone who didn’t swear, who wouldn’t even think to swear, who didn’t dwell on dark things or pick fights when she was upset. An uncharitable part of him wanted to think, in the split second during which they greeted each other, that there wasn’t much there, but he didn’t think Stan would have married her if there wasn’t anything to her, and one good look in her eyes told she had lived through difficult times. She just didn’t react to them the way he did, or the way Richie did, and maybe that was why he loved Richie and not anyone else. The way they handled life, themselves, each other, emotions, was messy.
Eddie remembered Ben saying, when they were first becoming friends with him, that Stan and Eddie were more alike than the others. Eddie knew he meant they were both fussy, particular, unwilling to put up with Richie’s shit, and it wasn’t entirely untrue, but Stan snorted and said, No, Eddie’s way more like Richie, and Eddie got so mad he threw Richie’s shoe at him. He wasn’t wrong, though. Eddie was particular and he was fussy and he was unwilling to put up with Richie’s shit, but he also loved Richie and all that came with him, and he loved being Eddie with Richie and all that came with that, all the normal dirty loud kid fun that happened because he was himself at one hundred percent around Richie, and Richie liked him that way.
That wasn’t Stan at all. Stan didn’t secretly enjoy the fighting and noise and chaos. He didn’t watch with faint bemusement like Ben. He didn’t cycle between ignoring it, laughing and encouraging it, or joining in like the others. Stanley actually hated it. He liked things tidy and clean and simple, and looking around the house, Eddie thought it was exactly the way he would have imagined Stan living. It wasn’t like his childhood home, which was rather more Spartan than Eddie had always believed a home should be. Eddie’s mother was strict, but not like the Urises. Eddie hadn't learned how to do his own laundry or dishes until college because his mother insisted on taking care of them, but tidiness wasn't a priority for her. He had grown up surrounded by piles of things, collectible plates and TV Guides and knickknacks and photo albums and stacks of blankets, and with the lights always low and the curtains drawn, his house sometimes felt like a cave. The Uris house wasn’t like that, but he had always felt equally uncomfortable with the austerity there.
Stan’s house was open and light, French doors leading both into the living room and out to the back yard, and it was full of things—not the same as Eddie’s mother’s things, but art, objects picked up while traveling, objects displayed and arranged. He felt guilty for the comparison, because his mother’s things had been important to her even if they weren’t beautiful, even if they had made him feel claustrophobic, but Eddie liked beautiful things and he liked a lot of space so he could breathe. It was easy to see Stan becoming a person whose taste ran to quiet beauty. It wasn’t Eddie’s taste—Eddie liked a big statement piece, as evidenced by the gigantic statement piece taking up all the air and light in the room just by standing there in his ugly shorts and a Ron Jon Surf Shop t-shirt—but he could appreciate it nonetheless.
Stan hugged Eddie last, when the others had gone into the kitchen. “This is Eddie Kaspbrak,” he said to his wife after he had put his arms around Eddie firmly, matter-of-factly. He knew Eddie so well, still after all this time. Stan never went easy on him and he never treated him like he was delicate, but he knew that Eddie was careful with his love, and he knew—must know—that his death had fucked Eddie up. Not like it had Richie, maybe, but you couldn’t get Richie to be straightforward about anything unless you were alone with him. He’d come around to however he felt about Stan dying in his own way.
“Hi, Stan,” Eddie said shakily. His eyes were full, almost brimming over, when they pulled apart and Stan gripped him by the shoulders.
“You’re pissed,” Stan said.
He nodded, biting his lip so he wouldn’t cry, but as soon as he blinked the tears rolled down his cheeks anyway, and he brushed them away furiously.
“I’m sorry,” Stan whispered.
“I don’t want to be mad, because I’m happy you’re alive,” he said. “But I’m—I’m really fucking mad, Stanley.”
The worst of it was that he hadn’t known he was angry until just now, stepping into the foyer of Stan’s house, and he didn’t know what he was angry about exactly. There was a part of him that felt like a parent whose kid had run out into the road and narrowly missed being hit by a car. The urge to hold him and shake him and say why did you scare me like that? was baffling and strong, and it reminded him of his mother enough that he wanted to cut it out of himself.
He shook his head. “I’m more happy than I am mad,” he said. “I’ll deal with it.”
“Okay,” Stan said. “Do you want a drink?”
“Do you have any gin?” Eddie asked.
“We have a lot of gin,” Stan said, and Patty nodded.
The kitchen was big and white and clean, but the eight of them overwhelmed it, squeezing around each other and talking and stepping on feet. Beverly said, “Oh, I’ll just have whatever you’re having, Eddie,” before she slipped into the living room, and the others grabbed beer and followed. There was lemonade in the refrigerator, and Eddie grimaced before he caught himself. He was going to enjoy this drink. The acid and the sugar might hurt his teeth and he might get a headache and he might not sleep well that night because alcohol interrupted deep sleep, but he was going to enjoy it anyway.
He brought his and Bev’s drinks out, saw that Ben was sitting on the love seat by Richie, and glared at him until he shook his head with a grin and moved over far enough for Eddie to fit in between them.
“Do you want to just get in his lap?” he asked, and grunted, laughing, when Eddie elbowed his way into the space and set the drinks on the coffee table. Richie was turned away, talking to Patty, and Eddie felt that same old thing, age six, age ten, age thirteen, age forty, his permanent state when it came to Richie: Look at me. Pay attention to me. Let me be the most important thing to you. Let me pretend you’re not the most important thing to me.
As if Richie had heard his thoughts, he turned to Eddie, looking and sounding pleased. “Hi. What are you drinking?”
“None of your business,” he said. Richie put his hand over Eddie’s and brought the glass over to his own mouth to take a sip.
“Mm,” he said, smacking his lips and gagging a little. “Tastes like a lemon fucked a pine cone.”
“So stop stealing my drink, fuckface,” Eddie said.
“It’s interesting how we’ve all changed so much,” Stan said drily.
They all went quiet then, drinking thoughtfully. Eddie found himself staring across the room at the fireplace and the television above it. It was always a kick in the face, trying to marry the mundane with the insane, he thought. He remembered trying to talk about It with the others when they were younger, with kids playing around the bandstand behind them. The world was going on around them as it always did, preparing for Canal Days, and there they were talking about a shape-shifting clown. Right there in the middle of all that normalcy.
“So,” Stan said, putting his hands on his thighs. Bill caught Eddie’s eye from across the room and he knew they were thinking the same thing: he looked so much like Donald Uris just then that it was fucking creepy.
“Where do we start?” Mike asked.
“I think we start by telling Patty everything,” Stan said. “I told her what I could, but you all know more than I do, and maybe…maybe if we just talk it out, it’ll make more sense.”
“Okay,” Mike said slowly. He had his beer cradled close to his chest, and swirled it a little like it was wine. “I guess it started when It arrived, millions of years ago.”
“Millions,” Richie said.
“Yeah, dumbass, we already heard this part,” Eddie said, patting his leg.
“Maybe you did, teacher's pet,” Richie said, and Eddie shushed him.
“It arrived, and it slept until the humans came,” Mike continued. “And then It woke up and fed.”
It took a long time, and each of them told the story of how they encountered Pennywise in 1988 and 1989. Ben got up to get another beer and sat on the floor by Bev’s chair, leaving plenty of space for Eddie to move away from Richie. Instead, Eddie stayed close to him, and when Eddie haltingly made his way through the leper and the clown at Neibolt Street, Richie put an arm across the back of the love seat.
“Richie, you never had a run-in with It, did you,” Mike mused, resting his elbows on his knees with puzzled look. “The rest of us saw him one-on-one, but you never did.”
Richie cleared his throat. “I did, actually.”
Eddie leaned away so he could glare at him. “You never told me that.”
“Yeah, I know,” Richie said waspishly, not looking at Eddie. “I didn’t tell anybody.”
“D-did it have to do with your token?” Bill asked.
“Yes.” Richie drew in a long, shaky breath and retracted his arm from behind Eddie, clasping his hands together the way he did when he was really nervous. “Okay. Here goes. It was when we were all mad at each other and I was at the arcade with this kid, Henry Bowers’s cousin. We were playing Street Fighter, and Henry saw me and called me a—a big homo and chased me out of the arcade, and I was upset so I went to Bassey Park and I closed my eyes, and all of a sudden Paul fucking Bunyan had giant teeth and was throwing gay slurs at me too, and then he tried to eat me. Just a normal afternoon in Derry. I never told anybody about it because—because I didn’t want you to know.”
They were all quiet, faces pinched with various shades of concern—except for Stan, who was nodding slightly. You knew, Eddie thought. Or suspected. Something. Eddie grabbed Richie’s hand where it was tugging at the Velcro pocket of his stupid shorts and slid their fingers together.
“That I’m gay,” Richie added. “In case that went over your heads.”
“It made you feel like you couldn’t tell us?” Ben said. “Couldn’t tell anybody?”
Eddie was suddenly grateful for Ben, who actually was kind and gentle, and who knew Richie well enough to get at the real root of it, which was more than Eddie felt he could do at the moment.
“Yeah, but I was already a pro at repressing that shit,” Richie said. He grinned without any humor behind it. He was squeezing Eddie’s hand very hard. “I knew when I was like six, but you don’t walk around being gay in Derry. You saw what happened to that poor kid the week before we got there. I got my ass kicked enough. I wasn’t trying to get murdered, and I sure as hell didn’t want to drag any of you down with me.”
“I’m glad you told us, honey,” Bev said. Don’t be nice to him, Eddie thought. You have to ignore it and then wait until he’s calmed down again to talk about it, or he’ll freak.
“Well,” Richie said tightly. “It’s been real.”
He stood and dashed toward what Eddie hoped was the bathroom. Patty looked alarmed.
“Is he leaving?” she asked.
“No, he just went to throw up,” Stan said. “He does that.”
“I’ll get him,” Eddie said. He squeezed Stan’s shoulder on his way past, and Stan gripped his hand. It was strange; the urge was so outside the boundaries of his interaction with other people now, as an adult. He wouldn’t have dreamed of even patting any of his work friends on the back, not for any reason at all. But Stan? Of course he was going to touch Stan. He loved him.
“Can you let me in, Rich?” he asked at the bathroom door. God, he hoped this wasn’t the bathroom Stan had died in. He knew it technically hadn’t happened, but even the thought of it made him want to scream.
“Hold on.” The doorknob clicked and Eddie slowly pushed it open, and he saw Richie sitting beside the toilet, knees drawn up to his chest. The toilet was still running as if he had just flushed it. As a default stress response, vomiting was disgusting, but Eddie preferred it to seeing him cry, which he was also doing.
He sat cross-legged on the bathroom floor as close to Richie as he could get, shoving his way under Richie’s bent legs and kissing his bare knee. “You feel better?”
“No,” Richie choked out. Eddie reached for the toilet paper roll and grabbed some tissue, shoving it into his hand.
“That was really hard, what you told them,” he said.
“I hate it,” Richie said. He was crying hard enough still that his chest caught and shuddered up and down with his jagged breathing, which made everything he said sound painful. “I should be able to tell them.”
“Fuck what you should be able to do. An alien clown demon made us forget our childhoods. Everything else is out the window,” Eddie said. He wanted to wrap his entire body around Richie like a forcefield and suddenly wondered if this was what his mother and Myra had felt for him, this deep, wretched desire to do whatever it took to keep him safe and protect him from anything that might hurt him. It frightened him how strong the urge was and how easy it might be to go too far with it. He imagined himself five years in the future, keeping track of Richie’s every movement, making charts about his sleep patterns, and shut his eyes tight because it was very easy to see that happening, and easy to see Richie hating him for it. If that was the kind of love he had in him, there was no way he could ever be with anyone.
“I’m a fucking coward, Eds,” Richie said. His face was scrunched up and wet and red and he looked like nothing would ever be okay again, and Eddie loved him and hated himself for the panic starting to swamp his brain. He shoved it down frantically and tried to focus on Richie.
“Rich, please,” he gasped. Fucking great, he thought, hearing the whistle in his breath. He’d managed to go so long without an asthma attack that he had almost convinced himself he would never need the inhaler again, but all it took was Richie crying and his lungs started to close up on him, his heart galloping unevenly, the little voice in his head whispering You’re dying. This is you dying right now. Back to the beginning, no progress. It has been 0 days since our last psychosomatic breakdown.
Richie heard the whistling too and sat up straighter, reaching for him. “Eds,” he said, sniffling, and Eddie grabbed his hand and put it on his chest the way he had done the night before, the way he had always done. Richie’s big, warm palms had always soothed him, forcing him to notice something outside his own broken little self.
“Please don’t say you’re a coward, Rich,” he wheezed. “Please, okay? You told me you loved me—you kissed me, right there in public, in Derry. You did that even after all the horrible shit you went through in that town. So don’t call yourself a coward, you fucking asshole.”
He pressed Richie’s hand down hard on his chest and closed his eyes as his lungs squeezed in even harder, forcing the air out of him.
“Breathe—with me,” he said in big, harsh gulps. “We can both—calm down—okay?”
“Okay, yeah,” Richie said. “Like we used to.”
He traced a circle on Eddie’s chest with his thumb, six seconds around one way, a pause, six seconds around the other way. Eddie found himself focusing on Richie’s fingers and the sound of his voice more than his own body. His doctor had told him once to try counting things in his immediate vicinity when he started to feel his asthma getting bad. At the time it hadn’t worked, but he found it helping now, counting Richie’s fingers one, two, three, four, five and the freckles on the back of his arm one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and the buttons on Richie’s shirt, also seven, and then the band of pressure around his chest loosened.
“Good?” Richie asked.
He nodded, although it was only better, not good yet. Good would take a while. “You all right?” he asked, and Richie shook his head and then sort of nodded. “You did a crazy brave thing and you decompressed, and now we can go back out there and tell the rest of the story to Stan’s very nice confused wife.”
“They don’t hate me, right?” Richie asked, wiping his nose. “I know they don’t, but they don’t, right?”
Eddie wondered if this was what people meant when they talked about hearts breaking. It felt a little more like his stomach was breaking, if he had to be honest, but either way it hurt. He thought of Richie as a kid, gangly and awkward and projecting not giving a fuck with every ounce of energy he had except when it mattered, because he did give a fuck, he gave every fuck that was out there. He thought about that kid keeping the secret of his life, the secret of himself, the secret of his love, and his stomach and all his other organs broke.
“No,” he said, kneeling on the floor and pulling Richie close. “You think it even breaks the top one hundred most annoying things about you? Remember the month you were trying to learn how to do the Alf voice? I still want to kill you for that.”
“Alf and I were always so misunderstood.” Richie sighed against Eddie’s shirt. “It doesn’t bother you at all if they think you’re gay, Eds?”
“I don’t know how I feel about that yet,” he admitted. “But I know that if I am, they love me. I mean, just because they love me in general, and also because normal people don’t think differently of other people if they’re gay. I’m not a great judge of what normal people do, but that one I’m pretty sure about.”
“I totally get and believe everything you’re saying,” Richie said. “But I also think you’re lying and that everyone hates me.”
“Okay,” Eddie said, standing up and pulling Richie to his feet. “The only thing that’s going to help with that is being around them so they can show you they don’t hate you, until you believe it.”
“Or,” Richie said. “Hear me out. We could run out the door and drive to L.A., hole up in my apartment, and never talk to anyone again.”
“You’re not rich enough to become an eccentric hermit,” Eddie said, and caught Richie before he opened the door. “Wash your hands. You just touched a toilet seat and sat on a bathroom floor, what the fuck.”
“No, listen,” Richie said, obediently washing beside him at the sink. “We could be non-eccentric hermits. I don’t have to collect your toenail clippings.”
“You come near my toenails, I’ll cut your fingers off.”
“Now who’s Howard Hughes, huh?” Richie said as they came back into the living room.
Everyone had shifted until they were sitting on the floor around the coffee table, closer together so they could see whatever pictures Mike was showing them on his phone. Eddie settled down with his back against the love seat and waited for Richie to break the awkwardness, which he was incapable of not doing.
“Sorry, minor breakdown,” he said instantly. “How are you doing, Patty? Feeling like your husband grew up with some head cases?”
Patty gave him a small smile, which faded as she appeared to think over the question. “I know Stanley always tells me the truth,” she said. “So I knew that whatever he was telling me, no matter how strange it sounded, he believed it was true. And there are six other people here who believe it too, and all of you seem to be of sound mind.”
“That’s generous,” Richie said. “I appreciate that.”
“But most of all, I’ve always known something was wrong,” she said. “Not with us. Around us. Around…Stanley.”
“You never said that,” Stan whispered.
“Saying it makes it real,” she replied. “It was never anything I could pin down. It wasn’t Stanley himself, but maybe…maybe like there was something acting on him? I can’t explain it, but hearing what you’re saying, instead of it sounding crazier with each story, I feel like it’s making more sense.”
“God, we should start a podcast,” Richie said. “We’re so convincing.”
“If you start a podcast, I will go back to Maine and resurrect the clown so he makes me forget you again,” Eddie said. Richie turned to him and gave him that smile, Eddie’s favorite, the one that said Eddie had gotten him good and he liked it.
“If you could stop picking at each other for a few seconds, I do have some questions,” Stan said. “What happened? How did you bring me back? How do you know It’s dead for good?”
“We held It’s heart in our h-hands and crushed it,” Bill said. “You said you could f-feel it, Stanley. It’s dead.”
Stan nodded. “I do know it, but I won't know until you tell me everything. So how did you bring me back?”
“Are you sure you want to hear all of it, Patty?” Mike asked.
“Yes,” she said without hesitation. “If he has to know it, so do I.”
They looked at each other uneasily. Eddie didn’t even know where to start. With the phone calls? With the fortune cookies? With fucking Neibolt Street, again?
“It was Mike’s fault,” Richie said.
“False. I can already tell it was yours,” Stan said.
“Actually,” Richie said, wrinkling his nose. “It was yours. I was in the deadlights—”
“Of course you were.”
“What the fuck do you mean, of course,” Richie sputtered. “Why are you acting like it’s a character flaw? Bev got stuck in them too.”
“Even without knowing what happened, I know you ran straight at them,” Stan said. “Am I wrong?”
Richie opened his mouth and then closed it again. “I don’t remember. Eddie and I ran away from the Pomeranian—”
“I’m sorry, the what?” Stan asked.
“—and then the next thing I remember, I was sitting in your old bedroom talking to you, and you were telling me to get Eddie out of the way.”
“He did it to save me,” Mike said quietly. “He threw a rock at the clown to get It’s attention.”
“I did?” Richie asked.
“Yes, and then It got you,” Eddie said, closing his eyes. The afternoon heat had started to resolve into a thunderstorm, and the light in the room had dimmed, the air muffled and expectant. There was a bright starburst of light in his memory of seeing Richie floating in the air, his body blocking Eddie from the clown, from the deadlights. The wave of fear and horror that had washed over him was so much stronger than the one that had paralyzed him when Richie was being attacked by Spider-Stan, and he had had one thunderous, wild thought—not this time, motherfucker—and everything after that was instinct.
He went somewhere so strange and awful and I could feel it. I wanted to kill It because I thought It had driven him insane, he thought, and turned to bury his face in Richie’s shoulder, shivering.
Richie patted him gently and said, “When I was in the deadlights, you told me Eddie was gonna die if I didn’t get him out of the way immediately, and you were right—he almost bit it because of that fucking claw. You saved him. If you had been with us, if it hadn’t happened exactly like that, Eddie would have died.”
“Can you please stop saying that?” Eddie mumbled into his shirt.
“Sorry, Eddie would have been slightly less than alive,” Richie said. “You also told me, Stanley, that we needed to perform a ritual. I thought you meant the one we had just tried, the one that totally shit the bed, but no. Stan the Man wanted a fuck party.”
“What,” Stan said. “I wanted a what.”
They were silent for a second before Bev started to laugh. Eddie remembered that it was always Bev who caught the giggles first, and for some reason it was so contagious that the rest of them would follow fast. This time was no different; it cascaded through each of them until even Eddie was laughing so hard he could barely breathe.
“Wait,” Stan said, which only made it worse.
“It’s your own fault, Stan. You did this,” Ben said, sighing and wiping his eyes before he burst into another long laugh.
“Let me read between the lines here,” Stan said, holding up a hand. “Are you saying you brought me back to life via orgy?”
“Technically, it was a fertility ritual,” Mike said.
“Oh my god,” Stan said, and that set them off again.
“You must have really wanted to bring him back,” Patty said when they had calmed a little bit.
“We really did.” Bev reached across the table and grasped Patty’s hand for a moment. Her cheeks were pink, eyes too bright. “We would have done anything.”
“Okay,” Stan said shakily. He swallowed a few times and set his beer down on the coffee table with a click. “That’s a lot. I mean, how did you even…?”
“We will not be providing details,” Eddie said.
Stan narrowed his eyes at Richie. “Not even you, Trashmouth?”
Richie made a sharp, dismissive noise. “Especially not me, man. I’m gonna repress the fuck out of that entire night, although I’m not sure I can forget Bill’s sex noises.”
“Richie,” Bill said.
“I’m just saying, you’re not quiet.”
“Oh, fuck you.” Bill threw the paper he’d been steadily peeling off the beer bottle at Richie’s head.
“No, he’s right,” Eddie said. “That shit will haunt my dreams.”
“Get your neighbors a fruit basket,” Richie said.
Bill threw up his hands, looking at the others. “Wh—”
“Anyway,” Stan said. “What’s next? What do we do?”
“I don’t think we have to do anything,” Mike said slowly. “Except…live.”
Bill laughed, harsh and choked, pushing his fingers through his hair.
“We have a chance to do better,” Mike said, rubbing Bill’s back as he stayed slumped with his hands covering his face. “We have a chance to be whole the way we weren’t before.”
“We’re still missing a piece here,” Richie said. “Stanley. Can we talk about it? Should we?”
The room felt airless all of a sudden. Eddie wanted to glare at Richie, but as always, he was sort of grateful Richie was there to say the things no one else would say.
“Yes,” Stan said on a sigh. He looked tight, like he was holding himself together with great strength. “Yeah, I think I can talk about it.”
“Good, man, but first things first,” Richie said. Bev shot Eddie a startled look, shaking her head, and Eddie put his hands up because no, he didn’t know what Richie was about to ask, and did it fucking look like he could stop him? “Are you safe? Is it gonna happen again?”
“No, it won’t happen again,” Stan said, and his face collapsed. He put his hand over his eyes for a moment, echoing Bill, and then straightened, his features smoothing out. “It’s dead. It can’t get me a second time.”
“Is that what happened? It got you?” Ben asked. “Beverly said if we didn’t kill It, all of us would…We’d all die like that, one by one.”
“I saw it happen,” Bev said when Stan shot her a narrow look. “Go on. I’ll explain later.”
“I remembered everything when Mike called,” Stan continued. “Everything, all the dead kids, the blood in Bev’s bathroom, the lady with the teeth, the house on Neibolt Street, the sewer. As soon as he said, ‘It’s Mike, from Derry,’ it was like this big bloody red siren started going off in my head and it was just IT, IT, IT, IT until my mind went black. I think…I think I went insane.”
Eddie looked at Patty. She wasn’t watching Stanley, but was staring at nothing in the direction of the carpet somewhere around Eddie’s feet, her face slack. Listening to Stanley now, the anger he had felt was starting to dissipate and fall away, because he could almost…well, he could almost see how It might have gotten him too. The blackness had almost overtaken him completely after he heard Mike’s voice. If he had remembered everything right away, who the fuck knew what he would have done? But Patty didn’t know that. Patty had never come near the clown. She only knew that her husband had killed himself and left her behind and she would never have known why, and the fact that he had done it because he had been driven insane with fear couldn’t have been much of a comfort. For a moment, Eddie felt deep sympathy for Myra, who would never have known why he left and ran off to Maine to die either, but he put that guilt back in its box to think about later.
“I have to…I have to make Patty understand,” Stan said, and she and Eddie both lifted their heads. “I need her to know that this wasn’t something I was harboring underneath the surface all this time. Derry was under the surface, and maybe it was always going to come after us, but I didn’t want it to. I love my life.”
“Stan was brave,” Ben said to Patty. “Because he hated it—hell, he didn’t really believe in It, but he went into the sewers and fought It anyway.”
“I believed in It,” Stan protested. “It happened in front of me. I just didn’t understand. There has to be an explanation that makes sense, but I haven’t found one.”
“It doesn’t make sense and I don’t know that it ever will,” Mike said. “At one time I thought I could find that explanation, but I didn’t, and I’m not sure I want to now. I think if I did, it might be too much for a human mind to handle. I can live with the uncertainty. I think we have to live with it. I think that's part of our lot.”
“It defies the natural order of things,” Stan said, shaking his head. “There are rules, and It broke them.”
“I mean, It was an alien,” Richie said. “From another dimension.”
“That’s exactly what I mean,” Stan said. “I’m open to possibility. I believe a hypothetical alien could arrive on Earth, if that hypothetical alien abided by the laws of physics. I believe there could be other dimensions, but if they don’t follow the rules of this dimension, I don’t believe something from that dimension could survive here. I could never get past that. It didn’t make sense.”
“You’re right, but I think It is extradimensional,” Mike said. “We tried to destroy It with the tools that made sense to us, but in the end, that didn’t work and we had to abide by It’s rules. And even so, even though It’s gone from here, It might not be dead. I don’t know if It can be killed.”
“It’s a god,” Bill said slowly. “That’s what I felt when I was witnessing It’s arrival. That It was a g-god of some kind. Did you feel that, Mikey?”
Mike nodded. “An eater of worlds. That’s what It called Itself, and I don’t think that was hyperbole.”
“That actually makes more sense to me than if It were some random being thrown here accidentally from another universe,” Stan said. “If a thing is created—and I’m not saying we’re a deliberate creation, but if we are—then it seems to me there should also be something that can destroy it.”
“But if It’s the destroyer, that means there has to be a creator,” Eddie said.
“The turtle,” Richie, Bev, and Stan said together, and then turned to each other, wide-eyed. Outside, it began to rain in heavy sheets.
“What the fuck?” Eddie asked. Richie’s hand twitched and he reached out to Eddie, pulling himself back at the last second, but Eddie saw the movement and grabbed his hand anyway.
“I didn’t mean to say that,” Richie whispered, loudly enough for everyone to hear, though it was directed at Eddie. He had gone very pale and his arms were covered in big goose bumps. His fingers were freezing. Poor circulation is no joke, Eddie thought before he shut that panicky voice down and used both his hands to rub warmth into Richie’s skin.
“It’s okay, we’ll figure it out,” he said.
“I have a theory,” Bev said. She was curled up beside Ben, but alone in that way Eddie remembered from long ago, like she had drawn an invisible line around herself. “I—Jesus.”
“Wh—” Eddie began, but the pain in his palm startled a shout out of him instead. It was sharp, slicing through the thin layers of skin, and so familiar. He knew before he brought his hand to his face that blood would be welling up through the flayed flesh of his palm because it had happened before, because he had looked at it and away while Bill was cutting him and then—
“Grab hands,” Richie said, in the same voice he had used in the ritual, when the lights had gone out. “Bill, come here.”
Bill scrambled across the room to grab Richie, and Eddie reached for Mike before he even thought about it. During the resurrection ritual, as he had watched the light inside them reach out and create Stanley's shape in the darkness, he had thought nothing could be more powerful—but now he realized it was like a broken power line. This here, with the seven of them, was real power. The moment Stan took Bill’s hand and the circle was complete he
is in the cistern again and wonders if he ever left. He’s supposed to be here forever, isn’t he? He was supposed to die here and something got in the way, or maybe he’s been living out the last few moments of his life, as the oxygen leaves his brain, in a gorgeous fantasy where he has the love he never allowed himself to dream of and the friends of his childhood and a future open and free and beautiful.
The seven of them are watching a frozen tableau, Richie floating in the air and staring into the deadlights, eyes glazed over and mouth open like he’s dead, Eddie behind him with his arm drawn back to throw the fence post. The light is like an oil spill on a parking lot, a noxious rainbow.
“I think you have to talk to me, Stanley,” Richie says. “Go talk to me. Tell me what I have to do.”
Stan breaks free and walks toward Richie’s body, pulling him down by the foot.
“Richie,” he says, and it’s so quiet in the stillness, but Richie’s eyes clear and he looks down at Stan.
“Stanley?” he asks, his voice cracking.
“I have important things to tell you and not a lot of time, so I’m going to beep-beep you, preemptively,” Stan says.
Richie grabs for Stan’s hand and he nods, sweet and trusting as a child. “Okay. I’ll be quiet.”
“There’s a ritual,” Stan begins, and as he speaks to Richie, Eddie realizes the scene isn’t completely frozen. The clown’s eyes are moving. It’s watching the six of them, watching Stan speaking to Richie.
“It can see you, Stanley. Hurry,” Eddie cries. Stan glances over Richie’s shoulder at the Eddie whose body is captured in mid-throw.
“Time’s almost up,” Stan says. “As soon as you open your eyes, grab Eddie and run for it.”
“Stan,” Richie says, plaintive. He loves Stanley so much, Eddie thinks, loves him like no one else. There’s no jealousy in it, because he loves Stanley like no one else too.
“I know. Listen to me though. The clown is going to impale Eddie if you don’t get him out of the way immediately. Please tell me you’re paying attention to my words.”
And suddenly they’re watching it happen. As Stanley talks, the scene un-pauses—Eddie throws the fence post and it pierces the barrier of the deadlights. The clown staggers, falling back onto the cistern, which punctures It in a heavy, thick burst. Eddie remembers the elation of that moment—that he, Eddie Kaspbrak! Eddie, too scared to even say no to his wife! He—he!—saved Richie and killed It!—but this time Richie doesn’t yank him nearly off his feet and drag him to safety. This time, as Richie blinks up at him, reaches for him, his face confused and naked and wondering, the clown’s claw comes down and stabs him straight through.
It’s a very strange thing to watch his own body move independently of him, and even stranger to watch it be dealt a mortal blow, pierced like a fly by a spider, his own blood and organs splattering onto Richie. Beside him, Richie screams like he’s the one dying, and doesn’t stop screaming. Eddie wants to pull him close, but he can’t stop watching. That’s him dying. It can’t be undone. He’s going to die in minutes. No medical intervention could stop it; the claw must have destroyed his spine and at least one of his lungs, his stomach, his liver. He’s already going into shock and oh, his life is over before it's really begun. He has no future or joy or love and he's going to rot here with the clown for company—
“Yeah, I got it,” the Richie who’s speaking to Stanley says, and it all unwinds. The clown’s claw gently sets him down on top of Richie again and retracts from the hole it created in his torso. The blood and viscera disappear from Richie’s face. Eddie climbs off Richie and slides back into place, the fence post arcing back into his hand.
“Just move fast,” Stanley says, and something kicks Eddie in the solar plexus so hard he doesn’t have the breath to scream and when he opens his eyes he’s in the Uris living room again and
“Eddie,” Richie gasped, touching his shoulder, his face. He wasn’t the only one; all of them surrounded Eddie, piling onto him in the little space between him, Richie, and the coffee table. He clung to them, wondering if they were real, hoping. He could feel the hair on Richie’s arm, soft under his fingertips, feel the rug beneath his ass and the hard wood under that, feel Mike’s fingers clenched in his shirt, pulling it until it rode up his back. What was real, if not these people touching him? If all of this was just the last moments of consciousness before he winked out of existence, so be it.
“Okay,” he choked out. “I can’t breathe, guys.”
They let him go, wiping their faces. He held onto Richie, who had released him first but was trembling like they were in the Arctic, and pulled him back in to hug him hard. The way Richie had screamed for him was going to play a major role in his nightmares for the rest of his life. He had never heard anything like it.
“It didn’t happen, because of you,” he whispered.
“Because of Stanley,” Richie said.
“What did happen?” Patty asked, her voice verging on hysteria, and Eddie saw that Stan was holding her the way Richie was holding him. “You grabbed hands and froze like you were all being electrocuted, and then three seconds later you collapsed.”
“I think…we completed a circle,” Mike said slowly. “I think we were on the other side of the deadlights.”
“We have to stop doing that,” Richie said. He sounded like he was about three steps away from really breaking down, though his voice was even. Eddie was still wrapped up tight in his arms and had no intention of moving, and he didn't think Richie would let him go anyway. “I can’t do another power circle or I’m gonna blow out like a fucking Christmas light bulb.”
“Nobody else dies, okay? Promise?” Bill said. Eddie watched Mike slide his hand into Bill’s, and he watched Bill look down at their hands and turn bright red.
“No more blood oaths,” Richie said. “We’re not supernatural anymore. We’re just ordinary assholes, living our ordinary asshole lives.”
“Amen,” Bev said.
But they weren’t ordinary assholes, Eddie thought later, driving to the hotel in the lingering evening mist. They never had been and never would be. Whatever had drawn them together—and he supposed he had to include the clown in that, but there were other forces out there—they were bound fast by a love so deep and permanent it could reverse death and rewrite universes. Even if nothing extraordinary ever happened to them again, they were still living it. Richie, directing him with his phone’s GPS, messing up every third step and laughing at the fact that Eddie knew how to get there anyway, should not know him this well after they hadn’t even remembered each other for twenty-six years. The seven of them shouldn’t be able to fall together, to know each other’s movements and ways so easily.
“Hey,” he said when he and Richie had tossed their suitcases into their hotel room. “I’m gonna go talk to Bev, okay?”
“Sure,” Richie said. He had stopped trembling and let go of Eddie abruptly when Mike suggested it might be time to get a hotel and rest for the night, looking ashamed of himself, and he was jittery and overly agreeable even as he carefully kept his distance. “Get the Bill and Mike gossip from her if she has any.”
“Yes,” he said. “You saw.”
“The hand-holding? Yes. Go, talk shit about our friends, get the details,” Richie said, shooing him out.
He had seen Bev detour out into the smoking area in the courtyard as the six of them trudged down the carpeted hall, and headed in that direction. It was a little unkempt brick block, with grass pushing up between the bricks and a bunch of uncomfortable, wobbly chairs around one rusty table. Bev sat facing away from the table, her feet drawn up, smoking into the night air. It wasn’t quite foggy, but heavy and humid, and the table top was covered in beads of rain.
“Hey,” he said, pulling up a damp chair with a screech of metal.
“Hey.” She tilted her head back to smile at him. “That was a day.”
“It feels like it’s been a year packed into the last week,” he said. “This morning was a month ago.”
“I’m so tired,” she said softly. “I don’t think I’ll ever catch up.”
He waited a beat. “Bev, what were you going to say earlier, before our hands started bleeding again? You said you had a theory about something. About you and Stan and Richie.”
“It’ll keep,” she said. “I want to tell everyone at the same time.”
“Okay.” He sighed and leaned back in the chair, squirming. The courtyard smelled like smoke, but underneath it was the smell of wet earth at sundown, a smell he remembered from childhood when he would sneak out after dinner to play. It was the smell of grass stains on his knees that would itch all night, bubblegum that went tasteless after five delicious chews, the ink and paper of a comic book that stained his fingertips, the firm pressure of Richie’s arm around him while they read together in the hammock and he tried not to doze off with his head on Richie’s shoulder.
“Is Myra still calling?” Bev asked.
“Yeah,” he said. He checked his phone and raised his eyebrows. Only 33 missed calls and 89 unread texts. “I’ll have to talk to her again eventually. In person, I guess. After we’re done here, I think I have to go back to New York.”
“I’m not going back to Manhattan,” Bev said. “Not for a while anyway.”
Eddie looked up at the square of cloudy sky visible from the courtyard, lit pink from beneath by the city lights. “Did he hurt you, Bev?” he asked.
“Yes, he did,” she said, blowing out a slow, smoky breath. She always made smoking look graceful, somehow, and he wondered if she and Richie were responsible for the fact that he had never totally hated the smell of smoke, as long as it wasn’t being wafted right into his face.
He wasn’t sure what to say to her. He wanted to ask her why she had stayed, but he thought he knew pretty well, and he wanted to ask her why she was sure she had left for good, but he knew that too. Finally, he settled on, “It’s over though, right?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “It’s over with Tom. I have a feeling he’s going to try to track me down, and if he does…he’s going to get a real surprise, I think. But the problems under it all, no, I’m not sure those are over.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, uneasy.
“I mean,” she said, not looking at him, staring out into the night. “The things that got me into that relationship aren’t gone. It wasn’t always bad. If it was always bad, you wouldn’t stay, would you? There’s something that keeps you there that’s not just fear, and how do you separate the part that makes you feel good from the part that hurts you? How do you get another person to understand it, if you can’t even begin to understand it yourself?”
“You got me,” he said. “I just started to figure out what I want. I don’t think I’m really at understanding it yet.”
“What do you want, Eds?” Bev asked, focusing on him suddenly.
“I want,” he said, picking his way through it as carefully as he could. “I want someone who makes me feel safe and protects me, if I need it, but won’t decide what’s safe for me. I want someone who wants what’s best for me, because he knows who I actually am and what I want, because I tell him and he believes me.”
“Does he do that?” Her voice was teasing, in a gentle, knowing way, and he realized how completely he had given himself away.
“Yeah, he always did,” he said. He rubbed his arms, chilled even though the night was warm. “I didn’t know I could be happy before, and now it’s kind of like…I have to be careful because I could get too much of it. But how can you be too happy? Is that just the old me trying to drag me back down, or am I being really reckless and I’m gonna regret it later? Do I even know how to be moderate about this? I’m either nothing or everything and he’s going to—he’s going to—”
“He’s going to what?” Bev asked, still gentle.
“I’m too much,” Eddie said, unable to explain any further.
“No, honey,” Bev said. Her eyes, in the dim light, were loving. “You’re exactly the right amount, especially for him.”
The door opened and they both jumped, but it was just Bill. He sat at the table with them, straddling the little unsteady bench seat and sighing.
“The soon-to-be-divorced Losers are having a club meeting,” Bev said, putting out her cigarette. “You want in, Denbrough?”
“What are the membership fees like?” he asked. He sounded tired, and Eddie felt guilty for not taking the time to check in with him. They were all tired, but Bill had always seemed like the weight of a thousand worlds was resting on his shoulders and it was even worse now.
“All you have to do is talk,” Bev said.
He gave her a long, fond look. “Not my favorite thing to do.”
“Are you and Mike…?” Eddie began.
“I don’t know, Eddie,” Bill asked. “Are you and Richie?”
Eddie tried not to smile. “I don’t know, Bev, are you and Ben? Did everybody fuck their way into a relationship the other night or what?”
“No comment,” Bev said. “But Ben and I were already there.”
“Well fucking good for you,” he said. “Every time I remember our first time, I’m gonna have to remember Ben kicking me in the leg and apologizing.”
“So you and Richie really are, huh?” Bill asked.
“That’s not for me to say.” Eddie sat back in the uncomfortable chair. “You heard him earlier. I’m not putting any extra pressure on him, on top of that.”
“But you love him,” Bill said, not quite a question.
He closed his eyes, unable to stop the slow, satisfied smile from spreading this time. “Yeah,” he said. “I love him.”
He stood and took in a shaky breath, waving good night, and went inside to talk to Richie.