It takes finding the fifth box labeled “Stuff” for Eddie to finally crack.
“Jesus, Rich. I thought you were just being lazy with your labeling, or maybe you forgot the rest of the English language other than "stuff," but I was so wrong,” he says from where he’s seated on the floor, the contents of the four previous “stuff” boxes spread out in piles around him like a mandala. “Did you pack last night and in the dark?”
Richie looks down at the box he’s carrying -- there’s green tape with the word “kitchen” printed on it to keep it shut, and on one of the flaps “dishes” is written in Eddie’s tight handwriting. “That’s a pretty coarse way to describe our lovemaking, Edward, and you know damn well we were at the hotel and kept the lights on.”
Richie manages to duck out of the way of the foam basketball that Eddie throws at his head, and he sets the box down on the kitchen island before walking over to where Eddie is stationed. He looks at Eddie’s handiwork, recognizing there’s a method to the madness and organization of each pile and chooses a stack of old magazines near Eddie’s hip to move so that he can sit down next to him. “And I did label it. That’s what that all is -- stuff. The shit that didn’t fit in other boxes.”
“Yes, I can see how an alarm clock, a box of tissues for The Notebook, and sneakers that are held together with tape and spite might not fit into one general category,” Eddie says, rolling his eyes. “Those are being thrown out, by the way, both the tissues and the shoes.” He points at the largest pile, which includes the offending items. “All of that is. What kind of person thinks putting something you’d put near your mucus membrane with something teeming with bacteria is a good idea?”
“And yet you’re the one who agreed to move in with me.” Richie leans over and kisses Eddie’s temple. If he catches the crinkle at the corner of Eddie’s eye and the twitch of his cheek where a smile is threatening, he doesn’t say anything. He does push up onto his knees and grabs the shoes. With somewhat surprising accuracy, he throws them in the direction of the large garbage can. They land inside with a thunk.
Richie puts on a shit-eating grin that just widens when he sees the sour look Eddie gives him, but he obeys the unspoken request-demand and walks the rest of the pile over to the trash can.
“You’re not even going to look through that stuff? What if there was something you wanted?”
“You mean the things you just accused of having the plague? Gee, I wonder.” Eddie’s brow furrows and he opens his mouth, possibly to apologize, but Richie continues. “It’s just stuff. We could probably throw it all away and I wouldn’t miss it.”
Eddie reaches into box number five and pulls out a grey hoodie, and as it clears the edge of the box, a paperback book falls out of the pocket and hits the floor.
“Except for that.” Richie says, recognizing the hoodie and the book. He walks back to Eddie, his hand extended, palm up in a “stop” signal as though he were afraid Eddie would banish them to trash pile, too. “I’m keeping that.”
Eddie picks up the book and looks at it as Richie moves back to his side on the floor. The spine is broken in places and the cover is dogeared, and the image -- a lake with mountains in the background, the blue-black sky at dusk, silhouettes of four figures walking, and the white block letters of the title, I Ran All the Way Home, and author Gordon Lachance -- brings back memories with a rush. “Dude, I remember this. Is this… is this the same book?”
“No,” Richie reaches over and takes the book from Eddie’s hand. He looks down at it, turning it over and smiling softly at the black and white author photo on the back cover. “After we squished It's heart like a moldy grape, when you were still in the coma and it was really touch and go, Bev locked me out of your room for a while. The hospital had a resale shop, and I found it.”
“It’s the same cover from when we were kids. I remember fucking loving this book.” Eddie curves his hand around Richie’s knee, partly in reassurance that they’re both really here, alive and safe, but mostly because he can and he wants to.
Richie nods and raises his eyes to look at Eddie, and he smiles. “I figured, why not keep on the trip down memory lane and reread it while I waited for you to wake up?”
That summer, the Losers had all read the book, passing it to one another once they were done with it. Richie and Eddie had read it together, stretched out on Richie’s bed or on the floor of his bedroom.
“The kids go to find a dead body, right? And there’s some Bowers-level bully? I remember debating which group was cooler.”
“We were, obviously. They didn’t defeat an evil space clown. Or have video games. Or a Bev.” Richie turns the book around again in his hands. He opens it to the last few pages. “Turns out the story is based on something that happened when the author was 12 and he wrote about it almost 30 years later.”
“So he’s the Bill of the group.”
“Mostly. Turns out Gordie Lachance was also massively in love with his best friend, who grew up to get stabbed as an adult and almost died but didn’t, and then they got together. So I kind of related, too."
“When the hell does that happen? I don’t remember that at all.”
“That’s because 13 year olds don’t read the Author’s Notes.” Richie read from the open page. “'And last, but not least, to Chris. While you say you sleep with one eye open because I killed you here, you know I will never stop thanking you for living. Nothing then or now would be here without you. You’ve probably read this story enough times to make you want to vomit, but you always read it one more time to make sure I got it right. I can do anything as long as you’re with me. First, last, and everything in between.'”
“I’d’ve probably freaked the fuck out if I’d read that when I was 13 and you were sprawled out next to me, your foot in my face, but let me tell you, at 40, it was a weird and big fucking relief to read while I was staring at your face in that hospital bed and willing you to wake up." Eddie squeezes Richie’s knee. "Those assholes are still together, too. At least according to the internet.”
“So they’re, what, 70?” Eddie tilts toward Richie. It’s been a year since Niebolt, and while his wounds have healed, he’s still moving a little slowly. Richie leans in to meet him more than halfway.
"I leave the statistics to you.” Richie cups the side of Eddie’s face and rests their foreheads together. "What do you say, Eds, think we can beat 'em?"
"That was simple math, asshole,” Eddie corrects just before Richie kisses him. “And 28 more years?” he continues, combing his fingers through the back of Richie’s hair. “Maybe by that time we’ll get through all of your stuff.”
“Yeah, I’m not going to take that bait... but look who’s talking, babe.” Richie shifts inelegantly, bumping their knees together and toeing aside Stuff box #5 as he stretches his legs out to bracket Eddie. His hands move from Eddie’s shoulders down his back and slide into the back pockets of his jeans. “Besides, this is all the stuff I need.”
“Remind me again why I love you?” Eddie’s smile cracks wide as he leans into Richie’s arms.
“Because I'm irresistible."
"Whatever you say," Eddie agrees, leaning down and kissing Richie again.
And if they find themselves holding each other tighter than usual--enough so that Richie's glasses skew off his face and Eddie can feel the phantom pull in his chest of stitches long-healed--neither of them feels the need to comment, or to let go. Richie, however, can't help but have the last word.
"Fuck if I know why. I'm just glad you do."