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I.

The first time she and Ben had sex, Beverly hadn’t really considered it sex, because there was no fucking. That was unfair of her, probably, but what could you do? It’s not like she hadn't enjoyed it. It just wasn’t the same as fucking.

And anyway the point was, that first time, she was lying flat on her back on the bed and Ben was leaning over her; they had been kissing, making out, and she’d groaned into his mouth and wriggled away from him so that she could pull her shirt over her head, and then she’d laid back. She was not wearing a bra. She was open beneath him. She was sucking in her stomach so that all of her lay flat and flawless; so that when Ben’s thumb touched her abdomen he must’ve felt only the hard tension of her muscles, and he’d said, Beverly, are you sure? Are you okay? as if he wasn’t pulling in his own stomach just as hard, as if she couldn’t fucking see it.

Beverly had laughed and thrown her head back and she could feel her hair getting tangled-up beneath her. She didn’t like it when her hair got tangled, because she didn’t have the patience to comb it out. She used to joke (to Kay, not to Tom, obviously) about cutting it all off. That could happen. Lots of shit could happen now.

“Bev?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she’d said. She was fine. She was absolutely fine, and her body was quivering with the tension of holding herself so tight. Was Ben shaking, too? Probably not. He was so strong.

His thumb crept down her abdomen again; over the dip under her taut stomach; it made her shiver; it made her drop the tension of her flexed muscles for a new tension; the one building within her, between her legs. Ben’s thumb – the rough callous of it – dragged down into the curve of her thigh until it was pressed against her trimmed-short pubic hair.

“Touch me,” Beverly said, gasping a little. “Come on!”

Ben’s face – his lovely face, half-hidden behind his beard, and damp with sweat, but he was still cute – disappeared from her field of vision as he lowered himself down, closer to her.

“Okay?” he said.

Your mouth? Oh, Christ, you would…

“Anything,” she said – God it’d been a while since anyone had –

Ben’s hot breath graced the insides of her thighs. She shivered; her toes curled.

“Yeah,” she said again, and then the lips of Ben’s precious mouth touched her body, and they were warm too; everything about him was hot and ready; his tongue in her wet cunt; Yes! her mind thrilled. He was moving on her and all of that pent-up tension was building and reaching into the sky; she was gonna explode, she was definitely gonna explode; instead she curled her fists into the blankets as the orgasm shook her.

She gripped at Ben’s hair as he was still between her legs. “Good?” He said, looking up at her. His lips were wet and red. My scent must be all over his beard, she thought. Kinda gross.

Beverly sat up and kissed him. That’s gross, too. “Yeah,” she said, still a little breathless. “Good!” She’d let go of her body during the thrill of it but now she was flexing it tight again.

“Did you like it?” she said, grinning, and she reached between his legs; she could feel him tight with need through his jeans. He groaned a little as she touched him.

“Of course I did,” Ben said, kind of breathlessly; Beverly laughed, Fuck!; she threw back her head and laughed and she ran her fingers down his chest, down his stomach, as tense-hard as hers was; she gripped his bicep and he was strong there too…

“Good,” she said, “c’mon, baby…” She undid his belt and the button on his jeans. He let her touch him but he grabbed at himself too; together their hands on his body brought him to orgasm real quick; their joined hands dripped with his cum.

“Sorry,” he said, blushingly, like it wasn’t Beverly who had undone his pants.

“Let’s go clean up,” was all Beverly said to that; she brought her hand to his chin (her scent, his scent, like messy teenagers –) and kissed him, before they both got up and showered; separately – their bodies distanced again. Back to safety and back to solitude.

 

II.

Beverly Marsh was on the phone. She was on the phone a lot, nowadays, when there was no one leaning over her shoulder; listening with one ear out for her betrayal. Ben didn’t care who she spoke to. Actually, that wasn’t true – he cared, but only because he supported her. He wanted her to talk to her friends, be it the Losers or her previous relationships. That was simultaneously liberating and absurd.

She was talking to Kay, because Kay was perhaps the only person that she knew who had any idea what she was feeling right now.

“You wouldn’t judge me too much, right?” Beverly said. “If I go full hippy and stop shaving my legs and wearing bras?” She was joking, but also, she wasn’t.

“I’d say it’s about goddamn time you do whatever the Hell you want, Bev,” Kay said, easily. “You’re a modern woman.”

“It’s 1985, though.”

“Fuck 1985,” Kay said. She laughed; it was vibrant even over the line. “Fuck Reagonomics and fuck bulky fucking shoulder pads.”

Beverly laughed, too. “Maybe I’ll shave my head.”

Now we’re talking!”

 

Beverly did not shave her head. She genuinely thought about it, which frankly said a helluva lot, but it was just Too Much. She wasn’t ready! In cowardice, she stood in the bathroom of Ben’s house and held her hair up behind her head, trying to imagine there being less of it. Her face would certainly look different without it. Good different? Bad different? Did she even care?

She gritted her teeth, because yes, she did care.

Okay Bevvie, she thought. Time to pull this band-aid off! Except she didn’t really want the pain and redness that came, inevitably, no matter how quickly you yanked.

“Beverly?” That was Ben, of course. It was his bathroom, after all. “You okay?”

“I’m good,” she said, into the mirror. She watched the shape of her mouth as she said it. I – ‘m – good, her lips formed.

“Hey,” she said, turning towards him; leaning her hip against the counter. “Ben. Who cuts your hair?”

“Um,” he said, and she watched his hand as it ran self-consciously through his dark locks. “I do. Why?”

Beverly smiled. She’d guessed right. She liked that; she liked knowing him that well.

“I want to cut my hair,” she said. “I want you to do it.”

Ben’s hand dropped to his side. “I’m not –” he attempted to protest. She smirked a little, but let him do it. “Beverly, I’m flattered, but I’m not a hair-dresser. I just crop my hair and trim my beard, I can’t –” he gestured towards her. “I can’t make it look…pretty.”

“Ben,” she said. She rocked back on her heels a little, but she felt steady – steadier than she had in quite some time. “That’s the point.

“What’s the point?”

Giving up prettiness. Except that it wasn’t. She wasn’t ready for that yet. And she couldn’t say that out loud, even if it had been true. It was too revealing to admit.

“That it won’t be perfect, or whatever. Look, either you help me do this or I’m gonna cut it all off myself with your kitchen scissors, and I’m sure you don’t want that.”

Ben was looking at her with wide eyes. “I don’t want that,” he said, eventually. “Okay. Let me get my buzzer.”

“Right now?”

“…If you want?”

She pondered it for a moment. The little voice in her head said YES but sometimes that little voice told her to jump out of windows or walk out into traffic. This impulse wasn’t hurting her, though. It was just fucking hair. It would grow back.

“Yeah,” she said. “Actually, yeah. Right-fucking-now.” She laughed.

Ben didn’t laugh, but her laughter tempted a small smile out of him. She liked that smile, a lot. When he was a kid it had shone so widely on his face; the beard covered a lot of it now, but it was still sweet.

Ben left and returned with a bulky electric razor and a hand-towel.

“How short do you want it, Beverly? Because this is really only for short crops –”

“I know. I…” she pursed her lips. “I considered shaving my head, if you can believe that. But I’ll just go short, okay?”

“How short?”

She waved a vague hand. “Your length?”

Ben touched at his own hair again. “Well, I guess I know how to do that…”

He handed her the towel, and she wrapped it around her neck.

“You’re really sure?”

“I’m sure,” Beverly said. She was oddly nervous, although – perhaps it wasn’t that odd. She leant over the sink. Ben came up softly behind her. His gentle hands curved up the side of her neck; swept her hair up and away from her head, like how she’d done in the mirror alone. She still liked how it looked, even if it made her face look sharp, pointed; turned her cheekbones into harsh lines.

“Yeah,” she said. She closed her eyes. “C’mon, Ben. Take off a lock. Break the ice.”

The razor buzzed. She felt the weight of a chunk of her hair fall away. She opened her eyes; Ben was holding a clump of red hair in his hand. He placed it gently on the counter.

“Okay?” he said.

“Yeah,” she said. She grinned, sort of wildly, at her reflection in the mirror. She watched as Ben’s reflection smiled, too. She wanted to shave his face so that she could see that smile better. She closed her eyes again.

“Chop the rest off! I mean, please do.”

That made Ben laugh a little, finally, and then his hand curved through her hair again, and she listened to the buzz and felt the weight of her curls fall away from her head. Her ears felt exposed and a little cold. She shivered, and Ben brought the razor away from her.

“Okay?” he asked again.

She opened her eyes for a second time and now her reflection was different. The cut was choppy; she looked – she looked – she had no earthly idea what she looked like. Or who she looked like. Was that Beverly Marsh, in the mirror? Perhaps it was.

“I love it,” she said. She touched the short sides of her head, feeling the prickle of the new crop.

“I’ll even it out,” Ben said, and she let him; watching each slice with her eyes open, now; blinking the falling bits of hair out of her eyes. Ben did a good job. He must’ve been doing this for a long time.

“I think it looks good,” he said, finally, and maybe a little shyly.

Beverly smiled at the mirror to see how that looked now. It was sharper, she thought. She turned away from the mirror and towards Ben. She slipped the towel off her shoulders and wrapped her arms around his neck.

“Thank you,” she said, quietly. “Really. Thanks for doing that for me.”

“Of course,” Ben said. She leaned up, and kissed him; closed-mouthed, but warmly. His hands crept up her neck, feeling the back of her head. Yes! She liked it. Oh, she did. Beverly smiled into the kiss, and she felt Ben smile back.

 

III.

Beverly Marsh was asking herself: do you love him? It was pretty fuckin’ cliché, but there she was. She had not asked this question – about Ben or about anyone – for a very long time. Since before Tom, probably. She hadn’t loved Tom, she was aware of that now, and maybe she had been back then, too. She’d wanted him, and been attracted to him, once-upon-a-time, and she’d felt some strange loyalty (although maybe it was not so strange, she was his wife, after all); and he had made her the success that she was. So. So.

Was she attracted to Ben? Yes, she was, check that box; did she want him? Yes, that too...but did she love him? Had she really loved any of the men she fucked?

The thing was that she liked Ben. She always had, though she had not, in little-kid parlance, like-liked him. He was sweet; she didn’t like when kids sniped at him; because that’s what the Losers’ Club was. They really all took a beating. She smiled a little – she’d even been nervous of Richie’s ‘Haystack’ nickname, but Ben had never seemed to mind it. He was funnier than you’d expect, even if you sort of had to drag it out of him. He was kind. He was an objectively talented and objectively successful man. He was, all in all, her friend.

Hmm. She turned it over and over in her mind. Liking was not the same as loving, but what the fuck did she know about loving? The people she’d adored most in the world were always her friends. And maybe – just maybe – that was enough.

 

IV.

Ben had his palm spread over the curve of her hip, over the little jut of bone there. So many men had placed their hand on that little curve; usually it was wider and flatter and dipped lower but see the thing was she had gained a little weight (she was not thinking about that), and now the place that he touched was different from when other people had touched it, Wow, amazing how that happens! She wriggled underneath his hand, because she liked the sensation of a hand pressing down on her like that, she always had.

“Beverly?” Ben said.

“Yeah?” The word slipped out of her like a sigh. She was not focusing on his voice. She pressed her hips up into his hand until it hurt. He moved his hand.

“Ben,” she groaned.

“What?” he said. “Bev, what –?”

“I don’t know! I want your hand back! Can’t you just touch me?”

Ben was silent above her. She forced her eyes to focus on him. His lips were parted slightly, she could tell even through the beard.

“No,” he said, but he leaned down and kissed her neck. She gripped at the back of his head, holding him there, and her fingers brushed over the bottom of his stomach, where most people were sensitive, and slid her fingers slowly, temptingly, under the waistline of his jeans. Ben sighed into her neck, and then he squirmed away from her.

“Ben –” she said; she just kept fucking saying it, his name and cut-off bits of sentences that went nowhere.

Bev,” he said, insistently; he was upright, now, on his knees. “Can’t I just –”

“No!” she said, frustration snapping up and out of her. “No! I don’t want you to use your fucking hands, Ben, I need – more – I want you to fuck me!”

Ben’s face went a flushed pink. “I –”

“What the fuck,” she said, suddenly angry – suddenly mean. “You’re not like, a virgin, right?”

“No,” Ben said. He leaned back onto his heels, so that he was as far away from her as possible without actually moving. “I’m not.”

“Then why won’t you touch me?”

“I –” Ben, soft-spoken, easy-going Ben; his eyes finally flashed in anger. Somehow that hit her; deep and piercing; she had to press her legs together to contain her reaction before it got physical. “I am touching you, Beverly, what do you –”

“Don’t fucking ask me what I want! I just told you!”

“I can’t fucking do that right now!” The intensity of Ben’s voice shocked her; but he did not sound angry, just upset.

“Christ!” She said. “Fine! I’ll do it myself!” And then her hand fumbled around beside her, and she gripped at a toy that she’d been using earlier, slamming it onto the bed-sheets – the soft bed-sheets, so this did all of nothing, but it still felt decisive.

For a moment Ben just stared down at the pink toy on her quilt.

“Bev,” he said, and then he picked it up with a loose grip.

Beverly covered her face with her hands. God, it was stupid that they were doing this mostly-naked and in bed together.

“It’s just – a toy, Kay gave it to me –”

“I know what vibrators are,” Ben said, and his finger moved to switch it on.

Oh, Beverly thought. That’s...that’s not nothing. Even just the sound of it turned her on; she was angry, but that had never been a deal-breaker for her libido, and she squirmed, pressing her thighs together again.

“Beverly?” Ben breathed.

“C’mon,” she said. “We don’t have to – yeah –”

Ben leaned down across her again. His free hand went to the plane of her hip for a second time. She wriggled under the touch as her arousal crept back in; built up even higher.

“Beverly,” he said again, desperately now.

“Yeah!” she said, “Fuck! C’mon! Please!” and then Ben’s hand slipped between her thighs; but instead of just his fingers, the toy was vibrating in his palm, and it jumped against her body.

“Fuck!” she said again, and grabbed his hand; shoved it closer – the vibrating was against her now; she could feel it on her clit Oh fuck – ‘cause it was good; it was just brutal enough to be good for her, in the way she wanted. If he wasn’t going to fuck her, this was surely the next best thing.

Beverly,” Ben said a third time, and she could hear how much he liked this too, in his voice. She looked up; for a second they met each other’s eyes. She had no idea what she looked like, but Ben’s eyes were wide, intense; his faced was flushed; he was sweating. The buzz on her clit made her eyes flutter closed, and she let her head tilt back; she moaned out her need. Her toes curled and un-curled on the sheets; she bit her own lip, hard.

Ben’s head dropped to her chest, and she felt his lips and tongue on her breasts. Yes, she thought; and moaned her approval. It all compounded; she wished he’d put a finger or two inside her but if he didn’t – she pressed at his hands again; the toy was jumping against her clit and sending sparks – very nearly too strong – through her body. Her nipples were tense and hard; Ben nipped lightly at one and she yelped in joy; gripping tight at the back of Ben’s head so he wouldn’t stop. She was doing half the work herself but who fucking cared when it felt like this? Ben’s tongue, Ben’s lips; the warmth of his forearms between her wet thighs; the toy against the most sensitive part of her. She bucked against him, again, again –

“Bite,” she gasped, hoping he’d get the picture – “C’mon, please –”

Ben’s hands didn’t move, didn’t slow the buzz of the toy, and then he listened and he bit at her nipple again; right as she pressed her fingers into her own cunt. It was enough, it was finally enough, it was good; and she half-groaned, half-yelled as she came.

Ben pulled the toy away from her and she finally realized how uneven his breath was; he was nearly gasping from where he was bent over her chest.

“Ben?” she said, when coherent thought came back to her. “Oh, God –”

“Was that –” Ben was sweating, she saw, and his face was tense. “Was that –?”

“It was good,” she said, panting a little herself, and Ben shook his head a little, like he was trying to get himself together.

“Are you okay?” she asked, belatedly. Fuck.

“Yeah,” Ben said; she looked at him. His eyes were wide; his face nervous but flushed-still with arousal. Carefully, he climbed off her.

“Uh,” he said, “I just –” he stood up off the bed, shakily. She watched with suddenly scared eyes; Christ, she’d been an ass to him and now he was – what? Running away? He was still very much keyed-up; she could see the tightness of his jeans with her own two eyes.

“Ben, hey, no, what about –” She couldn’t think of a sexy-slash-comforting way to say I’ll jerk you off and stuttered to a halt.

“That’s enough for me, Beverly,” Ben said, in that earnest way of his, and then he was backing away, retreating out the door.

Beverly closed her eyes and lay back in her own wet spot. Shit, she thought. Yep. That about summed it up.

 

V.

In the waning Chicago heat of August, Eddie and Richie came up to visit. There was no real reason for it other than they all just simply wanted to see each other again. Richie suggested it, jokingly, and then the next thing Beverly knew, Ben and Eddie were talking Serious Logistics over the phone. Beverly was glad for it. It was a nice distraction from the way her newest and best relationship was both working and not-working; the way her own nebulous desires were mysterious and disconcerting.

They all went out to dinner at a late-night restaurant-slash-bar (This place is like an expensive Applebee’s! Richie had said, delighted) and seated at that table, Beverly had learned a pretty nice lesson about how damn great it felt to see your friends happy.

Because those two looked good. Eddie in particular had blossomed; there was color in his face, and his hair was both longer and looked healthier than it had in Derry. She knew he was still healing – the brace on his injured left arm was hard to miss – but she thought he’d put on a little weight; he seemed steadier. Most of all, he simply looked happier. He smiled much more easily than he had, that night when they’d all seen each other again for the first time.

Richie hovered around Eddie like a planet circling the sun, but he seemed also to be making a conscious effort to let Eddie do things one-handed, in a way that implied to her that they were actually communicating with each other – she was not jealous, why would she be jealous?! – and when he did offer help there was a simple utilitarian easiness to it. Richie had grown out his stubble, and he was wearing glasses – a new, fashionable pair, not the ones that had cracked in the sewers. He smiled easily, too.

“So,” Richie said, after they’d all got started on their first round of drinks, “How’s everyone’s divorces going?”

Beverly watched Ben almost choke on his drink, and thumped him good-naturedly on the back.

“For God’s sake, Rich,” Eddie said, but he was laughing.

“What?” Richie grinned. “You can share first, Eds, if that makes ya more comfortable.”

“How are things going, Eddie?” Ben asked, and his gentle earnestness settled Richie back down into his seat.

Eddie smiled over the rim of his glass. “Good, I think,” he said. “Myra and I are no longer married in the eyes of the law.”

“Cheers, I’ll drink to that!” Richie tapped his glass against Eddie’s. Eddie didn’t deign that with a response, but Beverly saw that without even looking he reached over and gave Richie’s forearm a fond squeeze. They had seated themselves, she realized, so that Eddie could reach Richie with his uninjured arm.

“Are you – okay with it?” Ben asked, sort of awkwardly – his eyes flickered towards Beverly’s.

“Yes,” Eddie said. “I really am. Myra and I...well! I don’t know exactly what it was that I was expecting, but it was both easier and harder than I imagined it would be. I’m glad it’s over, mostly.”

“I’m really happy that things worked out,” Ben said, and Beverly nodded from beside him.

“Me too,” she said.

“Me three,” Richie said. His hand dipped below the table line as – she assumed – he touched lightly at the small of Eddie’s back. “He’s a free man, now. But what about you, Bevvie?”

“Oh, well, you know,” Beverly said. When she started that sentence, she wasn’t sure how it would end, but – “There’s things to be said for restraining orders,” she said, decisively.

“Fuck,” Richie said, tactless as always. “But also, Hell yeah, Bev. Keep him away from you.”

“And away from my friends,” Beverly said, thinking of Kay. “But it’s going okay. Divorce procedures can take a while when one party’s unwilling, but…I don’t know. I’m not worried about it.”

Richie nodded, sharply. “Good, Bev, that’s great. Really!”

“Yep,” she said, and held her glass out across the table until Richie bumped his own, obligingly, against it. “It’s pretty damn good. And I like being a free woman.” She gripped Ben’s forearm as it rested on the table; carefully and obviously. Eddie smiled at them both over the top of his glass.

“Freedom is nice,” he said. “Isn’t it?”

And he was right. It was.

 

She was sitting on the floor of Ben’s living room (their living room, really, but like, they hadn’t talked about it and she wasn’t exactly paying rent –) with Richie by her shoulder. She was a little drunk. She wasn’t sure why they were on the floor. Richie had wanted a smoke and so did she and they’d sat down right where they were. Her ashtray was on the floor, too.

The cigarette tasted good. Well, it didn’t, but it tasted familiar and it felt familiar too. She really was trying to cut down on smoking, but what the Hell?

“You and Eddie are doing good, huh?” She didn’t really know how to ask about their relationship without making Richie uncomfortable, but she needed to know.

Richie took a very long drag. “Yeah,” he said, eventually.

“That was a little less reassuring than I was looking for, Rich.”

He laughed. “Well, shit, Bevvie, I don’t know what it is you do want.”

“I’m asking how you’re doing, asshole, because you’re my friend.”

“Aw, shucks,” Richie said, but he smiled at her. She thought he was still a little drunk, too. There was a gentle flush across his cheeks.

“Well?”

Richie shrugged. “I just,” he said, and she heard the sudden vulnerability in his voice. “You remember my girlfriend Sandy? I told you about her?”

Beverly nodded to show him that she did remember. Richie stared down at the glowing tip of his cigarette.

“I could’ve married her. You know? So after I fucked that up, I thought...well. I don’t know what I thought at first, but I guess eventually I decided I just wasn’t really cut out for proper relationships. I mean I was out there having fun but something would always go really wrong, really fast if I ever tried to live with someone. Especially when it was with, uh...you know.” His eyes flicked over to her, then firmly away. “With. Other men. So I was scared that with Eddie…” He paused, and then shrugged.

“But it’s not like that at all,” he said, eventually, and then sucked heavily on the cigarette again.

“In a good way, right?”

He blew out a slow string of smoke. “Yeah,” he said. “In a good way.” He turned towards her and grinned; his cheeks were definitely flushed pink, now. “In a fucking fantastic way. It’s so crazy, Bev! He’s really good to me.”

You deserve that, idiot, she thought. She slung an arm around his shoulders instead of saying such a revealing thing.

“And you’re good to him too, right?”

Richie laughed. “Well, I try. I swear I feel like I’m 16 years old with him, sometimes. And you’d think he’d have all sorts of hang-ups and he does, but like, he’s so good at figuring this stuff out.”

“It takes both of you for that, I think.”

“I know,” Richie said. He leaned back against Beverly’s chest, and she laid her head on his shoulder.

Eventually, he sat up and stubbed out his half-smoked cigarette.

“How did we end up here, Bevvie?”

I have no idea. “No clue,” she said. “We’re like, proper grown-ups, now.” And yet.

“Crazy shit,” Richie said, nodding. “You ended up with the guy who wrote you that poem. And me with Eds. I never thought that would really happen.”

And that was it, wasn’t it? She couldn’t say she was jealous of what he had with Eddie without feeling like a real asshole. Richie had known what he wanted, all the way back then, and it had seemed impossible. What the fuck had she wanted, at eleven? What did she want, now? Why was every goddamn thing on Earth so unknowable?

“You okay, Bev?”

“Fine,” she said. “I’m fine. Just tired, you know?”

“Sure,” Richie said, easily. Too easily, as if he knew there was more to it but didn’t want to push. (Was she truly so transparent?) She let herself feel the simple warmth of his body; she was holding up his weight as he was holding hers. She shut her eyes, tightly, then tried to relax, looking at the insides of her own eyelids.

“Maybe it’s time to turn in,” Richie said. His voice was uncharacteristically gentle.

“Yeah,” Beverly said, blinking her eyes back open. “I guess you’re probably right.” Eddie was already asleep in Ben’s spare room; Ben himself had vanished to ‘sober up’ and she hadn’t seen him in a while. She guessed he was hiding in his bedroom, waiting for her to join him. She smiled a little to herself, at that.

She rose, achingly, to her standing height. Thirty-nine was really too old to be on the floor like they had been. She held out a hand to Richie, and he smirked as he took it.

“Can you lift me, Bevvie?” he said.

“Easily,” she said, and she pulled him up. Richie’s hand was very warm in hers, and before she could overthink it, she pulled him into a tight hug. He laughed, and wrapped his arms around her back.

“Yeah,” he said, lightly. “Me too.”

She wasn’t quite sure what he was agreeing too; she wondered, briefly, if too-many emotions were swirling confusedly in his head, too, or if it was just her – but, well, she’d take it for what it certainly was. After all this time, we do still love each other. And it really is a miracle.

 

VI.

This is what her mind sounds like; when it’s two in the morning and she can’t sleep: What are you scared of? It’s not work. You’ve never been scared of work. It was a lot of fucking work to be with Tom, but you managed that well enough, oh yes you did! So what is it? What are you so afraid of?

She rolls over and she looks at Ben, who is sleeping beside her. He’s a sound sleeper, and surprisingly unfettered when at rest. The blankets are half-off him; only a thin sheet around the slope of his shoulders. She reaches out and touches the back of his head; just the barest glance of her fingertips in his hair. He doesn’t move. She listens to the quiet sound of his breathing. She feels crazy; she feels like her mind is going far too fast, because it is. She doesn’t what to do with it. Do with what? All of it; her attraction to him; his attraction to her; his childhood crush; her…whatever this is.

She told him in Derry that their reunion gave her a second chance. That’s true. But what does it mean?

I’m used to being taken. I know that. It sounds – horrible – to put it like that but I mean – what the Hell else am I supposed to call it?

But now, she’s got to do the taking. It’s as simple as that. Ben’s not going to take her; he can’t and he won’t. So she has to… Beverly closes her eyes. She stops and she thinks. There’s got to be a better word for it; that doesn’t invoke possession. She’s going to…make this? Sculpt it? Piece together the fabrics on a mannequin and sew them together by hand?

She smiles a little to herself, opening her eyes to look into the darkness of the room. She can’t see Ben’s ceiling. When she turns to her head again, she still can’t see Ben’s face because he’s facing away from her. She likes the new image developing in her mind; in it, she and Ben are two different pieces of fabric – maybe clashing ones, maybe ones that Leviticus wouldn’t approve of – and she is holding them up to the light and she is deciding which seam patterns will look best. She remembers being 24 years old and how her hands had been sore with stitching, and suddenly – she wants that back; creating and every-fucking-thing that came with it, even the parts that hurt, because they only hurt a little, and they didn’t bruise.

Yes, Beverly Marsh thinks. I will create this! I will sew this garment together! You just fucking watch me!

 

VII.

Ben had to go to work.

Well, actually, he didn’t have to; Ben Hanscom had not held a regular job in over a decade. But he had his projects, and who was Beverly to tell him he couldn’t pursue the career that was his clear passion, just because she was taking a little break from her own?

Still, though. His home in Nebraska was so empty without him, and she had not lived on her own in a very long time. Tom’s absences had always been a relief, but even then, she’d never really known what to do with herself during them.

It was hard, sometimes. To be face to face with yourself.

 

She missed her friends, too. She’d spoken to Patty Uris the previous day, and she was growing quite fond of Stan’s lovely little wife. Patty was such a gentle person that Beverly didn’t always know how to talk to her, especially over the phone, but she still enjoyed the company.

It was late in the evening now, though, and weekday. Too late to politely call on most of her friends. Idly, she considered the fact that for Bill, it was the middle of the night or the very early morning.

Except, there was Richie. He had a radio show that went on at midnight, some nights. She couldn’t remember which nights, but – he’d probably be awake. And, well, she missed him; him in particular, after the way that they’d held each other on that Chicago visit.

 

She chose correctly. Richie picked up right away.

“Hallo?” his voice came over the line. "Whatever you're sellin', I ain't buyin', seeing as it’s past eleven and some people have jobs in the morning.”

“Not you, though,” Beverly said, laughing.

There was a brief pause. Then: “Bev?”

“Yeah, Rich, it’s me. Sorry to call so late.”

“Nah, you’re right, I don’t got shit to do in the morning.”

“Do you work tonight?”

“Nope,” he said, popping the ‘p’. “I’d already be in the studio if I did. I just can’t sleep so I came out to have myself a lil midnight snack, yanno. Honestly when the phone rang I was kinda looking forward to fucking with a telemarketer.”

“So sorry to steal that joy from you.” Beverly smiled as she said it. Talking to him was making her feel better already.

“Apology accepted. I assume there’s like, a reason you’re calling so late, though?”

She shrugged. A reason? Oh, sure, lots of them; several months’ worth.

“Beeevvie?” Richie said, stretching the first syllable of the nickname to absurd proportions.

“Nothing in particular,” she said, eventually. “It's just that Ben’s gone, so I’m bored.”

“Oh, cool. We can be lonely together!”

“Isn’t Eddie there?” she said, amused.

“He’s asleep! I miss him!”

“Cute,” she said, fondly, and she imagined Richie blushing pink in the brief beat of silence that followed.

“Whatever,” Richie said, briskly, when he had recovered from being shown affection. “Let’s talk about your ‘nothing in particular’ instead. How’s things with good ol’ Benny-boy?”

“Great,” she said automatically. “Well. I mean…”

“…Ah,” Richie said. “Okay, seriously, what’s up? You okay?”

“I’m fine,” she said. “I mean. There’s stuff. But I’m fine. It’s just…”

She paused again, and wondered how the Hell she should ask this. Oh, whatever. Bite the bullet, Beverly.

“You know how Ben kind of has…issues?”

“Haystack has issues? Well I never!” Richie said in an exaggerated voice. At least it wasn’t an accent. Yet.

“Shut up. I can’t tell if you know what I mean or not.”

“Well, I don’t know, either. I guess…” he hummed a little, over the line. “Isn’t having issues like, part of what grants you entry into the Losers’ Club?”

“Yeah, but…”

“What?”

“How the fuck do I talk to him about it? Every time I try and bring shit up he just looks at me with sad eyes and then we don’t have sex for a week!”

“Oh ew, I didn’t realize you were gonna talk about sex –”

“Grow up, Rich –”

“It’s Haystack you’re talkin’ about here!”

“Stop fucking calling him that!” She was suddenly as angry and protective as she’d been when she’d first heard Richie use the nickname. “Just fucking stop! That’s what I’m talking about! What do you think his issues are about exactly?”

She heard Richie breathe steadily on the other end of the line. “Shit,” he said, eventually. “I’m sorry. I won’t call him that anymore, okay?”

Suddenly she felt like crying, which she hated. “No, it’s – I don’t think he like, cares, but it’s just –”

“You care,” Richie said. “’Cause you’re like. A good person. It’s okay. I know I go too far sometimes.”

“Only sometimes?” she tried to joke, but her voice sounded very tense, even to her.

“Yeah, most of the time I’m perfect.”

“I just wish this wasn’t so hard. And not just on Ben’s end, either. I’m self-aware enough to acknowledge that, at least. Like I –” Oh, but what she wanted to admit was so horrible.

“Bev?”

“I don’t want to say it.”

Richie paused. “Well, I can’t force ya to. But you know I’d never repeat anything you told me in confidence, right?”

“It’s just,” she said. “Ugh, fuck.” She pressed a hand to her eyes, massaging her brow as if it would help the tension there.

“I guess I just keep…well. I wish sometimes that Ben was a little more like the other men I’ve been with, which is fucking horrible, because –” the tears were pushing out now behind her eyes; she thought Richie could probably hear it in her voice, “—because they were literally abusive and I know that. I genuinely do. And it was horrible! Tom scared the shit out of me! But still, at least then he’d be able to fucking touch me; he’d – you know –”

“I don’t know, Bev,” Richie said, quietly. “Not really.”

Her heart hurt; her head hurt. She ached all over.

“I want him to grab me by the fucking wrists and pin me to the wall and fuck me,” she said, and then it happened; she started crying, in big, gasping sobs.

“Bevvie?” Richie’s voice sounded small, and a little scared. Oh, great.

“But I can’t,” she said, between the sobs that were still shaking her. “I can’t really want that. Right?”

“I don’t –”

“Jesus fuck Rich, don’t say you don’t know –”

“Well what the fuck am I supposed to say?” his voice sounded all ragged, now, like maybe he was gonna cry too. “Beverly, I…”

He doesn’t get it because of course he doesn’t, Why would he? Beverly you are utterly and completely alone and no one will ever understand you. The voice in her head was suddenly her father’s and she gagged, reflexively. Oh, fuck. That was just her own voice again, but the damage was already done; she had to drop the phone and stagger away.

 

She flushed away her dinner down Ben’s toilet. Then, she dragged herself up and she washed her hands, rinsed her mouth, grimly and silently. In the mirror, her reflection looked like shit. She was still crying; she hadn’t stopped. She walked back to the kitchen, feeling a surreal calmness that was probably false.

“Rich?” she said, into the abandoned phone.

“Oh, thank God! What happened?”

“I threw up,” she said, quietly. “I thought about my dad and then I had to go vomit in Ben’s toilet.”

“Okay,” Richie said. “Um…do you feel better now? Shit, Bev.”

“I picked the worst person to talk to,” she said, laughing a little. Her voice was all stuffed up. “I should’ve called Mike or something.”

“Well fuck me for not being a therapist,” Richie said. His voice was rough, too. “Bev, I really don’t know what to say.”

“It’s okay. I’m just…broken.”

“Fuck off. You’re not, Beverly. Never.”

“I am, though,” she said. She slid down so that she was sitting on the floor of Ben’s kitchen. The tile floor was nice and cool beneath her free hand.

“We’re all a little broken, then. I know I’m fucking certifiable over here. Eds too.”

She laughed a little again. “I doubt that. I really do.”

“It’s true!”

“Well, maybe. I just worry that Ben and I are broken in ways that mean we can’t fit together properly, you know?”

“Yeah,” he said, softly, and this time she thought he did maybe know what she meant. “I…” there was long thoughtful pause. “I think sometimes there is stuff that doesn’t work out. Like, things that are just un-fixable. At least for now. But that doesn’t mean the whole relationship is unsalvageable.”

“I guess,” she said, tracing her finger up and down across the tiles.

“Oh,” Richie said. “I meant to say this earlier, though – it’s also okay if it doesn’t work out, yanno, right?”

“Getting mixed signals here, Tozier.”

“Aw, shuddup. I just mean…” he hesitated again. “You shouldn’t feel like you have to stay with Hay – shit, sorry, Ben – just ‘cause of his childhood crush or whatever…or how you guys hooked up in Derry and shit.”

“We did not hook up in Derry.”

“He slept in your room!”

“Yeah! Fully clothed!”

“Anyway, you’re evading what I actually said.”

She smiled, fondly, at the tiled floor. “I know. And I know what you mean. I really didn’t know for a while if this was what I wanted…I don’t…I mean I haven’t really had another relationship like this. So I wasn’t sure how it was supposed to feel.”

“But?”

“But I promise I’m not with Ben just because he wrote a poem to me when I was eleven,” she said, and a grin slipped onto her face at the mention of it. “Although that really was very cute.”

“Yeah, adorable. Gag.”

She leaned her head back against the cabinets. “Don’t be rude. I bet you wish Eddie had written you a poem.”

That made Richie laugh, like she’d hoped. “I really don’t think Eddie is a poetry kind of guy,” he said, his voice regaining that shy inflection it always had when he talked about Eddie.

“I guess not.” She felt a very deep wave of fondness for Richie suddenly; she wished she was with him in person. She wanted another goddamn hug. She wanted Ben back, too; she wanted his hands on her, gentle and light-touch – she wanted him to ask her if he could kiss her. Aw, Hell.

“Hey, Richie,” she said, after they’d let the silence hang between them for a bit.

“Yeah?”

“Thanks for talking with me.”

“Anytime, babe, you know that.”

“Ew, God, don’t ruin it by calling me ‘babe.’”

Richie actually giggled a little at that, which was cute. “Sorry, ma’am.”

“You’re literally insufferable,” she said, grinning wide again, “But I genuinely do feel better now. So, thanks.”

“I’m glad, ‘cause I feel like I just said a bunch of stupid shit.”

“I just,” she said. “I needed to talk about it.”

“You should maybe consider talking to Ben about it, too?”

“I know. Baby steps, though.”

“Yeah. Fair.”

“You can talk to me, too. About you and Eddie, or, you know. Whatever.”

“Mm,” he said, noncommittedly. She rolled her eyes to herself. “Yeah. I’m fine, though.”

“I’m sure you’re peachy. I’m just saying, you know.”

He huffed a laugh. “Thanks, Beverly.”

“Thanks, Richie.”

“Aw, you hang up first…”

“Shut up,” she said, and then she covered her mouth to yawn.

“It bedtime already?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Try and eat something, maybe?”

“You gonna mother me, now?”

“I picked it up from Eds.”

“Goodnight, Richie.”

“Goodnight, Bev,” he said, and then they let each other go. Beverly sat on Ben’s pleasantly chilly tiled kitchen floor and pressed her hand over her own heart. At least she had this, this love – even if she was broken. Even if she wasn’t. Whichever. She blinked, long and slow, and then pulled herself to her feet.

 

VIII.

Ben was only gone for all of about a week, but Beverly was still a little thrilled to see him again. She thought maybe, based on the bright grin that graced his face, that he felt the same way.

Look at him, she had thought, fondly, when he came back into her view. God. I wanna jump his bones.

In the name of propriety and not scaring him off, she had not immediately preceded into face-sucking. But she did stand up to kiss him chastely, on her tiptoes in the threshold of his house.

“Hi, Beverly,” he said, almost shyly, when they broke apart. “I know it wasn’t that long, but I missed you.”

“I missed you too,” she admitted. “I think we’ve become a little co-dependent.”

“I guess maybe the break was needed, then…”

“I didn’t say I thought it was a bad thing,” Beverly said, and she kissed him again, another soft press of the lips. She shut her eyes and let herself feel it; let herself just experience the sensation of his mouth on hers.

“It can’t be good,” Ben protested.

“Eh,” she said. “L-lllosers stick together, right?”

Ben’s eyebrows rose, aghast, and Beverly took a step back, a laugh bubbling up out of her throat.

“Bev!” he said. “Did you just – are you imitating Bill’s stutter?”

“Oh God,” she said, still giggling madly, “It just slipped out! Don’t tell him!”

Ben looked half amused, half scandalized. “Your secret is safe with me, Beverly,” he said, and his dumb deep voice was so sincere and so gentle and Beverly thought, Jesus Christ I really am in love with him.

 

“Beverly,” Ben said, tentatively. “Do you want…to talk about, I don’t know – where we’re going with this?” They were in his bed, and he was bent over her, his thumb on the jut of her hip bone once again.

Of course he’d try and do this when we’re both naked from the waist up, Beverly thought. She didn’t want to talk, and she especially didn’t want to talk when his fingers kept brushing over the sensitive strip of her lower stomach. She shivered, and then clasped a hand around the back of Ben’s neck. She pulled him down and kissed him, hungrily; opening her mouth to him. She felt the little sigh that came out of him; how he gave himself, so bodily, into the kiss.

It didn’t take particularly long, though, for him to pull away.

“I mean it, Bev,” he said, softly but with some force behind it.

“Yeah?” she said. “Where are we going? New York? Cali? Seattle? Ooh – Paris?”

That made Ben laugh a little, and he climbed off of her to lie beside her, propping his head up on one hand. He pulled at the sheets so there was some level of barrier between their bodies. She did not pout at the separation, although she was tempted to.

“You wanna travel somewhere, huh?”

“I didn’t say that, you did…” she smiled, but it was a small smile – she was trying to show that she was open to the topic.

“I’m serious, Bev,” he said.

“Sorry. I know.”

Ben bit his lip. “I guess I just want to know how to go forward.”

“Where are we going? I mean – like. Genuinely asking, here.”

Ben cocked his head a little. She knew that too much eye-contact made him nervous, so she rolled onto her side and looked at her own hands on the bed between them.

“Our relationship,” Ben said.

“If you ask me to marry you after we’ve been fucking for like two months, I’m gonna cry,” Beverly said. “And also say ‘no’.”

Ben’s eyes went comically wide and he sprung up in bed. Beverly groaned internally; she’d known he’d react like that but she couldn’t help it. Get a grip, Bevvie, one serious talk won’t kill you…probably.

“God, Bev,” Ben said. “I – I’d never –”

“Sorry,” she said, wincingly. “No, really – shit. I was just kidding.”

Ben was still sitting up in bed, staring at her intently. Her eyes dipped to his abdomen, and she looked at the ‘H’ on his stomach. Maybe he followed her gaze, because he leaned over and grabbed his shirt off the floor, pulling it back on. He sat back up, and sighed.

“Are we – dating?” He said, not looking at her face.

“I think that’s usually what they call it when two people are living together and also sleeping together,” Beverly said. “And I’m not being an ironic asshole when I say that.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Ben said.

“No, not ‘you guess,’ what the Hell would you call it?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know.” When she looked him in the eye for a quick moment he just looked so fucking lost.

She resisted all urges to snipe at him again or say anything terrible and un-funny. Christ, since when was she like this? What was this side of her?

Bev, God, what happened to building? Creating?  

“This isn’t nothing,” she said, carefully. “Not to me. And presumably not to you, either.”

Ben paused for a long time, and then he nodded. “It’s not nothing,” he said, simply.

“Right. And – well, I’d like it to continue. I know we got together under absurd circumstances, but I –” and Oh, she was going to say it, wasn’t she?

“I love you,” she said. “You know? I’m – I’m falling in love with you, Ben.”

She looked into his eyes. His lips were slightly parted.

“Oh,” he said. “I – oh.” For a horrible moment, she thought he might cry. She absolutely did not have the tools to deal with that.

Instead, he looked at her – for a quick moment, they stared into each other’s eyes like in the movies, before his gaze flicked away.

“I love you, too,” he said. “Of course I do. You already know…”

“I do,” she said, “I know.” She’d kind of wanted to say it sexily and seriously, like Han Solo with Leia, but she wasn’t Han Solo and she felt soft all over, like she was up on a cloud.

“I do know,” she said again. “But I was afraid that you didn’t know.”

“Well,” he said. “I…”

“It’s okay,” she said. She was not sure what exactly she was reassuring him about. “And…Ben…I want this to continue. I mean – it’s great bouncing around between Nebraska and Chicago and flying everywhere and messing around in hotel rooms but also it feels like all the other Losers are settling down and I don’t know, maybe they have the right idea?” It all came out of her in a sudden flood.     

“That’s what I was sort of wanting to talk about,” Ben said. She winced a little at how much she’d made him work for it. “Do you want to stay in Chicago?”

Oh, shit, Beverly thought sort of desperately, because Yeah, she’d been thinking about it a lot but she didn’t think she actually had, like, an answer. She wondered, suddenly, how this conversation had gone between Richie and Eddie…at least she and Ben didn’t live on opposite coasts.

“I don’t know,” she admitted. She almost kept her next thought to herself, but then, Ben should hear it. “I don’t…think I want to stay in Nebraska, though.”

“Okay,” Ben said, immediately. Too quickly. “That’s fine.”

“No, it’s not fine! This is your home. You’ve really made it yours.” That was true, and she really loved it for that – every silly detail; the vanity plate on his car and the counters he'd put in that were perfectly and uniquely curved because they were made for no other client other than himself. Never before had she seen a living space that so much reflected the person that lived there.

“I have,” Ben acknowledged. She looked at his hands, which were pulling almost nervously against the bed-sheets.

“And I live in a haunted house, basically,” she said, “I mean. He’s still alive, but you know. Whatever. I don’t like that place. It’s not mine. It’s…mine and Tom’s. I don’t want it.”

“Okay,” Ben said. She waited for more, but none came.

“I’m like, open to ideas,” she said.

“Oh.” His hands had twisted into fists.

“Ben, are you okay?” She was kind-of-sort-of starting to feel not-okay herself.

“Yeah,” he said. The tension built up so high that Beverly couldn’t take it; couldn’t take watching his hands in their sheets. She sat up, slowly, and then she carefully took Ben’s face up in her hands, his beard coarse beneath her fingers. She leaned in, closed her eyes, and kissed him. His lips were dry with anxiety; she wetted them with her tongue. Ben’s hands left the sheets, finally, and gripped her shoulders. She climbed forward, so that she was sitting on his lap, and looped her arms around the back of his neck.

“I guess I don’t know where the fuck we’re going,” she said, softly, when they broke the kiss. “But I’m looking forward to figuring it out.”

“Together,” she added, as Ben’s dark eyes rested on her still-exposed collarbone. “You know…as a team.”

Ben cracked a smile at that. “A team.”

“Yep. A team! A really…competent team, who’s maybe feeling a little overwhelmed right now.”

He grinned up at her, and she tightened her arms around him. “Which team member are you talking about?” he said, amused.

“I think both,” she said.

“How reassuring,” he said, softly, and pressed his head into the curve of her shoulder, sighing a little bit. Her eyes slipped shut, settling into the warmth of their embrace.

“It’s not, really,” she said, softly. “It’s terrifying. For me, too.”

“I know,” Ben said. “I’m sorry.” She kept her eyes shut, but she listened close.

“What are you apologizing for?”

“I don’t know.”

“I hate that you do that,” Beverly said. She leaned her head against his, reaching one hand to stroke through his hair. “Stop fucking apologizing.”

“We both do it,” Ben said. “Haven’t you noticed?”

Beverly let her eyes creep open. She hadn’t. “I do not!”

“You do! Just sometimes. It’s okay, Bev. I…” She watched him swallow down the I understand. That was probably good, because he didn’t.

She shifted, and sighed. The absurdity of the situation occurred to her, suddenly; that she was sitting all up in his lap in nothing but panties and a skirt pulled up ‘round her waist so that she could spread her legs. Ben had put his shirt back on, sure, but he’d done up the buttons wrong and there was a gap through which she could see his chest hair. She pressed a gentle finger to the gap; to feel the warmth of his skin.

“I think we were originally planning on doing something more fun,” she said. “Until someone derailed us.”

He grinned at her; and she liked sitting up on him like this because he was taller than her so when he had to look up at her it was nice. She felt powerful; she grabbed suddenly at his hands and set them, gently, on her exposed breasts. His fingers were warm and dry; he rubbed gently at her nipples until they stood alert.

“I told you I’ve wanted to talk about this for a while,” he said, smiling softly.

“That you did,” Beverly said. She sighed again, a little; his fingers pressed a little harder at her sensitive flesh. “And you were right to, even.”

“We can put a pin in it, though. Come back later.”

“Since we live together and all, there’s time.”

His smile was very wide, at that. “Yeah,” he said, “Since we live together.”

She had a brief and selfish urge to ask who else, if anyone, had lived with him in this house. But she didn’t know what she’d do if he told her that she was the first one, so she didn’t say it.

“Wherever that ends up taking us,” she said instead, and kissed him, firmly, on the mouth.

 

IX.

Beverly was looking at the ceiling. She did a lot of that, nowadays, for whatever reason. Well. There were reasons. She had plenty of inspiration to be a bit introspective. She frowned a little, to herself. There were great swaths of her life that she had got through by avoiding thinking about things too deeply. No self-psychoanalysis, Bev! That was her motto. She laughed a little, out loud. Stupid.

“Hmm?” Ben said beside her, sleepily. Oh, shit, see – there it was. Her relationship with Ben was still so fucking foreign that she could be lying a foot away from him, her ankles inches from his knees, and forget that he could hear her. Or forget that he was listening to her, at least.

“Just thinking,” she said. She rolled onto her side and closed her eyes briefly, breathing in deep. She liked the smell of Ben’s laundry detergent. It was very clean, and kind of floral. She almost laughed again, at the absurdity of it all. Oh, God!

“Are you asleep?”

“Obviously not,” Ben said, his voice gruff but amused.

That was the point where she could say Let’s have sex, or at the very least she could pull at him until he turned over and they could kiss. But he sounded so tired, and she realized that she didn’t really want to. Her mind was racing with thoughts – that’s just how her mind was, recently – but underneath the desperate buzz of it she could feel that she was tired, too.

Softly, she lifted one arm over Ben’s body, resting it loosely over his hips. He was under the blankets; she was not making direct contact. But it felt very good, regardless.  

“’Night, Ben,” she said, yawning. She waited for Ben to shift her arm off of him, but he didn’t. Through her barely-open eyes she watched him sort of nuzzle his head into the pillow, trying to get comfortable. It sent a little rush of giddiness to her head to watch him do it.

She didn’t understand whatever it was that Ben mumbled into the pillow, but she went ahead and assumed it was a lovely-sweet goodnight wish. Her hand stayed in its place over his hips until she, too, fell asleep.

 

X.

Ever since Richie and Eddie had stayed over with them, the house in Chicago felt too big and too empty when it was only Beverly and Ben. The two of them alone weren’t enough to fill it up; they were both too quiet and too trapped in their own little worlds. It sent a shudder up Beverly’s spine; it was not like the feeling of being watched by the beast under Derry, but it was not particularly pleasant either. That’s what she’d meant, when she said that her home was haunted; all those empty spaces got filled-up with bad memories.

If Richie was here again, she thought to herself, he’d put on a record. She and Tom had a record player, but all the records were Tom’s. She’d had records herself, once. She couldn’t really remember what happened to them. She did have her own radio, though the bulky thing was a far-cry from the little one that she and Ben had accidentally broken a long time ago in a hole in the ground. Smiling to herself at the memory, she turned on the radio and moved the dial until she found something listenable.

“What are you doing?”

She looked up; she’d not even heard Ben enter.

“Just making some noise.” She smiled up at him. “It’s either this or watch TV.” Anything to chase away those empty spaces; fill them up with something else.

Ben nodded thoughtfully. Then he smiled, and sat down quietly beside her on the floor. She blinked in pleased surprise.

“What’s your favorite music?” Ben said. “It’s weird that we don’t know those things about each other, isn’t it?”

“We’re still learning,” Beverly said. In all honesty, this was normal for her relationships. But it was sweet that he wanted to learn about her. She wanted to learn about him, too.

“Yeah,” he said. He met her eyes, briefly, and smiled.

“And anyway,” Beverly said, “I don’t know.”

“Huh?”

“I mean. I don’t know what sort of music I like.” She laughed a little. “God, that makes me sound like some sort of robot. But I guess I just…haven’t been listening to music a lot these past few years.” Few. Right.

Ben was still smiling at her, gently, even if his gaze had wandered a bit. She watched his profile; the way his eyes crinkled up.

“What do you like, Ben?”

He glanced back and shrugged. “Oh, lots of stuff, I guess. I’m not really a picky listener.”

“Do you still like rock?”

He laughed. “Of course! ‘Rock ‘n roll is here to stay / it will never die.’” He quoted the line completely deadpan; she wondered, vaguely, if he could sing at all.

“I hope you’ve moved on from the fifties, though.”

“Well, yeah! Just last year there was…have you heard Springsteen’s ‘Born in the U.S.A.?’”

“The titular song, yes. The album, no. You know, it’s fitting you’d like that. You dress like how he does on the cover.” She let her tongue peak out between her teeth when she said that; Ben’s ears went pink.

“I do not,” he said.

“A little bit.”

Ben licked his lips, and looked at her mouth. Beverly smirked.

He cleared his throat. “Well. The whole album is good. I have it, in Nebraska.”

Beverly got onto her hands and knees and prowled forward towards him. “Okay. When we get back there, I’ll listen.” She reached up a hand and ran it over Ben’s lips, down his chin. She cocked her head; his cheeks were flushed.

“You should wear a handkerchief or something in your back pocket, too,” she said, grinning. “Like that little hat he’s got. It’s hot.”

“Beverly –”

She had no idea who was playing on the radio; she was that out of touch. But there were guitars, and drums, and joyous noise. Ben was leaning back slightly away from her, but he was close enough still that his breath was ghosting against her chin.

“What?” She said. “What, Ben?”

He stared at her, wide-eyed. Then, suddenly, he surged up, and crashed their mouths together. It was perhaps the most ferocious kiss they’d ever shared; Beverly laughed in delight against his open mouth. She gripped his chin between her hands; the roughness of his newly-trimmed beard against her palms. Suddenly he was gripping her shoulders, and they were pulling each other up, rising to a standing position together.

“Yes,” Beverly whispered, her mouth barely an inch from his, sharing the gasp of his breath. His hands were still on her shoulders; she planted hers on his waist and pushed them both back, until he was up against the wall. He gasped; his head tilted backwards. His hands dropped to her elbows, gripping them tight as she pressed her fingers tight into his hips.

“Bev,” Ben said, breathless, “I – bedroom?”

“No,” she said; equally wanting for air. “Right here, Ben, I want you to – right here –”

“Jesus,” Ben said. She looked him in the eye; he let her. His pupils were blown wide with arousal. Beverly leaned in to kiss him again; she bit down hard at his lip; he groaned into her mouth.

“Yeah,” she said. His bottom lip was bright red where her teeth had been. “C’mon…” She slipped her hand under his belt and heard his huff of breath. Suddenly; Ben’s hands where on her belt, too; he slipped under her blouse and his warm fingers were pressed against her stomach. Beverly let her head tip back; she let her laugh bubble up; she let herself gasp and sigh as Ben moved against her.

“This is what you want,” Ben said, quietly, into her hair. There wasn’t enough of it to pull at anymore, and he cradled the back of her head so gently.

He wasn’t asking, just stating the fact of it. Did that mean he finally understood? No, Beverly thought – as much as she could think about anything with the tension building up within her – he didn’t and he couldn’t, just as she couldn’t really understand him. But – God, was this was people meant when they talked about sharing and compromise and making relationships work?

She laughed, again, wildly. Ben was grinning; she locked eyes with him and the grin didn’t even falter, even though there was an embarrassed flush to his cheeks, still.

“Yeah!” she said, “This is what I want!” She rubbed her thumbs over his abdomen; one of them caught briefly on the scarred lines of the ‘H’. Here’s what’s going to happen, Beverly thought, her thoughts blossoming up out of her, desperate and desperately happy. He’s gonna make love to me in the living room of my ex-husband’s house, and it will be making love because it’s Ben and that’s what he calls it, you fucking know he does. It’ll be good; it won’t go as far as I want because again this is Ben we’re talking about here, but I’ll like it anyway, because – get this! – I am genuinely, one-hundred-percent, truly in love with this man, and that is insane, it’s absurd, but it is true! Oh my God! It’s true!

She thought she might cry; her breath hitched in her throat; she slammed herself forward to kiss Ben, sloppily and hungrily and open-mouthed.

“Beverly?” Ben said – panted, really, they were both breathless.

“Yep,” she said, “All good.” Because he was asking, she knew that he was asking, and she thought – Sure, baby, ask me whenever you need and I’ll try to remember to ask you, too. God, am I doing this right? Fuck, probably not.  

It felt right, though. Or at least – it felt a helluva lot closer to right than anything in her life had in a long, long time. Ben’s thumb pressed at the corner of her mouth, his other hand exploring under her shirt, and – yeah – it felt right, it felt like hope, it felt like progress, it felt really damn good. And that, Beverly Marsh knew with a sudden sharp clarity, was more than enough for her. She closed her eyes; kissed him again, and she could feel it in the curve of his lips – he was smiling, too; they were both smiling into the kiss; because they both felt it – the love. The joyous love; the budding closeness; the hope for the future; the pure and simple happiness.

She’d created that, but not alone – so had he. Together, and headed somewhere. Who-knows-where, but somewhere. Oh! This – she was going to let herself have this. And it – was even going to be good. They would make it good.