Bad as it was to think it, thank god Sonia Kaspbrak was already happily dead and buried because if she wasn’t, seeing her son in love with Richie Tozier might have been the thing to do her in.
And wow, fuck, Eddie had to admit that he was, he really was. How had he not let himself see it before? With every conversation and bad joke and curated playlist, Eddie realized more and more how true it had been when he’d told Richie maybe I love you. The same way thunder followed after lightning, the reality of it all didn’t really hit Eddie until the moment he was standing outside of Richie’s car in the airport parking lot and some rusty, barely used instinct was telling him kiss him, idiot, kiss him now.
On the plane to LAX he had sorted through a hundred different worries, the largest of which was what if you got it wrong? What if he’d made a bad guess, what if this thing that he’d hypothesized as love was really something else? What if he saw Richie and realized his hideous mistake, if he saw him and found nothing but an anvil in his chest?
Like Richie would probably say, he worried too much.
Because when Eddie did see him, walking through the terminal towards him, the worries seemed to slow. They stopped their relentless battering across the walls of his mind and held themselves, still and suspended. Eddie stood up, feeling shaky inside in a way that had nothing to do with what had happened to him almost half a year ago, and when Richie folded himself around him, he merely thought oh.
And then later, in the parking lot, now.
His thirteen-year-old self might have balked and keeled over, stuck his finger in his throat and made a whole show over how disgusting he found the idea of kissing Richie Tozier. But his thirteen-year-old self had been living in the grip of Sonia Kaspbrak. Sonia, who would never sit down and have a conversation about the facts of life with her son, but had a lot to say on the subject nonetheless. She just sprinkled it in between all the other warnings about remembering his jacket in case it rained and sitting further back from the TV so that he didn’t permanently damage his eyesight. You shouldn’t let other people touch you, Eddie, people are dirty.
Women like that have already ruined themselves and they just want to ruin you, too.
Men like that are confused, Eddie, they’re confused and sick and they want to make you sick, too.
Eddie sat behind the wheel of their rented SUV and watched the cars drift by on his right, the patient, lazy gliding of the clouds overhead, and thought you got a few things wrong, ma.
Richie had fallen asleep in the passenger seat – arms folded across his chest, head tilted to the side. His neck would probably be killing him later, and ordinarily Eddie would have woken him up and bothered him about grabbing the neck pillow in the backseat, but he didn’t think Richie got enough sleep to begin with and didn’t want to interrupt him finally getting some.
They were about four hours out from Atlanta, and Eddie had driven them most of the way there. After their one easy day in Arizona, they drove two long days towards Georgia, tearing across New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, pieces of the country he’d never thought to visit before. The scenery at the beginning felt like something out of a Hollywood Western, with the tall saguaros and orange mesas eventually smoothing out into rolling hills and stretching plains. For a man who’d lived most of his life between Manhattan and Queens, it was almost painfully vast, too unreal to take in. Easier to think of it as a movie set or painted backdrop.
“You really could have been a truck driver,” Richie had mused at one point when they were leaving a gas station in Arkansas, Richie loaded up with a bag of flaming hot Cheetos and a Dr. Pepper (despite Eddie’s pointed “If you drink that I’m just going to have to pull over again in an hour for you to go to the bathroom,” to which Richie had just laughed and said “Alright dad,” and then threatened to pee in the empty bottle later). Richie didn’t really seem to mind Eddie doing most of the driving – Richie liked sitting in the passenger seat, free to fuck around on his phone and control the music.
And Eddie liked driving. He’d fought an epic fight with his mother to take the test for his learner’s permit in high school – at the time, he’d thought it was the biggest fight they’d ever had, the truth of that hospital visit in Derry still obscured behind a hazy fog. And now here he was, driving with Richie to meet up with the Losers, the reason for his actual biggest fight with his mother. She would probably have blown a gasket. And I love Richie, ma, thought Eddie to himself. You remember him – you didn’t like him so much, but I guess you didn’t like any of them really. It wasn’t a happy thought exactly, but it made him smile.
Maybe he wasn’t entirely free of her, but he felt freer than he’d ever been before – and how far could any of them get, really, from the things that had molded them, the things that had left their fingerprints pressed against them? So maybe free wasn’t the right way to think of it, but there was something, he had something, with his best friend napping softly in the car beside him.
It was always you.
Eddie listened to Richie’s breathing, occasionally broken by a small snore, and wondered. Had it always been him?
If he could go back to that thirteen-year-old version of himself, would he really find a kid that was totally put off and disgusted by Richie? Or would he find a kid who wasn’t as confused as his mother insisted he was, who understood more than his mother thought he did? They were all special to him, his best friends, but Richie was the one that always stood out somehow, as though he’d been shaded in with a brighter set of colors. Eddie loved and admired the others, stood in awe of them plenty of times, but it was Richie, with his open insanity and foul-mouthed glory, that had somehow tugged at something deeper.
The same way Richie pulled at something in him now. The way Eddie felt conscious of his body near him, and the knowledge that, actually, kissing Richie Tozier was kind of great. And almost a little bit scary. It was like the opposite of an asthma
attack, everything narrowing down to a different desperate need, a type of need that Eddie had never before recognized in himself.
Even in the early days with Myra, which people described as the honeymoon phase with a suggestive wink, it hadn’t been like this. Their kisses had always been cursory, the sex somehow both an awkward admission and mundane essential. If anyone had ever asked him (and who would ever ask him), he would have said of course he was attracted to her, she was his wife for fuck’s sake, but the response would have been nothing more than a reflex.
Because it had never been like being in love with his best friend, which was what this was, cruising across the lower half of the United States, feeling nervous still but full and alive.
He drove for another hour, the sun lowering and the world narrowing to strips of white lane dividers, zipping by out of the dark and under the car, before Richie woke up. His breathing shifted, he sighed, and then Eddie saw him moving out of the corner of his eye, stretching his arms back over the seat rest and producing a satisfying crack.
“Shit,” he said, in a soft, grainy voice. “Where are we?”
“Georgia,” said Eddie. “Sleep well?”
“I think I fucked up my neck.”
“Well, that’s what happens when you fall asleep without any proper neck support.”
“Oh, thanks Dr. Oz, that’s really put everything into perspective for me.”
Eddie saw Richie stretch again, then shake his head.
“I thought we’d be there by now,” said Richie.
“It’s not like I can bend the space-time continuum.”
“No, but you do drive pretty fast.”
“I keep up with the flow of traffic.”
“You go like, twenty above the speed limit.”
“That’s the flow of traffic!”
Richie laughed and fished his phone out of the cup holder. It had continued to play music while Richie slept, and was currently cycling through a bunch of songs by some band whose singer had a wispy-droning voice that Eddie couldn’t understand a word of.
“Beverly texted,” said Richie, looking at his phone.
“What’d she say?”
“She’s asking about cars – ‘Just trying to figure out if Ben or I need to rent a car, or if that’s car rental overkill,’ ” said Richie, reading her text aloud for Eddie’s benefit. “I guess she doesn’t, right? Mike’s got his car, we’ve got this one, we’re probably all set with transportation.”
“Probably. What’s Bill doing?”
“I think that’s what she’s really asking.” Richie was talking while also tapping back a reply. “I’m not volunteering for any airport pick ups, but Ben and Bev are staying at the same hotel we are, so we can probably carpool most places.”
“Yeah, that works,” said Eddie. He’d forgotten that Ben and Bev were staying in the same hotel. Bill was staying at some other spot – no Audra this time, she was still busy with the shoot in England – and Mike had an Airbnb near the historic district.
“So in Atlanta,” said Eddie.
“Yeah?” asked Richie, still busy on his phone.
“What are we going to tell the others?”
“About us, dipshit.”
“Miracles really do come true?”
“Not what I mean.”
“I know what you mean,” said Richie. “We don’t have to tell them anything – especially if you don’t want to. I mean, look at Ben and Bev – they’ve been vague as fuck about whatever the hell is obviously going on between them.”
Eddie laughed. It wasn’t how he would have characterized it, but it was true that while it was obvious that Ben and Beverly were something, Eddie didn’t think he’d heard Bev speaking candidly about it since that day in his hospital room, a century ago. Piecing together what might exist between them was like watching a murder-mystery and trying to solve the crime before the end. There was obviously something there, but it had the same careful shyness as an artist unwilling to unveil a piece before it was completed.
“But we’re not Ben and Bev,” said Eddie.
“No – I hope you’re not holding out for a shitty haiku from me because I don’t have one.”
“Not surprised. You strike me as more of a limerick guy anyway.”
“I don’t have any limericks on hand either, but I’m sure if you gave me a minute I could figure something out for you.”
“Forget the poetry,” said Eddie. “Are we telling the others – anything?”
“Well,” said Richie. “What do you want to tell them?”
“I don’t know,” said Eddie. “It feels kind of like – like I don’t know what I would say, but I don’t mind them knowing.”
Richie exhaled hard, then laughed a little to himself. “Yeah, I know that feeling.”
“So what do you want to say?”
“I guess if you don’t mind, then I’ll share the good news.”
Eddie looked over at Richie for a moment. Only a moment, because he thought of himself as the sole competent driver in this country and he knew that looking away for even two seconds was enough time to fuck up on the road.
He suspected that it meant something different to Richie to tell the others about the tow of them. He remembered that last night in Bangor, when Richie couldn’t let Eddie leave without telling him that he was gay, tripping and struggling over his words in a very un-Richie like way. It had all been confusing and sort of surprising (which was maybe a little ironic in retrospect), but the part that had really thrown Eddie was when Richie had asked him we’re good?
As though he’d been legitimately worried that Eddie might abandon him or think less of him over it. And maybe, now, having listened to Richie’s stand up and seen his twitter following and watched enough interview clips of him on YouTube that the algorithm kept recommending more “Rich Tozier” content to him, he thought he saw a little bit more of where that question came from. But it still perplexed him. Richie was concerned with how the world saw him, while Eddie was more worried about how he could possibly stack up against that world in Richie’s eyes.
That was the small germ of doubt, what led him to wake up early and slide quietly out of bed to sit on an uncomfortable bench outside of their little rental in Arizona. What Richie seemed ready to quell, no matter Eddie’s protestations or pointed reference to the fact that he was fucked up in every which way.
They didn’t have to say anything. He could have told himself that it was stupid to say anything, that whatever was happening between him and Richie had only been going on for a week, but he felt the weakness of that defense even as he thought it. That’s not true and you know it, sniped his inner fact checker, and he had to begrudgingly concede the point. Maybe it was only now that this was out in the open between them, but what they had had been building for months, stretched back years to the days when they were kids, each other’s shining defense in a dark little town.
Eddie switched on the turn signal as he drifted into the right lane, following the traffic on I-20E towards Atlanta.
“Yeah,” he said. “You can tell them.”
It was almost like déjà vu – Mike suggesting a spot for them all to meet at for dinner in a town they’d all been summoned to. Although this time, it was Eddie who took it upon himself to make the reservations, since no one else seemed to see much of a pressing need. This, he emphasized to Richie, was one of the problems with their friend group. Four people could show up without a reservation and safely wing it. Five was pushing it, and six, in Eddie’s opinion, was outright insanity. Six people just showing up anywhere in a major city, hoping for a table on a Friday night? Insanity.
Richie didn’t entirely get it, but then he lived in a fun fantasy world where Eddie imagined waiters were willing to shove diners out before dessert in order to make room for Richie Tozier at their restaurant.
“You know I’m not like, Leonardo DiCaprio famous, right?” Richie had said when Eddie pointed this out to him.
“You are a level of famous,” Eddie had said. “More famous than me.”
“My own little pauper.”
They arrived in Atlanta late on Thursday and killed time on Friday half-exploring the downtown area, with Richie wondering what Mike was doing and Eddie theorizing that it was most likely something incredibly boring, like a statue tour of Atlanta. When it got closer to seven, they headed over to the restaurant. It was American, and all Eddie knew about it was that Mike had recommended it, which meant he’d probably discovered it through some new friend he’d made after two days in Atlanta. It would be the kind of place with three stars on Yelp and comments about mediocre service (if it even had a Yelp page), but would end up having amazing food.
Mike was waiting outside the restaurant when they arrived, and Richie grabbed him up in a huge hug that Mike returned with just as much enthusiasm. Even though he’d just seen Mike in New York, Eddie thought he looked different here in Atlanta. Maybe it was the traveling, maybe it was being free of Derry for a month, but his eyes were brighter and he stood taller.
“Eddie,” he said, grinning broadly and moving to hug him. “It’s good to see you again.”
They went into the restaurant and were led to their table; three two-tops pushed together to accommodate seating for the six of them. Bill showed up shortly after, and soon Beverly and Ben were arriving together, and then they were all standing and hugging and grinning at each other and Eddie had the brief thought that it was getting easier. Getting on a plane or driving across the country, approving time off or rescheduling events – those things weren’t easy. But the six of them sitting down together to share another dinner together – that was.
They ordered drinks and debated appetizers. They swapped stories of how the trip was and what the hotel room was like and what’s been going on and everyone, Eddie thought, looked a little bit better. Bev’s laugh was wide and open, Ben’s face a bit fuller and his voice stronger. Bill was quicker to smile, a little less of the world on his shoulders.
He was still speaking with his stutter, the intensity of which hadn’t lessened since its return in July. He explained that he’d recently bit the bullet and started going to a speech therapist again – which was another weird trip down memory lane on its own – but there wasn’t much research in the field to begin with, and his case was unprecedented.
“Most kids grow out of their stutter,” explained Bill, “Which is what I thought h-h-had… happened with me.” He smiled. “But not a lot of p-p-people lose it as a kid and then twenty years later have it come b-back.”
“Yeah, but did you tell anyone about the murder clown from space that made you forget your childhood?” asked Richie, looking serious. “Just speculating, maybe that had something to do with it?”
Bill smiled and shook his head at Richie. Beverly gave Richie an unimpressed look.
“Hey, how’s the great American road trip going, Mike?” asked Ben.
“Great,” said Mike, smiling. “It’s kind of nice to not be in Maine in February. This is practically tropical.”
“Yeah I’m sure,” said Bill. “Where to n-next?”
“Chicago eventually, right?” said Bev, smiling at him. “You promised to come visit.”
“Absolutely – but probably not Chicago for another month at least,” said Mike, “I want to drive down to Miami first, see all of Florida.”
“God, why?” said Ben.
“You gonna stop in Disney world?” asked Richie.
“Why would he stop in Disney world?” said Eddie.
“Uh, because it’s the most magical place on earth? And they have little waffles shaped like Mickey Mouse.”
“I’m trying to make my money last,” said Mike, “So I’ll probably skip Disney this time around.”
“Alright, but when you make it to Los Angeles in three years, let me know and I’ll take you to Disneyland. On me.”
“All the Disney park shit is overrated,” said Beverly.
“What?” exclaimed Richie. She shrugged.
“It’s a fucked up capitalist kiddie park where you’re not allowed to drink. And it doesn’t even have real rollercoasters.”
“Heartless,” said Richie. “Maybe Mike’s not a rollercoaster person – are you a rollercoaster guy?”
“I think I like them,” he replied. “I haven’t really been on any since I was a kid, and those were just the rickety ones they used to set up for the Canal Days festival.”
“The death traps?” said Eddie.
“The best,” said Bill, grinning.
“Oh my god,” said Richie, looking at Bill, “Remember that one summer we went together, and I won the gold fish?”
Bill exploded into laughter. Eddie glanced between them. “What?”
“He – he had this fish,” said Bill, still laughing too hard to speak.
“So I won this goldfish,” said Richie, picking up the story with a grin. “Fuck, I haven’t thought of this in – ages. Anyway so, after spending like, twenty minutes trying to win one of those ring toss games, eventually the guy running the stall just took pity on me and gave me the fish,” said Richie.
“Someone gave you a fish to go away,” said Eddie.
“Yeah, and now the only punishment-reward system I understand is one based around aquatic creatures. You should remember that.” He threw a wink at Eddie. “So anyway, I finally had this fish, but then Bill and I wanted to go on one of those roller coasters.”
“Oh no,” groaned Ben.
“So we get in the line, and I’ve gotta put the fish somewhere – ”
“Where were your parents?” asked Eddie.
“Who knows,” said Richie, “Not there. And I wasn’t going to leave my hard-earned fish in the hands of someone else, or just on the ground.”
“Richie,” said Bev.
“Sorry to tell you this, but this all already happened, Bev. Like, thirty years ago, nothing doing now.”
“So what did you do?” she asked.
“I did what any kid instinctively does, which is hide it under my shirt.”
“Oh come on!” exclaimed Eddie. “There’s no way someone doesn’t notice a kid with a bag of water stuffed under his shirt.”
“You are wildly overestimating the attention to detail these ride operators were bringing to the job,” said Richie. “I think I was standing a little hunched over, too, so my shirt kind of fell over it, and I had the bag like half-tucked into my shorts.”
“Oh no,” said Ben again.
“I remember,” said Bill, “When we g-g-got on the ride, and you – you said – ”
“Oh shit – yeah, one small step for goldfish, one giant leap for fishkind,” finished Richie, “Yeah, I thought that was really hilarious at the time.”
“Don’t tell me this fish dies on this ride, Richie,” said Bev.
“Well, I can’t swear to the cause of death,” said Richie, and there was laughter and groaning around the table, “But there was one pretty bad turn and I just remember I was suddenly wet everywhere.” He held his hands open wide. “Sort of like Eddie’s mom when – ”
“Beep beep motherfucker!” roared Eddie.
“I think you started screaming,” said Bill. “You w-w-were yelling.”
“Oh yeah! Yeah I was, shit – but everyone thought it was just part of the ride, I think. Anyway when it finally ended I was freaking out, and the little plastic bag was totally empty and my seat was all wet, and I couldn’t find the fish.”
“You couldn’t find it?” said Eddie.
“Nope. So who knows! Maybe it got free and started a new life – I mean, more likely it died somewhere under that little rollercoaster, but we’ll never know for sure.”
“Jesus,” said Ben, shaking his head. “You’re worse than that demon kid from Finding Nemo.”
“All kids are demons,” said Richie. “We all start out as little psychopaths and society has to try to make us not that.”
“Interesting theory,” said Mike.
“I’m a childless comedian, I know what I’m talking about.”
Eddie snorted, and Ben seemed to be about to add something when their entrees chose that opportune moment to arrive. The conversation was waylaid, and resumed with Bev describing the awful movie she’d watched on the plane ride to Atlanta.
It had been roughly half a year since they’d returned to Derry and each other’s lives. Half a year, and here they were again, sitting around another table, sharing another dinner, swapping new and old stories. It was still unbelievable, that they’d once been kids together, with scraped knees and crooked teeth and bicycles with playing cards pinned to the spokes, kids that had dreamed about life beyond Derry and had come out the other side. Maybe more unbelievable than the horrors they had come up against.
And maybe the only reason Eddie could look at Richie now and admit that how he felt about him was because of them. Real love, the kind that was selfless, was a lesson he had learned with his friends by the river, along the tall, sweeping grass and long, leaning bamboo shoots that clacked against each other in the breeze. The kind of love that helped someone to fashion sails and find the wind, that had started with them. He owed it to the Losers’ Club, to what would always be the seven of them.
It was as if they’d all somehow arrived at the memory of Stan, because there was a lull in the conversation and then Ben asked the table, “So what’s the plan for tomorrow?”
Mike took a sip of water before answering Ben.
“Stan’s buried at a cemetery about five miles outside of Atlanta,” he said, and Eddie felt the mood at the table shift. Stan’s buried. “I figure, we can go tomorrow morning, maybe around ten or so? His wife Patricia invited us to visit her at two.”
What a Saturday. Go visit Stan’s grave and then go see Stan’s widow. Eddie felt a familiar tightening in his chest, became sharply conscious of the feeling of his breath sucking down his throat. As he tried to listen to the table talk logistics he let his left hand drift to the pocket of his jacket, draped on the back of his chair, where he could feel the shape of his inhaler. He hadn’t used it in a long while, but he still reached for it in these moments. Just the touch of it seemed to remind him that he’d survived so far, he could probably hang on a little longer.
Eddie looked up sharply. The table was staring at him – no, not staring, just looking, looking to him.
“You all right?” asked Ben.
“Fine,” said Eddie, hoping his smile registered as more authentic than it was. “I just spaced out for a second. What did I miss?”
He felt a brief, gentle pressure in his right hand, and realized it was Richie, wrapping his hand around Eddie’s under the table.
“Well we were talking about carpooling tomorrow – Mike’s got his car, and Richie said you could drive yours,” said Ben. “If you don’t mind.”
“I said you’re a real road dog,” explained Richie with a wide grin, pitching his voice into a low, guttural drawl when he said road dog. As if that meant anything.
“What? Of course you did – yeah, I can drive tomorrow.”
“Awesome,” said Ben. “So Bev and I can head over with you guys tomorrow morning.”
Richie gave his hand a small squeeze and dropped it again. Eddie’s breathing was coming a little easier, and he was able to focus in on the conversation Ben and Mike were having about sight-seeing in Atlanta. It seemed to center around very old buildings with historical significance or very new buildings that just looked cool. Eddie caught Richie’s eye, and could read what Richie was thinking in his little smile. Nerd alert.
During the rest of dinner Eddie kept waiting for Richie to tell everyone about the two of them, to suddenly stand up and tap a fork against his glass and say attention, attention please! But he didn’t. And they didn’t stay out as late as they had in the past. Half of them had been traveling that day, and Eddie thought they all felt the pull of tomorrow and what it might take. They were doing their hugs and “see you tomorrow”s before eleven which was, for their group, almost early.
“You look good Eddie,” Bill said to him when they were all standing outside the restaurant, caught up in the trailing ends of conversations. Bill and Eddie were standing to the side of the group, and Eddie laughed.
“Do I?” he said, his voice sarcastic as he lifted his cane in his hand.
“Yeah. You do,” said Bill, smiling. “You seem happy, is all.”
If anyone else had said it to him, Eddie would have chalked it up to run-of-the-mill conversational bullshit. But it was Bill, so Eddie had to believe there was some truth, some significance. Eddie wanted to ask him what he meant – what did happy seem like on Eddie Kaspbrak’s face? But then Mike was standing by Bill, asking if he was ready, since Mike had agreed to give him a ride back to where he was staying, and they were walking off together.
Since they were all staying at the same hotel, he and Richie shared a car back with Bev and Ben, which easily evolved into them sharing one last drink together at the hotel bar. They ordered drinks and found a comfortable, out of the way spot for the four of them to sit. Part of Eddie was painfully tired and all too aware of how his bed was just one, sweet elevator trip away. But another part, some electric piece that was always going to shout wait up I’m coming after his friends, couldn’t have been more awake.
“Cheers,” said Ben when they’d all sat down, Eddie and Richie across from Ben and Beverly, and they all clinked their glasses together. Was there ever a group more dedicated to the concept of cheers?
He saw Ben and Beverly smiling at one another before drinking, and remembered Richie’s description of their relationship as vague as fuck. As if reading his mind, Richie caught his eye and raised his eyebrows before taking a sip of his own drink.
“So you guys drove here all the way from Los Angeles?” said Ben, looking between the two of them.
“Yup. Well, mostly Eddie drove all the way here from Los Angeles. He’s like an automaton,” said Richie, describing the last two days of driving, when they had put in twelve-hours on the road each day.
“Wow,” said Beverly. “I love you, Richie, but I don’t know if I could handle you in a confined space for that long.”
“I’m kind of amazed you’re both still alive,” added Ben.
“Me too,” agreed Eddie, scowling when Richie nudged him in the side.
“I thought you were going to drive down from New York,” said Beverly. She was looking at Eddie very purposefully, then turned her gaze towards Richie. “Didn’t one of you tell me that?”
“Yeah, that was the original plan,” said Richie. He glanced over at Eddie, and Eddie felt the opportunity, saw the question across Richie’s face. Eddie huffed a breath and rolled his eyes, and Richie turned back towards Ben and Beverly.
“Ben, you remember in Bangor, when I had that really beautiful, soul-baring moment where I told you I was gay?”
Ben nodded, his expression painfully genuine. “Sure.”
“Which apparently Miss Marsh here had already been speculating about.”
“No comment,” said Beverly, taking a pointed drink from her glass. Eddie stared. How much shit did Beverly always already know?
“Well here’s the sequel,” said Richie. “Not only am I definitely gay, but it turns out I am specifically, definitely gay for Eddie. And he’s at least a little gay for me, too.”
He settled comfortably back in his seat, the way Eddie was used to seeing people at work do when they had the privilege of sharing some particularly delightful eat shit news. Richie was grinning, and Eddie didn’t see a trace of second-guessing in it. Just a broad, in-your-face unapologetic smile, and Eddie’s heart was beating hard but for once he wasn’t concerned about an impending heart attack.
Ben instinctively laughed in a come on Richie way, the way they were all used to doing when Richie made a joke that wasn’t very good or they didn’t quite get. Beverly arched one elegant eyebrow and looked over at Eddie, who shrugged and couldn’t help but smile. When she smiled back at him, he felt a relief he hadn’t been anticipating.
“Hey babe,” said Richie to Eddie, nodding his head towards Ben. “You just gonna let him laugh at us like this?”
“Babe?” repeated Eddie, as though he’d just bitten into something bad.
“It’s a term of endearment, because I endear you.”
“That’s not how that word works.”
“Okay Mrs. Merriam-Webster, so you’re cool with this jock laughing at us?”
“I don’t know, it’s kind of a funny situation.”
“Oh, now he gets a sense of humor.”
“I’ve always had a sense of humor, and if you ever said anything funny you’d know that.”
“Gosh you’re a sweetheart.”
Beverly nudged Ben in the side and was giving him a rather pointed look. The laugh on his face evaporated instantly and he looked back over at Richie and Eddie.
“Oh – wait, you’re serious? Uh… oh, wow, I’m sorry.”
“Thank you for your condolences,” said Eddie.
“Oh shit!” laughed Richie, shoving Eddie lightly. “Eds gets off a good one!”
Eddie hadn’t heard those words out of Richie’s mouth in over twenty-seven years, and suddenly he was laughing – they were all laughing, this small delegation of the Losers’ club, participating in the time honored tradition of cracking up over Richie being an idiot.
“So, wait,” said Ben when the laughter had subsided. He looked happy but slightly confused, the same way a dog looked when someone only mimed throwing a ball. “Eddie… you?”
“Yeah,” said Eddie, holding his hands palm up in a what can you do gesture. “I tried to talk Richie out of it.”
“That is Edward’s charming way of saying you guys will not be running unopposed for cutest couple from The Losers’ club this year,” said Richie, taking a sip of his drink. “Sorry guys.”
“Oh,” said Ben, looking towards Beverly, then back across the table, then quickly back to Beverly. “That’s not – we – wait, uh – ”
Beverly placed a hand on Ben’s arm and said “Ben,” in a tone that suggested she loved him dearly but could do without his careful fumbling just then.
Richie leaned in towards Eddie and in a loud stage whisper said, “I know we got a late start, but I think we’ve got cutest couple in the bag.”
“Beep beep Richie,” replied Eddie idly.
Beverly laughed and shook her head. “Oh my god – you guys are like high schoolers.”
“You guys? What did I do?” exclaimed Eddie.
“You threw your lot in with me,” said Richie, throwing his arm over Eddie’s neck in what could be construed as a gentle chokehold.
“Get off me!”
“See, he loves me.”
“I do see,” said Beverly, barely holding back a smile. Eddie shoved Richie’s arm off of him and Richie winked.
“I’m happy for you,” she said.
“Yeah,” said Ben, still looking as though he was trying to figure out which word he’d gotten wrong on the crossword. “How – how did that happen?”
“It’s a beautiful story,” said Richie, “That involves me pouring my guts out, both in the metaphorical and literal sense because I did throw up behind a dumpster.”
“Gross, dude,” muttered Eddie.
“We have waded through the same sewer system twice in our lives now,” said Richie. “How can your tolerance for grossness not be higher?”
“That’s why it’s higher,” said Eddie. “I have had more than enough grossness for twenty fucking lifetimes. I’m done with that shit – in the metaphorical and literal sense.”
“I’m with Eddie,” said Beverly. “I’m also done with that shit.”
“I thought this was about how you guys got together,” said Ben.
Richie grinned at him. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”
“Richie,” said Eddie.
“Okay,” said Beverly, leaning back in her seat and raising an eyebrow at them. “What do you want to know?”
Ben was looking at Beverly with an incredible tenderness which suggested that even though Richie and Eddie were also his dear friends, he would happily flip over this table and kick their asses if that’s what Beverly asked him to do.
“What’s going on with you guys?” asked Richie, and it was only then that it occurred to Eddie that Richie might be a gossip hound. Unbelievable. “I mean, I know, but I also have no fucking idea.”
Beverly smiled at him. “That’s partially by design.”
“Bev,” said Ben. Somehow he put a question, an assurance, a confession, all in the single, soft syllable of her name. She put her hand on his knee, and Eddie realized it was the most intimate gesture that he had seen pass between them since Ben had taken her cold hands in his own that night after he and Beverly had come back inside from stargazing.
“What do you want – to hear me say that we’re a couple?” asked Beverly. “We’re together – I love him,” she added, and Ben’s expression was so sweet that it almost hurt to look at him. “That’s really all there is to it. I guess we’ve been a little cryptic because we’ve been taking things slow, because – because I need to take things slow.”
“It’s good for both of us,” said Ben. She slipped him a look, the dimple in her cheek giving away the smile.
“He’s been very patient,” she said, then looked back over at Eddie. “It’s possible I might be trying the therapy thing again.”
“Really?” said Eddie, and then, realizing that probably wasn’t the most supportive response, added, “I mean, that’s good, that sounds good.”
“Well, we’ll see, I guess – again.” She tipped back the rest of her drink. “Are you satisfied Richie?”
“I love any conversation that starts with my dating life and ends with someone else going to therapy,” said Richie.
“Beep beep Richie,” said Beverly, laughing.
Richie shook his head, smiled up at the ceiling. “Everyone’s a critic.”
It was after midnight when they finally went back up to their room, and Eddie was wondering if the gin and tonic he’d had at the bar had been one drink too much or just enough. The moment they got into their room, he closed the door behind him and turned around for Richie to take his head in his hands and kiss him. Eddie was tired, and still a shower and teeth-brushing and a half-assed version of the stretches he’d been doing before bed away from sleep. He was tired and maybe a little tipsy but it just felt so good to stand in the entry way of their hotel room, to let all his thoughts and worries drift like so much silt to the bottom of his mind as Richie kissed him. They could have been standing there for one minute or one hour, but eventually Richie pulled his head back a little.
“I gotta shower,” he said, “You want to go first?”
“No,” murmured Eddie, feeling dazed, feeling some other kind of high that even the painkillers had never brought on. “You go.”
“Okay. I’ll be quick.” He bent to press his lips to Eddie’s once again, then headed off towards the bathroom, leaving Eddie with the quiet, toasty hum of the room’s heater.
It had never felt like this with anybody. It still felt like some sort of romcom cliché to think it, but the language of cliché was all he had to grasp for in that moment. It had never felt like this before.
Richie showered and Eddie went into the bathroom after him, grabbing his pajamas so that he could dress afterwards. Which really meant so that he wouldn’t have to dress in the same room as Richie, so that Richie wouldn’t see him.
Great plan, he thought to himself as he stepped into the shower. Entirely sustainable. Because if the lingering effect of that one kiss in the entryway was any indication, it wasn’t. He could look at Richie and it was like the careful, excessively cautious person that usually ran the show in his head had fallen through an elevator shaft and been replaced by some crazy new guy who was dying to see how two emotionally damaged men in their early forties figured out sex with each other for the first time.
The problem he kept coming back to, what made him wary and undress behind half-closed doors and pull back in Arizona, was himself. If his body was a car, he figured at this point it’d be the kind you couldn’t even trade in for parts. It hurt and moved differently now and he didn’t always understand the why of that. And that was just under the hood. The outside was another story. He’d never thought of himself as handsome anyway – definitely no Ben Hanscom – and getting pulverized by a spider-shaped nightmare had not improved matters. Not wanting to look at himself was one thing. But assuming that someone else would want to?
I’m less scared with you.
Somewhere in their dark, little hometown in Maine, if that bridge was still standing, his and Richie’s initials were carved into that wood. What a strange and tender thing to consider, to fold in that Richie who’d secretly knelt along the bridge, along with the loud and rude asshole who had never stopped making jokes about Eddie’s mom. That was what trust really was, maybe, believing in the secret scenes they all carried in each other without knowing what they were.
And now Eddie knew this one. He stepped out of the shower and dried himself off, tugging on his pajama pants and pausing before putting on his shirt. The bathroom mirror was fogged up from the steam from the shower, and Eddie was just a fuzzy beige shape in it. No nervy face with the permanent scar on his cheek, no obvious slope to his stance, no marked back and torso to remind Eddie how deep the damage went. He thought about Richie as a kid, scared and confused but determined to leave one little mark, one little secret that was a declaration and a fuck you to a town that had been grinding all of them under its heel since day one. He wished he had known that kid better then.
Like how Richie probably wanted to know Eddie better now, if Eddie would just trust him.
He left his gray sleep shirt folded neatly on the counter beside the sink and walked out of the bathroom. The heat was on but it was chillier in the room after the sauna-like warmth from the bathroom, and Eddie felt the change in temperature in the prickle that rushed up his arms and across his chest. Richie was sitting on the hotel bed in a faded t-shirt and boxers, his hair damp and face slightly stubbled, flipping through channels on the TV. He looked over when he heard the bathroom door open, and seemed about to say something, but whatever undoubtedly hilarious comment he’d had at the ready slipped away when he realized he was being greeted with the singular sight of Eddie, sans shirt. Eddie stared towards the ceiling.
“I told you,” he said, heat flooding along his neck and up his cheeks. “It’s not pretty.”
“Is that – ” said Richie, and Eddie was surprised by the way Richie sounded, his voice slightly choked, and Eddie made himself lower his gaze to meet his eyes. Richie was looking at the scarred tangle across his chest, the mottled, dimpled result of doctors doing their best to apply surgery and schooling to a lethal attack from a monster that their science would never know, and Richie would know that. Richie was one of five other people in the world who could look at Eddie’s body and really understand what havoc had been laid across it, and Eddie didn’t know if that was too much to ask of someone, too much to put in front of them every day.
But then Richie shoved himself off the bed and was in front of him in a second. He rested his hands on Eddie’s bare arms, and Eddie felt the pressure of each finger like a circuit being completed. Richie was smiling at him, and it was kind and unreserved and entirely for him.
“Eds. You’re a total babe.”
“Oh my god, shut up.”
“I’m serious! With these kickass scars?”
“Very hot,” said Richie, bending down to kiss him, and Eddie kissed him back. This part was still a little unnerving – not the notion of kissing Richie, but how badly he wanted to. The way his body was like a thing straining at the end of a leash, and it was here, now, with Richie’s hands on his arms and his lips pressed against Eddie’s, that Eddie realized there was no reason to hold onto anything. He could let go.
Richie’s hand fell from his shoulder and slid across Eddie’s chest, tracing the landscape of skin where sensation lessened, and Eddie needed more of it. He wrapped his own arms around Richie and pulled Richie towards him, hard and sudden enough to cause Richie to make a slight noise of surprise in his mouth.
When Eddie’s hands went under the fabric of Richie’s shirt, Richie pulled back for a second, keeping his own hands on Eddie’s arms but breaking the kiss for a moment.
“Woah woah woah,” he said. “Is this – is this happening now?”
“Yes,” said Eddie, emphasizing the point with a kiss. “Take your shirt off.”
“Okay – it’s just that, you like almost had a panic attack the other day – ”
Eddie made an aggravated noise. “Does it look like I’m having a panic attack now?”
“I don’t know, you know, I’m not a professional – ”
It wasn’t in Richie’s nature to take the hint to shut up; Eddie kissed him again, sliding his hands across the skin of Richie’s stomach, and soon the shirt was gone. Since Richie hadn’t been waging an internal self-hating war of the same variety Eddie had, Eddie had actually seen Richie shirtless a small handful of times over the past few days. Those had been small moments, Richie tugging off his sleep shirt after brushing his teeth in the morning, standing over a hamper full of clean laundry and digging around for something to wear.
It hadn’t been like this moment, the past and the future hazy concepts, blurry and lost against the pressing need of now. What it was to feel Richie’s skin against his and understand Richie’s body as something to hold, to touch, to steer.
Richie seemed caught between a desire to keep kissing every part of Eddie and an equally pressing need to continue offering his commentary on unfolding events. Since Eddie didn’t need a play by play of the foreplay that he was a direct participant in, he did his best to encourage Richie to keep his mouth otherwise occupied, either by kissing him or immediately cutting him off with a loving “Shut up.”
Although he had to put a hard pause on proceedings when they were back on the bed, almost fully undressed, and Eddie noticed that Richie had left the television on a channel that was running an old episode of Full House. He point blank refused to continue until the child Olsen twins were off screen.
“Just turn it off!” Eddie said as Richie flipped through channels.
“Okay, but – fine, hang on,” said Richie, and then Eddie had to wait for him to pull out his phone and cue up some playlist full of more songs by bands he didn’t recognize.
“I don’t like silence,” said Richie, which Eddie rolled his eyes at before slipping his hand around the back of Richie’s neck and pulling him closer to him. He didn’t care about the music drifting out from the cellphone lying on the bedside table. He didn’t care about potential bedbugs or recycled air coming through the vents or norovirus living on the remote control. He didn’t care about the divorce mediator and realtor and work waiting for him in Manhattan, the doctors and follow-ups and prescriptions still ahead. He didn’t care about the lies or twisted love or lurking, shambling basement monsters that waited behind.
He only cared about Richie caring about him. There was light laughter and sniping and hard breaths, but no room for fear between them then. Just sweetness, just holding the man who had been the boy that had knelt by that old bridge in Derry, Maine, fearfully looking over his shoulder to make sure he was still alone. Holding that man who’d grown from that boy and assure him he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be alone again, not while Eddie Kaspbrak was living and breathing and bitching and remembering him with a fast determination. And Richie seemed to answer in kind, me too, me too, I’ll never forget you again, either.
“Okay,” said Richie later, his head resting against Eddie’s arm and his gaze looking off towards the ceiling. “For the record, just between you and me, you don’t make the same sounds chopping onions and having sex.”
“Oh my fucking god.”
Richie cackled. Eddie tried to sit up, and Richie pulled him back down, ignoring Eddie’s protestations about how he had to go shower again now and kissed him. All the maniacal little gears and whistles and conveyor belts that lived in Eddie slowed at that kiss, and there was a pleasant stillness within him. A calm, like the type of quiet morning that made room for birdsong and small living things. Peace, that made room for love.
Or maybe he was just that perfect mix of exhausted and happy. He fell asleep that night curved around Richie, his arm thrown over him and Richie’s right hand resting over his own. Nights were often the worst – the truth came sharper in the pressing, silent dark when he was all alone. The knowledge that death was coming, that it could be then, his body could stop, his heart could just quit.
That night, in a moderately priced hotel in Atlanta, the fears weren’t any less real, but their inevitability didn’t seem so cutting with his body curved against Richie’s, feeling the weight and rise and heat of Richie beside him. He breathed in deeply, and sleep crept across them.
Patricia Uris lived in a well-kept, two-story bungalow in an expensive neighborhood in Atlanta. The window frames were brightly painted, the front porch accented by a tasteful selection of patio furniture and unmarked by clutter. A trim row of hedges sat below the porch, and the neatly kept yard was outlined by a small wooden fence.
Eddie parked in an empty spot across the street, and for a moment the four of them – him, Richie, Bev, and Ben – just sat in the car, all of them looking at the house that Stanley had bought and lived in. From Stan’s grave to Stan’s house. A minute later and Mike’s car appeared around the corner and parked a few cars behind them.
“Well,” said Ben from the backseat. “You guys ready?”
“Guess so,” said Richie, and they got out of the car. Eddie took his cane – he didn’t imagine that their time with Patricia would involve much standing, but just in case. Their earlier trip to the graveyard already had him running low.
They rejoined Mike and Bill, and instinctively moved to let Mike lead the way through the quaint little wooden gate, up the brick walkway and across the porch. Mike opened the screen door, knocked on the heavy, wooden front door, and Eddie almost thought this was all a mistake. Mike had told them that Patricia hadn’t moved, and Eddie had to wonder what that was like. He remembered the first night in his apartment without Myra, unable to sleep in their bedroom, and that had been after igniting a divorce that he had wanted. What was it like to live in the home that your husband had killed himself in?
The front door opened. A woman stood on the other side of the screen door, her curly brown hair, marked with strands of silver, clipped back from her forehead. She wore dark slacks and a sweater, the kind of outfit that Eddie didn’t imagine she would be wearing if she had been planning on spending her Saturday afternoon alone. Or maybe she would have – he didn’t know this woman. Her face was hard, wary, and it reminded Eddie of one of his high school English teachers, the one who made gum-chewing students spit the gum out directly into her hand.
“Hi Mrs. Uris,” said Mike, waving a little. “I’m Mike, we spoke on the phone.”
“Oh! Mike!” she said, her expression transforming from searching to a smile, and everything else in her face changed with it. She opened the door and stood back. “You must be all the friends – please, come in.”
Patricia Uris – who insisted on them calling her Patty – moved like a person for whom hospitality wasn’t a natural instinct, but wished it was. She greeted them as though she’d been waiting a long time for their visit, and shook each of their hands, guiding them inside. The house had a bright and clean, almost lemony scent to it.
“Please, come into the kitchen,” she said. “I can take your coats, or if you want to hang your jackets here – you can keep your shoes on – it’s so good of you to come.”
Eddie caught Richie’s eye, and Richie raised his eyebrows as if to say well, we’re in it now. Eddie worried suddenly that they were too much, there were too many of them, big and crowded in this home that had held only two people for a long time. Maybe Richie saw it, because he smiled at him and gave his hand a quick squeeze before they filed into the kitchen.
The kitchen was clean and spacious, opening right into the dining room. A beautiful light wooden table, large enough to accommodate all of them, took up the majority of the dining room, gleaming in the sunlight let in by the French doors that led out to the backyard.
There was a coffee cake resting on a plate on the kitchen counter, next to a modest store-bought veggie tray. The heady scent of fresh coffee filled the room, and Eddie saw the full 12-cup coffee pot by the sink. It felt like a visit out of another time, the way Eddie’s aunts always prepared for him and his mother when they made a day trip out to see them in Haven or Bangor, greeting them with coffee and stale pastries.
There were bits of childish artwork hanging from the fridge, and for a moment Eddie’s heart skipped a fearful beat at the nonsensical thought that Stan might have had kids, even though he knew he hadn’t. Beverly actually walked over to touch one of the drawings, holding the corner gently between her thumb and forefinger.
“This is cute,” she said.
“Oh, my students,” said Patricia. “I teach third graders.”
“Impressive,” said Beverly, turning away from the refrigerator. “I’m really bad with kids, so I’m always extra amazed by teachers.”
“Well, they’re private school third graders, so they’re not that bad. At least not to me. Please, please sit! I stopped by the bakery this morning, if anyone would like some cake. Or if you want anything to drink, I have coffee, water, tea, milk.”
It was surreal, sitting at Stan’s dining room table with a fresh slice of coffee cake and a cup of coffee, presented on a matching plate and saucer, and no Stan. Patricia was an insistent host, making everyone sit down as she brought things to the table. It was only after everyone else had a plate or cup or both in front of them, and the veggie tray had been repositioned to the center of the table, that she sat with them, having served herself a small cup of tea.
“Thank you, again, for having us,” said Mike, “I know the circumstances aren’t… they aren’t what we would want them to be.”
She looked up from her tea to all of them, and Eddie was reminded that this was a woman mourning a husband who hadn’t been dead a full year yet.
“No,” she said, her voice firm, “But I’m glad you came. It’s nice to meet old friends of Stan’s… He never talked about that time, growing up in Maine. I knew he was from there, but that’s all really. He didn’t really mention any of you – other than you, Bill.”
They all reacted a little at that. Eddie started, Richie coughed on a piece of cake, and Bill’s eyebrows went up.
“He did? Me?”
Patricia nodded. “He read all your books. There’s a shelf in his study with all of them – I tried one, but, it wasn’t exactly my thing. No offense, it’s just not my usual genre.”
“It’s okay – I can’t read them either,” said Eddie.
She smiled at him.
“But he m-m-mentioned me?” said Bill. “He said he knew me?”
“Yes… well, he only brought it up once or twice, and I didn’t really think much of it when he did. He would just get excited when he got a new book of yours, as though he was almost remembering it all over again, and he said how proud he was of you.” She took a sip of tea. “I don’t know though. One time I asked him if he had tried to reach out to you, since he knew you, and he looked at me like he didn’t know what I was talking about. So I didn’t mention it again. I mean, he did say before that it was all a long time ago. And I barely know anyone from high school even. It’s amazing that you’ve all kept in touch.”
“Yeah. Well,” said Bill, “It really only happened sort of recently… all of us g-g-getting back in touch. I wish it h-h-had… happened a little sooner.”
“Patricia,” said Bev, cutting off the silence that was threatening to creep up. “How did you and Stan meet?”
Patricia smiled, and it was a little shy but entirely eager. Eddie felt a sudden pang, the wrongness of meeting Stan’s wife without him there to introduce her himself, to be the one to tell them this story.
But she told them about Stan, and they met their friend again through the romance he’d lived with his wife. She spoke of him with a sweet pride, and it made her sweeter as she told it. She described meeting him in college, how even then she could see the man he would become, one who appeared unassuming but was clever and ambitious, kind and practical. One who would strike out on his own and start his own firm on the advice of nobody, going on to become one of the most successful accountants in the state. He had a particular sense of humor, the type no one else seemed to get but always made her laugh. She told them about how she discovered a love for travel with him, and the big trips they would take every summer, the one they had planned to Buenos Aires before – what had happened. While she spoke, tears started to well up in the corner of her eyes, though her voice never changed in pitch and tone. She was slightly surprised when Beverly reached into her purse and pulled out a tissue from a small pack for her.
“Oh,” she said, touching her hand to her face. “I’m sorry. I don’t even realize, half the time.”
“Please,” said Beverly, and her own eyes were glassy. “Don’t apologize.”
Eddie looked over to his right where Richie was sitting, and saw the line of Richie’s mouth screwed up in a way that suggested he was also trying not to cry.
“It’s so good of you to come,” said Patricia again, wiping at her face with the tissue. She took a sip of her tea. “You went to see him this morning?”
Eddie glanced instinctively towards Bill. Bill was the writer, the storyteller, the describer of the indescribable. Eddie didn’t know how he would explain the feeling of what it had been like for the six of them to come together in that sprawling cemetery that morning, searching through the rows of tombstones until they came to a polished granite marker that had STANLEY URIS etched into it. He knew that before they had arrived he had worried at how they were going to spend their whole morning in a graveyard. He continued to worry when they all came to stand around Stan’s grave, the grave staring blankly back at them.
But then Richie had started talking, recalling a moment from Stan’s Bar Mitzvah. Eddie told the story about the weekend camping trip he’d missed out on, and the rock Stan had brought back for him. And then they were all sharing memories and recollections, some of them events that they’d all been there for, others smaller, more intimate memories, pieces of time that had just been between them and Stan. He was so careful. He always listened, you wouldn’t even realize anyone had been paying attention to what you were saying until Stan brought it up again. He had the weirdest sense of humor. He was a hell of a kid – I hope he was happy. I hope he felt some peace. And the unspoken – I wish it had never happened. I wish he had come back.
There was one stone on top of Stan’s grave when they arrived. Before they left, they had each added another one.
“We did it, Stan,” Mike had said softly as he laid his rock on top of the tombstone. And then something else, too soft for Eddie to catch it.
Leaving that graveyard, it had fully begun to sink in that Stan was dead. Sitting in this house though, Eddie saw the way that he had lived.
“We did,” Bill said to answer Patricia’s question. “I think it was… g-good to see him.”
He hesitated, and then started to tell her about the reminiscing. Then they were sharing the same stories they’d traded around his gravestone that morning, but it was different here, telling them to Patricia, who listened rapt to stories that were new to her. She asked questions, and laughed in surprise, and almost became tearful again when Richie retold the scene from Stan’s Bar Mitzvah.
“There wasn’t a big Jewish community in Derry,” Richie added. “And most kids were assholes to anyone who was kind of different – that’s sort of how we all became friends in the first place, actually. And I think, you know, I think it was only because of that that none of us really turned into assholes.”
“Richie,” said Eddie.
“Right, I guess I still did.”
“Sorry. I’m trying to say… life wasn’t always easy in Derry. But Stan was tough. Tough but… he didn’t let that make him any less good.”
Patricia smiled. “He was. People didn’t always see it. But he was tough. I think… I think he had survived a lot, things he couldn’t talk about.” She took a breath, shuddered a little on the exhale.
She wasn’t just saying this; she was asking them. Eddie felt the truth of her words sink through him, through all of them, and he wished he had some answer to give to her. But there was no explanation, or nothing to offer that soothing illusion of closure anyway. Eddie knew why Stan had decided to turn in his keys and check out early. He knew the full truth of the thing that Stan had rather died than face again. And it didn’t make any of this any easier.
“The p-place we’re from,” said Bill quietly. “It w-wasn’t an easy p-place to… survive.”
Patricia nodded, as though this was an answer.
Outside the sun was starting its early descent, streaking gold through the windows and across the table. It would probably be time to leave soon. But there was a feeling, sitting in the dining room, an atmosphere, a something that brushed against when they were kids and what they had been together. Stan wasn’t there. But Patricia was, and Stan had loved her, and built a life with her in this house. As the day drew towards a close, Eddie started to feel less like he was walking into another graveyard and more like he was visiting a friend’s home.
“I’m glad you came,” said Patricia, smiling. “It’s nice to talk about him… some people are so nervous to mention anything about him to me. I understand it, of course. I think they’re worried they’ll hurt me if they bring him up, but I’m thinking about him all the time. There’s nothing they could say that would make it worse – sorry. I’m not sure what I’m talking about now.”
“No,” said Bill, his voice gentle. “I know what you mean.”
She hugged each of them as they left, pulling them close to her with a strength that belied her petite frame. Eddie didn’t realize how sad he felt to be leaving until she released him from her hug and smiled up at him. The sky was an inky blue-black as they left, and the street lamps had lit up on the block. When Eddie walked down the brick pathway and through the gate he stopped to look back at Stan’s house. It was a quiet house on a well-kept street in an affluent suburb. A married couple, an accountant and a third-grade teacher, had lived in it. Now it was just the teacher. It was all so mundane. It should have been so mundane.
“Hey. You okay?” asked Richie. He’d come to stand beside him and was looking at him with light concern.
“Are you?” asked Eddie, because now there were tear tracks over Richie’s cheeks.
“What, this?” asked Richie, rubbing the heel of his hand against his eyes. “No relation to visiting our dead friend’s widow, I’ll tell you that.”
Eddie offered his hand toward him, and Richie smiled and took it. The best days of summer lived in Richie’s smile.
Mundanity was a victory. After conquering the obscene, after enduring a horror that was never going to free its claws from them, not really, maybe there was a kind of satisfaction in making it back to day-to-day existence. Eddie threaded his fingers within Richie’s and thought that he would be fine with being unremarkable, happy to live a nondescript life, so long as it was with Richie, for as long as this lasted.
“I would kiss you,” said Richie in a low voice. “But that feels kind of tacky in front of Stan’s house, you know?”
“Since when are you tasteful?”
Although Richie made things feel remarkable. That was what love could do, he guessed. You could be a forty year old risk manager getting divorced and juggling all kinds of fun psychological shit, and love could cast you as the hero in your own adventure story. It could embolden a guy, could save one, even.
Richie kissed him lightly on his temple, just above his right eyebrow. Like that morning in the graveyard, it was the kind of feeling that Eddie didn’t have words for.
On their last morning in Georgia, Eddie and Richie drove to a small town that rested an hour north outside of Atlanta. Richie was the one who wanted to visit it, because some popular show he loved did most of their filming there. They had told the rest of their friends, presenting it as something of an open invitation, but no one else had signed up. “That’s the one about zombies, right?” Beverly had said. Ben had commented “That show is so gross,” when Eddie had explained the reason for their trip, and Bill had wrinkled his nose and added, “The writing’s terrible.”
“He said that?” laughed Richie as they drove that morning. “He’s probably just jealous. You know he’s got a TV show that totally flopped?”
Richie nodded. “Yup, this really short series he wrote a few years back.”
“Did you watch it?”
“Only after remembering who Bill was, and only one episode. Barely escaped with my life.” Richie grinned. “Let’s just say Bill is better off sticking to books.”
The town had a cutesy, quaint look to it – squat brick buildings with bright, white window trimmings, little cafes with swing signs and punny names that alluded to the show that had put this small town on the map. Maybe if Eddie had been a born-and-raised New Yorker he would have appreciated the painted, idyllic charm. But he had been born in a small town that had liked to boast its own type of charm, and places like these only reminded him of the things that liked to hide in the grass.
If Richie felt the same, it was overshadowed by his enthusiasm for the show. He was excited, pointing out rote architecture like a water tower in the distance, a plain looking storefront, contextualizing these normal pieces of a town within the world of the television show. It was amusing to watch Richie Tozier, celebrated comedian, transform into a delighted fanboy. It reached at more of the memories from when they were kids, Richie’s fast talking excitement when they left the movie theater after seeing something that he proclaimed was the best fucking thing ever. Until they saw the next best fucking thing ever.
It was a brisk day, the temperature somewhere in the high 50s, slightly overcast. They spent the morning strolling up and down the town’s main street, stopping in one of the punny-named coffee shops to get some coffee and, in Richie’s case, a massive cookie. Eddie had his cane with him, because as much as he disliked the way people would quickly flick their eyes to it and then to him, trying to puzzle out why this man might need it, he disliked supporting the dragging exhaustion in his body alone even more.
He knew that Richie was conscious of it, the shift in Eddie’s body, that he couldn’t plow forwards or onwards as easily as Richie could. Richie talked around it, maybe because he knew Eddie didn’t want to talk about it. He would casually ask “how do you feel about walking to the corner,” and Eddie would glare at him and say “yeah, fine,” even though he was starting to feel the heavy pulse that pressed against him when his post-Pennywise body was starting to reach its limit. Maybe someday Eddie would be able to appreciate the irony in spending years belaboring the asthma he didn’t have, only to grind his teeth against talking about the real injury to his body. Not this fucking day though.
They ended up slowly winding through the town and outside of it, following a small dirt path that led to a set of railroad tracks. Another backdrop to an iconic scene, according to Richie. There was a bench on the other side of the tracks, presumably for all the other fanboys who wanted a moment to soak up whatever action had been filmed here. Richie stepped over the train tracks to sit down at it, and Eddie followed and collapsed on the bench beside him.
The railroad tracks stretched out in front of them, swinging around from a grassy bend to the left and disappearing into a forest off to the right. The town waited a half-mile ahead of them, but there was no one else around where they were, no other fans who had also decided to spend a Monday in February visiting the train tracks that had featured so prominently in the season 2 finale, which had apparently involved a zombie horde and some heroic sacrifices.
Tomorrow they would drive back to New York together, breaking the drive up across two days. Richie would fly from there to Los Angeles, and the thought of it was like a stone in Eddie’s stomach. He looked over at Richie, who was leaning back against the bench with his eyes closed, a gentle smile on his face. This close it was easy to see the lines under his eyes, the slight, tired tinge of purple. He’d woken up in the middle of the night last night, jerking awake so abruptly it had woken Eddie up, too.
“What is it?” Eddie had asked him in a voice blurry with sleep. “Nightmare?”
“Yeah,” Richie had answered, his breath coming in hard, a sound that was familiar but strange when it wasn’t coming from Eddie himself. Richie had rolled over in the bed to face Eddie, his hand moving lightly across Eddie’s cheek, down to his bare chest and over the scarring there. He had bent his head close to him, resting their foreheads against each other. “Just risk managers again.”
Eddie looked at the waiting train tracks, a metal seam that ran along the grass in front of them. A bird he’d never seen before flew by, landed on one of the rails for a second, and cocked its head before flying away. He hated to think about Richie waking up in the middle of the night alone.
“Hey,” said Eddie. “Where do we go from here?”
“I don’t know, lunch? Mikey recommended some place to me.”
“No, no I mean us. Where do we go?”
Richie opened his eyes and grinned at Eddie. “Wherever you want.”
“I mean – ”
“I know what you mean,” said Richie, and he nudged Eddie lightly. Eddie shifted, moving his left arm over the back of the bench, and Richie leaned against him. “And I’m telling you, wherever you want.”
He remembered a conversation with Mike that had been barely three weeks past but felt like a lifetime ago. What’s keeping you here? And now here was Richie, saying wherever you want. And Eddie still couldn’t see a where exactly, but he could see possibility, the orange, rising edge of a future. Maybe one where they shared a life together, where days ended and started with each other, where Richie belted show tunes in a horribly off-key voice and Eddie pretended to hate it. A future with a tiny, fluffy dog that Eddie protested because come on, that’s too gay and Richie insisting we gotta make up for lost time and Eddie drawing a line at it sleeping on the bed, which it would every night.
Eddie nagging Richie about scheduling his yearly physical, Richie dragging Eddie to Hollywood premiere parties. A future where Eddie didn’t spend late nights and long weekends at the office because was somewhere else, someone else, he’d rather be with. Nights out with Richie, which Eddie would grumble about but halfway enjoy. Weekend mornings with Eddie up early in the kitchen, doing a Sudoku puzzle and waiting for Richie to roll out of bed, blinking against the sun.
A future where he was ready to talk to someone about his mother, someone who could help him to untangle the pieces of him that were her, who could tell him that it had never been his job to save her.
A future of seeing Richie perform, waiting for him backstage, clapping for him and kissing him and Richie not caring who saw it. A future where Richie told him what his nightmares were really about. One where they celebrated birthdays, where Eddie didn’t mark the years and gray hairs and growing lines with fear, but maybe triumph. Another year, fuck you to the fucking clown that thought It could take him. He could face it, he thought, he could face all of it with Richie.
His hand traveled from the back of Richie’s shoulder to run itself through Richie’s hair, still marveling a little at this being a thing he could do and wanted to do.
“Hey,” said Eddie again. Richie turned to look at him, and Eddie leaned in and kissed him.
“If that’s your answer,” said Richie, “That works for me.”
Eddie smiled. Maybe the terror never really ended, but it could change, and you could change with it. He thought of the promise that the seven of them had made on that faded summer day, almost lost to the weeds of time. They’d sworn something to the town then, but they had sworn something even more important to themselves.
He breathed in the mild winter air, sweet and cold against his throat, and made a promise to the man sitting beside him. If ever there was a group of people that didn’t owe anyone or anything another promise, it was the Losers’ Club. But if ever there was a guy that it was worth the time and trouble of Eddie Kaspbrak promising one more thing to, it was Richie Tozier. They’d found each other again, against all cosmic odds, and now that he’d found the boy who had cracked jokes about his mother and read comic books on rainy days with him and told him he was brave, Eddie wasn’t letting go again.
This was the answer to that calling. Here they all were, together again, and it was in Atlanta that the circle finally felt whole once more. Maybe there were no happy endings, Eddie thought, but somehow he’d arrived at a beginning. One with his friends waiting and Richie beside him and the long, open road ahead of them. And it had a sweet feeling to it, like a kid’s laugh on a summer day – when pain and fear were ideas far behind, and all that mattered was the moment. An easy afternoon that ran ahead like water over rocks in a creek. The sureness of each other. And possibility, shining overhead, bright and clear like the sun in the sky.