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Baby, I'm Counting On You

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Two months ago, Richie won a Grammy.

Hell, two weeks ago, he played a sold out Madison Square Garden show.

But what mattered to everyone now was the trainwreck from two days ago.

Biting the ID wristband off, Richie spit the plastic onto the floor of the rental car. His head, although actively killing him, hurt significantly less than it did yesterday. Driving probably (definitely) wasn’t ideal, but he couldn’t stick around Los Angeles another minute. His hands trembled and he hit the steering wheel in frustration, unable to open his water bottle before the light changed to green.

Richie Tozier didn’t make plans. He made decisions.

And the decision today? Hop on a flight to Maine and don’t look back.

With no luggage to check, he passed through security easily - much easier than he had in his life. Part of him wondered why he didn’t tour this way. The belongings he traveled with didn’t exactly matter. Everything that mattered to him, he could carry in his wallet. Even his phone felt like dead weight in his pocket now. His hand twitched, but he restrained himself.

Before he fully knew where he was or what he was doing, Richie tuned in to the stewardess instructing them to fasten their seat belts and get ready for the flight. Then the captain came on and said the same spiel Richie heard a hundred times already. Pulling off his glasses and massaging the bridge of his nose, he slumped against the window, preparing for nothing more than sleep.

Of course, a tap on his shoulder thwarted his immediate attempts.

“I’m- Oh God, I’m so sorry to bother you-”

Richie stretched, groaning as his back popped. He recognized the tone and, upon opening his eyes, saw he guessed correctly: a teenage girl. She wore a t-shirt with his face, The Losers printed in white block letters under his head. She also wore army green cargo pants with a plaid mini skirt over them; he was thrown back to the 90s before he could process a response.

“You’re Richie Tozier!” she exclaimed. A few people looked over at them. Richie nodded, offering a small smile. “I didn’t mean to wake you, I thought you were just- I’m sorry- I can go-”

“No, no! I’m awake for the moment. What can I do for you?” he asked, easily slipping back into the charm which won over most of Hollywood. For the past decade, he relied on the skill to make a name for himself. He arrived in California with nothing more than a guitar and a dream. The Losers could’ve also been included in the list of things he brought, but at the time, he didn’t envision taking anything from his childhood.

“Would it be too much to ask for a selfie? And an autograph?” the girl asked. She held out a mixtape, and Richie pouted his lips, impressed. He knew cassettes were making a comeback, but he never legitimately expected to see one in the wild.

“Sure thing, miss..?”
“Aldys.”
“Ah, a challenge.” The girl laughed and spelled out her name for Richie, and he smiled for the selfie, thanking God that front cameras were a real invention. He struggled constantly to look in the right place; pictures rarely came out right, and fans turned it into a big inside joke. While he couldn’t truly be mad about it, he found it tiresome. In the first few years of stardom, he soaked up attention like a sponge. Then he realized he was a caricature. Fans expected the same inside joke. The same song. He was a small unit in the giant entertainment factory, pumping out goods for the greedy consumers. He learned he couldn’t just get tired of something when people still wanted it.

Shaking off the thought, Richie slumped back in his seat as the girl left. Pulling his beanie over his eyes, he yawned.

Aldys. Aldys. Why does that sound familiar? Richie thought, slowly drifting in and out of consciousness. Oh, that’s right... Nerys.

Chuckling, he turned over yet again to rest his cheek on the cold window. Sleep took over instantly.

“Alright, Alexander the... Great- Richie! Can you come up with a better name?”
“No.”
Eddie’s mouth twisted, his finger still held up. Huffing, he went back to his playbook, or whatever the Hell it was called. Richie didn’t have too much interest in Dungeons and Dragons, but Bill and Eddie did, so he wouldn’t argue. His turn for game night would roll around soon enough.

Besides, he had plenty of fun wreaking havoc on the adventure.

“Well, what are you gonna do, Richie?”

Peering at the board, Richie stuffed a handful of popcorn into his mouth.

“Probably gonna make out with the giant,” he said, snickering. Eddie groaned, slumping down on the floor.

“Bill!” His whines went unnoticed. Bill fell asleep, clutching one of the throw pillows like a teddy bear. Eddie grumbled, motioning for Richie to roll the dice. He swiped up the die, his expression dramatic as he shook his hands around. Instead of dropping it, however, he paused.

“Hey, Eds?”

“What?” Eddie watched him, all annoyance gone. Richie couldn’t help but smile. As much as he bugged Eddie, the slate could be wiped clean in no more than a moment. His patience seemed endless sometimes, in the grand scheme of things.

“Tell me about your character again,” he said. Eddie’s mouth twisted. “I’m serious, I have a question. I just.. wanna hear first.”

Fiddling with his twenty-sided die, Eddie’s eyes flickered from his player piece to Richie. The only noise in the Kaspbrak den came from the TV; music videos replaced reality shows at 2 AM. Sometimes Richie wished he were born much earlier, to enjoy the days where MTV was solely music. He feared he missed his window. By the time he was old enough to make a record, would he be stuck sharing it with the graveyard shift?

“Well... what do you wanna know?” Eddie finally asked, pulling Richie’s attention back. Richie leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees.

“Anything you think is important,” he said simply.

Eddie chuckled, looking through the notebook in his hands. Richie noticed he referenced it often, drawing a little doodle or taking quick notes as they played. He wasn’t sure what there was to take note of in a game of D&D, but he liked seeing Eddie show passion for something other than his medicine.

“Her name is Nerys,” he began.

Richie nodded. He hadn’t forgotten Eddie’s character was a girl. Neither he nor Bill commented. To them, it didn’t feel out of place. They knew better than to talk about it outside of their nights together, and they figured if Eddie wanted to say anything on the matter, he would’ve by now. Richie considered it punk rock, the way Eddie didn’t care. When he imagined Eddie bringing up the subject, he also imagined himself assuring Eddie by saying ‘they thought Kurt Cobain was gay; Billie Joe Armstrong wrote about fuckin’ guys, I think,’ because that was his job as Eddie’s best friend. Hell, he thought about kissing guys every now and then. It couldn’t have been that crazy.

“Nerys, got it. Cute name, by the way,” he commented. Eddie squinted, staying quiet for a moment before continuing.

“Thanks... Well yeah, um. She’s an elf princess- I wanted a fairy, but... I dunno. Elf worked better. I liked the abilities and stuff. She woke up in our adventure not remembering anything. No past, no... attachments. She just gets to be, and yeah she’s curious about her old self, but the adventure is more important. Her identity could be a side quest, if I ever decide to write that out,” he explained. Richie held his soda, having forgotten he wanted a drink.

“Hey Eds?”
“Eddie, but what?”

Richie set the can down, flicking the tiny aluminum tab. There was a plethora of questions he wanted to ask. Instead of asking any of them, he blurted, “If I roll a twenty, can Alexander make out with Nerys instead?”

“Richie!”
“Shhhhh! ... You’ll wake Bill up.”

Neither of them spoke for a moment. Eddie’s eyes were trained on Richie, and he saw no other choice but to roll the die. As it clattered on the coffee table, his heartbeat picked up. Hope rose in his chest, and for once, he kept his lips pursed from fear of what might escape them.

Twenty.

Richie’s eyes flickered to Eddie, but he was staring at the die. When he finally did look at Richie, there was a clear anxiety in his expression. A pang of guilt hit Richie; he didn’t want to push his best friend. He knew better, but he was just so good at being a piece of shit. Opening his mouth to protest, Eddie leaned over the coffee table and kissed him. It wasn’t much. No tongue, not even open mouth. He simply crashed his lips - which were remarkably smooth - against Richie’s, and pulled away the moment Richie thought to raise his hands and hold onto him.

“Sorry- I’m sorry-” Eddie began babbling, but Richie shook his head. He held up his hand and the two were quiet again.

“Was that your first time kissing someone?”
“Oh screw you, Rich-”
“No! No! I meant like...” Richie’s voice trailed off and he glanced at the TV. He could’ve let the music videos distract him. He could’ve let the moment shrivel up and die out like an old flower petal. Instead, he continued, “You seem nervous. I... Can I show you something?”

Eddie watched him, nervous and doe-like, ready to flee at the first sign of trouble. Richie crawled around the table, careful as he closed the distance.

“Relax,” he whispered, touching Eddie’s neck and giving him a moment to push him away if he wanted, before gently kissing him.

Richie jerked awake as the plane landed. His head hit the window, yanking him from his sleep. Rubbing the aching bump, he fished his glasses from his pocket, adjusting them on his face. When his vision came into focus, he saw everyone else already grabbing their overhead luggage. Stretching, his back giving a satisfying pop, he stood and meandered towards the exit.

Two hours later, Richie drummed his hands on the steering wheel, driving along the twisting roads, surrounded by thick trees on either side. His hometown awaited, mere minutes away - he could see the “Derry Welcomes You” sign. Slamming on the breaks, he jerked forward, choked by the seat belt of the fourteen-year-old Acura he bought in Bangor. He had to admit, he didn’t expect the car to stop as well as it did. Rubbing his neck, he glanced behind him to make sure the road was still empty before stepping out.

Part of him wanted to touch the welcome sign, as if it would disappear and all the jokes would be on him.

Ha ha, fuckface! Ha ha all over you! You can’t go home!

Shaking his head, ridding himself of the thoughts, Richie plopped back into the car and continued driving. His first stop, among many, would have to be fixing the license plates. He bought the car from a shitty dealership with the intent of paying in cash. None of the new models in sight; he specifically went for something at least a decade old so he could blend in with Derry. All of his transactions had been cash since... Tuesday? Wednesday?

His second stop would have to be anywhere with a calendar.

Entering Derry, Richie didn’t realize he held his breath until his lungs began to ache. Gasping, he tightened his grip on the wheel. Nearly everything changed since he left back in 2008. Almost eleven years, give or take a few months. Of course, the worst part of coming home was seeing how... nothing actually changed. Not at the roots. Sure the stores were updated. There were new markets and shops scattered around.

But Kansas Street was still Kansas Street. The Kissing Bridge still gave him anxiety to drive over. Main Street, the library, Bassey Park... none of it changed. The Paul fucking Bunyan statue somehow hadn’t been bulldozed, which he always secretly hoped for. These places and landmarks, untouched by his life outside of Derry-

(-KEEP MESSING UP MY LIFE-)

“FUCK!” Richie hollered, stomping on the breaks yet again. A car behind him honked angrily, swerving around him and speeding off while he scrambled to silence the radio. Veering to the sidewalk, Richie parked, catching his breath and angrily twisting the knob which controlled the volume. “Son of a bitch...” He’d been listening to static for over an hour, completely forgetting the station was on. If the ancient radio couldn’t get decent signal in Bangor, he had no hope for Derry.

Naturally, his own song would blast through the speakers.

Get it together, Tozier, he thought, rubbing his eyes in his suddenly sweaty palms. In the silence, he could faintly hear the disc jockey.

“That was Rad Drugz, by Trashmouth. Number one with a bullet; I told y’all, didn’t I tell y’all? Richie and The Losers is out, Trashmouth is in. Now the real question on everyone’s lips: Where is the rockstar of a generation? That’s right folks, Richie Tozier has gone off the gr-”

Turning the key, Richie cut the radio entirely. His forehead hit the dashboard, and he groaned. The only hope he could cling to was the fact that everyone who cared about him only listened to their Spotify when they hooked it up to their cars, and even the old cars could be rigged for it! Maybe no one knew yet. Maybe no one was looking. Yet even with the glimmer of hope, Richie glanced over his shoulder to see who might’ve been watching. Huffing, he started the car again and drove towards the nearest auto shop.

According to Google, the shop fixing his plates used to belong to the Tracker brothers. Reviews commended the upkeep and service, but there were one or two from old residents complaining about the loss of Tony and Phil. Rolling his eyes, he closed out of the browser, choosing instead to delete contacts. When he ran away from Los Angeles, he pictured himself throwing the phone from the Kissing Bridge. It would float down the river and vanish into the ocean. No more reaching Mr. Tozier.

Ultimately, he decided to change the number in Bangor’s Sprint store. Dramatics be damned.

When the mechanics sent him on his way, Richie stood on the sidewalk, trying to think of where to go next. The sun wouldn’t set for another few hours, but he ran out of excuses to avoid the only place he truly wanted to be. Sighing, he checked last six numbers in his phone. Two of them belonged to Abraham and Jill, his faithful bandmates, and the closest he’d come to best friends in a long time. The remaining four he selected, adding to a group message.

I’m in town. It’s Richie, btw. Gonna be real awkward if you losers all changed your numbers on me.

He gave it five minutes, but no one responded. Nodding to himself, Richie tossed the phone aside, finally making the drive home.

Much to his relief, there were some discernible differences in his childhood neighborhood. Whoever owned the first house on the block decided its old paint needed blue instead, and hunter green shingles. Additions were added to other houses; the owners of Stan’s old home installed a pool, from what Richie could see. There were two children’s bikes - one green, one purple - lying in the lawn.

Coming up on his old house didn’t feel real. Derry didn’t feel real. He liked the new stores and additions, because those were being touched in his memory with what he knew now. Everything else already had handprints, and those came before the music.

Before the fame.

Before the money, the women and men, the parties and dazzling Hollywood lights...

Parked in front of the house, Richie couldn’t help but smile seeing “Tozier” remained painted on their mailbox. His tiny handprint, from when he was no older than a toddler, dotted the “i” in lime green paint. Wentworth and Maggie refused to cover it, even when he was a teenager, and thought it was embarrassing. He could hear them now, so clearly in fact, he turned to make sure they weren’t in the backseat.

“I could always tape a picture of you on your first potty, Richie. How about that?” Wentworth teased. Maggie covered her mouth to stifle the giggles at Richie’s horrified expression. Clearing her throat, she rose from her chair to fetch the mashed potatoes from the kitchen, bringing them back to the dining room table. “Thank you, my dear.” Went kissed his wife’s cheek as she served more food, playfully pinching her hip and eliciting a giggle. Richie groaned, slumping in his seat.

In hindsight, he inherited his playfulness and laid back, dry banter from his parents. He supposed he owed them the majority of his fortune; without the charm, he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere with his first band.

Twirling the keys around his finger, Richie checked himself in the rearview mirror, running his fingers through his hair as he climbed out of the car. With each step towards the front door, he passed a memory. Catch with Wentworth on Sunday afternoons. Spraying Maggie with the hose, and her spraying him right back, when they were supposed to water the garden. Nights in the treehouse with Mike and Stan. Cigarettes in the garage with Bev. Pausing at the steps, Richie stared at the porch swing. He kissed Eddie for the first time there, on the Fourth of July, while everyone watched fireworks in his backyard.

Shoving the thoughts away, he took the steps two at a time, knocking rapidly on the door. He bit his lip, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet as he waited. Inside, he could hear shuffling, and voices. The curtain covering the glass panes on the door moved, and he smiled, offering a small wave. Maggie screamed, swinging the door open and rushing to hug her son. Richie’s eyes widened as she squeezed him, and he laughed, lifting her up and swinging her around.

“Good to see you too, Ma,” he said. Maggie laughed, wiping her eyes when she pulled away. “Aw, come on, don’t cry.”

“Hush, Richie. I haven’t seen you in a while. I can’t miss my baby?” she demanded. Richie chuckled, shrugging. “Well come inside, don’t be a stranger! I was just about to start dinner- are you staying? What are you hungry for?” Waving his hands, he shook his head.

“I’m- Ma, you don’t have to make a big fuss-”

“Richie?” Wentworth’s voice carried from the dining room. Richie heard the rustling of a newspaper, and felt a weight lift from his chest when his dad appeared at the end of the hall. With an arm still around his mother, he held out the other for his dad. “Good to see ya, kid!” From the surprise in his tone, Richie knew perfectly well how foreign he made himself here. Guilt threatened to creep in, but he only hugged his parents tighter.

With their arms around him, he felt weightless enough to float away.

“I missed you,” he whispered, his throat tight. Maggie rubbed his back, keeping her hand on him even as they broke apart.

“The feeling’s mutual, Richie. Sit down, come on,” she said softly, pulling out a seat for him before disappearing back into the kitchen. Being in this seat made him feel small again - smaller than he’d been in over a decade. “How have you been? How’s the band? Sandy?” Richie made a face, sinking a little in his chair.

“How do you know about Sandy?” he asked innocently, as if he didn’t already have a guess. His mother laughed from the kitchen; even Wentworth chuckled.

“All over the magazines,” she answered, poking her head from the other room. “That’s right, Mr. Tozier, we have US Weekly. Rolling Stones- all those old printed pages still exist! It’s not all Yahoo and MyFace.” At last, it was Richie’s turn to laugh. He hit the table, nearly choking.

“Facebook or MySpace, Ma? One of those has been deceased for as long as I’ve been gone,” he said. He could just picture his mother rolling her eyes, the smile on her face. Wentworth peered over his newspaper, folding and setting it aside so he could observe his son. Knowing he couldn’t avoid giving an answer, Richie sighed.

“Band’s good. I could call Abe and Jill, if you wanted to meet them. They’re great, I love them, I hope you guys will too,” he began, unable to fight the smile at the thought of his friends. The pair came at a strange time in his life; a time where he genuinely thought going home would’ve worked out for him. Two albums later, he safely said he made the best call sticking around. “Sandy... We broke up- It’s not a big deal, it just wasn’t gonna work out long term.” He quickly tried to cover the news with a happier tone, but Maggie caught on too quick.

“Oh, Richie, honey, what happened? How long ago did you break up? I wish I could’ve met her- you two were together for such a long time, I read that article what? Two years ago?” Maggie approached him, cradling his face in her hand. She pet his hair back, kissing the top of his head. Richie kept the small smile on his face until she was back in the kitchen. Of course, Wentworth saw the change in expression. “Maybe you could win her back, Richie! That would be so romantic. You wrote songs about her before, didn’t you? I love the one you have-”

“You listened to my songs?” Richie interrupted, covering his mouth to keep anything else from tumbling out. Wentworth nodded, answering for both of them.

“Of course we did!” Tilting his head, Went made a face and added, “Richie, we bought tickets you made out of construction paper and glue to shows you put on in the backyard. Did you really think we wouldn’t listen?” Immediately, Richie wanted to say yes. He never imagined Wentworth or Maggie buying a copy of his CD, fiddling with the CD player and arguing over how to get it working, until resorting to asking their teenage neighbor for help. Now, as he pictured it, he couldn’t think of a reason why he hadn’t before.

“I don’t understand this new song you’ve got on the radio, I can’t say I like it, but I enjoyed a lot of your other songs. We have all your CDs in the living room, go look,” Maggie called out. She returned to the dining room, phone in hand. “I’m just gonna order a pizza, I can’t figure out what to make in there.” Waving dismissively in the direction of the kitchen, she dialed a number. “You still like mushroom and pepperoni, right honey?” Nodding, holding up his thumbs, Richie stood up, walking through the house like a ghost. Everywhere he looked, he saw life before he was wanted by everyone. He never thought he’d long for these halls, and yet here he was, his eyes burning, tears threatening.

Although he couldn’t recall the exact layout of the living room, he sensed no change. Running his fingers along the knickknacks, he paused upon seeing the stereo. He cringed thinking of how old it was, and how old he was in comparison. Twenty years ago, on his tenth birthday, they bought it as a gift for everyone (but mostly Richie). Neatly displayed on top of the machine, his parents set up all of his CDs on a rack. Behind the first rack was a second, displaying the same album, but in vinyl format. Then, in front of the stereo system, where the cassette player was, they lined his tapes.

Richie and The Losers presents: A Penny For the Wise, followed by King of the Losers, and bringing the end to the R&TL era (as fans called it), I Wrote This For You. Three records which brought him to fame and fortune, allowing him the freedom to disband the group and move on to two people who understood his mind, rather than tagged along for a ride in Hollywood. His original band came together when he held auditions in his apartment, back when he worked as a busboy and waiter in Glendale, California. He liked them, Ross, Peter, and Gabriel, but they were coworkers more than they were a band. Their contributions to the music were few and far between. Richie wore himself ragged creating music exactly how he wanted.

When he called it quits with them, he had already met Jillian Fink and Abraham Prince. They worked as sound techs for the band, having grown up together and shared a dream of starting their own group. Richie bounced ideas off of them, received plenty of pushback, and created a sound more perfect than he envisioned. The difference between his latest work and old work was night and day; he (privately, anyway) compared it to Freddie Mercury working with the rest of his bandmates in Queen as opposed to writing solo.

The final two records on display were Richie’s pride and joy.

Trashmouth presents: I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Probably and The House On Jackson Street. He supposed he wasn’t subtle; he only had one friend on Jackson Street. Mike lived out on his farm. Bev lived across town further up on Main. Bill was on Witchham, he and Stan were here on Center. He couldn’t remember where Ben lived, whether it was Kansas or Costello Avenue, but either way, it left only one other person.

“Richie? Do your friends know you’re in town? I’ve got Beverly Marsh- oop, Hanscom now. I keep forgetting- of course we always knew she and little Ben would get together, I’m just so used to the bunch of you running through this place as kids,” Maggie said, holding out the phone. Richie’s heart skipped a beat. He smiled at his mom, turning away to let his expression fall to panic.

“Hello-”
“You really are back, huh, Rich?” Bev chuckled humorlessly on the other end. Scratching the back of his head, Richie ran through his list of curse words. He already received a slap from Beverly when he reunited with her in Los Angeles. Trashmouth’s management hired her to style him and the others for an awards show. She smiled upon seeing him, then immediately slapped him and began shouting. He assumed she got all of her anger out then; he clearly remembered them having breakfast before parting ways.

“Was I not supposed to come back?” he asked, treading carefully. By no means was Beverly Marsh a violent person. Unless you hurt her friends. She loved hard, and he knew the moment she smacked him. Of course, she loved him too, but the fact of the matter was... he hurt five of her friends when he left.

And then, most important of all, he hurt her.

“Richie,” her tone was stern, but after a moment of silence, the tension dropped. “I’m glad you’re home. I’m sure everyone else will be happy too, with some convincing. Some more than others.” As relieved as he was to hear that, Richie couldn’t help but notice the lingering uncertainty in her words.

“You mean-”
“Things are different now, Richie. I just hope you’re prepared for that,” she said. Richie’s heart sank, his stomach soured.

“Is he married or something?” he asked, his voice no louder than a whisper. Bev didn’t answer for a moment, and Richie thought he might throw up.

“No, he’s not,” she replied, and Richie let out a breath, for the second time today, he hadn’t realized he was holding. “Things are just... different. Come over later, we’ll talk about it.” He opened his mouth to respond, but Bev hung up. It didn’t bother him; he didn’t know what he wanted to say anyways. Setting the phone back in its rightful place, Richie took a different seat at the table, mentally queuing up questions for his parents to fill the silence.


Repeating the address under his breath, Richie sauntered along Main Street, searching for Bev and Ben’s house. According to Maggie, his old friends were all pretty close. Stan bought his house from his parents, Mike moved to the sole house on Palmar Lane, and Bev and Ben were between them on Main Street. Eddie inherited Sonia’s house after she passed away in 2014. Richie didn’t know his best friend lost his mom for five years.

Stopping in the middle of the road, he took a deep breath. The streetlights were on. No cars were around. Silence fell around him and Richie cringed away from it. Briskly walking across the street, he read the numbers on the mailboxes, knowing he was close. Only when he stopped in front of the Hanscom residence did the reality sink in. His friends all grew up. Got married. From the looks of it, they accomplished what they set out to do in high school.

Richie was the odd man out.

Of course, they all left him first.

Scowling, annoyed by the pestering thoughts, Richie shook out his limbs, preparing himself for whatever came next. His knock on the old mahogany door echoed in his ears, and in the distance, he heard the first car passing in over an hour. As it did when he heard his mother approaching, his heartbeat picked up speed. The locks rustled, and the door opened slowly.

Bev stared at him through a sliver just wide enough for her head to fit through.

“Richie.”
“Beverly.”

Neither of them moved.

Then a smile cracked her stoic expression, stretching from ear to ear. Throwing the door open, she ran out and wrapped her arms around his neck, hugging him tight. He choked, but laughed anyway, swinging her the same as he did for Maggie. When he let her go, he took in the sight of her, his eyes darting up and down. Her hair grew out again; she held it back in a tight ponytail the way she would in high school. Somehow it looked more red than he remembered. Other than the hairstyle, she hadn’t changed too much.

“Let’s go out back, I’ll get us some drinks,” she said, leading him into the house. The scent of apple pie filled the air, and from where he stood, he could see the dessert sitting on a breakfast bar. On his right, there was a short set of stairs, a small landing, then the real staircase; along the wall were pictures of Beverly and Ben over the years, the first being from their wedding. Forgetting he was supposed to follow her, Richie climbed up the first few steps, taking down the picture frame.

“Bev, you were glowing!” he exclaimed, holding up the picture. Bev’s brow rose, and Richie nodded, putting the photo back. She knew damn well what she looked like. This wasn’t news to her like it was for him. “Sorry, sorry.” Beverly shrugged, pausing to look him over.

“You look like you haven’t slept in a while,” she commented. Richie laughed, not entirely lifeless, but almost.

“It feels like it’s been weeks. This is, without a doubt, the longest day of my life,” he admitted. From checking himself out of the hospital at 6 AM on the West Coast, to visiting an old friend at 9 PM on the East, his body clock broke and there were no handymen to fix it. Before either of them could say anything else, Ben appeared at the top of the stairs. He squinted at Richie until recognition kicked in, his eyes now crinkling because of his wide smile.

Richie didn’t know what to expect, seeing Ben again. He hadn’t gotten any taller since high school, whereas Beverly had. She still had a whole foot on him, particularly highlighted for Richie when Ben leaned up to kiss her cheek. He shaved his head, but all hair was not lost; Ben was growing out quite the bushy mustache. He shook Richie’s hand firmly, beaming from his old friend to his wife.

“How’s Hollywood treating you, Richie?” he asked.

Without taking a moment to think over his response, Richie blurted, “Like an old dog. With lice.” Beverly snorted, thankfully not missing a beat as she intervened.

“Sounds like drinks are necessary, then,” she said, walking off to the kitchen. She mixed the last half of their pink lemonade with shots of strawberry vodka, throwing out the carton when she was done. It was a quick drink, but effective, and for a split second, Richie missed her more than anyone else in town.

“Trust me, Trashmouth, vodka by itself tastes awful. I snuck some from my mom’s glass one time,” Beverly said. After Bill, she was the most confident of the group. Nobody doubted she knew what she was talking about, which is why Richie hesitated with the bottle. He swiped it from his uncle’s liquor cabinet, eager to share with the rest of the club. Looking at the Smirnoff, his mouth twisted, but Beverly spoke again, cutting off any chance he had to complain. “Here, I’ve got a couple dollars. Run to the market on Costello and get some pink lemonade, an orange, and some strawberries if they have any of those big fat ones. The real juicy ones.” Shrugging Richie took the money, protesting when Beverly took the vodka.

“Hey!”
“I’m gonna keep watch on it, genius. How do you think the old man at the register would react seeing you with alcohol?”

Grumbling, Richie threw his hands up, whirling around to fetch his bike and pick up Beverly’s grocery list. He repeated the items to himself for the entire ride, still almost forgetting the orange. By the time he pedaled back to the clubhouse in the Barrens, Mike and Stan were waiting with Beverly. Stan brought his pocket knife, while Mike took a pitcher and wooden spoon from his house.

“Did you get the lemonade?” Bev asked, tilting her head for a better look at what was in the grocery bag. Richie nodded, handing the carton over. “Minute Maid? Snapple is way better-”

“Then go buy some yourself!” Richie shouted, huffing. Stan and Mike snickered, all of them watching as Beverly poured the lemonade and vodka into the pitcher.

“Mike, peel that orange and pull apart the slices for me, would you? Stan, cut the tops off those strawberries and toss ‘em in,” she instructed them, stirring as they added ingredients. When the last of the fruit went in, Beverly studied the mixture. “I feel like it’s missing something...”

“Hey guys!”

As if on cue, Ben appeared through the thick brush, carrying a large styrofoam cup with the McDonald’s logo printed on the side. Beverly lit up, pointing to the drink.

“Ben, quick, what is that?” she asked. Freezing in his spot, Ben looked from the drink, to Beverly, to the rest of his friends.

“Uh, Sprite?”
“Perfect! Can I borrow some? We’re making a drink.”

Without hesitation, Ben handed the cup over and said, “Sure. Take the whole thing. What are you making?”

Eagerly, Beverly poured the soda in, giggling gleefully as the ice tumbled out.

“Nice! It’s gonna be cold now! Good one, Ben!” she cheered, causing him to blush. Richie grew impatient, unable to sit still. He began to complain, but Beverly held the nearly full pitcher up and shouted, “Voila! Vodka, but good!” She looked around at each of them, frowning when she didn’t see Eddie. “I told Kaspbrak to get here quick with some paper cups...” Glancing at the drink, she shrugged, taking a sip straight from the source. Her face twisted for a moment, but she kept grinning. “Pass it around, it’s good!”

Richie didn’t have to be told twice. He slurped a large gulp, nearly spewing the drink out from how sharp and sour it immediately was. However, he forced it down, feeling a swoop in his belly. Laughing, he handed it to Mike. The pitcher made two rounds between them, when Bill and Eddie finally showed up. They drank themselves sick, each of them grounded for a week by sunset.

“Richie?” Beverly yanked him back to the present, much to his relief. Richie sipped from his glass, looking around the backyard. Ben set up a grill in the far left corner, and two picnic tables filled most of the remaining space. They sat at a small square table on the back porch, protected from mosquitoes and other insects by patio screens. He watched a fairly thick caterpillar inching up the nearest tree, probably in search of the perfect place to nest. “I said, how long do you think you’re staying in Derry?” Sitting up straighter, Richie’s eyes widened. He drank more, his brain on alert, screaming for him to slow down. Wiping his mouth on his sleeve, he tried to scrape together an answer.

But all that came out was: “I don’t really know.”

Beverly was about to ask another question, but a light bang on the door startled them. Richie jumped from his seat, backing away. His eyes rapidly searched for whoever made the noise, surprise rolling over him in waves when he looked down. A tiny person stared right back at him, his large brown eyes shining. His dark blonde hair stuck out in every direction, a swoop of it falling over his eyes. His tiny, chubby hands peeled from the glass door to push it back, and Richie smiled.

“You guys... didn’t tell me-”
“He’s not ours!” Bev quickly explained, opening the door to let the child out. Staring up at Beverly, then Richie, the tiny boy took one step out of the house, careful before taking a second step. “We’re babysitting tonight.” Richie’s brow rose.

“And you poured drinks?”
“He was supposed to be sleeping,” she reasoned, lifting the toddler onto her hip, and shooting Ben a look while he raised his hands defensively. Richie bent lower to be level with the kid. Seeing he was coming closer, the child covered his eyes, hiding his face against Beverly. “Hey, don’t be scared. This is just Richie. He’s a friend.” Unsure of what to do, Richie held out his hand.

“Hey there, little guy. I’m Richie,” he greeted, his voice soft. He thought about how strange Beverly’s voice became when talking to the kid, but the same effect took over him. Did adults always talk to kids this way? Thinking to his own childhood, he grimaced. Clearing his throat, he changed his tone. “What’s your name, man?” Ben snorted behind his wife, and Richie quickly flipped him off before the kid could see. The boy peeked through his fingers, glancing down at Richie’s extended hand. Nervously, he reached out to shake it.

“I- I Stevie,” he said, patting his chest. Richie chuckled, charmed by the simple action. Copying him, he patted his own chest.

“Well, again, I’m Richie. Richie Tozier, at your service,” he said, putting on his best Curly Howard voice. He even added the classic Three Stooges laugh. Stevie giggled, hiding his face again. Ben stood up, taking Stevie from Bev and heading back inside.

“C’mon Stevie, it’s way past your bedtime. Your daddy’s gonna be upset if he finds you’re not sleeping. You want Daddy to be upset?” Ben asked, the baby voice now infecting him. Richie turned back to his glass, finishing off the drink.

“So when you guys aren’t expanding the town, you’re... expanding the town?” he questioned, picking up Ben’s glass and sipping. Beverly rolled her eyes, groaning. Richie held up his hands in surrender. He didn’t want to fight so soon after getting back. At the moment, it didn’t matter to him.

The Losers Club, their circle of best friends, made an agreement in high school. Each of them possessed an idea - a talent - that could make Derry better than any small town within miles. No longer would they crave to abandon this shitty dump. Instead, they would make it the best. Beverly would bring her fashion industry. Ben would design buildings; out with the old, in with the new. Stan would open a law firm, Eddie would open an auto repair shop, and Bill would take over at the hospital. Mike would open a bar, but a gimmicky one - something cool to lure tourists and make their town cooler than it actually was. He loved history; he knew the town like the back of his hand, so it seemed perfect. Richie... didn’t have much to bring to their full table. Eddie suggested he go into business with Mike, turning the bar into a part time concert or comedy venue.

Richie fully believed his friends were all in the dream for the long haul.

Brushing off the thought, he placed his attention back on Beverly.

“What did you expect, Richie? We’re thirty. I’m still waiting a couple years before Ben and I even start trying, but that’s us. Stan’s already got two-”

“What?” Richie nearly dropped his glass. Suddenly, the two bikes lying in front of the Uris house made sense. Clearing his throat, he swirled the drink in his hand, the ice clinking against the glass. “What are they?” His voice became softer, although distant. Beverly’s shoulders slumped. She knew perfectly well when Richie was closing himself off.

“A boy and a girl. Andy and Jenny,” she answered. Licking his lips, Richie set the glass down, walking inside. “Richie, you should stay.” She followed close behind him, grabbing his wrist. He didn’t move. “Bill never came back when he left.” Freezing, Richie let the information sink in. When it finally registered with him, he slowly glanced over his shoulder at Beverly.

“And are you all mad at him too?” he asked. His tone, while soft, was accusing as well. Beverly bit her lip, and Richie knew before she said anything. “Of course not. Big Bill never did anything wrong, did he? That’s typ-”

“I’m furious with him, yes! But damn it, Richie, he at least warned us!” she shouted. Richie’s fists clenched at his sides, but Bev didn’t stop. “We were all just as in love with you as we were with Bill, you idiot! If Bill led the group, you held it together when he couldn’t! Which, this may come as a surprise, was more often than not. All of us felt it when you left! All of us! You didn’t say goodbye, you didn’t leave a note- Maggie called each of us every single night, Richard-”

“Beverly, I’m sorry! What else can I say? What else can I do? I ran! I ran before the rest of you could beat me to it!” he cried, biting the inside of his cheek only when it was too late. Beverly’s brow furrowed, but someone knocked on the front door, distracting both of them.

Leaning against the wall, Richie’s head tilted as Bev breezed past him. His eyes landed on the bathroom underneath the staircase, and he stepped in, splashing cold water on his face. Outside, he heard an unfamiliar voice, but he didn’t think much of it. He dabbed the pink towel over his eyes, walking out with full intention of leaving. The house, or Derry, he hadn’t quite decided.

However, he froze in place when he saw who stood in the foyer with Beverly.

“Eddie?”

Upon hearing his name, Eddie froze, his hand mid-brush through his hair. Richie gulped, taking in the sight. Eddie held a fairly large, blonde wig in his free hand. He wore a seafoam green dress that came down to his knees; one of the straps slid off his bare shoulder. His face was layered in makeup, his cheeks decorated with a deep rosy pink, his eyes highlighted with a darker fuchsia. Even with his nose altered by the makeup, Richie knew Eddie Kaspbrak when he saw him.

And much like the last time they were together, Eddie took Richie’s breath away.

“Eddie Kaspbrak-”

“Don’t even think about it,” Eddie scowled, holding up his hand. He faced Beverly, completely shutting Richie out. “Is everything okay?” Richie, of course, wouldn’t be easily ignored.

“Eds come on-”
“Do not call me that-”
“What’s all this? It’s not Halloween-”
“No, it’s not.”
“Are you one of those drag queens or something?”

Richie lived and breathed pop culture. He met his first drag queens when he moved to West Hollywood in 2009. A reality tv competition went on air, but it wasn’t until a few years later they became mainstream. Last he checked, they were commonplace in the modern household, but he could’ve been misguided measuring solely by Los Angeles standards. The thought of Stan, his wife, and two kids surrounding the TV to watch a drag queen cracked him up, and unfortunately for Richie, he couldn’t stifle the laugh.

“Oh fuck you! Don’t laugh at me!” Eddie shrieked, unmistakably livid. Richie shook his head frantically.

“Eds- Eddie, that’s not how I meant it! I was just thinking about- about the queens I’ve met, and then Stan-”
“What does Stan have to do with it?”

Beverly watched them go back and forth, taking a seat on the stairs and resting her chin in her palms.

Richie threw his hands in the air and shouted, “Nothing! It was dumb! I just-” His arms fell to his sides. “I’m proud of you, Eddie. This is awesome; I can’t believe you turned makeup into a career.” As kind as he tried to spin his response, Eddie wasn’t impressed.

“Why not? You turned screeching into one,” he said coolly. Richie placed a hand over his heart, as if shot.

“Ouch, Eds. And the ref takes a point away,” he mumbled.

“Bev, honey, can you unzip me please?” he asked, ignoring Richie once more. He grabbed the jeans he’d set on the stairs, most likely while Richie was in the bathroom, tugging them up under his dress. Bev nodded, still snickering at his insult.

Watching Eddie shed the dress, Richie bit his lip, averting his eyes and only looking back when Eddie pulled a shirt on. Richie tilted his head, observing him in the familiar Eddie Kaspbrak clothes, with a completely painted face. He wanted to laugh again, but bit his tongue, knowing better. Folding his dress, Eddie stared at the top of the staircase. Richie followed his gaze, hearing soft footsteps approaching rapidly. He’d nearly forgotten the kid in a matter of minutes.

“Hey Bev, how much do you get paid to babysit? I could use an easy gig while I’m in tow-”

“DADDY!” Stevie screamed from the top of the stairs, his voice piercing Richie’s eardrum. Flinching, he shut his eyes, opening them just in time to see Stevie leap into Eddie’s arms. “Daddy, I miss you! I miss you, Daddy!” Stevie kissed all over Eddie’s face, and Richie nearly staggered back, blown away at how soft Eddie’s expression became. Over a decade later, and he could still knock Richie on his ass.

“He’s yours?” Richie asked, barely loud enough to hear. He shot Beverly a glance, unsure if he was angry or confused. Her eyes were pleading, he knew she had more to say, but he didn’t entirely want to listen. “How did-”

“I have to go,” Eddie blurted, but not before Ben jogged down the stairs, happily calling out to him.

“Eddie! Look who’s back in town,” he said, gleefully. Richie made a swiping motion at his neck, wishing Ben grew out of his naive hopes of keeping the peace. Eddie’s lips were pressed thin in a tight smile. He nodded, shooting the same fake pleasantry to Richie. Stevie looked at him as well, holding out his hand and laughing. “And check that out, Stevie likes him!” Both Eddie and Richie’s eyes bulged. They stared at Ben, but Eddie looked away first. Richie wasn’t sure why it mattered, but Ben didn’t make him wait long. “Did you say you were looking for a job, Rich? Cause Eddie’s had a listing post-”

“No! No, absolutely not-”

“Daddy, no shout!”

“First of all, it’s not a gig, I need a nanny for my son while I’m out of town. Second of all, Richard Wentworth Tozier has zero experience being a decent person, let alone watching children! It’s not happening! Now Ben, Bev, I appreciate you both for looking after him-”

“Daddy, no shout!”

Stevie went from covering his ears to covering Eddie’s mouth, and Eddie sighed, staring apologetically at the toddler. He kissed Stevie’s hand, ruffling his hair.

“Your ad’s been in the paper for a month now. Still no responders-”
“Thank you, Ben,” Eddie stated firmly. His gaze shifted from each of them, then to Stevie. “I’ve gotta go. Say goodnight, baby.” Stevie waved, resting his head in the crook of Eddie’s neck as they walked out. The trio stood in silence, until Richie cracked his knuckles stepping towards the door to follow Eddie’s example.

However, Ben placed a hand on his shoulder, stopping him.

“He could use the help. Go to his old house in the morning; there’s no good reason for him to say no,” Ben insisted. He trotted down the last few stairs, sifting through pile of mail on the table by the door. Pulling out a newspaper, he handed it to Richie. Sure enough, there was Eddie’s listing.

Seeking Energetic Nanny For Three Year Old!
Full-time/live-in, for the months of June-Sept.
Experience a plus! Tasks include light house-
keeping, meal prep, and driving to/from app-
ointments. $17/hr. Call 207-339-0127.

Richie read and reread the ad, chewing his bottom lip. Ben shook him by his shoulders, grabbing a quilt from the storage closet. He exchanged a look with Bev, a grin on her face.

“Stay here tonight, sleep on it, apply in the morning,” he said, shaking out the blanket and passing it to Richie. “I’m heading to bed. G’night!” He left knowing exactly what tools he gave Richie, and Bev was right on his heels, kissing Richie’s cheek before going up. They let him stand in the foyer, wondering what the fuck just happened, and what the fuck he was going to do next.

On autopilot, Richie took his spot on the couch, groaning as he relaxed his body.

The newspaper ad was visible through the sliver of street light pouring in through the blinds.

I’m not doing it. I’m not gonna do it, he thought, rolling onto his other side, eager to pass out.


 Knocking on the door, Richie tried to justify his choices. All he could come up with was: Hi, I’m Richie Tozier, and my pride is buried in the backyard of my childhood home!

He didn’t like the sound of it, but what else could he do? Nowhere else in the world would grant him the same anonymity. His mind was made up; he was staying in Derry until further notice. Spending the next four months here fit with his plan, and the job didn’t sound incredibly difficult. Worst case scenario, he’d give Ben or Stan a call.

The door opened, but the moment Eddie saw Richie, he slammed it shut once more.

Richie barely had time to flash his signature smile.

“Eddie, that’s not nice!” he shouted, banging his fist on the door again. “Eddie, don’t you need someone to watch uh- Fuck...” Richie stopped, racking his brain for the name he heard last night. “Steven!”

No response.

Richie debated walking away, when Eddie appeared again.

“It’s Stevie. Like Stevie Nicks? I only call him Steven when he’s in trouble,” Eddie explained. His mouth twisted into a pout, his expression contemplative. “Richie-”

“Eddie, before you say no, let me plead my case,” he said quietly, desperation clear in his tone. Eddie didn’t speak. He motioned for Richie to continue, refusing to move from the doorway and let him in. “I can be responsible. I can take care of a kid. I’m good with them, fans would bring them up sometimes- you’d be surprised. You need the help, I need the job. I’ll even take lower wages. If anything serious goes down, I’ll call Maggie for help. She’s experienced! Mom for thirty years. How’s that sound?”

For a long few minutes, Eddie didn’t speak. Then, when Richie nearly gave up hope, Eddie held the door open fully.

“Come in, I’ll show you around,” he sighed, resigning to the circumstance. Richie’s smile stretched across his face, and he didn’t hesitate.

All he could think was: how hard can watching a toddler really be?

Chapter Text

7:22 AM

In California, Richie would have either been sleeping, or barely passing out after a long night. Twenty-four hours ago, he fled a hospital. He tried wrapping his mind around how fast the day carried on without him, but nothing could help him now as he stood in Eddie Kaspbrak’s childhood home. Sure, a decade passed, but the changes were beyond a new furniture arrangement and paint job. Eddie remodeled the home entirely; Richie followed him through a foyer he didn’t recall, into a larger kitchen with an island counter like Ben and Bev’s, and modernized appliances.

The time shone bright green on the oven, in the center of all the heating options.

“Coffee?” Eddie asked, pouring himself a cup.

“Black, please,” Richie answered, leaning against the counter and observing the rest of the first floor. The door which used to lead into the backyard moved, now expanded to fit a room for laundry - the washer was visible from where he stood. Eddie cleared his throat, handing the mug over. He walked through an archway where the cramped dining area used to be; Richie marveled at the difference. The house felt so much larger when opened up.

As Richie sat down across from Eddie, he noticed other, smaller changes. A Fisher Price table stood in the corner of the room, far from the fireplace, but still in view of the tv. There were pictures of a newborn Stevie neatly lined along the wall, as well as framed artwork. Everything from the color palette to decor screamed Eddie, and Richie swelled with pride seeing how far his best friend turned the place around.

They dreamed of this when they were teenagers.

“You really wrecked the place, huh?” he joked, mentally screaming “FUCK” as the words slipped without his approval. Whoever worked in the brain department of Richie’s body needed to be fired. Eddie rolled his eyes, setting the coffee down to open a blue folder labeled: Application. Tearing out a sheet, he handed it to Richie. “You really want me to fill one of these out, Eds?” Eddie’s eyes flickered to him, glaring. Richie held up his hands, mouthing an apology.

“No. That’s not the application. It’s the schedule,” he said. Flipping to another page, presumably a copy, he motioned for Richie to read along. “Stevie’s gonna be up any minute now, so I wanna go over as much as I can. You’re starting on the first, so I have two weeks to convince myself you can do this-” Richie choked on his coffee.

“Wait, of May? The ad said June through September!” he shouted, earning an angry shush from Eddie. “Sorry, sorry!”

“Is this gonna be a problem? It’s enough I’m even giving you a chance, and I need someone starting ASAP,” Eddie scowled. Taking a breath, running a hand through his hair, he relaxed. “Listen, I’m a little stressed out over this. I’ve been searching and searching, but no one qualified wants the job. I don’t wanna leave him with Bev and Ben the whole time, I feel guilty enough as it is doing it now. If you can take this seriously - if I can trust you - then we can make this work.” For the first time since reuniting, Richie saw Eddie’s old, familiar gentleness.

Eddie Kaspbrak always reminded him of a Tootsie Pop. His soft center, protected by an impossibly thick shell, was still on the crunchy side. He never let Richie get away with anything, but that was what Richie loved best. Someone other than his parents held him accountable. Someone made him care about himself.

“I know I can do this. If I run into problems, I can call Maggie or Ben. Beverly, if I want someone to laugh at me while I work,” he assured Eddie, still joking. Glancing at the paper, Richie did a double take, squinting at the detail. “Eddie... what exactly are you asking from people? I can tell you why no one’s interested.” Waving the application, he struggled to come up with a nicer way to translate his thoughts into words. While he hadn’t applied for a job in nearly a decade, he knew the outlines of responsibilities didn’t typically require a full page in size eleven font.

“Again, Richard, this is a schedule. A professional nanny helped me through four different drafts before I got the final product you’re holding. Do you still think you can handle childcare, or should I keep looking?” Eddie’s crunchiness came out in full force. Richie’s mouth twisted, and he skimmed over the schedule without absorbing any of the information. Sighing, he took another sip of coffee and nodded for Eddie to continue. He stared at Richie for a minute, trying to determine if he should even bother. At last, his shoulders slumped, and he looked to the paper again. “Stevie wakes up anywhere between 7:30 and 8:00. The latest I let him sleep is 8:15, then I start waking him up. He needs to be dressed and ready for the day before 9:00. I’ve highlighted his nap time-” Eddie leaned over to point out the different sections, and Richie snorted.

“This kid is on a tighter schedule than I was,” he mumbled.

“That’s because you’re both children,” Eddie responded without missing a beat, searching the coffee table for a pen.

“You know, you liked getting into trouble with me. We were partners in crime,” Richie reminded him, his voice low. Eddie stared at him, his expression unreadable.

“I grew up, Richie,” he said, a sense of finality in his tone. “Now please, I need you to stick to this. I’ve set guidelines for a reason! If Stevie misses his nap, he’ll be too tired to fall asleep. Then he’ll wait until midnight for bed, and then he’ll wake up every hour, and you’ll be starting the next day before sunrise. He needs his sleep, okay?” Richie held up his hands in surrender.

“In bed by 8:00, out of bed by 8:00, easy enough to remember,” he resigned, thinking of how often he woke up first in Hollywood. The sunrise never failed to dazzle him, even as he stood among knocked out bodies of the drunken and high.

Eddie mumbled curses under his breath, rising to his feet and disappearing back into the kitchen. Richie’s eyes followed him, easily distracted by more pictures scattered around the living room. In several, where Stevie was posed playing in a kiddie pool, riding a carousel, trick-or-treating, and finger painting, he didn’t acknowledge the camera. In the other photos, Richie noticed he appeared to run towards the camera, his tiny hands outstretched. Picking up the nearest frame, a small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. He could see Eddie behind Stevie, trying to pull him back.

Returning with a small blue tray, Eddie paused in the archway, watching Richie study the photograph.

“Why is he trying to grab the camera? Does he not like having his picture taken?” Richie asked, his voice distant. For a moment, Eddie’s defense lowered. He sensed Richie could relate, but he shook his head.

“He doesn’t understand how pictures work still. He wants to see it before you’ve even taken one,” Eddie explained, glancing away when he saw disappointment in Richie’s eyes. He wondered if Richie even knew it was there. Clearing his throat, he set the tray on the table. “Um... this is Stevie’s lunch tray. He doesn’t have to use this all the time; I find it easier to portion his meals with it. Sometimes he has a habit of overeating, so watch out for that, okay? It's fine if he's hungry, but I don't want him getting sick. Speaking of eating though, I should start breakfast for him-”

Quickly setting the picture frame on the coffee table, Richie offered, “Let me take you guys out for donuts! Save you the trouble.” Eddie’s mouth twisted, a firm “no” on the tip of his tongue.

“Donuts!”

Both of them turned to see Stevie trotting over as fast as his little feet could carry him. He wore a dark green dinosaur onesie, different from the monkey pajamas he wore last night. Eddie smiled, although there was a tension in it. Holding out his hands, he laughed and hoisted his son onto his lap, pushing the dinosaur face off of Stevie’s head to kiss his hair.

“Did you dress yourself this morning? How long have you been awake?” Eddie cooed. Stevie kicked his legs, giggling as Eddie tickled him.

“I been- I been awake since this much!” Stevie exclaimed, holding his arms out as wide as he could. His eyes landed on Richie, and he waved before seeming to remember what brought him here in the first place. Perking up, he shouted, “Donuts! I want donuts!” Eddie’s smile dropped, and he glowered at Richie. Wiping the expression from his face, he sighed and bounced Stevie on his knee.

Richie watched them, trying to hide his awe. He remembered when Eddie would babysit the neighborhood kids; parents loved him so much, he wound up stealing business from Betty Ripsom, who also watched the children on their block. Eddie wasn’t just watching Stevie though, he was parenting. There was a calculative look in his eyes as Stevie squirmed. Richie almost felt bad for suggesting going out. Then something clicked, and Eddie smiled again.

“How about we make a deal?” he said, his eyes lighting up to match Stevie’s enthusiasm. Running his fingers through Stevie’s hair, he moved them so they were positioned to face a mirror in the corner. “We can go get donuts, if you let me cut your hair.” At this, Stevie’s eyes widened in horror.

“No thank you! No thank you! I want pancakes!” he hollered, covering his face and shaking his head wildly. Eddie didn’t seem any happier at the response, but he sighed and nodded.

“We’re gonna have to cut it someday,” he said softly, trying to pull Stevie’s hands from his face. Clearly unamused, Stevie pointed at Richie. Eddie followed his finger, clasping his hand over Stevie’s and mumbling, “Don’t point-”

“He has- he has big hair! No haircut! No haircut!” Stevie’s voice became louder, but Eddie didn’t falter. Standing up, he set Stevie on his own two feet, placing his hands on his hips. Almost instantly, the whining stopped. Staring up at his dad, Stevie didn’t make a sound. Richie blinked, impressed until Stevie flopped onto the floor and pretended to cry. “Waaaaah!”

Twisting away as fast as he could, Richie covered his mouth, struggling not to laugh. Eddie groaned, lifting Stevie off the floor. However, before he could make it to the kitchen, Richie jumped up, blocking his path. Although unhappy with the events, Eddie waited for whatever Richie planned on testing him with.

“Let’s just go for donuts. Stevie doesn’t have to cut his hair, but you guys can come with me while I get my hair cut,” he proposed, his eyebrows raised and his arms outstretched. Eddie blinked several times. While his face revealed nothing, Richie felt the familiar sigh and beep beep were mere moments away.

“That sounds...” Eddie’s jaw tightened. Getting this tiny victory from him was like pulling teeth. Richie couldn’t help but smile. “Well, it’s not the worst idea you’ve ever had. You hear that, Stevie? We’ll go get a donut. Come on, let’s go brush your teeth.” Stevie jumped to his feet, cheering and scurrying out of the room. Eddie’s gentle smile didn’t disappear this time, even when his son left. “Thank you. I’ll be back in a minute; we can take my car.” Nodding, Richie headed towards the door to wait outside.

Stopping in the foyer, his grin faded at the markings on the archway. Old, faded lines and numbers labeling Eddie’s height were still there - the one piece of Kaspbrak house history Richie’s friend didn’t alter. Right across from it, however, were signs of new life invading the old. In fresher ink, Eddie tracked Stevie’s height right beside his. The last measurement put him at three feet, just two inches below what Eddie was at his age. Running his fingertips along the wall, Richie sighed and peered over his shoulder. The stairs weren’t as narrow anymore, and his eyes followed the railing up. If he craned his neck just right, he might’ve caught a glimpse of Eddie and his son. He imagined himself taking the stairs two at a time, but shook off the thought.

After throwing what he dubbed “mainstream pop culture garbage” into a box, Richie bit off the lid of a large Sharpie, scribbling “Eddie’s crap” on the side. He dropped the marker, angrily yanking the box from his bed and marching out of his house. The sun shone brilliantly over Derry’s fresh snowfall; kids in the neighborhood shrieked with laughter as they threw snowballs and raced down the hills on their sleds. None of it matched Richie’s huffy, bitter stomping.

Stan said he was being dramatic, but Richie elected to disagree. Eddie owed him an apology, and he would accept no criticisms. He spent months writing a song for the Derry High School talent show, and all Eddie could say was: “This kind of sucks, Rich.”

The rest of the losers watched as Richie and Eddie traded insults over the lunch table, until finally, Richie stormed off. Eddie had some nerve telling him the song lacked any structure. What did he know? He might’ve been good in algebra and biology, but Richie understood their English classes and band class better than anyone. Even Bill played second banana to Richie’s work in their poetry writing assignments. Of course, he could never share this; the teachers would start to expect more from him, and Richie didn’t want that at all.

Trudging through the snow, he stopped at Eddie’s doorstep. The houses on Jackson street were older than the ones on his and Stan’s street, and even more so than the ones on Bill’s. Once, he overheard his mom say these houses were for lower income families, which made sense to Richie. Whereas they all had two parents (save for Ben and Bev, who didn’t count since they lived in apartments) working, Eddie only had his mother.

Sonia peaked through the curtain covering the sidelight window, relief on her face when she saw Richie. He listened to the rattling of the locks as she undid them, distracted when the sound of tires screeching came closer. Peering over his shoulder just as she opened the door, he saw a rusty, light blue pickup truck speeding down the street. Glancing back at Sonia, he did a double take. She looked paler than normal; her usually pretty face appeared sick, the lines under eyes running deeper.

“Hey Richie, Eddie’s not here right now. You can wait for him in his room, he’ll be home soon,” she said, staring at the truck as it parked in her driveway. Richie opened his mouth to protest, but Sonia placed a hand on his shoulder, squeezing tight. “Would you mind? This is important.” Hearing the distress in her voice changed Richie’s intent. Unsure of what came over him, he quietly scurried inside, flinching when she closed the door behind him. A man climbed out of the truck; Richie had never seen him before, but his eyes and hair were remarkably familiar.

A thump upstairs caught his attention, pulling it away from whatever Sonia and the man outside were doing. Setting the box down in the living room, Richie slowly made his way up, pausing when he saw Eddie at the end of the hall, staring out of the circular window to the lawn below. Confused, he approached cautiously, not wanting to scare him. He passed the row of pictures hung on the walls, showing Eddie on every birthday to present day.

In the earlier photos, he and Sonia were on a farm in Alabama. Eddie told the losers his mom had a funny accent because she didn’t come from Derry originally. Her parents lived cozily in the countryside, and she moved away shortly after he was born to find a better job in the city. Eventually, they made it from New York to Derry - just in time for Eddie to start kindergarten with the rest of the group. Richie recalled hearing his and Bill’s mom talking about how young she was, showing distaste in how she dressed and acted. At the time he didn’t understand, but he supposed the comments stemmed from jealousy.

Stopping beside Eddie, Richie instantly forgot why he came over. Eddie held his finger to his lips, refusing to tear his eyes away from the scene below. Standing by the truck, Sonia threw her hands angrily into the air, while the man slammed his fist on the side of the vehicle. Even from the second floor, the boys could hear them clearly. The man jabbed a finger at the house, looking up at them. His breath catching, Richie pulled away, afraid of being seen. Of course, getting caught didn’t scare him as much as realizing why the man looked familiar. He looked like Eddie.

Gulping, Richie stole a peek at his friend. Eddie’s eyes were red and wet, tear streaks staining his face. His expression softened. Now, as he looked at Eddie, he didn’t look like his dad at all. He was pretty, like his mom. Their eyes were both big and brown, wide with wonder, soft. Their faces were round and their noses were small and pointed. Eddie had a softness that the man outside didn’t, and Richie liked him this way.

“Come back with an actual court order, and maybe we’ll talk about it, Frank!” Sonia cried, trying to walk away. Frank grabbed her wrist, and Eddie tensed. Richie watched him, worried. Sonia didn't want either of them to see this; she didn't even know Eddie was here.

Again, Frank pointed at the house and shouted, “You’re turning him into some little fruit! He’s a freak, Sonny!”

“Fuck you!”

Richie saw neighbors peeking from their windows. Ms. Corcoran stepped out onto her porch, concerned as she studied the situation. Eddie covered his eyes, shaking as he whimpered. Richie tore his gaze away from the couple outside, carefully wrapping an arm around Eddie’s shoulders. He opened his mouth once, then promptly shut it. He tried and failed a second time. Then a third. There were thousands of words in the English language, and a million ways to arrange them to say what he wanted.

“I don’t think you’re a freak,” was all that came out. Eddie scooted closer to him, and Richie rested his cheek on top of Eddie’s head, rubbing his arm.

Walking onto the lawn, Richie glanced up at the circular window, unsure why he was so relieved Eddie didn’t change it. Shaking his head, he jogged to his car, rummaging through the glove compartment for two essentials. Carefully removing his contacts, he replaced them with his old glasses, the masking tape still holding the center together. Adjusting them, he squinted until his vision came into focus. He couldn’t recall the last time he wore them, but he was certain Obama had yet to take office. Once he could see, he gathered his hair, fitting an old Mets baseball cap over his head to hide the wild tangles.

Upon returning to Derry, Richie considered the changes he might need to make to blend in whenever he explored town. Cutting his hair was on the list, but he didn’t know where to go without being recognized, and he didn’t think to ask Maggie. Now, with the excuse of Stevie, it worked out. Texting his mom, he glanced over his shoulder at Eddie’s house. Maybe Eddie had a point not trusting Richie, considering his offer had ulterior motives. For a split second, he felt the guilt creeping in.

Living in Hollywood for ten years, Richie learned to make the most of opportunities. Nobody did anything for free or out of the kindness of their hearts. You caught a ride with someone going in the same direction, and had a good time on the way.

But this wasn’t Hollywood, and Eddie wasn’t just another somebody.

Biting his lip, he tried to force his thoughts elsewhere, but Stevie’s voice snapped him out of thinking altogether. Richie shut the door to his car, locking it behind him as he strolled over to watch Eddie buckle Stevie into his car seat. He half expected more of a process, but the seat belt appeared easy enough. Stevie waved at him, and Richie waved back, watching him play with a plush cow.

When Eddie shut the door, he paused to look Richie over. Flicking the brim of his cap, he snickered.

“This is an interesting... ensemble,” he said, climbing into the driver side. Richie clicked his tongue, walking around a moment too late as Eddie started the vehicle.

“You could’ve just said I look bad,” he mumbled, grinning to himself.


Rather than ask how Eddie came to have a three-year-old son, as well as a thriving career as a drag queen, Richie gaped at all the changes Derry made in the last decade. Driving out of the neighborhoods, and what used to be strangely placed strip malls and shops, he saw the layout became more city-like. Although Derry maintained the cozy, small town vibe for him, he wondered if kids and teenagers felt the same.

The homes all seemed freshly built (and in the back of his mind, a voice begged to see what became of the house on Neibolt), and as they turned on Kansas Street - a section they nicknamed “Up Mile Hill” - Richie saw the mall relocated to the empty lot where Kansas met Costello. If he remembered correctly, the Aladdin was just on the other side. As they drove up Kansas Street, Richie noticed the warehouses were replaced with rows of shops. The storefronts were colorful and inviting, rather than run down and spooky. Behind him, Stevie began to shout.

“Work Daddy? Work! Vrooooom! Vroom vroom!” he yelled eagerly, imitating a plane as he made car noises. Richie snickered, looking out to where he pointed and recognizing the old Tracker Brother’s store he stopped in yesterday.

“Oh yeah, those old guys sold the place,” Richie said, twisting around to watch Stevie as he switched from pretending he was an airplane, to driving a car. Eddie’s brow rose as he stole a peek at Richie.

“I know. I’m the one they sold it to,” he responded. There was more in his voice; he expected Richie to know this. Biting the inside of his cheek, Richie tried to hide his bewilderment. “I wanted to own a repair shop, remember?” Blinking several times, Richie stared at the auto store again. Eddie renamed it The Pit Stop. Reading the sign, his mouth twisted into a smile.

“You fixed up Bill’s lemon every weekend,” he said quietly. Eddie couldn’t help but smile too. “Mike’s dad refused to go anywhere but your house for help with the truck, right? You saved old Bertha from the junkyard. I remember that.” Sitting straight in his seat again, Richie chewed on his lip for a moment. “I guess I dropped the idea of you and grease stains to make room for the whole... wig and dress stuff.” Eddie slowed to a stop at the light, tilting his head to look Richie in the eye.

“I can’t have both?” he questioned. Richie shrugged, and Eddie continued driving.

“That’s not what I meant, I just... How did you jump from one to the other?” Richie scratched the back of his head, watching Eddie’s expression change as he mulled over his response. Before he could answer, he stopped the car, cutting the engine. Peering out the window, Richie saw they were parked behind the former warehouses. One of the buildings had a giant, pink donut painted over the brick. Stevie cheered in the backseat, struggling to unstrap himself from the car seat.

Stretching, Richie swung the door shut behind him, waiting for Eddie and Stevie. The toddler chanted, “donuts, donuts, donuts,” then began singing, “donuts, donuts, I love donuts!” Eddie held his hand, smiling down patiently at his son as they walked over. Richie almost took a step away, but he noticed Stevie holding out his other hand for him. Glancing at Eddie, seeking permission, he awkwardly reached down to take Stevie’s hand when Eddie nodded. Stevie’s hand fit entirely in Richie’s palm - his cell phone was bigger. His thigh began to cramp as they rounded the building, and he sighed with relief when they walked inside and Stevie scampered off towards the display case, allowing him to stand straight again.

Stevie pressed his nose against the glass, awed by the colors and shapes of various donuts. Richie crouched to study the options with him, but Stevie took off in another direction, squishing his face against a second display case. He did it again to the third case, making the same amazed exclamations each time. Waiting by the original case, Richie considered following him, when Stevie ran back over and pointed at the first donut he’d admired. The baker slathered it in white icing and Lucky Charms, enticing Stevie. He poked at the glass, frantically searching for Eddie.

“I want that one,” he said, peeling his hand off and leaving behind a print. Lifting Stevie onto his hip, Eddie ordered two of the donuts, milk, and coffee. Richie waited for the total, handing the cashier money before Eddie could even open his wallet.

“What are you-”
“C’mon, Eds. Today’s on me,” Richie insisted, motioning for him to take the little bag. Although apprehensive, Eddie grabbed the donuts while Richie carried the drinks. Finding a table in the corner, he set Stevie down, setting out a napkin and handing him the donut. Stevie began picking off the marshmallows, eating them one by one. Instead of eating himself, Eddie monitored his son carefully, his hand twitching whenever Stevie coughed. Realizing a second too late he should’ve been taking notes, Richie copied him. He couldn’t help but wonder if Eddie hovered, but the chance to ask escaped him.

A policewoman approached their table, immediately making Richie nervous. If his friends - or worse, management - filed a missing person report on him, it was only a matter of time before he was dragged back to Los Angeles. Rigid in his seat, he forced a smile, trying to remain calm. The woman had a stern expression, her dark hair pulled tight in a bun. Placing her hands on her hips, she stopped beside them. Instead of addressing Richie, however, she spoke to Eddie.

“Mr. Kaspbrak,” she said in a tone Richie normally heard with you’re under arrest. Eddie stared up at her, his expression unreadable at first.

“Pat!” he exclaimed, standing up and holding out his arms. The woman’s serious front dropped instantly, and she beamed, hugging Eddie tightly. “Don’t tell me you’re here for donuts, don’t tell me cops are actually like that-”

“Oh hush!” she cried, her whole body moving as she laughed. “You have one damn donut, and the floodgates are opened!” When the laughter faded, she reached into her pocket, bending over to be level with Stevie. “I got something for you, Officer Stevie.” The woman peeled a sticker, placing the fake police badge on Stevie’s chest. He squealed with delight, pointing it out to Eddie, then to Richie.

“Look, I’m- I’m a police officer!” he shouted gleefully, his cheek full of donut.

Suddenly uncomfortable, Richie tried to flash him a smile. The woman stared at him, glancing at Eddie and nodding her head in Richie’s direction. He wanted to be insulted at the way Eddie’s eyes rolled back, but he didn’t have time to say anything. Eddie motioned to him and clicked his tongue.

“Patty, this is Richie. Richie, this is Patty Uris,” he introduced them. Richie didn’t respond for a second. It wouldn’t click in his brain why he knew the name Uris, but not this woman. When it finally did, he knew the moment was just awkward enough.

“Oh! You’re Stanny’s wife!” he blurted, reaching out to shake her hand. “Aren’t you a sight! Stan the Man lucked out, didn’t he, Eds?” Patty blushed, waving him off. She studied Richie’s face, her eyes suddenly widening and all pleasantness draining. Unable to pretend he didn’t see, he let her go, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I take if you’ve heard all about me then?” Offering him a tight-lipped, forced smile, she turned her back on him to continue her conversation with Eddie and effectively box him out.

Slumping back into his seat, Richie stared out the window, his chin in his hand.

“S’cuse me. S’cuse me!” Stevie called out, patting the table. Richie glanced over, sheepishly facing him when he realized Stevie wanted his attention. “Why are you sad?” His eyes bulged, and he rapidly tried to fix his face.

“I’m not sad, kiddo. I’m happy as a clam,” he answered. An adult would see he only wanted to appease the three-year-old, but then again, an adult would know he couldn’t simply end the conversation there. Stevie bit into his donut, spitting out the pastry to look at it, then popping it back into his mouth.

“What’s a clam?” Stevie asked, licking his palm.

“Huh? Um...” Richie hesitated, but seeing Eddie and Patty were busy talking, he figured a conversation with the kid couldn’t hurt. If he wanted the job, he’d have to get used to baby talk. “A clam is a... what is a clam, fuck-” Stevie gasped and Richie bit his lip. “Sorry, don’t say that word, it’s a bad one! Um- clam! Clam, a clam is... it’s a shell.” Sighing with relief, Richie made a mental note to work on his swearing.

“Oh... what’s a shell?” Stevie shoved three fingers in his mouth, sucking the sugary glaze off.

Chuckling, Richie shrugged. A smile on his face, Stevie copied him. Richie puckered his lips, laughing when Stevie mimicked him again. Lifting his hand, he pointed his finger and poked his nose, watching Stevie do the same. He tried to think of what else to do, when Eddie returned to the table.

“Tonight, okay? The kids have been asking about Stevie anyways, I promise it’s fine,” Patty said as she walked backwards towards the exit. Eddie nodded, waving as she disappeared outside.

In an attempt to dispel the tension, Richie tapped his knuckles against Eddie’s arm and whispered, “Check this out. Hey, Stevie!” Pulling at the corners of his mouth, he waited for Stevie to do the same. Unamused, Eddie reached out to move Stevie’s hands down.

“Baby, not in public, okay? It’s not nice to make faces,” he said. He didn’t acknowledge Richie again, instead helping Stevie finish eating, wiping the corners of his mouth and chin when he was done. In between waiting, and observing how Eddie took care of his son, Richie gazed outside.

From where he sat, he saw a few other new shops; someone opened a retro video game and entertainment store. He could see the records and VHS tapes on display. Next door was a clothing store, and he wouldn’t have been surprised to find a Beverly Marsh design on the racks. Across the road, the library had been relocated, although the architecture remained unchanged. There wasn’t a doubt in Richie’s mind Ben had something to do with it; he loved the library when they were kids.

He didn’t realize what this donut shop used to be until a group of teens walked past, counting money between them and excitedly running off.

Eddie Money’s Take Me Home Tonight played on the jukebox. The black and white checkered floor reflected the changing lights overhead - blues, purples, greens, reds. Bill and Mike shared a banana split, laughing as Richie twirled Beverly across the floor. Eddie’s arms were crossed, his nose upturned, but Richie extended a hand anyway. He knew Eddie would dance with him if he only asked. The chorus was coming up, and just as the song said, he could feel their hearts beating faster. Sighing, a small smile on his face, Eddie took Richie’s hand, his eyes widening when he was yanked from his seat and dipped in Richie’s arms. The losers were laughing - even Stan, who worked behind the counter, wiping down the ice cream display case.

“Richie? Richard?” Eddie placed a hand on Richie’s arm, causing him to flinch. “Sorry- are you okay?” Looking around the shop, Richie took a breath and nodded. Eddie didn’t seem convinced, but he didn’t argue. “Are you sure it’s fine if we go to your parents’ place? I don’t wanna intrude.” Shaking his head, Richie stood up, nearly knocking the chair over. His hand twitched, wanting to check his phone and text Maggie again to remind her he was bringing company.

“Don’t sweat it, she’ll be stoked to see you,” he insisted, motioning for Eddie to follow.

Once they were back at the car, Richie took the time Eddie used buckling Stevie’s belt to send Maggie a message. She didn’t respond until Eddie was climbing into the car, and fortunately he took no notice. He wanted to laugh; she sent him an attempt at a selfie. She held a thumb up, but only the tip made it into the picture, and his inability to look at the camera might have been hereditary, seeing as Maggie also looked anywhere but the camera. Pocketing his phone, he resumed staring at the town as they passed.

Halfway down Kansas Street, Eddie turned on the radio. Richie’s heart sank, hearing his own voice coming from the speakers. As if reading his thoughts, Eddie changed the station.

“Stevie loves music. That should... make your job a little easier,” he said casually, as if he didn’t care at all how easy Richie found the job. Part of Richie believed he truly didn’t. The other part hoped Eddie was simply being stubborn. Either option was extremely possible, which didn’t help. Raising the volume, he turned onto Center Street, smiling when Stevie started singing gibberish along with the radio.

Taking this route to his house, Richie was able to see parts of the street he missed yesterday. He craned his neck to see if the initials Bill and Betty carved into the Ripsom’s cherry tree were still there, but Eddie passed too quickly. The sneakers he threw over the telephone line were still hanging, darkened and tattered with time. He didn’t expect them to dangle over the intersection after seventeen years, and the thought of being able to clearly remember nearly two decades ago made him shudder.

Richie didn’t have long to muse over the pieces of history he left behind. Maggie waited for them on the stoop; he could see a pitcher of lemonade on the table decorating their porch. Bringing a chair down the steps, she set it in the middle of the grass, fishing scissors from her apron. She set them on the chair, holding out her arms to hug Richie once. Eddie came around the car with Stevie in one arm, the other outstretched for Maggie.

“Eddie Kaspbrak, as I live and breathe!” she squealed. Stevie covered his eyes, hiding from Richie’s mom. “And who’s this little man?” He peeked between his fingers, and Richie waved, leaving Stevie no choice but to smile and wave back. Of course, he immediately hid himself again. Eddie rubbed his arm soothingly, kissing the side of his head.

“This is my Stevie,” he introduced them. Richie felt a twinge of surprise; he expected everyone to have met Eddie’s son. It never crossed his mind that his parents and friends wouldn’t have spoken in his absence. “Stevie, this is Richie’s mommy. Say hi, Mrs. Tozier.” Moving his hands, Stevie studied Maggie for a moment.

“Hi Mistletoe Sir,” he greeted, waving shyly. Maggie burst into giggles, covering her mouth a second too late. “What? What’s funny?” Eddie shook his head, kissing Stevie again. Whirling around, Maggie grabbed Richie’s arm, leading him to the chair.

“I’ve been itching to cut this hair since you came home, Richie,” she said gleefully. Richie huffed, crossing his arms, but one swift glance at Eddie and Stevie changed his posture. If he was going to help encourage Stevie to chop off his hair, he’d have to enjoy this as much as possible. He couldn’t lie - getting a haircut from his mom did have a nice element of relaxation to it. His hair stylists didn’t serve much purpose other than slicking his mane back when he needed to look somewhat presentable. After a while, no one did anything without his say so. As much as he hated it growing up, he missed demands from the people around him. “How have you been, Eddie? It’s been so long; I’m so sorry I haven’t called.” Eddie shook his head, walking to stand beside Maggie.

“Don’t apologize...”

While they spoke, Stevie stood in front of Richie, watching Maggie snip away chunks of his hair. The locks fell to the ground, and he picked one up, patting Richie’s knee.

“What’s up, kid?” Richie asked, careful not to move his head too much. Stevie handed the hair to him, and Richie held out his palm. “Yeah, that’s my hair. I don’t really need it right now, so... bye bye!” He wiggled his fingers, dropping the hair back onto the grass. Stevie’s hand flew to his own hair, his bottom lip pouting.

“It hurt!” he shouted. Richie shook his head, earning a slap on the shoulder from his mom.

“Not at all. I can’t even tell. Did she cut my hair again?” he asked. Behind him, he could feel Maggie picking hair from his shoulder. She waved it at Stevie, holding a finger to her lips. Stevie copied her, looking at Richie and nodding. “We’re better friends, Ma. You can’t tell him to keep secrets from me. Right, Steve-o?” Stevie scratched his head, unsure of how to answer. Eddie laughed this time, nudging Richie.

“He doesn’t understand nicknames yet. He knows you’re close, but he thinks you got his name wrong,” he explained. Crouching down, Eddie beckoned Stevie over. “Do you wanna cut his hair?” Perking up, Stevie waddled over. Richie held his breath, hearing the click of the scissors several more times. “Good job! You did it!” Eddie came back into Richie’s view with Stevie, while Maggie proceeded cutting his hair.

“I think he’s earned something,” she said, pointing the scissors. Eddie cocked a brow, unsure what she meant. “Richie has so many toys still in his room. Why don’t you let him pick a few out?” Richie’s face burned; he bowed his head, feeling Eddie’s stare on him. Stevie hopped in his spot, eager at the idea of new toys.

“I don’t know... He did do a good job, but Richie’s stuff is for boys who cut their hair. Stevie doesn’t wanna do that yet-”

At once, Stevie began hollering.

“I wanna cut my hair too! I want my hair cut! Please, please, please, please!” he begged, tugging on Eddie’s hand. Maggie dusted hair from Richie’s shoulders, running her fingers through the top to pull any loose strands.

“Rich, why don’t you run up and shower while I take care of Stevie? You can take him to your room after,” she instructed. Richie shook out his shirt, watching the hair fall into the grass at his feet.

“Gee Ma, do I have to?” he asked, putting on a childish voice. While he wasn’t explicitly annoyed being lumped in with a child, he noticed a pattern with Eddie and his mom. Wondering if his old shirts would still fit, he aimed to go inside, but he only managed to take one step.

“Wait!” Stevie cried, twisting in the chair to reach for Richie. He paused, looking down at him. “I scared.” Stevie held out his hand, waiting for Richie to take it. He stood rooted to the spot, unsure of how to react. Eddie watched Stevie curiously; Richie saw mild offense in his eyes. There wasn’t much he could do about it though. He didn’t have the slightest clue why Stevie would want to hold his hand. Coming back to sit on the ground beside him, Richie took Stevie’s tiny hand, squeezing gently.

“Scared of what, buddy? It’s alright. I promise,” he said softly. Stevie used his free arm to cover his eyes, and Maggie took the first cut. She handed the lock of hair to Eddie, a small smile on her face. “Don’t sweat it, kiddo. I was scared my first time too. I think I peed my pants, so you’re already doing better.” Stevie giggled, and Richie felt him squeezing his hand back.

Maggie finished Stevie’s haircut faster than Richie’s. They were drinking lemonade in no time at all; Stevie didn’t let go of Richie’s hand. He bounced from one foot to the other, not hiding how much he wanted to check out the toys they promised him. Grinning, Richie nodded his head towards the front door.

“Why don’t we check out my room?” he suggested. Eddie’s eyes, instantly honing in on him, were sharp. Rather than recoil, Richie stared back. “You’re gonna have to trust me with him at some point.” Staring down at his lemonade, Eddie nodded, freeing Richie and Stevie. “C’mon, bud. You know what Legos are right? I might have some of those.” Stevie ran ahead of Richie, pausing only because he couldn’t reach the doorknob.

If the main floor of the Tozier house received limited changes over the years, then the second floor received virtually nothing. Photographs of old family and distant cousins ascended the stairs with him; the faded sunflower wallpaper desperately needed changing. The rug, outdated when he was a kid, somehow lived long enough to make a comeback into relevance. It matched the aesthetic of his apartment in L.A.

Swinging open his bedroom door, he expected dust to fill his nostrils, but Maggie kept the room clean.

Other than regular sweeping, nothing had been touched since he left. His bed was still pushed against the furthest wall; he found it was easier to masturbate when he didn’t have to constantly peer over his shoulder. His Green Day and Nirvana posters hung on the vaulted ceiling, their color lost with time. Picking up a t-shirt draped over his bedpost, he shook it out, smiling at the logo. He thought he lost this Soundgarden shirt somewhere along the way to California, come to find he simply forgot it in his rush to leave.

Stevie climbed onto the bed, jumping around while Richie explored his room. A stack of CDs were on the edge of his desk, and he snickered at the one on top. Opening the case, he searched for his stereo, testing the power before sliding the CD in. He didn’t need to read the track listing; his memory didn’t fail him as he skipped to the last song. Smash Mouth was a guilty pleasure, but no guiltier than what he and Eddie would do to the sounds of this record.

“You like music, right Stevie?” he asked, raising his voice. Stevie shouted and kept jumping, and Richie bopped his head, rocking his body to the song.

“I can’t get enough of you, baby...”

Richie tried doing the twist, laughing when Stevie copied his poor attempt. Grabbing his hands, he led Stevie, showing him how to dance. When he let go, Stevie resumed dancing as he did before. Richie started dancing like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, a smile stretching across his face at how familiar it felt. Eddie would dance like Uma Thurman, and they would argue over the name of the dance - Batusi or Watusi. Richie only knew because he watched old Batman reruns at 3 AM, and saw where it originated, but he let Eddie win for the sake of a good night. He didn’t care; he just wanted to dance with his Eddie.

In the corner of his eye, a photo caught Richie’s attention. Slowly, he stopped dancing, letting Stevie jump around on his own while the CD looped back to the beginning of the album. Picking up the old polaroid, he chuckled at what they wrote on the bottom. Hopping onto the bed, he motioned for Stevie to come over.

“Do you know who this is?” he asked, pointing Eddie out. He wore a light pink shirt, the chocolate milk stain barely out of view. Richie squinted at his own clothes, not fully remembering the statement he wanted to make back in 2004. Maybe he desperately wanted everyone to know he liked the Meteora album. Upon closer inspection, he realized he did in fact wear the same outfit when Bill took him to see Linkin Park in New Jersey over the summer. Stevie’s head tilted, uninterested by the picture. “You don’t know?” He shook his head, shrugging. “That’s me and your daddy.”

“Nah uh!” he cried, reaching for the picture. Richie let him hold it, running his thumb over the corner.

“Yeah huh,” he chuckled, pointing from himself to his image. “That’s me, and that’s my Eddie Spaghetti.” Stevie giggled at the nickname.

“Daddy?”

“Yep.”

“Daddy spaghetti?”

Richie snorted, covering his face with both hands. He could already see the annoyance on Eddie’s face if Stevie ran downstairs shouting “daddy spaghetti” again and again. Nodding, he took the polaroid back. Stevie slid off the bed, running towards the closet, while Richie stared at the old pictures on his desk. The polaroid happened because Stan saved enough birthday money to get a classic camera; he only wanted to use it for his birds. Eddie swiped the camera from him in one of their classes - or maybe during lunch - and snapped the picture of him and Richie.

“I don’t think it’s fair you get to keep it!” Eddie huffed, crossing his arms.

Richie held the photo out of his reach, smirking as he said, “I think it’s totally fair, Spaghetti Man.”

“Don’t call me that!”

Hooking his arm around Eddie’s neck, Richie pulled him in close. Although he scowled at first, Eddie’s smile broke through within the same second. Falling back onto his bed, Richie scooted closer to the wall so Eddie would have more room. Neither of them spoke, a distant sputtering of a car engine serving as the only noise.

That morning, Eddie took his SAT, and it was all Richie could think about.

Applying for colleges and waiting for acceptance was supposedly over a year away. At least Richie believed so. He didn’t know how the process worked, or how much time went in to working for the acceptance letter. Stan took on a job to save for tuition, Beverly found an internship in Bangor her foster father drove her to each weekend, and Bill and Mike were impossible to reach with exams around the corner. Ben and Eddie were the only two left with reasonable schedules, but even then... Richie noticed their minds were preoccupied.

“Eddie?”

“Hm?”

Eddie looked up at him, his brow furrowed. Richie’s voice could be soft when they were alone, but he heard the hesitation, and there was rarely any faltering with Richie Tozier.

“What are we gonna do after high school? How do you see things going?” he asked. Staring at the ceiling, counting the cracks in the paint, he avoided meeting Eddie’s stare. Eddie propped himself up on one elbow, his free hand on Richie’s chest.

“Well... I’d like for us all to go to the same college. We can rent a house close to campus and live our lives as college kids,” he replied. Richie frowned, tempted to turn away, but the space wouldn’t allow him. Eddie patted his chest, leaning in to kiss his cheek. He nuzzled his face in the crook of Richie’s neck, his breath hot on his skin. “If it doesn’t work out that way... if we end up going to separate colleges, I hope we’ll still be close. Can you promise me that, Richie? We could both go to William and Mary, or NYU.” Richie pulled back, glancing down at Eddie. He didn’t move, choosing to hide his face (although poorly). Richie didn’t know why he bothered - not because he could see him regardless, but because he always had trouble reading Eddie’s expression. His poker face couldn’t be cracked.

“Those schools are way too good. I’d never get in, Eds,” he whispered sadly. Eddie shut his eyes, clutching Richie’s arm.

“It’s like you’ve already decided-”
“I haven’t-”
“But it feels that way, Richard!”

Eddie sighed, leaning up again. Richie ran a hand down his arm in an attempt to soothe him. Silence fell over them for a second time. Sucking in a breath, Eddie crushed his lips against Richie’s. Sitting up, Richie cupped Eddie’s face in one hand, his other holding Eddie’s neck. When they broke apart, Eddie pressed his forehead against Richie’s. He remembered their first kiss during fireworks, then their second, at a sleepover. Each time set off the same explosion in his chest, and swoop in his stomach.

“That wasn’t Nerys,” he whispered. Richie chuckled, brushing his fingertips along the nape of Eddie’s neck, feeling the thin bristles of his hair. Kissing him again, lying him back on the bed, he placed a hand on his waist and held him close.

“That wasn’t Alexander,” he replied, raising his brow in shock. Eddie rolled his eyes, lifting his hands to hold Richie’s face.

“You know I love you, right? I haven’t been imagining this... us- right?” he asked, desperation clear in his voice. Richie saw the fear in his eyes. Kissing over his eyelids, he left a final, lingering kiss on Eddie’s forehead.

“You haven’t. This is real, Eddie Kaspbrak,” he said. Petting Eddie’s hair back, he smiled down at him. “I promise I’ll go with you. Wherever you go.” Richie wanted to kiss Eddie again, but instead he gazed at him, admiring the soft roundness of his face, and the way his eyes turned a warm gold in the sunlight.

A rattling from the closet startled Richie. He shook his head, setting the picture back on his desk. Pausing, he bit his lip, grabbing it again and hiding it in his wallet.

“I found toys!” Stevie cried, pushing the door open and holding up an old Power Ranger action figure. “What’s this one?” Instead of waiting for an answer, he disappeared into the closet again, bringing back Ninja Turtles. “What’s this one?” Richie didn’t waste time trying to respond. Stevie ran again, giggling with delight as he pulled out more toys. Waiting for him to excavate the treasures from his closet, Richie fiddled with the Power Ranger, forgetting entirely he owned a set of them.

He didn’t mean to lose track of time, but then again, he hardly ever did.

Stevie found a dozen Hot Wheels, proceeding to drive them around Richie’s room. Unaware of how long they played, lost in thought with each toy he picked up, his eyes widened with surprise when Eddie’s voice carried up the stairs. His footsteps were rushed, and he breathed a sigh of relief seeing Stevie safely running in circles around the bedroom.

“Sorry,” Richie mumbled, waving his hand. “He really likes those cars. He can have it all, if he wants.” At this, Stevie’s face lit up, but Eddie shook his head.

“Just one thing, Stevie. You have a lot of toys at home, okay?” he reminded his son. Stevie stared up at Eddie for a long moment before flopping on the floor and pretending to cry again.

“Waaaaaaah-”

“Steven, not now, please,” Eddie said sternly. Stevie stopped at once, huffing and returning to playing with the cars. Richie snickered, scooting back to rest against the wall. “Don’t promise him things you can’t deliver, okay?” Richie wanted to protest, but thought better of it. His fight was gone for the day. If Eddie wanted to paint him as an irresponsible jerk, then so be it. All he wanted was a job where he wouldn’t have to venture into the thick of Derry.

Noticing the resignation, Eddie opened his mouth, wanting to apologize. The moment was fleeting however, and his lips shut once more. Stevie made car noises, filling the quiet between them. Outside, they heard the rumble of a bus. Richie glanced over his shoulder, wondering which bus ran this early in the day. The school bus, while still an ugly yellow, was shorter than normal. Derry Day Care was painted on the side in various colors.

The bus stopped at Stan’s house, and two kids ran out, chasing each other towards the porch. A man appeared from the house, holding out his arms for them. Richie’s breath caught in his throat.

“We can go see him, if you want. Despite what Patty feels, he missed you,” Eddie said. Richie watched Stan and the kids vanish inside, his throat tightening. He couldn’t remember if he received a wedding invite and ignored it, or didn’t get one at all. “Mike’s probably off right now too. The Black Spot doesn’t open until one. I could call him.” Richie didn’t think to question what he was talking about. He waved his hand, rising to his feet.

“Yeah... Yeah, I wanna see them,” he said with a certainty he didn’t truly have.

Chapter Text

“It wouldn’t kill you to knock,” Eddie said, almost teasingly. Richie glanced at him, wondering if he saw the beginnings of a smile. Any encouragement would’ve helped, especially from him. Gulping, Richie stared at the thick wooden door, suddenly forgetting how long it had been since standing outside Ben and Beverly’s house. His fist rose, feeling a lot like a slow motion effect.

Water came dangerously close to their old clubhouse. Although the group never used it anymore, Richie didn’t want to see a piece of Derry history flooded. Staring at the water as it gushed by, he bit his lip every time it splashed enough to fleck him with droplets. He never asked, but he didn’t need to - he could feel everyone forgetting the underground base they dug together. Between his van and Bill’s station wagon, they didn’t need a club, but Richie liked coming back to their roots. He liked remembering how close they all were.

“Fuck a duck, I think I caught something!” Mike exclaimed, drawing Richie’s attention from the hidden entrance. Backing away from the water, Mike struggled to reel in the hook of his fishing rod. Stan stood beside him, watching with an intense, focused interest.

Setting his notebook down, unable to finish the current lyric giving him hell, Richie stretched and walked over. Fishing wasn’t one of his favorite activities, but Stan and Mike spent a lot of time together doing it, and he figured the quiet would help with his writing. Both fishing and song writing required focus; at least he could be alone together with them. His hands in his pockets, he played with a loose piece of string as he watched Stan brace himself to grab whatever Mike hooked.

“He’s a big one, Stanney boy, I can feel it!” Mike shouted over the sounds of the water. Richie snorted.

“That’s what-”
“Beep beep, Richie,” Stan interrupted him, not even bothering to look in his direction. The fish flew out of the water, wagging its’ body madly. Stan caught the fish in their bucket, where previous catches finally stopped flailing. Allegedly, one of them was a rainbow fish, but Richie didn’t see any spectacular colors. “Another salmon! This one’s huge!” Dropping it in the bucket, Stan wiped sweat from his forehead. He grinned, clearly satisfied with their work.

“You got the fire going, right?” Mike asked, reeling the fishing line back entirely and setting his gear further on bank. Stan nodded, picking up another thick branch and carrying it over to the fire, tossing it in with the healthy flames.

Perching back in his spot amongst a low hanging tree, Richie watched Mike scale the fish, quickly swinging his knife back and forth across it. He wasn’t the only one entranced by Mike’s work; Stan watched, fascinated as Mike took his time cutting through the fish, picking out the smaller bones with ease. Cutting off enormous pieces - much bigger than anything Richie recalled getting in a restaurant - Mike threw them on their makeshift grill. He tore open packets of salt and pepper they stole from the diner on Kansas Street, drizzling the contents over each fillet.

“Now if only we had some lemon,” he said ruefully. Stan chuckled, shrugging and shaking his head, assuring Mike the problem could be easily overlooked. “Come on, Rich. You’re gonna taste test, so if anything bad happens, we won’t lose too much.” Richie rolled his eyes as Stan laughed, hopping out of the tree. “I’m kiddin’ man. I know if we don’t feed you soon, you’ll start bitching.” As if on cue, Richie’s stomach growled in response to the fishy aroma filling the air.

“Quiet you,” Richie mumbled, rubbing his belly. Mike checked the fish carefully before throwing it on a paper plate, handing the food to Richie. Biting off a corner, he chewed slowly, drawing out his reaction. Mike and Stan waited, watching him intently. After a minute, he took another bite, and Mike’s face fell. Snickering, he held up his thumb. “It’s good man, I can taste how fresh it is. Didn’t realize Mom served old fish until just now.” Flashing his middle finger, Mike turned to plate the last two fillets. The remnants of the carcass lied underneath mud and twigs now, going back to the earth, according to Mike.

All three boys ate, savoring the taste with each bite. Steve Miller Band played through static on Stan’s radio, the only noise outside of the water. Richie bobbed his head to the tune, wiping his mouth as he finished first. Reaching for the garbage bag Mike brought, his notebook fell from his lap, landing open on his current song. Mike glanced over, snatching the journal. His breath catching, Richie stumbled as he tried to take the book back.

“Come on, Rich, I wanna see what you’re scribbling!” he laughed.

“I’ll kick mud right into that plate, Hanlon! Give it back!” Richie threatened. Mike shrugged, motioning to the bucket. Scowling, Richie threw his trash into the bag, slumping back in his spot. Avoiding looking at his friends, he could still see in his peripheral vision when Stan joined Mike in reading. Neither of them commented, or laughed, which Richie expected.

“Aside from your chicken scratch and shitty spelling, this ain’t half bad, Trashmouth,” Mike said, handing the journal back. Stan nodded in agreement, surprised at how impressed he was. “You got music or just the words?” For a moment, Richie didn’t realize he held his song book again. The question went over his head, taking a minute to loop back around and register in his brain.

“Both. Yeah- um- I got music, I just don’t know how to write it-- that’s what the scribbles are,” Richie explained. He didn’t feel like learning how to read music, so he made up signs for himself. As long as he knew what they meant, he could finish a song on his own.

“So you won’t take the time to learn what a G note is, but you’ll invent an entire scale for yourself?” Stan scoffed, incredulous. Eventually, he smiled; he couldn’t imagine anything more Richie. The boys resumed eating, and Richie read the last entry of lyrics.

As relieved as he was they hadn’t asked, he wanted to tell them. This song was about Eddie. The entirety of his journal came from Eddie. He couldn’t remember the songs he wrote before little old Kaspbrak was his muse. As a matter of fact, Richie didn’t think those existed. A part of him always wrote for his best friend.

A high pitched shriek tore Richie from his thoughts. He blinked several times, his fist still raised and inclined towards the door as he jumped. Inside the house, he could hear several footsteps running back and forth. Peering over his shoulder, he saw Eddie smiling down at Stevie, who eagerly bounced from foot to foot. Immediately, Richie’s stomach began to sour.

“Alright, kids, I hear you,” Stan’s voice, deeper than Richie remembered, yet somehow still recognizable, boomed with a jolly laugh. He half expected to see all the weight Ben lost thrown on Stan, complete with a white beard. “Eddie, you out there?” Swinging the door open, Stan’s smile faded when he came face to face with Richie. Below them, the kids screamed at each other, running into the house together.

Richie didn’t have time to get a decent look at Stan’s kids. Instead, he offered a sheepish smile - one he recalled flashing to his parents on several occasions when he was caught doing something he knew he shouldn’t have done. He wanted to scowl; approximately how many times would he smile like a bad little boy at his adult friends? Shame washed over him, but his smile never faltered. Stan’s expression of surprise didn’t change for several seconds. Then, he smiled.

“Hey Stan,” Richie croaked, his throat tighter than he realized. “I see you got laid.” Laughing, Stan held up two fingers - either a peace sign, or a count of exactly how many times he had sex, before lowering the forefinger and leaving the middle to flip off Richie.

“And you look like an ice cream cone in the dirt,” Stan commented, holding out his arms. Hugging him, Richie’s shoulders slumped, a massive weight falling from them. “But damn it’s good to see you.” Nodding his head towards the house, Stan led them inside. His house, unlike Eddie’s, didn’t undergo massive changes as far as Richie could detect.

Patty definitely changed the original Uris decor, but Richie could see where Stan’s input went. Everything in the house seemed to have a place - even with all the toys scattered across the floor. Careful not to step on them, Richie stared into the living room, seeing Stevie with Stan’s two children. For a moment, he forgot to breathe. He knew Stan had kids; he had time to absorb the shock of that particular information, but seeing them in person suddenly made them too real.

His son, although too small to have many defining features, resembled Stan in ways Richie couldn’t put into words. Whenever he saw babies, he never understood how people could comment they looked exactly like their parents. They looked weird. Small. Interchangeable with every other baby on the planet. Not Stan’s kids though. Now, as Richie observed them, the similarities he noticed between Eddie and Stevie hit him harder.

Stan’s daughter had the same dark hair as her mother, but her eyes were small and quick, just like her father’s. She squinted, and her face scrunched exactly the way Stan’s used to.

“It’s a real trip to see you with kids, dude,” Richie said, his voice low. Tearing his gaze away, he looked to see Stan watching the kids as well. “What are their names?” Eddie mentioned them earlier, but they escaped him. He’d probably need to hear them again before the day ended.

“Jennifer and Andrew, but only when they’re in trouble. We just call them Jenny and Andy,” he answered. While Andy sat on the couch, a pacifier in his mouth, Jenny and Stevie chased each other around the furniture. Their laughs filled the room, and Andy stood on the couch, facing Stan and pointing to his sister. “I see them, buddy.” Richie wanted to joke about him being a snitch, but thought better of it. Eddie spoke before him, cutting off any chance he might’ve had.

“I was thinking of calling Mike up, getting him over,” he said. Stan’s brow rose, and his expression changed to one Richie was much more familiar with. Whenever he knew something they didn’t, he was eager to share.

“It’s funny you say that, because I was about to get the kids ready for the f-a-i-r. Mike’s got his hands full with it today, remember?” Stan asked. Eddie’s eyes widened, and Richie looked between them. He waited for an explanation, tired of needing them so frequently.

That’s what happens when you let a decade pass, Tozier, he thought. His mouth twisted, but he shoved the thoughts away. Searching his pockets for his phone, he racked his brain for the name of the bar Eddie let slip earlier. Pulling up Google, he typed in Mike’s name, rolling his eyes when a handful of other Mike Hanlon’s popped up. Adding “Derry, Maine” after his name, he waited for the page to load. The Black Spot came up first, reminding Richie of what he wanted to ask. However, another headline appeared underneath the first result, distracting him. Clicking on the article, his jaw dropped.

“Whoa, hold on, Mike’s fucking mayor?!” Richie exclaimed, his eyes flashing to Stan and Eddie.

“Language!” Eddie chastised, his brow furrowed as he glanced at Stevie. The kids didn’t seem to notice. Jenny continued to chase Stevie, and Andy climbed off the couch to waddle behind them. Richie paid little attention to Eddie’s irritation, reading through the article published on the Derry Newspaper website. While the headline alone stopped him in his tracks, the byline threw him entirely.

By George Denbrough.

His legs weak, Richie plopped onto the couch, staring dumbfoundedly at his phone. At once, he remembered what he hated most about Derry. This town was too damn small.

MICHAEL HANLON ELECTED AS DERRY’S FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN MAYOR

Two-time businessman, Michael Hanlon, officially moves into his new office on November 5th, 2018. In a landslide election, voters flooded the polls, ushering in a new era of leadership. Hanlon will serve as the first African American mayor, and as promised in his campaign, will preserve the rich history of Derry, Maine. After incumbent mayor, Harold Flagg, was poised to run unchallenged, Hanlon entered a bid for election.

In 2013, Hanlon reopened The Black Spot, a former nightclub for segregated military veterans. Upon the success of his first bar, he opened a second location, removing the alcohol to provide entertainment for Derry’s expanding “Generation Z” market. Through both businesses, Hanlon reported developing a stronger sense of community, hosting a majority of the town’s population. The Black Spot I and II quickly became staples for Derry tourism.

Friends and neighbors reportedly encouraged Michael to run, citing his degree in business as an attractive feature for a candidate. Flagg, although competent, received no education past a high school diploma, which many voters were beginning to question. First-time voters were shown as more inclined to vote for Hanlon, with many reporting they registered solely to vote in the mayoral race.

“Owning a piece of history, sharing it with the world, that was always a dream of mine,” Hanlon said during his inauguration speech.

Skimming the last few paragraphs, Richie swallowed thickly. As teenagers, they complained endlessly about how little there was to do in Derry. Between the six (or five, if Bill truly left them too) of them, they breathed life into an otherwise dying town. As proud as he wanted to be, Richie bitterly closed out of the article, hiding his phone in his pocket once again. Everyone carried on with their life just fine after he left. He didn’t need to feel so shitty coming back.

Did you expect them all to pause their lives for you, Richie? You weren’t gonna when they left. His intrusive thoughts brought out a scowl, which he hurriedly wiped when he saw the kids running back to him. Eddie scooped Stevie up, carrying him towards the door.

“I’ll meet you there, okay Stan?” Eddie said, waving as he left. Richie stood up, but Stan held out his hand.

“You good on riding with me? Eddie’s gonna change Stevie’s clothes before they go,” he explained. Grabbing his keys, swinging them around his fingers, he whistled for the kids. Jenny’s head perked up, and she lifted Andy as best as she could, dragging him towards Stan. Chuckling at the sight, Richie glanced back at Stan and nodded. “Gives us more of a chance to catch up. Mind watching these two while I find my wallet?” Jenny and Andy stood at their feet, staring up at them eagerly.

“Implying you lost it?”

“Not even close, it’s just not right here, and you can’t trust these two alone,” he teased. Jenny giggled, frantically shaking her head. Crouching down, Richie flashed a mischievous smile. She covered her mouth, but the laughter bubbled out. “Oh brother, she’s gonna love you.” While Stan wandered off to find his wallet, Richie plopped down on the floor.

Peering around the couch, he pulled his head back quick when he saw Andy looking. The baby cackled, crawling over to peek at Richie, copying him and yanking out of view when he was caught. Jenny climbed onto Richie’s lap, her small, chubby hands on either side of his face as she guided him to stare at her again. Bouncing her on his thigh, he felt Andy reaching over the top of the couch, gripping a fistful of his hair. His grip, much stronger than Richie anticipated, hurt when he tugged.

“Careful there, kid. You’ll rip it straight from the roots at this rate,” he joked. He almost laughed, but his attention was caught by a book on the mail table. From where he sat, he could see the title in bold block letters: THE BLACK RAPIDS. At the bottom of the book, in equally as bold lettering, read the name William Denbrough. Rising to his feet, setting Jenny on the couch next to her brother, he picked up the book. Running his thumb over Bill’s name, he bit the inside of his cheek.

The title sounded familiar, and after racking his brains, he knew exactly why. Richie opened to the middle where Stan left a bookmark; he couldn’t read the Hebrew written on it, but he admired the design. Skimming over a paragraph, he struggled to wrap his mind around the fact that these words came from his former best friend.

“Richie Rich! You got an offer here!”

His public relations agent, Eudora Weiss, walked through his dressing room without a care. She’d long since dropped any hesitance when coming to see him, as Richie never had much modesty. Dropping a thin contract on his lap, she immediately took to her phone, tapping through a calendar.

“Oh yeah? For what?” Richie asked, rolling over on his couch. Skimming through the contract, absorbing nothing, he tossed the packet onto the floor. Eudora kicked it away from her foot, typing something into her phone.

“One of those movies based on a book. Writer says he’s a friend of yours,” Eudora replied, not looking at Richie. He sighed, too lazy to grab the contract again. Looking around his new apartment, provided by the record company, he draped his forearm over his eyes. There was wall-to-wall shag carpeting in the ugliest lime green he could find, the walls were painted gray, and his certified records were hung up neatly over the mantle.

“They all are, huh?” Richie muttered, turning away from his agent.

Richie remembered when this movie came out. He took his band mates to see it, but for the life of him, he couldn’t recall what it was about. Stan’s footsteps echoed from down the hall before he could pursue the thoughts.

“Alright kids, get your shoes on!” he called out. Jenny and Andy scrambled towards the door, and Richie made himself useful by helping Andy get his shoes on and tied. Leaving the house, watching the kids run to the beige Mercedes wagon, he thought about congratulating Stan on his life. Out of all their friends, he knew Stan craved this the most. He wanted a quiet, happy life, and from what Richie could see, he succeeded.

“Your wife’s hot,” he said as Stan closed the door. His kids were strapped in to their seats, fortunately out of earshot.

“Beep beep, Richie,” he groaned, his mouth curling up at the corner. Climbing into the car, Richie paid attention to the house, noticing subtle changes. New bird feeders. A paint job here and there. More flowers in the garden.

As Stan drove them out of the neighborhood, Richie watched the kids from the rear view mirror. Andy played with a new version of a Bop It, and Jenny tried to tell him what to do. She ate goldfish crackers from her little purple purse, waving to Richie when she saw him staring. He waved back sheepishly, tearing his gaze away.

“It’s crazy how much they’re... a mix. I met your wife earlier and I can see her in your kids, but like, you’re there too. I know that’s how it works, but it’s wild to see it in action,” Richie said, amazement in his voice. Stan chuckled, nodding. He stole a quick peek at his kids, his smile softer when he looked at them.

“You know what’s really crazy? Those two were covered in hair. All those baby books don’t prepare you for your kid coming out as Chewbacca,” Stan said. Eyes widening in horror, Richie turned his body to look at the kids. “It fell off after a couple days. A little over a week, really. Apparently it’s not uncommon! It was all gone around the time their umbilical stubs fell off.” If he thought this was supposed to elevate Richie’s terror, it didn’t. He stared at Stan as they drove, expecting more of an explanation.

“That’s- fell off, I want you to understand you just said things fell off your kids. What the f- fridge?” Richie gasped, catching himself at the last moment. Brow cocked, Stan shrugged.

“Kids are... quite gross,” he replied simply. “You’re gonna have to get used to it, if you’re watching Eddie’s boy. Of course, you’re just a taller version of a child-”

Although Richie assumed his irritation with his mother and Eddie’s chastising had cooled off, he found himself heated all over again.

“I swear, if someone calls me a child one more fucking time!” he shouted. Upon hearing the aggressive use of a curse word, Andy began wailing. Jenny’s eyes widened in offense, and she looked from her baby brother to Richie in a panic. Grabbing the Bop It, she threw it at Richie’s head. “Ow!” Stan hit the breaks, grateful to have reached a stop sign. Turning in his seat, his angry stare was enough to make Jenny fold her hands in her lap and sit quietly.

“Jennifer Andrea Uris, you know better than that! You apologize right now- don’t give me that look, little lady! You apologize,” he demanded. Jenny whimpered, her bottom lip pouting. “Richie’s gonna apologize to Andy too. Richie?” He turned his stare to Richie, but it was more pleading than angry.

“Sorry, Andy. I didn’t mean to yell like that,” he said quietly. Andy continued to sob, but Jenny’s shoulders slumped and she wiped her nose on her sleeve.

“Sorry, Richie.” Although she wiped the snot away, there were tears still swelling in her eyes, threatening to spill over. Rubbing his temples, checking to make sure no one was waiting behind them, Stan grabbed his phone to change the music. For a second, there was only silence. Then a beat came on. He drove again, and Richie listened until the first lyric boomed through the speakers.

Slowly tilting his head to look at Stan, his jaw dropped, Richie tried to comprehend the fact that vulgar lyrics comparing a penis to Squidward Tentacles’ nose were filling the station wagon. Twisting in his seat, he saw the kids were calming down, wiggling their small bodies to the song. Blinking several times as he slumped back in his spot, he opened and shut his mouth before finding the words he wanted to say.

Editing out the swearing, he began calmly with, “Staniel.”

“Dick.” Stan threw back their joking nicknames for each other, fighting a smile.

“What the... What are we listening to?” he asked. Stan lifted his phone, showing him the artist information. “Why?

“It calms the kids down. All they understand is Squidward, and while that lasts, I’ll take advantage. It stops Andy from crying faster than anything else,” he explained. Sure enough, Richie couldn’t hear a peep from the younger child. “Patty thinks it’s absurd, but that’s kind of what parenting is. When you find something that works, you stick with it.” Reaching another stop, this time an intersection surrounded by storefronts, Stan queued more songs to play.

Although they were a couple blocks away, Richie could see balloons floating into the sky, presumably from the fair. He was tempted to crack the window, curious as to whether or not he could smell the popcorn from here.

Clearing his throat, Stan continued, “A tip on parenting, by the way- this doesn’t always work, but you might find it useful. These two don’t know we’re going to the f-a-i-r. I plan on taking them regardless, but if I had other stops to make, I could still use it as an incentive if they were getting rowdy. Give them a goal to work towards.” Considering the idea, Richie pursed his lips, impressed.

From what he could tell, Stevie was as driven as Eddie had always been. He could easily provide simple instructions, and figure out a reward the kid might like. Toddlers were easily distracted, weren’t they? Stevie was only three, and Richie couldn’t fathom a three-year-old being smart enough to see through his tactics.

Searching for parking, Richie kept an eye out for a spot, pausing when he noticed a young woman and man taking photographs of the event. There were badges hanging from their necks, and he realized they were with the newspaper. Remembering the article about Mike’s inauguration, he snapped his fingers.

“Georgie’s still in town?” he asked, jabbing his thumb in the direction of the photographers. Spotting a few spaces in the empty lot across the park, Stan nodded.

“He and his son. Nadine-” Cutting himself off, as though he only just remembered Richie hadn’t been around for the last decade, he pursed his lips in a thin line. “You remember George’s girlfriend, right? Nadine Cross? You were there for that...” Holding up a thumb, Richie looked away. He didn’t want to read Stan’s expression. They parked, and Richie helped him get the kids out of the car. Thinking back to high school, he had a vague memory of the doe eyed redhead The Losers saw Bill’s brother with. She was a junior, one year younger than them, in Georgie’s grade.

“Don’t tell me they got married and squeezed out some puppies too!” Richie groaned, attempting to be as comical as possible. He didn’t know how many other rugrats he could handle.

“For a little while, yeah, they were,” Stan said, chuckling, although there wasn’t much humor to it.

“Divorced?”

“After everything with Bill? Undoubtedly,” Stan answered quickly as they crossed the street. He lifted Jenny up in his arms, while Richie picked up Andy. His brow furrowed; he didn’t know what Bill had to do with Georgie and his wife, but Stan showed no sign of explaining.

Aiming to ask, his lips parted, but all that came out what a startled cry.

“Hiya, kiddos!” A clown jumped in front of Richie, waving his giant, white-gloved hands. Andy seemed equally as surprised, but a smile stretched across his face, and he pointed at the clown. “Do you want a balloon?” The clown pulled one from his pocket, blowing it up and twisting it into the shape of a dog. Richie wanted to back away, but Andy was giggling madly. Another clown approached, honking his giant red nose. While the first clown had tufts of orange hair, sticking out like horns, this clown had vividly red hair surrounding his bald head like a bush.

“Make it a wonderful day, kiddies!” the second clown gleefully exclaimed, patting Jenny’s head; his glove squeaked as it came in contact with her. Jenny shrieked with laughter, and Andy yelled in an attempt to copy his sister. Relieved to walk away, Richie took a breath, shuddering. His least favorite part of the Derry fairs were the clowns that seemed to come out of nowhere. At least with the mall Santa, he knew which neighbor was dressed in a fat suit. So far, he had no idea which Derry resident got off on white greasepaint.

“I’m gonna get wristbands for the kids. Why don’t you track down Mike? He’s around here somewhere,” Stan suggested, taking Andy from Richie’s arms. He nodded his head towards the center of the park, where Mike most likely was stationed, before leaving to the ticket booth.

Unexpectedly alone, Richie shoved his hands in his pockets, kicking a rock at his feet. Glancing around, he wondered if Eddie arrived yet. As he walked through the fair, passing familiar rides from his own childhood, he grimaced upon hearing the song blaring from the speakers. His own voice filled the air, and although it was quiet in comparison to the rides and crowd, he couldn’t help but single himself out. The swearing was censored, but the lyrics were still about drugs. No one seemed to care; the tune was upbeat and catchy, so what did the real content matter?

Sighing, he sauntered along, stopping only when he saw Mike. Standing with a small crowd of people, he flashed his brilliant smile, waving and shaking hands with his voters. Michael Hanlon looked exactly right where he was; he loved Derry more than anyone else in their club. Suddenly, it made perfect sense for him to become mayor.

Old Christmas lights and fireflies in mason jars brightened up Mike’s barn. His house was a few yards away; from the loft, Richie and Mike could see his mother washing dishes in the kitchen. Ducking out of view, they lied on dusty cots, sharing the last of a joint. There were comic books strewn across the ground, along with an empty pizza box and empty bottles of soda. Mike usually saved the bottles for when they were too stoned to go inside and pee. There were four lined up against the wall, filled to the brim with yellow liquid.

If his mother knew, she would’ve had a stroke.

In the corner, Mike’s record player was spinning a Smashing Pumpkins album. He almost swapped it out, but the ladder leading to the floor began shaking, and Bill’s face appeared over the ledge. Climbing onto the loft with them, he held out a small sandwich bag full of pot.

“Victor was at the old Bowers place; I didn’t have to go far,” Bill said. Mike took the bag, rolling a fresh joint for them to share. Victor Criss was the go-to guy for weed in Derry; he was normally found outside the library, or in the burned down Bowers farm. Richie hoped he was at the latter, otherwise they would’ve had another half hour of waiting.

Lighting the joint, Mike took a hit and passed it to Bill. Awaiting his turn, Richie playfully bit at the smoke rings Mike blew out. They finished it fairly fast, but nobody tried rolling another. Instead, they listened to music in silence, moving only when the record ended and needed changing. A firefly flew over Richie’s head, and he smiled at it, reaching out to try and catch the bug.

“It’s gonna suck not having Victor next year,” Mike said, breaking the silence. Bill nodded in agreement, sighing mournfully. Graduation was around the corner, and the thought made Richie shudder. He played it off as being cold, pulling his jacket tighter around himself. The last of the snow melted earlier in the week, but it was still chilly.

Quiet fell over them for a minute as Mike changed the music. He put on a Jimi Hendrix album, which Richie recognized instantly. Mike showed it to him when they were kids; his taste expanded exponentially with Mike’s help. Bill tapped his foot to the beat, looking over at both of them and chuckling.

“We’re the odd three out,” he mumbled. Richie cocked a brow, confused.

“You’re stoned,” he teased.

“I’m serious,” Bill replied simply. Shrugging, he stretched, popping his back. Mike couldn’t help but laugh.

“Easy for you to say when you’re the leader,” he quipped, waving Bill off. “Of course you think you’re the odd man out.” Huffing, Bill shook his head.

“I always thought you were the leader,” he admitted. He seemed just as confused as Richie. Snorting, Mike shook his head, but Bill didn’t back down. “I mean it. I looked to you as the glue that held us all together. We weren’t a fully formed club until you joined.” Thoughtful for a moment, Mike smiled, trying to deny how flattered the simple confession made him. Richie sided with both of them; Bill and Mike were both the leaders, as far as he was concerned.

“If you had taken charge, Rich, you could’ve been the leader,” Mike joked, deflecting the attention from himself. Bill barked out a laugh, nodding in agreement. It took Richie a second to realize they weren’t laughing at him, but actually serious.

“If I weren’t such a lazy piece of shit, I’d think you were calling me a slacker,” he said. Bill laughed again, holding his sides. Mike joined him, and a small wave of relief washed over Richie. Pushing the discussion further away, he added, “I think Mr. Early Acceptance should rightfully be leader though.” Clicking his tongue, Mike waved both of them off as Bill clapped his hands to support Richie’s statement.

Out of all their friends, Mike was the first to receive a college acceptance package. He brought it to school the day after opening it, sharing the news with everyone. Stan was equal parts jealous and eager; he wanted to go to Yale since they were kids. Both of them agreed to share a dorm if they got in. While Stan studied law, Mike planned on working towards a business degree.

Years ago, he told Richie about a hate crime which led to the destruction of a popular, black owned bar. He wanted to reopen The Black Spot, turning it into a historical attraction for Derry, and providing a place for residents to dance on the graves of old racists. Mike’s passion for this project inspired Richie; he wanted to dream as big as his best friend. He wanted to have something worth chasing that was entirely his.

“Connecticut isn’t too far, man. You can always visit on weekends and stuff,” Bill said. Distracted from his thoughts, Richie tuned into the conversation. “It’s not like we can all stay in Derry for college.” Almost immediately, Richie wished he wasn’t listening.

Suddenly, all he could think about was the rejection letter hidden under the junk on his desk. It came faster than he expected; while Mike was mailed the first “congratulations,” Richie received the first “we regret to inform you.” He wanted to tear it up, but he didn’t have the spirit. Reading those words knocked the wind out of him, and the only thing keeping him standing was the hope of three more pending applications. He’d get in somewhere.

Mike caught Richie’s eye before he knew what he wanted to say. For a moment, his expression was unreadable. He studied Richie, stunned to realize he was truly standing in front of him. Excusing himself from the other residents, sharing a laugh as they left to enjoy the festivities, he approached Richie with a different kind of smile. This one wasn’t his mayoral smile nor was it his day to day smile; this one belonged to his friends.

“Richie Tozier,” he said, his hands in the pockets of his neatly pressed jeans. “Who died and brought you back to Derry?” Fighting a grin, Richie’s mouth twisted into a small pout.

“My mom, actually. Heart attack. She was only fifty-six,” he replied. He expected a look of horror, but instead, Mike chuckled and shook his head. “You mock my pain, sir!” Holding up his hand to stop Richie, Mike continued to laugh.

“So it wasn’t Mrs. Tozier who I saw at the market earlier? It wasn’t Mrs. Tozier who warned me her son was back in town?” Mike questioned. The knowing amusement in his tone made Richie’s grin vanish. He huffed, rolling his eyes as Mike waited for him to explain. Unable to fight the smile any longer, however, he opened his arms to embrace Mike. For the first time since visiting Beverly, he felt happy with his choice to come home. “It’s good to see you, Trashmouth. You doing okay?”

Surprise strangled Richie, leaving him without an answer. No one else asked him, but of course Mike Hanlon would. Clearing his throat, scratching the back of his head, Richie stared down at his feet. A couple kids ran between them, screaming with excitement as they held up their newly won toys. He could’ve told Mike exactly why he came to Derry; no one else would’ve understood the way Mike would.

Opening his mouth, he promptly shut it, shrugging in response.

“I’ve seen worse days,” he answered. Mike cocked a brow, tilting his head.

“Well,” he said, and for a split second, Richie swore Mike saw right through him. He might have even felt hopeful. “Hollywood looks like she’s been good to you. Don’t look a day over forty.” Holding up his middle finger, Richie stuck out his tongue. Comebacks were dead on arrival for him, considering how Mike didn’t look like he’d aged since their twenties.

“We can’t all age like wine, Mikey.”

“No, but you don’t have to age like milk.” Laughing at himself, Mike placed a hand on Richie’s shoulder. He squeezed gently, a softer look in his eyes. “In all seriousness, it’s good to see you. I’ve had your songs requested at the bar non-stop lately. Glad you finally made something I can dance to.” Richie flashed some jazz hands, to which Mike snorted.

“I figured my earlier work was too white for your liking,” he said, poking fun at himself. Part of him wanted to discuss music, as if Mike didn't have any responsibility at this fair - as if no time passed between them. He wanted to tell Mike how a lot of influences on his latest album came directly from him. Jimi Hendrix. Ohio Players. Redbone.

Leading Richie towards the food stands, Mike stopped beside one with a large barbecue pit. Holding up two fingers to the man behind the grill, he requested, “Two please, with the works.” He fished out his wallet, ready to pay, when the cook held up his hand.

“On the house, Mikey! I’ll charge you double next time,” he joked, handing over the hot dogs in red checkered paper trays.

“I’m good for it!” Mike laughed along with the man, passing Richie the food. He took a bite, grateful to finally eat. His stomach grumbled loudly, and he let out a satisfied groan at the taste. “Mr. Redman’s barbecue is the best in town, if I do say so myself.” Although he wanted to agree, and continue the conversation as effortlessly as before, Richie couldn’t help but sense the distance growing between them again.

Mike stood at less than an arm’s length, but he might as well have been across the ocean. Stan and his kids were beside him, and so were Eddie and Stevie, and Bev and Ben.

Shaking off the persistent thoughts, Richie took another bite. Most of the toppings fell into the paper tray, but he paid them no mind. He tried to organize all his questions; starting with normal pleasantries didn’t strike him as right, but he didn’t know how else to approach conversation after a decade.

“Hey, Mi-”

“Michael!” Another voice cut Richie off. Pausing, his eyes drifted to the woman walking over. She wore her box braided hair in a tall bun, and was dressed as casually as Mike, if not more fashionably. “The dogs are with the sitter, the bar is closed, and I am officially on vacation, so I want you to think thrice before asking me for anything.” A smile stretched across her face as she embraced Mike, cupping his face when she kissed him.

Unsure of what else to do other than stand awkwardly on the sidelines, Richie took another bite of his hot dog. He hadn’t noticed a ring on Mike’s finger, which he was glad to see after finding most of his other friends married. It was foolish for him to expect less; he jumped into plenty of relationships in the past ten years.

“You make it awful hard to propose, Katrina McCall,” Mike mumbled between kisses. His girlfriend chuckled, shrugging off the statement. Clearing his throat, placing a hand on the small of her back, he turned to Richie again. “Kay, baby, this is my old friend, Richie Tozier.” Perking up at his cue, Richie held out his hand. Kay shook is slowly, studying him as she did so. He recognized her expression as one similar to what Patricia Uris gave him.

“Mike and Beverly have told me a lot about you,” Kay said. Sucking in a breath, Richie pursed his lips. He wadded the paper tray into a ball, throwing it into the nearest trashcan.

“All good things, I hope,” he said, knowing better. Kay’s brow rose, but her expression wasn’t amused. “Well that about sums me up.” Pressing his hands together, he bowed them to Mike and Kay. “Listen, Mikey, it was great seeing you, but I should find Stan and Eddie-”

“You don’t have to go-” Grabbing Richie’s wrist, Mike met his gaze with a sense of urgency. A seemingly endless moment trapped Richie where he stood. His eyes were desperate, pleading for an excuse to escape, while Mike’s were begging him to stay. Reluctantly, Mike let him go. “Come by The Black Spot sometime before you leave. I’d like to catch up.” Nodding, Richie tried to ignore the guilt creeping over him.

He couldn’t decide which was worse as he passed the happy families of Derry: the goodbye on Mike’s face, or the hope that Richie would show up again soon. For the first time, he understood why Eddie was so doubtful. None of his friends expected him to stay. Today was an outlier; as much as it felt like he was back in Derry for weeks, he had only been here a day. He was a flight risk who no one was willing to gamble on.

With every laughing child, or smitten couple, or gang of friends, Richie wanted to disappear. Going back to Los Angeles sounded awful, but at this point, it might’ve been the lesser of two evils.

Spotting a public bathroom, Richie swiftly entered the hut, sighing with relief as he escaped the crowd. Another man walked past him, drying his hands on his shirt. Once he was gone, Richie was completely alone. He leaned against the brick wall, lazily looking from the two stalls, to the urinals, and then to the sinks. Taking a couple deep breaths, he turned on the faucet, splashing water onto his face. Catching sight of himself in the mirror, his brow furrowed.

You look like a God damn drug addict, Tozier. No wonder no one trusts you. Richie scowled at the thoughts, but they didn’t stop. Everyone got a life except for you! Ha ha all over you, Dick! Go back to Hollywood if you wanna to pretend the world revolves around you!

At least one of the stands outside had to sell beer. His mouth dried as he thought of an ice cold bottle, and were it not for the idea of being Derry’s town drunk, or the wailing of a child coming closer, he would’ve given in to the craving.

Glancing over his shoulder, Richie did a double take when Eddie rushed into the restroom. Stevie sobbed as Eddie cradled him in his arms, sitting him on the ledge of the changing table built into the wall. He was only mildly surprised to see Richie, but he didn’t mention it. Hurriedly grabbing paper towels, he dampened them and began cleaning Stevie’s face. It was a losing battle; Stevie continued to cry, tears pouring from his eyes and snot dripping from his nose.

“What happened?” Richie asked, drying his face.

“Clowns scared him,” Eddie huffed, irritated. Quickly though, he softened up, not wanting to seem mad at his son. He pet his hair back, dabbing the wet towel around his face. “Sweetie, it’s okay. They won’t hurt you; they’re supposed to be funny. They’re silly! You like being silly, right?” This didn’t appease Stevie. He whimpered again, covering his face with his hands. Smacking his lips, Richie came closer, throwing Eddie a careful look. He waited for a sign of approval before crouching to be level with Stevie, addressing only him.

“Hey buddy,” he began, fully aware he was going to wing this. “Those clowns scared me too.” Stevie’s eyes got wide, and Richie chuckled. “Yep. Scared the pants off me. I don’t like clowns; do you?” Shaking his head - so much, his body wiggled with him - a small smile appeared on Stevie’s face.

“Nah uh.”

“Nah uh?” Richie ruffled Stevie’s hair, offering a kind smile in return. “How about we hide from them? Any time we see them, we duck! Like this-” Richie sank out of view, crab walking to the opposite wall. Peering around the ledge, he pulled his head back. “Can you do that?” Stevie shrugged, but held out his arms for Eddie to help him down. Squatting, he slowly made his way over to Richie. He nearly fell over, but Richie was there to catch him. Giggling, Stevie sprung up, pointing to the door.

“I wanna- I wanna go rides!” he exclaimed. Flashing Eddie a triumphant smile, Richie followed them from the restrooms. Fishing out his wallet, he thumbed through a couple bills.

“Does he want prizes and stuff? I can probably win him something,” he offered. Although hesitant, Eddie nodded when he saw how Stevie beamed up at them.

Tagging along behind them, Richie watched Eddie lead Stevie through all the baby rides he could find. Figuring he could make himself useful, Richie took out his phone for pictures. He watched through his screen as Stevie struggled to navigate the mirror maze in the funhouse, whining when he bumped into every possible wall. When they reached the wheel at the end, Eddie had to carry Stevie across. On his own, Stevie crawled around it like a hamster, rolling down whenever it got too high.

Richie caught himself smiling with each video and picture he took. On a kiddie roller coaster, modeled after a spaceship, Stevie held up his tiny arms and shrieked with giggles. Eddie stood away from Richie, but Stevie waved at them both each time he circled around.

Stevie was eager for the next ride until they passed one of the game booths. Spotting an astronaut helmet near the top row of prizes, he froze, pointing it out to Richie and Eddie. He jumped, less than half an inch off the ground, attempting to climb and get a better look.

“You want that helmet, buddy?” Richie asked. Stevie continued to point and bounce, nodding frantically. “Lemme see what I can do.” Opening his wallet, he pulled out a few small bills, hiding the bigger one behind them. Leaning closer to the carnie, he mumbled, “I’ll give you twenty bucks for the helmet, if you can make it look like I won fair and square.” Indifferent, the carnie shrugged and nodded, taking the money.

“Throw these at the shinier balloons. The others are half full. Won’t pop,” he muttered, coughing to cover up his words. Handing Richie the darts, he blew up a few extra balloons, taping them to the wall. Aiming carefully, he searched for all the properly inflated balloons. Each time they popped, Stevie laughed and clapped his hands.

“He- he pop it, Daddy!” Stevie giggled, tugging on Eddie’s pant leg. Richie grinned, throwing the rest of his darts and bursting each balloon he set his sights on.

“Winner winner, chicken dinner!” the carnie shouted, his voice booming and attracting the attention of nearby kids. “Anyone can do it! Step right up!” He handed Richie the helmet as other people lined up, and Richie held it out for Stevie. His eyes were saucers as he put it on.

“Wow! Thank you! Thank you!” Stevie hugged Richie’s leg as tightly as he could, and Richie reached down to pat his back. “Come- come on, let’s go- let’s go more rides!” Tugging Richie by his finger, Stevie eagerly trotted along.

By the end of the afternoon, Stevie rode every kiddie ride available, and Richie won him four more prizes. Eddie bought him a candy apple, but Stevie only managed to take four bites before the petting zoo distracted him. He and Richie shared the remains, both of them laughing as Stevie tried to hug every baby goat he could find. If Eddie hadn’t caught him, he would’ve successfully stolen one of the tiny, yellow chicks.

“He’s a troublemaker, just like you were,” Richie commented as they walked out of the fair. Eddie rolled his eyes, pausing with Stevie each time he stopped to smell the potted flowers decorating the storefronts. He would take two little steps, then stop. Focusing on each flower, he sniffed them all, adding an extra six minutes to their trek to the car.

The sun began setting, and the lights were flickering on around the rides and booths. Even across the street, Richie could smell the popcorn and hot dogs.

“Daddy! Daddy spaghetti!” Stevie shouted, rubbing his round tummy as he did. Hoisting him onto his hip, Eddie poked his stomach playfully.

“You’ve wanted spaghetti all day! It is dinnertime,” he said, letting his voice trail off. Stevie wiggled eagerly, holding his arms in the air as he screamed gleefully. “Spaghetti tonight?”

“No, pizza!” Stevie stuck his fingertips in his mouth, staring at his dad expectantly. Richie snickered, partially because Eddie didn’t realize Stevie was trying to use his nickname, and because of how he said the word “pizza.” Throughout the day, he noticed how much further Stevie’s linguistics developed than he initially assumed, and how much more room there still was to progress. He couldn’t make a strong “z” sound, and if his thoughts ran faster than his words, he stumbled viciously over them. It was almost like listening to Bill talk.

“You just said spaghetti!”

“Daddy spaghetti!”

Cackling, Richie placed a hand on Eddie’s shoulder. Instinctively, Eddie pulled away, and Richie immediately stopped laughing. Clearing his throat, he scratched the back of his head.

“Sorry, yeah, um-” Richie stuttered, biting the inside of his cheek. “I accidentally called you Eddie Spaghetti in front of him, and he started saying that. You said he doesn’t get nicknames yet... I guess he’s trying.” Groaning, Eddie started walking again. Richie hurried to keep up, realizing too late that he didn’t know if he was invited. Standing outside the car, he watched Eddie fasten Stevie into his carseat. He struggled a little more than Stan did, but Richie assumed it was because Stan had twice the experience.

“Are you coming?” Eddie asked as he climbed into the car, watching Richie with a brow raised. He didn’t look away until Richie was pulling on his own seat belt. “You get distracted a lot more than I remember. What’s on your mind?” Eddie tried to sound nonchalant with his question, but Richie heard more in his tone. Not wanting to get his hopes up, he shook his head.

“Just trying to get used to everyone having kids. A lot happens in ten years,” he sighed. Leaning his head against the seat, he shut his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. Eddie paused - halfway through ordering a pizza on his phone - to look at Richie. He seemed ready to comment, but thought better of it. Submitting the order, he started the car and began to drive. “You have Stevie, Stan’s got a wife and kids, Mike is mayor- and have you met his girlfriend?” Snickering, Eddie nodded.

“Kay? Of course. Bev introduced her to all of us when we were in college. They were roommates,” he explained. Richie didn’t know what he expected the origin story to be, nor did he expect how to feel upon learning, but he was disappointed either way. He wished he would get used to the let down, but each new piece of information hit him like a fresh sack of bricks. “Mike was head over heels from day one. He needed Stan to listen in on the phone call when he asked her out. Stan fed him every pickup line he knew.” Easily able to imagine Stan smooth talking Mike’s future girlfriend, Richie snorted.

“Sounds like them,” he said, sinking further into the seat. Eddie reached out to turn on the radio, surprised when Richie’s hand shot out to lower the volume. His voice was barely audible, but Eddie could still hear the Trashmouth song playing. “Can I ask you what happened with Georgie?” Instead of explaining how he didn’t want to hear any of his music, and risk hearing the disc jockey talk about him after, he brought up the first thing to come to mind.

“What about him?” Eddie asked, frowning.

“Stan implied things were rough with him and Bill. Bev told me Bill left and hasn’t come back. I thought the two might be related,” he said.

“Of course they’re related. They’re brothers,” Eddie joked, covering his mouth as the words tumbled out. Richie rolled his eyes so hard, he worried they might get stuck.

“Wow, thanks for the dad joke, Mr. Rogers. Can you answer my question though?” Richie couldn’t help but smile at how Eddie burst with laughter. The car slowed down until he caught his breath, driving steadily again. Snickering, Richie bit his lip before admitting, “That was pretty funny.”

“Thank you!” Eddie’s smile faded after a moment, remembering what brought up his quip in the first place. “Bill decided to study abroad, and he just... didn’t feel like Derry was right for him. Georgie didn’t exactly make him feel welcome, but nobody blames him. He married his girlfriend straight out of high school and postponed college, but Christopher wasn’t even his son-” Holding up his hands, Richie laughed incredulously.

“Rewind, rewind. Who’s Christopher? What?” A smile stretched across his face, but it was more disbelieving than happy.

“Bill slept with Georgie’s girlfriend, got her pregnant, then left for college. Georgie married her, and it didn’t come out that Christopher was Bill’s son until... I dunno, a couple years later? Christopher was two, I think. He doesn’t know, and Georgie prefers to keep it that way,” Eddie said, taking a deep breath by the end. He parked outside of a pizza shop, leaving to fetch dinner. Richie sat in stunned silence.

Bill destroyed his life in Derry so he could escape without question. As much as he wanted to ask why, Richie understood perfectly. The same could’ve been done for himself. Why would he break his mother’s heart? Why would he avoid his decent, supportive parents for a decade? Bill actively chose to leave everything behind; Richie was possibly smarter if only for the fact he left himself wiggle room to return. Maybe he was more stupid for doing so. It was just easier for everyone to hate him, and make him stay away.

Seeing Eddie coming back with the pizza, Richie turned the volume on the radio up. He didn’t expect his song to come on again during the short ride home, and fortunately, it didn’t. Helping Eddie into the house - with Eddie carrying Stevie, and Richie carrying the pizza - he thought about how normal the moment felt. Before he could expand on the fantasy of living an average life in the suburbs, Stevie was chanting for food.

It took less than sixty seconds for the toddler to have pizza sauce all over his hands and chin. He chewed with his mouth open, flaunting the mushed bread and cheese. Seeing Richie standing off to the side, Stevie frowned, holding up his plate and offering to share.

“Aw, buddy, thank you, but I’m okay. Eat,” he said. Stevie continued to push the pizza in Richie’s direction, and he sighed, picking up the torn slice. Biting into it, he grimaced at how soggy it was from Stevie’s saliva. Eddie watched him now, his expression a mixture of concern and amusement. “Whoa, that is some really good pizza!” Handing it back, Richie kept a smile on his face until he turned away. Eddie passed him a napkin, which he discreetly spit the pizza into, tossing it in the trash. “Did you need me anymore tonight, or..?” Pausing from wiping sauce off Stevie, Eddie opened his mouth, but shut it quickly.

“Um... no. No, it’s fine. If you could come back tomorrow, we’ll start monitored training. I can go over more details and... You know, answer any questions,” he said. Richie tapped his hands on the wall, disappearing around the corner. He could hear Eddie baby talking to Stevie, and Stevie giggling in response.

As he left the house, a breeze hit him, sending a chill down his spine. Rubbing his arms, Richie turned to observe the house. He wanted to go in and have dinner with Eddie and Stevie, but he didn’t know how much more he could take in one day. Agreeing to babysit was an easy decision when he didn’t have to interact with anyone but a three-year-old who didn’t know him.

A light flickered on upstairs, and Richie’s eyes were immediately drawn to it. Eddie peered out of his window, freezing when he saw Richie. Embarrassed at being caught, Richie held up his hand, waving goodbye before walking off. He headed back to his old street, contemplating booking a hotel room for the night. Nowhere felt like home, but he didn’t want to dwell on that. He only wanted a place to sleep off the headache.

Chapter Text

Sighing with relief, Richie’s head fell back on his shoulders. However, he froze mid-breath when he heard the small patter of footsteps in the hall. Within seconds, there was a slump against the thin wood. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw tiny fingers peeking through the space between the door and carpet. Willing himself to piss faster, he flushed and quickly washed his hands, double checking to make sure his jeans were zipped.

“Richie! Richie!” Stevie called, except when he shouted Richie’s name, it came out as, “Wishie.” His cheek was pressed against the door as Richie eased it open. Reaching out to pat Stevie’s head, he grinned down at the toddler. “Did- did you poopy?” It took everything for Richie not to snort.

“Nah,” he answered, shaking his head as he lifted Stevie onto his hip. “Just a quick potty. You gotta go? Before we nap?” Glancing at the digital clock on the nightstand, he saw they were a few minutes behind schedule. Four days into the gig, and he was still adjusting to the time-slots. Stevie shook his head, his small hands clutching Richie’s shirt. “Okay, buddy. No potty.” Carrying Stevie back to his room, Richie lied him securely in his bed, tucking him under his space-themed blanket.

“Can you tell me Harold and the Purple Crayon?” Stevie asked, beaming up at Richie. Grabbing the book, he held it where Stevie could see. “Yay!” Stevie tried to sit up, but Richie frowned, lowering the book until he snuggled under the covers. Sitting on the floor, he read through the story slowly. On his first day, he learned if he read too fast, Stevie would lose interest. He needed to keep him engaged, but also lull him to sleep. It was a balancing act which required a surprising amount of skill.

“See the dragon, bud? Harold scared himself,” Richie said, pointing to the picture. Stevie covered his eyes, pouting his bottom lip. “It’s okay, it’s okay, I turned the page. Look, you can trust me.” Peeking through his fingers, Stevie breathed a sigh of relief. Continuing with the story, he made decent progress before noticing Stevie drifted off. Yawning, he waited until he crept from the room to stretch, knowing his back would pop. Anything could wake the kid up, especially if Richie didn’t want it to.

Tiptoeing back to the guest room where he currently resided (careful to keep the door open so he could see if Stevie came into the hall), he sunk into his bed and switched on the TV. The room, although smaller than Eddie’s and Stevie’s, was still fairly spacious. Rolling over on the queen mattress, banging his ankle on the nightstand, he held back the swear he wanted to shout. If he hadn’t, perhaps he would’ve missed the story on E! News.

Unmuting the TV, rubbing his ankle, Richie stared at his photo displayed in the corner.

The television sat atop a dresser, and he hung one of his shirts on the highest knob. In the photograph, he happened to be wearing the same t-shirt. Richie made a mental note to throw it out. He shopped for a few new outfits to cycle through, but they were excruciatingly plain for his taste. At least he wouldn’t stick out.

“-a week since Richie Tozier disappeared. Columbia Records has not released a statement as of yet, but a cryptic tweet was sent from the band’s Twitter account late last night,” the hostess said. Richie watched her eyes as they darted across the teleprompter. TV lost all magic now that he had seen behind the curtain. Begrudgingly, he rolled over on the pillow, lifting his phone for a better view. Since resetting the device, he hadn’t logged into anything. As he tried to remember the password for the band account, he dozed off.

Even when Stevie wandered out of his room, and climbed onto the bed to lie on top of Richie, he didn’t wake up.

Curling into himself, lying his head on Richie’s chest, Stevie fell asleep again. Neither of them moved for an hour. Richie only stirred when a loud clap of thunder ripped him out of his dream. Rubbing his eyes, he glanced down, surprised to see Stevie snoring softly. Grinning, he carefully eased himself up. However, he froze the moment he felt how damp his shirt had become. Looking around for Stevie’s sippy cup, he grimaced. This wasn’t spilled milk, as much as he wanted to tell himself it was.

Richie sighed, slumping back onto the bed. He waited for Stevie to wake up on his own; according to the clock, he still had fifteen minutes of nap time left. Looking at his phone, he considered checking Twitter, but thought better of it. Deleting the app for good measure, he didn’t need to wonder about what his bandmates were doing for long. Stevie began moving, and Richie held his breath to see what he would do.

Instead of waking up though, he slept. Stevie didn’t lazily lift his head and smack his dry mouth until thirty minutes later. Richie didn’t know how to wake him, and the relief was clear when Stevie stirred on his own. Pushing himself up, Stevie looked down at Richie’s shirt.

“Uh oh...” he said, looking at his own soiled clothes.

“Don’t worry about it, Kid. C’mon, I’ll get you some clean clothes and we’ll scrub the yucky off,” Richie offered. Climbing out of bed, carrying Stevie, he took him back to his room. Grabbing shirts from the tiny dresser, he held them up for Stevie to see. “Which one are we feeling today? Elmo or uh... this tiger?” Squinting at the shirt, Richie racked his brains, trying to remember who this cartoon character was. He chalked it up as something new; it was either that, or he’d done too much coke during his first world tour.

“Daniel Tiger!” Stevie cheered, reaching for the shirt. Fishing out shorts and underwear, Richie quickly changed Stevie, balling up the dirty clothes and taking them back to his own room. Stevie watched as he swapped shirts, frowning and pointing at Richie’s jeans. “Those too!”

“What?”

“Pants! You need- you need more pants!” he exclaimed. Richie almost shook his head, but instead, huffed and searched his closet for a pair.

“Give me one second, okay?” Shutting himself in the closet, he immediately heard Stevie run over and pat on the door. Replacing his jeans as quickly as possible, he slid out of the closet. “Ta-da!” He held out his hands and waved them, presenting himself to Stevie. “Is that better?” Nodding, Stevie reached up, wordlessly demanding to be carried. Lifting him in his arms, Richie took him downstairs, hesitating before motioning to the kitchen. “You think it’s snack time yet?” Almost instantly, Stevie began squealing. He tried to wiggle out of Richie’s grasp, and Richie nearly dropped him.

“Cereal! Cereal please!” Darting to the pantry, Stevie tried to reach for the box which was a little over two feet above him. For a split second, Richie saw Eddie. He recalled the times where he or Bill would have to help him fetch something off a top shelf. “And pink milk! Pink milk!” Snickering, Richie took the milk and strawberry syrup from the fridge, searching the cabinets for one of Stevie’s cups.

“Strawberry milk. Can you say strawberry?” Richie asked. He caught himself trying to teach Stevie; as of now, he wasn’t sure how he felt about it. Eddie was specific with what he wanted, and Richie assumed that would be enough. As the days dragged on, however, he realized there was too much time in between to fill.

“Yucky! I don’t like strawberry,” Stevie huffed. Although he wanted to argue, Richie thought better of it. Handing Stevie the cup, he poured a small bowl of cereal and walked him into the living room. Switching on the tv, he found a channel with cartoons. Lying on the couch, he watched Stevie make himself comfortable at his tiny Fisher Price table.

Rain continued to pour outside. In Los Angeles, Richie forgot how it felt to sit through full days of downpour. Any rainfall usually subsided within a couple hours. Derry was constantly wet. Constantly gloomy. Yawning at the thought, his eyelids suddenly heavy again, he felt himself slipping. The childish song playing - which Stevie danced along to in his chair - lulled him to sleep.

Part of Richie knew Stevie was stacking all his stuffed animals on top of his back. His eyes cracked the tiniest bit, and he could see movement. A blanket draped over him; from his blurry peripheral, he could tell it was Stevie’s. Something cool and hard was perched on his bottom, but he couldn’t figure out what. Stevie began climbing over him, resting comfortably in the middle of his back. Richie didn’t see the harm.

In fact, he almost fell back asleep until-

“Whoa! Fuck!” Richie shouted, jumping up when the cold milk soaked through his shirt. Stevie slipped off, safely flopping onto the couch. The bowl didn’t land quite as gently. A loud crash echoed through the living room as the ceramic shattered. Fruity Pebbles were sprayed along the middle cushion, and now across the floor. Stevie tried to hop off, but Richie held him back with one hand. “No! Stay there, Stevie!”

The sudden rise in Richie’s voice startled Stevie, and his face twisted as he began to cry. Hesitant, Richie bit his lip, looking from the mess, to the crying toddler. He didn’t want Stevie to hurt himself on the sharp pieces, but he also didn’t want to scare him.

Ignoring every voice in his head telling him to clean the mess, he scooped Stevie from the couch, rocking him gently.

“I’m sorry, bud. I didn’t mean to scare you. Are you okay? You’re not in trouble; I just don’t want you to get hurt,” he explained. Stevie continued to whimper, but nowhere near as badly. “Can you do me a huge favor?” Looking at Stevie, he licked his thumb to wipe away stray tears.

“I sorry,” Stevie mumbled, his voice trembling.

“Hey, it’s alright. I’m sorry, but I need you to help me. Stay right here on the couch, and don’t move. Understand? I can fix this,” Richie said. Stevie nodded, rubbing his fists into his eyes. Leaving him to fetch a broom and paper towels, Richie feared returning to find Stevie stood in the middle of the glass. He breathed a sigh of relief to find Stevie exactly as he left him. Hurriedly cleaning the broken bowel, carefully feeling for any missed pieces Stevie could step on, Richie gave him a thumbs up after several minutes.

Peering over the ledge of the sofa, Stevie pointed at a scuff on the floor. He whined, waiting until Richie looked at him to ask, “Will I get a owie?” Pouting, he lowered his foot, yanking it back as soon as he touched the cold wood.

Watching him struggle, Richie chewed the skin from his bottom lip. It was only three in the afternoon; he had over an hour to kill before even thinking about dinner. Keeping Stevie distracted enough to forget the bowl seemed easy, but Richie couldn’t be certain. Studying the rain for a moment, an idea popped into his brain. Snapping his fingers, yet again startling Stevie, he smiled.

“Do you like playing in the rain?” he asked, folding his arms on the couch. His knees were on the exact spot the bowl broke, the wood still cold from the fresh milk. Stevie didn’t try to peek around him. Instead, his face lit up, and he nodded. “You like jumping in the puddles?” This time, Stevie’s movements were more frantic.

“I like- I like splashing! But it- it’s raining! Daddy says I get cold,” he said. Richie’s mouth twisted into a pout, and he tapped his chin as if he needed to contemplate the dilemma before them.

“How about we wear our warmest jackets? Then we won’t get cold,” he suggested. Tapping his chin to mimic Richie, as if he truly needed to consider the option, Stevie gave a thumbs up. “Lemme find a candle, and-- hey, can I borrow a piece of paper?” At once, Stevie rushed to his table to find a clean sheet. Richie took the moment to hunt through the kitchen for matches.

Eds is not Stan, Trashmouth. Everything is organized, but chaotically, Richie thought, pulling open each drawer. Where would matches belong if I were Eddie? Pausing, he glanced at the top of the refrigerator. Sure enough, he saw the box. Chuckling to himself, he took a match and lit the candle.

“Here you go!” Stevie shouted, holding up his sketchbook. The top page was torn in half; the corner was crumpled where Stevie gripped and pulled.

“Awesome. You know what I’m gonna show you?” Richie asked, helping Stevie climb onto the counter. He shook his head, swinging his legs over the ledge. His feet hit the cabinet doors rhythmically, but Richie hardly noticed. Tearing out a fresh sheet of paper, he began folding. Although his memory failed him at a couple different folds, he managed to create a decent boat within the minute. “I’m gonna show you how to sail the S.S. Stevie.”

“Wow!” Stevie gasped, reaching out his hand. Passing his handiwork over, Richie checked the wax. By the time enough melted, Stevie was flying the boat around like a spaceship.

“Here, gimme. I know how to make it float forever,” he said. For a split second, Stevie hesitated, holding the boat away from Richie. Only when he heard “forever,” did he hand it back. Drizzling the wax onto the paper, he used his fingers to spread it evenly. His calloused skin hardly felt the heat. All of his focus went to evenly coating the boat. “Alright, now we blow on it.” Puffing out his cheeks to show Stevie, he blew on the boat, holding it out for Stevie to try.

He ended up spewing slobber onto Richie’s fingers, but both of them laughed. Allowing their boat to dry, Richie carried Stevie back to the foyer. Without needing any instruction, he grabbed his jacket, which was placed on a hook perfectly within his reach. Looking at the setup, Richie couldn’t help but notice the differences between what Eddie and Stan had for their kids. Whereas Stan kept their jackets out of reach, on the same level as his and Patty’s, everything Eddie had was also scaled down for his son.

Shrugging off the observation, Richie secured Stevie’s rainboots and fetched his copy of the house keys.

“Weeee!” Stevie shrieked with giggles as he hopped into the puddles, water splattering in every direction. Running as fast as his legs would carry him to keep up with his boat, he only remembered Richie when he wanted to show off. Splashing in every deep pool he spotted, he would point and scream, “Look Richie! Look what I did!” Applauding him, Richie copied, careful not to upstage him.

Following the current in the gutters, Richie stopped only when lightning flashed and lit up the sky. Stevie froze, forgetting his boat entirely. Thunder clapped a second later, and he covered his eyes, his face scrunching as the urge to cry took over. Richie acted quickly, lifting him into his arms. His jacket became soaked, the cold water seeping through to his skin, but he didn’t care. Looking around, he realized they ran a sizable distance from home. Jackson Street wasn’t even in view anymore; they reached the intersection of Center and Main.

“You want some hot chocolate, Stevie?” he asked, glancing in the direction of his old house. Expecting Stevie to nod, or give some nonverbal response due to his spook, he was surprised by the wailing.

“My boat! My boat! Where- where did it go?” he sobbed, reaching out to the gutters. Stunned, Richie looked a few seconds too late. From where he stood, the boat was nowhere in sight. Shaking his head, he tried bouncing Stevie to soothe him.

“I don’t know, bud. We gotta get out of the rain though, the thunder’s starting to scare you,” he said. Stevie’s brow furrowed, and he began kicking and squirming in Richie’s arms. “Hey! Stevie!” Nearly dropping him, Richie held Stevie’s legs in one arm. “Stop-”

“I want my boat! I want my boat!” he screeched, sobbing when Richie didn’t listen. His crying was louder than Richie realized it could get, and he hesitantly held Stevie away. Struggling for a solution, he found concentrating nearly impossible with Stevie throwing a tantrum.

“We can make another when the rain stops! Steven, you gotta stop crying!” he shouted. Stevie continued to whine, tears sliding down his red cheeks. “I’ll make a new one, and we can go play with the toys in my room. Remember? I’ll turn on the radio and we can dance again.” This seemed to do the trick; Stevie whimpered, but wiped his eyes. His breath caught as he hiccuped, and Richie used his sleeve to wipe snot off his nose.

Stan handled crying children like a champ, but Richie felt like a newborn deer trying to walk. In his mind, he could see a worse meltdown, but this time, in a grocery store. He had no idea how to diffuse the situation correctly, and frustration simmered just below the surface. If he snapped at Stevie, he didn’t know what would come next. He didn’t want this kid to fear him.

Rubbing Stevie’s back as he walked to Maggie and Went’s house, he chuckled to himself. He was supposed to have fatherhood all figured out by now.

How do you see it?”

Autumn leaves rustled by their feet as they walked. Passing the empty lot where they played baseball as kids, Richie and Eddie paused. The road had been empty for the last block, but as they entered downtown, foot traffic picked up. Begrudgingly untangling their fingers, Richie leaned in to steal one more kiss to Eddie’s temple.

I see us holding hands,” Eddie answered, a twinge of bitterness in his voice. Richie frowned. He hated when anything interrupted their flow. With Eddie, he could disappear into a bubble which only small town homophobia could pop. Of course, each time the bubble burst, he grew happier at the idea of leaving Derry permanently.

Eds...” Richie stopped, running a hand through Eddie’s hair. He hadn’t cut it in a while; the ends were beginning to curl. Eddie lifted his own hand, placing it over Richie’s when he cupped his face. “I love you.” Smiling, Richie brushed his thumb over Eddie’s cheek.

I love you too,” he said, kissing the side of Richie’s hand. Sighing, he started walking again. “I see us married fresh out of college. Maybe even before. Bev wants to get ordained so she can be the one to marry us. If it’s not legal here yet, we’ll go wherever it is.” Chuckling, Richie motioned for him to continue.

Married by twenty-three, possibly. Go on.”

Eddie’s smile grew wider, stretching from ear to ear.

I think we’ll have our fun in a nice New York apartment for a few years. You know, be young and married and all that jazz. Then by... twenty-six, we’ll buy our house. We’ll feel it out, get used to the space-- and we’ll definitely need space, because we’re having kids not long after. We can start the process... I dunno, a year after? So we’ll have a family by the time we’re twenty-eight. Thirty at the latest,” he said. Richie listened intently, his brow rising at the mention of kids. He expected the house, and he hoped for marriage, but he didn’t know where they were on kids. Considering neither of them had the equipment necessary, he figured they dodged the bullet.

You see kids with me, Eddie?” he asked, his voice softer than usual. Eddie glanced at him, suddenly nervous.

I guess I haven’t said that before, huh?” Biting his lip, Eddie stopped. Richie almost walked on without him. Staring at him in the dusk lighting, illuminated by the streetlamp, Richie’s heart ached. Longing to touch Eddie, he reached out, gently grabbing his wrist. When Eddie met his gaze, the world stopped. Derry melted away, replaced with a newer, more colorful version.

He saw kids with Eddie’s natural curls, which for some reason he never let grow out on himself, but Richie would fight for their son or daughter to have. He saw himself teaching them how to play baseball, and how to hold a guitar. Eddie would hate to trade in whatever speedy car they bought for a family vehicle, but Richie would hold his hand through it. Richie imagined everything at once, like an avalanche from the future.

Bedtime stories. Cookouts in their backyard. Bev’s kids being best friends with theirs. School plays. Halloween.

I see it too, Eds,” he whispered, not giving a single shit if anyone saw him kiss his boyfriend. His forehead pressed against Eddie’s, Richie couldn’t help but laugh. “I’m in love with you, Eddie Kaspbrak.”

Another rumble of thunder startled Stevie, and he buried his face in Richie’s shoulder. Knocking on the door a second time, he worried his parents wouldn’t hear him over the rainfall. Contemplating how fast he could sprint back to Eddie’s house, he didn’t realize he held his breath until Maggie answered the door.

“Richie?! Wh- And you have Stevie?! It’s pouring!” she exclaimed, her eyes widening as she took in the sight of them. Moving aside to invite Richie in, she assisted Stevie with shedding his raincoat and boots, tucking them safely by the mail table. “Why was he crying? Richie, you didn’t seriously take him out in the storm, right?” She asked the question while fully knowing the answer, and Richie shrugged in response. Maggie clicked her tongue, carrying Stevie to the kitchen.

Nearly eleven years away, and Richie still knew when he was in trouble with his mother. Quiet shame sunk in - the type a child would feel upon being caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Biting the inside of his cheek to keep from glowering, he followed Maggie. Leaning against the doorframe, he watched his mother seat Stevie on the counter. Much to his amazement, she began sifting through the pantry for hot chocolate mix.

“How’d you know I offered-” Maggie shot him a stern look from the fridge, pulling out a small jug of milk.

“You always had hot chocolate when it rained. Old habits, I guess,” she answered. Heating Stevie’s hot chocolate on the stove, she allowed him to pour in cocoa for her. “What were you two doing in the rain?” Richie opened his mouth to answer, but promptly shut it upon realizing she addressed Stevie.

“We made a boat! We chased it forever, but then it went gone,” he explained, frowning as he pantomimed the boat diving underwater. Pointing to Richie, he added, “Rish- Richie said he can make more boats!” Chuckling, Maggie ruffled Stevie’s hair.

“So you had a reason to be out,” she said. Unable to abuse his poor cheek any longer, Richie huffed.

“No, Ma, I knowingly took this kid out to get sick. I have one job and I’m doing it exactly wrong,” he scowled. Immediately, Richie regretted allowing his temper to get the best of him. The sting in Maggie’s eyes disappeared quickly, but not fast enough for him to miss. “Ma, I’m sorry-”

“I didn’t mean to insult you, Richard,” she said quietly. Richie shook his head; he hated when she called him Richard. Milk bubbled in the saucepan, a heavy scent of chocolate filling the air. Approaching his mom, Richie wrapped his arms around her, resting his cheek on the top of her head. She patted his elbow, and Stevie watched them curiously, reaching his hand out to copy Maggie. Gently rubbing her shoulder, Stevie offered a smile, eliciting a laugh. “You’re a spitting image of Eddie, I swear.”

While she poured his hot chocolate into a mug, Richie wandered into the living room. During his initial visit, he noticed his records on display, but he failed to notice the magazines stacked under the coffee table. Reaching for them, he thumbed through each one. Some were beginning to fade with time, but others were fresh. Much to his relief, none of them talked about his stint in the hospital.

Pausing on one magazine, he ran his thumb over the picture. His old bandmates stared back at him, posed from a photo shoot.

RICHIE TOZIER LEAVES THE LOSERS

The headline, bold and blocked, rattled around his head like a sole rock in a tin can.

Seriously, guys! We’re doing the same shit over and over. The last album sold better, but I can’t do this for the rest of my life. I wanna experiment, don’t you? Queen! Queen had the right idea. Water, dimes on the drums? Brilliant!” Richie vented, mocking an English accent near the end. His bandmates watched him boredly. He didn’t even know their last names anymore, but he supposed it didn’t matter.

Here we go again,” Peter mumbled, rolling his eyes. Gabriel and Ross snickered - one of them flipped through their comic book, while the other continued watching the hotel tv.

What does that mean?” Richie demanded, his brow furrowing.

When he met Pete, both of them were working shitty jobs as busboys in busy Los Angeles restaurants. Everyone who wanted to make it in Hollywood started there. Server. Busboy. Gas station clerk. Richie remembered now: Gabe worked the night-shift at QuikTrip. His last name was Paul; it confused Richie when he first read the name on his uniform. He held auditions, and Gabe left his shift early to come.

You hog all the work, Rich. What do you want us to say?” he replied, shrugging. Richie scoffed, glaring from him, to Gabe, then Ross.

You could’ve helped out at any time-”

That’s bullshit and you know it!” Peter shouted, suddenly aggravated. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he took a moment before continuing. “The lyrics, the themes, the tour names, everything! Rich, it’s all on you! Anytime we come up with something, you shoot it down-”

That’s not true-”

-and do you know why? It’s cause you wanna be the center of attention,” Peter accused, steamrolling over Richie’s protests. Gabe and Ross were standing behind him now; it felt metaphorical as much as it was literal. “You act like this martyr who was forced into fame-” Guilt momentarily overwhelmed Richie when the urge to write Peter’s accusation as a lyric became more interesting than their argument. “-when really, you’re just an asshole who needs attention.” For a split second, Richie couldn’t find his words.

You wanna see me being an asshole? I can show you,” he scowled, grabbing his guitar case. Slinging it over his shoulder, he aimed to leave. Permanently. He needed his sound to change, and dropping the deadweight of his band seemed like a great start. “Find another lead singer and start from scratch. Richie and the Losers is over when you take away the Richie, don’t you think?” Slamming the door behind him, Richie slowed to a stop. He heard footsteps behind him, and he hit the elevator button impatiently.

Richie-”

Now that I’m leaving, you’re rethinking, huh?” he questioned. While his voice gave off confidence, his knees were close to buckling. Gabriel stood before him, his expression unreadable as usual. Fights between him and Peter weren’t uncommon; Ross and Gabe preferred to stay quiet. After the last words were said, Gabe would smooth everything over. If one of them left, he could get them to come back.

Even as he desperately hoped against it, Richie knew this time was different.

Gabe held out his hand, and Richie didn’t think as he shook it.

Take care of yourself, Richie,” he said quietly. His hands dropped to his sides. Gabe walked back to the hotel room, and the elevator door opened. Staring at the back of Gabe’s head, ignoring the doors as they slid closed, and not moving even when Gabe disappeared from view, Richie thought about how much he reminded him of Eddie.

If good old Spaghetti-Man dyed his hair blonde, they’d be twins, he thought. Shaking his head, he jabbed his finger on the button again.

Although he didn’t remember his talk with management, he easily recalled why he gave up his share of the royalties. Ross was expecting his first kid, and Peter was getting married. Gabe was still his friend. Richie placed his bet solely on himself; he’d make plenty of royalties with his next project. The Losers could keep everything else.


Richie’s ex-girlfriend taught him everything he knew about cooking. Before her, all he could fix were cups of ramen. He supposed learning how to prepare dinner, while preventing the house from going up in flames, made their relationship worth all the time.

His publicity agent, Eudora, didn’t work hard to sell him on the first date. Sandra Dunton worked as a B-list model, which meant she made her money through tampon commercials and random pages of Vanity Fair, specifically behind the hot TV moms or heiresses with reality shows. When management introduced them, Richie had barely finished the first half of his debut album for Trashmouth.

Richie and The Losers earned him enough of a name for Sandy to look at him and not recoil in disgust. He hadn’t been the handsomest kid, and he wouldn’t be winning a beauty contest anytime soon. Punk didn’t rely on beauty, so he didn’t care.

If either of them knew he was sitting on Grammy-winning material, maybe their relationship would’ve been different. Maybe she wouldn't have needed to care about him as a person.

“I want those spaghettis!” Stevie shouted, pointing to the bag of curly noodles. Lifting two different brands, Richie held them out for Stevie to choose from. Tapping his chin, as if he understood a difference, he picked the clear bag over the red one. “These spaghettis are funny.”

"They are, huh, buddy?" Richie played along with Stevie, discovering he responded better to it than simply being herded like a sheep. Searching the pasta aisle, he clicked his tongue when he found exactly what he came for. Lifting the little box, Richie carefully set it in the cart, distracting Stevie with a view of the lobster tank. If he saw the vegetables on the picture instead of normal spaghetti, he wouldn't touch his dinner.

Cooking with his ex-girlfriend meant healthy eating, and spaghetti was her weakness. Richie couldn't pretend to remember why it was so bad, but he knew how to fix a dinner she wouldn't complain about. Eddie would undoubtedly appreciate his approach to feeding Stevie veggies.

As Richie rounded the corner, kicking off the ground and riding their cart into the next aisle, Stevie pointed eagerly in another direction. Confused, Richie scanned the area, thinking he saw Bev, or even Stan and Patty. He recognized all of Eddie's friends, and Richie thought Stevie would recognize him at this point.

Of course, he wasn't brave enough to test that.

Unsure of what Stevie reached for so earnestly, he turned back to ask, but was cut off by a loud squeal.

There were only a handful of people at Derry's brand new supermarket. When Richie searched for the one he knew on Costello Avenue, he was surprised to find apartments. The only complexes he saw were where Bev grew up; Derry politics dictated you either lived comfortably in a home, or poorly on the end of Main Street, sharing with others. Although relieved to see those times changed, a twinge of sadness plagued him.

Stealing gum and cigarettes from the Costello store, running down for his mother's aspirin or his father's toothpaste, were mundane memories, but they were important to him now.

As big as this Derry Local Grocery was, with wide aisles and more variety, it didn't quite bustle the way Richie expected.

The few patrons nearby, none of whom he knew, all stared as a short, blonde woman scurried over to him. She held out her arms, and Richie panicked, trying desperately to recall who this woman was. He didn't have any relatives in town, nor did he have friends outside of the Losers. His heart raced, and a cold sweat broke out across his forehead at the idea of being caught.

Maybe she recognized him-

"Stevie!"

"Mommy!"

Richie choked on his breath, watching as the woman bypassed him completely to hug Stevie. Her wavy blonde locks created a curtain around Stevie, but Richie could see his little hands clutching her tight.

"Excuse me," Richie began, unsure of what he witnessed. Eddie never mentioned Stevie's mother. From what he understood, all Stevie had was his dad. "Eddie didn't tell me-"

"Is Eddie here?!" the woman asked eagerly, searching around Richie. He shook his head and she pouted, quickly beaming again when she turned to Stevie. "Who are you? Why do you have my precious sugar crisp?" She didn't speak directly to Richie, opting instead to smooth Stevie's hair back and tickle his chin. He clearly didn't mind this woman doting on him.

"I'm an... old friend of Eddie's. I'm helping him while he's at work-"

"Ohhhhh!" Interrupting him, the woman nodded understandingly, as if Richie shared a much bigger secret. Sticking her hand out, she shook his firmly. "I'm Matilda Mellon, but you can call me Tilly. I'm Stevie's surrogate mom. Eddie and I met in New York- he had classes with my brother. In fact-" Tilly rummaged through her purse, pulling out a wallet full of photos. "-I dabble in photography- if it weren't for Eddie, neither I nor Adrian would've found this cozy little town." Taking the pictures, Richie glanced at Stevie, checking to make sure he was okay.

"I wouldn't call it coz-"

"Derry's such a magical place, isn't it? I launched my photography career here, my brother wrote a book, I was inspired to surrogate for Eddie," she rambled, interrupting Richie without much thought. Richie didn't argue. He knew people like her in Los Angeles; she could take up all the air in the room, so he might as well save his breath. "You know when I met Eddie, he didn't like talking about his hometown. Get this though: my brother-in-law also came from Derry! It was like a sign - I was big into horoscopes and stuff at the time - so I told Eddie, maybe you should give Derry a second chance. He moved back just as his mom- well, you know." Except he didn't know.

Perking up, suddenly interested in what Tilly said, Richie opened his mouth to ask. However, she hardly paused to take a breath, let alone give him a chance to cut in.

"Til-"

"Believe me, I didn't think much of the place when we first got here. Don, that's my brother-in-law, he insisted it wasn't as special as I was making it out to be. But then Adrian! Oh, Adrian fell in love. He's adamant about raising kids here," she said. Richie attempted again to interject, but she talked too fast. "You know what's funny, I always felt like Adrian and Don were the ones who got Eddie started on wanting kids. He never mentioned it until out of nowhere, he acted like there was a time limit." At this, Richie stopped trying to speak. He thought about Stevie's age compared to his and Eddie's. The idea floating into his mind made him nauseous.

"Richie-"

"What's that, honey?" Tilly responded for Richie, pouting her bottom lip. Yawning, Stevie held out his hand for Richie.

"He's getting tired; it's about time for his nap. I should wrap up the shopping-"

"Oh, of course! Send Eddie my love!" Tilly exclaimed, kissing the top of Stevie's head. She paused, her eyes darting up and down, giving Richie a once-over. "You look familiar- not to hold you up, but have we met?" Again, Richie could feel the cold sweat on the back of his neck.

"I just have one of those faces-"

"Ah-ha!" Tilly snapped her fingers, jolting Stevie awake. He began to doze off in his seat, his cheek pressed against the plastic steering wheel of their racecar shaped cart. "You remind me of that one artist- I cannot remember his name, but he's a real sleezebag. It's all over Twitter, the situation with his girlfriend. I'm honestly glad he's missing! Ugh!" Shaking her head, she stopped and looked at Richie again, this time apologetically. Richie's stomach soured. "Sorry, I'm saying you look like this absolute toolbag. No offense, you look like him, but... sober, you know? That's a great look. Not as messy." While she tried to cover her tracks, Richie gulped and steered the cart away.

"I'll tell Eds- Eddie, you said hi!" he called over his shoulder, rushing to the checkout lines. Hurriedly placing the groceries onto the conveyor belt, he almost didn't notice the row of magazines displayed. Freezing, he listened to the intermittent beeps of scanned items, reaching out to touch the blown up image of him leaving the hospital.

TRASHMOUTH LEAD SINGER FLEES CEDARS SINAI

STILL NO SIGN OF TRASHMOUTH TOZIER

THE TRUTH BEHIND THE TRASHMOUTH?

While the question mark relieved him, telling him the journalists didn't have anything other than a sensational headline, the photos left him weak in the knees. Plucking the last magazine, he skimmed through the pages until he found photos of his band. Most of them were old - either from the last photo shoot, or Instagram posts. Reading through the article, he searched for any mention of Sandy. When he couldn't find what he expected, he moved on to another. A dim, yet frantic, hope washed over him.

Sandra Dunton has yet to comment on the tweets. She was last seen in Los Angeles after an album release party for Tozier.

"Sir? Sir," the cashier called for Richie's attention, and he replaced the magazine with a smile. Stevie froze, mid-action, and the cashier nodded down to him. He reached out to the rows of candy, placing several bars onto the moving belt while Richie wasn't paying attention. "Do you want me to ring these up?" The teenager behind the register blew a large bubble, chewing loudly when it popped.

"Go for it. Stevie, we'll have one for dessert, okay? Green spaghetti first," he said, his tone authoritative. His knees were working fine now, and the cold sweats and stomach aches vanished. All the magazines mentioned were tweets, and although he didn't want those in the spotlight either, it was better than the full story.

Paying for the groceries, Richie quickly loaded them - and Stevie - into the car. Driving home, he switched on the radio, actively searching for a popular station. Sure enough, he landed on his song. Three weeks and people were going as wild as they did on day one. Possibly more.

In the rear view mirror, he watched Stevie dancing in his car seat.

Turning up the volume as the song ended, Richie listened to the disc jockey.

"No news on Richie Tozier's whereabouts yet, but if you're out there, man... we miss you," the voice said. He sounded perfectly in the middle of sincere and scripted. "We all butt dial and drunk tweet from time to time! I do it every weekend!" His co-host laughed, and he snickered as well. "Tickets are on sale now for Trashmouth's world tour. I got a feeling he'll be back just in time. We're gonna have a giveaway-"

Cutting off the channel, Richie waited for a stoplight to plug in his phone and play music for Stevie. A weight lifted from his shoulders as he drove home; nobody knew how badly he screwed up. Everyone outside the real Hollywood bubble would give him a slap on the wrist and nothing more. Blowing out a long breath, he sang along with Stevie to what few songs they both knew.

Arriving home, he was careful to juggle the groceries in one arm, and Stevie in the other. He parked the car safely in the garage, using his nose to flip the switch and close it. Stevie jumped, as he always did, while the door slid down and engulfed them in darkness. Of course, they were in the warmly lit mudroom without a moment's delay.

Squirming out of Richie's arm, Stevie yanked off his shoes, carefully placing them in their cubby before bolting to the living room. Jumping on the couch, he watched Richie unload the food, quickly becoming bored. Turning on the speakers in the kitchen, he connected his phone to the port. Sounds of his shuffled playlist filled the room, and he wasted no time diving into dinner.

"Here buddy, you wanna help?" Richie asked, handing Stevie a coloring book he managed to sneak into the cart. Stevie's eyes widened, and he eagerly flipped through the pages. Running to fetch his crayons, he lied on the floor, only just out of Richie's way.

Music flowed through the house, and on occasion, Stevie would hop up to dance with Richie.

He purchased the coloring book with hopes it would keep Stevie distracted while he used the spiralizer for the zucchini. Fortunately, the plan worked. Making a mental note to thank Stan for the tip, he flipped the chicken he grilled and searched for a pot. Filling it with water to boil, he checked on the other skillet he was heating. The stove didn't have much more room, but luckily, he didn't need it.

Adding salt once the water bubbled, he carefully stirred in the normal pasta noodles, waiting a minute before cooking the zucchini. The chicken had a perfect color, and as he wiped sweat from his forehead, he smiled with pride. He hadn't cooked anything alone in years.

"Alright, Stevie, are you hungry? Cause I'm about to give you the best green spaghetti!" he exclaimed. Jumping in his spot, Stevie cheered and ran to his table. "I'll be out in a minute, okay? You wanna turn the TV on? Find something for us to watch!" Cutting Stevie's piece of chicken into manageable bites, he piled a decent serving onto his Peppa Pig plate. Richie didn't quite know how much he could feed Stevie, but his eyeballing of portions got better everyday.

On the first afternoon without Eddie's supervision, he let Stevie have whatever he could eat. A night of throwing up and diarrhea taught him to limit food intake.

"I- I'm hungry, Richie!" Stevie exclaimed, clapping his hands when Richie appeared with the plate. Setting it down for him, Richie expected Stevie to dig right in.

But Stevie didn't move.

"Eat up, buddy, it's hot and fresh!" Richie encouraged, unsure of the problem. Stevie's smile faded, and he poked at the zucchini noodles before yanking his hand back. He studied the normal, curly noodles he picked, but rejected them as well. Pouting, he focused on the chicken, taking tiny bites from the smallest pieces. "Stevie, come on. It's chicken and green spaghetti! It's what you asked for." His bottom lip trembled; Richie could spot tears in his eyes.

"I don't like it," Stevie whimpered, pushing the plate away.

"Don't like- you haven't even tried it!" Richie huffed, mildly frustrated. Sensing the change in demeanor, Stevie's whimpers became louder. "No- Stevie, it's okay- I mean it's not, but-"

"I don't want green spaghetti! It stinky!" he shouted, crossing his arms. Crouching to Stevie's level, Richie twirled some of the noodles onto his tiny fork. Stevie watched him, suspicious as the spaghetti wormed around on his plate.

"Can you do me a favor?" Richie asked softly. Stevie hesitated, then nodded. "Can you try this for me?" Immediately, he shook his head and pushed the plate further away. A piece of chicken fell onto the table.

"No! Stinky green spaghetti! I hate it!" he screamed. A tear slid down his cheek. "No! No! No!" Stevie stomped his foot, his face turning a darker shade of red as he held back tears. Popping the bite into his own mouth, Richie tried to tempt him.

"I'm eating it!" he reasoned, panic beginning to set it. He imagined the tantrum from yesterday, after losing the paper boat, and he thanked God this meltdown didn't happen at the store. "It's really tast-"

"NO!" Stevie hollered, more tears falling. Each drop slid down his face, landing neatly in his lap. Sighing, Richie took the plate, aiming to throw everything back in the pan. For Stevie though, this was the final straw. He wailed, sobbing as he ran into the kitchen to hug Richie's leg. "I sorry- I'm sorry!" Guilt panged him, and Richie scooped Stevie into his arms to give him a gentle squeeze.

"Don't worry about it, buddy. I can make something else. How about chicken nuggets? You like those, don't you?" he questioned, his tone soft. Nodding, Stevie wiped his eyes. Sitting him on the counter, Richie tore off a napkin and blotted the tears and snot away. "You can snack on the chicken there, if you can't wait, but I'll get some nuggets ready." Careful not to let Stevie fall, Richie searched for another pan.

Pouring the last of Stevie's nuggets from the bag, Richie popped them into the oven. His favorite songs continued to echo throughout the kitchen and living room, and he took the opportunity to distract Stevie from his sniffling. Waving his hands to catch his attention, he skipped to the next song, grinning when The Bangles came on. Walk Like an Egyptian. He was never good at the dance, but he had to try. Stevie tilted his head, confused and amused as he watched Richie. Halfway through the song, he thought he was getting the hang of it. Whirling around, however, he yelped. He was unpleasantly surprised to find Eddie standing in the doorframe.

"You're home early," he said, breathless. Stevie twisted his torso around to see who Richie spoke to, immediately trying to leap off the counter when he realized his dad was there. Eddie couldn’t help but burst with laughter.

"DADDY!" Stevie shrieked. Richie lowered him to the floor, watching as Eddie knelt down to hug him tight. "I miss you, Daddy! I miss you!" Rubbing his back, Eddie kissed the top of his head. Richie lowered the music, but Eddie waved his hand to stop him.

"I missed you too, Stevie. I missed you this much," he said, holding out his arms. Stevie giggled, copying him.

"I miss you this much!" Laughing, he ran from one of Eddie's hands to the other. Smelling the air, Eddie rose to his feet, observing all the food laid out.

"You made all this?" he asked. Richie clicked his tongue, his hands on his hips.

"I've been known to cook every once in a while. Don't get too excited; he hated it," he replied. Stevie covered his mouth to stifle the giggles. "Hence the nuggets. He loves those." Eddie snorted, ruffling Stevie's hair. Picking up his plate, he tested the noodles, his eyes widening.

"This is really good, Rich. You seriously didn't order this?" Eddie teased, slurping another mouthful. Rolling his eyes, Richie motioned for him to keep eating. “I’m impressed.” Stevie watched his dad eating and pouted, reaching out his hands. “You want some, baby?” Jumping in his spot, he opened his mouth for Eddie to feed him.

“Oh now you wanna try it?” Richie huffed, feigning insult. Stevie laughed, covering his mouth a second too late. Chewing the noodles, he made a face. He forced them down, but he shook his head when Eddie offered another bite. “I was gonna be really upset if you liked it, I won’t lie.” Allowing them to eat, Richie began soaking the dishes. He wanted to ask what brought Eddie home so early, but he liked listening to them speak about the day.

“What else did you do?”

“We- we chased a boat, and it was raining, and- and then Richie’s mommy made hot chocolate milk-”

“Hey, Stevie, maybe we don’t tell Daddy about that, huh?” Richie interjected. Eddie’s brow was raised, but the smile on his face gave away how little trouble Richie was actually in. “I haven’t seen that look in a while.” Almost immediately, he knew these were the wrong words to say, but Eddie’s expression didn’t change. Yet again, he unknowingly held his breath, and failed to realize until his chest tightened.

As he gasped for air, the song changed.

When the tune drifted through his ears, his eyes darted to Eddie. Their gazes met for one endless second, and a smile stretched across Richie’s face.

“Your daddy was a sucker for this song,” Richie whispered, moving closer to Eddie. Holding out his hand, he nodded his head to Stevie, as if to say it would be unfair to make the claim and not show him. Sighing, Eddie chuckled and took Richie’s hand as The Righteous Brothers crooned through the speakers. Richie attempted to join them, singing directly to Eddie. “Oh, my love, my darling-”

“Don’t ruin it,” he groaned, failing to fight the laughter. Richie twirled him around the kitchen as Stevie watched, his eyes saucers whenever Richie dipped Eddie lower. Bringing him back up, Eddie’s breath was suddenly hot on Richie’s neck. He didn’t know if they were swaying in real time, or if he was back at junior prom.

Eddie kissed his neck as they slow danced under the bleachers. Ben and Bev set up lights and a picnic blanket for them to sit on. There were cookies and punch from the gymnasium where the real prom was held, but Richie preferred being out here with Eddie. His love. His darling. Unchained Melody echoed from the building, distant, but loud enough for Richie to know he’d never listen to this song again without thinking of Eddie Kaspbrak.

“I-”

The timer on the oven beeped, breaking Richie from whatever trance the music put him under. Stevie clapped his hands, eager to eat.

“Chickie nuggies!” he shouted, wiggling his body excitedly. Eddie let out a breathy laugh, pulling away from Richie as he fetched the oven mitts. Richie watched Eddie blow on each nugget, carefully placing them on another cartoon-printed plate for his son. He took his time cutting each small piece even smaller, because he couldn’t be too safe, and the chicken had to cool anyways. The music grew louder in Richie’s ears, his head buzzing with thoughts.

He came home for a reason.

He came home because he was still in love.

Unquestionably. Undoubtedly. Possibly unrequitedly.

 

Chapter Text

When Tilly – his first best friend outside of Derry – went into labor, Eddie didn't know what to do with himself. She stayed in his guest room for the last two weeks of her pregnancy; he tried to push for her to move in earlier, worried his baby would come prematurely. A Bob Ross marathon played on one of the local channels, while Eddie cooked chicken and rice for their dinner. Tilly sat on a bag of frozen peas and chatted with her brother, but stopped mid-sentence when she noticed a trickling down her thigh. Both Adrian and Eddie insisted she check in with the hospital.

On the drive to Derry Medical Center, Tilly began groaning and whining. Glancing over his shoulder, unsure of what he even aimed to say, he saw a stain on the floor of his car. He didn't know he would never get it out (not that he absolutely needed to), but he did know he suddenly felt unprepared.

Severely unprepared, and under-qualified.

Tilly gripped his hand tightly, puffing out heavy breaths as they left the car. Nurses helped her into a wheelchair, and Eddie ran along beside them, seemingly in a trance.

In between contractions, Tilly managed to smile at him and say, “You're gonna meet your baby soon.” Although he beamed back at her, he panicked. The nursery still needed more diapers, and probably wipes while he was at it. He ordered more blankets, but they had yet to arrive. An overwhelming urge to wash his hands nearly pulled him away from the delivery room. Upon looking out the window, he saw the sun vanished, but he didn't know how long ago.

So lost in thought, he didn't realize he walked in with Tilly. Nurses were rushing to give him scrubs and a mask, but he stood, frozen. He and Adrian hadn't even decided who would be in this position when the time came, but the time was here, and Adrian wasn't. Anxiety crept in, but not once did he let go of Tilly's hand.

Nothing followed the plan he laid out in his mind. Eddie assumed he would have at least another ten hours, another day to prepare last minute affairs. His heartbeat slammed around in his chest like a boomerang; he could hear the echoes in his eardrums.

BA-DUM! BA-DUM! BA-DUM!

Only Tilly's cries could break through and snap sense into him. She had his hand in a vice grip; he couldn't feel his middle finger after a while. As she wailed, and the doctor calmly instructed her to push, and the nurses ran around preparing a bed and blankets and tools... Eddie thought about what he already learned from this baby. Whomever they were, they were impatient like him. Clearly, they were in a rush. He would have to lean on his patience a lot, but he supposed that was true for any child.

He would have to expect the unexpected. Admittedly, Eddie didn't like the idea, but he swallowed it. Down the hatch. Just like a pill.

Except sometimes Eddie would vomit his medicine. Certain things, he simply couldn't keep down.

He didn't know if he was ready for this.

Four hours passed in four seconds, and he hadn't wrapped his mind around any of it. Adrian could've made it back from New York, but he would be none the wiser. The only world that existed was in this delivery room. Eddie's chest tightened, and as he took a deep breath, the ringing in his ears abruptly stopped.

A fragile, tiny wailing filled all the space in his mind, which was now blank.

One of the nurses scurried away, taking the source of the crying with her. Tilly's hand slipped out of his; she caught her breath and relaxed on the bed while the nurses cleaned her. Eddie's feet carried him across the room, and he forgot how to breathe, how to think– Eddie forgot how to exist for a split second, laying his eyes on his son for the first time.

The baby boy, bright pink and shivering, grumpily wailed as the nurses rinsed and wiped him. As soon as he was comfortably swaddled, his cries became dull whimpers. He had a thatch of light brown hair, or possibly a dark blond. Eddie couldn't tell yet, but he guessed his son would have Tilly's hair. The baby opened his eyes, large and brown, just like Eddie's. He stuck out his tongue and quickly sucked it back in, repeating the action again and again.

Hi,” Eddie whispered. The nurse smiled, holding his son out to him. Carefully cradling the baby's head in his palm, he stared in silence. Their matching eyes studied each other, barely blinking. Only when another nurse approached him with a clipboard, did Eddie realize his son needed a name. He anticipated any obstacle and planned each minute detail, but there were no names he could shuffle through that made sense until- “Stevie.”

Steven?” the nurse asked, a pen in hand as she filled out other details in the paperwork.

No!” Eddie blurted, shaking his head. The nurse paused and his eyes darted to the floor. Clearing his throat, he said, “Stevie. S-t-e-v-i-e. Stevie Edward-” Hesitating, Eddie chewed his bottom lip. This moment was a long time coming, but he didn't consider it. Bev and Ben asked him countless times how he'd feel, and he chose to politely brush away their concern. He wished they were here now. “Kaspbrak. Stevie Edward Kaspbrak.” Turning away from the nurse, Eddie nuzzled his nose against Stevie's forehead.

In his mind, he envisioned himself introducing Stevie to all his friends. Eddie used to imagine this exact scenario all the time, only back then, his son's name was Stevie Tozier.

Kissing the top of Stevie's head, he whispered, “You're so perfect, baby. You're my perfect little baby. You're my perfect Stevie. I love you. I love you.”


Yoohoo, Dick Richards, anyone there?” Stan called, pulling Richie from his daydream. “You worried me there for second, I thought the aliens were finally telling you to come home.” When he laughed, but Richie didn't, his smile faded. “I shouldn't have asked, huh?” Immediately, Richie shook his head. He heard the question, he understood, but he didn't know how to answer.

How long do you plan on sticking around this time, Rich?”

It was a fair inquiry; he ghosted on them ten years ago. His friends had every right to worry about him vanishing in the night. Even after three (going on four) weeks, Richie considered himself a flight risk. Every outing ended with him glancing over his shoulder to make sure no one followed. He didn't know how long he could live with paranoia. At least as a celebrity in Los Angeles, he expected the lack of privacy.

“As long as I'm wanted, I guess? I don't know how to answer that,” Richie admitted sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. Stan tried to smile, but his effort left much to be desired.

“You're wanted, you know. We all missed you. I missed you,” Stan said. His confession loomed over Richie like a dark cloud. Semi-dark. Not quite the shade of black it had been when he first arrived back in Derry. Staring out at the playground, he watched Stevie run across the small bridge, his eyes set on the slide. Andy trotted along behind him; Richie chuckled at how they waddled around. All the toddlers ran that way, but got a laugh out of it every single time. “You're helping out with Eddie way more than you realize, too. He needed a break.” At this, Richie frowned.

The thought festered in his mind since the beginning, but he always managed to shove it away. Lately, as he observed Eddie with his son, the thoughts became more prevalent. Chewing his bottom lip, he mulled over the words in his head. For once, he wanted these to come out exactly as planned.

“Didn't he know?” Richie asked, treading carefully on the subject. Stan didn't take sides the way Bev or Ben would; out of all the losers, Stan might've been his best friend. “This whole... drag queen thing- I don't- When did it all start? Can you tell me what I missed out on?” Although his words strayed from what he intended to ask, the question also weighed on his mind. He didn't know any of his friends for technically thirteen years – Richie did the math shortly after his reunion with everyone. Evidently, a decade changed people.

Bev told him how she and Ben were married during their third year of college. Mike's girlfriend, Katrina "Kay" McCall, was her maid of honor, and it was the first time she met the rest of the losers. Richie imagined the women in pink and orange colors, while Ben wore a grey suit, and all his groomsmen matched. He had the photo on their stairwell for reference, but the entirety of the day was lost on him. Stan and Patty were there; he'd seen a picture of them with Mike at the reception, all dressed in compliance with Richie's imagination. Perfect spring colors for a perfect spring wedding.

With every visit to their houses, Richie saw pictures of a life he missed. Graduation days. Framed college degrees and marriage certificates. In Stan's case: family portraits.

Stan proposed to Patricia in 2010, shortly after graduating. They were married in September, when the leaves were changing color and the breeze countered any remaining summer heat. By then, Richie released his first album. If memory served him right, he spent that month in Europe, on tour.

“Matilda – the surrogate; you've met her, right? – knew Eddie in college. Or her brother did- I forget specifics. I've only met Adrian a couple times anyways. They were all really close in New York, and things are a lot more liberal there than in Derry,” Stan explained, scratching his temple as he thought. Richie tried to imagine Eddie in New York, a vision he'd buried long ago. “I think they went out drinking one night – that's right, it was Halloween – and Adrian dolled himself up, so Matilda offered to do the same for Eddie.” As Stan spoke, Richie pictured Eddie dancing on a bar counter. He wondered if anyone made a Coyote Ugly joke like he would've.

Richie also wondered if Eddie knew he wouldn't have made fun of him. There were jokes, during the beginning days of their Dungeons and Dragons campaign, when Eddie wanted to make his character a fairy. They were stupid teenagers back then; Richie wanted to remind him. Not a single degrading comment crossed his mind since he first saw Eddie in that green dress. As a matter of fact, the sight took Richie's breath away. He wanted to see more.

Have I ever hurt your feelings, Eddie?”

Pausing, Eddie stared at Richie for a few moments. Clearly confused, he shook his head, but Richie spotted doubt.

Why are you asking? Why... You didn't call me Eds,” Eddie pointed out. His gaze dropped from Richie, suddenly finding the floor much more interesting.

I'm asking cause I want you to know that all the times I joked around like... about you being...” his voice trailed off. A small knot of frustration inflated in his stomach; a balloon ready to burst. He couldn't explain to himself why the word was so hard to say in this setting. It was easier when he said it like a curse, with words like “fuck” and “shit.” Biting his lip, he thought the conversation would disappear on its own, like it always did. However, Eddie didn't move. He didn't offer him any excuse to turn back now. “You like guys. I know that- we all do, I guess. I dunno. I do. It's cool. I...” For the first time in his life, Richie blanked.

You..?” Eddie nudged him carefully, and even Richie could see the hope in his eyes. More than anything, he didn't want to disappoint Eddie.

I'm sorry. If I ever took a joke too far, I mean. I think it's cool that you're gay. People in Derry just suck,” he blurted, the words tumbling out faster than his mind could keep up. Eddie closed the distance between them, cupping Richie's cheek in his palm. Staring down at him, Richie's words caught in his throat. He kissed Eddie twice in the span of two weeks, and he puzzled over them ever since.

The first kiss happened on the Fourth of July. While everyone watched fireworks, Richie and Eddie were sneaking sips of Maggie's wine. They danced on the porch to Eddie's 80s CD, slowing down when it reached the Thompson Twins. Richie didn't think about what he was doing when he leaned in to kiss him. He laughed and ruffled Eddie's hair, calling him “cute,” but nothing else came of it.

Except everything came of it. Their second kiss happened because he couldn't get it off his mind. Bill fell asleep first at their sleepover; they were alone. He taught Eddie how to kiss, at least better than he was currently kissing. The morning after, Eddie didn't say anything. Both of them resumed with life as if nothing ever happened.

But Richie couldn't handle the deafening silence.

I like-” Richie choked. Eddie ran a thumb over his cheek. Searching his eyes desperately for understanding, Richie took a deep breath. His heart pounded in his chest. “I wanna kiss you again. I haven't- … I can't stop thinking about it. About you. About us. Eddie, I...” The words were on the tip of his tongue, but he knew if he said them, nothing would ever be the same.

Fear strangled him.

I like you, Richie. I always have,” Eddie confessed. Only he could loosen the tightness around Richie's throat. “Breathe, Rich. I like you too.” Obeying the instruction, Richie exhaled, and the weight on his shoulders – some of which he hardly realized was present – fell off.

A baby on the bench behind them began wailing, startling Stan and Richie. The mother offered an apologetic glance, but Stan shook his head and smiled reassuringly.

“Where was I?” he murmured, checking on his kids while he thought. Copying him, Richie saw Stevie on the plastic rocks, climbing over them with ease. However, on the higher rocks, he slipped. Landing on the wood chips, Stevie didn't move for a second. Richie tensed, his foot arching as though he were going to run. Shaking his head, Stevie sat up and laughed, rushing back to climb the rock wall again. “I saw that.”

“Saw what?” Richie demanded, his head whipping back to look at Stan.

“The first time jitters. You were ready to scoop him up,” he accused Richie knowingly.

“That... wasn't it at all- shut up! We were talking about Eddie!” Richie huffed. Stan chuckled, snapping his fingers when he remembered what he was going to say.

“Eddie and Adrian had great energy with each other, so they started going on stage at these bars. Someone convinced them both to audition for that reality show, the only one with drag queens – RuPaul, remember that guy? Woman? I... You know?” Stan's brow furrowed; his uncertainty was as charming as his attempt to be correct. Richie snickered and nodded, motioning for him to go on. “He got on. Flew to Los Angeles and everything, and–”

Eddie was in L.A. without telling me? Richie thought, stung at the idea of them barely missing each other.

“–I know he lasted a while. He didn't win, but he was popular, and that's why he still does shows in New York. It paid off most of his debt. If Sonia hadn't passed so suddenly, he probably would've retired the whole deal. You know, focus on Stevie,” Stan said. Richie's mouth twisted. His question perched on the tip of his tongue, and against his better judgment, he asked.

“Wouldn't he have thought this through?” Richie's tone was different from what he expected; he didn't know how to fix it. He wasn't necessarily mad, and even if he was, it wasn't directed towards Eddie. “He's missing everything-” Looking out at the playground, he scanned the area for Stevie.

“I think we all knew there was no changing his mind-”

“Why didn't anyone say anything though?” Richie questioned, still searching for Stevie. The quirk in Stan’s brow shut Richie up. He could read the “that was your job” from a mile away; Stan’s expression pulled no punches. His stomach soured, but it wasn't solely because of Stan. “Stevie?” Rising to his feet, his sudden seriousness alerted Stan. “Stevie!”

Running across the playground, he searched for Eddie's son. His heartbeat filled his head, drowning out the screams and laughter of other children. Stan was crouched beside Jenny, asking if she'd seen Stevie. Richie froze, staring at the hiking trail leading into the woods. Doubt tried to quell the panic rising in his chest; he just had his eyes on Stevie. A toddler couldn't get that far.

Unless someone took him.

Whipping around, Richie stared down every last adult in his line of view. He squinted, trying to see anyone in the parking lot. His feet carried him towards the cars, and as he tried to take a breath, he realized he couldn't. It felt as though his throat closed, leaving barely enough room for a pin to slither down. He thought he might throw up-

“BOO!” Stevie screamed, leaping out of the bushes. Richie yelped, tripping over his feet and landing on the grass. Blinking several times, he watched Stevie cover his mouth to stifle the giggles.

“Stevie!” Lurching forward, Richie swiftly yanked Stevie into his arms, cradling the back of his small head as he hugged him. At once, Stevie stopped laughing, now thoroughly confused. Pulling back, placing his hands on Stevie's shoulders, Richie's expression became stern. “Don't ever do that again, Stevie! Do you understand? Don't you ever! I thought someone took you, I thought-” His voice rose, but he never meant to yell.

He certainly didn't mean to scare Stevie, who was now whimpering. His face twisted, and tears began to slip out of his large, glossy eyes. Richie lifted him up, carrying him back to the car.

“I sorry- I'm sorry!” Stevie bawled, sobbing against Richie's chest. Snot dripped from his nose, pooling at the rim of his lip. Carefully setting Stevie into his car seat, Richie fished through the glove compartment for a napkin. He wiped away the snot, and dabbed at the tears.

“I'm sorry too, kid. I didn't mean to yell,” he said softly, petting Stevie's hair back. “I thought I lost you, and that... scared me. I was really scared.” His head tilted, Stevie reached out to hold Richie's arm, patting it gently. Hugging him again, Richie smiled, although it was short-lived. He couldn't explain the depth of that fear to a three-year-old. The fear itself scared him even more.


Freese's Department Store expanded over the years.

Richie's earliest memories were of the toy shop. Most of his childhood allowance was spent there, either on himself or on birthday gifts for his best friends. Once, he fled Henry Bowers and his gang through the doll aisle. He forgot what exactly was said, but he knew he made a joke at Henry's expense. It came out like vomit; he didn't even realize he was saying his thoughts out loud. Next thing he knew, Henry was chasing him down.

This was all before the Bowers farm burned to a crisp, and Henry was taken away for arson. Last he heard, Bowers and his friend, Patrick, were sharing a room at a psychiatric hospital upstate.

“Believe it or not, kid, I used to love it here,” Richie said, moving his arm in a wide, sweeping motion, as if presenting the store to Stevie. His eyes were wide, shining with excitement as he took in all the sights and smells. “You want something to eat?” Nodding frantically, Stevie held out his hands while Richie bought corndogs for them.

“What this?” he asked, inspecting the bread. Sniffing it, he perked up.

“Food. A hot dog on a stick! Try it,” Richie coaxed. Using his teeth to tear open a packet of mustard, he made sure not to let Stevie see him. He learned the hard way if Stevie saw, he'd want to copy. Hesitant, Stevie opened his mouth as wide as he could and took a bite. He chewed slowly, for what seemed to be a long while. Then, after carefully reaching a verdict, Stevie beamed and took another bite. “Good, innit? Slow down, though, okay? No need to choke.”

Stevie nodded, continuing to gnaw on the corndog. He sat – securely strapped for their shopping spree – in a green, car shaped stroller, giggling as he beeped the little horn attached. Pushing him along through the mall, he was relieved to find it only sparsely populated. There were people in every store he passed, but not enough to make him nervous. The long stretch of walk around the first floor had plenty of room for him to zig and zag Stevie around.

“Where- where are we going, Richie?” he asked, a piece of bread stuck to his bottom lip. Leaning down to brush it off, Richie smiled.

“Your call, bud. Which store do you wanna go to first?” Turning the stroller around, he showed Stevie all of his options. “Video games, Build-a-Bear, ice cream-”

“DISNEY!” Stevie shrieked, pointing to the familiar logo upstairs.

“Great choice!” Richie exclaimed, giving him a thumbs up. Heading towards the elevator, he noticed several songs echoed in passing. Overhead, a light, wordless melody played to fill the majority of the mall. With each passing store, a different station boomed. He held his breath as he walked by the shops aimed at teens and young adults, half expecting to hear his own voice.

The doors of the lift closed on him before he exhaled again.

Inside the Disney store, Richie relaxed. He suspected no one who listened to his family unfriendly music would shop there, and he wasted no time taking advantage of the freedom. Unbuckling Stevie from the stroller, he motioned for him to run free. In the center of the store stood a fake tree; from what Richie could see, the inside was a playhouse for kids. Nearly falling over himself, Stevie disappeared into the trunk, sticking his arm out of a tiny window to wave. Crouching down, Richie playfully pretended to bite at his hand.

“You see anything you like? Toys? Or did you just wanna play here?” Richie asked. They had all the time in the world – or at least until the mall closed. He thought it would be nice to splurge on Stevie; not only would the toys earn him popularity points, but it would be a show of good faith. Richie wanted Eddie to see he was serious about taking care of Stevie.

Since abandoning Los Angeles, he hadn't used any of his debit cards, fearful of being tracked down. Then, last week, he used his main bank card to buy nuggets from Burger King. Richie didn't panic until after the fact, but when the days passed and no one showed up for his head, he was more relieved than anything. His money was free to use again, and this shopping spree was the first idea to hit him.

“I want- I want this one!” Stevie exclaimed, running out of the playhouse and towards the costumes. Following after him, Richie smiled as Stevie pulled one of the princess dresses off the rack, hugging it close to his little body. “I wanna be like- like Moana!” Richie snickered; much like how he said “Wishie” instead of Richie, he said “Wanna” in place of Moana. Singing a song from the movie – which meant repeating the only line he knew, over and over again – Stevie twirled around with the dress.

“Excuse me,” a voice gently called out. Richie didn't realize the woman spoke to him at first. She tapped his shoulder, and he glanced over, stealing intermittent peeks back at Stevie. “There's boy costumes for that movie. Over there.” The woman pointed out the section across the narrow aisle, but Richie didn't check. Giving the woman a once-over, his mouth twisted.

“And you... work here?” he asked, knowing perfectly well she didn't. Insulted, either by the question or his tone, the woman huffed.

“No, I'm shopping with my granddaughter. She's looking for gender appropriate clothes,” she said haughtily. Richie's jaw tightened.

“Cool. How about you fork off then and let me focus on my kid?” he hissed. Bouncing around Richie's feet, Stevie hopped on his toes, and then on the woman's. She yelped, scowling down at him.

“Y-yeah! Fork off!” Stevie shouted. Stifling his laughter, Richie swiftly picked Stevie up, carrying him away from the clothes. At the very least, he didn't use the real word Richie had in mind for the old, saggy bat.

Paying for the dress, and a strawberry-scented bear Stevie grabbed on the way to the counter, Richie hurriedly left the store. Scanning the array of shops, he spotted another toy store further down the line. As he pushed the cart, he couldn't help but feel the desperate urge to peek over his shoulder. He thought perhaps the woman was following him to give a piece of her mind.

Turning in one of the clothing stores, Richie stopped to regain his composure. Slumping on the bench near the checkout counters, he smiled at Stevie and ruffled his hair. Stevie beamed, hugging his new bear tightly. He offered the toy for Richie to smell, and Richie acted as pleasantly surprised as he did the first time.

“That you!” Stevie suddenly said, jabbing his little finger at something beside Richie. Looking at what Stevie saw, his stomach instantly soured. A small rack of magazines displayed his picture; Teen Weekly, People, Alternative Press. Hissing, he rearranged them as fast as he could, hiding his face from view. However, he paused when he noticed the pictures weren't recent. Picking out one of the magazines, he flipped through the pages until he found the article about him. The two-page spread was full of old photos; sure, they were only from four months ago, but that was still prior to the Grammy win.

Richie Tozier disappeared without a trace in late April, leaving his bandmates to fend off questions of his whereabouts through the Trashmouth press tour. Photos have surfaced of Tozier across the state, but the band's management refuses to comment.

Squinting at the photo in the top corner, Richie's lips pressed into a thin line. The man in the photo was an impressive lookalike, but it wasn't him. Setting the magazine back in place, he sucked in a deep breath. His heartbeat began to slow down again, much to his relief. He wanted to enjoy the day with Stevie. He wanted-

“Well, well, well. Richie Tozier. Long time, no see,” a voice said. This particular voice was also female, but not older, like the woman in the Disney store. He knew this person.

“Eudie,” he said quietly, keeping his eyes shut. For a split second, he thought, if he didn't see her, she wouldn't be real.

“Eudora,” she corrected him briskly, and he cracked open one eye to see how her nose wrinkled. “You know I hate nicknames, Richie.” His publicist walked around the stroller, her heels clicking on the hard linoleum floor. She stared at Stevie, her brow cocked. “You've been... busy-” Pointing her stylus pen at Stevie, she eyed Richie suspiciously. “This isn't something I'll have to take care of later, is it?” Scowling, Richie stood, ready to walk away.

“No, he is none of your business. None of anyone's Goddamn business,” Richie growled. Eudora looked at him, unamused. “What are you doing here? Is anyone with you?” She smiled at his irritation, but he knew it was probably well-deserved. He left her high and dry, but it wasn't like the abandonment was personal. He ditched everyone.

“Well first of all, you're welcome. I've kept paparazzi out of this state entirely for you. As you can see,” she said, motioning to the magazine, “I hired decoys and planted some unreleased photos. I'm surprised you helped me; this new look works.” Reaching out to adjust his glasses, she clicked her tongue.

“Is there a point here?” Richie demanded, kneeling down to focus on Stevie. Thankfully, he was still distracted with his bear. He offered it again for Richie to smell, which he gladly did. Eudora tapped away on her phone; he couldn't remember seeing her without the device.

“I had to have eyes on you. That's all,” she replied. Hitching her purse higher on her shoulder, she jabbed the stylus at him now. “You're going to continue this little sabbatical, do you understand? We're keeping you a secret; don't draw any attention to yourself.” Confused, Richie opened his mouth to speak, but Eudora pinched his lips together. “I don't know if you realize this, but your disappearing act skyrocketed your sales.”

Suddenly, everything made sense.

If the album tanked, Eudora would've come for him much sooner.

“So, what? The label is just... fine, with me leaving? I can come and go whenever I feel like it?” Although skeptical, Richie couldn't deny feeling the slightest bit hopeful. Eudora laughed, holding her sides as she did.

“Oh, baby, they were furious,” she informed him. There was never any sugarcoating with Eudora, but especially not now. She was too angry with Richie. Again, his stomach churned. “You were almost out of a job until the numbers started climbing.” Studying him for a moment, she cupped his cheek, tilting his head so their eyes met. “The good news is: you're a staple now, Rich. Theoretically, you could do whatever you wanted.” She looked around the store, judgment in her eyes.

“Eudora-”

“Of course,” she said, speaking over him, “I wouldn't get cozy here. We both know this isn't your life.” Richie's mouth dried. He licked his lips, but it did nothing for him. Turning, Eudora began to walk away. However, she paused, just far enough for him to still hear her when she quietly added, “Sandy's doing fine, by the way.” The parting words were a swift punch to the gut. Eudora replaced her sunglasses – a designer accessory which probably cost more than the whole store they stood in. She left, blending in with the crowd as Richie lost sight of her.

Stevie began fussing in the stroller, and Richie stood up, pushing him along on autopilot. He set Stevie loose in the next toy store, smiling wide each time he brought back a new shiny package. The thought of driving home made him ill. His imagination ran freely, and he could practically smell the fresh leather interior of his Bugatti. It was a gift from the label, congratulating him on the Grammy. One hand clutched the steering wheel, the other fiddled with his cell phone.

Scrolling through his Twitter feed, Richie hiccuped. He drank before coming to the party; he didn't even know what this celebration was for. Everyone already congratulated him on the award, and not just a worthless VMA or AP trophy. It was the big one. Richie Tozier had a Grammy under his belt, and no one could tell him a damn thing about how to act. He was on the road to becoming a true rock legend.

Richie emptied the champagne glass in one gulp, throwing it out of his window when he finished. The glass shattered, but he didn't care. His attention was on the app, which he still had no idea how to use. There were words on his page that he meant to send privately; a text message gone awry.

I don't love you, and I never have. Don't call, don't text. I'm happier alone.”

I'm sick of pretending. I can't do it anymore.”

The messages were true in sentiment, but he had to be drunk to send them. There were various typos and inconsistencies in the capitalization and spaces. It was obvious he was under the influence, but his followers were still turning the tweets into a bigger deal than he wanted. A video accompanied the messages, but he didn't dare watch, knowing he didn't say anything flattering about the relationship. He hadn't seen Sandy since the tweets went out, but she attempted to call him several times throughout the day. Although he knew it was cowardly, Richie found her name in his contacts, and proceeded to block her. No one at the party mentioned his misstep. Either they didn't know, or wanted to kiss his ass and avoid talking about controversy.

Richie sighed, shutting himself in the car. Staring at the time on his phone, he decided it was perfectly reasonable to go home.

11:28 PM. April 26th.

Unbeknownst to him, he'd be touching base in Derry two days later.

His keys in the ignition, Richie started the car. It purred beneath him, and he ran his hand along the clean leather.

Suddenly, the passenger side door swung open. Sandy's face appeared, and she slid into the vehicle. Richie groaned, gripping the wheel tighter. Shutting his eyes, he hoped that she would disappear once he reopened them. She scowled, immediately talking too fast for him to truly grasp what she said. Tilting his head lazily to look at her, Richie shifted the gears.

You're drunk, Richie! Cut the engine- Richie! Richie, stop the car!” she shrieked.

Richie ignored his ex-girlfriend. The new car allegedly jumped from zero to sixty miles per hour; he wanted to test the limits. His foot pressed hard on the gas, and Sandy's screaming was drowned out by the tires screeching. He expected to feel wind in his hair, not considering the fact he hadn't rolled down the windows.

Headlights blinded him, and he covered his ears, flinching at the vicious scraping of metal on pavement. His seat belt choked him, leaving a nasty rash on his neck. The windshield shattered, but he didn't immediately realize what the noise was. It sounded nothing like it did in the movies. There were chips of glass in his forearm, and wind in his hair. Somehow, he'd fallen out of his car. He couldn't recall even opening the door.

Everyone's okay! We need an ambulance for him- Is she okay?” Voices filled the air, creating a static buzz in Richie's head. Everything began to ache.

Another set of headlights flashed in his eyes; for a moment, he thought he existed outside of the world. While his body lied limp on the streets of California, his mind drifted into another realm. Richie watched as paramedics sat him up, shone bright lights in each eye, and reserved judgment. He only came back to himself when he spotted another EMT speaking to Sandy. She wouldn't look at him, and he feared she wouldn't move at all. Another glass of whiskey sounded especially tempting, to help him swallow the shame souring his tongue.


Helping Stevie arrange his new toys, Richie took care of yanking off the pesky tags. Believing the tags hurt his toys, the same way they scratched his skin, Stevie kissed each stuffed animal. Lining them on his bed, against the wall, he spent mostly equal amounts of time with all of them – his maroon teddy bear being the exception. He refused to let it go, which only slightly confused Richie. From what he remembered, that bear was the villain of the movie.

After Eudora disappeared, and he had a moment to breathe, Richie circled back to the Disney store. He made sure the old woman was gone, giving Stevie plenty of time and freedom to shop for more. Most of the new toys were from his second trip; Stevie chose a bug-eyed clownfish, two princess dolls (which inspired him to sing the words “let it go” several dozen times), four different variations of the blue alien from Hawaii, and a fluffy pig to go with his Moana costume. This didn't even include all the toys he found in the following stores.

Richie managed to purchase a few new shirts for him as well, to replace the ones they had gotten too dirty in his first week of taking care of him. One t-shirt was an exact copy of his own Ramones tee, but shrunken down to Stevie's size. He snickered at the idea of them matching, wondering what Eddie would say if he happened to see.

“Hey,” Stevie said, tugging on Richie's sleeve. Glancing down at him, he saw Stevie already climbed into bed, and was waiting to be tucked in.

“You tired? It was a pretty big day. Did you have fun?” Richie asked as he covered Stevie with the fuzzy green blankets. It took him less time to assist with brushing Stevie's teeth, and he changed into his new Cookie Monster pajamas all on his own. He didn't know if it was thanks to practice, or Stevie knowing his own routine, but he found parenting enjoyable on nights like this.

“Uh huh. A bunch of fun,” Stevie answered, yawning. Clutching his teddy bear closer, he closed his eyes and lied quietly. Richie sat at the edge of his bed, softly smoothing his hair back. After a few minutes, he thought Stevie had fallen asleep. Sometimes it took half an hour, and other times, Stevie was out like a light as soon as the blankets were over him. Richie stood up, careful not to make any noise. “Richie?” Pausing, he looked down to see Stevie's eyes were open again. Sitting on the floor, he rubbed Stevie's hand.

“What's wrong?”

Stevie wiggled out of his blanket, sitting up. Reaching his arms out, he wrapped them around Richie's neck and hugged him tight. He kissed Richie's cheek, then snuggled back under the sheets.

“You're my best friend,” he whispered. Again, he yawned, closing his eyes. “I love you.”

Taken aback by the statement, Richie replied a second later, “I love you too, kiddo.” He pet Stevie's hair, feeling a burn in his eye. Clearing his throat, he hummed a tune to ease Stevie to sleep. For several minutes, Richie didn't leave his spot. Wrapping his arms around his knees, hugging them to his chest, he listened to the tiny, shallow snores.

Stevie's nose occasionally twitched, remind Richie of how Eddie used to sleep. The resemblance was uncanny, and Richie stared in awe. He hadn't noticed until now, and it finally seemed to sink in that Eddie Kaspbrak had a son.

Swallowing thickly, Richie wondered what Eddie was currently doing. On weekdays, he worked at his auto shop. His gigs in New York only came up twice a month, and usually on weekends. When he repaired cars in town, he could make it home by dinnertime if the store wasn't busy. Of course, more often than not, Richie didn't hear Eddie coming up the stairs until ten o'clock.

From what Bev, Stan, and Mike told him – fragments of the story Richie strived to piece together – the inheritance Sonia left was enough to float Eddie comfortably through the first year and a half of Stevie's life. When the pool ran dry, he put himself to work. Regular hours became long days, then impossible weeks. Since the start of the year, Eddie rarely had a moment of peace.

“I'd give my whole bank account to your dad, if he'd let me. Not because I don't wanna be here and take care of you, don't ever think that. I just figure you'd like to have Eddie around. I know I would,” Richie whispered. Stevie stirred, rolling over to face the wall. He continued to snore lightly, squeezing his teddy bear. “You're such a great kid, Stevie – and I mean, you belong to Eddie, so you had to be. I hope you know how much I love you, buddy. This probably sounds stupid, but I think you're my best friend in the whole world right now. Everyone thinks I'm an overgrown child, and maybe I am... but you seem to think I'm just the greatest. I like to think I earned that.”

His rambling was getting away from him, and Richie cleared his throat again. Stevie continued to sleep soundly, but he wouldn't have understood half of what Richie was saying anyways.

“I feel important again, when I'm taking care of you, and I think I need you just as much as you need me. That's probably not how parenting is supposed to work, but I'm technically not...” Richie's voice trailed off. This time, when his eyes burned with tears, he removed his glasses to wipe them away. “Technically, I'm not your parent. I think it'd be cool if I was though. You know? If only I hadn't fucked everything up with Eddie. Sorry, I shouldn't use that word, but... you're asleep anyways.” Running a hand through his hair, he laughed weakly. “I wish he didn't hate me, but I don't have the right. He's got every reason to...”

Accepting responsibility never came easy to Richie, and he knew talk was cheap, but he could feel the difference in these words. Although he didn't know what, he wanted to do something to prove himself.

Rising to his feet, Richie left the room, keeping the door cracked so the warm, yellow hallway light could pour in. Instead of going to his bedroom, he sauntered down the stairs, his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his sweatpants. There were still wet spots from when Stevie splashed him during his bath. He considered taking the chance to mop the bathroom floor, but paused as he reached the foyer.

Eddie's coat and shoes were back in place near the door.

Walking down the short hallway, Richie found him sitting at the island counter. Eddie held a baby monitor in his hand, identical to the one in Stevie's room. An unfinished plate of broccoli and rice sat beside him, and he picked it up, scooping the leftovers into a bowl. He carried it to the fridge wordlessly, pausing when he shut the door. Richie stood in the archway, watching him.

“How much of that did you hear?” he asked, staring down at his feet. Eddie didn't answer right away, forcing Richie to look up at him.

“Enough,” he said. Biting his lip, Eddie approached him. Although he didn't close the distance entirely, he stood closer than Richie expected. His heart began to beat faster. “You know, Richie... I don't hate you.” Offering a small smile, Eddie placed his hand on Richie's neck. It was a quick touch, and Eddie moved around him to walk to the stairs.

Rooted to his spot, Richie remembered telling Eddie, “I don't think you're a freak.”

The words rattled around in his head, and he thought about Eddie and Ben's favorite movie. When they had sleepovers, if one of them was in charge of what to watch, it was almost always The Princess Bride. One of the protagonists (the main heartthrob of the film), would tell the princess, “As you wish.” The narrator explained those words were his way of saying, “I love you.”

Richie never fully understood back then, but in hindsight, perhaps his intentions should've been obvious. He told Eddie he loved him countless times before they got together, in his own stupid way.

And now, when Eddie said he didn't hate him...

It wasn't an “I love you,” but it was closer than Richie had been to Eddie in years.

Standing at the side of the stairs, he looked up at Eddie with a grin. Placing his hand on the railing, it brushed against Eddie's. Neither of them recoiled.

“Does this mean there's a chance we can share the bed tonight, Kaspbrak?” he asked. Eddie rolled his eyes, gliding his hand over Richie's as he walked up the stairs.

“Beep beep, Richie,” he said, disappearing into his room. Richie's heart skipped a beat, his breath catching. While he couldn't bet on Eddie wanting him back, he couldn't help but hope for a chance. The revival of their friendship, and the jokes and comfort that came with it, mattered more to Richie than anything Hollywood had to offer.