Bill had a collection of journals. It began with a large lined composition notebook from his little brother, Georgie. The cardboard cover, ornamented with a menagerie of sailboat stickers and blue stars drawn in crayon.
“It’s for you to keep track of all of those stories you tell me,” the boy had cheered when Bill tore away newspaper wrapping. Bill smiled softly in gratitude, but Georgie knew it was the perfect gift when he discovered that Bill had filled over half of the notebook over the following week.
That was the last present Georgie had given him before that summer. Before the sewers. Before It. While the pages were now yellowed and lovingly worn, the journal remained unfinished. Bill couldn’t bring himself to add to it, leaving it preserved in a time when that precious child still smiled, much as his parents had preserved his room in the years after.
So Bill bought more journals. Over the years, he amassed quite a collection of folios and notebooks. Leatherback, spiral-bound, handcrafted, and dollar store brand alike overflowed the shelves of his dorm in no particular order.
“Damn Bill,” an already tipsy Richie whistled when he spotted the piles. “I know you’re a writer, but do we need to hold an intervention? Eds has been binge-watching Hoarders, so I’ve absorbed some stuff through osmosis.” Stan, gliding past the louder than usual Trashmouth, to the one and only actual chair in the room, threw him a “Beep, beep. This is Bill’s personal space, don’t be rude.” Bill shot him a grateful look. He absolutely adored Richie. Out of all the Losers, the lanky goofball understood him the best. He was even the first person that Bill spoke to after they lost Georgie. But it was nice to have Stan nearby, since he could maneuver Richie like no one else. Just a given glance and a soft spoken word was all that he needed to let Richie know when teasing was close to drifting into inadvertently cruel, and Bill admired about him. In fact, he admired more than Stan’s interpersonal skills.
The look had lasted long enough that Bill knew no one would believe him if he called it anything but a stare. Stan didn’t seem to mind though, smirking and sending an unexpected wink in reply.
Bill’s breath caught in his chest. His fingers twisted knots into his bedspread. How could Stan not know the grip his existence alone had on the boy, much less such a gesture.
“Have you thought that maybe he has so many journals because he wants to be an author?”
“Well yeah,” Richie muttered, “but that’s a metric shit ton of books.” Bill chuckled softly at that. “I guess I do have quite a collection now. It’s mostly just fragments of stories and ideas.” That was only half true. Sure, some were just a place to dump the random assortment of thoughts and inspiration that he discovered throughout the day while others he reserved for more specific purposes.
Stan gracefully swiveled around in the chair to face Bill, his gaze landing directly back into his own. “Have you ever thought about doing anything with them?” he inquired, absently toying a stray curl around his finger, on which Bill refused to fixate any further than he already had. As much as he tried to repress is growing infatuation with Stanley Uris, the author in him continued romanticize every little thing about him. He dreamt of those slender fingers intertwined with his. He yearned to wrap his arms around the boy and bury himself in that mop of autumn curls. An added touch, Stan had worn Bill’s favorite of his kippahs this day, sky blue to complement his somber eyes and embroidered with a small flock of turtle doves. Beautiful and swift, just like Stan.
“Paging Big Bill! Hello?” Richie’s booming radio announcer voice, which had improved considerably since high school, blasted Bill back into the moment with an actually articulated, “Huh?”
Richie, scrunching his brow a little in confusion said, “Stanny boy asked you something and you just stared at him.”
Dammit Richie, shut up! Bill thought. Instead of shouting that and outing himself right then and there, he turned again to Stan. His gaze had not fallen, however Bill thought that there might have been a slightly rosier tint sprinkled across his normally pale cheeks. “Sorry St-Stan. What did you s-say?”
“I asked if you planned to do anything with them. Like publish one or enter something in a contest. “Bill automatically reacted with a light scoff. “Nobody would want to publish those. I’m nowhere near good enough f-for that.”
“Don’t do that, Bill.” Stan’s face wore a calculated blank expression, but he could see the dull frustration lingering just behind those glistening irises and the corner of his mouth. “You are more than you think.”
He still disagrees, but he would do anything if it would make Stan happy, so he bites back any rebuttal.
Richie, noticing the tension, jumps in to alleviate the energy hovering between the two. “ You ever show them to your professors? Maybe they could help you submit something to some creative writing shit or whatever.”
Bill drops his head to stare now at his hands tracing invisible patterns in his bedspread. “Except for G-Georgie, nobody ever cared enough to ask if they could read anything.” The silence that followed didn’t help the boulder he felt in his stomach.
Richie didn’t even crack a joke, and he always had something to say regardless of the situation. Why didn’t Bill just agree and steer the conversation towards something less uncomfortable for the others? Maybe finding a party somewhere nearby or what all Richie had already drunk, or-
“I’d like to read them.” Bill had never heard Stan’s voice so timid since they emerged from the sewers in their receding childhood. “I mean, if that’s ok,” Yes Stan, please, anything you want. “S-sure, Bill managed, “I g-guess so.” Richie leapt to the shelf with a “Hell yeah, man!” and grabbing the first few he saw, dropped onto the floor, fidgeting into the perfect reading position. Stan on the other hand, scanned through the books, tracing his fingers across every spine. The reddening light drifting in the only window outlined every contour of his face, even the pocked craters of scar tissue lining each side from temples to jawline. Normally he was acutely aware of these souvenirs left from that summer, actively avoiding his reflection and constantly rubbing the marks as if he tried hard enough then he could wipe them away like a splattering of mud. Today must have been one of his better days, because Bill had only caught him once briefly brush a small scar on his left cheek. Stan eventually settled on a small pocket journal, one filled with fragments of a fantasy novel Bill had attempted a year or two ago. The room hushed again, this time they welcomed the shared silence in amicable comfort.
By night fall, they were still deep in the mass of Bill’s literary work. Richie lay upside down on the floor skimming through his fifth selection, pausing intermittently to give his commentary. Stan had finally finished the first journal, now absorbing a collection of short horror stories. Over time he had gradually moved to a new perch on the foot of Bill’s bed, his posture still as straight as if he had still been in the desk chair. Bill curled himself against the headboard with his favorite sketchpad. Stanley’s rapt expression and relaxed half smile had inspired him too much to ignore, plus he had the perfect match to the blue of Stan’s kippah in his pastel set. He wished every moment could be like this. Special peace spent with his oldest friend and his…crush? Or whatever he could call the boy in his bed. The boy on his bed. That realization forced him to slump behind his sketchpad. He would be mortified if Stan discovered the furious blush radiating from his cheekbones. “What the hell, Billiam?” Richie suddenly erupted from underneath a somewhat forgotten collection of Bill’s attempts at poetry, startling the other two from their silent focus. “You told me you were finally over Bev!” At this point Stan would inevitably see Bill’s flushed face, for now he grew even redder in embarrassment.
“Yeah,” he growled through a clenched jaw, “and I also told you that in confidence.” He tried to glance silently to see Stan’s reaction, but that infamous Uris poker face was back. “Seriously Bill, writing a whole poem about how beautiful she is and wanting to protect her and never leave her and shit doesn’t sound like being over her.” What love poem was he talking about? Although he had fallen for Beverly when they first met, he never really wrote anything about her.
“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” Stan interjected, “Beverly is definitely amazing.” His gaze held still, but there was a hint of something in his voice that Bill couldn’t quite comprehend. “You two would be good together.” His eyes stayed glued to the bed beneath them.
“It’s much cheesier than I would’ve thought for a Denbrough original. Check it Stan, “ Richie continued then, putting on a voice he claimed as his Masterpiece Theater voice and read an excerpt.
“My Brave Angel.
How can I show you what you mean
You hide your face
When all I want is to see your smile”
Bill didn’t remember writing anything like this about her. He didn’t ever feel anything more than an adolescent infatuation with Bev or anyone. In fact, the only person he could say he ever truly loved was-
“Here’s the part I don’t get,” Richie said in his own voice before jumping back into his recital,
“When the doves rest in your hair
I wish that I could grow wings
Wrapped inside your autumn locks
I wish that I could live there.”
Oh shit, THAT poem.
“But Bev doesn’t have curly hair, at the most it’s a little wavy, not like Stan’s frigging tumbleweed of a mop over there. That’s what curls look like Bill.” Richie jerks to a halt, the puzzle in his thoughts clicking together into the full image. For once, his words left him, his rant defaulting to a low, “uhhh…”
The boys tentatively look to Stan. “Oh please, let him not understand, “Bill futily prayed to God or the turtle or whomever was listening, “Please let him!”
Stan’s hand was timidly grazing the raised figures of the doves adorning his kippah, a dreadfully endearing braille.
“Shit, he understands.” Bill desperately wanted to deny everything, to say it was about a girl in his Bio lab, Ha ha Trashmouth, you’re too drunk to know what you’re talking about. Stan, isn’t he crazy? But his throat sealed shut and his tongue grew enormously heavy, just waiting for a laugh or sound or anything from Stan. He didn’t expect the trembling insecurity in their heartbreaking eyes or the wet trails slowly tracking down from them. Richie’s grown jumped to a buzzing hum upon seeing Stan’s tears. In a gangly mess of limbs, he leapt off the floor and with a frantic, “I need another drink,” bolted down the hall. Neither of the remaining two acknowledged the puzzled yells of “Shit, shit, shit, Eddie! I fucked up bad!”
They just sat on the bed, each unable to look the other in the eyes. Bill’s pulse drowned every other sound in his ears. He hates me now. He’s going to leave me behind and never speak to me again. Why do I have to write down every fucking feeling? “S-Stan. P-p-please say s-something” he managed despite his mouth repressing his words. He flinched as Stan met his gaze. Those beautiful eyes held even more of that undescriptive thing, forcing such an anxiety upon him as he hadn’t felt since the poor child disappeared into the mass of sewer pipes they’ve tried to repress.
“Is it true Bill?” Stan asked, his lips tight, but a barely noticeable tremor breaking through his voice. “Did you write this about me?”
Say no Bill. Say no and let him forget it. Dear God, I can’t lose him. Instead all of the fear and embarrassment and shame rushed up and vomited out in a frenzy of stutters and sobs. “I’m s-so sorry S-Stan. N-n-nobody ever r-reads my journals. S-so I thought it’d b-b-be s-safe. P-please d-don’t hate m-me. I just l-like you s-so much, p-please d-d-d-don’t, “Spit it out Bill, spit it out before he runs away, “p-please don’t l-l-l-“ Then his panic overcame him and the only noises he cried out were violent sobs as he lost any dignity he had left. “Oh God, he’s never going to speak to me again.
In the throes of his shaking, he vaguely noticed arms embracing his crumbling frame and supporting his head. The warmth pressed against him soothed his manic hyperventilation, and Stan’s voice, although breaking in tears itself, brought him back down to relative stability.
“You’re ok, Bill, you’re ok. Please don’t cry. Just breathe with me, ok?” Bill obeyed, inhaling the scent of peppermint embedded in his crush’s dress shirt. After what felt like days, he finally whispered, “P-please don’t l-leave me…” The warmth and the mint receded much to Bill’s dismay, but Stan’s arms stayed. He leaned into the hand wandering through his hair, against his own better judgment.
“Bill, look at me.” Unwillingly, he did. Stan’s face looked just as disheveled as his must surely be. The boy looked hurt, striking pain through Bill’s shuddering chest.
“Why would I ever leave you?”
“B-b-because I’m g-g-g-“ he sputtered beginning to work himself up again when Stan pulled them flush against each other again. Bill let himself sink into that pressure and scent, shamefully enjoying the fingers gently stroking short trails across his shoulder blades and the crown of his scalp. Stan’s heart played a rapid pattern against his own ribs. His breath pressed against Bill’s beet red ear as he whispered so softly it may have been only a thought. “Me too, Bill.”
Everything stopped. The world froze and fell away leaving only the warmth and the mint and the rhythm. Bill lifted his head just far enough to connect their eyes, finally comprehending that mystery in Stan’s gaze. It was that same secret desire that tormented him.
“Did you mean it? Do you really want to see my smile?” The question dripped with such a self-deprecation it crushed Bill to think that Stan loathed himself to this degree. Throwing his own self-pity aside, he boldly put his hands on either side of Stan’s cheeks, thumbs tenderly sweeping over the dreadful marks laid there. With a strength and calm he forgot he knew, he said, “Scars or no, your smile is precious to me, and it kills me to see you try to hide it.”
This broke the calculated façade and Stan disintegrated in Bill’s hands. He cried at length, almost screaming as he finally let himself feel all those years of fear and abuse and longing. He sobbed until his voice gave out and only fell as rasping heaving sighs.
When the deluge ended, the two just lay on Bill’s comforter, drinking in each other’s embrace. Wrapped in the tangle of their arms, they tried to comprehend all that had happened over the past few hours. “Bill,” Stan was the first to disturb their quiet, “After…after I got there, I always thought that no one would ever be able to love me. Like even my own reflection is a constant reminder that I’m… I don’t know, broken”
Bill leaned closer into his…whatever Stan is to him now. “Stan,” he whispered, “You are even more beautiful now. You f-faced It alone, and you’re still here. And you still hit It with a f-fucking pipe.” He chuckled lovingly at the imagery. “You are the bravest of all of us. How could anyone see you as less than perfect?”
Stan hummed a still disbelieving yet pleased hum, snuggling against Bill. “You know, “he barely said, quietly giving himself over to exhausted sleep, “You’re reading the rest of that poem to me later.” Bill smiled the brightest smile he has since Georgie was alive.
“Of c-course I will, Stanley.” He quickly buried his face in the mass of curls like he always dreamed. “Of course I will.”