it begins like this — you meet him through another friend. he’s small, short-tempered — or maybe he’s only that way with you. you think he hates you, because he grips the inhaler that’s practically glued to his hand every time you’ve been going on for too long. you start to see people’s attention wavering, eyes rolling. you gotta keep going, then. get them back somehow. prove to them you’re not just a mouth running on. beep beep . but you’ve gone on too long and the words leaving your mouth now don’t even sound like words, your ears blocking them out, as if they’ve gotten just as tired with your voice as everyone else.
bill — your first friend, your best friend after stan — he tells you, with a soft laugh, his eyes on his feet like they always are, that no, you’re being silly. he hates you just about as much as we do , he nods to stan across the room, who’s sifting through bill’s tapes. you think he isn’t listening, but he snorts. you don’t let yourself hurt. you can't. because you know bill and stan love you. they have to. you don’t know what you’d do if they didn’t. if the voice in your head was actually right this entire time. stan turns around and he must notice your neglect to retort. so he must fucking despise you , he says. you look up and he’s smiling at you. you let yourself do the same. fuck you . stan turns back around, but you can feel the warmth still radiating from his upturned lips. you wish . bill laughs, lightly. it’s lost in the static of the silence that follows.
the day after this you decide to talk to him. just him and you. nothing special, just a catching up to him in the hallway, your long strides clashing with his quick steps until the two of you unknowingly settle, walking to the same rhythm. he’s distracted, you notice, his fingers — nails short and neat — fidgeting with the zipper on his fanny pack. it’s cute, you decide, the word having escaped you when you’d first developed an impression of the tiny hypochondriac. you smile, brain switching rails, his voice — something about his mom, all the germs on average on a high schooler’s locker — drifting off. all you’re doing is watching him. you realize you’re walking him to his class, which is across the school from your own. he realizes this, too, once you’ve both stopped by the door to chemistry.
“you’re going to be late,” he says, flatly, almost as if he were annoyed. maybe you imagined it, but you thought you heard a dreamy lilt in the way he said it, as if he were as far away as you had been. but that was dumb. it had to be.
all you could say was “yeah”. this surprised eddie, and he found himself laughing. you noticed a tint to eddie’s cheeks, pink blushing complexion under wide eyes.
“you’re so fucking stupid, tozier.” he turned to enter the classroom and you finally gained your senses.
“takes one to know one, eds.”
the squeak of eddie’s shoes was deafening as he twirled around, his face screwed up in acute rage. you smiled. fucking adorable .
“don’t call me that.”
on a tuesday he makes you laugh — hard and painful, like your insides are burning. your cheeks are flushed. you touch is arm lightly in your fit. you only notice him staring once you’ve opened your eyes. regaining composure, you ask him, words still dripping with laughter, “why are you staring at me?”
he takes a moment. he looks confounded, and you both just stare at each other in bewilderment — confusion over a million things sleeping dormant at the back of your minds.
“i don’t think i’ve ever made you laugh.”
your hands suddenly burn. the sun is suddenly in your eyes. you look away, but you can still feel his eyes on you and you suddenly feel translucent.
“aw, sure you have, eds.”
eddie ignores the nickname. somehow you know he knows you used it to move away from the subject.
but you weren’t lying. he has. everything he does makes you smile, even if it’s cursing you out for half an hour, or turning up his nose as you sneeze into the crook of your elbow. (you then pretend like you’re going in for a hug, but he always flinches, moving away — looking more flustered than disgusted. it’s not what you wanted. you both pull away.)
you'll go home, dodging the empty beer bottles that clatter on the rotting hardwood. you'll think of him: his short fuse, dark eyes like a deer's, his pout, his hands, his hair, his warmth, the way you can put your chin atop his head, his everything. and you laugh to yourself, realizing just how gone you really are.
the months go by, and then the years. you and him at each other’s throats, you and him in each other’s arms. you and him under starlight, two other souls beside you and you can’t help but look at him because he’s there and you wish he were pressed up against you, you wish you were holding his hand — you wish a thousand things that cannot be and never will be, so you push them down until they give you a stomach ache, threatening to corrupt your insides. every time he puts that inhaler to his lips, you feel it in your chest, flowers flowing through your veins and choking the life slowly out of you.
you let it. and you let him go on his way, unburdened with the burning thoughts slowly rotting away under fragile bones.
you and him are underwater and he's pushing your head down and you're holding his arms, his hands, anything. you're laughing but you feel like crying. he's saying your name with a bite and it makes your stomach flip and you want him to say it again and again, even if it drowns you.
and you want it to stay like this forever, even if it means water ending up in your lungs. at least he's be above the waves. and least he's near you.
when you’re on solid ground again, your legs go limp, feeling like they’ve turned to water beneath you. he’s with stanley and you’re watching him move. his voice is uncharacteristically small. he’s embarrassed and you want to know why.
stanley shoots you a gaze that’s unreadable, but there’s a hint of annoyance in it. you shrug, exaggerated innocence. he rolls his eyes then turns away.
you don’t know how it happens but you two are left alone, eddie and you. someone somewhere is playing music from a radio, her freckles glittering like stars in the sunlight. beverly, in all her glory and beauty — she offers you a cigarette from across the way, simply with a look. you look over at eddie, still fumbling with his pack, looking for his inhaler. smiling, you see it on the ground by his feet, glaringly dull against the green around you. you shake your head at beverly, who simply nods, putting the cigarette she’d offered to you between her cherry lips, then shaking the ginger locks from her eyes.
you wait until her attention is for sure on the other boys, a conversation about which type of bird they’d all be bustling about them (for sure commenced by stan the man, himself).
then you’re near him again, bending over to pick up the inhaler he’d somehow overlooked. you keep thinking how could he have missed this, it’s right by him . a voice in your head answers, he didn’t.
“thanks.” he doesn’t look you in the eyes as he says the word, short and rough.
you wince but recover quickly, wanting his attention, now, forever, always. and you know he hates you, is annoyed by you, loves to hate you, all of the above, whatever it is. you know and you don’t know, so you keep talking to cover your losses.
“no problem, eddie-bear.” and maybe that’s the wrong thing to call him, because it’s what his mother calls him, because it’s what he hears before he swallows more medicine he doesn’t need, before she kisses him goodnight, sweaty and claustrophobic.
fuck , you think. definitely the wrong thing because he’s pushing past you.
“fuck you, rich.”
he whips around so fast it almost makes you dizzy, wondering if he’s feeling the effects too because he’s putting the inhaler between his lips again. “jesus, richie, do you ever stop?”
“that’s to be seen.” and you try to laugh at yourself. to get him to laugh. to get him to do anything. and maybe you're even trying to get him to punch you. just do something , please. make me bleed and i'll still apologize to you.
“fuck.” he’s turning now, and you think you’ve lost it. you keep cursing yourself in your head because he’s right. you never stop. you want, need , his attention. even if it’s only fuck you s for an entire day, that’s good for you.
your hand works faster than your logic, and you find your fingers around his wrist. it’s so small, fragile, like a bird’s — for a moment you remember the conversation occuring a stone’s throw away. “wait.”
eddie is looking down at your hand around his wrist, and for a moment it looks like he’s gone limp, but then he’s stiff again, raging expression resurfacing from a dazed one. “what, rich?”
“that’s new.” it's not. you always are.
“i’m being serious.” you hate how it sounds as it leaves your mouth, and you realize you’re pleading with him. his expression softens — but it’s too much and now he just looks sad and you’re thinking of the quarry and the fall and how you could be in it alone without him and how it’d be much worse that way than if he were there, dunking your head under the water — you think, maybe drowning wouldn’t be so bad if he were there with his hands on you.
“so am i.” you barely hear it. your hand’s still around his wrist.
come on, rich, do something . again, your hands moving faster than your brain. again, you don’t regret any of it, and yet you wish you hadn’t done any of it.
“richie, what are you-”
“shh, just shut up, will you?” you lace your fingers with his, his hands small and softer than yours. “christ.” the only time either of you are ever honest is when you're both silent.
you can feel your cheeks reddening but it doesn’t matter, nothing matters, not even the music you’re trying to sway him to. and it’s too awkward, you being serious, not talking. so you laugh at him, with his straight back and his scared expression.
that eases things, as you see a hint of a smile before he tries shoving it down. “what the fucking are you laughing at, rich.”
you try to begin: “i’m just-” before you settle on imitating him, suddenly straightening out your back and replacing your goofy smile with a dead stare.
and the others have been watching, because they're laughing with you.
and then eddie is laughing. only for a moment. but it's beautiful and you wish you could watch him like this forever, skin still damp from the water. then he's unlacing your fingers. but it's okay because he's still smiling.
"fuck off, rich."
"you said that already."
he gives you a glare over his shoulder. but it's also a smile. but it's also a thousand other things.
you're still smiling as you watch him walk over to the others.
you see him in that house and you know that it knows.
it begins to end like this — he’s under you and he’s broken, screaming. you tell him you’re going to fix it, feverishly, naively. you’ve never been here before and neither has he. you’re wanting to tell him a million things in the face of death. because it’s when you’re dying that you’re most brave. so you hold his face in your hands, making him look at you. because if you’re going to die, you want it to be like this — those round, scared eyes on yours. he’s crying, you can see it but you don’t register it. you’re crying, too. you ignore it.
you’re saying each other’s names like they’re hail marys. and maybe they are, for you and him are still alive. what’s the point of your name if it doesn’t save him.
you don’t know it yet, but years later, after you’ve forgotten him and remembered him again, your name is what he utters in the face of death, soft and full of fear — regret. it doesn’t save him.
you're telling yourself a million things to convince yourself he cares. the looks that take too long, the smiles he tries to hide, his hand that lingers after he backhands your arm. this and this and this. the way he had looked into your eyes as he had said your name, and you'd said his, the way you'd held him as a projector clicked and your heart beat out of your chest — his hand on your chest, your arms around his frame.
you tell them you're afraid of clowns because it's easier than the truth.
mike is smiling at you like he knows you're lying. he looks at you like that a lot, you're realizing.
you're older now. more beaten by life. you've forgotten something and it's eating you alive. there's a boy, you know that much. you still feel the lingering arms around you, when you'd all made a promise you can't seem to remember. you forget how you'd hugged each other and no one else. you forget what it meant.
you see him again surrounded by neon lights and the smell of foreign food. you smile because he looks the same, acts the same. you remember how you'd always wanted to feel him, and it disgusts you. you wanted him. you remember now. and it terrifies you.
it's a second chance , your mind says. it's the last chance.
he’s sitting across from you and all you can do is stare at his hands, splayed out on the table like an invitation you know he isn’t giving you.
you all leave and you end up in the same place. you know he's in the room beside you, can hear him moving around. you hate yourself, but you think of him as you wrap your hands around yourself that night, think of his face and his voice and his laugh and his cry.
and you’re thinking of that day at the quarry when you’d held his hands in your own. you’d held hands countless times before (in your room while queen played, when you dragged him out of class for a smoke that he’d been uncertain as to why he had to witness, when you pulled him up from the creaking floor of the neibolt house, when you all said goodbye, making a promise you all at the time had been so sure you’d keep). but that had been different, his small frame against you as you both clumsily swayed. for a moment, he was safe. for a moment, things were easy.
you see his half-glare half-smile in your mind before you drift off.
you’re awake, and then you’re not again. you’re hearing him say your name like it’s a prayer, a hail mary, you’re feeling his hands in yours.
it’s a shame, because then you’re sitting at breakfast, watching ben cook, the steam turning his cheeks red like how they would get when you were all younger and beverly would lay her head on his shoulder. you’re watching them now, older, stronger, weaker, sadder. you’re watching them as they do nothing, but mean everything. and it’s a shame because then you’re looking at him across from you, but his eyes were already on you. you see the slightest blush appear before it’s gone.
maybe your dream of dancing was simply a concoction of your drunkenness yearning, you reason. but then you see him looking everywhere but into your eyes and then maybe, you think, it was real.
you catch mike's eyes from the other end of the room. you realize, painfully again, it's the same look he used to always give you years before.
maybe if you'd told him all those years ago things would have been better.
but now he's leaning over you, like a shield, and you hate it. because his blood is all over you and he's saying your name.
saying each other's names, always, softly, and with nothing but regret. you’re not telling each other i love you , like you’ve both meant to a hundred times before.
you're telling them he's fine, telling yourself the same. your hand feels like it's on fire as you touch the skin of a deadman, a man you loved. and love, and will love. his skin is cold, but it burns all the same.
they make you leave him there. and you think, maybe you died, too. maybe you're just walking around, a ghost, torn apart from their body. because that's what you were, and that's what you are.
you leave him there, and now you're half of yourself.
it's different from those years when you'd forgotten. he was out there. you'd only lost him, couldn't remember where you'd left him. now — you'd lost him, you know where he is: six feet below like you wish you were.
beverly is there, bloody and dirty. she's asking you what you're doing, why you're screaming, why you're pushing everyone away, trying to get back to his body six feet under.
but she's also not asking, because she knows already.
and you say you don't know. but you know, you know.
it ends like this: you're going to where you'd put your names onto wood, carved them for the whole world to see. and yet, it was a secret. a whisper to him. all the things you never had the courage to stay. not even in the face of death. not even as he said your name.
you make the carving neater, deeper, and you smile. you know the blade is in the wood but you feel it in your chest, and you think of how he felt the same