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what is and should never be

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Frank Kaspbrak thanks all the powers that may that he survives his cancer when his son is five years old.

He comes to realize how immensely only years after, but right now he’s finally home, on his couch and his five-year-old son is asleep, his head resting on Frank’s thigh. Frank is still exhausted from the whole battle with the illness, he’ll probably be exhausted for a long time, looking over his shoulder in case the cancer decides to return.

But right now, he allows himself to relax in the blue gleam of the television while Edward sleeps soundly next to him.

Frank hears the stairs creak. He lifts his head to see his wife standing in the doorway, peering into the room.

“Sonia?” Frank calls out. His voice still croaks, he sounds still sick. Sonia shudders, but walks closer. She looks exhausted, as well, eyes sunken, round cheeks pale. She’s gained a lot of weight from stress and Frank thinks she’s about to fall apart any minute. So, he decides to be gentle to her. Even though he knows their marriage isn’t what it used to be and will never be the same.

“He should be sleeping in his own bed. It’s not good for his neck to be in that position all night,” Sonia says quietly, staring down at the peacefully sleeping Edward. Her voice is full of something chilling and Frank realizes something has truly changed, she’s not the same bubbly girl he once loved and married.

She looks down at Eddie like he’s her possession, not her son.

But there’s truth to her words. Frank turns off the television and gets up, lifting Edward up. The boy shifts and yawns and Sonia steps closer, arms stretched towards him. “I can carry him,” Frank assures. Edward lays his head on Frank’s shoulder. Frank swears he’s grown a lot, too much, during the time he was in the hospital.

“He’s still frail,” Sonia says, her mouth a tight line in her weary face.

She says nothing about Frank, who’s all skin and bones, eaten by cancer, his hair only starting to grow back.

Edward has been sick, as well. But Frank knows better than Sonia: the boy is well now. Of course, this has been stressful for Sonia, seeing her husband fight hard a disease that was determined to take his life whilst simultaneously taking care of a sick little boy.

“He had bronchitis. Didn’t the doctor say he’s better now? No need to fear. Eddie’s healthy,” Frank says and walks past Sonia with Edward.

“What if-“ Sonia hisses, “What if it comes back?”

“I doubt it,” Frank says, “Sonia, I really doubt it. Please, for your own sake, try not to worry.”

Edward’s room is all Sonia. She had chosen each furniture, designed every color scheme. Eddie’s crib is still shoved into the corner, Sonia refuses to part from it. “He’s doesn’t need it anymore,” had Frank argued gently. Sonia’s lips had twitched. And Sonia had said,

“Just in case we have another.

They had never gotten around to it, never spoke of it again. Frank had gotten ill and Sonia’s focus was all on Edward.

In short, there wasn’t going to be another.

Frank puts Eddie into his bed. Eddie’s eyes crack open. “Dad?” he whispers. It had been the first day Frank was home from hospital and Eddie had clung to him, refusing to let go.

“Shh,” Frank whispers, tucking Eddie in. “Sleep.”

“Dad, don’t go,” Eddie whines.

“I’ll be in the next room. I need to sleep too,” Frank says and Edward nods.

“Morning?” he mutters, already falling back asleep.

“I promise I’ll be here in the morning,” Frank says. He turns off the nightlight as Eddie’s eyes close and leaves the room.

 

 

It’s Edward’s first day of school and Frank goes to pick him up, because Sonia thinks he’ll catch a disease on the bus. And it’s dangerous, Frank, what if someone kidnaps him? What if he misses the bus? What if the driver crashes the bus? What if, Frank? What if?

Eddie stands in front of the building, grasping the straps of his backpack. He’s alone. He looks nervous, jittery, but his face blooms with a smile when he spots Frank. Eddie runs to meet him – he’s already so quick for his age – and jumps into his arms.

“Hi, Ed. Did you have fun?” Frank asks and Eddie hums contently as Frank carries him to the car.

“I made friends!” Eddie declares as he’s sat in the backseat, seatbelt carefully fastened.

“That’s wonderful,” Frank says, because it is. Sonia has kept him too isolated this far, he doesn’t let Edward even go to Sunday school ever since the bronchitis. Eddie knows no other children his age and he had been excited to start school. Frank had been excited about it, as well. Sonia had actually suggested they homeschool Edward, but Frank had shot that idea down. “How many friends? I bet a lot. Who wouldn’t want to be friends with you?”

Frank glances back and sees Edward beaming in the backseat. “Only two,” he admits, “But they’re the coolest.”

Eddie talks excitedly as they arrive home. But quiets when he notices his mother. Sonia waits them on the porch, wringing her hands together. “Where were you? I was worried,” Sonia mutters, pressing an absent kiss onto Frank’s cheek. She hugs Eddie and then says, “Get inside, both of you. I made dinner.”

“So, Eddie, did you get any homework already?” Sonia asks Eddie over-sweetly.

Edward shakes his head.

“Edward told me he already made friends,” Frank says to Sonia. Something flashes in her eyes and she fakes a smile. Frank would like to know what exactly her problem is with Eddie making friends and being his own person.

“Sweetie, that’s great!” Sonia coos. It’s all a show. “Are they nice? You should only make friends with nice little boys like you.”

“They’re nice,” Eddie mutters.

“What are they names?” Frank asks. A smile appears on Edward’s face.

“I met Bill first. And then Richie. Bill and Richie were already friends. They’re nice, Mommy. Can they come play with me this weekend?”

“Oh, I don’t know, honey,” says Sonia at the same time as Frank says,

“Of course they can.”

Frank and Sonia look at each other. Before, they rarely disagreed. Rarely argued. They still don’t argue, but there’s an ever-growing rift between them. They work on completely different wavelengths, especially when it’s about Eddie.

Eddie looks at his parents, confusion on his young face.

Sonia, who never really wants to upset her little Eddie, says with a stiff, plastic smile, “Of course they can,” echoing Frank’s words.

 

 

There are three boys that appear on the Kaspbraks’ front porch that Saturday and from the moment Frank sees them, sees Edward’s eyes light up as he spots his friends, he knows he’s going to be seeing them a lot.

Bill, Richie and Stanley.

Originally, only Bill and Richie were supposed to come, but Richie had wanted to bring his friend Stanley, too.

“He wasn’t at school, because he had a fever,” Eddie had blabbered to them and he had noticed Sonia’s whole face shifting when she heard the word ‘fever’. Hastily, Edward had added, “But he’s well, now! Can he come, please?”

Sonia had said to Frank, “I don’t want my Eddie to catch a fever from the rabbi’s son.”

Frank had replied, “He’s not going to. Just let him come.”

Reluctantly, and because she had seen tears rise in Edward’s eyes, Sonia had allowed it.

The four boys play with Eddie’s toy cars in the living room. Frank had bought them suckers and twizzlers, most of the disappear into Richie’s mouth. Sonia washes the dishes passive-aggressively and Frank sits in the armchair reading yesterday’s newspaper, because Sonia had told him to watch over Eddie.

Not all the boys. Just Eddie.

They’re loud, but Richie and Eddie are the loudest. Stanley is the most polite, the tone of his voice almost adult as he speaks to Frank, “May I ask where the bathroom is, Mr. Kaspbrak?” And Bill is the clear leader of their little group, the others look at him with admiration. Richie is energetic, never sits still, mouth constantly spewing words.

Frank can instantly see Edward’s favorite friend is Richie. He giggles at everything Richie says, mimics what he does. When Eddie’s three friends leave, Sonia scoffs, “Finally. They’re so noisy, especially that Tozier boy…”

Sonia despises Richie, Franks comes to notice. The only one of Eddie’s friends she tolerates is Bill, even though she’s scared that “Eddie is going to catch that stutter from him.” Like speech defects could be contagious.

“It’s all about the influence,” Sonia says when Frank confronts her, “And Richie Tozier is the worst influence on my Eddie. He’s loud, rude and never still. He’s a dirty boy and I don’t want my Eddie to become like him.”

Frank disagrees, but Sonia can’t be reasoned with.

 

 

 

It gets worse.

At first, Frank had thought Sonia’s worry about Edward’s health was going to pass. She’s anxious about Frank, as well, dragging him to the doctor’s every time she supposedly notices a sign of the cancer recurring. There’s always nothing and it’s the same with Eddie. Every little cough, every twitch, sends Sonia into a frenzy. Edward is very small for his age and Sonia thinks he’s something fragile, made of glass. No matter how hard Frank pushes back, Sonia forbids Eddie from doing anything she deems dangerous.

She sneaks Eddie to doctor’s appointments behind Frank’s back and every time she has a new, made-up disease in her mind. Even the doctors give up – they prescribe him fake medicine, placebos, harmless pills that do nothing. Eddie even gets an inhaler he carries everywhere in his fanny pack. Frank tries to intervene and that’s the first time he actually yells at Sonia. Sonia turns on the waterworks. She knows Frank has never stood her tears. At least she isn’t doing any physical damage to Eddie. So, Frank tells Eddie he doesn’t have to take the medication – he’s fine without it.

Eddie, of course, tells Sonia and it’s her turn to yell at Frank. “How dare you lie to my son!” she screams, face red.

Our son, Frank thinks, but Sonia never says that. She sees Eddie as completely hers. Frank doesn’t know what to do. Who’s going to take him seriously? Sonia is too good, too convincing, and she’ll get Eddie to side with her. Frank doesn’t want to lose his son, so he only tries to shield him from the psychological damage Sonia is without a doubt causing.

Frank makes sure to listen to every word Eddie says. He lets Eddie do the things he wants to do, to ride his bike around the town with his friends, to get dirty while playing, to not to worry about every little scrape he gets.

He tells Sonia when it is enough. The problem is, every day, Sonia listens to Frank less and less.

Edward is thirteen. He grew up when Frank blinked. Frank is proud of him: he does well in school, has friends, is gradually starting to stand up to his mother. During that summer, Edward makes three more friends. Of them, Sonia deems only Benjamin to be suitable companion to her Eddie. Michael makes her wrinkle her nose in disdain, Frank knows exactly why. And Beverly – Sonia thinks she’s some dirty girl whose personal mission is to corrupt her Eddie.

“She’s the daughter of that creep, Alvin Marsh,” Sonia hisses, “And I’ve heard enough stories about what kind of a girl Beverly is.”

Frank agrees – Alvin Marsh is a creep. Frank has seen the bruises on Beverly’s arms. He thinks, you have more in common with Alvin Marsh than you think, dear Sonia.

One day, Frank comes home from work just to see the group of Eddie’s friends standing in front of their house, while Sonia screams at them, Eddie sitting in the car behind her. The kids are dirty and all of them look scared out of their minds – Frank isn’t sure if it’s just because of his terror of a wife or if there’s something else at play.

Eddie is holding his arm, quiet tears run down his face. Something is actually, really wrong this time.

“I don’t want a dirty girl like you touching my son,” Sonia is saying to Beverly Marsh, who takes a step back from Sonia, ashamed. The boys glare at Sonia, Bill laying a hand on Beverly’s shoulder.

“Sonia, enough,” Frank barks and strides forward. The children look relieved to see him. “What’s going on?”

“These atrocious children got my Eddie hurt and I’ve had enough, Frank,” Sonia says with heated words.

Frank ignores her, asks Bill instead, “What happened?”

Bill gapes at him, opens and closes his mouth. All of them are speechless. “We were just playing around,” Beverly finally says, and Frank has never heard her sound so meek, “Eddie, he- I- It was an accident! He fell!”

“It’s alright,” Frank assures the girl, “Accidents happen.”

“No!” Sonia seethes, “Frank, get in the car!”

“Eddie!” Richie Tozier calls out with a hoarse voice. Behind his coke-bottle glasses, his eyes are full of unshed tears. Frank feels so, so bad for him. Eddie is looking at Richie through the car window. Frank has never seen his son utterly miserable and he knows it’s not because of the arm, it’s because of his mother.

Sonia hisses at Richie, “You stay away from him, disgusting, dirty boy.” At that Richie actually flinches, looking devastated. Like he wants to disappear. “I don’t want Eddie to ever even talk to you again,” she says to the rest of the group. “Frank, get in the car!”

Frank climbs into the backseat. The drive in silence for a while. “It’ll be alright, Eddiebear,” Sonia coos, “Those so-called friends of yours are bad influence. Look what they did! You’ll be better off without them.”

“I hate you,” Eddie sobs.

“You don’t mean that,” Sonia scoffs.

But Frank thinks he does. And he sees it better not chastise Eddie. He’s only speaking the truth.

Frank needs to get Eddie away from Sonia, the sooner the better. That evening, he sneaks out and calls a divorce lawyer from a phone booth.

 

 

 

After the summer he breaks his arm, something in Eddie changes. It seems like he’s lost a piece of his childhood innocence. He’s somber and quiet and very cautious. He starts easily. Richie comes around more, despite Sonia’s sneers and Frank catches them always whispering to each other, looking over their shoulders.

Sonia screams when she hears about the divorce. She threatens to take Eddie – of course she does – but Frank has prepared for that. It’s a long fight and Frank knows the custody is often given to the mother, no matter what, but Frank has enough evidence of Sonia’s abuse. He’s been gathering it for years. He gets doctors to speak and the parents of Eddie’s friends to speak and teachers and everyone who knows what a menace Sonia Kaspbrak is.

And Eddie. Frank buys Eddie ice cream and they sit in the park next to the Paul Bunyan statue. Eddie is fifteen and he understands what’s happening and he nods gravely as Frank explains everything. And when Frank asks which parent Eddie wants to live with, he’s afraid Sonia’s manipulation has done its magic. But Eddie answers, “You, Dad. I want to live with you.”

They leave Derry and Sonia crying on the front porch, the same porch Frank and Sonia once crossed as a young couple with a newborn baby. Then, Frank couldn’t have known how wrong everything would turn out.

It’s time to make things right again.

As they drive away, towards New York where Frank has gotten a new job and Eddie is already enrolled into a new school, Eddie weeps quietly on the passenger seat, staring out of the window. Frank sees his sad face reflect from the window. He hasn’t seen Eddie cry since he broke his arm.

“Ed?” Frank asks.

Don’t,” Eddie says with a thick voice.

“I- I always thought you wanted to leave Derry,” Frank says. How many times had Eddie come to him, grumbling, “Can’t wait to finally leave this horrible place.”

Eddie is silent, only sniffling. Finally, he says, “I always thought I’d leave with Richie.”

And, oh. Frank squeezes the steering wheel, thinking. He says, “You know, this isn’t it? This isn’t goodbye? You can call Richie. Write him letters. You can even visit him, or he can visit you. I don’t mind him occasionally coming to stay for a weekend at our place. I don’t think you want to go back to Derry, do you?”

Eddie shakes his head. “Derry is bad. Mom is in Derry,” Eddie mutters. Frank squeezes the wheel harder.

“Everything will be fine with you two. You’re special friends.”

Frank has the feeling Eddie knows something else. There’s an empty look in his eyes.

 

 

 

Eddie calls Richie a couple of times and it ends there. It’s like Eddie forgets him completely and slowly, Frank starts to forget, as well. Years crawl past. Eddie goes to college, graduates, becomes a risk analyst. Frank sees he hates the job but doesn’t comment on it. Eddie doesn’t marry, doesn’t date. Sonia dies – they don’t go to the funeral, but Eddie sulks for a week after the news.

Life is peaceful.

Frank gets ill. He’s bedridden, when Eddie comes to visit him, a couple more worry lines on his forehead since the last time. He says he has to go to Derry.

“Don’t go,” Frank whispers.

“I have to,” Eddie says, “Don’t worry, just a couple of days. I’ll be back before you know it.”

Frank thinks he sleeps through those days Edward is away. In his dream, he doesn’t get cancer. He dreams of a peaceful family in the suburbs of Derry and the three of them are happy and normal. He wakes up to realize he lost that dream decades ago, but at least he didn’t lose his son.

He knows it wasn’t Frank’s, or Eddie’s, sickness that ruined the family. It was Sonia’s. Because it was Sonia how was sick.

Eddie comes back, like he promised. He’s smiling and there’s a stitched wound on his cheek. “Your mother would have an aneurysm,” Frank mutters as he notices it and Eddie laughs – for the first time mentioning his mother makes him laugh instead furious.

Frank is old and tired, and he knows he doesn’t have much time left. He knows Eddie knows that too, he can see it in his son’s eyes. “How was your trip to Derry?” Frank asks instead of fussing about the injury. That’s not what Eddie needs. That’s what Sonia would do. And Eddie is fine.

“As good as a trip to Derry can be,” Eddie says, “Hey, do you remember Richie? Richie Tozier?”

And – how could’ve Frank forgotten. Yes, of course he remembers Richie Tozier and Bill Denbrough and Stanley Uris and-

“I saw him and my other friends again,” Eddie says.

“Good,” says Frank quietly, “That’s good. They were good friends. Good for you.” It’s hard for him to speak. His words slur together, and he worries if Eddie can understand what he’s saying.

“I know,” Eddie says.

Frank knows he’s out of days. The cancer that almost took him over thirty years ago has come to claim him now. He’s barely conscious when Eddie comes to see him and that’s the last time he sees Eddie – barely, everything is fuzzy in his eyes and Eddie speaks with tears in his voice,

“Dad, dad, I’m getting married.”

Frank hums. “Finally.” He manages to get a hint of teasing in his voice.

Eddie makes a choked noise. “I’m sorry you can’t be there, but I’ll be thinking of you, dad.”

“Who- Who- Can I meet? Can I meet your-” Frank coughs and Eddie squeezes his hand.

“Dad, you’ve already met him. It’s him – it’s Richie Tozier. I’m marrying Richie.”

And that makes so much sense to Frank. He smiles, closes his eyes. He thinks he can finally leave, knowing he won’t be leaving Eddie alone in this world. Eddie has his friends that are good for him and he has Richie Tozier. Frank remembers Richie Tozier, like yesterday, they boy who never left Edward’s side. He had coke-bottle glasses and he was loud, and Sonia despised him. Frank thinks his father was Frank’s dentist.

Frank remembers Richie Tozier, he remembers seeing him running out of the town’s arcade and Chief Bowers’s horrid son screaming faggot after him and Frank is grateful Eddie and Richie aren’t in Derry anymore. And that all those horrible people – Bowers’s son, Sonia – are dead.

“Are you happy?” Frank asks.

“Yes,” Eddie whispers, “I’m very happy, dad.”

“Good,” Frank sighs.

“Dad?” Eddie says and Frank can barely hear him, can barely feel his fingers squeezing his hand, he feels cold and warm at the same time-

“Dad!” Eddie repeats and that’s the last thing Frank Kaspbrak hears.

 

 

 

Eddie exits the room after the doctor has confirmed his dad is gone. He feels empty.

“Eds?” Richie calls out, his hand landing on Eddie’s arm. “Well… Is he…”

“He’s gone,” Eddie whispers.

“Oh, Eddie,” Beverly says. All the losers in the waiting room stand up come to hug Eddie. He feels Richie press his lips against his temple. Eddie trembles. He can’t believe his dad is gone.

Swallowing his tears, he says, “I’m alright.”

“You don’t have to be,” says Stan, frowning. Eddie appreciates that he’s here, though Stan should be home with his new baby. He appreciates all the losers are here.

“Did you…” Richie asks and there are tears streaming down his face.

Eddie nods. “He knows. He knows I’m marrying you.”

Breathing out, Richie asks, “And what did he think?”

A smile creeps onto Eddie’s face. “I think he was quite content with my choice,” he says, “He always liked you. Unlike my mother. Jesus, how can it be I had the best father ever, but the worst mother?”

“At least you had him,” Beverly says, touching Eddie’s tear-stained face. “He took good care of you. Your mother just pretended to care for you, but she did more harm than good.”

“I know,” Eddie whispers, “I’m so glad I had my dad.”

“Let’s go,” Ben says quietly, “We should go out and have drinks and remember him.”

“Yes,” Mike agrees, “Let’s go raise our glasses to Mr. K.”

They walk away as a group, Richie’s arm over Eddie’s shoulders, pressing Eddie closer to him.

Eddie glances back, towards the corridor he walked many, many times to visit his dying father. His father who he’ll never see again. His father who he loved very dearly.

His father who died knowing Eddie was happy.