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“You okay over there, Eddie?” Mike asks.

 

“I -” Eddie hesitates, still staring at the paused computer screen where Mike had been playing some of the wedding videos that Ben and Bev sent out, “uh - no, yeah, I’m fine, it’s just, uh - I… Richie.”

 

Pushing his brows together in some concern, Mike announces, “you’re… gonna have to expand on that, man.”

 

“Just - uhm - the way he’s, uh -”

 

Glancing at where Eddie is fixated, Mike spends a beat examining it, and then looks back at Eddie, asking, “staring at you?”

 

“Yes,” Eddie breathes out, gesturing vaguely at the screen, “okay, so you see that too, that’s not just - okay, so - okay. Uhm. Does he - is he always - has he always, uhm -”

 

“Is he always looking at you like that?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“What?” Eddie asks, finally tearing his eyes away from the paused footage.

 

Mike smiles at him, crosses his arms over his chest, and leans back in his chair, “yes, Eddie. He looks at you like that all the time.”

 

“I - no, he doesn’t,” Eddie argues weakly, feeling like the ground just gave way under him.

 

With a confident smirk, Mike moves to his computer screen, minimizes the window where Richie is still frozen at the Losers’ table of honor, looking at Eddie in a way that Eddie had previously only thought possible by being animated by Disney, and he opens a new files window.

 

He goes into his videos file, and Eddie sees folders labeled 1990 - 1995, 1995 - 2000, 2000 - 2005, and so on. He opens up 1990 - 1995, and finds a grainy, old video of what appears to be the Uris’s old kitchen.

 

The scene opens with the Losers gathered at center-screen, everyone in cone-hats (Richie keeps snapping the one on Eddie’s head, and they’re slapping and cursing at each other while Bill tries to mediate), and Mike’s voice is heard off-camera, saying, “just - yeah, Mrs. Uris, just like that, and keep still to - yeah. And you can move it around, to wherever you wanna focus.”

 

“And it’s on?”

 

“Yeah, it’s recording,” young Mike assures her.

 

Mike moves into the frame, waving jovially at Mrs. Uris through the camera as he moves to the dining room table where there is a birthday cake, decorated in sixteen candles, and Stan is leaning over it, looking exasperated, but fond. 

 

Mr. Uris steps up behind Stan, towering over most of the Losers (all but Mike, and Richie, really), and that gets Richie and Eddie to start behaving again, though Eddie still gets a last smack of Richie’s arm in before being a Good Boy.

 

“Okay, one, two, three -” Mr. Uris directs, and then there’s a choir of, “Happy birthday,” being sung, and Eddie sees himself, fifteen, at Stan’s right side, singing with a big grin, swaying into Stan companionably, and on his other side, closer than absolutely necessary, is Richie.

 

And Richie isn’t looking at Stan, like everyone else is.

 

He’s looking right at Eddie, singing quietly, maybe, but mostly looking at Eddie’s profile, and he looks - he looks - unbearably fond, really. 

 

When the song is over, Stan blows out his candles, there’s cheering, and then Eddie is turning toward Richie, who visibly panics, lurches forward, and shoves Stan’s face into his cake.

 

“Happy birthday, fucknuts!” Richie celebrates, directing all attention back to Stan, who lifts his head and glowers through a face of frosting at Richie while even his parents laugh at the mayhem; Eddie recalls that they always did like seeing ‘the kids being rascals.’

 

“I thought of showing you guys that video at the time, you know, but…” Mike trails off, shrugging as he and Eddie watch a newly sixteen year old Stan Uris chasing Richie around the kitchen with a fist full of cake as if it were a grenade, “I dunno. It never felt like a good time to… publicize all that.”

 

“All? There’s… more?”

 

“Oh, Eddie - you remember as soon as I got that giant camcorder, I just hefted it around everywhere. I loved documenting everyone. I’ve got loads of videos just like that. Wait - watch this one,” Mike tells him, searching for a specific thumbnail until he brings up footage of a town fair in Derry, in 2000.

 

All of them running around together in colorful shorts, stupid graphic t-shirts, gangly in their teen years, not quite room enough for all their elbows and long legs, unfortunate haircuts, out in the sunlight, at a fair - it looks like innocence, suspended. 

 

Eddie’s refusing to share his cotton candy with anyone - “no! You’re all animals! If you all wanted cotton candy so bad, you should’ve gotten it when we were at the vendor! No one should be touching the food I am putting in my mouth, that’s disgusting!” - which, of course, Richie takes as bait, excitedly cruising past Bill and Stan to sneak a long arm over Eddie’s shoulder, and snag a chunk of sugar right before Eddie’s horrified eyes.

 

“Richie, you’re such an asshole!”

 

“Eddie Spaghetti!” Richie laughs out, mouth turning blue with sugar, and God, was Richie’s voice ever so crackly? It sounds so ridiculous - “You won’t believe where my hands were right before I heard how badly you wanted to share your cotton candy!”

 

“Don’t you fucking d -”

 

“It’s just - I didn’t wash my hands after fucking around with your mom, but, I mean, what can I say? I like when I can smell her on my fingers!”

 

“Richie, that is so gross,” Stan complains.

 

You’re such a nightmare!” Eddie screams at him, flailing his arms, looking feral, halfway between horror and disgust, “Do you even get how disgusting that is!? You’re so fucking gross, Richie!”

 

“Let’s go on the Tilt-a-Whirl - that might get him to shut up for point two seconds,” Stan suggests, pointing it out a little ways ahead of them.

 

“Ah, the Tilt-a-Hurl, my favorite trip to Regurgitation Station! Let’s go!” Richie re-directs, still sticking close to Eddie.

 

“No! Oh my God, don’t you guys know you can, like, permanently damage your inner-ears on that thing?” Eddie exclaims, smacking Richie’s hand away as it tries to grab more cotton candy.

 

Mike can be heard laughing behind the camera, and Bill glances over at him, smiling, and then he turns back, asking Eddie, “wh-what do you m-mean?”

 

“Ears are on the outside, Eds,” Richie interrupts, failing again at grabbing more candy, “Unless you have something very important to share with us all.”

 

“Oh my God, you’re useless, Richie - just take it! You’re so gross!” Eddie surrenders, shoving his paper cone at Richie’s chest; Richie accepts the cotton candy, and keeps staring at Eddie as he gesticulates wildly at Bill, “Your inner-ear is like, for balance! It’s not an extra ear! There are crystals in there that -”

 

“There are not crystals in my ears,” Stan outright denies, which begins Eddie on a tangent about how there absolutely are crystals in his inner-ear, how all of them must begin reading more for their health, and none of it matters because Richie only has eyes for Eddie.

 

He’s picking at the cotton candy slowly, with lazy, sticky fingers, smiling sweetly at Eddie, a step to the side, and behind, and it’s - 

 

“He’s always been like this?”

 

Mike backs up the birthday video until it’s paused during the song, pauses the festival video, pulls up the minimized window of the Loser’s table at Ben and Beverly’s wedding again, and with all three windows up, it’s alarming to Eddie how so little has changed.

 

In the wedding video, the venue is off-white, the color theme is gold, and blue, and their table is decorated with a centerpiece of hydrangeas, and they’re all looking at Bill giving his Best Man speech, but Richie isn’t.

 

Richie’s well-dressed, his hair is cut nicely, his big hands are fiddling with the stem of his champagne flute, and he’s staring at Eddie like Eddie’s the only person in the room - in the world.

 

It’s the same expression in every window - his eyes are glazed behind his glasses, his brow is lax, his smile is reminiscent of someone who is dreaming of something pleasant, and his focus is so tangible, it’s like a separate entity all its own, at the table.

 

“That’s…”

 

“I know,” Mike answers, smiling at the screen, “The only thing more embarrassing than how obvious Richie is about you is how obviously I put the camera on Bill all the time.”

 

A delighted smile works over Eddie’s face, and he asks, “Bill? Really?”

 

Mike refuses eye-contact, but shrugs, and offers, “didn’t everyone have a crush on Bill at some point?”

 

Pinching his mouth shut with some difficulty, Eddie makes a scrunched up smile, and says, “that’s fair.”

 

“Enough of that stupid face - go back to looking at Richie’s stupid face.”

 

“Does he look that way all the time?” Eddie asks, clearing his throat, “I mean - does he look directly at me like that, and I just don’t see it somehow?”

 

“No - he lights up when you look at him. All smiles, even when he’s not smiling with his mouth.”

 

For some reason, that makes Eddie’s heart contract strangely, and he rubs at his chest, trying to smother the sensation.

 

“He, uh - he does, doesn’t he? He smiles when I’m looking at him.”

 

“Yeah, that or he’s actively pretending to not give a shit in the most obvious way, but - yeah. I mean, like, when we got Chinese, and you described your job to him, he was doing that thing where he pretends he’s got a straight face just so he can be bitchy. In reality, he just bounces violently between being sort of, uh… gently dissociated, manic with you, or sappy at you.”

 

“We do not - I - do not get manic around Richie,” Eddie argues.

 

“Right,” Mike sighs, going back to playing Beverly and Ben’s wedding footage.

 

Mike seems to be smiling at all the footage, but Eddie can’t concentrate on anything after that conversation other than Richie.

 

Everytime the cameraman pans to them, or near their table, he seeks out Richie, and sometimes they’re talking at each other, and - well, maybe someone looking on would say they look ‘manic,’ but that’s - it’s not what it is.

 

It’s just - they’re both engaged with each other. Rather than being divorced from feelings, as they both like to do. 

 

Sometimes, when Eddie was young, and too invested in his comic books, and something would happen in that fictional world that displeased him, it would feel like the end of the fucking world.

 

When it was the night before a field trip, he’d set out his clothes for the morning, and lie awake in bed, too excited to sleep, because adventure, wild, and unpredictable, and full of promise, would come with the morning.

 

Someone would trip him in the hall, write something mean about him on the bathroom stall, spread a rumor about him, shove him, laugh at him, and he’d feel like he would never find unconditional love, he’d never be loved, or liked, or handsome, or strong, or wanted, or just - enough.

 

Then Bill would tell him his idea sounded neat, Bev would wink at him, Mike would offer to share a snack with him, Ben would tell Eddie he was the only one of the Losers he could entrust with some sensitive information, Stan would high-five him, Richie would laugh at something he said - he, Eddie - and he’d be dredged up from the lowest of lows, to the highest highs.

 

It was exhausting, being a kid - all of his emotions severe, intense, hanging by a thread that could swing in any direction the wind took, but at least he felt

 

It’s what he misses most, in adulthood. 

 

He misses being young, the world being so small, so his feelings being so big, and that made them feel so inescapably important. 

 

In that festival footage, it’s as if the most important thing in the world is just - explaining, roughly, what he understood the inner-ear to be, and to get Richie to acknowledge even an ounce of authority in him (a futile endeavor). 

 

He didn’t know, or care about the stock market, or property taxes, or terrorism, or war, or the great griefs of all the world, nothing so heavy hung off his shoulders yet. 

 

The world was Derry, and in it, there were six people that really, truly mattered to him, and he misses that simplicity.

 

He misses the world being so narrow, knowing only what was in front of him, and that, by its novelty, being the Most Important.

 

That’s how Richie looks at him, though.

 

As though the world is small, so small, in fact, that it’s just the two of them, and maybe that’s why Eddie gets so - engaged - when Richie talks to him. It’s easy to feel young with Richie, to feel like their stupid banter is all that matters, the world narrows down to just Richie, and whatever stupid shit Richie is saying, and everything else falls away.

 

“Do I… do I look at Richie some way?”

 

Mike shakes his head, “not that I’ve noticed. Crazy-eyed sometimes, but he riles you up to get that exact look, so -”

 

“I have never been crazy-eyed!”

 

“You gonna do anything about it? About Richie?”

 

They both turn their faces to stare each other down, and after a beat, Eddie straightens up in his chair, and challenges, “you gonna do anything about Bill?”

 

“Why would I -”

 

“And why would I do anything about Richie?”

 

The footage is playing still, but neither are watching it.

 

“That’s - it’s old, Eddie. I’m old,” Mike laments, gesticulating in some vague way toward himself, and then outward, “And he’s married. It doesn’t - it was never gonna be anything else.”

 

“Right, fine, well, I’m also old, this is all old, we are all old, and I’m still finalizing my divorce, so - what else was it supposed to be?” Eddie asks, perhaps a little too bitterly.

 

“Better,” Mike sighs deeply, looking away, “It was supposed to be better, man.”

 

“Bill - you know, I think he’s gonna leave Audra.”

 

“I’m not a vulture, man. I’m not gonna go - picking at a dead marriage for scraps. That’s fucked up. And, I mean, I don’t begrudge anyone anything, really, I’m just a little envious, you know? It made sense, in It’s lair, that Georgie’s boat was Bill’s token. It’s just sort of amazing that Bev and Ben’s were each other, and Richie’s was you.”

 

“What?” Eddie asks, lungs quivering.

 

“You… did you not notice that we were all shouting fucking obscenities at Pennywise the entire time, but it only worked once you’d been hurt?”

 

Mike rolls his eyes at the way Eddie furrows his brow in abject bewilderment.

 

“Man, you guys are fuckin’ oblivious,” Mike mumbles, before speaking up, and adding, “When you lost that chunk in your side, protecting Richie? That was the token. The ritual worked, it’s just - he lied. He lied about what was… most important to him. So. The first ritual failed, but sacrificing you - I mean, he was right about it, in the clubhouse. Not that we should have sacrificed you, I mean - what I mean is that maybe, some part of him knew that the only thing he really gave a shit about in that town had been you. I mean, he loved us all, we all know that, but he - I think he knew, Eddie. He knew he was lying with the arcade token. As soon as you were hurt - I think your blood was actually, uh - I think it’s the only reason we won, honestly.”

 

“But if he knew I was the most important thing to him, then why -”

 

“Why would he not want to actually, ritually sacrifice you?” Mike fills in, looking at Eddie incredulously.

 

“Okay, well, when you say it like that -”

 

“Jesus Christ,” Mike chuckles, “You two really are birds of a feather.”

 

“Do not insult me like that.”

 

Laughing again, Mike shakes his head, and replies, “well, there you have it. For a guy that’s never shut up in his life, it’s amazing how he never managed to say the most important shit.”

 

“I don’t think he says the important stuff,” Eddie responds, looking back at the wedding footage; he sees himself dancing with Myra, how unhappy she looks over his shoulder, and how from the Loser’s table, Richie is watching their feet, looking far away from himself, “... I think he just is the important stuff.”


He says it all out loud with his ridiculously expressive face, his long body, his broad shoulders, with the slant or up-tick of his lips, it's all on display, but it's in a blindspot. 

 

Staring at Richie on the screen, all Eddie can think is, 'he is saying it, it's so loud, how have I never heard it?'