Mike Hanlon didn’t talk to boys. He didn’t talk to girls, either. He didn’t talk to anyone outside of the farm, actually, just his grandfather and the help and the sheep, and he wasn’t even supposed to talk to the sheep, and he didn’t know how long he would’ve gone on like that if Beverly Marsh hadn’t thrown a rock at Henry Bowers’ head at this very quarry on a sticky summer day in June, giving Mike contact with the first real friends he had ever known.
Mike kicked a rock. The first real friends he had ever known. He didn’t exactly know how to feel about that fact. From an outsider’s view, Mike must seem like a recluse, an outcast. A loser, lowercase “L”. And he was, of course, you can’t not be a loser when you’re a homeschooled black kid in Maine who smells like raw meat all the time, but that didn’t mean he wanted to be. Like he didn’t hope kids would come up and ask to play with him or invite him to their houses or to a movie. Of course, he knows no one is going to talk to the homeschooled black kid who smells like raw meat all the time if he doesn’t talk to them first, but how is he supposed to? What do people even say to each other nowadays? He doesn’t suppose anyone wants to hear him wax lyrical about whether animals can think or share his thoughts on intelligent life in space. But it’d be nice if maybe, just once, someone could ask him how he was when he drops meat off at the deli, or when he bikes home from making deliveries. Maybe a boy, a nice one, with bright eyes and clean hair. But he’d kept it all wrapped up for so long, all his thoughts, his theoretical compliments and insults and jokes and stories that he prepared for his future friends, that when he finally got them… he didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know where to start. He didn’t know what was too much and too little and what kind of person he should be to them because he had never been a person to anyone else before.
He tossed a pebble into the water.
He tossed a pebble into the water.
What do you do when you’ve been quiet for so long you’ve lost your voice?
He supposed Richie might know. Richie, with his grotesque glasses and coffee-colored freckles (he must have at least a million) and his never hesitating trashmouth. Richie, who was the first one to ask Mike over to hang out, the first one to give him a nickname (Heya Haystack, how’s life on the farm), kiss his cheek (all in good irony) and crack a hilarious joke about his mom (the joke wasn’t funny, but the look on Richie’s face when he remembered what happened to Mike’s parents sure fucking was). If Mike’s words felt like they were water all plugged up by a stopper, Richie’s must feel like a flooding basement, every single thing he ever had filling up the room until everyone either swam or drowned in his uncontrollable energy. (Mike felt a memory resurface of a bathroom covered in blood and the echoing of children’s voices from the drain.) Richie, who gets this scared and sad look on his face when no one hears his joke, like he’s the Invisible Man and will never be seen again. Richie, who shows his love by measuring his words, stemming the flow, sharing the subtlest care like a secret meant for only you.
Mike smiled softly as he thought of his friend. One time, Richie caught Mike crying at this very quarry over something he couldn’t say, and turned his tears into peals of laughter with the dirtiest limerick Mike had ever heard, like Jesus turning water into wine. Poetry. Ben would understand Mike’s problem, and he could probably help, too. If Richie flooded rooms with his words, then Ben drained them, carefully placed syllables to evoke a feeling from inside that you cannot name, but still wish to hold on to for as long as possible. Ben, with his soft eyes and soft voice and soft smile; Ben, the other new kid on the block, who never needed Mike to say anything for him to understand. Ben, with his words like silk thread, tying together all of the people that make Mike want to learn how to speak. Ben’s voice was concise and planned; his narratives and emotions poignant, thought-out, meaningful. Mike felt inadequate: his voice would be unfiltered and rambling, surely, after being cooped up for so long in the cluttered attic of his mind. What could he have to say that could measure up to Ben’s prose, or even Richie’s humor? Even if he could come up with something, he wouldn’t be able to share it. His words always got stopped up, caught in his throat.
Mike sighs and watches the water go over and around and through the logs in the quarry and thinks of something Bill had said: “speech is like a river; there are logs, and there are dams, but the water will persist nonetheless.” Bill! No one knew speech like Bill Denbrough. Bill has never shied away from his own voice, just worked harder to say what he needed to. His words must be so important, Mike considered, if he is so insistent on breaching that stutter to say them. He has to think out his voice, carry it to its destination, force himself to be heard, and it commands such respect that at times Bill’s voice can make Mike feel weak in the knees. His words aren’t urgent, necessarily, like Richie’s, but they are vital. They are not curt, but they are succinct. Bill would make a good writer, Mike thought. Bill could help him with finally conquering the barrier of his own insecurity and inexperience: hold his hand, help Mike take baby steps he needed to just get the words out.
Mike paused, nervous. What if he shouldn’t get help? What if it’s best for him to keep his voice to himself? What if, what if. What if his words would do nothing more than take up space, space that the others deserved more? Bill’s words were important. Important. Mike’s couldn’t be, he didn’t even have words, just thoughts and concepts, just manifestations of his need to be heard, not things that need to be told. Mike felt guilty, ashamed that he had spent so long considering taking up his friends’ time just so that he could figure out how to talk about aliens and other shit. If he didn’t know how to talk, he never would. Never should. Maybe he should leave, remove the empty calories from their rich and fantastic lives, maybe he should leave them all alone for their sake, maybe forever, maybe–
“How long have you been sitting out here?”
Mike was so startled he slipped from where he was sitting on the rocks and would’ve fallen into the water of the quarry if Stan hadn’t grabbed his arm.
“You gotta be more careful, Mike.” Mike stood up. Stan didn’t let go of his arm, but softened his grip. “Cause I just want you to know that I’m not getting my fucking hair wet, so if you drown, you drown, alright?”
Mike smiled. He couldn’t think of what to say, so he just held Stan’s eye contact. Stan had nice eyes, brown ones, like the color of leather or fresh baked bread. They were soft and bright, like Stan, who was always afraid only to be braver. Stan, who had a mind and heart too big for his wiry limbs and curly hair; Stan, who everyone knew would fly like a bird one day. Up, up, and away, into the stars and past the moon. Mike realized he must’ve been staring too long when Stan looked away and blushed. He had let go of Mike’s arm. Was Mike supposed to say something? Was this awkward?
“Why are you here?” Well, now it was fucking awkward. Glass houses, dumbass.
“Same reason you are, Mike. Getting away from all the riff-raff and roughnecks,” he let out at a small laugh at his joke that Mike didn’t really get and reached into the backpack he had on to pull out a plastic-wrapped comic book. “Want to read with me? I’ve got X-Men.” Mike grinned.
“I’m not riff-raff?”