"We lie best when we lie to ourselves." -Stephen King, It
The spring of 1998 was going to be good to Nancy Wheeler, a fact made clear to her as the familiar tune of Buddy Holly drifted over her radio that morning in March. She grinned and turned the volume up slightly slightly as she stirred her coffee, tapping her foot in time with the beat.
“You say that you’re gonna leave, you know it’s a lie, cuz you know that’ll be the day… that I die,” she sang quietly, letting a smile drift over her face.
“Is it an oldies kind of day, then?” Nancy looked over as her assistant Rachel waltzed into the break room and nodded to the radio.
Nancy grinned. “It’s always an oldies kind of day,” she corrected. Rachel laughed, holding open the door for her, and she smiled gratefully as she made her way to her office.
“Alright so you’ve got that meeting at 3:00 today, and then you need to sign off on the shipments for the afternoon,” Rachel listed out as they walked. “And all the paperwork for those corporate changes are on your desk.”
Nancy sighed, taking a sip of her coffee. “Wonderful. Do me a favor and forward any calls until I get this done, yeah?”
Rachel nodded in understanding and walked off as Nancy made her way into her office, letting the door close behind her. She sighed at the stacks of paper waiting on her desk, but dutifully took a seat and set her coffee aside.
The first hour was easy, double checking numbers and reading fine print. By the time ten o'clock rolled around, Nancy figured this wouldn't be that terrible of a day after all.
“Excuse me,” Rachel said as she pushed the door open. Nancy looked up at her assistant, who was frowning slightly. “Sorry to disturb you, but there’s this writer from Indiana who keeps calling you? Says he’s an old friend.”
“Indiana?” Nancy set down her pen with a frown.
“Yeah, uh, Steve Harrington?” Rachel said the name dismissively.
Nancy felt her heart stop. Rachel was still talking, explaining the situation, but Nancy barely heard a word.
You're Nancy Wheeler, right?
Yes, and you're Steve Harrington. You know we've gone to school together for three years now, right?
So you know the name of every single person in our grade, then?
No, but I would know the name of the person I'm trying to flirt with.
“I’ve told you’re busy but he’s pretty damn insistent, he’s called back like three times. Now I don’t mind hanging up on him again, but--”
“No!” Nancy said immediately, finally feeling able to speak again. Her heart was pounding, but she tried to compose herself. Rachel was just staring at her in confusion. “No, um, I’d better take it. Can you patch him through, please?”
“Sure thing boss,” Rachel said with a shrug, shutting the door behind her.
Nancy barely registered the click of the door. She felt frozen in place, unable to move, her mind a steady buzz of energy. There were so many thoughts racing through her mind she felt unable to process a single one.
Soon the phone was ringing and the light was blinking, indicating a call. Nancy stared at it, her hands shaking slightly. The idea of what was waiting on the other side of this phone call make her stomach swirl terribly.
The phone rang again, and before she knew what she was doing, Nancy reached out and grabbed it, holding it to her ear.
She could hear him. He was humming absentmindedly, a grainy sound through the static of the line, reminding her of the distance between them. She breathed softly, knowing the moment she spoke was the moment everything would become far too real again.
As it turned out, it came even sooner than that.
“Uh, Nancy? You there?” The voice was deeper than she ever remembered it being, and Nancy inhaled sharply.
“Yeah. Hi Steve,” she replied after a second, clearing her throat.
There was a long pause, and Nancy wondered if he was as scared as she was.
“That’s one hell of a receptionist you’ve got there. I thought I was gonna have to fly up to Minneapolis to get a hold of you,” Steve joked, and Nancy huffed a breath in spite of herself.
“Yeah sorry about that. It’s been a busy day, I’ve been working nonstop,” she explained, running a hand through her short hair.
“I’m sorry to call.” There was something deep and genuine in that, and it made Nancy even more frightened.
“Steve, what’s going on?” She wasn’t sure why she was even asking. Just hearing his voice on the other end of the line made it impossible for her to deny the reality of the situation. She knew what was happening. She just needed to hear him say it.
“Nancy,” Steve said, and it sounded undeniably unaltered to the way he said it fifteen years ago. “It’s back.”
(It has to be dead. It has to be.)
“Nancy?” Steve’s voice-- older, deeper than the voice of the past-- shook her out of her thoughts. She flinched violently, mouth opening and closing as she searched for her voice.
“I’m-- I’m here,” she stammered.
She heard him sigh over the line. “I’m sorry. I know it’s a lot.”
That was putting it mildly. Nancy’s eyes darted around her office. Everything felt foreign, unrecognizable, like this wasn’t her life. Like she was still just a sixteen year old girl in Hawkins, staring down horrors beyond her control. Meetings and assistants and reports shouldn’t exist in the same world as that.
“Are you sure?” She asked him, voice steadier than she expected it to be.
“I wouldn’t have called if I wasn’t,” Steve answered immediately, and she knew in the very core of her soul that he was telling the truth. “I never wanted to call you like this.”
Nancy nodded, even though he couldn’t see her. “Have you called him?”
“Not yet,” Steve responded easily. “But I’ve got his number right here in front of me. As soon as you hang up…”
“Okay,” Nancy continued, letting out a long breath. There was a long pause, but Nancy didn’t know how to break it.
“Nancy, I just… will you come?” Steve implored quietly. Nancy got the feeling he didn’t want to ask.
She took a deep breath before answering decisively. “I’ll come. I’ll catch a plane to Indianapolis tonight.”
She heard Steve sigh, and she wondered if it was out of relief or fear. “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
“Bye Steve,” she concluded, and the phone went dead.
Nancy set the phone back on the hook numbly, staring at the wood desk. Her mind was ablaze with memories that felt like dreams-- flashing lights, desperate huddling in the dark, the frantic pleas from behind her as she shakingly slipped more rounds into a gun..
Nancy squeezed her left hand tightly shut. She cut her hand on a fence. That’s what she’d always told people when they’d asked, back when the scar was more raised and noticeable, and she’d grown to forget it was even a lie.
But now she remembered too clearly. She could practically feel the thin metal of a Coke bottle slicing against her palm as Jonathan muttered to her and they’d made that promise--
“Oh god,” she whispered, pressing her unscarred hand to her mouth as she felt bile rise in her throat. She swallowed hard and took three deep breaths (in for four, hold for seven, out for eight, that’s it, you’re okay Nancy, it’s over) before getting to her feet. Grabbing her purse and pushing her paperwork into two neat piles, she made her way out of her office door, stopping at the desk outside. Rachel was on the phone, but she quickly put it on hold upon seeing Nancy.
"Everything okay, Dr. Wheeler?" She asked, and Nancy tried to offer her a smile.
“Rachel, I have to go. I won’t back for at least a few days.” Nancy said quickly, and her assistant blinked up at her, looking frantic.
“What do you mean? Where are you going?” Rachel got to her feet, looking at a loss for what to do.
“It’s... personal stuff, I'm afraid. I’m sorry to drop this on you, I really am, but I can’t avoid this.” Nancy explained with a frown.
Rachel glanced over at Nancy’s office before leaning forward. “Is this something to do with that phone call?”
Nancy closed her eyes, sighing. “I can’t tell you that.”
She readjusted her purse on her shoulder and made her way to the door. “What if Daniel calls?”
“Tell him I’ll explain later!” Nancy glanced back, pausing when she saw Rachel’s look. She sighed, practically pleading when she spoke up again. “And Rachel, before you assume anything, just do me a favor and… don’t assume anything.”
Rachel made one last protest, but Nancy was already out the door, pushing her way through the building until she reached her car. She felt calmer now, though she wasn't sure how. It seemed impossible, being calm at a time like that, and yet... it was just one more job.
Nancy stayed calm as she made her way home and packed her things. Her closet was already emptied for the most part in preparation for her upcoming move, and she simply transferred the rest of the things into a small bag. She threw in a toothbrush, toothpaste, brush, and a few other essentials before zipping it up and setting it aside. She glanced around, trying to see if she'd forgotten anything else.
As she glanced around the house, she felt a deep sense of unease come over her. It was more space than two people could ever hope to need, let alone one person. She’d gotten lucky somehow. Time and time again-- from college to graduate school to the pharmacy job… somehow everything had gone well. It reminded her of something her grandmother had once said to her when she'd made a rare visit.
I get worried when things go too well. It usually means something is going to go terribly wrong. Life's all about balance, darling.
Nancy's eyes landed on the closet door and the garment bag that was slung over it and she felt a new sort of fear rise inside her chest, thought it was starkly different to the kind she'd experienced during Steve's phone call. She stared at for a long minute, as if willing it to just go and disappear already.
After steeling her nerves, Nancy crossed to the garment bag and pulled down the zipper quickly, pushing the nylon aside to look at the dress laying inside. The white satin folded gently inside, pooling at the bottom gently. She ran her hand over it softly before stepping back and staring at it.
What are you doing? She asked herself. You’re getting married in a week and you’re running off to see an old high school sweetheart?
She knew how this looked. She wanted to feel guilty, to worry about what he would think, what everyone would think, but for some reason she couldn’t. As sick as she felt about going back to Hawkins… it was a lot less frightening that staying in Minneapolis.
She zipped the bag back up and grabbed an orange post-it note from off her desk, scrawling a quick note before grabbing her bag and locking the door behind her.
I’m alright. I had to go back home for a bit. I’ll call you.