When Steve didn't get into any of the colleges he had applied to it didn't really surprise him considering how bad his marks had been. He wasn't all that disappointed since he was destined to work for his father anyway. It was just that he had hoped to put off the inevitable for a few years, to get out of Hawkins like everyone else seemed to be doing. To see something other than this shithole town. At least he wouldn't be starting until September.
In the meantime he'd keep busy with his usual summer job. The irony was that his father had got him that one too through one of his contacts. But he kept it and came back each year because he was good, not because of his father.
One Saturday afternoon he rifled through the rejection letters again. It's August. Why the hell didn't I just throw these all out instead of holding onto them; nothing's going to change. One by one he crumpled them and lobbed them at the wastepaper basket. Three of the five missed or hit the rim, spinning away. Seems my ball skills are going the same way as my future. Heaving himself off the bed he got down on his hands and knees and retrieved one of them from under the dresser. Settling back against the drawers he stretched out his legs and began tossing it slowly from hand to hand.
As it landed in each he recounted to himself the people who were leaving. Nance. To college on the east coast. Jonathan. To Chicago for a photography course and part time apprenticeship. Tommy. Tommy? Tommy was taking off for Chicago too, with no job in site of course. Carol. She was going with Tommy which pissed her parents off no end. She would probably end up supporting him.
Then there was Billy.
After the fight at the Byers' last year he would have been only too glad to see Billy hop into his Camaro and fuck off never to be heard from again. Not so now. Of all of them, Billy's leaving was the one that hurt the most, but he had made it clear from the beginning that he wasn't going to stay around Hawkins, he just couldn't.
Although it really wasn't from the beginning. The beginning had been scarcely noticeable, unless you were the two of them.
One day after practice Billy grabbed him by the arm as he passed. He had instinctively tensed and felt his fists tighten, but instead of the expected confrontation Billy had just looked at him intently.
"Sorry, man. For everything."
Then he just walked away in the opposite direction.
No, that wasn't really the beginning; it was in the middle of the night one Friday a week or so later. Steve couldn't sleep, something that happened a lot, so he just got in his car and drove; there was no one home to care that he wasn't there. He was already past the car parked under a streetlight at the side of the road when he realised it was the Camaro. He found himself turning around and pulling up behind it.
He sat for a few seconds. This is a shit idea. But he was curious. As he walked toward the car he could see Billy slumped against the side window, some sort of blanket pulled up tight to his chin. He tapped gently beside his ear and Billy jumped, struggling out of the blanket.
"Jesus!" He rubbed at his eyes and squinted up at him. "What the fuck … Harrington?"
"Lower the window."
"What do you want?" Billy asked, glaring at him.
"It's two thirty," he answered, as if that explained anything. He noticed blood on his torn shirt and a wad of bloodied tissues tossed onto the passenger seat. He also thought he saw the beginning of a black eye.
"I know how to tell time."
"Shouldn't you be home in bed?"
Billy yawned and stretched, then grunted and clutched at his side.
"You're sort of a mess."
"Yeah. You look great too. Now piss off." The tone of his voice didn't match the words.
"You been fighting?"
"In a way."
"Either you were or you weren't."
Billy snorted a half laugh.
"Things aren't always that simple."
Then, maybe because he felt more tired than he had ever been, maybe because he was hurting, maybe because he had sat in the car crying, more than he had ever done since his mother died, maybe because that night he felt completely alone, regretting so much, he dropped the pretense.
"I can't wait to get away. Away from Hawkins. Away from all the shit." He ran his hands through is hair. "Away from my jerk of a father."
And there it was; spoken out loud for the first time. Now someone outside the family knew. Although Steve really didn't know, but it didn't take him long to figure it out.
"That what this is all about," he motioned to his shirt and the tissues, "and why you're here tonight?"
"Yep. Fuckin' did this then threw me out and told me to come back tomorrow 'when you've learned some respect for things'. All over a goddam broken glass It fuckin' slipped; I didn't do it on purpose."
"So you're going to spend the night here?"
"Good a place as any. Besides there's nowhere else to go."
"Right. Can you imagine me showing up at Tommy's at midnight looking like this? His parents already blame me for a whole bunch of things, some not even my fault. I'm sure they'd tell me to make myself at home, offer me milk and cookies."
Steve made a decision that, as it turned out, was going to change everything.
"Got a cigarette? I left mine at home," he lied.
Billy reached up to the dash and grabbed the packet, took one for himself, then handed it to him.
"Thanks. I need a light too. Pop the lock on the other side and I'll join you for a while." He shrugged. "If you want."
Billy hesitated for a split second.
"OK, climb in."
He quickly reached over and grabbed the tissues off the seat then sat back. As Steve slid in beside him he held out the car lighter. When Steve took his hand rather than just the lighter and held it to the cigarette he felt it twitch.
Billy just nodded and settled back to smoke in silence. Eventually they talked on and off about school, basketball, an out-of-state game that was coming up, but Billy never spoke of his father again that night. Finally Steve yawned.
"Looks like I'm finally tired enough to sleep. You going to be OK here?"
You could …" he paused unsure if he should offer. Fuck it. "You could come to my place. There's a spare bed in my room, or the guest room, or even a couch. Your choice."
"Yeah, I'm sure your parents want some stranger wandering through their house at this time."
"They're not home. And tomorrow's, " he glanced at the dash clock, "today's Saturday you can sleep in. I'm going to."
"Thanks, but I should probably stay here."
"Really? Don't be so fuckin' stubborn. You won't owe me anything. I'm not expecting us to become friends. It's a bed, and a shower if you want." He paused over his next words, but said them anyway. "You don't need to punish yourself, Billy."
"Right. So the rest of the night sitting here, legs cramping, probably pissing at the side of the road, is what then?"
He opened the door and got out, crouching so he could still see him.
"When you could actually have a bed?" He sighed. "Fine. No skin off my ass. See you around."
He had almost made it to the car when the "Wait!" came. He turned to find Billy standing beside the open door of his car.
"I wouldn't have offered."
And that, as it turned out, was the beginning. Or rather one of them.
After that Billy started to show up regularly, usually unannounced, at Steve's door; even his parents came to take his sudden appearances in stride. Often it was because of his father and Steve got so he could tell the second he saw him that was the reason. But just as often he didn't need a reason, because despite Steve's having said he didn't expect to become friends they found, to their surprise, that's what had happened. Even The Party got used to seeing him, although both Dustin and Lucas grumbled most of the time even after a lot of apologising. Max just shook her head when she witnessed Billy saying he was sorry.
On the nights he stayed over he slept in Steve's room.
Steve wasn't sure when the shift took place. Unlike the locker room or the car that he could point to, this was one of those nebulous beginnings. He knew he wasn't queer. There were a couple of guys at school that were so obvious (or everyone thought they were) it was hard to miss and they paid the price. He knew he wasn't like that so he couldn't be queer. And yet.
It really wasn't anything new, he had thought about it more than he cared to admit to himself. Several times in the showers he had spent longer looking at a guy than he felt he should. A tight ass with a dusting of hair, a great set of abs, those little valleys channelling from the sides of a tight belly to the crotch, soap and water running down a back and disappearing into the cleft. And sometimes at night …
The funny thing was that Billy had never been one of those guys; probably because he was more worried when he was going to try to fuck him up again. Now that all that was the past it was Billy he was looking at, thinking about, jerking off to. And he found himself wondering, but he had no idea what to do and resigned himself to never finding out.
They lay in the beds in Steve's room one Saturday night in late June as the heat of the day still hung around them; it had been one of the hottest weeks in a decade. To make matters worse, the air conditioning had broken and Steve's parents had told him before they left on the Friday that the repairman wouldn't make it until Monday. Billy had come over in the morning after running Max somewhere and they spent the rest of the day at the pool.
Steve had considered sleeping outside, but then he remembered that the mosquitoes that year seem to think he was a special treat. So he dug out an old fan from the attic, set it in the bedroom window and directed it towards them. It helped, but not much.
Billy lay smoking, ashtray on his chest, sheet kicked off onto the floor. He was naked; it seemed he was naked a lot. He had been quiet most of the day, but Steve just marked that down to problems with Neal and didn't pry, knowing Billy would tell him eventually.
"You know I'm leaving by September, right?"
"Gonna miss me?"
Billy suddenly lifted the ashtray and sat up, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed.
"Do you like me?"
"What do you mean?"
"Do you like me? Simple enough question."
Steve rolled on his side and propped himself up on his elbow so he could face him.
"Yeah. I guess."
"You're doing a fuck of a lot of guessing tonight. It's either yes or no."
"All right then. Yes, I like you. At least now I do."
"How much? We're friends," Steve answered as if that explained everything.
Billy just stared at him for a few seconds.
"I've seen you looking at me?"
"What?" Steve shivered as the hair on the nape of his neck stood up. Not sure what to expect his mind scrambled to come up with something logical. "Of course I look at you. It'd be strange not to." And failed.
"That's not it and you know it."
"I don't understand."
"Of course you do."
He got up and Steve, realising he couldn't get around him, scooted back on the bed, pulling his knees up to his chest, hoping to make a smaller target just in case.
"Look, let's cut the bullshit," he said as he sat down beside him. "What if I'm interested."
"In me?" Steve asked sceptically.
"That so hard to believe?"
"Yeah. First of all you tried to make my life miserable, then you beat the shit out of me. Could have fooled me."
"Yeah, and how about now? You telling me nothing has changed, that I haven't changed? Look, I didn't want to be here; everything that mattered was in California and I was stuck in Indiana, alone as far as I was concerned. You were just everything I hated about this place. Maybe I couldn't do anything about Hawkins, but I could about you."
"So, why did you change?"
"Doing all that shit, fighting, bullying people, didn't make me feel any better. I was still here, still miserable, still alone. Taking it out on someone else - you, Lucas, Max - didn't solve anything. And I realised I had become just like Neal, doing what he would do. Why would I want that?"
"But that doesn't explain tonight. I mean it's sudden; I never even suspected."
"I've had a lot of practice hiding things; something you learn when you have an asshole for a father. Besides I was too busy trying to dethrone 'King Steve' to care. Then when I eventually got past that I didn't know for a while if you were interested. You're pretty good at concealing things too."
"Apparently not good enough."
"I bet most guys wouldn't notice the looks or pass them off as nothing. But I'm not most guys."
Steve moved down on the bed to sit beside him.
"So where's this leave us."
"Where you want. Except …"
"Don't forget that I'm leaving."
When he didn't say anything else Billy started to get up, but Steve reached out and grabbed his wrist, pulling him back down.
"Doesn’t mean we can't have the rest of the summer."
Billy smiled as his hands slid up Steve's chest to his face, gently pulling him closer until their mouths brushed. He felt Steve shiver slightly as his tongue licked his lips open. Suddenly Steve pulled back slightly.
"I've never … I mean with a guy."
"That's OK. We'll take our time."
He eased him back onto the bed and kissed one nipple then the other. His fingers slipped inside the waistband of his underwear and slowly began to slide them down over ...
"Steve," his mother called up the stairs, "Billy's here."
"Be there in a sec." He tossed the balled paper into the can and pushed at his cock, trying to will his erection away. By the time he got downstairs he had mostly succeeded and fortunately only Billy was in the hall.
"You been busy?" Billy smirked as he nodded towards his crotch, then he leaned in, trailed the back of his hand gently over his stomach, and murmured. "Need some help?"
"Shut up. It's all your fault anyway."
"Don't mind being blamed for that."
"Want a swim? Going to stay for dinner?"
"Thanks, but let's swim later. Upstairs?"
Steve followed him up and closed the door of the bedroom behind them.
Billy dropped down on the bed and just stared at the floor for a moment. Steve sat down beside him.
"I'm leaving Friday," he said when he finally looked up.
"Oh." Steve felt his stomach knot. "So finally back to California. Day after tomorrow. I thought it was next week."
"What's a few days. Neal's being more of a prick than ever and I've got enough money from the gardening to last me a few months. More than I expected. Surprising how working shirtless, soaked in sweat, in this tight-ass town can get you tips. Really good tips."
"I have a feeling that leaving the top button of your jeans undone and letting them slip down may have had something to do with that."
"Yeah," Billy chuckled, "if you got it flaunt it."
"You got a place to stay, right?"
"Two now. I can move around while I'm job hunting. Heard today I may even have something thanks to one of my friends. Just a waiter, but what the hell, they don't care about experience. It's money and it's a start."
"I'm sure it will work out."
"Come with me."
"What? No, no. I've got a job here and …"
"A job you don't want. A life you don't want."
"No, I've got savings. I may not have flaunted my body," he flinched as Billy punched him in the arm, "but I worked too. My dad even gave me what he had put aside for my college."
"Yeah, money's supposed to solve everything I guess."
"So what's keeping you here?"
"I have plans."
"Your plans or your parents'? Nine to five, get promoted, meet a girl, get married, kids."
"And that's what you want."
"Bull-fucking-shit! Do you want to be happy or do you want to do what others want you to?"
"I just can't."
Billy shook his head sadly and stood up.
"I'm not going to try to force you. Wouldn't work anyway." He bent down and kissed his cheek. "I'm sorry. Can we go for that swim now?"
The rest of the day seemed normal. They swam, had a beer, then Billy charmed Steve's parents at dinner, as he always did. They watched some television until Steve nudged Billy with his elbow.
"Want to go upstairs."
"Not tonight. I have to get home and clear up some things."
Steve followed him out to the car.
"You mad at me?"
"Of course not."
"But you're disappointed."
"I wish things were different that's all." He looked around, grabbed Steve and hugged him tightly, then quickly released him. "These has probably been the best few months of my life, from that night in the car. I feel lucky finding someone like you, even for a short time. And you know I would stay …"
"No. You need to go. That's what I know. You could never be happy here."
"I'm happy with you."
"That's not what I mean, Billy, and you know it. I'll see you before you leave though?"
"Damn right. Tomorrow when you finish work and then when I'm heading out of town Friday."
Steve watched Billy drive away then went back inside. He was at the foot of the stairs when his mother called from the kitchen.
"Steve, you want anything. I'm making some coffee."
"No thanks. Think I'll have an early night."
Steve threw himself on the bed and lay staring at the ceiling, realising he wasn't going to get much sleep anyway. He still dropped off though because he woke from a dream where he had been tied to a post and try as he might he couldn't break free. He spent the rest of the night smoking too many cigarettes.
When he got back from work the next day, Billy's car was in his driveway.
"I'm home," he announced. "Where's Billy?"
"Out by the pool, of course" his mother answered from somewhere down the hall. "Dinner at six."
Steve spotted Billy sprawled out on one of the lounges, one of his father's old sun hats over his face. He quietly walked up behind him and reached down to tweak one of his nipples.
"Yeow!" He jumped upright, tossing the hat to one side. "Hey. Watch it!"
Steve lent over and rested his hands on his shoulders.
"Just wanted to get your attention."
"A simple 'Billy' would have done it."
"But where's the fun in that. You're staying for dinner, right."
"Yes, your mother's already asked."
Steve pulled up another lounge and sat down beside him.
"You ready to go tomorrow?"
"Yeah. Neal has pissed off somewhere, something to do with work, so at least I don't have to deal with him."
"Want to come upstairs help me change."
"Thought you'd never ask."
They had hardly made it through the bedroom door when Billy closed it behind them with his foot, spun Steve around and unbuckled his belt. His pants and underwear came down in one motion, puddling at his feet, before being kicked away. Billy grabbed him by the hips and sucked him in. Steve grunted and grabbed him by the hair, holding on for dear life. Billy's hands slipped up his thighs to his ass, pulling his cheeks apart. One finger then another traced along the crack, hesitating, pressing as they passed his hole.
"Wet them", Steve moaned. He gasped as a finger pushed its way in slightly then withdrew. Billy let Steve's cock go with a pop and held the index and middle fingers of his right hand up to his lips.
"You do it." Steve bent down and licked. "That's right. Now suck them. Get them good and wet." Saliva ran down into his palm as he pulled away. His mouth returned to Steve's cock, concentrating on the head for the moment. While one hand held tight to his ass, helping to spread it slightly, he slid the other between Steve's legs so his spit-slicked fingers could begin to worm their way in. This time one finger went in to the first joint, twisted slightly and pulled out, returned and sank to the knuckle. He withdrew part way then pushed again, further this time.
He pistoned and twisted the finger in time to his renewed sucking. Steve was big and he had never managed to deep-throat him, but that didn't mean he didn't try. At one point his finger seemed ready to slip out but instead was joined by a second, layered on top. Billy knew exactly what this did to Steve and he could almost time the result as both fingers sank in as far as they could; then he alternately twisted and scissored them, each time hitting just the right spot.
"Chr-i-i-st. Fuck-i-i-n' sh-i-i-t …"
Billy stopped sucking as he eased his fingers out, then stood up and swung around behind Steve, clamping his hand over his mouth.
"Easy, pretty boy," he warned as his fist took over his cock, "the house isn't empty. You ready?"
All he got in answer was a muffled groan followed by a shudder, then another one. He kicked Steve's underwear forward and prayed his aim was good. The first spurt sailed wide by almost a foot as Steve bucked against his hand. The second at least hit the waistband. After that he didn't pay much attention as he tried to contain Steve's spasms while holding him when his knees gave out.
Steve was still shaking when he finally took his hand off his mouth. Walking backward to the bed, he half dragged him and sat down. He was limp in his arms, head lolled back against his shoulder, eyelids fluttering.
"I think you broke some type of record there."
"You want to lie down?"
He stood up and pushed him back onto the bed.
"You…," Steve croaked, "your turn."
Billy pulled off his swimsuit and knelt on either side of his chest.
"Play with my balls."
He tensed as Steve grabbed and pulled, not hard enough to hurt but hard enough to make his cock jump.
"Yeah, that's it. Pull down more."
He had been hard since he walked into the room and this wasn't going to take long, especially when Steve began rolling his balls in his hand, releasing, grabbing and rolling again.
The first surge came up from his feet. Or down from his head. He wasn't sure which. Steve let go of his balls as Billy leant forward to kiss him, hair falling on either side of his face. He felt the first splatter hit this throat then lost himself in the waves of sensation and the feel of Steve's tongue exploring his mouth. Finally he collapsed against Steve's chest and lay quietly for a moment before rolling off onto the bed.
"Yeah," Steve laughed quietly. "Wow."
They lay for a minute or so until Steve felt the drowsiness almost overtake him.
"We have to get cleaned up. I'm only supposed to be changing into my swimsuit."
"You are a mess," Billy replied as he dragged his finger down his chest to his naval and held it up, before licking it.
"Solved with tissues." Steve got out of bed and pulled at Billy's arm. "Now get up."
"Yes, sir. You going to shower?"
"Why when we have a pool."
In no time their swimsuits were on, the tissues were flushed, and the underwear was stuffed in the clothes hamper to be dealt with later. They spent what was left of the afternoon at the pool until dinner was ready.
"You're leaving soon, isn't that right Billy? California."
"Yes, Mrs. Harrington. I'm going tomorrow."
"Steve, you didn't tell us it was tomorrow," his father broke in.
"Must have forgotten," Steve mumbled around a forkful of potato salad.
"Don't talk with your mouth full," his mother admonished.
He swallowed and set his fork down.
"Sorry. I must have forgotten to say."
"What time are you going?" Eve Harrington continued.
"So we won't see you after tonight."
"I'll drop by and say goodbye to Steve."
"That's nice," Eve answered vaguely as she handed her husband the jellied salad.
The conversation drifted after that. Wayne Harrington's work, a business trip, preparations for Steve starting in some junior position in a week. Billy noticed that Steve said very little during the rest of the meal.
"You OK," Billy asked as they walked to the car.
"Guess it finally sank in that tomorrow's our last day." He grabbed his arm. "I don't want to lose touch. I don't want you to forget me. Promise me that won't happen."
"Never. And I already said I'd write. Fill you in on what I'm doing. You're going to visit once I'm settled in. Next summer? That place will give you vacation, right?"
"Of course. It's just not the same, is it."
Billy took his hand and held it between his own. Steve could see his eyes shining with tears.
"No. But it's what we've got." Steve let go and he walked away, pausing just as he was getting into the car. "You're going to be here tomorrow and not at work, right? I never thought about that."
"I'll be here."
Steve watched until he turned the corner and disappeared.
The next day Billy sorted through the last of his things again, weeding out a final few items. He ended up with two suitcases, a shopping bag with his toiletries, and his tapes. He had wanted to take his tape player but there was no way he could handle that and the speakers when he had nowhere of his own to go so he gave it to Max.
He was surprised when Susan handed him a bunch of sandwiches and a thermos of coffee as he made his final trip to the door with to the door with the shopping bag.
"So you don't have to stop until later tonight if you don't want to.
"I'm sorry, you know. I wish I had been a better person, someone with enough courage to help."
"Not your fault, Susan. No one's to blame for this but Neal." He smiled crookedly. "And me I guess. Too much of a jerk for my own good. Max isn't still here, is she?"
"No, she left for school long ago. Didn't you say goodbye this morning?"
"Yeah, yeah." He sighed. "OK, got to go. I have a few couple of people to see before I leave.
He stepped back in shock when Susan reached out and touched his face.
"You're better off far away from here."
As he pulled away he looked over his shoulder and saw her standing at the door.
First he looked for Thommy. He drove all over town, even out to the quarry, but couldn't find him. Then he thought Carol might know but he wasn't sure where she was either. Fuck it. I don't have time for this. After getting the car filled with gas he drove to Steve's but pulled the car over before turning into his street and sat for a while. He wasn't ready for this.
Steve had been the one good thing about this town; he was what had made the last few months bearable, even as Neal treated him worse. It wasn't just that. He felt that someone like Steve came along once in a lifetime. He never told him that he loved him, but he knew he did. Yet, here he was, packed, moving halfway across the country, leaving him behind. If he had any guts he would stay. He could keep working at gardening until late fall, find something else. Neal wouldn't be a problem. He'd could move out, find a room or if he was lucky a cheap apartment. The two of them could get an apartment.
If he could do all that why wasn't he? Why didn't he? Indiana wasn't his home, never would be, but he felt like Steve was. Where they were didn't matter. Decision made, he put the car in gear and turned into the street.
When he pulled into the driveway Steve was standing at the door waiting for him. He almost ran to meet him.
"There you are. Ready to go?"
"What do you mean no?"
"I'm going to stay."
"Like fuck you are."
"Jesus Christ, Billy. You're not going to stay just because of me."
"It's not ..."
"Yes it is and we both know it."
"I'll get a place. We'll get a place. It'll work out. Neal can fuck off; he can't try to control me anymore."
"But why? At least we'll still be together."
"We can be together in California."
"Been busy this morning. I got a thousand bucks in cash, a cashier's check for a hell of a lot more, I'm packed, and I've left my parents a letter."
"Stop saying what."
"I don't get it. You said no."
"Yeah, well I'm an idiot."
"You're parents are going to be hurt. Sure you want that?"
"No I don't want that, but it's my life. I hope they'll understand that." He shrugged. "If not, maybe we'll eventually be able to patch things up."
"So you really want to do this."
"Have you not been listening?"
Billy grabbed him and kissed him.
"Let's get your stuff."
They stacked Steve's cases and a small duffle bag in the back seat. And he had a portable tape player that would do them until they could get something better.
Billy backed out of the driveway, but instead of pulling away he stopped in the middle of the street.
"What's the matter?"
"I love you."
He turned to look at Steve.
"I just want you to know that."
Not waiting for an answer he drove off. Halfway down the street, Steve reached over and lifted his hand off the steering wheel, holding it for a few seconds before letting go.
"I love you too."