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Take Me Home Tonight

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Take Me Home Tonight

by halfempty

 

Chapter One

 

Mom and Aunt Mary were getting drunk out on the back deck. Steve was being tortured.

Steve drank his drink, then finished it. He’d been sprawled out on a lawn chair out here with them for about two hours now. They’d been out there for longer; Mom had came back inside at three to drag Steve out of the house. He’d been basically hiding inside for days and Mom said she wanted to make sure he wasn’t turning into a vampire. Steve’s mom always said the corniest crap and acted like she was hilarious; really she exhausted him.

They’d been at Aunt Mary’s for three days now, since Tuesday morning when his mom had came downstairs and saw Steve sitting at the breakfast table in the kitchen looking like a total zombie. He’d been all screwed up when he’d came home on Monday night after his fight with Billy. He’d came in and thrown one of the bar stools from the kitchen across the room; he hadn’t known his mom had been right there in the living room. She’d came running in and asked him what was wrong but he hadn’t told her; she’d asked him three times.

She’d looked so upset. Well what passed for upset for her anyway; she was something else.

It’d been three whole months and he hadn’t even told her about him and Bill or what they were doing – not the fight or anything of course but just him and Billy. How could he? He couldn’t find the words to tell her.

Crap everything was so wrong. Apparently he didn’t know what the hell they were doing after all. It hadn’t even really been a real fight; Steve felt so sick thinking about it. Billy had had a total meltdown on him.

Billy’d said they weren’t together but they were together, at least Steve had thought. It was more than hooking up. They didn’t really talk about it but they’d been hooking up and they were together. Monday had been June first so it’d really been three months but Billy didn’t think so. He’d been a huge fucking asshole.

He’d said shit like You think I want you? and How long do you think we can do this for? Four days later and Steve was still thinking about all the awful shit Billy’d screamed at him and the – the things he’d called Lucas when the kid’d walked into the gym and found them together. It was so bad. Even now it made him sick thinking about it and he’d slugged Bill in the face and that made him feel sick too. He actually felt hollow, like someone had came along and scooped all his insides out.

Three of his knuckles had been purple until yesterday; he’d hit Bill really hard. He felt so bad about hitting him. He couldn’t stop thinking about it. He’d even cried in his bed a little on Monday night like a baby or something, thinking about it. Billy always said he was too emotional for him; Steve guessed he’d really meant it. Bill always said a bunch of shit he didn’t mean when he got mad but maybe he’d really meant it this time.

Steve’d looked so sick the next morning that his mom’d got all fussy said he should call out of work. He didn’t think he could go to work anyway so he’d called out, then he’d called out for the rest of the week too. Even if his dad owned the place he still had to call out and ask for time off like a regular drone. He’d been working there for almost a year now and he’d never called out though.

Linda worked in the front office; she’d sounded worried about him on the phone when he’d called and she was gonna have a million questions when he came back. She probably missed him and stuff – she always said she was his work-mom which was okay as long as his real-mom never heard about it. She ate lunch with him and gave him all the gossip at the office.

Anyway that’d been when Mom had said he should come to Aunt Mary’s with her. Mom worked at a publishing house out in Logansport four days a week and that was way out past Indianapolis. Aunt Mary was closer for her and she liked to stay there sometimes; Steve wasn’t a kid anymore and he didn’t need her around all the time.

Aunt Mary was cool though. Mom had said Steve could use a vacation so he’d came with her.

Steve wasn’t really thinking about work or about Linda or about his mom and his aunt. By this point it’d been three days now – four? Three? Four if you counted Monday – and he kind of felt slightly less like he was gonna vomit up his heart at any second. Really he could even go about three minutes without thinking about Billy; he was doing okay.

This was one of the three minute intervals. The sun was too bright; Steve put the magazine he was reading over his face. It was the New Yorker because Aunt Mary was like that. Mom had let him have two margaritas; they were really strong.

The radio was too loud too. Mom and Aunt Mary had the republican radio on to make fun of it and they’d been talking shit about Reagan for an hour now; they were gettin’ all loud. Talking shit on Reagan was about Mom’s favorite thing to do, after nagging Steve and making really strong margaritas.

Aunt Mary went back inside to get more booze – it was Thursday and she said that that counted as the weekend so they could drink before six – and Steve’s mom wandered over to him. She sat in the lawn chair next to him and petted his hair. She smelled good. “Are you feeling any better, my baby?”

Steve put the New Yorker more securely on his face so she couldn’t touch his hair anymore; Mom made a sound like he was being funny.

He was not being funny. The three minute interval was over and now he was thinking about Billy again. Not about the fight but about the other week when him and Steve had taken Max into the city. They’d been in the city together before (Indianapolis was the big one, but Eastgate and Bloomington too) but not with Max.

Max and Billy had said they would take him to California, maybe over the summer. Max said they could take Steve down the Pacific Coast Highway (the PCH, Steve had looked it up) to all the cool beaches and Billy’d said that Max had never even been down the coast. It’d been a really good day; he liked to be around Max and Billy when they were getting along pretending not to get along. Now it just made him feel real lonely.

“Sure,” he said now.

Mom folded down a corner of the magazine to look at him; Steve squinted at her with one eye. She leaned over him. “So what does that mean?” she asked.

“What, I’m fine now.”

“Are you really fine now, or just drunk?”

Jeez. She was so annoying. “I’m not drunk,” Steve told her. “I can drink way more than that and not be drunk.”

“Hm. Can you?” Mom asked all dangerous; Steve tried to pull the New Yorker back on his face. “Steven! Stop acting like a child, I’m speaking to you.”

“You just called me your baby.”

“You are my baby. My handsome adult baby, who I am trying to talk with.”

“So talk to me.” He could feel her giving him a look so finally he took the magazine off his face; the sun hurt his eyes. He wasn’t really that handsome.

He’d left his sunglasses at home. He’d even bought a new pair the other week too. That’d been when he’d gone out with Max and Billy though so it was probably better that he didn’t have ‘em.

“Now you have newsprint on your face,” Mom told him.

“No I don’t.” That only happened with newspapers and only sometimes anyway. Not that he made a habit of putting newspapers over his face or whatever. Once he’d fallen asleep at the breakfast table and woken up with sports statistics on his cheek. One time!

“I just wanted to see if you were feeling better. I’m worried about you.”

“What, I’m fine.”

Mom looked down at him and put her hand in his hair again. She was taller since she was sitting up in her chair and Steve was flopped out like a fish. She looked so pretty like she usually did; people always said Steve looked like his mom which was annoying unless it was Billy calling him pretty boy or something. Actually that had been annoying too but it stopped being annoying once he’d found out Billy had really thought he was pretty.

His mom frowned at him suddenly; he was probably making a face. “Sweetheart, I won’t know how to help you unless you tell me what’s wrong,” she said. “Can’t you tell me what’s happened?”

Steve’s throat felt tight and his eyes hurt. Jesus he was getting all choked up or something. He missed his mom; she wasn’t around that much anymore and she’d been mad at him last year. He wished he had something good to tell her. He’d even been thinking about ways he could tell her about him and Bill lately; he was so fucking stupid. “Nothing happened, I’m tired. I’m tired from work all the time.”

“Hm.” She kept petting his hair; she’d been sad when he’d got a haircut last month. Dad had said he looked like a hippie. Her eyes narrowed. “Is it that girl again?”

“Oh, my god, no!” He’d gone out with Nancy for a year and Mom still called her that girl and made comments. But now it’d been way over a year that he hadn’t been with Nancy. “I just said it’s work! It’s nothing about her, I barely even see her.”

“Are you being sexually harassed in the workplace?”

“Oh my – you’re so annoying, go back to your booze,” Steve said; Mom laughed at him.

“I’m not joking!” she said; she was still laughing though. She really thought she was too funny.

“What if I really was? You’d still be laughing at me, that’s so screwed up.”

“No I wouldn’t.”

“You’re so mean, you think I couldn’t be harassed or something?” Steve asked her. He felt grouchy now. “I could be so harassed, all the girls wanna harass me but they know better.”

“I’m sure they do, I’m not disputing that.” Mom looked like he was amusing her; he liked her looking like that even though she was annoying and the worst. She wasn’t really the worst.

Steve took her drink out of her other hand. It was even stronger than the ones she’d given him; he made a face. ”I’m gonna go back to work tomorrow anyway.” He’d called out all week but he could still show up. There was no one there to fix the copy machine for Linda; he was needed.

“I thought you were going to stay the weekend with me.”

Steve was a real momma’s boy – he could admit it – but he didn’t think even he could handle Mom and Aunt Mary for like six whole days. He’d just wanted to get away from home; Billy had always been over and everything made Steve think about him. “Yeah, but I, I should go back.”

“You won’t be too hungover?”

“Ma, it’s like five o’clock.”

“Do you want me to come back with you?”

Steve thought about it. “No, that’s okay.”

“But I like spending time with you.”

“You didn’t spend time with me, I was layin’ in the rec room for three days.” Aunt Mary’s basement was fancy; her house wasn’t as big as theirs but it was fun to be somewhere else. Well not fun but okay.

“Well, yes, but I could sense your brooding presence,” Mom said; Steve made a face at her. “I can come home early on Sunday, will you go somewhere with me?”

“Yeah, whatever you want.”

Mom messed up his hair some more.Well it was already messed up probably. She touched the side of his face. “Are you going to see Billy this weekend? Maybe he can cheer you up.”

Boom, back to feeling hollow. Steve’s mom liked Billy which was too weird; they both thought the other was hilarious. He didn’t know how to tell her that Billy probably wouldn’t be hangin’ around anymore.

“Yeah, maybe.” He drank the rest of her drink.

 

He left early the next morning and drove straight to work; it took him about two hours to get there. Dustin’s mom had a spare key to his house and Dustin had been dogsitting while Steve’d been away so he didn’t have to worry about the dogs or anything. He missed them though and they were probably mad at him. Really Dustin had said he’d house-sit and not just dog-sit; Steve could already envision the mess.

Everyone in the office was happy to see him aside from Deborah who was kind of a bitch and they all said hey to him. Linda came into the back office three times from up front to check on him while he did his filing. Billy always laughed and said that Linda was Steve’s secretary; he seemed to think that Steve was some kinda hotshot at work even though Steve’d told him like four times he was basically a paper pusher. Damn he couldn’t even be at work and not think about Billy.

He ate lunch in the basement with Linda. They usually ate down there unless everybody wanted to go out or something. Linda was looking at him in a weird way; she gave him half her sandwich so he gave her the chips he’d bought from the vending machine upstairs.

Linda was arranging her little apple slices on a napkin. She had really thick blonde hair that she permed out about once a month and it was real crazy today since it was so humid. She kinda looked like an older version of Carol Kane; Steve only knew who that was because she’d been in some horror movie from the 70s that Billy liked. When a Stranger Comes Calling or something, he was pretty sure that was it. Steve didn’t really like horror movies that much but lately when they’d watched them alone together Billy’d put his arm around him during the scary parts so Steve was deciding that they were okay. But apparently that was just bullshit too.

Linda stared at him while he sat sulking and thinking everything was bullshit. Billy was total bullshit. “You still don’t look too good, honey.”

Steve ate his sandwich. “My favorite thing about you is how you always compliment me, Linda, makes me feel great,” he said; Linda laughed at him.

“You look okay, I’m just saying, you just look sad,” she said. “Did something happen at home?” She knew his dad could be a real prick – she’d been working for him for eleven years.

“No, I was sick.”

Linda leaned on the table. “How sick?” she asked him in an annoying voice.

“I dunno.”

She gave him a big look. “Lovesick?” she guessed. Jeez she was starting her crap.

Steve felt guilty; he hadn’t told her about Billy being Billy of course but really he’d told her all about Billy. He’d told her he was seeing someone a couple weeks ago. He didn’t know if he should do that but he couldn’t help himself. Linda was always tryin’ to fix him up with her niece or with one of the young girls that worked upstairs with him and he’d felt bad.

Well he hadn’t felt bad; he’d felt good. He’d been – really happy. He’d wanted to tell someone; it was okay if it was Linda at work. Billy made him really happy. He’d been staying over more and more and it wasn’t like – they weren’t just hooking up. They didn’t even do sexy stuff every time or anything. Okay most times but not always. Billy had this really sweet grin in the mornings; he was unbelievable. He was getting an apartment in two weeks and he’d told Steve beforeYou’re like half the reason why I wanna get a place.

Steve’d thought they’d been doing so well. Apparently that was all bullshit too. Steve loved bullshit; he ate it up.

He hadn’t said anything for a couple minutes; Linda frowned at him when he looked up at her.

Jeez but she made him feel so bad. He hadn’t really wanted to go and work for his dad last year when he’d graduated and he’d been a real prick when he started at the office. Linda had been the first person who was nice to him even though he was a dick all the time and that had made him want to be nicer to her. She was maybe fifty and divorced so she was pretty lonely; everyone at the office talked about how her husband had left her. Steve’d bought her a chain for her glasses last summer because she was always losin’ them up front and she hadn’t left him alone since.

She was still frowning at him. “No, I’m okay.”

“Everything still going good with your girlfriend?”

Okay so there was one big detail about Billy he’d left out. It was so hard; he didn’t have anyone to talk to about Billy. Billy had Max to talk all about Steve with apparently; Steve had Linda at work. He hadn’t even made up a fake name for Bill or anything.

“We kinda – got into a fight,” Steve told her; he didn’t think she’d want to know that Billy was a guy and not this real religious girl from two towns over. “It was, uh, pretty bad.”

“Oh, honey. What happened?” She looked all mom-like and sad for him.

“I don’t know. I don’t really want to talk about it.”

“You should talk about it, you’ll feel better,” Lin said; Steve knew she just wanted the gory details. Anyway he did want to tell someone the gory details. He didn’t know how to though.

“They just – uh, one of our friends found out we were seein’ each other, it was this big thing.”

That was an understatement. He’d really thought Bill was going to kill Lucas. He’d thrown Lucas around and called him the n-word; Steve’d never really even heard somebody say that in his life. Okay a couple times at school or whatever but it’d never been, like – someone he knew saying it.

He hadn’t really known Billy was like that. He knew Bill’s dad was. And there had been that whole thing last year when he’d thrown Lucas around and beat the crap out of Steve – Max had told Steve that Billy said Lucas was the wrong kind of people for her to hang around with; all it’d done was make her hang around Lucas even more.

Steve still didn’t like to think about it and Billy never really talked about it. He just hadn’t really thought he was like that. You couldn’t even say the n-word on TV and you could say ‘hell’ and ‘damn’ on the TV after 9pm. It was really bad. Billy’d said it a lot of times; he’d said it once or twice to the kid’s face and then he’d said it more to Steve to make him mad.

He still didn’t really know why Billy’d wanted to make him mad. He’d also seemed like he was trying to get Steve to hit him and Steve didn’t know why he’d do that either though.

He had, though. Hit him. He felt like total crap about it; he hadn’t meant to do that. Billy got enough shit from his dad at home and Steve knew he didn’t even know half of it. He never wanted to treat Bill that way but he’d just been so mad.

Anyway Linda didn’t need to know that Steve’d hit him or what Billy’d said about Lucas. She was just frowning at him in a kind of confused way.

“Okay, well, what’s the problem, honey? Who cares if your friends know?”

“Uh – “ There was a million things he couldn’t say; his head felt all spin-y. “They just – don’t wanna tell anybody yet.”

He’d told Linda that before and she thought it was a crock of shit; she narrowed her watery blue eyes at him. “Who wouldn’t want to tell somebody about you, sweetheart? You’re the full package.”

“Okay, okay.” He needed to stop her before she started on extolling his virtues; really he wasn’t so great like Linda thought. She didn’t know anything about him really. “It’s not, it doesn’t matter.”

“Is she Catholic or something?”

Steve didn’t know what Billy was. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Hm.” Linda narrowed her eyes even more; they were gonna disappear behind her big glasses. “Younger than you? You know, you could do a lot better than going around wi – “

“No, Lin, he’s the same age as me,” Steve said in exasperation and then realized he was a huge moron. He heard the slip-up as soon as it left his mouth and froze. Fuck.

Linda froze too with an apple slice halfway to her mouth; she looked like a comic strip or something.

“I didn’t – I wasn’t – “

He wondered if she’d start screaming. Shit. Linda was basically an old lady; she had to be fifty-five if she was a day. He didn’t know what all she thought about stuff like that. God she probably didn’t even know two guys could be together-together like that. Crap. Crap. His stupid mouth. Bill always told him, his fucking mouth –

“I mean, she’s not – “

Linda put her apple slice down on her little napkin and fiddled with it. Her watery blue eyes were real big behind her glasses. She tucked the corner of her bottom lip between her teeth for a moment. “Well,” she said finally; she wasn’t looking at him. “That’s different then.”

 

Linda’d yelled at him for forever; she yelled at him for about six minutes. She said he’d made her feel real stupid; she wouldn’t have tried to set him up with her niece if she knew he was a homosexual. Steve told her he wasn’t a homosexual; he just liked one guy really. Linda had said she wouldn’t tell his dad; she’d promised. Then she’d got all annoying asking if she knew who the guy was.

“Lin, why would you know him,” Steve had said. He’d been looking all around the basement; the little alcove by the steps looked like a good place to crawl to and die in.

Linda wanted to know if he was seeing that handsome fella that had picked him up a couple times over the winter when his car broke down; Steve had said yeah he was. She knew Billy was his friend from around town.

“What was his name? Riley?”

Ew. What? That was the worst name ever; they weren’t in Iowa or something. “No, his name’s Billy.”

“Billy the mechanic,” Linda’d said; she was all aglow with her newest gossip. She said that Billy looked like one of those fancy guys on that MTV. Actually Steve had thought that right there at the tabletop was a good place to die too.

“Yeah, sure, Billy the mechanic, he’s a real prick to me.”

Linda had wanted to know all the details so he’d told her a few, leaning over the table and watching the steps to make sure no one was coming down.They talked in hushed voices. It sucked to tell someone about the fight they’d had and it felt good too; he didn’t have anyone to talk to about Billy.

Linda leaned back against the table; she’d looked like she wanted to be drinking a cocktail. She’d been wincing in sympathy. “You know, I have a nephew who’s homosexual, it’s so hard for them.”

“Oh, my god, please stop saying homosexual, actually, actually please stop saying anything-sexual – “

“He probably got scared, baby. What were you guys doing at the high school?”

“He still goes there, he’s my age but he’s a senior,” Steve told her.

He felt like total crap again; he’d made Billy meet him after his basketball game. Bill hadn’t wanted to hook up there but Steve had wanted to see him. Not just see him but he’d wanted to hook up; Steve couldn’t help himself from being a total fucking horndog around Billy most of the time. Bill had said No, man, I don’t know, and What about the kids? and Steve had said It’s fine, there’s no one here like a little idiot. He’d gotten them caught even though he hadn’t meant to; he was too stupid. Billy had a right to be mad at him even though he hadn’t needed to be such a prick to him.

Linda’d asked him a couple more questions and Steve could tell he’d got her feeling all bad for Billy. Bill still lived at home, he’d told her, he was moving out as soon as he was graduating. He was staying in Hawkins for his kid sister Max and for Steve. Billy’s dad was a real prick and he’d kill him and maybe Steve too if he ever found out about them. Linda wanted to know if he’d tried to talk to Billy since and Steve said no; he already knew what happened when you tried to talk to Billy when he was mad. Sometimes he yelled at you and pushed you out a window. Then their lunch hour was over and Steve was freed from the twenty questions.

He still kind of couldn’t believe she wasn’t freaking out. “Do you think I’m totally weird now?” he asked her as they went back upstairs.

“I always thought you were totally weird.” Linda smiled at him. She thought she was crazy-hilarious too. She patted his arm and then yanked his tie which was annoying; she always messed 'em up. “You’ll be okay, Steve. You’ll work it out.”

“Yeah, thanks.” He didn’t know.

 

Usually Steve left early on Fridays; since he hadn’t been there for most of the week he hung around until everyone’d finished. A couple people left early too and they were done by three-thirty anyway. He felt weird the rest of the day even though everyone else was acting normal. He carried Linda’s stuff out to her car like usual; by Friday she’d always accumulated all this junk that she said she needed to take home.

He just felt weird. He wondered if this was how you felt when you ‘came out’ or something; that was what they called it on TV and stuff. It hadn’t been that bad but Steve knew not everyone would be like Linda.

Anyway it wasn’t like it even mattered that she knew he was bisexual or anything. He didn’t even have a stupid boyfriend anymore. He didn’t know if he’d ever want another guy who wasn’t Billy. Probably he was being dramatic but that was because everything still hurt so much right now.

He looked at his reflection in the big window in the stairwell as he left work; he looked like a sad stupid bisexual loser. His tie had cactuses on it. Oh. Cacti. He knew that. Cac-tie, okay he got it. He helped Linda take her stuff out to her car.

Steve knew what bisexual was; one of his aunts was gay so he knew about that stuff. Well not his aunt but it was his mom’s cousin on her mom’s side. They were real close like mom was with Aunt Mary so she was Steve’s aunt.

She lived out in Pennsylvania and always sent him really ugly shirts for his birthday and Christmas. She sent him two separate ugly shirts for his birthday and for Christmas which was cool. Most people didn’t do that. Dad didn’t like her but he didn’t like most of Mom’s family; he said they were East Coast liberals. Steve and his mom had been out there to visit her a few years ago and he’d even seen two guys kiss at her house (and a lot of girls kiss which had been real interesting in his 13 year-old mind. Actually it was still real interesting in his 19 year-old mind). So it was just this thing he knew some people did. You didn’t get murdered for it all the time like Billy thought.

When he got home it was past four and the house was empty. He guessed Dustin either hadn’t came over yet or he’d been here already. Or maybe Lucas had told the rest of the kids about him and Billy and Dustin was totally freaking out.

He didn’t know whether Dustin would freak out or not. Well probably he’d freak out moreso because it was Billy and not because Steve was seeing a guy.

Steve never really thought about stuff like that; maybe that made him stupid like Billy said. He just knew he wanted to be with Bill and people could either deal with it or they wouldn’t. Not like he was jumping to tell people or take Bill out to his Prom or something but they could deal with it.

The dogs were sprawled out in the front hallway and they came running to sniff him when he came in. They were German Shepherds and he’d got them for his twelfth birthday so they were seven now which wasn’t too old. He’d named them Luke and Leia after Star Wars because he’d been twelve and a dork. Luke was bigger and had a dark face; Leia was smaller and lighter because she was a beautiful space princess.

Leia was definitely mad at him; she only sniffed him twice and wagged her tail a little.She didn’t lick at his hand even when he talked to her in a baby voice. She gave him a long look and then went and sat by the front door in a mournful way. Luke went to the door too.

“What, do you want to go out?” Steve asked them; they just looked at him. “Are you waitin’ for Billy?” he asked; they wagged their tails.

Jesus H Christ. His own dogs. Honestly he felt betrayed. “He’s not coming, you can lay there all day,” Steve told them.

He left his dogs to be total traitors. In the kitchen they still had food in their bowls so maybe Dustin had been here already. He checked the fridge; Dust had drank all the sodas and all the milk too. He’d left the empty carton in there because he was a little shit.

He checked the messages on the answering machine; it was just Dustin callin’ him on Tuesday afternoon before he’d known that Steve wasn’t home and then some telemarketer on Wednesday talking about solar panels. Nancy had called yesterday to say that Dustin had told her that Steve wasn’t feeling well and that she was thinking of him.

Steve deleted the messages; he felt the hollow scooped-out feeling again. It was funny that Nancy was calling him and kind of hanging around him now when he didn’t really want her anymore. Mom had said that people always wanted you as soon as you didn’t want them and maybe she’d been right. He didn’t really think Nancy wanted him again but he’d have killed to have her call him up last year, maybe even six months ago.

It was just that he was too stupid and he’d thought maybe Billy – that maybe he would have called for him or something. Even though he was still mad and he didn’t know what to do about the Lucas thing he’d still thought that maybe Billy’d call. He’d hoped he guessed. If Billy cared enough he could have even called Steve at his aunt’s house; all he’d have had to do was ask Dustin about it.

He guessed Billy hadn’t cared enough. Steve had thought he might and he didn’t know why he’d thought that. He didn’t know why he’d thought Billy would have called anyway. Billy hated apologizing and he rarely did it. He hated admitting he was wrong.

Maybe Billy didn’t even think he was wrong anyway. Steve didn’t really know what Billy thought he guessed. Anyway he was being a total idiot, standing around like some fragile girl, wishing the guy he liked would call him.

Did he still like Billy?

Jeez. He tried to tell himself he didn’t know but he guess he knew. If Bill came to him and said they could talk it out or if he said sorry Steve’d take him back in two seconds; it was too pathetic. He didn’t know what to do about the stuff Billy’d said to Lucas but they could work it out. Maybe that made Steve a not-so-great person or something too.

Anyway it didn’t matter. Billy was never going to come around and apologize. It’d been like five days already almost. He wondered if Bill even noticed –

The phone rang and startled him out of his thoughts; Steve fumbled for the line and knocked the receiver off the hook. He grabbed it before it hit the ground. “Hello?

“Steve!”

Oh. It was just Dustin. “Hey, man,” Steve said glumly.

“Hey! Are you back?”

“How else could I be answering the phone.”

“Okay, good point, good point,” Dustin said. He sounded like normal: happy and a little annoying. “I didn’t know if I was supposed to come over tonight for Lucas and Leia, no one picked up at your aunt’s house!”

“Yeah, I was gonna call you.”

“So do you need me to come over tonight?”

Steve rubbed his forehead. “I – no, it’s fine, I’m home now.”

“Okay, but … so can I come over tonight?” Dustin asked him.

“What, you want to?” Steve felt surprised. “Is Becca busy?” That was Dustin’s girlfriend.

“No, she’s not busy, I am the ONLY ONE she hangs out with!” Dustin went off. “I want to hang out with you, my friend, Steve! I haven’t seen you in like two weeks!”

Oh. Really that made him feel kind of good. “You just want to eat all my food, shithead.”

“I ate it all already,” Dustin told him severely; Steve smiled. “Your milk was going bad anyway, I did you a favor. STEVE!” he said. “Can we get Chinese food? I have lots of stuff to tell you.”

“Sure, if you want.”

“From the place on Broad Street, their wontons are better,” Dustin lectured.

The apartment Billy was going to be getting was on Broad Street; Steve wondered if he was gonna have to avoid the good Chinese food place for the rest of his life now. “Yeah, I know where to go.”

“But ONLY if the older lady’s working – “

“Dustin, yeah, okay.”

“Okay, is Billy going to be over there later? Because I still owe him a Mark McGwire card and I’m trying to avoid the confrontation that’s gonna happen when he finds out that I don’t actually own a Mark Mc – “

Steve guessed Lucas hadn’t really told anyone about what had happened yet. Maybe Max; he couldn’t see him not telling Max. It’d been all week so Steve didn’t get it.

Okay but Lucas was cool enough and had always been cool with him. Steve could see him maybe not telling everyone that he’d seen Steve and Billy making out in the gym but he didn’t get why Lucas wouldn’t have told at least Dustin that Billy’d been a total dickbag to him; it didn’t make any sense.

Dustin talked on and on. Steve leaned on the counter and listened to him. He talked for so long that his mom yelled at him that he was running the phone bill up again. “OKAY, JESUS CHRIST!” Dustin hollered.

“Dusty! Do you even hear me?” Steve heard his mom goin’ off in the background.

“Son of a bitch,” Dustin muttered; the line cracked. “Hey Steve, can come you pick me up? WHAT? I KNOW. OKAY! OKAY, OKAY! Steve, my mom says hi.”

 

Being back at home made him too depressed even though he still had Dustin to hang out with and even though they watched Raiders of the Lost Ark which was the best Indy film. Harrison Ford was so cool.

Dustin talked a lot during the movie like he usually did. He was really stressing himself out about the Mark McGwire baseball card; he said that Billy was gonna kick his butt and that he was lucky it hadn’t happened yet. “He was totally hungover during study hall, I crawled over to Rebecca’s table to get a sandwich – “

“What, why was he hungover?”

Dustin looked miffed at his important story being interrupted. “I don’t know. He’s been going to parties all week, you missed a lot of good ones. Stacey Houser said he was totally trashed at her house last night.”

That was so great. Bill was such a fuckface and Steve was such an idiot. He’d hid out at his aunt’s house for three days practically fucking crying over him and Billy was just out getting loaded.

Steve wondered when he’d gotten so goddamn stupid. Probably the exact moment Billy had first kissed him; all the brain cells had flown right out of his ear. Billy Hargrove was definitely the worst thing that had ever happened to him, he decided. He leaned back on the couch and let Dustin keep on talking; he wasn’t really listening though.

He drove Dust home past midnight and then it was back to his big empty house. He almost kinda wished he’d told his mom to come home. The long weekend stretched out in front of him; he didn’t know what the hell he was going to do.

Jeez he could barely even remember what he’d used to do before he and Billy had started hanging out all the time. Even before they’d started hooking up they’d been together a lot. He’d been real lonely and he guessed he was going to be lonely again. It totally sucked.

He laid in his bed for a long time; it was hard to fall asleep without Billy there which was dumb too. It wasn’t like he’d stayed over all the time or anything. Maybe once or twice a week but on the weekends too. It was weird to think of a weekend without Bill; they always had something they were doing even if it was just fucking around at Steve’s house.

His pillow kind of smelled like Billy which made him feel even worse; it was a good thing he hadn’t been home all week. The pillow smelled like cigarettes and cologne and whatever other scent Billy had that made him smell like just Billy. It made Steve feel really sad. He wasn’t even really mad anymore, mostly sad.

Now that he was truly alone with no one else to distract him or bug him he just laid around replaying their stupid fight in his head. Billy’d been so mad after Lucas had found them; he said that if Lucas told his dad he was fucking dead. Steve had said Yeah, I really doubt Lucas Sinclair is running to talk to your father; that’d made Billy even madder.

He said – jeez, he’d said so much shit; Steve didn’t really even remember it all. He’d asked Steve how the kids were gonna feel when they found out that Steve was a faggot who liked sucking Billy’s cock. He’d kept calling Steve a faggot and stuff; Steve didn’t know why Billy was saying all that stuff like he hadn’t been the one to start it with him and wreck his fucking life.

He knew that Bill’d been trying to make him mad and it had worked. The thing was that Billy was saying all that stuff like it didn’t mean anything to him, like it was just some sex thing they were doing or whatever. It wasn’t just some sex thing.

Steve had yelled some stuff too; he thought he’d called Billy a coward or something like that and he’d yelled YOU NEVER EVEN SAID YOU LIKED ME like a huge baby.

Even then Billy hadn’t even been able to say it. Well he’d been mad and all but he hadn’t even been able to say it. Bill was such a huge flirt and he acted like he was so experienced but he’d told Steve before he hadn’t even been with that many people either. The way he acted sometimes, Steve knew it had to mean something to him even if he never said it.

Then he’d said – damn, Steve couldn’t even really remember what Bill had said that’d made him so mad. He just kept on saying his shit; he kept on pushing him. He’d said more stuff about Steve dropping to his knees like a faggot to suck his cock or something and it was just the way he kept saying it like it was nothing. That’d made Steve real mad and he’d socked Billy in the jaw; he’d just wanted him to shut the hell up. They’d started everything with a fight back almost two years ago and now it felt like they’d ended it with one too.

Crap it sucked so bad. He hadn’t meant to hit him. Steve put the pillow over his face. It still smelled like Billy; maybe he’d suffocate here. Billy had gotten beat on his whole life and sometimes he acted like he got off on it but Steve knew he wasn’t really like that. He could be so sweet sometimes, weirdly thoughtful in this way he had if he thought he could get away with being nice without you noticing it.

There was just – it was like there was something about Billy that kind of made Steve want to protect him; Steve didn’t know what it was. Even before they’d started hooking up he’d felt like that, well after he’d gotten to know him a little.

It hadn’t taken that much. Billy could be so quiet sometimes; you wouldn’t think a guy like Billy Hargrove would ever know to shut his mouth for two minutes. Steve always wondered what he was thinking.

Back before he’d gotten Luke and Leia Steve had cried and whined for a pet for years; finally when he was eleven his mom had taken him to the animal shelter and Steve’d seen this big orange tom cat he’d liked. It was real ugly and basically looked like a monster and part of its tail was missing but that was the one Steve’d wanted. Mom had put up a huge fuss but finally she’d said she guessed a cat was better than a dog anyway.

That cat kind of reminded him of Billy, bristling and miserable in its little cage. Well not that Billy was ugly at all but the way the cat had acted. It was always puffing up and snarling and running away when you got too close to it. It had scratched Steve real bad a bunch of times, and Tommy and Carol kept coming over and scaring it by accident. Then one day it’d been on the couch real late at night purring; it’d stopped purring when Steve had came over but it finally let him pet it for the first time. Steve had thought it could be a real good cat if he could just get it to like him a little and see that everyone wasn’t so bad. If he could just give it a good home or something. He’d been such a dumb little kid.

He hadn’t even gotten a chance to name the cat; he’d had it for like two weeks and then one day it’d got out by mistake when his dad had been leaving for work. They’d found it out in the road all squashed the next day. Steve had kind of cried a little and Tommy hadn’t even made fun of him; Carol helped him bury it in Wrigley Park. Steve’s mom had yelled and said they were gonna get a fine if anyone found out he and Carol had buried it out there and Steve’d gotten mad at her. Then a couple months later he’d turned twelve and he’d gotten Luke and Leia and he hadn’t let them get squashed in the road and he’d kind of forgotten about the cat.

He was thinking about it now though, and he’d thought about it a couple times before. Really the cat was just like Billy; he was always puffing up and snarling and running away whenever someone got too close to him. Steve had just wanted to be nice to him and show Billy that he didn’t need to be like that all the time but he’d fucked that up too, just like with the stupid nameless cat.

He still couldn’t believe he’d hit him; he’d told Billy before he’d never hit him. Billy’d even said it and Steve hadn’t thought he’d remember. Thought you wouldn’t hit me like that. His nose and his mouth had been bleeding and he’d been grinning like he’d gotten what he’d wanted.

Steve didn’t know why he’d wanted that; he’d been totally frozen. He’d tried to say I’m sorry and I didn’t mean it but he couldn’t get the words out.

Bill hadn’t really let him talk anyway though. He’d just spit some blood at him and told Steve he was done with him and went to leave. Steve’d tried to stop him and Billy’d screamed DON’T FUCKING TOUCH ME so Steve’d let him go.

God. Why’d he let him go. Now that he was just home by himself and it was days later Steve knew he shouldn’t have let him go.

He knew Billy needed a couple days to cool down but he’d thought – well he didn’t know what he’d thought. Even now there was a part of him that couldn’t believe it was a Friday night and Billy wasn’t here with him; he kept waiting to hear his loud stupid car on the street. Bill drove like a crazy person and he didn’t know how to use his brakes. Steve was always telling him to slow down.

He wondered what Billy was doing; probably he wasn’t thinking about Steve. He was probably out getting loaded again. Maybe he’d even hooked up with someone at a party or something; it really hurt but Steve could see Billy doing that if he was too mad at him. You think I want you? Maybe some real pretty girl or somebody who wasn’t anything like Steve, maybe some real smart girl.

Jesus he felt so terrible thinking about Bill out with some girl. Or even some guy really, someone who was way smarter and better-looking than Steve. It made him so jealous and he felt sick again. Billy’d said before that he’d never been into any other guys either but Steve knew that Bill could get whoever he wanted in about a minute. It was dumb because he liked taking Billy out and stuff but there was always this part of him that got real worried that one time Bill was gonna look around and see he could do so much better than Steve.

He laid awake for a real long time thinking about all that crap. Finally he fell asleep at a little past three; he thought he’d probably dream about Billy or something but he didn’t. He didn’t dream at all for once.

 


 

He woke up in the morning still feeling blue. It was a few days into June and his neighbors were having some big block party like they did at the start of every summer. It was like the kick-off after Memorial Day because nobody liked grilling on Monday apparently. Last week Steve’d told Billy he should come to the block party; he was pretty sure Billy wasn’t going to come to the party.

Jesus Christ he couldn’t keep thinking about Billy all the time; he couldn’t think about him all weekend. He showered and got dressed and went downstairs. He made breakfast all alone in his big kitchen with Luke laying under the table looking at him hopefully and Leia still crashed out by the front door hopefully. She was a piece of work.

He ate his breakfast by himself in the living room, well not really alone because Luke followed him. He still looked hopeful even though Steve almost never gave him any human food. Mom said Luke had a weight problem which was so mean; he looked fine.

Steve sat and ate his breakfast; he watched the news on channel three like he usually did just to make sure nothing crazy was going down in Hawkins. Dustin always laughed at him but sometime you had to check the news in case something crazy was happening. Not like they’d ever for real report it if there was monsters or whatever but you could spot it if shit was going down.

Even though it was only eleven-thirty he could hear a bunch of people talking and laughing outside already. He wondered if Mr. Davis down the street was drunk already.

He let the dogs out back, then went and got the mail because there was nothing else to do and he sat on the steps looking at it. Indiana State University had mailed him another pamphlet because he’d sent out for an application a month ago.

He sat on the steps leafing through it for a while. The sky was grey and the air felt cold and heavy like it was going to rain. Not really a great day for a party or anything but already the whole street was lined with cars all the way down reaching the McClays’ house. The houses on Steve’s block were all really far apart and it was weird to see it like this; the street was almost always totally empty.

Steve read an article about summer courses. It was too late to get in for the summer semester and maybe even the fall but he guessed he really should think about going; he didn’t want to be a townie for his whole life. Billy said that Steve could just keep working for his dad but he didn’t really want to work for his dad. He didn’t know what he wanted to do; he always figured he’d just go off to school and then he’d have time to decide. But then he hadn’t know what to do because Bill was still here in Hawkins and so he was going to stay in Hawkins, for a while at least. Steve was so stupid, trying to plan his life around some guy he’d been seein’ for barely three months and who couldn’t even tell Steve he liked him. It was just that –

“Steve?”

Steve looked up and almost dropped his stack of mail; Nancy Wheeler was standing in front of him about six steps away on the walkway.

“HEY, NANCE,” he said all loud like a moron. He felt surprised to see her. Well he hadn’t been expecting to see anyone. He was glad he’d actually gotten dressed. “What, uh, what’re you doing here?”

“Um, the … party,” she said slowly and gestured behind her. She looked so out of place against the gray sky; she was wearing a blue-and-white dress that looked great on her and her favorite sweater. It was pink and her mom’d got it for her two years ago on her birthday. “Angela invited me, so … “

“Oh, right.” Angela Davis lived down the street from him too. He wondered if Nancy knew that Billy bought weed off of Angela all the time. “Yeah, that sound be fun.”

“Are you going, now?” Nancy asked him. “I saw you just sitting here, so … “

Steve laughed a little. “Uh, yeah, no, no I’m, I’m not going.”

Nancy twisted her face up into a cute smile. She always looked so nice and put together. Steve’d thought he wanted to marry her. “Steve, you love the block party!”

They’d gone together, not last summer but the one before it, and he’d seen her there last year when she’d been with Jonathan. Steve had gotten really loaded both times; maybe Nancy didn’t remember that part.

“Yeah, I don’t really feel like partying today.”

“Still don’t feel good?” She was looking at him in a fond way which was nice he guessed; he could tell by the way her eyes crinkled at the corners. He guessed he knew Nance still liked him even if she’d never really loved him like he’d loved her or wanted to be with him. “Hey, can I sit with you for a minute?”

“Yeah, sure.” He made room for her on the steps. He didn’t really know what to say to her and he didn’t really care anymore.

Nancy sat down next to him. They smiled at each other for a couple a seconds and no one said anything and it was awkward. Steve kind of wished she’d go away and leave him to be a brooding presence.

She pulled the stack of mail out of his hands and looked at it. “Oh, hey!” she said. “Okay, Indiana State, do you think you’re gonna go there?”

“Uh, I don’t. I don’t know. I was looking at it.”

“I might end up there with you, if you do go,” Nancy told him. “I … did not get into Sarah Lawrence like I wanted.”

Steve didn’t know too much about schools but he knew Sarah Lawrence was in New York; she’d probably wanted to go there so she could be close to Jonathan. “Oh, I’m sorry, Nance.”

“I … yeah, it, it sucks.” She looked pretty glum; Steve knew she didn’t want to stay in crappy Indiana for forever. She shook her head a little. “Sorry, we don’t have to talk about that. I didn’t know you were applying to schools too.”

“Yeah, some of them.” She didn’t need to know about all the ones he hadn’t gotten into (again). “It doesn’t matter. I mean I don’t even know what I want to do.”

She was smiling at him. “That’s, that’s kind of the point of school. To figure out what you want to do?”

“I guess so.”

“I think it would be really good if you went there,” Nancy told him. “You know, you’ve done so much this year, you’ve done really great, Steve. I feel really proud of you.” She made a little face. “Sorry, is that patronizing?”

“No, not at all,” Steve said dryly; Nancy laughed and that made him smile. “No, it’s fine.”

She laughed some more which made him feel okay. Then they just sat for another couple seconds; Steve couldn’t really think of anything to say to her. He watched her play around with the sleeves of her sweater and wondered what all they’d used to talk about anyway, really.

“So I just,” he said as Nancy said, “So I was – “

They both laughed again. “Sorry, you go.”

“No, it’s okay. I don’t have anything to say.”

“Oh. Okay.” Nancy thought about it. She chewed on her lip. “How’s, um – how’s your mom doing?” she tried brightly. She usually did everything brightly; he liked that about her.

“She’s fine, she’s good,” Steve said. “She’s not home. She was drunk at my aunt’s house at like five o’clock the other day.”

Nancy laughed. “Funny, so was my dad. Not – at your aunt’s.”

“You sure? It’s kind of a hot spot,” Steve said.

She laughed again. She put her hand on his arm too; Steve stared at it blankly. “You’re an idiot,” she said.

She always called him that; it’d been like some thing they did. He hadn’t really minded before because it’d been flirting but now he kind of minded. He didn’t know if she was flirting with him now. Didn’t know why she would.

“Your dad’s been okay?” he asked her to change the subject. Mr. Wheeler wasn’t a dick like his dad but he wasn’t that great either. He drank a lot; Nancy said he was like a stranger.

Nancy looked less bright and he felt bad. Maybe he shouldn’t have asked. “Sure, the same,” she said. “He – he and Mike have been fighting a lot, it’s the same as always. I don’t, I don’t know. Mike is just – he seems so mad at everything. He never talks to me anymore.”

Maybe Mike would talk to her more if she hadn’t spent the last year running around with Jonathan Byers, Steve thought; he didn’t say it though. He definitely didn’t need to say it.

That wasn’t really fair anyway. He guessed he was kind of friends with Mike now. Embarrassing to be friends with a pack of kids but he guessed he was. He and Nancy’d been together for almost a year and Steve’d barely even talked to the kid until they’d broken up so he couldn’t say anything.

He wasn’t saying anything so Nancy said, “He probably talks to you more than me nowadays.”

“Uh, that’s debatable,” Steve said like a nerd (also like Mike) which made Nancy laugh again. “I think he really just tolerates me for rides.”

“That’s not true. He likes your pool too.” Steve smiled. “Um … he did say that Eleven went to your house the other week? With, um, with – with Billy?”

Great, he didn’t really want to talk about that. “No, he was already over, we went in the woods and found her.” Really Billy’d found her; Steve’d just been along for the ride.

Nancy’s eyes got big. “Oh my god, is she still doing that?”

“I, I guess,” Steve said. “Yeah, it was like when we found her in the park that time, totally freaky.” Nancy nodded; El’d been doing her freaky shit for a while. “But she was like way worse this time, she was like totally spaced out. Then she, you know, came too, she practically threw Billy across the kitchen – “

“God, are you serious? Was he okay?”

“Oh, yeah, he probably loved it,” Steve told her. “He’s, like, obsessed with all that crazy stuff she can do.”

“Mike said that they get along. He’s really jealous.”

Steve laughed in surprise; now he had another thing to tease Mike about. Well if he could ever really talk about Bill again without it feeling like there was a huge lump in his throat. “I think, uh, she’s a little young for him.”

“Yeah, tell that to Mike,” Nancy said. Steve didn’t really answer her; they just sat there some more. After a moment Nance said, “You know, I wanted to come over and see you. I was kind of hoping you weren’t at the party yet.”

“Lucky you, I’m not at the party yet.”

“I see that.” She looked amused by him. She said, “I was just thinking about you.”

Okay so he’d gone from Nightmare-World straight into the Twilight Zone. He felt totally blank; he was pretty sure he was making some kind of stupid face. “Uh, why?”

Nancy looked over at him for a second. “What, I’m not allowed to think about you?” she asked.

Jesus H. “Uuuuuh,” Steve said like a moron. “No, you, you can think about me, you can tell me all about it.”

She laughed again; Steve guessed he was just so funny today. “Okay,” she said. She leaned over, then she leaned over some more. He wondered if he had something on his face. She should have pointed it out earlier.

Wow she was really close. She leaned over and kissed him.

Steve just sat there frozen like a statue or some idiot in a cartoon. He could feel his eyes bug out and his eyebrows rose up real high. After another second of him not moving Nancy pulled back; her eyes were wide too. “I just – “

“Okay, that was a big thought,” Steve said; that made her laugh again. She leaned over and kissed him again; he kissed her back because he had no clue what he was doing or what the hell was going on. Her mouth was soft and her little cheek fit perfectly against his hand when he reached out to cup her face. She smelled like she always did, some kinda flowers. Tasted like she always did, sweet lip shine.

It was really nice; it was okay. It was OKAY?

He realized he was being an insane person and pulled away; he had a hand braced on her shoulder. “I, yeah, uh – I don’t really – know what’s going on here.”

Her eyes were real big. “Sorry, was that not – ?”

“I, I, I meant tell me with, with, you know, your words,” Steve babbled out. “It was, a, a joke.”

Nancy laughed and looked embarrassed. “I’m – sorry – I thought – “

“No, uh, Nance, that’s okay – “

“I didn’t think – are you seeing someone ... or – ?”

Half of him felt hollow again and the other half felt annoyed. He felt really petty for a moment. He stood up and put his hands in his back pockets; he felt totally weird and too close to her. Of course Nancy’d think the only reason why he wasn’t jumping to get with her would be because he was seeing somebody.

Which he guessed he wasn’t. Anymore. “Nope, totally single,” he said; he didn’t think he even sounded that strained. He had a tight smile on his face because that was what happened when he got nervous.

“Okay.” She was just looking at him. “Me too.”

“Oh, you – “ he hadn’t thought she’d gotten back with Jonathan but he didn’t know – “so you – I don’t – what, do you, you want to get back together or something?”

“No!” Nancy said right away which was so lovely. “I mean – no. Steve, I don’t know. I just – wanted to come over and see you. You’ve been so great to me lately, and – no, I mean, you are great,” she went on; Steve didn’t know. “And I just, um. I feel like I never really appreciated that about you.”

“Oh,” Steve said. “So, what you – feel bad or something?” Finally she felt bad. It was too great.

“No! That’s … not what I mean.”

“Okay,” he said. “So you … ” The wheels were spinning away in his head. They were kind of rusty but they were working. “Nancy Wheeler,” he said slowly. “Did you come over here for a booty call?”

Nancy laughed again; he was so hilarious. “No!” she said again. “I mean – no. I don’t know. Is that – would that be really bad?”

Steve thought about it; he only had to think about it for a minute. Maybe he was being stupid again. Pretty ex-girlfriend shows up at your house, says she wants to hook up. What was he supposed to do? He’d have killed for this six months ago. “No, it’s not bad,” he said.

“Okay, so … ?” She was looking at him like she expected him to say something or to know what to do. ”Um, do you … ?”

“You wanna go inside?”

“Sure.” That had seemed to be the right thing to say; she had her bright smile on.

Steve gave her a hand up. They walked up the stairs to the house. He felt glad he’d put the dogs outside; Nancy never really said it but he knew she didn’t like animals too much.

In the hallway the house was dark and quiet. Nance headed straight for the living room as if she’d been to his house more than once in the last year and a half. Steve looked after her for a moment, bemused, then he followed.

Nancy sat on the couch while Steve went over to draw the blinds on the bay window. There was no reason to draw the blinds except he figured Nancy would want him to if they were gonna – well. He didn’t know what they were gonna.

He went and sat down next to her; he felt nervous and not like the cool dumb jock she wanted him to be. He wasn’t in school so he wasn’t a jock anymore anyway. “Um, do you wanna talk?” he asked her.

Nancy made a little face. “Do you really want to?” she asked him.

“Oh. Okay.” He just sat looking at her.

She was still making a face like he was being funny. “Steve, it doesn’t have to be a big thing.”

“Right. Sure,” he said. He felt stupid; he always wanted more than she wanted to give him. He always wanted more than anyone wanted to give him he guessed. “Okay. Not a thing. Whatever you want.”

“Okay.” She was looking at him and smiling softly; she did look so pretty. She looked so pretty and she’d said he was great and she’d came over here so she did want him a little. He did want her; it was Nancy and he wanted her and he wanted her to make him feel better. He thought he was allowed to have that.

He leaned over and kissed her. He’d felt like utter crap all weekend; he could have one thing.

Nancy kissed him back and it was nice; it was okay. It was just what he remembered when he’d think about kissing Nancy, being with her. She was so soft and small. He’d always thought she was the prettiest girl in school.

Nancy kissed him back and everything started happening kind of fast. She got his shirt untucked from his pants and he took her sweater off her. She put both her hands in his hair; her nails felt good scraping against his scalp. He couldn’t really believe it. He sank down against the couch with her; she shivered a little.

“Too cold?”

“No,” she told him. “I’m great,” she said so he kissed her again. She opened her mouth a little and he felt her tongue sweep against his. Her curly hair was soft against the side of his face.

From outside there was the squeal of tires on the street, like someone was peeling off of Fairview or onto it. Out towards the back of the house the dogs started going crazy barking and it was so stupid but Steve thought, Billy. It was so stupid because it’d been five days and there was no way in hell Billy was going to come over here and try to talk to him or apologize; he had too much pride for that. It was too crazy but still, it just felt like –

“Steve?” Nancy was looking at him; he’d sat up a little without realizing it. God she looked so good spread out on the couch. She looked like everything he’d thought he’d want for so long. It was just – “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” He shifted over on the couch. Didn’t know what to say. “I, uh. I left the mail outside.”

Nancy smiled at him; she thought he was being funny again. “I think it’ll be okay,” she said.

“Right. Sure. Sorry.”

He was being totally stupid. Nancy was right here and he didn’t need to be thinking about Billy. He knew Billy wasn’t thinking about him. He leaned back down; Nancy ran her hands up his back and in his hair. She shifted underneath him and reached up to meet his mouth; she still knew just how to kiss him. Her eyes were so blue.

It was too stupid and he didn’t mean to think about Billy but now he was thinking about Billy. He tried to stop. He tried to think about Nancy; she was right here.

It felt so wrong though. He didn’t understand it. It wasn’t that he didn’t want her, couldn’t want her. It wasn’t like she was any less beautiful.

It just felt so wrong. She felt so fragile underneath him, this tiny trembling thing. He’d always like that about her, how little she was, delicate. Now it just felt like he was – overpowering her or something.

Her fingers were too gentle in his hair; her hands were too soft. He kissed her throat and her collarbones and worked his way back up to her mouth. That felt wrong too. Her mouth was too small and she didn’t bite his lip and grin against him. It felt weird, it was too wrong. She ran her hands over him; he was half-hard so she started undoing his belt.

Oh god. Okay. He let her undo his belt and kept kissing her.

It wasn’t exactly like he didn’t want to – he was nineteen years old, of course he wanted to – but there was this thing in the back of his head ticking away, telling him how wrong he was being. He felt like he was going to throw up in about a minute.

He knew he wasn’t cheating on Billy but he felt like he was cheating on Billy. He still wanted him; he’d thought all last night about how he’d wanted him. How could he do this with her if he still wanted him. Bill didn’t look a thing like Nancy and she was right in front of him but it was like all that Steve could see, Billy all around them like a ghost. Or really more like a demonic presence because it was Billy. But he was what Steve wanted.

He felt so horrible. He couldn’t do it – he couldn’t do it to Billy and he couldn’t do it to Nancy. He couldn’t just use her because he felt like crap right now. He was being a total piece of shit again.

Steve sat up and pulled away from her. “I – God, I’m sorry, we really can’t do this.”

Nancy was just laid out on the couch in her cute little blue dress that matched her eyes; they got real wide. She sat up too and looked unsure of herself. “I – okay,” she said in a stilted voice. She wrapped her arms around herself so he gave her her sweater back. “Did I ... do something wrong?”

God he was awful. He felt so awful; he couldn’t answer her. He could still taste her on his mouth.

“Steve?”

“No, you didn’t do anyth – it’s not that,” he said finally. “I, I lied to you before. I am seeing someone. I mean, I was.”

Nancy’s mouth formed a perfect ‘o’ for a second and then she pressed her lips together. She looked so embarrassed and Steve felt awful. “Oh,” she managed. “I didn’t … I’m sorry, I haven’t – seen you with anyone.” She said slowly, “I didn’t think you had a girlfriend. I’m sorry.”

“No, Nance, it’s not.” He felt so small and horrible, sitting there with her. He didn’t know if he could tell her; he should tell her. Part of him wanted to tell her. He didn’t know how to say it. “It’s not. It’s not a girl.”

Nancy just stared at him; her face went perfectly blank. “You … oh,” she said. Her eyes got huge. “OH!” she said. “Oh, my god! O-okay. Okay. Uh, I just – “

“Oh, my god, please don’t freak out – “

“I’m not freaked out!” Nancy said, freaked out. “I just – um, okay. I didn’t know that. About you. That you. Liked. Okay.”

“It’s not, I still like girls,” Steve told her. He didn’t know why it felt so important that he tell her. “I mean – you and me, that, it still meant everything to me, I still, I’m still – “

“No, that, it’s fine,” Nancy said. She still looked really overwhelmed but she smiled at him. Well she tried to. “I’m just surprised. I’m not – “

“I don’t want you to, like, be upset at me.”

“Steve! I’m not upset!” she cried. He didn’t answer her so she hit his arm. “I’m not!” she said.

“Okay,” Steve said. “I’m sorry.”

Nancy didn’t respond for a few seconds; she swung her legs over on the couch and sat up so that she was sitting beside him now. They just sat there for a while, both hunched over.

Nance was chewing on her bottom lip; she looked thoughtful. “So … who is it?”

“It doesn’t matter, we broke up.”

“Oh.” Her little eyebrows drew down. “Steve, I’m sorry. When?”

“Uh. Last week.”

“Oh!” The eyebrows went up again. “Oh, so this is, a new – “

“Yeah, yep. I, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done this with you – “

“No, I – “ they were both stammering – “that’s my fault too, I shouldn’t have – “ she frowned and made a face. “No, this was me. I was being selfish. I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay,” Steve said. He felt so stupid.

Nancy made another face, curious. She leaned over a little and looked at him until he looked back at her. “So … do I know him?”

“You, what, no,” Steve said in a desperate panic. “You – why would you – know him?”

Her eyes were getting bigger and bigger looking at him; she put one of her fingers against the side of her mouth. “Oh, my god,” she said softly. “I’m so stupid. It’s – it’s Billy, isn’t it? Billy Hargrove?”

Steve stared at her. And stared at her and stared at her. “I – ha,” he said; he tried to make a dismissive face. “Why would it be – “

“Oh, my god, shut up!” Nancy said; she was kind of gasping. She looked super overwhelmed again. “You guys – are always together, are you kidding me? And the – the way he looks at you? Steve!”

“What, what?” he said; he didn’t know what she was talking about. What way did Billy look at him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Steve. I’m serious.”

“I, he, it doesn’t matter,” Steve told her. “It’s not, he doesn’t wanna be with me like that. Anymore.”

Her eyes looked so soft and sad for him. She just looked like Nancy, the same Nancy he’d known for years. “What happened?”

“I don’t know. It’s my fault. One of – kids found out about us, it was real ugly. He didn’t want anybody to know.” Felt so horrible again; he definitely wasn’t going to tell her about the stuff Billy had said to Lucas. He kind of felt ashamed or something. She didn’t need to know.

“Oh, god.” She looked really sad. “I’m sorry, that’s – he doesn’t really seem like .. the easiest person to get along with.”

“Yeah, definitely not.”

“I’m sorry,” she said again. “So do you – I mean, are you okay?”

“Sure, I’m fine.”

“Have you guys – talked or anything?”

“Nope,” Steve said. “I – yeah, I’m, I’m fine, I really don’t – feel like talking about this with – “

“Okay! Okay! No problem! I’m done, I swear!” She held up her hands; she bit her lip. Her eyes were sparkling. “Okay, but I – one question?”

Steve was so tired. “Oh, my god, what?”

“Okay, Janice Thompson says he has a tattoo on his butt, is that true?”

Jesus H. “He never hooked up with Janice Thompson, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” Steve grumbled; he felt really grouchy in about a minute.

“So – no tattoos?”

“No, he doesn’t have any frickin’ tattoos!”

Nancy looked downright mirthful. “But you have seen his butt, is what you’re telling me.”

“OH, MY GOD, NANCY!” Steve said; Nancy laughed and laughed. Steve had no idea why he’d even let her in the house. Truly she was the real worst. “You are so freaking terrible, I swear to god I’m not telling you about this – “

Nancy laughed some more; she even clapped a little like a terrible person. “All right, okay, okay! Okay, no more, I swear. I’m sorry. Okay, but is it – “

“No, nope, I swear, I’m not doing this with you – “

“I’m being supportive!” Nancy cried. “Does anyone else know?”

“I – yeah, I haven’t really talked to anyone, I don’t know who Lucas told – “

“Oh.” She made a face. “He’s the one who found out?”

“Yeah. Yeah.”

“Okay,” she said in a small voice; she was frowning. Maybe she did know a little about Billy; maybe Mike had told her or something. That he was. That he didn’t really like Lucas. “Okay, that’s not great."

“No, it was really bad, actually.” He didn’t want to talk about it any more but she was still looking at him. “He – said all this horrible crap to me, he doesn’t wanna be with me anymore. We haven’t, haven’t talked since.”

“I’m sorry, Steve,” she was still frowning. “You still like him.”

God it was weird to hear her saying it. “Yeah, I do.”

“Okay, so if you guys just talked or something – “

“No, Nance. He doesn’t want to talk to me.”

“Huh, that’s weird,” Nancy said; she was imitating him. “I feel like I remember telling you not to talk to me.”

Steve laughed a little. It was more of a scoff. “Yeah, that worked out so great for us, didn’t it?”

Nancy frowned and stopped teasing him. “I’m sorry,” she said again. “If he’s – if that’s what you want, I want you to be happy. You are important to me. Even if you don’t believe me,” she said.

“Thanks, Nance,” Steve said. It was dumb but he felt all choked up again. “Yeah, but I really – okay, I’ve been thinking about this all week, I really don’t want to think about it anymore.”

“Okay. Okay.” She sat next to him for a while, small and solemn and serious, classic Nancy. She chewed on her lower lip and crossed her legs. “Do you want me to go home?” she asked finally.

“If you want.” Then he could be alone and miserable again he guessed.

“I can go if you want,” Nancy said; Steve looked at her. “Or … I can go with you to the block party.”

“Uh. You want to go to the party?”

“No, I wanted to get laid,” Nancy told him matter-of-factly; Steve wondered when she’d gotten so blunt. “But, since you kind of have a BOYFRIEND and all, we could ... go to the block party instead. As friends,” she added.

Steve guessed he could go to the party. “He’s not my boyfriend,” he told her.

Nancy ignored him; she was doing her sweater up. She opened up the curtains on the bay window. It had begun to rain and big heavy drops cascaded against the pane in crazy patterns. “Get ready to see my hair do amazing things!” she said. “So … do you think that you can still beat me at beer pong?”

“I don’t think that, I know that.”

“Okay!” Nancy said. Her smile was really sweet and she was laughing again. “Okay! Okay, you’re confident. That’s really interesting. We’ll see.”