Back to You
The sun was at its highest point when El got the call. The heat beating against the glass windows of her office as her cell phone vibrated against the oak desk, moving slightly on the paper notepad El had just dropped it on to check an email on her iMac.
She glanced down expecting to see a private number from one of the organisations she worked with as a social worker. She was not however expecting the contact Will Byers to flash up.
El's eyebrows arched in confusion. She hadn't seen Will Byers in over 13 years, only having his number because her smart phone had synced contact details from Facebook.
She hesitated to pick up the call, a frown creasing her brow, wondering why he was calling her now. Curiosity won her over and before she knew it, she was holding her smartphone, sliding her finger across the screen to accept the call and placing it to her ear.
"Hello?" El answered, trying to clear her throat which seemed oddly dry. She didn't know why she was suddenly so nervous. Her and Will had always got on so well when El lived in Hawkins, they were even best friends. But in freshman year El had to move to California to live with her dad Jim Hopper after her mom passed away.
It had changed everything. Losing her mom had caused a wound so deep inside of her, leaving her childhood home and her friends, learning to live with the father she had never really known. But most of all, leaving him behind. Even just thinking about him filled El's mind with flashes of dark amber eyes, freckled cheeks and dark messy hair.
"El!" Will greeted in surprise at her picking up the call before laughing lightly. "You literally sound exactly like you did 14 years ago!"
El couldn't help but grin, "and you sound nothing like you did 14 years ago."
"Ah, I think my voice was still breaking when I last saw you," Will said with amusement.
The call was light and tension free, nothing like El had been expecting after so long. In a way it was like no time had passed at all.
"So what are you up to El? Are you still in California?"
"Yes still in California. I'm actually at work right now, I'm a social worker."
"A social worker? El that's amazing!" Will complimented before hesitating. "Oh...should I not be calling you right now? Are you free to talk?"
El couldn't help but chuckle, Will was clearly excited about something and his enthusiasm was catching. "No I'm free to talk. I'm in my office," she explained while her eyes wandered around the room assigned to her.
She had a few personal touches, an Eggo stress ball, a framed photo of her mom, another of El and her dad. But nothing that would elude to her having her own family or partner, because of course that part of her life was non-existence. El resisted the urge to sigh and instead shuffled slightly in her desk chair repositioning herself.
"Wow your own office, check you out!" Will teased while El rolled her eyes in amusement.
"So what have you been up to Will?" She couldn't help but ask with interest. While she followed Will on Facebook, accepting his friend request a year ago, neither of them did more than liking the occasional status.
Will's Facebook page was filled with either photos of him and his boyfriend Damien or pieces of art he had masterly created.
El's Facebook page was mainly memes of cats.
"Not much, I live in New York with my boyfriend Damien now and I'm managing an art studio," Will said happy before coughing slightly awkwardly. El's eyes narrowed with suspicion wondering what he was going to say next.
"The reason I'm actually calling though is because Jennifer Hayes, remember Jennifer Hayes? She had a crush on me until I told her I was gay. Well she's set up a Facebook event for a 10 year Hawkins high school reunion back home. She said we could invite guests, I'm obviously bringing Damien...but I wondered if you wanted to come too?"
El's breath stuttered in her chest and she worried her lower lip between her teeth. "Back to Hawkins?" She asked hesitantly.
"Yeah," Will answered in such a way that El could tell he was smiling. "Look I know high school reunions are kind of lame, but I thought it would be good for the old party to get back together, including you."
El couldn't help but be flattered that Will had thought to invite her, after all she had finished high school in California and not at the Hawkins school she originally started in with her friends.
Those dark amber eyes flashed into her mind again and El played with the hem of her blouse nervously. "Is...um, are all of the party going?" She wanted to ask about him without singling him out. El hoped she was going with nonchalance but even she heard the waver in her voice.
If Will heard it he was diplomatic enough not to say anything. "Yeah Dustin lives in Hawkins still so he's coming, and Lucas and Mike are flying in..."
El's heart jumped into her throat at the mention of his name. They had been childhood sweethearts, best friends for as long as she could remember, until they turned 12 and that relationship turned into a pure and innocent romance.
She remembered their first kiss in the cafeteria, Mike thinking he was cool for sneaking them in there after AV club, but his nerves showing through when he leaned in to kiss her. She remembered their first dance at the Snow Ball, how butterflies had tickled her stomach when they danced close. She remembered every bike ride, every lace of their fingers, every kiss, every smile and the heart wrenching pain of telling him she was moving away, nothing more crushing than the look in his expressive eyes.
Mike was her childhood sweetheart, her first love. And she had never forgotten that.
She startled, jumping slightly in her chair, hardly realising she had been daydreaming while Will had asked her a question.
He chuckled and repeated himself, "I was asking if you'll come? I know we would all love to see you again."
El flinched slightly at the way Will said "all". She knew there was more to that statement, he was scheming something. "I mean I'd have to fly in..." she mumbled hesitantly, working the hem of her blouse between her fingers again.
"You've got vacation time though right?" Will said eagerly. "Come on Ellie, it'll be so much fun! Just like old times."
El grinned to herself, her hearting warming at being called Ellie again by Will. It was a long time since she had heard that nickname. Her hazel eyes flickered to the frame of her mom, to her dad and then onto her stress ball. These were literally her memories of the last 14 years. She had been surviving, but not really living.
"Could I bring a friend?" El hurried to ask, her mind already thinking of ways in which she could persuade her best and only friend Max to come along.
"Yeah of course you can," Will said brightly and El could practically feel him grinning down the phone. "So, is that a yes then?"
El inhaled sharply through her nose, speaking a "yes," on the exhale.
"Yes! El this is so exciting!" Will called jubilantly. "Just give me five minutes and I'll send you the Facebook invite, okay?"
"Okay," E choked, already regretting her decision as she ran her fingers through her curly waves.
"Well I best let you get back to work. But I'll call you tomorrow and we can discuss plans for Hawkins. The guys are going to be so excited!"
El smiled sheepishly and nodded her head even though Will wasn't there to see it. "I'll...look forward to it," she said forcing her voice not to break with nerves.
"Me too," Will said breezily. "Bye El! Talk soon."
"Bye Will," El swallowed nervously, slowly bringing the smart phone away from her ear and ending the call.
Her breathing was harsh and her heart was racing as the reality of what she had just done set in.
She was going to the Hawkins high school reunion and Mike would be there! Mike, her childhood sweetheart, first and only love. The guy who no other man seemed to be able to compare to.
Her phone dinged and El's eyes shot down to look at it, staring at the Facebook notification for a moment before tapping it open.
Will Byers has invited you to Hawkins 10 Year High School Reunion.
El bit her lip as her thumb hovered over the accept and decline options. She felt anxious, her head pounding with endless possibilities and her heart aching with feelings that she had long ago buried deep.
She took a deep breath and with a surge of courage pressed the accept option.
El dropped her phone back onto the desk and covered her face in her clammy palms. She was going to the Hawkins high school reunion and Mike would be there.
Holy shit she was gonna have to buy a dress.
El groaned when she thought of the more pressing matter as she picked up her smart phone.
She was going to have to convince her fiery, mischievous and stubborn best friend that she wanted to fly out of state to a reunion of a high school she had never been to. At the end of the day El needed her and Max had never let her down yet.
Mike was stuck in a traffic jam, tapping his hand on the steering wheel in frustration. He just had to leave the hospital on his lunch hour to buy that bacon and cheese croissant he was obsessed with.
The snow was hitting the windscreen and Mike sighed as he flicked on the wipers, wishing he was somewhere warm and sunny as he turned the AC onto its hottest setting.
He jumped slightly as his smart phone started to ring, the 'Star Wars' theme tune playing through the Bluetooth built in system as Mike glanced at the touchscreen to see it was Will calling.
He pressed a control on his steering wheel and the call connected.
"Hey Will," Mike said with a fleeting smile as he kept his eyes on the snowy windscreen.
"Hey Mike," Will responded cheerfully, his voice light and playful. Almost too playful.
"Look I've only got ten minutes left of my lunch break so I'm gonna cut to the chase. What are you doing November 10th?"
Mike laughed in surprise, a bemused expression on his face. "Um, nothing I think? It's the weekend, right?" he asked in confusion, thinking of how his usual weekend plans consisted of pigging out on take-out food and binge watching Netflix.
"Yeah four weeks away. So, plenty of time to book flights," Will mused happily while Mike frowned, his eyes set on the traffic that was now moving slowly.
"Why would I need to book a flight?"
Will heaved a sigh, "look I know you're immediately going to say no. But hear me out okay?"
"Okay…" Mike laughed, half suspicious and half curious by his best friend's vague and unusual demeanour.
"We're all going to the Hawkins high school reunion," Will blurted out in an excited frenzy.
Mike blanched and shook his head resolutely, "nope. That's not hap – "
"Hey!" Will called, "I asked for you to hear me out."
Mike rolled his eyes, as if he would ever want to go back to high school and be stuck in a hot room with the people who had practically ignored him, Will, Lucas and Dustin for four years. If they weren't being ignored, then they were being bullied by Troy or teased by the cheerleaders for being a bunch of "nerdy virgins". Yeah of course Mike would be jumping at the chance to relive that experience…
"Lucas and Dustin have already confirmed they are going, I'm going, and I thought it would be a nice reunion for us all," Will said in a gentle voice, trying to appease Mike with his annoyingly lovable nature.
"Well can't we just hang out at my parents' house like normal?" Mike whined, huffing out a breath. "Or the arcade? Jesus even hanging out in Melvard's would be better than this."
Will cleared his throat, "there's um, there's something else I need to tell you." He took a deep breath while Mike narrowed his eyes expecting the worst. He was thankful that he was getting closer now to the hospital where he worked as a Biomedical Engineer.
Mike's eyes sprang open wide and in reflex his foot hit the break, causing the car behind him to beep the horn loudly and throw him a rude hand gesture. Mike's pale cheeks flushed with colour and he sheepishly raised his hand in apology to the other vehicle while Will shouted, "what the hell was that?! Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm…" Mike croaked, shaking his head, trying to rid it of the million memories that flooded back into place like they had never been gone. Her smile, her infectious laugh, the way she looked at him over her shoulder when she started to walk into class after he had dropped her off. The feel of her lips against his, soft, perfect…
Mike gulped, his hands gripping the steering wheel tightly. "Y-You…you said El's coming?"
Mike's brow etched with confusion as he blinked rapidly. "How would she even know about this? She was only with us until the middle of Freshman year."
God how he remembered it well, the way his heart cracked at seeing her grieve her mother and the way it completely splintered open when she cried telling him she was moving to California.
They thought they could make it work. But they were 14, young and foolish. Social media wasn't as much of a big thing as it was now, and Mike had even tried to find her on Facebook when he was 16 and joined the site, but it was no use.
Will heaved a heavy breath down the phone, "well, El knew about the reunion because I told her. I invited her…"
"You invited her?!" Mike spluttered, his eyes still comically large. He groaned, trying to get his racing heart under control as his stomach tightened in a knot. "Will is this about what I said at Nancy and Jonathan's wedding?"
"You cried Mike!"
"I was drunk!"
"The truth comes out when you're drunk," Will said wisely before adding, "you cried saying how she was the only girl you ever loved and that no one else was El. That you wished it was your wedding day and she was your bride."
Mike cringed, heat creeping up his neck in embarrassment as he shuffled slightly in his seat. "That was like 6 months ago. And she's…she's probably married or something," he mumbled feeling his heart ache and jealousy rise in his body at the idea of someone else getting to marry El.
"Mike," Will said sternly. "She's single."
Mike's heart raced but he couldn't help frowning as he indicated into the hospital staff parking lot. "How do you know that?"
"I've got her on Facebook and it was kind of obvious when I called her. She didn't say she would need to check any plans and she asked if she could bring a friend. Not a boyfriend, not a husband. Oh, and she's a social worker now."
Mike felt himself smiling, a pride filling in his chest as he realised that El had achieved the dream she had always wanted. He remembered how they lay in a blanket fort he had made for them in his basement, both of them talking about the future.
"I want to help children," El had said breathlessly, her eyes shining even brighter in the reflection of the fairy lights Mike had strung at the roof of the fort. "I want to be a social worker."
"You would be really great at that," Mike had answered, smiling softly as he gazed at El next to him, his heart and soul captivated by her.
She turned her head to look at him, a pretty pink blush in her cheeks. "You think?" she whispered. "I don't feel like I'm smart enough…"
"El, you are the smartest person I know."
El giggled and rolled her eyes in amusement, "you have to say that. You're my boyfriend ."
Mike had grinned, his 13-year-old heart filling with happiness and pride. "I don't have to say that. It's true."
"Promise?" El whispered shuffling closer to Mike, her eyes dancing over his face as his heart jumped into his throat.
"Promise," he responded seriously before they both leaned in and shared a sweet kiss that lit Mike up from the tips of his toes to the top of his messy black hair.
"Anyway, El's really excited to come and reunite with us all," Will said encouragingly while Mike's stomach swooped with nerves.
"She is?" he asked hesitantly as he pulled into a space.
"Sure!" Will answered a little too quickly before coughing uncomfortably, "I might have told her that you already confirmed you're coming…"
"What?!" Mike yelped as he turned the engine off. "Will what the hell?!"
"Sorry," Will said chuckling and not sounding like he was sorry in the slightest. "It's just I knew the moment I told you El was coming to the reunion you would be sure to come too."
Mike sighed heavily and unbuckled his seatbelt, reaching over to the passenger seat to grab his work bag. "You haven't got some crazy plan to try and make something happen between me and her? Do you?" he asked suspiciously, his dark amber eyes narrowing.
Will laughed, "I doubt I'll need to plan anything. The moment you two look at each other that'll be it anyway. You were always sickly sweet together."
Mike pinched the bridge of his nose, "yeah well…that was a different life."
"Bullshit," Will scoffed. "I know you're still in love with her Mike and you should have heard the way she froze up when I mentioned you."
Mike swallowed nervously, his Adam's Apple bobbing. "She froze up?"
"Totally. Just say you'll come to the reunion Mike, I have a really great feeling about this. And you know how my intuition is usually right."
Mike sighed heavily, looking at the clock on his car display and knowing he needed to get a move on. If it was because he was on a time limit or because the mention of El suddenly made him feel impulsive. "Okay," he choked out breathlessly. "I'll go."
"Yes!" Will cheered happily. "You've made the right decision, this is going to be one unforgettable night."
"I hope for the right reasons," Mike muttered as he opened the door of his car and grabbed his phone out of the holder. "Look Will I'm back at work now, I've gotta go."
"Okay," Will answered happily, clearly proud of himself for his plan working. "We'll discuss what you're gonna wear to the reunion later."
Mike snorted in amusement, putting the phone to his ear as he got out of the car. "What's wrong with how I dress?"
"Nothing," Will said noncommittally.
"Will, friends don't lie."
"Fine," his best friend sighed. "You look like your mom is still dressing you!"
Mike rolled his hands, "right I'm hanging up now. Talk to you later."
Will just got out a chuckling goodbye before Mike disconnected the call and put his phone in his work bag. He headed into the hospital, biting his lip and unable to stop the heavy feeling that had spread from his chest and into his stomach.
He was going to the Hawkins high school reunion, and after 14 years he was going to see El.
El. His childhood sweetheart, the only girl he had ever truly loved. The girl who had broken his heart when she had to leave and the girl he had never forgotten about.
Holy shit he wasn't prepared.
"I can't believe we actually came to this," Lucas mumbled moodily from where he stood in the corner of the large ballroom with an excited Will, Damien and a nervous fidgeting Mike. He was wearing a light blue sweater over a white button up collared shirt and black slacks.
He went from standing tall, to stuffing his hands in his pockets every 30 seconds or so as he looked around the room. There was a large tacky sign saying, Hawkins Class of '08 Reunion and photo boards with images from the year book. A DJ booth was at one end of the room in front of a white sparkling dance floor and the bar and buffet table on the opposite end. Circular tables with crisp white cloths were scattered everywhere. And in the corner stood the AV club, feeling just as alienated as they did in high school. The cliques had soon found their people and were happily reuniting. Cheerleaders, jocks, you name it.
"It's going to be worth it," Will said happily, his green eyes eagerly looking around the room, glancing at the entrance more times than anywhere else.
"Yeah maybe for Mike but not for me," Lucas sighed, leaning back against the wall.
Mike blushed and ran a hand through his hair, "the last time El saw me I was a gangly 14-year-old nerd, maybe she's not into that kind of thing anymore…" he mumbled in a reprimanding tone.
Lucas smirked, "you're now a gangling 28-year-old nerd. I see no difference." The boys shoved each other playfully just as Dustin walked back over to the party, carefully holding a tray of shots and a single orange juice.
"That must have cost you a fortune!" Will gasped as all of the boys stared down at the numerous shot glasses while Dustin carefully placed the tray down on the empty table next to them.
He whirled around to look at his friends, a proud smile on his face. "Nope, it didn't cost me anything."
"Oh god what did you do?" Mike groaned wondering if they were going to get chucked out before he could even see El.
"Remember bitch Stacey who I used to have a crush on?" Dustin said eagerly while the party members nodded, Damien just listening on in amusement.
"Well she turned into a total gold digger. Have you seen her husband? He's ancient." Dustin discreetly pointed to a grey-haired man who was looking bored next to Stacey, the prom queen they had hardly recognised because of all of the Botox. Whatever natural beauty she used to have was long gone now.
"Shit," Lucas mumbled, his eyes wide. "I thought someone had brought their dad as a guest!"
"The poor guy," Dustin sighed shaking his head before looking back at the boys. "Anyway, I put these shots on Stacey's tab. I thought the least she could do was buy us a drink."
The party all laughed and grabbed shot glasses. "Well I can certainly drink to that," Mike mused.
"Cheers to me for not marrying that troll," Dustin said happily, lifting his shot glass.
"Cheers!" Mike, Lucas, Will and Damien laughed as they all chinked glasses and threw back the harsh alcohol.
"God the line for the bathroom was ridiculously long," came the slightly frustrated voice of Dustin's wife Laura, causing the boys to turn to look at her. "You would think those women were 13-year-old girls the way they were hogging the mirrors. I told them, I'm pregnant, I actually need to pee."
"My lady has returned!" Dustin beamed as he put his arms around Laura, kissing her lips lovingly as she smiled against his mouth. His hand moved down to her protruding bump. They were expecting their first baby, a boy who was due in four months.
"God you two are so cute," Lucas sighed, grabbing a second shot glass and downing the contents. "It's not fair," he added before wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his jacket.
Lucas had been in a long-term relationship up until two months earlier and he was only starting to get out of the post breakup blues.
"You'll find someone," Dustin pointed at him, a meaningful expression on his face.
"Yeah," Mike said with reproach, a kind smile on his lips as he faintly heard the next song start to play through the ballroom. Back to You by Selena Gomez. "The right girl is out there somewhere."
"Coming from the guy whose still in love with his childhood sweetheart…"
"I am not in lo – "
Mike was suddenly shoved by Will, who excitedly pointed towards the entrance to the ballroom of the hotel. His dark eyes followed Will's extended arm and then his breath stuttered to a stop. In fact, he was sure he had stopped breathing completely.
Walking into the room was El.
Mike's jaw dropped to the floor. While he knew it was her in an instance, ethereal beauty like hers never faded. But she was a woman now. Her svelte curves teased into a soft pink skater dress, her curly hair much longer, falling gracefully down her bare shoulders and her face thinner, her lips more pronounced and her eyes even more captivating.
"I think Mike's died," Dustin whispered.
Mike watched completely overwhelmed and mesmerised as El looked nervously around before slowly, so very slowly her gaze found his, and they locked. Mike's heart exploded into life as the depths of her golden hazel eyes felt like they were reaching into his soul.
And in that moment, Mike knew he had fallen in love with El all over again.
El and Max had ample time to get ready for the reunion that was taking place downstairs in the hotel they were staying at, and yet they were both running late.
Max was straightening her ever so slightly wavy red hair, wearing a tightly fitted black jumpsuit while El kept nervously catching her reflection in the floor length mirror.
"Do you think I should wear the Bridget Jones underwear?" El asked anxiously as her clammy palms moved against her dress covered stomach. "They will hide any lumps and bumps."
Max rolled her eyes, keeping her focus on the straighteners. "You don't have any lumps and bumps! The only bumps you have are boobs and an ass."
El groaned and then went to nervously fidgeting with the hem of the pink skater style dress. "Do you think this dress is too short?" It hit mid-thigh and combined with the cream heels, making her legs look twice as long.
"No," Max answered adamantly, glancing over at El. "You look totally hot and this Mike guy is gonna die."
El sighed impatiently and walked over to Max, "he's not going to die."
Max shrugged, "his jaw's gonna hit the floor at a minimum. You look beautiful El," she said glancing at her best friend and smiling.
El grinned reaching for Max's hand and giving it a gentle squeeze. "Thank you for coming here with me," she whispered, feeling unbelievably grateful.
Max laughed and turned the straighteners off. "A free trip out of Cali courtesy of El Hopper and a weekend with my best friend and trying to play matchmaker. Sign me up any day!"
El rolled her eyes playfully and grabbed her purse. "Maybe I should set you up."
Max snorted and adjusted her bra pushing up her cleavage until she was content with how they looked in the jump suit. "Oh please, like any man could ever handle me."
The girls laughed, linking arms and leaving the hotel room, taking the elevator down to the lobby in comfortable silence. But the closer they got to the ballroom, the more nerves flickered in El's stomach like building flames.
She was going to see Mike. Mike. She could barely believe it.
Noticing the anxiety rippling over El's face, Max grabbed her hands. "Hey, it's gonna be okay. You might not even like him anymore, everyone changes when they get older. But either way, he was your friend too, right? And this Will, Lucas and Dustin you told me about. So, you're gonna have a great night either way with your friend. Including me."
"You're right," El sighed breathlessly before pulling Max into a hug. "God, I love you."
Max laughed, a teasing and sympathetic look on her face as she pressed her hand to her chest. "El, I'm flattered but I'm not into girls."
"Oh, hush you," El laughed smacking Max in the arm, both of them grinning with amusement as the elevator doors dinged open and they walked out into the lobby, heading towards where they could hear the beat of music.
"Oh Jesus they're playing Selena Gomez," Max muttered as they moved towards a set of golden brown doors.
"Hey! I love Selena Gomez."
"Oh please, you're just upset that Justin went and married Hailey."
"Jelena was endgame Max!"
Max rolled her eyes and pushed open the doors, walking in first while El hesitated slightly as the room came into view. Her breath caught in her chest as she looked around at the decorated space, mostly filled with strangers now. She could make out a few faces, like Jennifer Hayes who had always been sweet in elementary school and that bitch Stacey, oh god was that Stacey?! What happened to her face?!
El moved further into the room and the stopped, looking around nervously, feeling her heart start to beat loudly as the feeling of someone staring at her filled her senses. She swallowed nervously, just knowing he was in the room. She needed to find him.
And there he was, staring at her as she stared at him. El's lips parted in surprise and her heart swooned so wildly that she thought she might melt on the spot. Mike.
He was so tall now, still very slim but he seemed to have grown into his frame unlike when he was 14. His cheek bones were sharper, his lips plumper, his shoulders broader. But underneath all of that was the same boy El had fallen in love with. The dark messy hair, the freckles that she would see the moment she got closer and those eyes. Deep amber, so dark and beautiful like the night sky.
And just like that, she fell in love all over again.
"Earth to Mike," Dustin was laughing next to him.
"Shit, who is her friend?" Lucas gulped from his other side.
But it wasn't until Will shouted, "El!" and waved her over that Mike finally blinked and realised that he had been staring at her for an awkwardly long time. He coughed nervously, averting his eyes as El and her red head friend made their way through the heavy stream of people.
His eyes betrayed him again, his gaze falling down El's long legs. Even the way she walked was incredibly attractive. Mike knew it was going to be hard to see her, but he had never expected his heart to pound so fast, for his pulse to quicken as his skin felt too tight to contain himself and butterflies that he long thought were dead immediately sprang to life.
"El it's so good to see you!" Will exclaimed as El and her friend finally stopped in front of the party.
"You too," El smiled softly, her eyes bright and happy. Mike felt himself swooning because even her voice which was ever so slightly more mature made his heart want to sing. Just hearing her again was overwhelming and made the young and vulnerable part of him want to sob, because she was back. She was here, in Hawkins and it was like nothing had changed. If anything, his feelings had only deepened.
Mike stood back slightly as El hugged the party in turn, introducing her friend Max to them all. He was too consumed with watching El, the movements of her body as she hugged her old friends, the nostalgic look in her eyes and the warm smile on her lips to notice the way Lucas clammed up when he shook hands with Max, or the way the red head smirked back at him, eyeing him up.
Finally El turned to Mike and he tried to clear his dry throat, a bashful smile slowly curving up his lips. He couldn't help but feel ecstatically happy as they stared at each other, a shy smile on El's lips as she took the first step.
Within a heartbeat they were embracing, longer than any of the others had. "Hi," Mike croaked breathlessly, closing his eyes and inhaling El's intoxicating scent. It hadn't changed. There was a floral perfume lingering over it, but that beautiful smell that was just El was still there. Mike found his arms around her tighten slightly, as his repressed feelings continued to swarm back into his heart like a dam breaking.
"Hi," El whispered against him, her smalls hands against the back of his sweater, goose bumps rising on his skin when he felt her fingers twitch slightly against the material.
They both reluctantly pulled away, their hands brushing against each other's arms as they slowly parted. Mike felt the courage in his heart rising as he smiled in relief, thinking that maybe, just maybe El was feeling the same complex emotions that he was.
"It's so good to see you," Mike said in a rush of adrenaline, his eyes warm as they danced over El's features, trying to take in everything about her. "You look so beautiful."
El's eyes widened in surprise and a pleased grin quirked her very kissable lips as Mike blushed and averted his eyes, wanting to kick himself for allowing those words to slip off his tongue.
"Thank you," El said softly, biting her lower lip before taking a deep exhale. "You look really handsome, I like your sweater. I always used to like the ones your mom made you."
Mike's head shot up to meet El's eyes, shocked to see she wasn't teasing and she was actually complimenting him. He went to open his mouth and say something about her stealing his sweaters in freshman year, but he was interrupted by Will who was looking incredibly smug.
"Well El you continue to be the only person to ever like Mike's homemade sweaters."
As Mike rolled his eyes, El simply smiled and said, "I love them so much I used to steal them. In fact, I think I still have a few…"
"What?!" Mike couldn't help but laugh, his smile wide and playful. "Oh my god, did you take the grey winter one? With the Nordic pattern?!"
El bit her lip trying to supress her grin, but it couldn't be more obvious she was trying to stop herself from laughing. She took a moment, meeting his gaze mischievously. "I still have it."
Mike gasped playfully and put a hand over his heart, "you thief!"
El was giggling, the sound making Mike's chest reverberate with warmth. "Well you were my boyfriend, so I had a claim in those sweaters!"
They both smiled for a moment, their lips slowly lowering as the last 14 years without one another hit them both. They had missed so much, so many firsts they could have shared together.
Sensing the building tension between them, Will cleared his throat loudly and said, "Dustin! Get more shots!"
El didn't know if it was the nostalgic tunes of years long since gone, the mood lighting, the gentle laughter between friends, the way she couldn't stop touching Mike's arm anytime he made her giggle like a school girl, or maybe it was just the shots. But whatever the cause, this evening was perfect.
They were all sat around a large circular table, Dustin supplying them all with endless drinks, glasses of wine, cocktails or orange juice in Laura's case. The group of people who had always been bullied and ridiculed were now the ones laughing. Loudly.
The air felt magical. Will proudly telling the story of how he and Damien met in art school and how he gave him the courage to come out. Laura making them all laugh with a re-enactment of Dustin finding out she was pregnant, Mike's exasperation when the others teased him over his Star Wars ringtone and Lucas practically blanking the whole group just so he could talk to Max. El watched them for a minute, smirking to herself at how taken they seemed with one another. Max was even twirling her hair, her smile practically seductive.
When El turned back to look at the party it was to find Mike gazing at her with a soft smile. She blushed immediately and they both averted their eyes. Slowly, El chanced another glance at that handsome face just as Mike's dark amber eyes found hers again. They both smiled bashfully at getting caught.
It seemed like the party had all learnt some kind of telekinesis, because couple by couple, they disappeared. First Will took Damien to dance, then Dustin and Laura wandered over to the buffet table before Max grabbed Lucas's hand and pulled him eagerly to the bar.
Mike and El had moved seats, now sat beside one another, leaning their elbows on the table and talking quietly together, their knees brushing and causing shivers down their spines. Their smiles were softer still, their eyes drawing the other in.
They talked about everything except them. El expressed her feelings over losing her mom, what it had been like to be brought up by her dad and how much she loved him. She spoke about college, her determination to be a social worker and how incredibly difficult it was at times.
Mike told her how challenging it was to get on a Biomedical Engineering program at college and how hard the work had been. He talked about living in Boston, his job at the hospital and how Nancy and Will's brother Jonathan had got married.
"So you and Will are like brothers now!" El had laughed in surprise, shaking her head slightly at the coincidence.
They talked then about their childhoods together, being very careful not to mention the years they were more than friends.
It wasn't long before Mike's eyes wandered around the room, confusion flickering in his gaze before realisation set in. He laughed, feeling more at ease now that the alcohol was fuelling his courage. He turned back to look at El, still breathless from her beauty.
"I think this has been a set up."
"What do you mean?" she asked playfully, her chin resting in her palm as she grinned at Mike.
He laughed and pointed to the other side of the room, "look over there," he whispered leaning in slightly.
El turned in her seat and rolled her eyes exasperatedly as she noticed Max, Lucas, Damien, Dustin and Laura hunched around another table, watching Mike and El like they were their favourite tv show. The group were quick to look away, Dustin fumbling so much that he almost fell out of his seat.
"Oh my god," El laughed shaking her head in amusement and turning back to Mike who was grinning widely, his eyes filled with humour. "It's like they think we're just going to start making out or something," she added with a teasing smile.
"I know right!" Mike chuckled, looking back at her, adoring, loving. They continued to stare, barely blinking as they admired all of the features and attributes they had always loved so much about each other.
Their smiles turned into something much softer and Mike coughed awkwardly, nervously swallowing as his heart raced over what he was about to say. "I missed you." The words came out breathlessly as Mike continued to stare at El, never wanting to stop.
Her eyes flickered with emotion, a stuttered breath escaping her throat as she smiled softly back at Mike. "I missed you too," she whispered, her chest heavy with the incomprehensible feelings she still had for her first and only love.
Just as Mike opened his mouth to say something, an all too familiar song started to play. The iconic baseline filling the large ball room. It was an odd choice for the 2018 reunion, but Mike and El recognised it instantly. It was their song.
Mike's eyes shot to the DJ booth and just as he had suspected, Will was carefully sneaking away from the DJ, clearly having just requested the song. Mike wanted to roll his eyes and tell his best friend to stop playing cupid. But in El's presence with the powerful and emotive music playing, nothing had ever been more perfect.
Feeling nervous but sure, Mike pushed back from the table, standing up and smiling tenderly at El as he slowly held his hand out to her. "Can I have this dance?"
El's lips parted slowly in surprise, her eyes welling up with tears as she nodded her head, too choked to speak as her palm pressed against Mike's palm, electricity shooting through their veins as his fingers clasped around her own, fitting as perfectly as the first time they held hands.
Mike led El onto the dance floor, paying no mind to the very few couples dancing or the eyes that followed them. Especially the eager ones coming from the table in the corner.
They were in the middle of the dance floor when Mike stopped, turning so that he was facing El. He could barely think straight as his hands found her slim waist and her bare arms wrapped around his neck, reminiscent of their first ever dance at the Snow Ball.
They moved in sync, softly turning and swaying to the music that they knew so well. Their eyes were locked, time slipping away from them. All of the years spent apart no longer mattering, because those eyes had known each other, in this life and every life.
Since you've gone I've been lost without a trace
I dream at night I can only see your face
El's heart was racing, her skin was hypersensitive as it brushed against Mike's neck. She could feel the warmth of his palms against her waist and she had never felt so complete than in his arms. She was safe, she was finally home.
I look around but it's you I can't replace
I feel so cold and I long for your embrace
Mike couldn't stop looking into El's eyes, completely entranced by her from the age of 12. The feelings were only stronger now because he knew what it was like to live without her. She was the only girl he had ever wanted, the only soul he could possibly imagine sharing his life with.
I keep crying baby, baby, please
Nothing else existed but El as Mike slowly leant in, his eyes fluttering shut just as he saw El reaching up to meet him. And in the middle of the reunion, to their song, they shared their first kiss as adults.
It was like restarting their lives. Every memory they had suppressed came back in a force of light, their souls complete and singing with joy.
El's moved her palms to Mike's cheeks, a heavenly sigh escaping her lips as they continued to kiss. Their mouths moving as one, performing a routine that had been set in their blood and their beating hearts. It was a dance that was a part of both of them.
Mike's arms wrapped around El pulling her in closer but not breaking the kiss for a second. He was home. She was home.
And this was only the beginning.