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Searching For Your Heart

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"OhmyGodohmyGodohmyGodohmyGodohmyGodohmyGodohmyGodohmyGod!"

Heart in his throat, Jim Hopper dropped the mug he was washing right into the kitchen sink and with his hands still wet rushed straight to his daughter's bedroom, praying to any deity who could hear his thoughts that he wouldn't find her sprawled on the floor in a pool of her own blood or something equally terrifying. "What?! Are you okay?! What's wrong?!" he asked frantically as he reached El's door, his mind running through every worst-case scenario in what felt like a second.

Thankfully, he didn't find her in pain or suffering in any way— instead, she was jumping ecstatically on her bed, obviously very happy about something. "Brock Sorenson is coming to Hawkins!" she squealed when she saw him standing in her doorway, waving her arms as if to underscore how excited this fact made her.

Hopper, who had no idea who she was talking about and was still trying to flush his mind of the gruesome images his overprotective brain had so generously provided for him a minute ago, could only respond: "...Huh??"

El stopped jumping and let herself fall down in a sitting position down on the bed, the mattress making her bounce a little as she did so. "MTV is doing a 'Back to School' contest where they choose one high school to get a special visit from Brock Sorenson, action movie superstar, and out of every school in the country they chose Hawkins High, so now the team that actually wins the contest gets to meet him face to face!"

She said all of this in what looked like one breath, so fast that Hopper wondered how she didn't run out of air halfway through. She didn't seem to be particularly affected, though, as she let herself fall back on the bed with a swoon. "He's so dreamy! Max is, like, obsessed with him."

Before Hopper could even get a word in edgewise, she pushed herself up to a sitting position again, looking at him with wide eyes. "Oh man, I have to call Max. She's gonna freak!" She quickly got to her feet and rushed past Hopper to pick up the living room phone, which had the longest cord out of all the phones in the house so she always used it like it was her own personal line.

Hopper simply watched her as she scurried about, brown curls bouncing against her shoulders as she ran back to her room, and then for all of his concern, he found himself with a door slammed right in his face as the teenager hurried to call her best friend and tell her the big news.

And so Jim, who only understood about half of what El had rattled off about when it came to this contest thing, could only grumble to himself— "What kind of a name is Brock Sorenson, anyway?"— as he made his way back to the kitchen to finish washing his coffee mug.

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Lucas, Mike, and Will watched in amusement as Dustin sprinted out the main entrance to Hawkins High, his bag bouncing against his back as he sped out of the building. As he made his way toward the corner of the parking lot where they were waiting for him, he was waving a paper flyer in his left hand.

"So?" Lucas asked when Dustin finally made it to where they were standing. "Did you get it?"

Rather than handing them the paper, Dustin panted and bent over, leaning his weight on his knees while gesturing with his free hand in the universal sign for "wait a second." He seemed to be really out of breath from running all the way from the Guidance Counselor's office to the parking lot— which, really, was completely unnecessary. He could've just walked.

"Dustin?" Will tried again, sounding more entertained than worried.

"Will you quit it with the theatrics already and just show us the flyer?" Lucas finally had enough of his friend's stalling and reached out to take the piece of paper from Dustin's grip, but Dustin slapped his hand away.

"Gimme a break, I had to squeeze my way past Bobby Hastings to get out of Ms. Tanaka's office," he declared, still struggling with his oxygen intake as he spoke. "Okay, here's how it's going to work." He brought the flyer in his hand up so everybody could see what it said. "We'll be given five clues which lead to five objects in five specific, different locations in Hawkins. We have to solve the first clue, take a Polaroid of the correct object, and bring it back to Ms. Tanaka before she hands us the next clue."

He handed the flyer to Will, who reached for it first. "The first team to hand her all five photos of the correct answers will get the face-to-face with Brock Sorenson. If no team gets it right by Homecoming, then they'll choose one team at random for the VIP meet-and-greet."

"All right," said Mike, following along with his explanation. "Sounds good so far. What are the clues about?"

Dustin continued speaking as Lucas moved to the side so he could read the flyer over Will's shoulder. "Academics. At least the part of it that tells us what objects we have to look for. The first subject is math," he added, signaling to the flyer with a wave of his hand.

"Cool, so we shouldn't have much of a problem with that," Mike said, starting to feel enthusiastic about this whole thing. They were good when it came to academics— all their Science Fair trophies more than enough proof of their nerd credentials— and even if there was anything they couldn't individually figure out, between the four of them they'd get to the bottom of it. That was the way it had always been with their classes, and he saw no reason for this to be any different.

"Yes, except..." Dustin paused for effect as Mike rolled his eyes at him and gestured for him to keep going. "The second part of the clue, the part that tells us the location of the object, is not an academic question. It's a question about Brock Sorenson."

"So? That should be a piece of cake for you, right? You've seen all his movies," Mike threw back, not understanding why Dustin was making such a big deal of this.

They were all huge Brock Sorenson fans. His usual fare wasn't really what they gravitated to— he was more of an action movie lead than anything else— but he had also starred in the Wizard for Hire movie, which, as far as the boys were concerned, was the closest thing they would ever get to a real-life D&D movie. It was rumored that there were going to be sequels, and the franchise possibilities immediately catapulted Sorenson to idol level as far as the four of them were concerned.

Dustin was the most invested out of all of them, having gone back to watch his movies all the way back to his humble beginnings in cheap indie fare. He had a poster of Brock Sorenson in his room (right beside his prized Charles Darwin Origin of Species illustration) and swore to everyone who would listen that Brock Sorenson was going to be the next Harrison Ford. They were all huge fans, hence their wanting to participate in this contest, but none of them could beat Dustin as far as sheer enthusiasm was concerned.

"Sure, but turns out the questions aren't about his movies—"

"They're questions about his life," Will intervened, having finally finished reading the flyer with the instructions and the first clue. He waved the piece of paper toward Mike. "Look at this: 'Where was Brock Sorenson discovered?'" He shook his head. "This sounds like the kind of thing you'd find in girls' gossip magazines."

"Yeah, and I don't know anything about that," Dustin was quick to point out with a disappointed shrug.

"So what are you saying, then?" Lucas asked with a frown, crossing his arms disgruntedly. Mike knew he'd been looking forward to doing this. "We just give up? You were the one hyping us up to do this contest thing in the first place!"

"Hell no!" Dustin exclaimed suddenly, so loudly that a group of seniors walking past them gave them the stink eye. "Are you kidding? If we win a face-to-face with Brock Sorenson, we'd be the coolest people in school!"

"We'd be the coolest people in the county," Mike corrected him, not that it made much of a difference; the possibility of moving a few rungs up on the school's social ladder was appealing, for sure, but Mike knew deep down they all just wanted to win this so they could meet their idol. It would be the coolest experience of their lives. "But then how do we do this?"

"I think what Dustin's trying to say," Will was the first one to put two and two together out loud, "is that we're going to have to team up with someone. Someone who knows more about this kinda stuff than we do."

"No, it's even worse than that," Dustin declared, in a tone so serious you'd think he was a second away from revealing he had less than three months to live. "We're going to have to team up with a girl."

The four boys sighed.

It wasn't that they had anything against girls. They liked girls and would like to have girls like them, but they were acutely aware of their utter inability to interact with girls in any fashion that did not lead to them making complete idiots out of themselves. Dustin tried way too hard, whereas Will was either too shy to try at all, or completely uninterested. Lucas had the most game out of the four by far, having even gone as far as making out with a few girls here and there, but when it came to actual relationships he was about as clueless as the other three.

Mike was usually able to talk to girls when it came to school projects and such, but apart from that he tended to avoid them, always feeling like they were judging him. Save for the one girl he'd been pining over since the seventh grade— whom he still hadn't plucked up the courage to ask out even after five years of saying hi to each other in the hallways and some occasional small talk— he didn't really have any inclination to deal with girls on a regular basis. He found most girls their age to be vapid and superficial, and he didn't want to deal with that if he could help it.

Except Dustin was right: now they would have to. But maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Maybe he could look at this scavenger hunt as sort of like a school project, something he needed to get a good grade on, and that would make it easier to have to interact with some girl he didn't know. Just go in, solve the clues, win the meet-and-greet with Brock Sorenson, and then never have to talk to the girl in question again. It couldn't be that hard, right?

"Do you think there are even girls who want to meet Brock Sorenson?" Dustin wondered suddenly, breaking Mike away from his thoughts. "His movies don't seem like the kind girls usually like."

Lucas rolled his eyes. "What would you know? The only girl you routinely hang out with is your mother."

"Oh, right, like Erica's much of a difference—"

"I think some girls out there must like his movies," Will intervened before an argument sparked up. "I mean, Brock is really gorgeous, after all." Three pairs of eyes framed by raised eyebrows turned his way, and Will blushed, realizing what he'd just said. "Uh, or so I'm told," he mumbled, making the other three chuckle.

"I'm with Will. There's gotta be at least one girl out there who's thinking of participating in this contest. We just gotta pay attention." An idea suddenly crossed Mike's mind. "Hmm. Maybe we could ask El if she knows someone—"

"Jesus, Mike," Lucas cut him off with a groan, "I know you love her and stuff, but she's not literally the solution to our every problem—"

"I don't—" Mike caught himself before he said the word too loudly, but he was sure the flush in his cheeks was betraying him. "I don't love her, and hey, at least I'm throwing out some ideas here instead of waiting for the mountain to come to us. Why don't you ask your sister if she knows someone who's interested, huh?"

Lucas shook his head. "You know how she is, if I ask her for a simple favor she'll be on my case for the rest of my life and there is no way I'm putting myself in her grasp like that." Mike didn't doubt that it would be that bad. While he had two sisters of his own— one too old to care about this contest and the other one too young to understand it— Lucas had Erica, who was close enough to their age that she could possibly help them if she wanted to but who also happened to be the spawn of Satan, no offense to Lucas's parents. There was no way she would help them— not without extracting some heavy blackmail material from them in return, at least.

"I think Mike's right, though," Will called out, giving Mike a small smile as if thanking him for taking his side earlier. "El could help. I have art class with her, I could ask her then," he offered. Even though Mike had an embarrassingly obvious crush on El Hopper, Will was actually the one out of the four of them who knew her best. His mother and her father were old friends, so they had dinner at each other's houses every once in a while.

They weren't close enough to run in the same circles at school, but they were friendly with each other in a way that, frankly, made Mike a little jealous. What he wouldn't give to be able to talk to El as often as Will did! But no, whenever he got the chance to talk to her in any significant capacity, he ended up babbling about video games or D&D or some other random topic she probably didn't give two shits about. Way to go, Wheeler.

"Okay, fine, ask El if she knows someone who can help," Dustin finally conceded, shaking his head. "But I reserve the right to veto anyone who's ever made fun of my teeth in the past," he added strongly, and the others decided to let him have that.

After agreeing that they would go to Mike's after their A/V Club meeting the next day to start working on the math problems together, they all piled up into Mike's car and headed home for the day, already excited about possibly winning this thing and getting to meet their favorite celebrity.

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"It's like this whole thing is in Chinese!" Max growled at the piece of paper she had slapped in front of her on El's dinner table. This was also about a minute after she declared that the flyer was mocking her, so El was starting to get the idea that Max wasn't too thrilled about their first clue having to be solved with math.

"They're just first-order equations," she tried to mollify her friend, pulling the flyer a little toward her so she could point to the clue with her finger. "They're just a little bit more difficult than the ones we had in algebra class. Look, there's only one quadratic equation."

Her attempts at making her friend feel better clearly failed because Max huffed. "Yeah, well, I had enough trouble with the ones we got in algebra class," she reminded El pointedly, and El couldn't refute that. Max was super smart, but academics weren't her forte— math in particular— so it was understandable that she was disappointed when she saw that the possibility of meeting her celebrity crush was entirely dependent on her academic prowess. "Are you sure you can solve these?"

"I think so," El retorted. She had always done well in math, and she thought with some effort she could solve the equations given to them on the flyer. There was only one problem, though... "The thing is, I can't be sure if my answers are correct. They obviously don't give out the answers for us to check our work as our algebra textbook did, and I don't want to risk submitting something that might be wrong."

"They'd send us back to start from scratch, and we can't afford to waste time like that," Max agreed with a nod. "So what do we do?"

"Well..." El started carefully as she pulled out the chair beside Max's and sat down, all the way looking down at the piece of paper on the table rather than at her friend. "I was thinking, if I could have someone to compare my answers with, someone who's good at math, we'd have more of a certainty that we got them all right. So, we could team up with someone," she suggested, then bit her lip. "You know, Will and his friends are fans of Brock Sorenson..."

"Oh, here we go," Max interrupted with a sigh as she crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair, giving El a knowing look.

El immediately found herself squirming under her gaze. "What?" she asked defensively.

Max's smug expression did not falter a bit. "You just want to team up with Will's little nerd friends because you have a gigantic crush on Mike Wheeler," she declared, straight to the point, so bluntly that El's jaw dropped.

"I do not have a crush on Mike Wheeler!" she retorted immediately, which was kind of true. Kind of. Like, she thought he was cute, sure. And smart. And super nice. But that didn't mean she had a crush on him, right? She just thought he was a nice guy. Just like Will.

Except she didn't think of Will nearly as much as she thought about Mike and, okay, maybe she had a little bit of a crush on him. Just a tiny, inconsequential one. That she'd held onto... for five years. That was normal, right? These things happened.

Max clearly would not agree with that self-assessment, as she scoffed at her almost straight away. "Child, please," she said with a dismissive wave of her hand. "Don't act like I don't see you staring at him every time he's around. You're way too obvious."

El was sure that she was blushing all the way to the tips of her ears. "Yeah, well, it's not my fault he happens to come into my field of vision so often," she threw back and God, even to her own ears that sounded pathetic. "He's really tall, you know."

"Right, it's because he's so tall," Max retorted in a tone that suggested she wasn't buying what El was selling. She uncrossed her arms and leaned forward, balancing her weight on her forearms against the table. "Ellie, how long have we been best friends?"

El leaned back in her chair with a huff of her own. "Four years," she mumbled grumpily, knowing that Max had her number, and there was no changing that. Yeah, okay, she did have a gigantic crush on Mike Wheeler. She always had, since her first week of school back in seventh grade when she was paired with him for a History project and he'd been so nice to her.

She had never been in public school before that. She hadn't even met Max at that point, and she was terrified of having to interact with the other kids, but Mike had been so understanding, so helpful, that she couldn't help but fall a little for him right there, and the feeling stayed with her through the years. They didn't interact very often— they ran in different circles, plus El was too shy and always tried her hardest not to let those feelings show, but Max was right: her eyes were always immediately drawn to him whenever he was nearby, and eventually someone was bound to notice.

And Max had noticed, alright. "I think it's cute that you think you can get something like this past me," she said, entirely too smug, and El almost wanted to retort something sarcastic— except she knew Well, don't count yourself as some super sleuth if it took you four whole years to figure it out would just be confirming her suspicions, and she couldn't bring herself to do that just yet.

Her redheaded friend exhaled, her smug expression relaxing into an understanding smile. "You don't need an excuse to talk to him, you know," she pointed out in a supportive tone. "Just go up to him and strike up a conversation—"

"It's not an excuse, Max," El interrupted her, still sounding entirely too defensive to her ears, but she couldn't help it; she just wanted them to get off this topic right away. "We really do need to team up with someone. And Will and his friends, they're really smart. You know they are. They've won the science fair how many times over the past few years?" Max remained silent, and El knew that she couldn't contradict anything she just said. They did need the help.

Then, an idea occurred to her, and she jumped at the chance to turn the tables on her mischievous friend. "Besides, if you're just opposed to this because you made out with Lucas Sinclair that one time at Jennifer's party—"

"Okay, fine, we'll team up with them," Max cut her off before she could finish the thought, and El mentally congratulated herself on touching a nerve for once. "But you're coming with me when we ask them," she added, signaling to El with her pointer finger.

"Sure, why wouldn't I?" El retorted with a triumphant smile. She could talk to Mike if she had to; she had done it before. She liked talking to him. She liked how excited he got about the things he loved. And she really did believe with their help, they could win this thing. So as far as she was concerned, this was a win-win situation. "Tomorrow at lunch, then?"

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Mike was the last one in the party to get to their usual table during lunch the next day, and as he made his way there with his lunch tray, he was surprised to see two unexpected people standing by the table talking to his friends: Max and El.

"What's up?" he asked as he came to stand beside them, and then, realizing that he was standing just a few inches away from his crush, the next words came out of his mouth unbidden: "Hi, El."

"Hi, Mike," she replied, giving him a small but adorable smile that made his stomach flutter.

"Hi, El," he repeated before his brain kicked in again to remind him that You already said that, stupid, and he had to shake himself out of his reverie to go back to the topic at hand. "So, uh, what's going on?" he asked again, genuinely curious as to what had drawn the girl of his dreams and her best friend to the unofficial nerd table.

"Um, we were just wondering if you guys are doing the Brock Sorenson thing," she said, moving her gaze from Mike to his three friends, who were all looking up at her curiously. That caught Mike by surprise. He would've imagined maybe one of them had a question about one of the classes they shared with them or something, or maybe that El wanted to ask Will something about their parents. Definitely not this, though.

"Actually, yeah," Will was the one to respond to her query. Dustin was too busy looking between the two girls, while Lucas was too busy looking everywhere but at the two girls. "We just got the first clue yesterday. Why do you ask?"

The girls exchanged a look before Max continued speaking. "We were wondering if you guys would like to team up with us," she said, surprising all four boys. "I'm shit at math, but El can try and solve the equations," she continued, throwing her hair over her shoulder. "The thing is that she needs someone to compare her answers to, to make sure they're right, and she thought you guys might be good for it."

"Well, we do need help with the pop culture questions," Will admitted with a shrug. "Would you guys be able to help us with that?"

El nodded and Max scoffed. "Oh, that's easy," she said dismissively. "I know everything about Brock Sorenson, and what I don't know, we can figure out." Mike still had trouble imagining girls being Brock Sorenson fans, but Max certainly seemed sure of her superfan credentials. "Just leave that up to us."

"Wait, wait," Dustin chimed in, like he was just wrapping his head around the girls' suggestion. "You want to partner up with us for the Brock Sorenson contest?" His eyebrows were raised so high on his forehead that they disappeared under the brim of his red-white-and-blue hat. "Why?"

"Well, you guys are really smart," El intervened, a little unsure— not because she didn't believe what she was saying, Mike guessed, but because she wasn't expecting her intentions to be questioned.

"Hmm. This is true," Dustin conceded with a nod, sounding so much like one of the comically cliched ancient-wise-man characters from their superhero comic books that Mike had to roll his eyes. "I'll give you that. But how can we be sure that you won't just copy our answers and then screw us over?"

"Dustin!" Mike exclaimed with a glare, while Will was quick to give his curly-haired friend a slap on the arm. It's not that Mike didn't know where Dustin's suspicions were coming from; this wouldn't be the first time some popular kid pretended to be friends with one of them just to get them to do their homework for them. But still, this was El— beautiful, sweet, polite El— and Mike was 100% sure she would never do such a thing.

"But— we wouldn't do that," El stammered with wide eyes, obviously not having expected to be accused of cheating after offering a genuine, simple deal.

"Don't listen to him," Mike dismissed Dustin's insinuation with a wave of his hand, quick to give El a reassuring smile. "He's just being contrary for the sake of it. We'd love to partner up with you ladies."

El was just starting to smile back when Dustin intervened again. "Excuse me," he said, demanding everyone's attention back to him. "Party rules state that these kinds of decisions have to be put up to a vote. This is a democracy. I have a voice and I deserve to be heard," he added, tapping the table in front of him with a finger along with his words.

Mike narrowed his eyes at him. "Well, Mr. Democracy, your voice is on its own because Will and I vote yes," he said, turning to Will with a congenial expression. "Right, Will?" His brown-haired friend nodded his head, throwing in his support for the idea.

In unison, the five teenagers turned toward Lucas, who had remained quiet through the entire conversation. "Lucas?" Mike prompted him, but the dark-skinned boy remained silent for a moment longer.

Lucas had been staring down at his food for a long while, his gaze only lifting now to fall on Max, who looked away as soon as their eyes met. Lucas's jaw clenched for a second before he looked down again. "Yeah, fine. Let's do it," he finally muttered, crossing his arms and leaning back in his chair with a sigh.

Mike cheered internally. "Awesome," he said, turning to the two girls and giving them a bright, triumphant grin. "Guess that means we're partners, then."

"Partners," El echoed, smiling right back at him. Mike felt like he could start dancing, he was so excited. Thankfully, he managed to keep his feet planted firmly on the ground and save himself the embarrassment. "When did you guys want to start working on it? It should be as soon as possible; we don't want to risk any other teams out there solving the clue before we do."

"We were actually going to work on it today after A/V Club," Will let her know.

"Yeah," Mike agreed. "Do you think you guys can make it to my place, say around 4:30? We should be done by then," he explained, already internally freaking out at having the girl he'd been drooling over for years actually visit his house.

El turned to Max with a questioning look— Max was the one out of the two of them who actually had a car— and the redhead shrugged. "Sure, we'll be there," she asserted, obviously agreeing with El's assessment that they needed to hit the ground running with this scavenger-hunt thing.

"Maple Street, right?" El asked him, and his heart did a quick somersault when he realized that she knew where he lived. He couldn't remember her ever being to his place— her father, sure, but not her personally; he would've noticed that. Still, if she knew where he lived and kept it front-of-mind, that meant she was paying attention when someone around her talked about him or his family. That was something, at least.

Mike nodded to her question, and she seemed satisfied. "Okay. We'll bring reference materials, then. See you later," she said, giving him one last smile— and a wave for the rest of the boys— before turning on her heel and making her way to the table where she and Max usually had lunch. Max did the same, red her flying around her as she spun around and waved at them over her shoulder.

"What does she mean, 'reference materials'?" Lucas asked, almost to himself, as the two girls walked away from their table. Mike wasn't sure what it meant, either, but he was more preoccupied with his other friend as he put his tray down on the table and sat down.

Dustin yowled as Mike slapped his other arm angrily. "What the hell is your problem?" he demanded, glaring at his hat-wearing friend. "El has never said anything bad about your teeth. Where do you get off on, treating her like a criminal?"

"I don't think El has ever said anything bad about anyone, period," Will chimed in from Dustin's opposite side.

"It's not about my teeth or El," Dustin responded to Mike's question as he pushed his food tray, now empty of food, slightly away from him and toward the center of the table. "It's about you. Do you know how important this is? Meeting Brock Sorenson could be the single greatest moment of my life," he added, emphasizing the last few words forcefully.

"If this is really gonna happen," he continued, "I need to know that we've all got our heads 100% in the game. And that's not gonna happen if you're too busy making goo-goo eyes at El from the other side of the table the entire time!" he finished with a huff. "I'm not playing games here, Michael!"

Mike gasped, feeling affronted. "I was not making goo-goo eyes at her!" he input in his defense, albeit somewhat weakly.

Lucas scoffed, still leaning back with his arms crossed on the opposite side of the table. "Yeah, you kinda were," he muttered with a chuckle, and Mike turned his glare from Dustin to him.

"Oh, and who are you to talk, anyway, Mr. Won't-look-Max-in-the-eye," Mike threw back at his friend, whose smirk immediately dropped.

"He does have a point," Dustin concurred.

Lucas scowled at him. "What? I voted yes because I really do think we need their help, but that doesn't mean I have to be buddy-buddies with her, now, does it?" he retorted with a huff, pushing forward on his seat and stretching out a hand to dig into his leftover french fries.

Mike rolled his eyes with a groan. "For Pete's sake. So you made out with her once and then she gave you the runaround afterward. Get over it already."

"Oh, like you got over your crush on El Hopper?" Lucas threw back, biting angrily into his food.

Mike hadn't even started eating yet, and if they did not get off this topic soon, lunch was going to end before he got the chance. "Whatever. I am 100% in this," he tried to reassure Dustin, who just stared at him with an unimpressed expression. "Really, I am. El and Max are going to help us, and we are going to win this. We are meeting Brock Sorenson, no matter what it takes."

"We'd better," Dustin mumbled, reaching out to steal one of Lucas's fries. Lucas slapped his hand away just as Mike started unwrapping his chicken burger.

Lifting it up to his mouth, he sighed. "I never should've told you about El," he mumbled right before taking a bite. He was beginning to reconsider this whole Friends-don't-lie thing if it gave free rein to his three friends to tease him about his crush for the rest of his life.

"I don't know," Will piped in, handing Dustin his own leftover fries— only four or five left, but Dustin appreciated the gesture either way. "I think we would've figured it out by now." As Mike threw him a halfhearted glare, Will shrugged innocently. "Well, you did greet her twice."

Mike shook his head, never able to get really mad at Will, especially when he was stating the truth. Still, he hoped after that afternoon, they'd all realize how well they could work with El and Max, and would get off his case about this.

After all, having the girl he liked on his team could only be an incentive, right? He'd get to talk to her more often, maybe even impress her a little. If only he could get over his own insecurities, this might be the chance he needed to finally do something about this torch he'd carried in his heart for nearly five years.

The stakes for this contest had just gotten a lot higher than he'd originally thought they would be. And he was all in.