Billy Hargrove was not an easy person to get along with, much less date. In the early stages of your relationship, you spent a lot of time circling around one another—you were afraid of saying the wrong thing, of setting him off, and he was afraid of being too needy or too insecure or just plain stupid for having feelings.
It took months for the two of you to figure each other out, but when you did, you had never been happier. Despite Billy’s rough start to junior year, first dethroning Steve Harrington and then nearly beating him to death just after Halloween, he grew into himself in the coming months. He kept his distance from Steve in a silent, tense agreement to avoid one another. He focused on his schoolwork, brought up his slacking grades, and took his aggression out at both the gym and basketball practice.
He was working on himself, and you kindly took a step back, letting him find himself and who he should be. He fought you on it each time you tried to pull yourself away, passionately exclaiming that you were the driving force behind his attitude adjustments; he couldn’t do it without you.
So you stayed, helped guide him and yourself to who you both thought you should be. He got a job at the mechanic, preferring to work with his hands, and you helped Joyce Byers down at Melvald’s a few nights a week and on weekends. It gave you enough distance from each other that, when you both came home at the end of the day, you weren’t more than a foot apart, and your relationship was that much stronger. What’s that saying about absence and the heart?
It wasn’t easy adjusting to that life with Billy—renting a small one bedroom apartment in Hawkins just after junior year, getting used to living not only on your own but with each other, learning even more intimate details than you had originally thought. Like the fact that Billy hogged the bathroom in the mornings, even though he was just going to get covered in motor oil and other mechanical juices when he went to work.
Like the fact that he despised shirts (which, you’ll admit, you didn’t really mind) when he was home, or that he left his dirty boxers on the bathroom floor every night when he got home and went right for a shower. He almost always left the toilet seat up and left his dirty dishes soaking in the sink despite the perfectly capable dishwasher not a foot to his left.
Billy made life hard sometimes, especially when those small things built up into petty arguments back and forth. More times than you could count, he’d end up sleeping on the couch, pouting like a child and temper flaring. He got better at calming himself down, though, trying out the breathing exercises his therapist had recommended for him.
The two of you finally had a day off together, and, even better, it was a Sunday. It meant the two of you stayed in your pajamas, ordered takeout, and sat on the couch watching movies all day. Billy had quickly adapted to your ritual, one that stemmed from when you were 14 and left alone on weekends while your parents went out-of-state. He enjoyed them just as much as you did; he could shut off his brain for a while, get lost in whatever movie you both decided on.
Finding time off on the weekends together was difficult; between your senior years of high school and your jobs, time together was scarce. Mutual days off were diamonds in the rough, and lazy movie Sundays were the best way to spend them.
It had been Billy’s turn to choose the movie, and he’d never seen Jaws and you just couldn’t have that. So you hijacked his choice for this week and popped the VHS into the player. Placing his takeout container on the table, he then took yours out of your hands, shushing you when you whined, and pulled you down to lay on his chest.
Humming contently, your fingers traced over his bare chest, causing him to shiver a bit. You bit your lip behind a giggle, humming again when Billy began to play with your hair.
“Spring break is coming up,” he noted idly as Quint offered up his shark-hunting services on the screen. “We should do something.”
“Hm? Like what?” you responded without looking up.
“Have you ever seen the beach?”
“No. Not a real beach anyways. Just the ones at the Great Lakes.”
“I want to take you to California. To… to meet my mom.” You stilled in his arms, head slowly lifting off his chest to stare deeply down at him.
“What?” you whispered. For as long as you’d known him, Billy had never spoken of his mom. You’d never asked, assuming it was a sore subject for him, so the fact that he’d just out-of-the-blue brought her up had your heart swelling in your chest.
“I think it’s time you met my mom,” he murmured, cheeks flushing under your scrutiny.
“Billy, I don’t know what to say,” you replied. He shrugged lamely.
“Just say you’ll go,” he mumbled, feeling more and more like this was a stupid idea.
As if you could read his thoughts, you leaned up and kissed him hard. “Of course I’ll go, silly!”
So the plans had been made and you left for California the first Saturday of spring break. The drive was long, but you made sure you had an ample supply of snacks, drinks, cassette tapes, and books to keep you busy. But you found yourself more drawn to the boy beside you. Even just barely being out of Hawkins had him looking freer than you’d ever seen him. You couldn’t wait for the coming week.
The California coast was beautiful. As soon as it was within your sights, Billy pulled over, having to slam on the brakes when you threw open the door and all but fell out of the car.
“Jesus, babe!” he cried, laughing when he came to a full stop.
The salt air was refreshing, blowing lightly across your face as the waves crashed against the rocks of the cliff face. Billy came up behind you, smiling at you in a way he never had before as he took in your awestruck expression.
“It’s beautiful, Billy. Everything about it. The smells, the sounds…”
“I miss it a lot,” he replied, staring longingly out at the waves.
“We’ll come back,” you promised. “After graduation. Maybe we’ll live here.”
The first few days of your vacation were spent visiting all of Billy’s old stomping grounds. His old high school, the local dive bar that let him in even without a fake ID, the part of the woods where he’d escape from Neil and get high with his friends. It all helped create a map to Billy’s nature, who he was before he came to Hawkins and how it influenced him.
When Billy woke you up one morning, claiming that today was the day you’d meet his mom, you were instantly awake as if he’d shot espresso into your veins. Nerves were alight in your stomach, and your hands couldn’t stop shaking on the drive over.
Billy drove for a while, passing house after house. Your eyebrows furrowed when he pulled into a parking lot with no buildings around it. Instead, there was a small fenced-in area with rose bushes plotted around. You turned to look at him, but he had an unreadable look on his face as he got out of the car.
Wordlessly, you followed him; he led you through the gate, down rows of what you quickly realized were grave markers.
“Billy….” you murmured unsurely, but he kept on walking until he came to a beautiful statue of an angel at the back of the plot. A beautiful oak tree stood tall beside it, shading it from the sun.
“Billy?” you tried again. Billy’s shoulders were hunched forward, hands in his pockets as he stared down at the name carved into the base of angel’s robe.
“Hi mom,” he murmured. “I know it’s been a while. I’m sorry about that. I wanted to visit sooner but… Well, you know Neil. But, I, well, there’s someone I want you to meet.”
He turned towards you then, eyes shining right along with yours. He held out his hand, nodding and smiling sadly.
“It’s okay, babe.” Taking his head, you let him pull you forward. “Mom, this Y/N, my girlfriend. Isn’t she beautiful? Y/N, this is mom, Katherine. She always went by Katy.”
Eyes misty, you looked up at Billy, who nodded once again to you. Swallowing thickly, you knelt into the grass, ignoring the dew bleeding through your jeans.
“Hi Katy,” you whispered. You swiped a hand under your eyes, the tears escaping. “It’s so nice to finally meet you. I’m sorry to say Billy hasn’t said much but, well, now I know why.”
Billy looked down, partially in shame for having never spoken of his mother, the one woman who’d ever shown an ounce of kindness towards him until he met you. Truth be told, he didn’t want to see the look of pity on your face when you told him he had a dead mom. Plus it was hard to talk about her; she’d been the only one in his corner, and when she died, a part of him died too. The part that held all of his dreams of making something of himself, of falling in love with a woman just like Katy, and as he watched you talk to his mother’s headstone, telling her all the ways Billy turned out better than his father, he knew he’d found her.
“She’s pretty great isn’t she, Mom?” he murmured, smiling affectionately down at you. You matched it with watery eyes, swiping your thumbs under them to wipe the tears away. His eyes settled back on the angel headstone, mouth trembling and throat bobbing with emotion. “I love her so, so much, and I wish you could meet her because you’d love her too.”
Inside your chest your heart was galloping. He’d never said those words to you before, despite being together since the end of junior year, but he’d confessed them to his mother. Fresh tears crept up on you, and you choked back a sob as you stared up at him, eyes shining with the love you’d known for a while now.
“C’mere, baby,” he cooed gently, holding out a hand for you. You accepted it and slowly rose to your feet, giggling when Billy leaned down to kiss your nose. “I do love you, you know, and I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to buck up and say it.”
“It’s okay,” you whispered, feeling altogether on top of the freaking world. Arms winding around his neck, you lifted up on your toes and kissed him firmly, but not too deeply in front of his mother. “I love you, too, you know.”
“I know. Who else would put up with my dumb ass as long as you?”
Giggling, you brushed your hair back from your ear and turned towards Katy’s grave. “You have a beautiful son, Katy, and I know you’re proud of him. I am too. More than he could know.”
“We’ll visit again soon, Mom, okay? I love you.” Billy kissed his palm and pressed it to the angel’s skirt, and without thinking, you did the same. The look he gave you had your cheeks flushing and heart racing.
You both returned to the cemetery, exactly a year later, with the keys to your new California home swinging from your index finger.