“El,” Hopper called to his daughter. “Come on sweetheart. Come on. Just tell me what’s wrong.”
El was supposed to be out with her friends, and Hopper had a day off. So he had been chilling at the cabin, maybe dancing around like a weirdo, when El suddenly stomped into the house, using her powers to throw the door open. And then she had charged into her room, and just broken down in tears. Hopper couldn’t get the door open.
“El, come on,” Hopper tried again. “Come on. Please. What’s wrong?”
El just kept sobbing. Hopper had no idea what was wrong. He’d already tried Eggos, and other snacks, and a bunch of other bribes. He’d even brought up Mike. That had just gotten far harder sobs. Whatever had happened had been bad.
“El, please,” he tried again. “Let me help.”
“No,” El sobbed out.
And that was all Hopper got.
“Please tell me you did not lose Hopper’s daughter,” Steve sighed as he looked at the kids. “I really do not want to deal with that.”
They were supposed to have spent the day at the mall and then meet Steve at the food court after work. Steve had been a little late because of stupid reasons. But now he was at the food court, staring at several children, and he was one child short. The kids all looked extremely morbid, and Steve had a feeling it wasn’t because they lost El. Even Mike seemed to look as if his heart was ripped out. Almost like…
“What did you idiots do?” Steve hissed at them.
“We told El a lie,” Dustin admitted, getting protest from the others. “And she just found out it was a lie.”
“Dustin!” Lucas hissed.
“You weren’t supposed to say anything,” Max snapped darkly.
Will, ever the greatest friend in the world, was comforting Mike, who looked like he was getting very close to fighting tears.
“And you guys have that whole “friends don’t lie” thing,” Steve pieced the problem together. “Alright. Okay. What did you lie about?”
“I told El that we would,” Mike stopped, trying even harder not to cry as Steve sank down in a chair across from them. “I told El that we would check out any store she wanted. You know, since it was her first time out. But then we got sidetracked and forgot, and we went to a store she didn’t want to see, and she called us liars and took off.”
Something so simple. A simple forgetting of a promise. El had always been told that friends don’t lie, and yet friends do lie. They always have. Everyone lies. But El didn’t know that, and Mike was afraid he was going to lose his girlfriend again over something so stupid. It had broken him once; Mike wasn’t going to be able to handle it again.
“Alright,” Steve clapped, standing up again. “Here’s what’s going to happen. Will, I am going to give you quarters, and you are going to ask both your mom and Mike’s mom if Mike can spend the night. Then I’m going to drop the rest of you at home before I go and talk to El.”
Was the chorus that Steve got as he shoved quarters into Will’s hand. One look was all it took for Will to race to the phone booth, instantly followed by Dustin, Lucas, and Max.
“Can you really fix this?” Mike asked.
“I don’t know,” Steve admitted, “but if anyone can talk some hard truths to El, it will probably be me. Kind of lived them a bit too long.”
Mike sniffed, but still didn’t cry. The others came back moments later and Steve herded them into the car. When the last kid was dropped off, Steve took off for the Hopper residence.
“Hop!” Steve gave the knock. “Hopper, it’s me! It’s Steve!”
The door was opened a few minutes later, and Hopper eyed Steve warily.
“Harrington?” he questioned hesitantly.
“I can help,” Steve said, eyeing El’s door before looking back at Hopper.
With a tired sigh, Hopper let Steve inside. And Steve went straight for El’s door. There were still silent sobs on the other side, but even Steve could tell she had been sobbing for hours. He knocked gently.
“Hey, El,” he called softly. “It’s Steve. Listen, I know we don’t know each other that well, but I understand.” He paused for a moment. “I know what it’s like to be lied too. To have promises broken.”
Steve didn’t hear a verbal response, but he heard the door click unlocked. With a glance at Hopper, Steve entered the room and went to sit on the bed. El was curled up in a corner. Upset.
“My parents,” Steve explained. “Made a lot of promises and lied about a lot of things. It hurt to know. It hurt to realize that my own family lied to me on a regular basis, but I still love them. Even though they hurt me, I still care about them.”
El sniffed. “Friends don’t lie,” she hissed.
“Well neither should family,” Steve hummed back. “No one should lie, El. Not ever. But sometimes people do it because they think they know what’s best for us.”
“Why?” El asked, still sniffing and looking so broken.
Steve had to pause for a moment. “Sometimes, people forget,” Steve explained, moving to sink down beside El. “Sometimes friends lie to protect you. It’s not always right, in fact, lying is never right. But sometimes people think they don’t have a choice. Sometimes they think lying is the only way to save a friendship or relationship.”
El sniffed again. “So Mike wasn’t trying to lie to me?”
“No, El,” Steve promised. “He wasn’t. I swear. He just forgot because he and the others got excited. It wasn’t right, by they are so very sorry.”
El swallowed a breath this time, looking away from Steve.
“Will they lie again?”
Steve sighed. “I wish I could say no. Wish I could say that they’d never hurt you like that again. But that would be a lie. And I think you’ve had enough lying for one day.” As El took in a shaky breath, Steve pulled her into his side. “It won’t be right, but I swear to you, if the boys or Max ever lie enough to make you hate them, it is because they wanted to protect you from something that could break you. They’re going to lie, El, just like you will sometime. We don’t like it, but we can’t always help it.”
“Not right,” El agreed, wiping her tears away. “What do I do now?”
“That’s up to you,” Steve chuckled as he ruffled her hair. “You could forgive them, move on, talk things out. But sometimes that’s hard. For everyone. Sometimes lies hurt so much that you have to take time to let everything sink in. No one will blame you if you want to take time apart from your friends to wrap your head around everything.”
El nodded, sniffing once more and cuddling closer into Steve’s side.
“Can we stay up and eat Eggos and watch TV?”
Steve chuckled a bit. “We’ll have to ask Hopper, but I’m sure you can convince him with those puppy-dog eyes.”
“This is really your first time eating ice cream?” Robin gaped at El.
“She came from a bad home,” Steve explained at El’s terrified expression. “So we’re making up for a lost childhood. Starting with ice cream.”
It was two days later, and El had opted to stay in the cabin and lay in bed the first day after their talk. So Steve had let the other five kids know that El needed some time. Which was why she was spending time with Steve, and by default, Robin, Steve’s co-worker.
“Well, then it looks like you are in luck,” Robin beamed as she reached under the counter. “We just got a whole bunch of new flavors, and we just got three more boxes of taste sample sticks. So we have plenty of ice cream for you to try and plenty of time.”
As Robin ducked into the back to go get the taste sample sticks, El turned to Steve.
“I like her,” El beamed.
Steve laughed. “She’s definitely something.”
“Steve?” El asked, her voice getting quiet. “Will you ever lie to me?”
Ah. Steve should have expected this.
“I hope not,” Steve confessed, “but I’m like everyone else. I’ve lied to a lot of people too, El. And to promise I won’t lie to you would just be another lie. But I will do my best not too, alright?”
“Do I get free ice cream if you do lie?” El asked, suddenly perking up.
Steve narrowed his eyes playfully. “Are you trying to manipulate me into giving you free ice cream?”
El shook her head in a way that just screamed innocent. But then she smiled and nodded. Then she got upset, because she had lied.
“I’ll think about it,” Steve grinned, dipping his finger in a thing of strawberry ice cream and running it down her nose. And that is your punishment for lying.”
El’s eyes widened in surprise, but then she went cross-eyed to try and look at her nose. She used her own finger to slide the ice cream off her nose and stick it in her mouth. The smile on her face made Steve smile back, and Robin came back just in time to see El swipe chocolate ice cream on Steve’s nose. With her finger of course.
“What are you two doing?” Robin accused, though she was grinning.
El and Steve exchanged a look before they both got more ice cream and tried to get Robin. Steve eventually held Robin down as El put the cold, sticky substance on Robin’s nose as she laughed. El decided she liked strawberry after the taste test. Steve would never admit he felt smug at that, but Robin teased him for it.
“That is not how this works,” Dustin yelled back.
“It is too!” Lucas argued back.
“I think Dustin may be right this time,” Will pointed out.
“Yeah, I’m actually with Dustin on this one,” Max added.
Steve could only hold back his laughter as the kids tried to put together a shelf for Hopper. They had been very instant that they be the ones to do it as it was to be used to hold El’s books and games. El may or may not have broken the other one when she had gotten a cold. It was both funny and horrifying to learn that El had no control of her powers when she was sick, and they had even gone as far to call Doctor Owens to make sure the girl had not accidently opened a gate to the Upside Down. She hadn’t. Thankfully.
“Wrench,” Steve finally laughed out when another failed attempted resulted in Lucas hitting himself in the head with a screw. “Now.”
It had been a week since the “lie” and El had forgiven them. Which was why Mike was aggressively gripping her hand.
“Honestly,” Steve chuckled as he plucked the wrench form Lucas’ grasp. “First of all, this is the wrong sized wrench. Second of all, you should have used a screw driver before you tied to the wrench. Now, Dustin and Will, you two hold the left. Max and Lucas, the right. And Wheeler,” he turned to face the couple, and El smiled at him. “Sort through the shelving part and give me one when I ask.”
With Steve’s instructions, they got the shelf put up far faster. Which meant a reward of Eggos with whipped cream. El, however, had her own plans, and the minute Steve turned around, there was whipped cream on his nose.
“Get back here you little jerk,” Steve called after her with a laugh as they raced about the help.
Lying wasn’t okay, Steve knew that, but El would be okay. Those were just some truths Steve had learned. And, honestly, they weren’t half bad.