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take a chance with me, it will be alright

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It’s the last day before winter break.

His dad is in the kitchen, his mom is still showering upstairs, and, now, Steve is in the kitchen too.

On a scale of messed up situations, this is worse than a demodog breaking through the kitchen window and coming for Steve’s head.

 

 

The thing about his parents being home for the holidays is the house has this amazing ability to shrink when all three Harringtons are inside at once.

While his dad lurks downstairs, his mom flitters between floors, phone attached to her ear.

Steve was just a kid when he learned the very much needed skill of avoiding when he figured out the Harrington household needed him to.

He knows his dad doesn’t soften his steps. He stomps. Started dragging his feet as he’s gotten older. Makes it known to the entire street he’s going in this direction and he’d like it if you got out of his way.

His mom glides through the house in slippers or socks. She has cold feet. It’s the most personal fact about his mom he knows. Her toes get cold just as much in the summer as in the winter. Heaters be damned, thick woolen socks are for her when she’s home and her high heels are parked upstairs.

Steve figured out to be quiet. Leave his room soundlessly. Walk down the hall and down the stairs and out the front door without alerting either of his parents he was on the move. It was better to be silent and ignored then to be making a ruckus and still ignored.

Steve became a ninja. Good at keeping his big feet muffled and learning the creaks of the floorboards to avoid. Hide and seek is his game. Hitting home runs may have gotten him the nickname king before puberty knocked him over and spurred him on to different kinds of after school activities, but he is a goddamn beast at hide and seek.

Tommy had once ransacked Steve’s house then his own house trying to find him before crying uncle.

Steve knows how to make himself scarce when his mom and his dad decide it’s time to play family again. Mr. and Mrs. Harrington are not meant to play family is the other big thing Steve realized and then only quietly admitted to himself when he saw how other people’s families didn’t pretend.

It’s why he spent so many nights sleeping over at Tommy’s and it’s why, when the house had just him to fill in the large, empty rooms, Tommy would bike over and bunk with him so often.

Unlike his parents, Steve never could pretend that well. He wanted to. He tried. It’s just—Steve noticed the half-hearted plastered over cracks in the silent dinners and the polite, disinterested way of trying to care without actually caring and ended up wanting the real thing too much.

And all this is why Steve should have known better than to walk right into the kitchen to grab something to eat before his ride to school pulled up and rescued him from being cooped up in his parent’s attempt at being a regular ole American family.

 

 

His dad is sitting at the table. An empty plate in front of him, his morning cup of coffee in one hand, the other holding up a folded newspaper. His glasses are perched on the end of his nose. Whatever he’s reading is making him do that one frown that means things are not all that great and that Reagan deserves better than this America.

Or maybe it’s the stock market that’s still a mystery to Steve as to what it is and why it makes his dad so red in the face some days.

Or maybe it’s congress.

Or maybe it’s the queers.

Or maybe it’s just Steve and Steve understands that one. There are days Steve has the same reaction to himself.

Not today. Today he looks great. He could look better. Spring is really the hot spot when it comes to weather and his hair. He’s made it work though. He’s fine. Not even a frumpy winter coat is going to dampen what he’s got going on and he’s got a lot going on, okay.

His dad hasn’t noticed Steve yet, which is ideal and puts to rest some of the anxiety that comes with being alone in a room with him. So Steve makes his way to the cabinet with the cereal, intent on grabbing any box and hightailing it out of the room and possibly out of the house too to go wait outside in the cold.

In a game of would you rather Steve would pick freezing his balls off in the cold over having another talk with his dad about his future every single time. He doesn’t even have to think about it. If he did think about it he’d need to lie down for awhile.

Like. Disappointment is always waiting around the corner when it comes to him and his dad interacting.

“Steve.” His dad says. It’s his good morning. He wakes up early and gets the newspaper delivered into his hand by the paperboy. He should be in his office by now.

It’s too late for either one of them to get up and leave. That would be admitting they avoid each other. Harringtons aren’t that honest.

Steve has his hand on the cabinet door, the door open, a box of Cheerios waiting for him to swipe it and run off into the sunset together.

“Morning.” Steve says. He inches the box off the shelf and down onto the counter.

His dad has shaved his mustache for the first time in decades and he looks weird and Steve’s suspicious over what exactly it means and how it’s going to cause trouble for him. Because it will. There’s no doubt about it. They’ve been home for a week now and Steve’s just waiting for whatever shoe his dad has behind his back to be thrown right at his face and knock Steve down a few more pegs.

Something is going to drop.

His dad sets his coffee down then his newspaper. Folds his glasses and slips them into his shirt pocket to fold his hands and give Steve his full attention.

He taps the table and there on the table is Billy’s stud earring. It glints in the cloudy, winter sunlight shining through the windows.

“I found this in the pool’s filter.” His dad says with his mustacheless face as the only person in the world who actually enjoys testing the PH level of the pool, but who only ever thinks to check the filter when he remembers it’s there.

“Did you have a girl over?”

His dad is watching him, waiting for a crack to show. Any crack he might see is all well, you knowHawkins-grown Steve Harrington, the first and only son of The All American Harrington Family.

Steve’s knee-jerk reaction is to curl inwards, hunch over and hug himself. When his dad looks at him like this, serious and already unhappy with him, Steve just wants to back out of the room and hide. Go back to bed and get under ten blankets and wait till his dad takes his next business trip.

But Steve did not wake up at six this morning, change his outfit three times, wrestle with his hair because he slept on it weird and there was somehow a crease in it, to then have his dad acknowledge his existence and want to talk to him and have this conversation.

Box of Cheerios under his arm, Steve goes over and picks up the earring. Turns it around. Examines it from all sides. Pretends to have the realization that it must be Carol’s because Carol might as well be the neighbor’s Labrador rather than a girl his dad will have to inspect and worry over. She doesn’t count in the no girls rule. She’s just Carol.

“Nope. No girl. Maybe Carol’s? Yep—yeah. This is definitely Carol’s.” Steve says. No girls. No girlfriend. Two kids and a drunk guy isn’t anything close to a party. It’s too early in the morning to tell his dad guy’s have pierced ears too.

His dad eyes him and Steve weathers the familiar, uncomfortable scrutiny like he usually does by focusing on anything or anyone other than his dad.

The newspaper headline reads Starcourt Mall Back in Play. The box of Cheerios is half full and he’s definitely going to eat all of it before first period. The earring has a gold backing. Billy hasn’t been over to his house since that night so he must have lost it then.

Steve wishes Billy would’ve told him, but that would mean Billy bringing up that night and Billy hasn’t once so Steve hasn’t either.

His dad sighs.

“You’re of an age—“ His dad starts and Steve shrivels and jumps to cut off this conversation as quickly as he can.

“—I’m not dating anyone, dad.” Steve tries, desperate to not be here, in this kitchen, right now. Regretting every choice he made this morning to come down here. He doesn’t need breakfast. Food is so over with.

But his dad is determined to make it so all their future conversations will only happen with a phone line between them.

You’re of an age,” his dad starts again, “where you have to think about your future and you have to take precautions, Steve.”

“I do. I have. I’m gonna be late for school, so.” Steve starts backing out of the kitchen.

“Fooling around with girls is not going to do you any favors if—“

“—I’m not. I don’t want—“

“—and I don’t want what happened to Terrance to happen to you.” His dad says with finality.

This is his usual go-to, throwing his cousin who Steve has only met, like, twice in his entire life and has spoken—maybe—three words to, in Steve’s face. Like having a kid is so bad. Like it’s the worst thing to ever happen to a person. Like Steve’s life would be ruined by having a family.

Like. Okay. Message received.

“It won’t, dad.”

“Good.”

Steve tosses the earring in the air and catches it in his palm then pockets it.

“Thank for finding this, I would’ve gotten an earful.”

His dad puts his glasses back on, picks the newspaper back up and Steve thinks for a second his dad is dismissing him and Steve can go touch up his hair and find some peace in his life again.

“Joe senior called.” His dad says without looking at Steve. “The car’s ready to be picked up.”

“Okay.”

His dad unfolds the newspaper, seemingly, so he can look at Steve over it. “And you’ll pick it up today after school?”

A good question. Steve wavers, stuck between lying and telling the truth.

Today’s no good ‘cause school? or actually, would it be okay if old Joe just kept the car because Billy Hargrove and, like, I’m really into this whole situation we’ve got going on?

Neither one has much of an upside.

“Sunday.” Steve says.

His dad puts the newspaper down and Steve really should’ve just ran and pretended he didn’t hear him.

“The shop’s closed on Sunday.”

Steve shrugs. Hugs the box of Cheerios to his chest. “Monday, then.”

“Saturday.” His dad says. “You’ll pick the car up on Saturday.”

Steve puts on his good and responsible and totally obedient son smile. “Saturday. I can do Saturday.”

“And next week you’ll come to the club with me.” It’s not a question. It never really is.

“Okay.”

“Interpersonal relationships are important for a successful career, Steve.”

Steve nods and says, “sounds fun.”

“Is that really Carol’s?”

Does it really matter?

Steve swallows. Stands a little straighter. His knees shake. There’s a heavy weight to truth.

He says, “there’s no girl. There’s not gonna be a girl. It’s—it’s actually a guy’s.”

His dad looks at him, not seeing him. Steve can clearly hear him ask why do I bother with you in his head. His dad doesn’t have to say it anymore. All Steve needs is the look and the disappointment is understood.

“Always a comedian.” His dad says to himself and then grunts and their conversation for the day is done. He picks up the newspaper and goes back to his world and leaves Steve to his.

 

 

Steve goes upstairs, turns on his stereo—Billy Joel—and gives his hair another spray. Fiddles with a few strands. Anxiety flushes his skin and makes him want to hop in the shower and start over again because it’s just not right—there’s too much of it going this way when it should be going that way—and it has to be right, but there’s no time and he’s not about to go outside with wet, un-perfected hair.

Instead he swishes around some Listerine. Changes his shirt. Picks out a green t-shirt and starts to re-layer. Switches out his jeans for another pair that clings a little tighter. He looks his reflection from head to toe. Grins. Smooths his eyebrows down with his thumbs. Runs a quick comb through to really capture the mood of his do.

And because he can he takes Billy’s earring and holds it up to his ear to see what it would look like on him, what kind of Steve it would turn him into.

His cheeks go pink.

He quickly shoves it back into his pocket. He’s no Billy Hargrove.

Steve droops. Rubs at his temple. His dad is in his head and it’s not exactly great and his entire day has somehow been thrown off.

His reflection looks a little down and he wants to clap the guy on the back and tell him to perk up. Two weeks without school is nothing to sniff at.

Steve eats a handful of Cheerios—they don’t taste like much and they dry up his mouth but he can eat them a handful at a time and it’s the box he chose. It’s not like he’s going back into the kitchen after that. Mostly they just taste like Listerine and the mint of toothpaste.

He looks at the clock by his bed then checks his watch. Ten minutes. He picks his step up a bit, does a spin, his good mood coming back to him. Ten minutes is nothing.

He can totally handle ten more minutes in the house. He’s managed eighteen years so far.

Ten minutes.

Easy peasy.

 

 

The driveway is empty. It’s freezing outside. Winter in Hawkins is somehow worse than summer in Hawkins and summer in Hawkins has humidity that fucks his hair up and no amount of product can un-fuck it. Somehow winter is worse than that.

Steve sits on the fourth step of the staircase, boots on, box of cereal by his side, and backpack sitting unzipped between his legs. Inside are a stack of cassettes, The Sirens of Titan, his binder full of notes for his pre-cal test this morning he should probably have cracked open last night or any time this morning or at all this week or looked at any of the college brochures magically piling up on his desk in his room or start figuring a way out of a job a this dad’s company that doesn’t mean more school.

School is over. He’s so not into it. He’s calling it now—school is a dud.

He can hear his dad sipping at his coffee in the kitchen. Mumbling about something. The base-of-your-throat grunting gets the I don’t approve of this, so it’s wrong point across walls and half a house apart to Steve on his stoop. It feels like it’s aimed at him. It probably is. That’s how it usually goes.

Steve checks his watch again. Fifteen seconds have passed. It’s almost eight in the morning and the day is just taking forever with itself. His knee is jumping.

Steve checks his watch again. Doing this makes the ten minute wait a slog, turning it into twenty minutes, half a day, he’s been sitting on the fourth step of this staircase for years listening to his dad drink his coffee and disagree with whatever it is he’s reading or thinking that Steve doesn’t understand and won’t ever understand.

He checks his watch. Again. Cracks open The Sirens of Titan to have something to focus on other than the empty driveway he can see perfectly through the front windows.

Tries to read a line from the book. Listens to his dad grunt and say, very clearly for once, goddamn San Francisco queers and there’s an odd pang in Steve’s chest.

The words on the page swim in front of him, asking him why he’s bothering to read this book and why he’s hoarding this book in the first place when Billy’s probably been looking for it.

The answer is a little too pathetic to put into actual words. Billy can probably sweet talk the librarian into forgetting all about the book anyways. Steve snaps it shut and shoves it into his backpack.

He’ll give the book back today. He’ll study for his test right now. He’ll go to some college in September, ace all of his classes, meet a girl from a good family and marry her, and then his parents will be proud they had him.

Steve checks his watch.

It’s too early to be looking numbers. Or words.

His pre-cal notes—that he copied from Samantha because he’s not about to grovel to Carol—are in his folder in his backpack and his backpack is literally open and he can see his notes and the test is the only test for today and he’s in that fun position where he could fail any of his classes if he so much as misses one day and, like, he’s struggling real hard to care at all.

Graduating isn’t as big a thing for him as it is his parents. It’s just a thing to Steve.

His mom’s perfume today has this sweet scent that carries. Then the door to their bedroom is opening and shutting upstairs. There’s the familiar pattern of her walking down the hall to the stairs. Short steps. She’s wearing her slippers.

He’d wait outside, carefully evading any talks about his future where she does the talking and piles her hopes too high and Steve mumbles something half-hearted out, if it wasn’t December and this wasn’t Indiana and it wasn’t Hawkins and it wasn’t so goddamn cold.

If Steve had to ride his bike through this kind of weather, he’d skip. Graduating or being a drop out—either one, as far as Steve can tell, leads to the same place—except,

Except.

Except Steve may not have his car and he isn’t biking to school and not being a drop out means seeing Billy Hargrove first thing in the morning five days a week and today is the last day he gets to have that.

 

 

She’s wearing her fluffy white slippers that match her robe, her hair’s still wet from the shower, curls loose around her face.

His mom stops on the step Steve is sitting on and lightly touches the ends of his hair, a quick barely there skim with her fingertips that hardly feels real and makes Steve curl in on himself, hunching over his bag, away from her.

She says good morning. Steve grunts. Talks with his mom, more and more lately, lead to talks about college and his future.

Steve’s not into it. Ever. Especially right now.

It’s Friday and Steve may be dumb and he my not graduate, but he’s smart enough to know it’s not the best idea to start the weekend off with telling his mom he doesn’t want to go to college and he is definitely not going to go to college and if he works for his dad he might just drive himself into the quarry.

He’s danced around it. Sugar coated it before when he’s told her.

Maybe college isn’t for me or not sure I have the GPA for that one.

She’d never listened. She’s as bad as his dad. She wants Steve to go to college. He wants Steve to work at his company.

Steve doesn’t know shit in general and he knows even less shit about commercial real estate.

Neither one of them listen to him.

Sometimes he thinks if he said it outright she might actually hear him. The trouble comes when she doesn’t.

Or she’d tell his dad and Steve has plans for this weekend that can’t involve being taken captive by his parents for a conversation that none of them want to have, but it’ll still take days and ends with Steve in a tie with a 9-5 and he’s not nearly as pretty as Dolly Parton to make that work.

The weekend is too precious and if Steve has to deal with his parents—he just can’t. He’s having a great hair day and he looks amazing and Billy is going to be here any minute and somehow it’s already December and he can’t do it, won’t do it. He’s going to keep his mouth shut.

He’ll just apply to every college his mom puts in front of him and when they all reject him—problem solved.

His mom will listen to official rejection letters. His dad will forget he ever made any ultimatums about Steve and his future and—his dad can suck it.

Steve’s just decided. On the fourth step of this staircase Steve’s finally decided it. His dad and his missing mustache and his family photos that only come out once a year on Christmas and all the cursing about queers, occupying the kitchen, forgetting about Steve, acting like this is their home, like it’s not weird for Steve to think it’s better without either one of them—

His dad can suck it.

Steve does his own version of the Harrington grunt, zips his backpack closed, ducks under his mom’s hand, deciding he’s going to wait outside before his mood takes another hit or worse—his hair goes flat, when he hears the distinct and now welcoming sound of the camaro turning onto his street, zooming way too fast down the road to round the driveway, tires spitting out rocks and the sludge of melting ice.

In a hurry he grabs his bag and his cereal, he stops by the mirror only for a few seconds to check his hair and move a few strands back into place and second guesses himself to the fourth time—he really should’ve changed his shirt. He shoves his coat on on the way out. Ugly and frumpy and doesn’t do anything for him other than to keep him warm.

It’s the last day before winter break and pointless college tours and the annual Harringtons putting on their family face for one night a year and Steve’s too old to live off the scraps anymore.

His mom gingerly pulls the curtain away from the front window to peer outside.

“You should invite him over.” She says, insane. “I’d love to meet this new friend of yours—Billy? It’s so nice of him to drive you.”

A drunken bet isn’t nice.

Billy isn’t nice. He’s not the raging asshole he was when he first moved to Hawkins, but nice isn’t him either.

And Billy meeting his parents—his dad wouldn’t let someone like Billy through the front door. The idea sends Steve hurtling towards the door.

Billy hasn’t been inside Steve’s house again. He doesn’t leave his camaro when he picks Steve up or drops him off and Steve isn’t about to ask and get a big Billy Hargrove no thrown in his face.

Steve’s set on not pushing it.

“I don’t think that’s gonna happen.” Steve tells her.

His mom just hums then when Steve’s hand is on the doorknob, stops him. Cups his cheek carefully. Her hand is still pink from the hot water, delicate and smells like lotion. She’s watching him, waiting for him to say something because she doesn’t know what to say either.

There’s a part of Steve that thinks maybe she can see under his upcoming math test he’s not at all prepared for and the future he’s even less prepared for and sees his heart jackrabbiting at the sound of the camaro’s engine and the guitar riffs it brings with.

That’s only a very small part, though. The part that’s happy they’re here because there’s nothing more awful than being alone.

Steve fidgets. Unused to this new thing his mom does where she reaches out for him, where she’s home with his dad, and the phone is left in her purse.

She kisses his cheek.

“Have a good day.” She says. Pats his cheek. Licks her thumb and rubs at some spot that isn’t there. Lingers. Steve has her eyes. Big and brown. She wants something and, most importantly, it’s Friday. “I—I like this you better. It’s nice to see you so happy.”

Steve doesn’t have the heart to ask her how she could know that.

 

 

The camaro is idling in the driveway and just the sight of it makes Steve want to run towards it. The windows are fogged up from the heat blasting inside. Steve can vaguely make out Max already in the backseat and Billy upfront with one hand on the wheel and his arm over the back of the passenger seat. Billy has his aviators on despite the fog.

Steve walks over to the camaro, coat unzipped and unbuttoned and his bones freezing over, and then, when he’s close enough, he jumps inside quickly to not let any of the heat out.

He sighs happy and long, sinking into his own seat, knees pressed up tight to the dashboard. Billy’s arm hasn’t moved. Steve can feel his jacket on the back of his head, tickling at his hair.

Max is slumped over, so heavily covered in wool the only bit of her Steve can see is her eyes peaking out in between her yellow scarf and red hat. She says a muffled hey to him and flips to the next page of her magazine—a copy of Spin with U2 on the cover. With her mittens on, she crumples the page as she turns it.

Billy’s got his fingerless gloves on, is wearing a powder blue scarf that matches the blue interior of his camaro and pops with the dark leather of his bomber jacket and somehow all of this combined brings out the bright blue of his eyes over the rim of his aviators.

Every morning Billy’s in Steve’s driveway at the same time. Never later. Never sooner. On the dot and Steve keeps himself in check, doesn’t go running out the door right away, being eager seems to be what bites him in the ass usually.

He clings and he refuses to cling this time. He’s going to play it cool because he is cool.

So he says, very cooly, “hey.”

And Billy says, with a half-smile, “‘sup, Harrington.”

Very cool, that’s Billy Hargrove. Steve used to be like that. He thinks he was before Nancy and the kids and the whole monster thing.

Hey. Lame. He could do better. What is wrong with him?

Billy says heya, Harrington on some days and what’s up, mi amigo on others with a genuine crinkle in his eyes smile, which means Steve’s got an entire day ahead of him wishing he was back in the camaro and counting down the minutes until he is.

That smile Billy sends him when he gets into the car though—it’s not awkward, like Steve had thought it would be. The what ifs and the might’ve’s pile up on Steve if he isn’t careful.

Right now, he takes what Billy’s offering. A smile and a good morning said in his own, special brand.

Steve looks out the window, at his reflection, and sees his mom waving through the front window. In her bathrobe.

“Is that your mom, Steve? She’s really pretty, wow.” Max says, muffled by her scarf. She has her nose pressed to the window.

Steve tenses, horrified. He limply waves back.

Every guy who’s ever seen his mom has the same reaction. Mainly, they talk about her—Steve shudders—chest. Most of Steve’s fights during elementary school were because some punk had something he wanted to do to his mom. Tommy would back him up in those fights.

Steve can’t remember when he even met Tommy. He’d always known him. The two of them were connected at the hip since forever. Anything anyone said about Steve’s mom, Tommy would be just as quick to throw a punch as Steve.

And now Tommy doesn’t talk to him or look at him and Steve should be happy about it and he definitely is totally happy about it, really.

Really.

“Well, shit, Harrington.” Billy cranes his neck to look passed Steve to the front door. He whistles and waves back too.

Steve readies himself to sock Billy in the arm, already dying slowly and steadily inside imagining all the horrible things Billy could say describing her. He’s pretty sure he’s heard the worst, but Billy can be creative when it comes to being gross and obnoxious and, generally, the worst.

But all Billy says is, “no wonder you’re so goddamn pretty.”

Steve whips his head around to stare at him and there’s definitely something coming across from how he’s staring because Billy’s grin slips, like he’s been caught, and then he’s changing gears and slamming the gas pedal hard.

 

 

They’re parked outside the Fair Mart. Max ran inside to buy something mysterious. She refuses to tell Billy what exactly it is she’s getting, but she swears she needs it and that Billy can mind his own damn business.

Billy hadn’t liked that by the glare he sent her through the rearview mirror while driving a twisting road at fifty-five miles per hour.

“What’s the rule?” Billy says. He popped the seat back as soon as he put the car in park and is watching Steve eat Cheerios by the handful.

Steve offered him some. Billy’s disgust was unnecessary.

“No food?” Steve says with a mouthful of food.

Billy’s lip curls up at the corner. It’s a baby snarl. One that says Steve is on thin ice and it’s going to break sooner than either one of them realizes.

“And what are you doing right now?”

Steve hums, pretending to think and think a little bit more. Waits to finish chewing before he says, “sitting in a car. Waiting for Max. Talking to you.”

“Oh my god.” Billy pushes up his aviators to rub his entire face. Steve laughs and nearly chokes on a round, particularly stubborn Cheerio.

Billy slaps his back and gets him breathing again. His hand stays there in between his shoulders. Steve busies himself with eating another, slightly smaller, handful.

“You saved my life—“ Steve shakes the box at him and Billy stares him down, “—have some. Eat some. There’s plenty and they’re sort of tasty.”

Billy sighs and shoves his hand in, gets a few and pops them into his mouth. Steve is coming out on top today. Who cares about what’s going to happen after graduation or that his dad shaved his mustache or that his mom isn’t on her phone even half the time she used to be.

“Yum.” Billy says. He licks his lip. “Don’t you need a can of spaghetti to mix those with?”

Steve snorts. “Cheerios get soggy in like two seconds, they’d fall apart and then what’s the point of anything ever? And it’s spaghettios.”

“Damn.” Billy says blandly. “My bad.”

“It really is.”

Max is knocking on the window with no shopping bag and after a bit of shuffling around, they’re back on track to going to school.

Steve offers the box of Cheerios to Max and, unlike her awful brother, she happily starts to munch.

 

 

It’s taken two weeks, but Steve’s picked up on a few of the Hargrove and Mayfield tics.

Max is only quiet on the rides to school. She’s not at all happy about being shoved into the backseat thanks to Steve and his dumb long legs. Is downright moping about not being able to ride her new skateboard now that the ground’s getting icy. That Billy is a headbanger whose good vibrations music is Metallica. The volume of any music in the camaro is always just loud enough to wake him up in the morning and give his eardrums a beating in the afternoon.

And somehow, brothers and sisters—even step ones who only seem to ever glare and argue and ignore each other’s existence—make him wish his parents had thought to pop out another one to give him to argue with or have any sort of connection to.

His parents could ignore both him and his imaginary sibling. Steve wouldn’t ignore his what-if brother or sister.

Tommy’s freckled face pops into his head. Smarmy shithead mouth breather.

Steve focuses on literally anything else.

 

 

Billy’s kept his word.

Mostly.

Something vaguely like Metallica or Slayer or Samhain or any of the other bands Steve has stumbled into learning exist thanks to Billy Hargrove is playing on the stereo when Steve presents what he wants to play for the rest of the car ride to school.

“I’m gonna toss your ass to the curb.” Billy tells him, disgusted—actually had to pull over to tell Steve what he thinks of The Beatles when Steve presents the cassette he wants to listen to—The Yellow Submarine.

Billy has his limits and Steve’s spent every morning so far seeing where Billy’s line was, which band would be the one to push Billy to say not a chance.

Wham! was too obvious. Cyndie Lauper hadn’t done it. Madonna had gotten actual finger tapping. The Bangles had only gotten Steve a what is wrong with you look.

It feels like he’s won.

He’s gonna plant his flag on the roof of the camaro and call it victory. They’ll pledge allegiance to the Yellow Submarine every morning. Billy will hate it so much. Steve will never be happier.

Billy shoves the tape back till the tape and Steve’s hand that’s holding the tape are pressed against his chest and his back is smushed into the car seat. Billy pats Steve’s hand firmly twice.

“Not happening, bucko.”

“Okay, but what about yes?“

“Nope. Not happening. Never gonna happen. If that tape touches my deck I’m gonna throw it out the window and the fuckin’ redneck bears can shit on it.”

Steve’s shoves the tape back into his backpack and looks through his other cassettes.

“Hold on to your ridiculous pants, Hargrove.” Steve holds up a tape with a grin. “I brought the Joelster.”

“If that’s a thing I’m gonna drive into a wall.” Billy says. “And what in the flying fuck is your deal with Billy Joel?”

“Piano Man’s a classic, so what’s your deal Billy I don’t like anything that doesn’t involve screaming Hargrove? He’s Billy Joel. His face should be on the ten dollar bill.” Steve says then shoves the tape closer to Billy’s face, enjoying how he tries to lean away. If they crash, it’s full Billy’s fault.

Who doesn’t like Billy Joel?

Billy’s starting to smile. Another victory. Steve is finally getting ahead on the scoreboard of his life.

“You have serious issues.” Billy says.

“There’s literally a song with your name in it—tell me you don’t want to listen to it?”

“Do you wanna listen to every song with your name in it?”

“What song has the name Steve in it, ‘cause I would love to hear it.”

Billy goes blank and Steve watches him think, running through discographies of bands Steve’s never heard of. Maybe he's managed to stump him. Honestly, Steve's on the cusp of feeling proud of himself.

Billy slaps the wheel, grinning and Steve finds himself grinning too. “Grateful Dead.”

Max says, “that’s Stephen, not Steve.”

“Same thing.”

Same thing, Max repeats, mocking Billy. “Is it Steve or Stephen, Steve?”

“It’s definitely Steve. You forget my name, Hargrove? I’m Steve. Steve Harrington. Sometimes I go by the name King Steve if you really want to be a pain in the ass.”

“Jesus, I get it and I still don’t want to listen to to your shitty music.”

“But, like, honestly, tell me—“

Billy puts his hand over the cassette in Steve’s hand, holding him from inching towards the deck and Steve’s not going to lie and say something doesn’t flutter around inside him.

“—King Steve, I don’t want to listen to your fuckin’ cowboy music.”

Steve holds up his finger. “So you have heard it before.”

“And I’m not gonna hear it again.”

“Only assholes don’t like Billy Joel, Hargrove.”

“Steve,” Max cuts in, sounding tired. “Please.”

“Shut it, Maxine.” Billy says. “And I am an asshole, Harrington. Where’ve you been?”

“Well. Fine, be an asshole.” Steve says. He crosses his arms. “If you’re not gonna play my music, then I dare you to not play Slayer right now.”

Billy cranks the volume up till Steve barely hears Max groaning oh my god you guys suck so hard from the back. “This isn’t Slayer.”

Whatever, I dare you to, like, just—“ any of his tapes would be too easy, the challenge is where the fun is at, “—turn the radio on. The local station only.”

“You really wanna start daring me on this shit?”

“Right now, yes.”

Max pipes up, “I’m with Steve on this one.”

Billy’s got his eyes set on Steve when he says, “Max, you don’t matter.”

Steve can’t imagine what it’s like for the two of them on Christmas.

He pokes Billy in the chest with two fingers, right below where he knows his golden pendant is underneath his jacket, emphasizing every word with a jab.

“I. double. dog. dare. you. mother. fucker.”

Max oooo’s.

Billy tells him, seriously, as though Steve has never dared him to do something so dumb and the jello incident on Monday never happened, “there’s no going back, you know that, right?”

“I’ll triple it if you think I’m kidding.” Steve flicks him in the chest, enjoying how Billy will let him in this close and will let him flick at his jacket and at his chest with nothing more than a a thick eyebrow that just keeps climbing higher and a twitch to his lips that says Steve can totally flick him again.

When Billy rolls his eyes, telling Steve without any words how painful it is to breathe the same air as Max—such an amazingly, wonderfully, dumb, dramatic reaction from Billy—Steve has to laugh. He has to. There’s no holding it back. If he has to go to school and if he has to work for his dad, he’s going to laugh until he can’t anymore.

Being in the small powder blue quarters of the camaro Steve is part of the Hargrove and Mayfield morning duo and just by being there, laughing and only sometimes managing to turn the volume down before Billy catches him, he turns it into a trio.

Billy snorts, but he pops the tape out, turns on the radio, and shifts the car into drive. It’s staticky with all the trees and tuning to the right station takes more focus than a guy driving should spare, eventually he lands on the local Hawkins station.

The Newbeats are on. They’re always on. If it wasn’t for every horrifying thing ever Hawkins would be the most reliably boring place on Earth.

Steve sings along, dances as best as he can while he’s sitting, makes sure to slap at the dashboard and shake Billy’s shoulder with the classic beat. Turns the volume up. Tries to be as upbeat and ridiculous as he can be.

He knows every word by heart. He does like bread and butter. And he fucking loves toast and jam.

Billy slinks down in his seat, holding his head, wincing, then—Steve catches it—he’s laughing and screwing his lips shut to keep from laughing.

This is nice. Different and new. His nail bat is back at home, upstairs in his closet, and he’s okay without it. He is.

“We’re gonna be late if anyone cares or anything.” Max says. She kicks the back of Billy’s seat.

Billy reaches behind him, swats at her leg without looking—his glare at Steve turns, rapidly, into I’m gonna murder a redhead, you better back me up on my cover story.

Max reacts too fast, pulling her legs up and away from Billy’s reach, just in time to avoid the hit. She laughs, mutters out too slow.

Billy grabs the box of Cheerios from Steve and empties it out on her.

 

 

In the Hawkins High parking lot Max runs off in a huff with little bits of cereal in her hair and all over her coat. She flips them both off, though Steve is gonna go out on a limb and say it’s meant more for Billy than him.

The cereal dust at the bottom of a box of Cheerios gets in your eyes andsticks. Not something Steve would’ve thought he’d ever know from experience, but this year has plenty of new things he’s trying that he didn’t think he ever would.

Like, getting cheated on sucks a lot and being normal is never gonna be a thing for him and yet Billy Hargrove is somehow, apparently, an actual thing for him and surprisingly he does like Metallica it turns out and Cheerios are really, stupidly good at getting into every nook of a camaro’s interior.

Billy brushes the seats off and leaves the floor of the camaro to Steve. He leans against the car, arm on the roof and hip cocked out, watching Steve do most of the work since it was Steve’s Cheerios so that means it was Steve’s fault.

Steve is kneeling on the backseat, bent over while he scoops cereal out the door and onto the asphalt.

Billy points to ones Steve misses. Steve lobs the ones Billy points at at him. Billy swats them away, but twice Steve gets him in the head and Billy has to pick them out of his hair.

Billy doesn’t try to hide the way he’s smirking, entertained and enjoying the hell out of making Steve scrounge around his car, so Steve does the only thing he can that isn’t just walking away—he’d rather pick Cheerios out of every car in the parking lot then go to class—he sings Piano Man, half laughing when Billy makes it obvious he’s starting to crack.

“It’s clean enough, jesus christ, Harrington.” Billy says, snapping in half, about ready to strangle Steve with his scarf.

Billy’s face is red.

 

 

They share a cigarette against the camaro in the mornings before class.

The parking lot is full while everyone heads inside. Jonathan’s LTD is parked two lines over, steam still rising from the hood. Steve looks away, quick. The ache is there, but it doesn’t drag him to the ground, pinning him there anymore.

Billy checks his watch once. Steve hasn’t looked at his since he left his house. Their arms are pressed together. Through leather and nylon and wool, Billy’s warm beside him. The bell might never ring.

“Why the fuck’s it so cold here, Harrington?” Billy says. He shoves his hands into his pockets. Steve takes the cigarette out of his mouth for a puff of it, taking notice of the wet end.

Miriam Castellano walks by in her tight high-rise jeans with Ricky Shannon’s arm around her waist.

She notices Billy then Steve at the same time Steve notices her. She flips her hair and looks back at them. Glare hot enough to melt the Arctic.

She pops her gum at him.

As far as Steve can tell, Miriam Castellano and her cherry red lips haven’t gotten to hang off Billy’s arm for weeks. Two weeks. Not since Steve’s claimed a spot for himself in the camaro.

Steve blows the smoke out of his mouth. He hasn’t quite gotten the hang of making a smoke ring. It’s all in the tongue has kept him up at night for reasons that have nothing to do with monsters that like to creep around in the dark.

Billy doesn’t notice her. He plucks the cigarette out of Steve’s mouth to finish it off. Flicks the stub onto the ground.

“This isn’t even that cold. It’s not even snowing yet.” Steve says. “Probably all warm and beachy in California right now, huh? With, like, the sun out and everything not slowly freezing over.”

Snow. Fuck that.” Billy shudders. He side-steps any mention of California. He circles the camaro once and taps the right front tire with the toe of his boot. “I’m gonna have to put chains on soon.”

“You want some help?”

Billy looks at him funny. Steve is ridiculous, that’s what that looks says. Silly, dumb, ridiculous Steve in his silly, dumb, unflattering, ridiculous winter coat.

Winter’s the pits. There’s no upside, just cold and frumpy clothes that do everything wrong for him. At least summer lets Steve wear shorts and a tank top. Humidity’s balls, but he’s rockin’ it.

“Help with what?” Billy says. He starts walking.

Steve’s face heats up. He bumps shoulders with Billy. Speeds up to start walking backwards in front of him.

“The camaro?”

Again, he makes a face. Steve makes one back at him.

“Why?”

“Because I’m very helpful.”

“Uh huh,” Billy shakes his head and smiles at Steve, “I’d have to teach you what tires are first and then it’d be spring.”

“Tires? Tires? Are those the—“ Steve makes a circle with his finger, “—the round thingies that make the car go vroom-vroom?”

Billy huffs, a quiet sort of laugh that’s soft and closer to a snicker, but nice without any hints of the old Billy Hargrove snarl that came with blood and busted knuckles.

Steve bumps into what turns out to be the back of a green Subaru.

“Shit, Harrington.” Billy says and catches him by the arm, helps straighten him out and Steve lets him manhandle him back onto his feet. Billy puts his arm around Steve’s shoulder, hooks him around his neck to tug him in close before letting him go. He claps Steve on the back.

“Whoever said you were all looks and no brain was a damn idiot.” Billy tells him then adds quietly after a few steps. “Yeah, if you want to, I guess.”

They collide again, shoulder to shoulder. The school looms closer and closer and Steve’s heart picks up, the anxiety comes crawling back from where it was hiding to itch at him all over. He doesn’t want to go in and go to class and work for his dad or go to college.

He wants to stay outside in the parking lot, leaning on a powder blue camaro and looking into brighter, bluer eyes.

At the entrance doors he stops with his hand on the door’s handle.

“You all right there, Harrington?” Billy says.

Steve does what he has to do. He shakes his head and makes himself smile. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

 

 

Every class lasts for an eternity, turning seconds into minutes and minutes into hours that will just not end. They just won’t.

Steve hasn’t taken any notes, figures if anything the teachers said mattered they wouldn’t wait till the last day before break.

Instead, he pretends he’s paying attention by scribbling circles on the margins of his notebook, a boxy BMW, a camaro with its windows rolled down. With every class he feels more and more restless and he tries not to outright stare at the clock on the wall hanging over the blackboards in every room. He has to twist his watch around so the face is on his wrist, down on the desk and away from him.

His leg is jumping. Both his legs are jumping and shaking his desk and he has to force both his feet to be flat on the floor.

Settling down is difficult.

By the time English rolls around he’s filled up three pages of his notebook to keep himself from laying his head on his desk and calling it quits.

Mrs. Cobb doesn’t give them a free day or a softball lesson. She acts like they won’t be seeing each other for the next two weeks then gives them an assignment that says she knows they’ll have nothing

He pulls out Billy’s earring from his pocket. Twists it around between his fingers. Rubs at the gold backing. The small diamond looks as real as any of the ones from his mom’s jewelry. He huddles over it, keeping it hidden from the other students.

No one else would recognize it. It’s just a stud earring. That’s all it is. Nothing special.

Steve slips it back into his pocket. Looks out the window. At the clock. He taps at his wristband, tempted to spin his watch back around to see the time. Maybe the school clocks are off.

A tightly folded piece of paper folded in the shape of a heart slides onto his desk.

Stacy McKenzie is sitting to his right. Her jacket’s hanging off the back of her chair. She’s leaning forward and even though it’s winter and the heater at school isn’t all that great, she’s wearing a jean skirt and her shirt is unbuttoned way, way down. There’s a slip of her bra showing.

It’s pink.

There’s definitely lace.

Steve stares too long at her chest. Get’s a little lost in between her tits. They look soft. He winces when he catches himself. It’s not great. He should be better than to ogle outright. He used to be. Or maybe he wasn’t.

There’d been plenty of times Nancy’s given him a little slap on the arm when she caught him staring at her.

McKenzie smiles though. Brushes her brown hair behind her ear and curls a lock around her finger. She wants him to look at her, he thinks and Steve realizes, watching her smile at him, bat her eyes at him, bite her lip at him, that this has been the longest he’s ever been single.

He hasn’t had sex in months.

McKenzie leans back and Steve gets to see even more or her bra, but then there’s Carol sitting to the right of McKenzie, staring at him. Bug eyed. Like she’s never blinked before or passed a note in class once in her life.

Jesus.” Steve says. Out loud. Quickly, he coughs to cover it up, looking around, but Mrs. Cobb keeps talking and the rest of the class hasn’t cared what ole King Steve has been up to since forever.

McKenzie giggles.

Carols glares at him.

She hasn’t spoken to him for weeks. Not since Billy started being his ride and Tommy decided he wasn’t even worth harassing anymore.

Steve unfolds the note gingerly.

Stevie,

Tommy’s going to start a fight with you during practice. Just a heads up.

Yours truly, 

Carol <3! XOXOXO!

He reads it twice. Tries to wrap his head around it and fails then turns to Carol who—apparently—hasn’t taken her eyes off him at all and seems to be edging her way to sitting on McKenzie’s desk.

Steve mouths what the fuck? at her.

Carol writes another note. Her hair bounces when she writes. Something Steve’s never noticed before. He’s can’t remember ever watching her write, really. She’s dyed her hair blonde like Madonna.

McKenzie leans back onto her desk and there’s her chest and she’s smiling again and Steve smiles back. It’s only polite and Steve is polite. She touches the collar of her shirt and Steve checks out her bra and her tits for too long and he’s stuck in some loop that surprisingly kind of sucks.

She’s got a nice thing going on. She really does. But Steve—he’s got other things on his mind.

McKenzie slips Steve Carol’s notes and she makes sure to touch Steve’s hand as much as possible on the hand off when she does.

The three of them go back and forth like this for the next twenty minutes. Carol getting more hectic. Steve getting more confused. McKenzie getting a little more handsy each time she passes a note with a bite to her lip and eyes that are telling Steve to ask her out after class and not judge her when she wants to fuck in the restroom at the pharmacy.

Twenty minutes and he has a big stack of crumpled up paper on his desk.

Tommy’s pissed. Tommy wants a fight. Tommy wants to punch you in the face. Tommy won’t stop bitching about you. Tommy is being super annoying. I’m gonna dump Tommy and you better go out with me ‘cause I’m not about to graduate single.

“Mr. Harrington?” Mrs. Cobb says. She’s standing next to his desk, hands folded in front of her, long grey hair braided over her shoulder and since she’s already taller than Steve when he’s standing, she towers over him now. Steve can feel himself shrinking.

The class starts to laugh. She holds out her hand for his stack of intel.

Steve puts his arm over the stack, trying to stall. He’s going to give in, but maybe she’ll change her mind first.

“I don’t think you’ll like any of this.” He says then gives his best please be nice to me look.

“Mr. Harrington. Steve. Nothing you have on those papers is going to shock me. I went to Woodstock. I’ve seen it all. Now, if you’d please?”

Reluctantly he hands over the stack. She reads through the first one then flips through the rest. One grey eyebrow raising just as steadily as Steve sinks into his seat, chin nearly hitting the wood of his desk.

He reminds himself he’s a senior and this, like a lot of other things, doesn’t matter. Disappointing Mrs. Cobb still makes him feel like the worst.

“I think I’ll end class a little early.” Mrs. Cobb says, folding the papers and keeping them. “Steve, Carol, I’d like to have a quick word.”

Carol shoots him this huffy melt his bones glare and Steve knows Carol’s going to jump him as soon as he steps foot out of the classroom.