Actions

Work Header

You've really got a hold on me

Work Text:

It begins in september when they’re at the table after Mike comes home from school and says he met a boy on the playground. Nancy is sitting across from their father, and Mike from their mother, who’ll occasionally slip him a tiny smile or wink, like she always does when she sees he’s in a good mood. 

 

That night there was something different about him, and Nancy knew instantly, as it was a wild contrast to her prediction of his behavior and attitude following a first day of elementary, because he despised kindergarten and preschool and fought with their mother each morning to go. She’d expected him to be annoyed, frowning deeply, eyes hooded with the unpleasant thought of having to go back the very next day. Irritated. But he's not. He's jittery like he's just eaten a whole forty piece haul of cheap halloween candy, and his gaze keeps flickering back and forth between their parents. 

 

She figures that he's waiting for a pause in their fickle conversation, because like Nancy, he knows what interrupting will earn him. Mike swallows and tries to take a shot at a gap of silence where their father fits more food into his mouth, and succeeds. 

 

Mike fizzes. He starts going on about the mass of alphabet posters in his new classroom and Miss Down, his teacher that is surprisingly nice, though, he doesn’t speak too-too kindly of her and then he says she yelled at a boy named Lucas for shooting a spitball at her. Mike says that there’s a sandbox outside in the playground now, but it was full of clumsy kids that were tripping and falling all over him, so he left and went to the swings instead. Will , is his new friend, the one he met not long afterwards. Mike said he shared his markers with Will because he likes to color and didn’t have any. 

 

Nancy remains quiet beside him, listening, raising her eyebrows at her green beans because Mike’s expression and tone are too fervent and genuine and new for it all to pass as a lie, even though Mike tends to be a fairly good liar. 

 

At the news, their mother smiles brightly, sensing the rare slip of pride in her son’s voice, and tells him she told him so–that of course he would make a friend. 

 

Mike’s face hardens and he goes a bit quiet as their father asks for the boy’s last name, he apparently doesn’t know it yet.

 

For once Nancy doesn’t mind that Mike is chattering on, at least he’s sensible and dinner isn’t as quiet as it normally is.





Nancy comes to find out that Will, Mike’s friend, is not exactly the most normal kid. 

 

Mike invites him over after school one friday and Will sticks to him like a tattoo. 

 

Nancy had always thought that Mike was withdrawn. He didn’t want to go to classmates’ birthday parties and hated sports and activities, or essentially anything that easily provided socialization. He especially disliked being near children of his age or in general as they had snotty noses and wiped it on their sleeves and didn't cover their mouth when they coughed. He wasn't even too fond of visits with grandma–said she smelled like mothballs–which were moderately excusable as Nancy didn't enjoy those much either, hence the scent and her abrupt greeting kisses that were placed permanently far too near her mouth. But she begins to understand, eyes straying along as Mike tries to get Will to accompany him through the dining room where their father is reading the newspaper, that there is certainly another level of shy, and maybe a difference can be seen between not wanting to socialize, being afraid to, and not knowing how to. 

 

He won’t look at her, not in her face or eyes. He seems like he's constantly got a wet coat draped across his shoulders and his head nearly always stays slightly bowed, gaze unconditionally loyal to the floor if he is around anyone that isn’t Mike. Every glance she gets at him he’s biting and chewing his bottom lip until it’s about to fall off, and she doesn’t see him smile that day, not genuinely, only at her mother when she asks him if he would like anything to eat or drink, and in that exception it is the most polite thing ever, shown with a gentle shake of his head to a magnet on the refrigerator. 





It doesn’t come as a shock to Nancy, because possibly Mike has realized that one friend is more likable than an imaginary one or none, but despite Will’s modesty, Mike seems to be satisfied.





The next time Nancy meets Will is at his and Mike’s second grade science fair in october. Or, nerd junction. 

 

She was forced to go. Obviously.

 

Mike and Will are proud of their presentation, supposedly, and they (mostly Mike) point to the pictures glued hastily onto the poster board and explain what’s happening in them. They did the project together, it was on the life cycle of toads. Frogs? Salamanders. Nancy doesn't see the point in distinguishing the difference, they are all disgusting. 

 

It was a bit ironic considering their inability to connect with nature, but entertaining all the same. 

 

That’s the first instance that there is a bruise. One she catches sight of. 

 

Will goes to flatten down a picture that’s peeling off of the white of the board, standing on his toes to do so, and his sleeve falls back just a little past his wrist. Nobody else really notices, but on the inside of his forearm there, a purpling mark the size of a quarter displays itself, popping with a ring of ugly yellow around the outside. 

 

Nancy doesn't think anything heavy of this one, though, she nearly asks out of sheer spur of the moment curiosity, (what happened to your arm?) . Before she can her mother says something about tadpoles and how they look like baby mosquitos and it slips her mind. 





Nancy forgets all about the bruise until she comes home when their parents aren't around and Will and Mike are sitting on the stairs. 

 

She thinks about intervening, but the firm glare she receives from Mike is enough to repulse her for then. Nancy goes into the kitchen and hovers by counter, eyes intrusive and captivated. It’s an odd sight. There’s a white plastic bottle of disinfectant on the carpeted platform near Mike’s hip, and a overbearingly large pile of various paper strips. Bandaids, q-tips, cotton balls. She wants to believe it was a bike crash, a fall or a scrape, but something sickly and persistent won’t sit right with her. Neither of them are banged up, dirty or disheveled, there's no scuffed clothing, outward evidence of a mishap. 

 

What she sees here, in her own home on her own time, wrings out her gut and makes her stomach feel funny. She reminds herself that kids do tend to have accidents. She herself did and does. 

 

It takes him a moment, but Will lets Mike have his forearm, which he'd been hesitantly hugging to his abdomen. He lays it over Mike’s thighs. Will draws his fingers into his palm and looks away as Mike pushes back his sweater sleeve. She realizes, Will's arm isn't still. Unable to tell who, somebody is shaking. 

 

For a seven year old, and quite literally, for Mike , spiky, mouthy Mike who talks back to their parents and sneers just as equally rudely at Nancy when he's in a particularly evil fit, a careful nature is not one that she recognizes in him. She’s seen it in their mother so maybe that’s where it’s coming from. 

 

Almost alienly, he thumbs gently over an old circular scab planted on the outside of his friend’s arm, and then he wipes a cotton pad full of alcohol on something Nancy can’t see. Automatically, Will’s face crunches, brows pinching in pain and eyes going watery from the piercing pungent smell. Mike concentrates his best, lips threatening to frown, but his eyes make it to Will’s expression and he mumbles to him in a small, un-Mike like voice; 

 

“It needs cleaned or it’ll get infected like Jimmy Fraser’s fingernail. Does it hurt really bad? We can get ice.” 

 

Will shakes his head, inhales, and swallows. Nancy isn't solid on what he's saying no to, what he's refusing, or who Jimmy Fraser is, but Mike seems to get it as he applies a generous amount of neosporin and brushes on an old elmo band aid and claims with a lick of embarrassment that they ran out of regular ones. Will pulls back his arm as Mike says he’s done. Nancy sees a dark bracelet of discoloration coating Will’s wrist.

 

That’s when she looks down at the countertop that is lined by the past times her and Mike have attempts to flay fruit on it without a cutting board. 

 

Nancy returns to the scene after a moment, gaze straying beyond her control to where Mike is abruptly smiley and pink faced and slowly raising the top of Will's hand to his lips to deliver a final healing promise that is bound to seal the deal of recovery. 

 

A small but deepening worry currents through her before she understands that nobody else is home, and her scanning eyes come to a stop on their father's chair, which is empty and lifeless.





On one of the rare occasions where Mike goes off with the boys in the neighborhood that are near his age, Isacc Macklyn and Rylee Carter, who she thinks are too snooty and annoying for their own good, he seems to have a good time with them, despite their uncleanly nose picking habits and dirt smears from their mudslide. 

 

He her tells through a mouthful of skittles that they cleared a path in the woods behind Isacc’s house and catch big spiders there everyday and try and whack low birds nests with sticks. Nancy tells him they shouldn't do that and Mike shrugs.



-



Will and Mike migrate to the basement after Will seems to warm up as much as he will to the Wheeler's’ household. They don't spend a whole lot of time in Mike's room, and even though Will comes over more often, every week or so when school has finished for the day, Nancy sees less of them. 

 

She supposes it’s because she doesn't make any efforts to, but she has little to no interest in sticking her nose in her brother’s business, and she would like to keep her dignity as fair as possible, thanks. 





At eight something Mike’s seeing off Will in early september when the weather is good and he can bike home, and afterwards he goes straight upstairs. Nancy kicks him out of the bathroom and he starts to put up a fight when both of them halt at a pair of raised voices below the smooth white tile of the bathroom floor. 

 

Their mother sounds shrill, and their father is monotone and shrewdly sensible towards keeping his tone level enough so that Mike and Nancy are less liable to hear it. It works, for the most part. It’s a deep, forward hum, matched against an impatient irritation that is becoming more and more well known to Nancy’s ears. 

 

Her and Mike share a glance, and she lets him have the sink, muscles easing, backing down, and instead of brushing her teeth she goes to her room and lies awake.





Will's mother is late to retrieve him one afternoon, and instead of smiling with excitement that he is allowed to stay a bit longer, he gets this look on his face that bleeds worry. His big liquid eyes fill up with something like full blown anxiety, and his brows crease like Nancy makes hers do when she knows exactly what's wrong and still hopes that's not the case. It instills a foulness in her chest, seeing a child–or anybody really– upset like that, and the instinctive comforting side of her lifts its head unsurely, but she casts aside the feeling and tells herself that she would well likely do the same if her own mother unexpectedly showed fifteen minutes behind schedule. 

 

Then again, her mother wouldn’t be late, not unless there was a good reason. 





Some Sunday in late November when the first snow is making some sort of measley, dry appearance, Mike decides to call Will on the phone and ask him if it’s snowing at his house too. Nancy nearly snorts as she hears this because Will doesn’t even live five minutes away and the weather forecast on his tv is predictably exactly the same as theirs. 

 

Mike goes remotely quiet due to Will’s response from the other end. He then says, “What do you mean?” quite strangely, and Nancy, in her place at the top of the stairs, knows he’s making that confused face despite him having his back to her. 

 

Her brother stills again. His hand that had been trying relentlessly to straighten out the drilling curls of the phone cord for the past five minutes goes dead too, and so does Nancy’s breath, for some reason. Maybe she’s trying to understand what’s coming through the telephone and going into Mike’s ear, or maybe she’s trying to make herself less detectable, as now she suddenly feels as if she is intruding. It starts to bug her that Mike doesn’t know she’s there, which has never happened. 

 

She catches a very small, “Sorry.” followed by an, “Oh.” in the language of I didn’t know and Mike is silent for a second or two more, before he speedily says, “Bye.” a bit louder than normal, as if Will was already hanging up the phone and he had to hurry to have the boy hear it. 

 

Mike doesn’t put the thing back on the receiver for a good minute or so, he just stands there, stiff, as does Nancy. There was no usual amicable I’ll call you back, call me back, or see you tomorrow that time. 

 

Nancy’s curiosity strives to eat her alive for the rest of the night, and the pit of worry in her stomach grows. Though, she’s very unsure why. 





Mike comes home with tears in his eyes and his palms dirty and bleeding and wet snow in his hair after playing with the neighborhood boys. 

 

Nancy takes him upstairs before their parents see and makes him sit on the toilet while she readies the peroxide and cracks the bathroom door. She asks him what happened and he won't tell her until she threatens to involve their mother. Mike quits his sniffling and wipes his nose. His eyes are suctioned shut to a single pearl tile on the floor, dark and mirthless, liquidy, though she sees the unmistakable glint of hurt very present in them and she has to guess that's what's causing the hot tar like tears. 

 

Mike's voice is thick as if there's a weight on it, and it sounds like he doesn't want to speak when he nearly whimpers;

 

They called me queer. ” 

 

Over top of Mike's open wounded palms, her fingers freeze in place. Nancy's eyes had been maintaining strong, steady contact on her work, but they suddenly flutter up at his face and she breathes in. 

 

He's still not willing to meet her stare. The last word leaves his lips in a shameful hush, as if he's scared their parents downstairs will somehow hear it, that anyone ever will hear it. Like he himself doesn't want to hear it. Like it's bad. Terrible, even. Worse than their parents finding out about the F he got on his english test a few weeks ago that Nancy’s been blackmailing him with.

 

Nancy's face must've tightened, but she makes no effort to relax it. She shakes her head and insists with a knot in her throat, “Don't listen to them. They're idiots, okay? They can't tell you what you are.” 

 

Mike doesn't go around the neighborhood boys after that, who, Nancy and Mike have privately nicknamed commander asshole and lieutenant shithead. 

 

Besides, she certainly wouldn't let him if he wanted to. She doesn't know what he would come back with next time. 



-



Will stays over some friday and first things first him and Mike get yelled at for not wearing proper clothing out on the back porch in freezing temperatures. 

 

Nancy hears her mother say the two of them could catch pneumonia or bronchitis from upstairs in her bedroom. Mike claims their coats were in the basement. Nothing, of course, comes from Will. 

 

She heads by the bathroom later and sees the boys brushing their teeth and playing with the water in the sink while they make funny faces in the mirror. Will says Mike’s teeth look funny, crooked like, and Mike agrees, despite him having close to a regular bite except for his canines that sit a bit weirdly. Nancy used to call him a dog for it and said he needed his rabies shots. 

 

Mike goes on to admit that he wishes he had straight teeth like Will, and Will runs a tongue over his incisors behind closed lips while Mike puts the toothpaste away in the cabinet. Will says it doesn’t matter if you’ve got ugly teeth if you have pretty lips, and Mike produces a small frown at partly being referred to as ‘pretty’, as that is a feminine term. Mike looks at his mouth in the mirror and asks Will what he means, and Will quiets down. 

 

With a careful tone crafted shakily under Mike’s watchful gaze, which Nancy knows can be awful scrutinizing, Will mumbles that it’s not a bad thing. Lowly he says a lot of girls will probably want to kiss him, and Mike’s face crunches in disgust. Will grins and says something about herpes and they both laugh before Nancy ambushes them and recovers the bathroom. 





Mike gets sent home in fourth grade for punching another boy in the gym. 

 

Nancy doesn’t know the circumstances surrounding the situation, or that it happened at all until her mother comes and collects them both early from school after she receives a call. She drags Mike by his arm to the car and cooks him on the way back to the house. Nancy listens from the front seat, uprooted. 

 

Mike glares out the window fiercely and crosses his arms tightly to his chest with his face flushed. His jaw is wrenched shut, or seems to be. The only thing he really wants to say is that the boy is a jerk and deserved it, and heir mother sighs heavily, angrily, and won't look at him in the rearview mirror. She tells him to wait until their father learns the news, though Nancy believes sourly that he won’t have a ton to say, just something for their mother to agree with, like no tv for a few days or no friends over and an earlier bedtime. Their mother just doesn't want to be the bad guy. 

 

Mike never does tell their parents the truth. 

 

Nancy knocks on his door while he’s pouting out his punishment and he lets her in reluctantly and they sit on his bed. He eventually says, after it’s quiet enough to hear their parents shouting and they need something to focus on, that the boy he pushed , not punched –was making fun of him and Will, mainly Will, because he has eyelashes like a girl and isn’t good at baseball. 

 

Mike stares at his carpet firmly and his voice drops a level as he explains the boy also called Will something nasty. 

 

Thinking of the neighborhood boys incident, Nancy shivers faintly at the hiss of violent disgust in his throat and understands that that was the reason things got physical. She frowns, the pit in her stomach resurfacing at once, and tips her head (what?) . It's not the same thing the boys insulted Mike with, as he won't repeat this one, he only shakes his head and makes a foul face, which drives her to feel worse because he isn't telling her to define it, and that means he must've heard it before and knows what it stands for, just like the queer thing. 

 

If he isn't asking her, he had to of asked somebody else. 

 

Instantly, her parents arise to the top of her head, but Mike knows better. When something more seeable comes, she breathes in and hopes it wasn't Will. 





For christmas, their parents get Mike a walkman. 

 

Partly because he has been begging for one for months, and partly because his grades have been good and he hasn’t got into any more trouble with bullies that they know of. 

 

Mike plays around on it for a few days, presses the buttons and flicks the switches. A couple times, Nancy sees him yank the receiver up and slam the whole thing against his ear like he’s answering an urgent emergency call that will determine his future. He doesn’t speak into it at all and it remains very quiet for those first days aside from the static and crackling it emits when Mike finds a channel that is out of range, or not so particularly, any channel. 

 

He gets bored, eventually. Will doesn’t have a walkman, so Mike tells their parents that his Christmas one broke in order to get them to buy a spare. Their mother isn’t really excited about that. Mike screws off a knob and hides it under his mattress and then says his radio won’t work right without the missing piece. 

 

It was all very clever, and Nancy doesn’t have it in her to rat him out and ruin his master plan. However she’s vaguely surprised when she finds out their mother bought the scheme and the second radio. 

 

She hears it everyday after that, and she really considers bringing Mike’s geniusly crafted scandal up at the breakfast table as she’s lying in bed at night forcing her eyes and ears shut, sighing angrily as Mike tries to whisper hello and goodbye in every language he can think of, including the ones he doesn’t know (there are many). Mike’s terribly incorrect bilingualism tosses Will into reciting some verse of a song that’s in german, which quickly makes Mike laugh because it sounds like something dirty. It’s a wonder how their parents don’t notice it, especially the over that follows every single thing that passes through the connection and also through Nancy’s bedroom wall. Quite a few times she about stomps over there and flings it out the window.

 

Karma must’ve settled in after a week or so, as a knob really does snap off of Mike’s walkman, and his face is priceless . He repairs it with masking tape and sadly it continues to function, though painfully crackly. 



-



Nancy learns that the two have nicknames for each other. They are strange nicknames. She misses Mike’s at first, but Will’s is Cleric or something–that’s what Mike keeps calling him. Later on, it’s Paladin and Cleric.





Mike doesn’t use the phone anymore, now that he can talk to Will whenever without having to ring his house.

 

 



Nancy passes by the kitchen some Sunday and overhears their mother on the phone with one of her friends. She’s talking about a large, convicting term that sourly, has crossed Nancy’s mind. Divorce

 

Their mother says something similar to Will’s over at the house all the time and you’d never be able to tell. He’s so quiet. Nancy’s tongue feels big in her mouth and that’s how she figures she’s had enough of this conversation. 

 

She has the nerve to wonder why Mike didn’t mention it, even just to her, but at the same time she doesn’t see what he would need to for, and she also is unsure if Will actually told him or not. Besides, it’s none of her business , and quite frankly, none of Mike’s either. 

 

A part of her is defensive of Will, just then. He’s going to get all of those pitiful sympathetic eyes now wherever he goes from people he hasn’t even spoken to before that suddenly are in on a permanent personal chip of his life. 

 

Another part of her wonders if she’ll ever get them too.





On day three of no Cleric, here, over Mike gets up from the couch in the basement, does not thunder up the stairs like he usually does, and goes to the phone. His lips are this small frowning line. Mike’s lips are always frowning, but this is different, this lets Nancy know something’s wrong, something other than Mike and his little moods he gets in when he can’t watch tv because their father has a sports game on or when their parents won’t buy him something he not just really wants but supposedly needs . Small, normal inconveniences that he can be told to get over. 

 

There’s no answer, of course, which prompts Mike to frown harder.





Nancy finds out on tuesday that Will is missing, or, was . Her heart about falls into her stomach when she hears he lost himself in the woods behind his house for four days–from Mike in the car during the ride home from school, who, after dinner, swears he’ll do the dishes for her if Nancy takes him to the hospital to see the boy that’ll be home sick and recovering for the rest of the school week. Nancy, knowing she’ll end up doing both the dishes and the driving, rolls her eyes and asks why he can’t just wait and call Will in a day or so. 

 

She ends up caged in the quietness and suffocating smell of hospital, a place of no change other than the coming and going patients swapping identical rooms. There is a nurse leaving as they arrive, and are only three chairs in the room, room number 47 on the third floor, and she out of everyone has the least amount of seniority, so she stands with her arms hugging her sides and offers out small smiles to the eyes that collect on her. Will’s family is not relatively large, and not all of it is there that night. She thinks of the phone call and her mother’s surprised tone, and her gaze fills the empty seat on the bedside before Mike can.

 

Jonathan looks a bit more like his mother than Will does. He has her brown eyes and hair, and they both have her sort of reassuring, kind quality to them. 

 

Will seems alright. He’s sitting up. He has eyebags, but she doesn’t notice them because they were always there. The only difference is that he seems smaller and frailer, if that's possible. He is clearly dehydrated and hooked up to a few machines. An iv and one of those things she can't recall the name of that they put on your finger that pinches it. There are patches of gaws and bandages up his arm with the iv needle stuck in it, as if they’ve taken blood in those places or something.

 

His face is paler too, more colorless. It gains a touch of life when he sees Mike. The eyes he doesn’t share with his company house little sparks of happiness.

 

That's the first time she sees him really smile.





Their parents–their mother, explains that there’s some sort of event going on in grandma’s city so she and their father are taking off and will be back in the morning. Nancy assumes something’s wrong with grandma and their mother doesn't want to say. She is very tight lipped about those things. Otherwise Nancy can't figure out why their father would've gone as well.

 

Mike has Will over of course, they are doing homework in the basement when Nancy checks on them the first time.

 

Will must be spending the night, it’s past ten and he and Mike are still hunched tiredly across their overworked notebooks, faces long. Will's pencil is as stiff as a board in his hand, and Mike's is gone all together, as he probably had taken it as an excuse to give up after he lost it and it tumbled over the side of the table. They look to be leaning on anything and everything they can, shoulders drooping in a sense that tells Nancy they would be grateful if somebody told them it was okay to stop for the night and go to bed. 

 

She asks if they need anything, gaze directed at Will, and Mike tells her to go away. 

 

Their mother calls at noon something the next day and says there’s traffic because of the rainstorm and she can’t be sure they’ll be home as soon as she thought. 

 

The downpour isn’t giving up as Nancy passes the living room during a later hour and the lights are off. It’s dark in there, but not quite as dark as it would be if it were night time. The tv’s on, playing some documentary she doesn’t think anybody’s watching until she spots Mike and Will on the floor. She can’t remember how late they must’ve stayed up as she didn’t care to shout at them to sleep and just went to bed herself, but Will is sitting with his back against the couch, calm, easy profile, eyes fixed lazily on the screen, and Mike is asleep next to him. Will looks up as Nancy steps closer to the frame that leads into the room, and their eyes meet. 

 

Staticky sheets of rain drum the side of the house, and Will is very alerted suddenly, unlike Mike, though it’s only his head that moves, because her brother is leaning his cheek on Will’s shoulder, and mainly most of his body weight too as he appears to be out cold . Will stays frozen as if he’s been caught red handed, but he hasn’t done anything wrong. Maybe he thinks he has.

 

Mike is slumping comfortably in a way that looks uncomfortable, knees drawn up idly, overlapping onto Will’s bordering thigh, one arm smashed and unseen between Will and the couch. 

 

It startles her a little. Not necessarily the closeness, it's them , the pair of boys that flip each other the middle finger before nabbing the bathroom the same time the other wants it, that cackle unattractively at inside jokes, duct tape their mouths shut and rip it off for fun and get D’s in gym. It's not unheard of, there's a bond between them that somehow provides room for them to stray beyond certain borders that most friends would respect. 

 

She can’t decide on what her father would say about it, but she knows it couldn’t be anything pleasant–that they’re too old for it to pass as a childishly intimate act and should know better . Nancy thinks resolutely that it doesn’t matter because he isn’t here. 

 

She leaves them be, however, Will must’ve woken Mike after she saw them as when she goes to answer the phone they’re both up and noticeably farther apart.





Eighth grade ends for Mike and Will, and not so much Mike, as she’s near him more, but Nancy catches that they are changing. Will’s voice is getting throatier and Mike’s hair is doing this thing where it goes all frizzy and tries to curl. Mike doesn’t want to talk to her–or anybody–even less, which is fine by Nancy as when he does he coarsely mouths off to their parents more than often and rowels them up and then nobody communicates with anybody. She supposes Will never really spoke to her to begin with, but he seems very uninterested in everything and his lips are always this cautious line. 

 

Mike visits Will’s house often, and will spend days on end there, until their mother gets annoyed and asks him to come live with them again, which Nancy can sometimes almost find herself on the cusp of questioning what for?

 

Mike is very careless and quietly puts little effort into his responses, especially the ones directed at Nancy, as if he really couldn’t give a rat’s ass if he is or isn't having a conversation with her or ever will again. She asked him where he left the floss the other day and he said without even offering a stale shrug, I don’t know, dude . His eyes stay hooded and unbothered, tired looking, and she barely manages to stare down at him like she used to. His glares are nearly hidden by drooping lids but aren't any more or less intimidating. She thinks the intensity of those will never change. 





It’s the first week of August and Nancy’s in the kitchen getting away from the heat and she hears Mike and Will come in through the back door. 

 

She doesn’t know why, but something sounds off. Mike’s telling him to come on , and that nobody’s home, which, is not correct, though he must believe it is because they aren’t exactly being quiet. The door about slams and they don’t take their shoes off as they start through the house. Nancy yells, “Mike?” And then it is silent. 

 

There isn’t an answer right away, just some mild, hushed curses. Nancy enters the hall and meets two pairs of irritable eyes and some ruffled summer clothes. 

 

“What happened?” She asks upon seeing their state. Mike is drenched, dark hair stickily matted to his head and full of miscellaneous tree pods and tiny seeds. From ten feet away Nancy can smell the lake that’s clinging to every inch of him. Did he fall in ? She makes a disgusted face before she sees Will and his swelling nose. There's dried blood dappled on his shirt, and pink staining on his upper lip from where he's most likely been wiping away the crimson liquid. He’s cradling his right hand as well, focusing on his pinky finger, which is wrapped in his shirt.

 

They both look at her, and she at them. Nancy repeats herself, as she seems to have turned them to stone. “What happened?” 

 

Mike switches out of his lock and glares like he does, only, there’s more fire in it today, probably fueled by his evident agitation. His face gets very hard and Nancy can see the defense rear its head in him. His shoulders square just the slightest and he straightens his back, sniffing. 

 

Dick head was at the quarry.” 

 

She wants to yack at him for his language, but Will gets a similar idea and primely does it for her. His lips tighten and he elbows Mike in the arm, who ow’s in much more pain than something so slight could’ve caused, and shoots Will a sharp gaze. 

 

“‘Thought you said nobody was home?” Will mumbles lowly, eyes scarcely jumping from Nancy to Mike. 

 

“Nobody was home.” Mike growls, shedding his shoes, hoping that if he stares fiercely enough at Nancy she’ll combust into sand and his statement will become true again.

 

“Does it matter?” Nancy interrupts, eyebrows drawn firmly. She steps to the side as Mike stomps past her with wet socks. “What the hell happened to you two?” 

 

The identity of ‘dickhead’ is a mystery to her, but it tells her that obviously somebody is responsible for Will’s nose and Mike’s wet clothes, and it wasn’t a bike wreck or themselves. She really doesn’t have much business in some fifteen-year-old boy’s’ squabbles, but this one just marched into her home and involves her brother. 

 

To her bewilderment, Will is the one that speaks up as he places his scuffed shoes near Mike’s soggy dishevelled ones with his foot, as his hands are occupied. His voice is level and calm, though, sounds a bit gurgly like he needs to spit, and when he passes Nancy the inside of his mouth is bloody.

 

“Some kids from school thought it’d be cool if we jumped off this ledge at quarry. It’s fine.” He says shallowly as Mike beats the stairs. His eyes are watery, most likely due to his injured nose, and of course, land on everything that isn’t her face. 

 

“Wh–” She has too many questions, which is natural but unfortunate as Mike and Will are clearly not in the mood to answer them. She follows after Will as he joins Mike on the stairs. Nancy stands at the bottom for a moment as Will’s steps echo through the foyer, and makes a face, eyes a little wide and still with her brain so suddenly active. “What do you mean thought it'd be cool? ” She goes to the first landing and stops. “Your face–it’s–did they–”

 

A short breath escapes him. Will turns, about six stairs ahead of her. Their eyes meet, and his are very green. “ Yes .” 

 

It’s sudden and that's all. The most aggressive behavior she’s ever received from him. More so, the only aggressive behavior she’s ever received from him. 

 

Nancy doesn’t persist. 



– 



Sometime afterwards she finds out that Will didn’t want to jump, or didn’t get a chance to , so instead of an earful of murky water he got a nose full of knuckles. Mike was upset because the others made him jump first and by the time he broke the surface Will was already bleeding. 





Mike gets pneumonia and probably pink eye from the encounter at the quarry. He refuses to accept that it’s likely something worse than pneumonia, like a bacterial infection in his chest. He lies in his bed with his room door bolted shut for two days and won’t let anyone in, and Nancy hears him hacking and feels pangs of half sympathy half disgust and occasionally knocks on his door to ask him if he’s doing alright. He has the same scratchy door muffled thing to say every time: splendid

 

Will shows up when the sun is beating down in the late afternoon, sweaty from his bike trip over, and mumbles a small greeting to their mother only because she says hello as soon as she sees him, and even then he’s already halfway up the stairs. He doesn’t bother with Nancy, probably as she forgets to smile while she thinks of that sharp yes from the other day and it totally escapes her to be decent. His nose is bruised but not broken, but still his eyes are surrounded with faint mauve shadows, illuminating that assertive green. The finger he was holding is secured with two or three bandaids and some medical tape. Below the bandages, he’s missing a half his fingernail, as it was sliced by old broken glass that was littering the ground at the quarry. 

 

Nancy picks up the familiar open and close of Mike’s bedroom door from the dining room, and she wonders distinctively why Will’s come over today, and if Mike knew about his visit or not. 



– 



Will brings over this Beatles album and Nancy hears the damn thing playing in the basement until half past eleven. 

 

It must be a greatest hits compilation or a mixtape or something odd because she recognizes most of the songs from them being played on the radio, but there are a few she isn't familiar with, one about a hammer and another that says something like this boy . She wonders if they are just listening to it or starting homework or playing video games or doing whatever it is that they do, but they never turn it off. It’s alright, it distracts her from the battling voices in the living room.

 

Even after they do unplug the radio, she still doesn’t escape it. The verses and choruses of certain songs hang in her ears constantly, and Mike has been going around mumbling the lyrics to twist and shout to himself for days.





On one of the rare occasions where they’ve got the tv to themselves and have agreed on what to watch, Nancy tucks herself into the corner of the couch and joins Mike and Will for some lame old reenactment of Romeo and Juliet that they bleakly claim was the only thing on, as most of the channels went out due to the storm. 

 

Like that rainy day some time ago, it's dark, Will’s on the floor with his legs splayed out and his back to the couch, and Mike’s in the chair, twirling the remote on his thigh, looking half asleep. He gets a phone call midway through the movie and it’s from a girl named Jane who he wants to go out with but she’s not allowed to without the company of her friend coming along too because supposedly her father is very protective. Will must be aware of this as when Mike turns and looks at him, raising his eyebrows and gesturing to the phone, Will sits up a bit and shakes his head swiftly, mouthing firmly, no . Mike lies and says he has a friend that he can bring, and that no, it’s fine, really, I don’t care. As long as you’re there.  

 

Nancy sees Will find the tv again, though, his stare is hard and unmoving and he’s just looking at it, he’s not watching it, and she knows he’s thinking about something else. 

 

Mike returns in a moment or so and Will mutters, “You know I’m not going, right.” 

 

“I know.” Mike says. And after a beat of silence, gaze unbreaking the screen, “Thou shalt not get a stick up thy ass about it.” 

 

Will snorts, biting his bottom lip to hold off his smile. Mike nudges his knee with his foot to get Will to look at him, and he receives a severe smack to his ankle and eventually, after Mike’s eyeing Juliet again, an ivy gaze that timelessly lingers. 





Will’s got a habit of chewing his fingernails, and Mike’s got a girlfriend. 

 

He brings her around sometimes. She’s got nice features, soft, healthy brown hair that’s short to her shoulders, and a calm, quiet, polite attitude that reminds Nancy of somebody. 

 

Their parents like her. Nancy sees some kind of relief in their mother’s baffled joy and it makes her feel sick. Their mother asks when he’s going to have Jane over again and he just shrugs and blushes. 





When both Jane and Will are at the house, Nancy feels Will’s eyes on her more, as if he’s trying to find something to look at, or to occupy himself with because somebody else’s got a hold on Mike. He talks to their mother, though it’s normally family oriented. How his mother is, what college his brother wants or is trying to go to, very very little things about his father, which he says when their mother asks, monotonically, is alright. Tired. He leaves early, before dark. 

 

Maybe it’s stupid of her to notice, but it feeds that little pit in her stomach. 





Nancy heads out the front door to retrieve a broken red umbrella that had blew into the yard during a storm one evening and Will appears on his bike. 

 

She greets him and he asks a bit awkwardly if Mike is home. Usually she would say she didn't know because that is mostly the truth a lot of times, but he didn't come home from school that day so she assumes he went to Jane’s house. 

 

Nancy wipes her hand on her hip to rid it of the left over rain that had gathered on the shaft of the umbrella. 

 

Will eyes the wet grass and Nancy wonders why he's asking her this when he was at school with Mike not even two hours ago and could've easily got the afternoon plans from Mike himself.

 

“Didn't he say he was going to Jane’s?” She asks, her tone vague. She waits to be corrected, or to hear an oh of unrestrained realization. Neither come.

 

From under surprised eyebrows, Will glances up. 

 

“What?” 

 

Nancy's lips part. “At school, didn't he…?” 

 

Will holds her eyes for a record period, possibly waiting for her to go on and elaborate, but she only stares back. Soon enough he tips his chin, looking off and breathing in. Some sort of odd understanding washes over him. 

 

“Yeah.” He mumbles. “Yeah,” Clearer. Will lifts his head, and his gaze lightly skirts across her face. “Must’ve not been listening or something. Sorry.” 

 

Nancy tells him it's alright, though her smile falters as Will turns his bike around and arranges his cast of fingers on the handlebars and his jacket sleeve comes back a bit. She sees a slip of white, and immediately determines that it's a bracelet. A stubborn, hard to remove, strange wax covered like material cuff that they put on your wrist when you make a trip to the emergency room. 

 

She wouldn't dare ask, but her face still twists up and she steps forward out of sheer impulse. She's glad Will is already cycling away and doesn't notice, as nothing would’ve become of it anyway. 

 

Commander asshole and lieutenant shithead glide by on their mountain bikes and she hears them snicker at him. They can't do it into their hands when they have to steer, so she sees how nasty and evil their grins are and her jaw gets a little tight and her heels dig into the softened earth of the yard. She knows what they say to Will, just as well as what they say to Mike, only, he doesn't tell her anymore, not that he really ever did, she just guarantees, which is worse. It's predictable how they taunt him and tease him in the school halls with expressions and crude, vulgar body language and how they croon with sickly sweet smiles what they're sure he'd love to do with them in the bathroom stalls. 

 

How Will handles it is easy for Nancy to assume, so easy, that she doesn't even assume at all because somehow she knows that he doesn't handle it. He just takes it. Like he does then, bowing his head, whitening his knuckles as he holds the handlebars harder, fixing his eyes on the road as if he hadn't heard them. As if he hadn't done the same thing before. As if he knows he will have to do it again. 

 

She is frustrated that he hadn't stood up for himself, but if anything, it makes her sad as much as it makes sense. She hopes dearly that he is only trying to be above them by not giving them the satisfaction of attention. She doesn't want to believe that his lack of defense is based on burrowing insecurities or diminishing self worth. 

 

Nancy brings the umbrella to the garage with an upset stomach. 





Will still laughs at Mike’s sarcasm and returns his jibes equally wittifully. Mike still thinks it’s funny when Will makes fun of the lady across the street that brushes her cat on her porch every night. Will says she should knit a sweater from all the hair that comes off the thing for her three year old son that’s always scouring the street in only a diaper. 

 

But Will gets good at averting his eyes when Mike whispers his remarks in Jane’s ear instead, leaking intentional sweetness from his lips as he does, and Mike frowns when the lady across the street’s cat runs away and helps her put up posters while carrying the shy, burrowing hope that Will won’t see them and the cat will be found.

 

She thinks it’s only when Will seemingly forgets the movie night Mike has bothered to invite him to that finally Mike tastes the poison. 

 

He calls him on the phone says something like no she wasn’t here and glares Nancy out of the room as his brows pinch and his expression hardens, along with his voice. Nancy is and isn’t all the way sure of what they’re talking about. She doesn’t know how it ends, but Will doesn’t come over for a while after that. 





Mike does his thing in the basement for a bit before he moves back into his room, right before christmas. 





Nancy hasn’t seen Will for a month or so, and his absence nearly gets her to question Mike, but she doesn’t. She supposes they have classes together and that Mike could be visiting his house here and there, but it’s hard to ride a bike in the snow and he doesn’t usually go out after dinner unless he’s doing something with Jane. 





The night following new years Nancy wakes up and heads to the bathroom, and she hears activity in Mike’s room. 

 

It’s that switch, press, static of the walkman. Mike’s door is open, and he is talking to somebody. This time, it doesn’t irritate her. His voice is hushed, he’s sitting up in bed–back to her, and it’s dark. He’s tuned down the audio. 

 

“Do you need me to…do you want to…?” Mike trails off to whoever it is on the other end–Nancy can tell it’s Will, she doesn’t need to hear what comes next, and it isn’t like Mike speaks to anybody else on the thing as it is. Mike is uncertain but sure, as if he knows what he’s saying will be undeniably understood and not misinterpreted.

 

“No.” Will says. “No, it’s okay. ‘Just a bad night s’all. I wanted to–thought I’d–I couldn’t sleep, y’know?”  

 

Mike waits a minute, then inhales, delayed. “Yeah. I know.” 

 

Will turns on the radio, but he doesn’t speak. There is only static for a while. 

 

Mike asks eventually, “Are you–?” 

 

As Will says,  “I’m–”

 

A beat. 

 

“What?”  

 

Mike remains still. He makes a noise, like a syllable of a word got caught in his throat. He’s in some sort of trance when he says, “Nothing.” but he seems to find his way out of it as he repeats, a bit louder, “Nothing, I–I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? Happy new year.” 

 

Will’s line is soft. 

 

“See you. Happy new year, Mike.”





If Mike invites him over, Will doesn’t come. 





On the way home from school Nancy stops at the general store in town because their mother said something about vinegar and that they didn’t have any. Through the snow, Mike comes in with her, slacking along, his signature scowl rooted tightly to his features. 

 

She gives the cashier a friendly glance, and she hasn’t seen him before, so he must be new. He looks a little younger than her, dark hair and skin like her and Mike–pale as ever from the lack of sunlight. Tucked behind the counter, elbows flooding over the smooth surface, he returns it affably, then peers at Mike, who, like himself, slips rudely into another isle without lifting his head.

 

When she returns with the bottle of vinegar, rubbing the startings of a cold out of her nose, she sees Mike at the counter, a plastic thank you bag in his hand, already checked out with whatever it was that he scavenged for in isle two, a faint smile on his quickly moving lips, eyebrows raised and genuine as he seems to converse with the cashier who’s leaning forward the littlest bit. His tag reads Jasper . Briefly, though this boy has to at least be in his junior year, Nancy wonders if they know each other. Mike doesn’t talk to just anybody, he barely talks to her

 

But Mike’s shoulders are slightly raised with the unmistakable touch of nervousness that shouldn’t come with speaking to a friend, and he’s not holding the other boy’s eyes with his usual scale of grim, unwavering confidence. He keeps casting his gaze downward. His fingers come up to mess with the hair on the opposite side of his head to Nancy, and she notices that his cheeks are a shade pinker than average. 

 

She logically blames it on the cold Mike wasn’t out in very long and tries not to enjoy the amusement that follows the pang of curiosity she feels toward the sight.





Nancy answers the phone on Valentine’s day and it’s for Mike. 

 

It is a Sunday, cold and wet and terrible and numbing like the remainder of winter in Hawkins will be. At an odd hour, right in the middle of the grey afternoon, she picks it up off the receiver after it’s about rung itself out, and nobody’s there at first. 

 

Brows pinching, she repeats, “Hello?” 

 

There’s a patch of silence, though, Nancy hears that small static crackle the line makes when it’s in use, when both ends are occupied and a connection is being harbored. Very slightly, and it could be her, but the shallow huff of a small breath travels through the top part of the phone. 

 

Then, a voice she’s never listened to like this before greets meekly, “H–hey, Nancy. It’s Will. Er–Byers.” 

 

She inhales, mouth parting in delayed surprise. It throws her off for a second or so that he thought he needed to clarify himself to her. Nancy doesn’t know any other Will’s, more so, ones that would be calling their house. 

 

Her breath comes out, and she unfreezes. “Oh. Hi. You’re uh–you’re probably wanting Mike, right?” 

 

“Yes,” Will says, “Sorry. Is he there?” 

 

Something sinks in her gut, and she wonders briefly if Will had tried the walkman first. Nancy reminds herself to discard Will’s apology. 

 

“No,” She gets out, and it’s easier than she had thought, which leaves her chest growing cold with guilt. “He’s…” Nancy’s sentence heads back down her throat as she holds off on mentioning Jane, though she supposes Will has already made the connection. 

 

Her voice drops a bit, and she glances at the floor. “Out.” 

 

The line dies, sort of. Nancy can’t hear Will’s inhale hitch, but somehow she knows it does. She finds herself dreading the response that will come, her mouth closed and frowning unpleasantly. 

 

“Figured.” Will mumbles quietly, and Nancy is unsure if she was meant to catch that or not. 

 

Nancy says all of a sudden after it’s gotten a bit too silent, “I’ll...tell him you called?” 

 

“I need–” Will begins quickly, but his voice catches on his tongue. Nancy listens through the silence that follows, her heart drumming slowly in her ears. “Ah–y–yeah that's fine. Just–” Will breathes in, Nancy thinks he might even shudder, and goes on to say, “Just tell him I say no.” 

 

It takes a lot for her to not ask, (what do you mean?) . Gaze hard, she answers, “Okay.” Then asks, “No? Just, like, no? ”  

 

Will inhales once again. “... yeah, that’s–that's alright. Thank you.”

 

Nancy smiles the kind of smile you offer a stranger in a grocery store while you pass in front of them, hoping you’re not a bother while knowing you are. She remembers Will can't see it and looks up, shifting her weight onto her left foot, and makes some sort of polite noise. 

 

The conversation ends amicably, and Nancy doesn’t try too hard to think about it. Key word, try

 

Why would Will be calling on Valentine’s Day? Nancy knows he’s beyond smart enough to determine that there’s a slim chance that Mike will be available. Not fully anyway. She guesses if he would’ve waited a few hours longer to dial, Will might’ve received a real response from Mike himself. She can’t say it would’ve been so satisfying, as Mike’s attention would surely not be totally with Will then, especially in a telephone call and not a one on one in person meeting, with Jane in the next room and all.

 

Nancy reminds herself to pass on the message at the sight of Mike, but, she doesn’t see him. He isn’t home for dinner. She comes out of her bedroom late when it’s too dark to see well out of the windows, and the bathroom is occupied. Mike appears, in a drooping grey t-shirt and sweatpants, opening the door and craning to flip off the light switch. He doesn’t notice her at first. After he does, his eyes are easy and tame, nonchalant and not welding that awful glare for once. As he retreats to his room, she turns and asks his back quietly, throat tightening with the thought of rupturing his calm gaze; 

 

“When does Will go to his dad’s?” 

 

Mike stills. He looks at her and she holds, though she swallows and her stare wavers slightly. Mike’s brows crease a touch under his dark bangs. His calm expression remains other than that, and it’s odd. Nancy expects him to freeze up, and she believes she’ll see the defensive frown so hard that she almost does. It’s in his nature to question curtly, that bit of a snarl in his lip, why?  

 

But he just says, voice not at all terse, “Weekends.” 

 

When he doesn’t continue, doesn’t move, only keeps looking at her, deep, hooded eyes filled full of uncertainty–not at his reply, but at the question, at the inquirer–Nancy carries on, gaze faltering a hair. 

 

For some reason, she doesn’t know how to say it. She straightens up. It’s not like she’s telling Mike something awful

 

“He–” She tries, then stops. “He called while you were gone. I said I’d tell you for him.” 

 

Mike’s throat constricts, and he opens his mouth, though he’s quick to shut it. His eyes break contact, and he looks at the railing near the stairs. 

 

“Well did he…” Mike’s face crunches, as if he’s trying to understand a terrible math problem and is stumped. He looks back at her, tipping his head a touch. “Did he say anything?” 

 

She wants to shrug and shake her head, offer that Mike should call him back and find out for himself. Dearly, she wants to say no. Sadly, that’s also what she has to say. 

 

“I don’t know.” Nancy finally says, voice oddly clear and audibly high, like she’s hesitant. “It was weird.”

 

Like how?

 

“I don’t know.” She repeats, steadier, and grimaces, finding the carpet again. It’s been vacuumed. Nancy blurts, “He–he said no.” 

 

Lost, Mike’s eyebrow quirks. “ What? ” 

 

“That’s what he wanted to tell you.” Nancy says, meeting his prying eyes. It sounds like a shrug looks.

 

Her brother continues to appear confused, lips parted like he might ask for more clarification, until his face loosens visibly , gaze slipping away, and Nancy asks, assuming he gets it then, that Will’s no is something to him, “What does he mean?” 

 

Mike doesn’t seem to register she’s spoken at first. He’s sort of stiff, mouth drawing into a frown, eyes solid on the house plant near them, as if he's willing it to grow right there. 

 

“What does he mean?” She repeats, more insistent because she’s been awaiting the answer long before she’d confronted Mike a few minutes ago. 

 

He blinks, but his eyes don’t lose their concentration, and he won’t look at her. Swallowing, he shakes his head. “Nothing. None of your business.

 

Nancy roots to the spot, and her chest is sort of hollow. She doesn’t get anything out of him. She stands outside of his door for a moment or so, frustrated, after she follows him there and he shuts her out. Nancy reminds herself that he’s right, it's never been any of her business, but this isn’t her first time realizing that, it won't be that last, and it certainly doesn’t keep her from pondering it. 

 

She’s known Will for nearly as long as she’s known Mike–and Mike is her brother . Is it not natural for her concerns to raise just a little when clearly something’s off between them? Something different

 

Mike and Will have had quarrels. Though, she’s noticed on numerous occasions that they don’t really solve them that efficiently. If there’s a problem, they seem to dance around it instead of touching on it. Needless to say, they don’t talk about it , not like regular people. They just let it blow over and cool off until it’s forgotten. She used to think that because they were around each other so often and because they were close enough that this kind of timid method worked for them and only them. That it was that kind of a relationship and maybe the issues that arose might have...worked themselves out. Obviously that was a bit naive of her, and now she sees that it really is a horrendous method, because apparently something not small and breezy has erupted and with their decrepit lack of experience, it’s only worsening. 





For once in months, since even before Jane, Nancy hears the Beatles album in Mike’s room that night. 

 

The house is awful quiet. The music is even lower, but you can still tell it’s playing from everywhere. It seems like it’s seeping through the walls. She can’t pick up anything else going on in Mike’s room, and she wonders honestly if he’s fallen asleep in there and forgotten to turn it off. 

 

She swears the album had been at Will’s, mainly due to the absence of her detecting it from a radio at their house, but also because she was sure it belonged to Will. 

 

Straining her ears in the weakest manner, she recognizes a more mellow song. Nancy tries not to awaken the pit in her stomach as she questions herself, before she has time to run the thought off, why Mike’s put the thing on, and if it has anything to do with what she thinks it does. 





Their parents’ arguing has ceased, though, she doesn’t notice right away because she'd been trying to tune them out. When she does catch on she doesn't find herself very relieved all the same. She supposes it’s a bit too late for that since she’s grown with the constant tension that’s been in existence for so long it could be a family member, and nothing like that simply disappears. 

 

They've never really been violent, and the quietness is common, it's just never been so constant. All of the bitterness is there, only, she thinks it’s growing. They’re just cold to each other now. Cold like the winter wind, biting and furious, yet completely silent until you’re right near it, and then you feel it.





February drags itself by and there’s a week where they receive nothing but off and on dreadful freezing rain. 

 

Mike can’t get his driver's license until the end of the summer, and their mother refuses to let him bike to school in ‘sick weather’, so he’s been taking the bus. He knocks on Nancy’s bedroom door Saturday evening and asks her if she’ll bring him to Will’s house, and she raises her eyebrows. 

 

Mike hasn’t packed a bag, so she assumes he’s not staying over. But when he tells her to wait a moment before he gets out of the car, then slams the door as she attempts to ask, she’s confused. The engine runs, humming and fogging the mist in the driveway, the windshield wipers fighting the mass of raindrops, and she sits in the shelter of the heater while, on the porch, Mike returns, closing the front door behind him and familiar sight; Will, who has packed a bag. 

 

They get in the back, clothes dappled from the spray of rain, and Nancy offers a hello to Will. He smiles plainly, eyes meeting hers and then dropping as they make contact. He's a bit ghostly, and his lips are chapped. Nancy thinks his under eyes have gotten bluer, deeper and more pronounced, and his skin is so fair she can make out a sudden patch of straggling freckles on the bridge of his nose that she didn't know he had. The night she drove Mike to the hospital to see him pops into her head, and she remembers how the sheets on the bed matched the color of his face. 

 

As they click their seat belts she doesn’t get a look at the fading fuschia bruise on his jaw then, but later, when he enters the kitchen alone, scanning for Mike who's taking out the garbage. Their mother points to it, making a fuss, ruffling him, nearly scaring him off to the basement before he shakes his head, looks out, and says he crashed his bike a few days ago, though, he peers at Nancy in the middle of his sentence as he seems to remember then that he told her and Mike his dad hit his bike with the car and it popped a tire–another excuse, his for not coming over in such a long while. Nancy wondered, her throat thick, whose tire?  

 

Their mother, oblivious, asks him why he's biking in February, to which he answers, it’s not that bad.  

 

The sound of the front door shutting draws Will’s feeble attention away, and Mike appears, sprayed by rain and polluted with annoyance. Their mother snips at him for not wearing a coat again . He hits the stairs and Will goes with him. 

 

Nancy tries hard to glance at the bruise as he does.





Will turns sixteen at their house and Nancy doesn’t know it until she hears Mike singing happy birthday to him across the hall at an hour so late Nancy gets curious and rolls over to look at the clock and see. 

 

Her door is shut, and Mike’s is undoubtedly shut as well, but the house is dead enough for her to pick out some of her brother’s teasing voice. She smiles into her pillow as he gets louder with Will’s sincere hisses of protest, but there is an obvious smile in his voice as he goes on, You’re gonna wake everyone up, dumbass! Stop or I’ll dump this on you–shut up! Get off! . There’s a few knocks at the same time, as if they’re horsing around and part of the bed had bumped the night stand. 

 

She’s unsure of Will’s official birthday, and it takes her a moment to understand what age he’s actually becoming, as Mike turns sixteen in august and Will is a certain amount of months older than him. She can’t figure out without confirmation if it was today, or if technically it is tomorrow and Mike is just hopping on the train early, but now she at least knows now it’s toward the end of March. Nancy might feel a particular warmness that Will is spending it here, not really with them, their parents aren’t aware–likely wouldn’t care–but with Mike, who he apparently is on good terms with again. It enthralls Nancy what they were having trouble with in the first place, and if it really is resolved or not.

 

She too feels a bit sick that he’s not at his father’s and probably doesn’t wish he was. She guesses he’ll most likely go and celebrate with his mother on monday, or that they already had something on friday. 

 

The good seems to outweigh the bad in that moment, just that moment, and Nancy lets out a breath of what could pass as relief when there's a strained bout of laughter and a yeah, who’s loud now, Willie? ‘Think I can hear my mom getting out of bed. You should go say hi.





Nancy finds out. 

 

She always kind of knew, she isn't stupid. 

 

On an evening in early April, the week after Will’s birthday, Mike's at Jane’s and the phone rings and their mother has got her hands in dinner and their father does not commune with the phone unless it's work related. 

 

Their mother yells for her from the kitchen and Nancy huffs out a rushed sigh and grabs it on its last ring. 

 

A small, cold sort of voice is there in her ear all of a sudden, and Nancy doesn't know if she's glad she’d answered, or if she regrets having done so. Her turmoil is intermingled by a meek, forward confrontation from none other than Will Byers. He only has one thing to ask, and it's not concerning Mike, which tells her she was meant to pick up. 

 

“Can you come and get me?” 

 

Nancy is a bit shocked. She can't speak at first, her brain to mouth connection is fumbling. The smooth untextured plastic of the phone gets warm and sticky with sweat from her palm by the time she comes up with a way to respond. Gross. She hates that it takes her so long, she wouldn't have told him anything other than yes and she doesn't want to make it seem like she could have. She knows how touchy he is when it comes to people and asking favors of them, he feels as if he's being a burden or a bother and is stubbornly polite. Him doing so in such a blatant manner is rare enough to leave her unable to assume less than the worst. 

 

“Y–yeah, sure–what for?’ She asks quietly. 

 

Will meets her at the end of his driveway where the mailbox is, and Nancy can't see the house to tell if his father’s car is there. 

 

He gets in the front and his shoes are muddy but she lets it slide because she's too busy eyeing the red mark on the side of his face. It's fresh, backhand, surely. Normally ones like those go away after a good hour. Mike has gotten his fair share of them from his knack for back talking, though, he normally leaves the house or barricades himself in his room when he receives one, so she can’t ever really determine how long his last, but something is telling her Will's will be there for more than an hour. 

 

He's overly hugged by an obviously handed down dark green sweatshirt that hides obscurely well how skinny he actually is. She wonders painfully how many bruises and cigarette burns it is hiding. His hair is dry, but either dampened by the sprinkle of rain outside, or just hasn't been washed it in a few days. Nancy supposes it might be a bit of both. Will won't look at her, so she decides not to look at him. 

 

He doesn't try to mumble out an excuse because he knows there's no use in coming up with one and she doesn't ask. The radio plays a couple contrasting songs in hope of justifying the blistering silence, but it's turned down too low and neither of them make a notion to adjust the volume. 

 

She doesn't want to bring him home as it's an awkward time and her mother will want him to come to dinner and she's not sure if he'd have enough courage to decline. It's even worse that Mike is away, and she dreads his return and the explanation she prays she won't have to provide to those dark, pinning eyes and terrible glare. 

 

Nancy tells him to go to the basement door and be quiet until Mike gets back. 

 

Past eight Will comes up the stairs and peers around like he's looking for his absent friend and accidentally meets their mother’s surprised eyes. He asks for Mike, and from the couch Nancy lifts her head. Their mother clarifies kindly that Mike's off with Jane but should be home again anytime tomorrow morning, and Will does his nod. The mark on his face must be dissipated as she doesn't hear her mother mention it. 

 

In a minute he joins Nancy when dirty dancing is about a half hour in, and she offers to change the channel but he shakes his head and she leaves it. 

 

Judging from the fact that Nancy thought he wasn’t coming home at all, she is startled as Mike is in a strangely foul mood when he slinks silently past the threshold at eleven something, face flushed and wind bitten from the thawing night outside that he most likely sensibly rode his bike through, as if he hadn’t a cough already. Needless to say, Nancy doesn't have a clue as to what's wrong with him now. The reason seems to change like the weather and she’d be cracked to try and pursue the explanation behind one frown in Mike’s thick book of scowls. He nearly ignores the dark living room and its occupants and makes for the stairs, shoes on and all, though he spots the visitor out of the corner of his eye and directly freezes. His gaze settles on Will, who is still asleep despite Mike’s entrance, tucked comfortably into the corner of the couch, head drooping to the side.

 

Mike’s eyes are hot and nosing as Nancy gets to her feet and leads him into the kitchen. Her voice is low in effort of leaving Will and their parents undisturbed as the inevitable excuse drains out of her. The phone call. The car ride. How shit the weather was. To her relief, his face loses some of its tightness, and the frown nearly bids farewell, but whatever it was that was bothering him before hand is still clearly tugging on his strings. She can only assume it has to do with Jane, as he’s been a bit sore with her lately. 

 

Nancy leaves out the red mark and asks him what he’s doing home, but he seems to have had enough of her. Mike slips into the living room, flicks off the tv and Will stirs. Nancy watches as Mike is there, sitting himself on the edge of the cushion beside the other boy, lips moving and producing an undetectable melody, brows slightly hitched together as he asks what Nancy can healthily predict is a well produced you okay? His eyes are exposed and safe, ready when Will opens his bleary one’s and meets them, swallowing through an i’m fine and a slow, heavy nod. Will lifts his arms a hair and Mike draws him up and his hands go to tentatively rest beneath Will’s elbows for a moment while he whispers into his face, making Will smile gently, you have a nice rest, sleeping beauty?  

 

He guides sluggish Will to the stairs and as he does he glances at Nancy and she receives from him, to her disbelief, an ounce of earnest gratefulness. 

 

It reminds her of what she told Will in the car earlier, what she got in return for her low, cautious words. Nancy had mumbled into the quiet, the beginning sounding a bit strangled, “You…” She fixed her stare hard on the road. “ I–I want you to know that I’ll always answer. Okay? ” 

 

Will had given the littlest nod, and she believed solely that the only reason he didn’t look at her that time was because he was afraid she’d see the glint of syrupy, familiar tears pulling at his vision.





Will and Mike are going to this dance, some sort of spring thing, despite spring’s delayed arrival. She’s sure it’s not prom because she doesn’t want to accept that they are that old yet, and she doesn’t think either of them would be interested in attending prom because they’re them and you have to have a date for that and it’s serious

 

It’s the last dance of the school year and Nancy supposes she can be bothered to drive Mike if she ignores his speedy attitude and protests. Nancy knows he’s just itching to be on his way because their mother will attack him with the camera and take a hundred million photos of him glaring at the lense like it will pass time faster. 

 

He apparently is meeting Jane there, he tells Nancy in the car. She hasn’t seen him so nervous like this in a while, and she wonders if this is Jane’s doing, yet, that assumption doesn’t leave her satisfied. He’s a fidgety and keeps peering at his reflection in the window so much that Nancy eventually huffs, you look fine

 

Which, is not a lie. Nancy of course has her times making fun of him, turning her nose up and muttering rude comments and playful jokes, insisting he can be right hideous in the mornings, but aside from what she will admit, her brother isn’t bad looking . He’s got good pronounced facial structure when he’s not messing it up with a disapproving grimace and a bitter squint. Despite his probable bite backs about them as he would consider it an insult rather than a compliment from her, his eyelashes are nice, dark and long and a preening fan to his infinitely black irises that she can fully see as he’s got his hair mostly off of his forehead tonight.

 

He says she won’t have to pick him up because Will can bring him home. She about questions this as she can’t recall Will having a bike, more so a car , but she only raises her eyebrows and tells him not to slam the door and to be home on time. As usual he doesn’t thank her and she rolls her eyes, but she watches as he faces Will by the deserted door, who straightens Mike’s collar and plucks a skinny strand of hair out of the wave Mike had parted to the side and lets it fall deliberately messily out of place across his forehead. Mike barely has an inch on Will anymore, so he doesn’t have to stand on his toes to give Mike his finishing touches of approval, only has to step a bit closer. Will says something and Mike straightens up slightly, as if been commanded, and Will nods. 

 

Will’s shoulders fall with an exhale, and him and Mike look at one another for a moment, but neither speak. Nancy’s stare is unconcealed and boring, but for a second she believes something seems to be passing between them, something confidential. 

 

She’s all of a sudden very aware of the car running and the radio and that they probably know she’s there, so she turns and blinks down at the steering wheel, heart drumming in her ears so loudly it’s troubling.

 

When she glances up, wondering deeply what she’ll see and possibly anticipating what she thinks she’ll see, the doors are swinging shut. 





There's slush on the road outside the funeral home in early April and something strange happens. Their parents are attending a funeral for an old highschool friend and they force Mike and Nancy to go as well. 

 

Supposedly he had been hit by a car and that is why it is a closed casket. She wonders of she’d recognize him if it were open. Mike is bitter and quiet and stiff next to her in the backseat, stubborn and uprooted as he hadn’t boarded willingly, and it's almost childish behavior for his lips to pout as he focuses on the permanently gray Hawkins weather beyond the window. 

 

They arrive and it smells like hospital. Of new carpet and clean like the disinfectant they probably scrub the place down with. It says, bleeds fancy, to her, the neat trim and careful, sympathetic monotone wallpaper and large shear curtained windows that let in dull cold white light. It makes her want to sleep, and faintly guilty, as she is a stranger to the people filling the building and can't muster up anything other than pity for them. 

 

The one spark of feeling that chimes in her chest like an old bell that day is one of surprise, as after a moment of eyeing the place, she peers at Mike beside her and his gaze is taut on a table across the room. His friend and what Nancy doesn't have to assume is his friend's father are at the other end of Mike's heavily casted stare. Will, swallowed by a dark sweater that has a crinkled white collar poking out of the neck, hasn't seemed to have noticed their presence just yet. He's sitting with his elbows folded on top of the dressed up clothed circular table, shoulders hunched a bit, gaze low. His father is standing near, speaking to another man who Nancy can't recognize. From her distance she’s still able to see the resemblance in the face, the noticeable colored under eyes and the tired, shallow brows and unphased lips, though she supposes those similarities weren’t due to inheritance, rather influence. 

 

Their mother breaks up their stillness as she points some feet away and tells them to go sit down. Later Will comes by their deserted lonely table at a period where Mike and Nancy are at it alone and pulls Mike away. They end up skipping the whole ceremony and Nancy is envious. Afterwards she parts a thin curtain at one of the windows and looks out of curiosity of their location and spots them on the weathered stone back steps. 

 

Fifteen, twenty feet away they're sat beneath the old shingle overhang, safe of the dreary mist and dirty runoff that's dripping from the edge of the gutters. Mike is drawing his arms into himself a bit, crossing them almost, fingers invisible in the sleeves of his turtleneck, hiding his hands from the same unkind cold that is pinkening his nose and cheeks. Despite the unpleasant weather, they seem comfortable–as comfortable as you can be during a funeral you're barely attending–mouths active with the pulse of conversation, faces willing as their vision expands out over the hibernating snow dusted field beyond the building. She resembles her mother then at noticing slightly irritably that neither of them have on coats, and Will, closest to her, much to trigger her grimacing abilities, has the thin white body of a cigarette resting calmly between his middle and index fingers. 

 

Her breath collects on the window as she hazily wonders when that began, recalling all the instances-there were many-that she smelled smoke on him and thought nothing of it besides his father and how the scent attaches and brands itself to clothing and furniture and many other things in a home, including a person. Nancy is vaguely positive that if she asked Will about it, he'd either lie and say he didn’t, limply shrug or look at her and say something like it must run in the family

 

They seem to go quiet for a moment, and the silence draws Will to angle his head to the side a touch and glance at Mike, smoke draining from his lips, who meets his eyes, brows hitching slightly. They remain like that, and before she's able to connect the similarity in that look to the one she saw at the dance, Will is leaning in, in, in and cutting of Nancy’s view of her brother’s face to fit their mouths together. 

 

Her breath would dissolve in her throat if she hadn't been holding it for the past couple of seconds. 

 

It's a kiss. Will's kissing him. Her brother. Mike. 

 

Nancy's pulse beats hard in her neck, her eyes unblinking with disbelief, though, she can't force herself to move from the window. Blandly, she thinks of Jane and how she isn’t sure if Mike has ended that yet or intends to. 

 

She doesn't know if it's the first one. She doubts it is, no, she’s not convinced. It doesn't look to be, there wasn't any surprise in Mike's expression, he didn't startle or flinch or push Will away, in fact he might've even understood and come closer . And Will didn't hesitate, didn’t ask first, like the polite, courteous boy he usually is. 

 

Whatever it was, it was initially the only time Nancy’s seen it, and she's dearly guilty she did because she swears she wasn't meant to. Not just that but here– there , on that grimy old cold wet brown cement step, under a thickening drizzle, is not a very ideal first kiss environment.

 

In the end it is silly. She’s surprised, but when she asks herself why she shouldn’t be surprised, there’s a whole list of things waiting for her that explodes in her face. It’s practical. It’s stupid to think that out of all their time as friends that nothing could’ve happened–nothing like that , even something incredibly small like an abnormally tight hug or an embrace that went on for longer than nescesary. They’ve been brushing elbows, sleeping in the same bed, and borrowing each other’s clothes for years under eyes they didn’t expect to make sense of it. And it isn’t like she’s never questioned it, the affection. She’s perfectly aware that it’s not exactly the most normal breed, it hasn’t ever been. Regular friends are afraid to come too close, don't want to, they respect each other and the secrets they hold, but Mike and Will’s kind of respect is different, it’s far less visible and more sincere because they aren’t hiding anything, there isn’t anything to be hidden. At least, not anymore, it seems. 

 

And regular friends certainly don’t kiss one another. 

 

That's the tiebreaker. 





Nancy tries hard not to be odd around them after she sees the kiss but she can't help it. She finds herself less questioning of the decline in Jane’s visits and more of the closed bedroom door and the unspoken hours in the basement and the escalated volume of the overplayed Beatles album on certain nights. It’s wrong of her because she knows she wouldn't wonder so intensely what it is that they're doing when she can't see them if she hadn't gone to that funeral. 

 

She supposes she must not show it too well as they don't notice, though she believes they would if they knew to look, like she does. 





In early June Nancy overhears Will announce to Mike that he's going on vacation with his mother in a couple of days and will be away for a week. Mike asks where and Will says georgia, to visit family. 

 

Two days after Will’s left, some blue old thursday where the week is on the verge of dying and she’s wearing her dingiest t-shirt, Mike beats on her door and asks Nancy if she’ll drive him to the record store across town. Nancy tells him no of course. He pesters on and she complains about having to pull the car out of the garage.  Why can’t you bike?  

 

He supposedly has to cross the highway to get there, which he–much to her dismay–says he does , but can’t today because there is construction blocking most of it. 

 

As reluctantly as she can manage, she takes him, and he apparently had something particular in mind because he doesn’t browse or ponder, just picks what he wants, pays for it, glares profoundly at the red headed cashier who flips him off unashamedly and leaves the shop while she’s still peering at the clearance bin. On the way home she asks what he bought and without a glance in her direction, he just flips it up and draws the bag down a bit so she can see. There’s no clear title or anything, and it doesn’t help Mike is being slouchy with it, but she makes out the top of a palm tree and a crowd of people and garden with red flowers that spell out Beatles , and she has to get quizzical. 

 

“D’you have a thing with the Beatles or something?” 

 

Mike looks up, pulling his chin out of his palm. “What?” 

 

Turning back to the road, she raises two fingers on the steering wheel. “That’s the second one.” 

 

“It’s–no. I mean, I don–how do you-” Mike starts, sitting up like he's only finally realized his seat is truly meant for that. Unfortunately for him the words stop coming and his mouth stays open until he goes on, thinking he’s justifying the stuttering with a matter-of-fact; “They’re the Beatles. ” 

 

Nancy raises her eyebrows. Mike must see, as he mumbles, tone faint, “What?”

 

She shrugs her shoulders. 





Will returns to Hawkins with dusty red dirt on the bottoms and sides of his white scuffed shoes and the littlest quirk in his lip. 

 

Him and Mike are getting ready to take off to somewhere on their bikes when she notices he's at their house. Later that night at dinner she sees he's become a very odd mix of sunburned–on his cheeks and forearms–and mildly tanned and seems to have more of those freckles on his nose. His eyebags have faded a measly touch, even, and his eyelids aren't drooping as much as they always do. She doesn't get an in depth look as per usual because he can tell when she's got her eyes on him and neither of them are fond of that awkwardness that follows the induced accidental one second eye contact. 

 

Nancy finds herself a bit envious towards the obvious reasoning behind his appearance changes, even if they are slight. Goes to show what a week away from Hawkins treats you like. It can depend on where you go, but you’re probably not worried you might suffocate in fog or humidity, that’s if you’re able to go outside, if it’s not coming down in buckets. She wonders if it’s something in the water, if it’s Hawkins that pollutes the sagging shoulder attitudes and blueness.

 

She’s finishing the dishes when they come up the basement staircase. Will itches his mosquito bites while he leads Mike out onto the back porch, digging in his pocket for his cigarettes, ignoring a halfhearted you’d better quit that from Mike who could pass for nearly asleep, and mumbles something to continue their conversation like; “I guess. The most since I ran away. Remember that?” 

 

In the sink, her hands pause. 

 

There’s a beat, they seemed to have stopped, and one of the two is definitely holding the screen door open, but she hushes the instinct to shout at them to shut it before the bugs move in entirely. 

 

Deadpan, “Yeah. Sure. Kinda wish you would’ve stayed away so I didn’t ever have to smell that . Do you, like, have to have one every other hour?”  

 

The signature squeak of the door being opened wider and then swinging closed limply is paired with only a; “Gee.” As Will seemingly chooses to ignore most of what Mike says.

 

“Well what d’you want me to say? ‘Missed you so hard I lost my mind and then stepped on it?”  

 

“Exactly that.”  

 

Nancy is almost enlightened, but she’s too focused on the ‘ran away’ part. Will never ran away. 

 

A couple minutes go by, and she’s all the more confused. When her mind is reaching for answers, her ears clear and she can hear a pair of reserved voices through the screen door. Mike says, “–and I didn’t know you were gone. ‘Just weren’t answering me, s’all. I thought something went wrong.”

 

“So...technically, you didn’t miss me.”  

 

“Did you want me to?”  

 

“No. I don’t know.” Nancy pulls in a breath to relieve her strained lungs, as she’d been sort of unknowingly holding the air captive in there, and it smells faintly of cigarette smoke. She interprets Mike’s earlier complaints differently then and finds that she agrees with him, she'd forgotten how unpleasant the scent is. 

 

“I wanted to ask you to come with me.”  

 

The voices on the porch cease in a bit of audible awe, mainly, if not fully, on Mike’s end. 

 

Slowly, softly, like he truly wants to know but is cautious of the answer, “Why didn’t you?”  

 

There’s a little huff, a slight plume from the nose that tells Nancy Will finds it a bit hysterical, but still seems set on seriously believing; “I didn’t think you liked me that much. Plus, you didn't talk to me after science that day and I thought you were mad or something.”  

 

Mike is silent for a moment, as if he’s contemplating. Then; 

 

“You can ask me now, can't you?”  

 

That’s all that comes for a while. Nancy strains her ears so hard she’s suddenly angry it’s finally summer because the bugs are chirping too loudly. She only catches the end of what could be a kiss, lips breaking up, then finding each other again–and she gets busy in the sink. 

 

Nancy thinks about them. She wonders if they ever would run away, though, she can’t imagine them doing it alone, and that ask me now haunts her for two reasons. One, Mike is apparently willing to leave. When, to where, with or without Will, she doesn’t know. 

 

Two, Mike has made up his mind to properly answer him if he ever did really ask him to go. 





Nancy supposes that Mike and Will’s already strange relationship could not get weirder. She begins to understand that there is private ‘reasoning’ behind most of their visits. When Mike leaves the house, he doesn’t explain where he’s going, he just goes. If he says anything it’s the time he’ll be back at. 

 

She didn’t think Mike needed an excuse to go to anywhere, more so, to Will’s house, he was Mike–that was his excuse, but apparently she’s wrong. One evening Mike’s on the phone with Will and tells him he left his sock there and asks if he’s allowed to come get it. Another day when the three of them are in front of the tv at some late hour Will mumbles that their house smells nicer than his does and that he’ll be back tomorrow. She wonders earnestly if it’s some sort of game, if it’s a competition between them to provide the crummiest, fallably ridiculous excuse, and what the winner gets as a prize. The more she listens, the more she hears. 

 

Mike’s bed is more comfortable and that means Will’s over for the weekend. Mike saw lightning–it was definitely heat lightning–so Will can’t go home in that. Will’s tap water tastes better than theirs so Mike skips dinner and spends the rest of the night at Will’s. It’s nicer on that side of town , which is rich, and the infamous, because your carpet is my favorite color.  

 

Maybe it’s fun to them, she doesn’t know. Maybe they like having something to blame all of the time they put in together on. Maybe just saying they want to see one another is too overwhelming.





The red haired girl from the record store is named Max and supposedly in Will’s french class. Nancy didn’t know that Will took french, or that Hawkins High taught it, which is quite odd considering how much time she’s spent there. 

 

Will makes friends with her, apparently as a tutor at first because she’s always mouthing off during class and can’t seem to complete her assignments. 

 

Nancy doesn't quite get it, only assumes it's some sort of summer school kind of thing, just not as serious. She isn't sure what her and Will have in common, if they have anything in common besides French class, because they are nearly opposites. While Will walks with his head a bit tipped and his shoulders limp, Max seems to be the girl that presses gum to the underside of the desks and never raises her hand or willingly participates but still is scolded severely at home for receiving detention after telling off the cheerleaders in front of the principal. She comes over with Will one evening when their parents have gone away somewhere for the night and her and Mike clash. 

 

They're at each other's throats the whole time and the bickering is constant . Like the instance Nancy witnessed at the record store, Max is the prime recipient of Mike's nastiest, scowling glares, though, she holds her own and returns them just as fiercely. Hers might even be more intimidating, if that's at all possible. It's like a childish battle, a staring contest that showcases how much stubborn venom the two of them can manage until Will snaps at them to quit. 

 

But she’s like Nancy. She understands somehow, she knows –about Mike and Will, that is. 

 

Nancy is in the kitchen early the next morning hunched over a bowl of cereal and she along with Max and her blanket, who had slept on the couch the past night, eyes Will when he comes down the staircase soundlessly in sweatpants with bed head and a crease in his brows.

 

He's heading for the sink and Nancy hears her tease lowly, “What's the matter? D’you wake up on the wrong side of Wheeler?”  

 

Unamused, Will’s eyes sweep the living room lazily and he ignores her, pulling a dainty smile at Nancy and a glass from the cupboard as he does. Once he's got his back to her, in the dim, cold grey light that precedes sunrise, she can't help but assume he's forgotten to cover up the distinct bright red bruise on the side of his neck that sticks out like a sore thumb. Or maybe he hasn't, maybe it's his way of rebelling, of saying I got action. Though it isn't like she had no clue.

 

Nancy stops chewing as she catches view of it and momentarily doubles back to yesterday when that was not in existence after she did her subconscious scan for little burn wounds and fresh marks that her brother’s mouth could not have caused. 

 

It’s not the only one she's seen. Up close, well, clearly, having enough time to stare at, it is. If the funeral home hadn't happened she wouldn't be as curious towards Will's sudden interest in very high collared shirts and desire to skip breakfast on mornings following sleepovers. Mike is a different story though, and she finds herself a bit bewildered as she waits for the bathroom one night and he slips past her as smoothly as he can in an old loose tee that she knows falls well below his collar bones and he's got at least two blooming like rashes on skin that's so bland it could be a canvas. She supposed Will certainly is an artist. 

 

He runs the glass under the tap, long fingers gripping it carelessly while he rubs his eye with his remaining hand and then sends it over the back of his neck. 

 

She can't figure out why he's woken up so early. Normally she won't see him until eleven or later, if she does at all. Nancy doesn't ponder it very hard and tells herself he’ll most likely go back to bed and is proved right as Will retreats up the stairs with his water and leaves her hoping he’ll have the insight to hide the mark later, though, she's a bit skeptical that her parents would ever have the ability to even imagine it was left by their son, much less have the courage to mention anything about it if they did, regardless. 



-



A few nights before Nancy begins packing for her leave for college, she hauls herself up the stairs after a late shift and almost passes Mike’s room. Almost. 

 

It’s ten thirty something and the lamp in there is on, illuminating and polluting the cream walls with a soft yellow. The door is cracked about half a foot, strange, as Mike normally closes it, and she carefully peers inside. She doesn’t expect them to be in there, hence the door, though, she spots them on the bed, which is pushed up against, bordering the wall farthest from her, sitting below a small magazine clipping of a man she doesn’t fully recognize, but thinks she should and probably already has heard his name before, as he’s very attractive. 

 

Her eyes settle on the boys, first Mike, who’s in an odd sitting position, one leg off the bed, foot touching the floor, the other bent to where his ankle comes close to the inside of his other thigh. The rest of him is turned away from her, crooning, hanging over Will, and his hands are placed, right near Will’s head, left beside his hip. Will is on his back, knees drawn up along with his eyes that Nancy can tell are playing with Mike’s, though she can only see Will’s face and not her brother’s. 

 

They look comfortable, and it’s odd, she’s never seen them like that. She doesn’t think she’s seen anybody like that. Will’s talking to Mike, lips carrying on smoothly, chest rising and falling in a slow, heedless pattern. And he’s looking at Mike, fully, really, not averting, not fumbling with his hands or twitching, like he’s content . She reminds herself that it is Mike that he’s with, that it doesn’t count, but Nancy still sees it as foreign. 

 

Their hair is wet, and they’re in sleeping clothes. She ignores the fact that she’d only just heard the shower shut off as she’d come through the front door, and how both of them seem to have equally dripping heads and hot water flushed faces, how one should be a bit drier than the other but that is none of her business.  

 

Mike laughs at something Will mumbles to him, and Nancy heads off with a small smile of ease. The pit in her stomach seems to dissipate.