Will stared out of the car window, tracing the patterns the melting snow left across the glass. It had only just been over two months since the Byers family had left Hawkins behind, but Will knew that nothing would be the same upon his return; that his friends would have grown in ways similar to him since their last meeting.
Joyce had tried to keep the children out of Hawkins for as long as possible, eventually relenting and letting El and Will visit their friends for the Christmas break. Although she knew that the likelihood of any mysterious occurrences was minimal, Joyce was still on edge as she drove past the ominous ‘Welcome to Hawkins’ sign, protectively glancing at her children as if they may have vanished upon entering. Satisfied that Will, El, and a sleeping Jonathan were still present, Joyce turned the car towards Hopper’s cabin, which had been left uninhabited since his disappearance. El had insisted that they stayed at the cabin while in Hawkins, to honour the memory of her father and to collect items that she had forgotten when the Byers family initially moved away.
As the family piled out of the car and into the cabin, El glanced at the surrounding woodland. The trees were bare and a thin layer of snow covered the ground, the odd flake glinting in the fading December sunlight. This place had used to be home, she thought, looking at the door with an overwhelming sense of sadness. A gentle hand rubbed her shoulder, and El peered up to see Will softly smiling at her. “It will get better,” he assured.
El nodded, picking up her rucksack from the floor. “At least we will see Mike later. It will be better then. Normal”.
Will sighed as his sister walked into the cabin, knowing that ‘normal’ was a concept he would never understand, much less be a part of. Eleven was right about one thing though, that seeing Mike and the others would improve the sombre mood, and make Hawkins feel less foreign than it currently did.
The Wheelers were throwing a party that evening, to commemorate both the festive season and the return of the Byers family. Will and El had been eagerly anticipating sharing stories of the things they had learnt and the adventures they had had since moving away, while Jonathan had been longing to return to the warm embrace of his girlfriend Nancy. Joyce didn’t particularly care for parties and she knew her children didn’t either, but she also knew that they had spent the last few months longing to spend more time with their friends than the odd phone call or walkie-talkie conversation.
A couple of hours later, the Byers family arrived at the Wheelers’ house. Music was blaring and multicoloured lights hung from every window and doorway. As they walked up the drive, Joyce grabbed Will’s hand, the Christmas lights unsettling her with memories of losing her son to the upside-down. Will squeezed his mum’s hand in acknowledgement, before releasing it to knock on the door in front of him.
Moments passed before the hallway light eventually flickered to life, and the door unlocked to reveal none other than Mike. His face broke out into a grin reaching from ear to ear as he pulled both his best friend and his girlfriend into an embrace that expressed more emotion than words could portray. Joyce and Jonathan took this moment to enter the house, realising that the children needed to spend this time without the presence of adult supervision. Soon enough, Jonathan had disappeared with Nancy, and Joyce was deeply engrossed in conversation about her and her children’ lives away from Hawkins with Karen Wheeler.
“Come on,” exclaimed Mike, finally breaking apart from Will and El. “You need to see the others”.
Grabbing El by the hand, Mike weaved through the people crowding the corridors, Will following closely behind. As they approached the door to the basement, Will could hear his friends arguing over something trivial, informing him that some things had stayed the same during his absence.
“I told you, Lucas! I didn’t eat your lucky charms!”
“Well someone sure did, and it wasn’t me! I bought them here to eat and now there’s none left! If it wasn’t you, then who was it? A demogorgon?”.
“No, I think a demogorgon would prefer human flesh over marshmallows and cereal.”
Mike looked at Will and nodded his head towards the direction of the hallway, where his younger sister Holly was nonchalantly shoving a handful of cereal into her mouth. Snickering, Mike pushed open the basement door, rolling his eyes as the bickering subsided and the room’s occupants enveloped Will and Eleven in a group hug.
Will sighed contentedly, relaxing with the knowledge that his friends still cared about him, that they hadn’t replaced him since the move. Although the familiarity and ease of the group’s dynamic comforted Will, it unnerved him slightly, the little voice inside his head reminding him that he was different to everyone, that he didn’t deserve their love and friendship. No, he thought, pushing away the intrusive voice. I am here to enjoy myself, and be with my friends.
“Do you guys wanna see a cool trick that me and Max taught Yurtle the Turtle?” asked Dustin, breaking Will from his thoughts.
El frowned, and Max cocked her head to one side. “Why would you bring a turtle to a Christmas party?”
“Steve suggested it and I thought it sounded like a fun idea,” Dustin shrugged. The whole group turned to look at Steve, who had been sat quietly with Robin in the corner until now.
“Hey man, don’t blame me. I’m not the one putting a turtle on a skateboard and calling it a trick.”
Before long, the majority of the group had dissolved into a heated argument concerning turtles on skateboards. Robin stood up, overwhelmed by the sudden burst of noise from the teenagers, and the realisation that everyone in the room was completely ridiculous. “You guys are all dinguses,” she muttered, excusing herself from the basement, going unnoticed in the commotion.
“You know what?” interjected El. “I want to see the trick”.
Dustin pumped his fist in the air, then reached into a box on the floor and pulled out his turtle. “Can you pass me your skateboard?” he asked Max, who rolled her eyes but complied anyway.
Yurtle the turtle was gently placed on the skateboard by Dustin, who pushed the skateboard with just enough force to move it to the other side of the basement. He turned to face the rest of the group, his face expressing an expectancy for reactions. “Well?” he spurred, looking at each group member in turn.
“That was…” Mike tapered off, unable to comprehend what he had just witnessed.
Dustin glared at Steve, Lucas, and Max, who were looking decidedly unimpressed by his efforts at turtle tricks. “You helped train her, Max! This is as much your failure as it is mine!”
Max laughed, perhaps a little harshly. “Oh no. This? This is all you, Dusty-bun”.
“At least you tried?” Steve offered earning another glare from Dustin.
“Not very hard,” Lucas muttered, and moments later the four were involved in yet another argument about the turtle.
Mike glanced at El, knowing that the four of them could be arguing for some time. “Come on,” he whispered, grabbing her hand and guiding her towards the pillow fort. “I’ve missed you”.
“Keep the fort open three inches,” she muttered softly, following his lead.
Will became very conscious that nobody had noticed that he was still in the room, that they were too engrossed with the people surrounding them. “Nobody here likes you,” sneered the voice in his head. “They all know what you are. Nobody wants to be friends with someone like you”.
The air seemed to close in around Will as the voice became louder. He burst through the basement door, breathing large gulps as though the air was lighter, safer. Peering to his right, he noticed his mother deep in conversation with Mike and Lucas’s parents. Will sighed, knowing that the only way to silence the voice in his head would be to talk to someone about the thoughts that had constantly haunted his every waking moment. He considered going to find Jonathan, but then remembered how much his brother had been looking forward to seeing Nancy, and shuddered slightly at the possible activities that they could be participating in.
As Will debated turning around and heading back into the basement, he noticed that the door to the porch was slightly ajar. Realising that fresh air would probably help him calm down before he returned to his friends, Will pushed the door open and flopped down onto the bench, exhausted from the large range of emotions he had experienced in such a short time.
Will almost jumped out of his skin, not expecting anyone else to be sat outside in the dark. Turning around to the source of the voice, he saw Robin, her facial features appearing slightly eerie in the dim light emitted from the Christmas decorations. “What are you doing here?” he questioned, his voice coming out much more timidly than anticipated.
Robin smiled, acknowledging the small boy next to her. “I don’t really do large crowds of people. Sometimes it all gets a little loud, and I have to take a breather”. She looked down at Will, suddenly noticing the abundance of emotions written across his face. “Feeling a bit too much?”
Will drew a shaky breath, attempting to lie, declare he was fine. But there was something about Robin, something so /familiar/, so welcoming. Her small shred of kindness was enough to reduce Will to tears, the overwhelming burden lifting from his shoulders as his intelligible sobs drowned out any explanation for his need to escape the party.
Robin panicked slightly, having never been in the position where anyone so vulnerable had clearly needed her. She wrapped one arm around Will’s shoulders, reaching into her pocket with the other and pulling out a tissue. Will accepted the tissue, and a few minutes later his sobs slowed down.
“I’m gay,” he whispered between sobs, so quietly that Robin thought she had misheard him. “I’m gay and I like boys and it’s wrong and none of my friends will like me and my dad was right and the bullies were right and I’m just a freak because I am gay and I shouldn’t like boys but I do and I don’t know what to do”.
Will was crying uncontrollably again now, and Robin sat upright, a newfound intensity fuelling the maternal instinct urging her to protect him. She gripped his shoulders and he drew his eyes upwards to look into hers, which also had tears threatening to spill out. “Me too. I’m gay too”.
Something inside Will shifted as the older girl started to cry, and he wrapped his arms around her, feeling safe and open and understood for the first time in his life. They stayed in each other’s arms for some time, chests rising and falling rhythmically with each breath between sobs.
Eventually, Robin pulled away, wiping the mascara streaks from under her eyes. “That was quite some journey, kiddo”.
“You won’t tell anyone, will you?” Will pleaded, his puffy eyes even wider than before.
Robin laughed gently. “Of course not. That’s your prerogative, and nobody should take that away from you. Gay rights.”
She stood up, smoothing imaginary creases out of her outfit before offering Will her hand. “Come on. I’m high on gay adrenaline and willing to sacrifice myself to your friends”.
Will took Robin’s hand and stood up too, giving her a quizzical look. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that I’m willing to bet that your friends won’t hate you for being gay. I barely know the majority of them and I doubt any of them possess a single brain cell, but I’m a pretty good judge of character and I’m prepared to test their open-mindedness by coming out to them”.
Will’s breath hitched in his throat, before he scrunched his face into the most determined expression Robin had ever seen. “No,” he objected, shaking his head. “I trust them. I need to do this.”
“If you’re sure you’re ready, I’ll be there.”
“I am. Provided we do it together.”
Will gripped Robin’s hand tighter, and she squeezed his back.
Robin pushed open the basement door, startling the room’s six current occupants.
“Where did you go?” Mike inquired; worry written over his face. “We were searching for you”.
Robin looked sceptical. “You clearly never left the room”.
“We only just started looking. We were distracted,” revealed El, earning a glare from Mike.
Lucas looked over at Will, noticing his tear-stained cheeks and red eyes. “Hey Will, man, are you ok?”
Will locked eyes with Robin, who gave him an affirmative nod. He breathed in sharply. This was probably as good a moment as any. “I think so? Everything just got really super intense for a moment and there was this voice in my head telling me that you guys wouldn’t like me if you knew who I was really was and then I found Robin and cried on her because I don’t like girls, I like boys. I’m gay, and I needed to tell you because I just felt so guilty for hiding it from you for so long. I’m gay. I’m /gay/”.
Everyone in the room stood still, shell-shocked for a moment, before all rushing forwards to hug Will and shower him with love and support.
“I can’t believe you ever thought we wouldn’t love you no matter what,” Mike murmured, his voice faltering with emotion.
El wiped a tear from Will’s cheek, and gave him an approving nod. He gave a half-suppressed laugh at his sister’s formality, grateful for her display of acceptance.
Steve pulled away from the group hug, making eye contact with Robin. “Thank you,” he whispered, thinking nobody had heard. She smiled appreciatively, proudly looking at the way the younger children had accepted Will with open arms.
Dustin turned around and eyed her suspiciously. “What does Steve mean by ’Thank you’? What did you do?”
Robin laughed, feeling her heart rate rise as she realised what she was going to do. “Nothing really. Just helped Will like any friend would. I’m gay too, and us gays have to stick together”.
Dustin’s eyes widened, and the whole group released Will, turning to face Robin.
“So… You’re both gay?” asked Mike.
Robin nodded. “Yep.”
Lucas looked puzzled, his hands gesturing as he tried to work something out in his head. He pointed at Robin, and then at Will. “You’re gay, and you’re gay?”
Now was Will’s turn to look confused. “I thought we had just-“
“Are you gay together?”
The room stood in a stunned silence, before Mike muttered “Oh my God” under his breath, and El started laughing.
Max hit Lucas on the shoulder, and he gave her a look as if to suggest that he was being genuine.
Robin pinched the bridge of her nose, mustering the strength to deal with the stupidity of the question asked. “No, you dingus, that’s not how it works”.
The room fell into a comfortable laughter, and Will realised that he felt lighter, the fear of revealing his true self to his friends had disappeared completely. He smiled at everyone in the room, knowing that he could now enjoy the rest of the Christmas party.
“Are you going to tell them?”
El and Will were sat at the breakfast table the next day, discussing the events of the party.
Will hummed in agreement. “They deserve to know. I don’t like keeping things from them both, and I’m pretty sure they’ll know that I’m keeping something from them soon anyway”.
Eleven’s head jerked up as Joyce walked into the kitchen. “Do you want me to give you some space?” she mouthed to Will, who nodded.
“Thank you,” he whispered, as El pushed her chair under the table and left the room.
As she was leaving, Jonathan walked in, carrying an empty bowl. Will took a controlled breath, knowing that now was his chance.
“Hey guys? Could you come and sit down? I have something to tell you.”
Joyce practically ran to the table, radiating concern. “Oh my God, Will! Are you hurt? Is it the demogorgon? The mind-flayer? The upside-down? The Russians? I swear, if those Russians are back at it again…” she trailed off, theories racing through her mind about what Will could possibly want to tell them.
Jonathan smirked at his Mom’s antics, slowly spinning a chair around and sitting on it back-to-front.
“I’m sure he’ll let us know, if you give him half a chance.” He turned to face Will, who was fidgeting with his bowl of cereals. “What’s up?”
Will deliberately placed down his spoon, taking a moment to collect his thoughts. Finally, he lifted his head, and simply stated: “I’m gay.”
Joyce and Jonathan looked at each other, before looking back at Will.
“That’s it? You’re not injured or in danger?” Joyce asked, still sceptical about her son’s safety.
Joyce breathed out a sigh of relief. “Good. I love you, and nothing will ever stop that, ok? You are incredible, and I am so, so proud that you told us. Nobody here will ever judge you for being yourself. We love you no matter what, as long as you’re happy and safe.” She moved over to Will’s side of the table, wrapping her arms around him.
“I’m always here if you ever need to talk about anything. Anything. We can do drawings, we can hang out, we can talk about cute boys-“
“Oh my God,” muttered Jonathan, as Will exclaimed “Mom, stop,” at the same time.
Joyce laughed at the cries of protest from her sons, relived that neither of them were unsafe, and that Will felt able to be genuine with her.
Jonathan stood up. “I love you, Will. This is what I wanted for us, when I first introduced you to The Clash. To be honest with each other, to trust each other, to not feel like we have to hide things from each other. And if anyone ever tries to bully you, or hurt you, or break your heart, send them my way.”
He walked quickly over to join the family hug, wiping away a rogue tear.
Joyce playfully scoffed. “You couldn’t hurt a fly”.
“Maybe so”, Jonathan shrugged. “But Nancy is pretty good with a gun”.
Will glanced up, noticing El hovering in the door frame. He beckoned her over, motioning for her to join in with the hug. She was part of the family now, after all.
Will closed his eyes and smiled, feeling secure in the arms of his Mom, brother, and sister. Knowing that his friends and family loved and accepted him was all he needed.
Joyce sniffled loudly, disrupting the moment. “Sorry,” she whispered, rummaging in her pocket for a tissue.
“Here, I have one,” Will smiled, reaching into his pocket. As he passed the tissue over, a small piece of paper fell from his hand. Curious, he unfolded it, and read the carefully written cursive note.
‘Will. If you ever need to talk to anyone that understands, call me. I’ll probably know better than any of those heterosexual dinguses’. Next to the note was a phone number, along with Robin’s signature.
Will folded the note back up, sliding it into his pocket before his Mom could notice. For the first time, he truly realised that he was not alone, that he had a friend who could understand anything he experienced, and an extended family that would support him and fight for him, no matter what.