“Does it hurt?” Mike asked his girlfriend—ex-girlfriend—as they sat in the middle of aisle 10 of the local Big Buy.
“Mmm… not bad.” El shrugged. She was a tough cookie, but even that looked more painful than anything Mike had ever experienced.
He nodded, knowing she was trying to put on a brave face. “You’re gonna have an awesome scar.” El smirked. “You’ll look even more badass.”
“Yeah, bitchin’.” He smiled, and for the first time in days, it actually reached his eyes. A comfortable silence fell over the two, and Mike knew that this was as good a chance as he’d ever get to say what he wanted to. “…El…”
“I’ve been meaning to tell you something.” Mike knew it was time to admit he was wrong. He missed El, and he didn’t want to be apart anymore. “It’s just… being broken up… it’s been hard.” He paused, hearing a spotty message come through on his supercomm, but it was gone as soon as it started. “And… I like that you and Max are friends now. It’s just… I was jealous at first, and—and angry, that’s why I said all that stupid stuff. And it’s like… I wanted you, all to myself.” El raised her eyebrows, a wave of butterflies fluttering in her chest. She had never been too shy to tell Mike that she just wanted him alone all the time, but it had been the first time he’d said it out loud to her, and she couldn’t be happier that he felt the same way. But Max was right, she needed to know who she was, without Mike or Hopper telling her. “And now I realize how unfair that is, and selfish, and like… I’m sorry.” A sweet smile spread across her face. She was grateful for Mike; he’d given her the space she needed, and now she knew who she was, and what she wanted. Conveniently, she wanted him. “I just like… I’ve never felt… like this,” he gestured between the two of them, heart pounding in his chest as he thought about what he was about to say, “you know, with anyone before… and…” he sighed, “they do say it makes you crazy.” Mike chuckled and gave her a pointed look.
This is it, he thought, I did it, El is actually going to know that I love her.
But Mike’s heart sunk when he saw that blatant look of confusion on El’s face. “What makes you crazy?”
If El were being truthful, she’d tell Mike that she heard everything he’d said to the party when he had been fighting with Max. The words rang through her head and sent a warm feeling through her body; ‘because I love her and I can’t lose her again!’ But El didn’t want to be truthful, not yet. She wanted to hear him say it again, to make sure it wasn’t something she’d misheard while she was busy looking for Billy.
A look of horror crossed Mike’s face. “You’ve never… you’ve never heard that term?” He emphasized, hoping that maybe ‘love makes you crazy’ had been said in one of her soaps, and she’d understand. “You know like the ph-phrase, like ‘blank makes you crazy’ like the word?” He looked at her hopelessly, praying she’d either understand, or the floor would swallow him whole.
“Girlfriends?” El wasn’t prepared to go easy on him.
“No no no no no not—not girlfriends.” The last thing Mike needed was for El to think that she drove him crazy.
“Boyfriends.” She responded confidently, holding herself back from saying what she knew the answer was. LOVE!
“No! No, no no, not boyfriends either. It’s like… it’s like a feeling… or…”
“Feeling?” She was having too much fun with him at this point to stop.
Mike continued rambling. “Yeah like something… like, like… old people say it to each other sometimes. It’s like—”
“Old people?” Where exactly was he going with this?
“Yeah! W-what I want to say is…” He hesitated, “that I just…” She gave him a look of encouragement, but Mike’s eyes were focused on the ground. “I know that I—”
Mike’s heart thrummed in his chest nervously as his supercomm cut him off once more. He had been so close to saying it, those three little words nearly left his lips, but this shit with the mind flayer was determined to stop him.
The two stared at the walkie in a pile a few feet away as static continued to crackle away. A decision had to be made right then and there, either he was going to try his supercomm to get a hold of Dustin, or he would continue with this conversation. One quick glance back at El’s face made his mind up for him. Mike jumped up and reached the supercomm in a few strides, but turned it off and returned it to its place on the floor. In a matter of seconds, he was back, sitting across from El at the end of aisle 10.
“I know that I screwed up.” He scooted himself closer, her bent knee touching the shin of his crossed leg. Mike took her hands, and finally met her eyes. “I screwed up so bad El, and it’s because I was blinded by my feelings for you. I like you, a lot, like, I more than like you, if you know what I mean.”
He was so nervous, Mike had no idea what she would say, he didn’t even know if she knew what love meant.
El’s expression softened once she saw how stressed Mike looked in that moment. As much as she enjoyed the little game they were playing, he deserved to know how she felt too.
“Mike, what makes you crazy?”
He frowned, not quite following her question.
“Blank make’s you crazy… what’s the blank?”
His cheeks flushed with colour and he looked down to their joined hands between them. “L-love.” It came out in a whisper; he didn’t trust his voice in that moment.
El smiled and scooted as close as she could, resting her forehead on his. “Mike…” She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “I heard what you said at the cabin.”
He exhaled, as if he’d just been punched in the gut. El could feel his breath across her lips. “Wh-why didn’t you say something?”
“This was more fun. Wanted to hear you say it, to… I thought I dreamed it.” She bumped his nose with hers lightly. “Was I dreaming, Mike?”
“N-no, of course not. I meant everything.”
“A-and were you going to tell me?”
Mike chuckled despite himself. “I-I’ve been trying to.”
She giggled and pulled away so she could meet his eyes. “Try again.”
He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and counted to three in his head before he opened them again. His heart melted as he took in the look on her face, the pure, soft joy in her eyes, the innocent, radiant glow that he’d never seen before. Mike could feel the love radiating off her in waves, and he knew that finally he could confidently say those three words.
“El, I love you.” Mike’s face grew hot, the gravity of what he’d just said weighing him down, but also making him feel lightheaded.
El’s smile only lasted a few seconds longer as she leaned in and kissed him slowly. Something significant had shifted between them. This didn’t feel like one of the butterfly inducing kisses they’d shared at the Snow Ball, or even like one of the more intense kisses that left them breathless with swollen lips behind (almost) closed doors. Something had shifted; chaste but intense, breathless butterflies, and absolute pure love.
She was the first to pull back, but not by much. Mike could still feel her tongue flick out to wet her lips, the gentle breaths that came out quicker than they did before they’d kissed. But most importantly, he could feel her lips ghost over his ever so lightly as she whispered, “I love you too, Mike.”