SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 6 —
It was a cold Sunday afternoon, one of those in which people would rather stay at home, sitting by the fireplace playing dominoes, or going to the cinema to watch the latest movie that came out, only to fall asleep before the play hit its best part. But after being stuck all the morning in the library with her friend, helping each other with their respective homework, all she wanted was fresh air.
She sat by the nearest bench and dropped her bag down the floor. She heard her stomach roar again. She hadn't eaten anything except an apple in the morning and it was hitting her just now. She took a mental note: stop for food next. She closed her eyes and waited for her friend to come back.
She knew Lucy was trying, but that couldn't stop her from feeling a bit of disappointment when minutes later Vera saw her sitting by her side with a packet of cigarettes in her hands. Her friend noticed the expression faster than she managed to hide. "I know, I know. It's just- just in case."
"I get it," Vera nodded once and placed a hand on her shoulder as a sign of understanding. Lucy reconsidered smoking again and that meant things at home weren't as great as she pretended them to be. Vera could get an idea of what it was. "You're just lucky your sister isn't around right now, she would have kicked your ass."
Lucy smiled, hiding the cigarettes deep inside her backpack. "I'm not sure that's so lucky for me."
Vera gave Lucy a look that she knew it translated as talk to me. She waited for her to say something about it. Vera was aware of the consequences of taking such risk, and the possible impact of it. She still remembered the day Lucy talked to her mother about it, the way she reacted and how it took her months to understand it. The woman never spoke about it, never brought it up. But what was there to understand?
"I just thought about it better and there's no way I can tell my dad without ruining my life."
Vera denied with her head. "You don't deserve this, none of it."
Lucy sighed. "No one does." She said as she rested her head on Vera's shoulder. They stayed still for a minute until another and louder roar screamed inside Vera's stomach. "That's the longest one so far." She said, opening an eye to find Lucy laughing. Both of them raised on her feet, Vera touching her belly. "To Melvald's?"
The bells rang when the door touched them as they entered. They were greeted with a hello from Joyce Byers behind the cash register, and they smiled back in return.
"Doritos for me, please." Vera said as Lucy went straight to the junk food aisle. "I'll go get the drinks." She finished, to which Lucy replied with a thumbs up.
The store wasn't as big as Bradley's Big Guy, but as she grew up, Vera got used to the variety Melvald's offered. She picked the drinks, coke for Lucy, water for her.
"I want my money back. I don't want it anymore. Not like this!" Someone yelled on the other side of the aisle.
"You will, babe. You will or else," Another one said. They sounded familiar.
"Man, you can tell it's ripped off. They ain't dumb. It doesn't even look like an accident." Vera recognized that voice right away. Of course she did. Dickhead, she thought.
"I don't care?" The female voice stated, her steps echoing as she left the aisle behind.
Vera met Lucy at the candies section, and found out her friend had heard the first part of the conversation. Apparently Tommy H and Steve Harrington were there with Carol to somehow scam the store with some costume she got for Halloween. And as Vera and her friend had thought, Carol was making a scene.
"I want my money back. I didn't do anything. It was like this since I bought it so I want my money back."
"What was your name again?" Joyce touched her temple.
"Carol." She said between teeth.
"Okay, Carol." Joyce put her hands on the counter. "You know, I'm a mother of two young boys. I know how to sew since I was twenty, and I know when clothes have manufacturing defects and when they have been ripped off. So, you can stay here and complain all you want until Donald comes back and he tells you you're not getting anything, or you can save me, your friends and those girls waiting there the time and go now like nothing happened." Joyce Byers finished with a smile, letting out a heavy breath.
Carol's mouth dropped open.
"You can't talk to her like that. Can she?" Tommy H. asked Steve for backup.
"Of course she can, you idiot. She's an adult." He turned his head to whisper. "Sorry Mrs Byers, we're just going." He faked a charming smile, but Vera knew Steve was embarrassed.
"Hilarious." Vera murmured loud enough for them to hear.
The place went silent for a moment. Carol looked at them with disgust, saying something they couldn't hear as she left the store. Tommy looked at Lucy with an angry face, took his girlfriend's dress with him like it was one of his many failed exams and followed Carol out.
Steve glanced at Vera, and she locked eyes with him. There was tease in his eyes, and what she thought (or wanted to think) was hate. Her eyes were simply distant and cold. It was hard to believe he hadn't always been like this, hard to believe they were friends once, best friends if she dared to recognize. And even harder to believe that, after all, they were each other's first kiss.
His heartbeat was the only thing he could hear, along with the thoughts of the little girl that was sitting in the grass right by his side. There was no tremor breaking down their feet now, no alarm sistem pounding on their heads, no people rushing around as red lights flashed upon their heads. It was just the two of them, leaning against an old shed, trying to catch their breaths. He needed to choose what move was next. Running was not an option anymore. They were tired and he didn't know where to go. He knew where they were though, Hawkins, Indiana. But he had never crossed the complex fence before. How would he know where to go? Hiding seemed to be the best option at the moment. Hiding until he knew how to leave this town behind, for good this time.
"Feel better?" With concern on his voice, he looked down the child, his hand softly caressing her hair. She nodded, trying to hide the fear that was eating her up. It didn't work, he knew she was more scared than ever. As he got up, the girl imitated him and they both turned to look over the dirty window of the shed. Through the plain curtains they were able to see some chairs and an empty table. "Maybe we can stay tonight." He looked at her, pointing at the window. "Just for the nig-"
"What the hell are you doing?" Someone exclamed behind their backs as they took off the backpack they were carrying and stepped forward. The olive-skinned boy turned around, pushing the kid behind him. Both of them tensed up, ready to run into the woods again. He didn't want any more trouble, they had had enough for the night.
"Wow, hey. It's okay. I'm not gonna do anything to you, buddy." The teenager put his hands up to show his intentions. "I just- Well, I just got home and two people I've never seen in my life are standing in my backyard looking for something in my shed in some kind of hospital clothes..." Their clothes were not from Hawkins Hospital, he knew that. He looked closer. The child was wearing a couple of dirty socks as footwear and the older boy's hands were covered with scratches. "Are you in trouble or something? Is, uh, she okay?" None of them answered, but the girl glanced at his baseball cap and he caught her frowning. "This, huh? I know, wearing a cap with your name sounds dumb, but they make us wear it at work."
Jerome. That was his name. The olive-skinned boy looked away for a moment, his eyes looking down the ink bellow his left wrist. He looked back at Jerome. He didn't seem dangerous, apparently. But there was only one way to know for sure. He moved a little closer and staring at him in the eyes, he focused all his attention on him. An awkward silence filled the place. And then he started to slightly shake as a trickle of blood dripped out of his nose, and everything around them was reduced on his mind to just one thing, Jerome's thoughts.
The little girl didn't seem impressed but the teenager's eyes widened. "Shit. You're bleeding, your nose..." He went to pick his backpack and rummaged into it, hoping to find any tissues. Sundays were always busy days at the bowling alley. People, young adults mostly, chose the last day of the week to come and play some rounds before ending the day at the cinema. He kind of liked it, seeing Hawkins active and not dead for a change. The town's lack of action bored him to death, but he definitely didn't expect to encounter something like this, even less in his house in the middle of the night. "Here. These crumpled napkins are all I got."
The boy used the back of his hand instead, not taking what he offered. He went back to the child's side and took her hand this time. Jerome sighed, his own hand falling back down. "Listen, I'm willing to help you if you need anything, especially her." He pointed at the kid with his chin. "I've been in trouble before, I know what it's like. But you need to stop being a jackass, okay? I don't think a lot of people would help a guy who broke into their property, especially in these clothes. You're lucky no one here has called the police, my neighborhood is not the warmest place on earth." He threw the napkins back inside his bag and waited to see if the other responded. Nothing. "Look, I'm not gonna let the child freeze out here."
The older boy studied the situation. There was nothing to worry about with Jerome, he was sure of that. He wasn't one of the bad guys. In fact, he probably wasn't even aware of what happened back in the place they escaped from just a few hours ago, as well as the rest of the world outside those walls. He looked at the little girl one more time. What else could he do? He didn't have much of a choice. They were going to use his shed anyway. Maybe it wasn't a bad idea. Staying for the night, a couple of them if she needed so. He sighed. The less he could give the boy was his name, sadly it wasn't going to be the real one. Not because he didn't want to, but because he couldn't remember. "I'm Nine."