Will won’t get up. Since he and Eleven don’t really interact much, she doesn’t actually notice it until morning, when Mrs. Byers is hollering that he’s going to make himself late for school, and Will isn’t shouting back—isn’t doing anything at all but staying in his room in stony silence. “Can you get him up, please?” Mrs. Byers asks Jonathan, who retreats to his and Will’s bedroom for a few minutes while Eleven sits at the kitchen table with her mathematics notebook in her lap and waits.
Jonathan emerges looking—worried. “He won’t get up.”
“What do you mean, he won’t get up?”
“I mean he won’t get up. He just kicks me every time I try to jostle him.”
“God, Will, we don’t have time for this,” says Mrs. Byers to herself. She likewise disappears into Will’s room for a few minutes before reentering the kitchen with a frown. “Jonathan, I have to get to work—can you talk to him, try to find out what’s wrong? I don’t want to leave him, but I…”
“Yeah, of course, Mom. I’ll take him to school, too. Don’t worry about it.”
“Thank you so much. El, honey, just get started from your textbooks on your own until after Jonathan gets Will to school.”
Only—Jonathan doesn’t get Will to school. Eleven can hear Jonathan’s muffled voice emanating from the boys’ bedroom for ten, twenty, thirty minutes as she methodically works her way through a few pages of her math textbook—slowly, because Eleven is no good at math, and even worse at it without Jonathan there to guide her. When Jonathan finally comes back into the kitchen and flops down at the table, he looks tired.
“Is everything okay?” asks Eleven.
“No,” says Jonathan. “No, I don’t think he is.”
Eleven wants to knock on Will’s door and come see what’s wrong, but she doesn’t. Mostly she’s just curious, and she recognizes that curiosity is not the appropriate social response to the situation at hand. The part of her that is worried about Will is drowned out by the knowledge that Will is not her friend—not really—and probably doesn’t want her concern anyway, with how little they talk and the way they dance around each other every day at home.
But then Mike calls her on her walkie that evening, and she finds out—
“I’m gonna kill Will. I could just kill him,” says Mike emphatically.
“What happened?” Eleven asks. Her stomach is already sinking and she doesn’t even know what’s wrong—she just knows that any problem between Mike and Will spells trouble for Eleven, that the two of them have always been too close for her comfort.
“He’s pissed at me for our friendship falling apart. At me. When he was the one who said he wanted to end it. I mean, yeah, we fell out of touch for a few months before that, but it’s not like he was making any effort to call me, either! He expects me to do all the work, cuts things off when I don’t, and then blames me for it ending—what the hell is that shit?”
“You and Will fought?”
“Yeah. Last night. He called me out of the blue, after four months of ignoring me, just to bitch me out about it. You know, I really missed him these last few months—not just that we weren’t talking, but knowing that we weren’t gonna talk, maybe ever again. I stood by him even though he’s a sicko, even though he…” Mike groans. “I can’t win with him.”
Will’s behavior is starting to click into place, and Eleven doesn’t like it—doesn’t like what it means at all. If Will cares enough about Mike to skip school and basically lose his will to live for a day, then Will and Mike—
She tries to tamp down that line of reasoning before it can blossom, remembers what Max said—that there’s more to life than stupid boys. Other people besides Eleven are allowed to care about Mike, and when they do, it doesn’t diminish what Eleven and Mike have together.
“Even though he what?” says Eleven.
“Nothing. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“Why is he sick?”
“I told you I shouldn’t have said that. It’s Will’s business, and I told myself I would keep it to myself. We went through this already at Thanksgiving.”
Thanksgiving—the memory of it still stings, the way Mike’s eyes were so sad even as he refused to share with Eleven what he and Will talked about, what was wrong. Eleven just wants to know what’s wrong so that she can know who to be mad at. She wishes it were that simple. She really does.
She knows this is the moment she should tell Mike that something is wrong with Will, but—she doesn’t. Suddenly, she doesn’t want to hear Mike talk about Will at all.
Jonathan and Mrs. Byers are worried—really worried. They don’t seem to want to talk about it in front of Eleven, but she can tell from the way they trade silent glances at the kitchen table, the way they keep ducking into Mrs. Byers’s bedroom and talking there in hushed voices. Before every meal, Mrs. Byers knocks on Will and Jonathan’s bedroom door, trills out “dinner!” or whichever one it is in a shaky voice, waits, and then steps into the room for a few minutes. Eleven doesn’t know what she’s saying to Will in there, but whatever it is doesn’t seem to be working, because Mrs. Byers comes out every time with a wet face and no Will in tow.
It’s just another way Eleven feels she doesn’t belong in the Byers family—from Jonathan and Mrs. Byers’s reluctance to include Eleven in their worries about Will, to Will’s total alienation of Eleven ever since they moved to Sullivan. A “buffer,” Jonathan called the rest of the party—something in between Eleven and Will to create a shared experience, to cover up the way that they’ve got nothing to say to each other—and now that the party is gone, left behind in Hawkins, so is any relationship that Eleven used to pretend existed between her and Will. She thinks Will might hate her. She doesn’t understand why Will hates her.
But she herself is starting to hate Will just a little bit for loving Mike so much that he apparently can’t face his life without him.
On Monday night, Dustin calls the house phone asking for Will. Will is still in his room, stays in his room even after Jonathan goes in there to tell him there’s a phone call waiting for him. Eleven can’t hear what Jonathan is saying, but he comes out alone five minutes later and tells the mouthpiece that Will is too sick to come to the phone.
There’s a pause as Dustin replies, and then Jonathan sighs and says, “To tell you the truth, we don’t know what’s wrong with him. He basically hasn’t left his bed in three days. He won’t eat or go to school or do anything, really, except lie there all day and get up to use the bathroom a couple times a day. There’s something wrong there, but we’re not psychologists; we don’t… uh-huh. Uh-huh. Yep, I’ll tell him for you. Thanks, Dustin.”
It’s the most that either Jonathan or Mrs. Byers has told Eleven about Will’s condition in the last three days, and the fact that Eleven learned it so indirectly makes her feel—sad, sad and lonely. While Eleven is on her walkie with Mike later that night, she can hear the phone continuing to ring and Jonathan continuing to try and fail to bring Will to the phone each time he picks it up. Dustin must have talked to Lucas and Max, maybe even Steve or Robin, Eleven presumes. The outpouring of support for Will just reminds her that no one but Mike and sometimes Max has bothered to keep in touch with Eleven since she moved to Sullivan. It just reinforces the notion that she’s alone in the world except for Mike—that she needs to do whatever she can to hang onto him, to keep him for herself and only herself.
The next day, she overhears Mrs. Byers on the phone with the doctor while Eleven is studying with Jonathan in the kitchen. “You’re not listening to me! There is something wrong with my boy!” Eleven hears Mrs. Byers shouting all the way from her bedroom. “He loves school; he’s not like other boys; he would never pretend to be sick just to play hooky for a few days… Anything happen to him recently? No, nothing happened to provoke it, not that I know of. I mean, he had a falling-out with his best friend a few months ago, and he’s been taking it hard, but you’d think this would have happened months ago if it were about that, wouldn’t you? … Borderline personality disorder? Don’t you think I would know if my boy had a personality disorder?”
For her part, it’s the first time that Eleven has considered there might be something medically wrong with Will, that he might not just be acting out his emotions the way everyone does, the way even Eleven does. After all, no one tried to diagnose her with a disorder just because she used to blow things up with her powers every time she got mad. She thinks about killing her guards in lieu of the cat she had been ordered to murder, the way Papa held her close afterwards and called her extraordinary, and she wonders if that made Papa sick, if her feelings of relief made her sick.
Mike certainly seems to think Eleven is sick when he calls her on her walkie that night. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me there was something wrong with Will? What is wrong with you?”
“You were angry with him,” she says feebly, knowing it’s not a good enough excuse, knowing that she screwed up this time.
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about him anymore! That doesn’t mean I don’t want to know when my best friend is having a crisis!”
“I thought I was your best friend. Will isn’t even your friend at all anymore.”
“Seriously? That’s seriously what your takeaway is?” Eleven says nothing. “I’m going to call him. If he’s upset because of me, maybe he’ll talk to me, and I can get him out of bed.”
“No,” says Eleven, and her voice sounds commanding even to her own ears.
“You can’t tell me to—”
“No,” she repeats. “You’ve done enough to him.”
That stops Mike short. “Since when do you even care about Will?” he asks finally.
Again, she doesn’t reply. Mike hangs up pretty quickly after that, but to Eleven’s knowledge he doesn’t call Will, and she counts that as a win.