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summertime and the living is (supposed) to be easy

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Falling, falling, falling.

My eyes are shut and I’m in bed, I’m supposed to be, but my entire body feels like it’s falling. I hear yelling but I don’t know where it’s from. I feel like I’m in a constant state of coming down from a big hill on a rollercoaster.

All around me I see darkness and wherever the ground was, I wasn’t anywhere near it. Right when I see the cold hard grey floor, I wake up screaming. My sheets were on the floor, my hair all in front of my face. Breathing deeply, I check my clock and it reads 3:15am. Like every other damn night. I get up and go to the bathroom, washing my face and fixing my hair just like every single night.

Footsteps come down the hall, “You alright, Stevie?” I hear Bonnie’s tired voice ask.

“Better than ever.”

She walks in and rests her head on my shoulder, “Was it bad?”

“Nah. Just the falling one.”

Bonnie looks just as exhausted as I am with huge dark circles under her eyes that she normally covers with makeup, like she hasn’t slept in years. She probably hasn’t.

“Wanna come sit with me for a bit?”

“Yeah that would be nice. Your bed is more comfy anyway.”

She rolls her eyes and I follow her to her room, “We have the same exact mattress.”

“So?” I flop on her bed, which was as always, so much nicer than mine. “You have better blankets.”

“Oh, whatever.” She sits beside me and opens up a book.

“Whatcha reading?”

“Pet Cemetery, it’s my third time reading it. I need to find better stuff.”

“What’s with you and horror stuff?”

Bonnie shrugs, “Dunno. It’s better than all that rom com shit. I hate that stuff. Like. How many times can you watch Sixteen Candles before getting sick of it? Anthony Michael Hall isn’t even that cute.”

I gasp, “How dare you say such a thing.”

Bonnie turns a page in her book, “Molly Ringwald is much cuter.”

“Eh, you’re not wrong. Phoebe Cates is still the hottest.”

“Mhmm, you keep telling yourself that.”

I lay on her way too fluffy pink pillow and stare up at the ceiling. I always slept better in her room, or with her next to me. I thought that was really weird to be 18 and sharing a bed with your sister. Bonnie always insisted that it was fine, saying she knew how i felt.

“Bunny?”

“Yeah?”

“Can I stay here tonight?”

“Of course.” She smiles.

“Sweet.”

She puts the book down and turns off the ceiling light. She keeps her nightstand lamp and the lava lamp on her dresser on. We both always have to a light on.

“Need me to tell you a bed time story?” She jokes in a high pitched baby voice.

I roll my eyes, “Yes mom, obviously.”

She laughs a little and stares up at the ceiling with me, “There’s a new kid coming to work tomorrow. His name is, like, Billy or something? I dunno. He’s from California.”

“Shut up. Why would you move from Cali to literal nowhere USA? He’s probably from Detroit or some shit.”

“Exactly what I said. I would give anything to go back to San Diego.”

I yawn and close my eyes, “We will, one day.”

“Yeah, hopefully.”

——

I wake up in Bonnie’s room, sunlight pouring in through the windows. The clock read 9:45am. Luckily my shift at my new job at Family Video didn’t start until noon, so I got to sleep in.

I smell coffee coming from the kitchen and I hear Bonnie humming along to Fleetwood Mac.

Making my way downstairs, she smiles up at me, “Sleep well?”

I shrug and hoist myself up onto the counter, “Sure.”

She pours some coffee into a mug and hands it to me, “Excited for work?”

I take it and cup it with my hands, taking in the nice warmth, “Oh yeah, totally dude.”

There’s a knock at the door, “Yoo Steve! Bon! Open uuupp!”

“What is with your kids and them coming by to scavenge for shit in the morning?” Bonnie asks as she makes her way to the front door.

I take a sip of my coffee, “I don’t blame ‘em. You make some kickass food.”

She rolls her eyes a little and opens the door, “Cinnamon rolls will be ready in 10.”

“Sweet!” Dustin grins as he walks in with the rest of the party.

“Will, honey, you look exhausted. Did they drag out of bed?” Bonnie asks, ruffling his hair.

He nods and rubs his eyes, “It’s summer, shouldn’t I be able to sleep in?”

“Ohh cmon. You know it’ll be too hot later to do anything but sleep.” Mike says, sitting himself down on the couch next to El.

“Still.” Will huffs.

Bonnie takes the cinnamon rolls and puts them on the dinner table, “Wait for them to cool down alright? Steve and I have work at noon, so y’all can hang around until then.”

“Ugh, do you have toooo?” Dustin whines.

I start staring at the ground and don’t hear the rest of the conversation. My ears ring and everything else is silent. After what seems to be hours, Bonnie shakes me a little, “Hellooo, earth to Steveee.”

I snap back and rub my eyes, “Sorry. Sorry, I zoned out.”

“Sit down and eat, then go take a shower okay?”

“Okay mommm.” I sit down next to Dustin and eat. It’s of course delicious because everything Bonnie does is perfect. It’s annoying sometimes, because I know damn well the only reason Keith is letting me work at the video store is because of my sister and he knows she’ll come visit every day. Oh, if only he knew.

She goes to her room and takes a shower, telling me to not drink anymore coffee as she makes her way up the stairs.

“Is coffee bad for you?” El asks.

“Bon thinks so. I think it’s great.”

“It rots your teeth.” Will says as he’s doing the crossword puzzles in the newspaper.

I get up and put the kids dishes in the sink, “And so does ice cream. You guys ate plenty of that.”

“Man, I miss Scoops. Now we actually have to pay to get into movies.” Lucas crosses his arms, “Can you score us free rentals?”

“Maybe. I’ll be back, you shitbirds make sure not to break anything.”

Mike puts his legs over the edge of the couch, “No promises.”

-

Standing in the shower, I try to think positive about today. It was a new job, new place that wasn’t filled with nightmares and I (possibly) didn’t have to worry about Russians under my feet. All that worrying was another problem. I constantly was overthinking, constantly looking over my shoulder. It was also gonna suck major ass not having Bonnie there as a crutch. Sure, I have Robin and she’s my best friend plus she went through all that shit beneath Starcourt with me.

And maybe going back to work and having something to keep my mind occupied would be enough to help me get better. But would it? Seemed kinda like I was getting myself stuck in yet another loop. Go to work, be miserable, come home, eat then not sleep since the miserable thoughts never leave. At Scoops, it was the same thing. Sling ice cream all day, be worried a demogorgan was going to jump out and kill me. Go home, worry if there’s a demogorgan in my pool. Go to sleep, wonder if there’s one in my closet. Now I don’t only have to worry about inter dimensional monsters killing my friends, I have to worry about fucking Russians.

Bonnie knocks on the door and snaps me out of my thoughts, “It’s 11:25, Stevie, gotta leave soon!”

“Okaay!”

-

Bonnie drives me down to work, with the kids all crammed in the backseat.

“My shift ends at 4:00. You sure you can play games for that damn long?” I ask.

Dustin grins, “Watch us.”

“I’m determined to beat Mike in Duck Hunt.” Will says, “He’s like, five points above me.”

El rests her head on Mike’s shoulder, “I just wanna play Pac Man.”

Bonnie smiles and parks, “Well I gave you each a bag of quarters, so use it wisely okay?”

“We willl!” The kids say in unison as they all get out of the car and run into the arcade.

Bonnie hugs me, “Tell Robin I said hi, okay?”

I smile a little, “Yeah, I will.”

She frowns and pokes my cheek, “C’mon, you got this, dingus. I’ll bring you both a slushee when I’m done with work alright?”

“Alright.”

-

The day went on painfully slow, but I never zoned out or got anxious, so that was a plus. Robin was telling stories left and right about her time at soccer camp, Keith wouldn’t shut up about all the new movies that had come out in the span of six weeks Robin and I had been gone. It was annoying, but nice since I‘ve barely had any human contact in all of those six weeks.

“What about you King Steve? Whatcha been up to?” Keith asks.

I roll my eyes, “Don’t call me that. And nothing, just looking after a pack of idiot kids.”

Almost on cue, that said group of kids come bursting through the door, but there’s a new one in tow.

“Stevie! We made a new friend!” Dustin smiles ear to ear.

“Oh really?”

“Yeah! She’s from um…C…California!” El has a matching wide grin as she stands next to a red head with a skateboard in her hand.

The girl from California waves, “Hi, I’m Max.”

I wave back, “Nice to meet ya, kid. Welcome to the asshole of America.”

Robin swats my shoulder, “Steve!”

Max laughs at my shitty joke, “Yeah, I know right. At least it’s got a kickass arcade. Had better ones in Cali, but still.”

“Well we’re gonna go back and try in beat her in Galaga! Bye!” Lucas takes Max’s hand and they run back over to the arcade.

“Good God. Now I have another child to worry about.”

Robin pops a bubble with her gum, “Ehh, I dunno. She seems pretty badass.”

“Mhm.” I sit on my stool and open up a Marvel comic I had just bought.

About another hour goes by and the clock reads 3:57. Finally.

“Can I come chill at your pool?” Robin asks, grabbing her keys.

I take off my stupid vest, “Do you really want to or do you just want to talk to Bonnie?”

She hits my arm again, “Oh shut up.”

Just as we’re about to come out from behind the counter, I see Bonnie pull up in her Pontiac. There’s someone sitting beside her, and she talks to them before they both get out of the car.

“Who the hell is she with?” Robin mumbles.

“No clue.” I whisper, moving my head back down to my comic.

The door to the shop opens and the bell rings (I fucking loathed that sound and it was only my first day).

“Steve!” Bonnie grins as she pushes up her sunglasses onto her head, “The new kid is our neighbor from San Diego, remember himmm?”

I lift my head up and I’m met with the bluest pair of eyes I have ever seen. His hair is perfectly curly, like a Calvin Klein cologne ad type of perfect. His skin is golden like honey.

It’s none other than my childhood crush, Billy Hargrove, coming back to haunt me.

Chapter Text

“Wow.” Is what I say. He was cute back then but now? Jesus.

The blonde rolls his eyes, “Nice to see you too, Harrington. Your hair is still ridiculous as ever.”

“Oh shut up.” I take the slushee from Bonnie hands and take a sip, “Ughhh Bun, I asked for cherryyy.”

She throws away her empty Coke can, “The cherry one was broken, you big baby. Ya could at least say thanks.”

“Thanks, dingus.”

Billy smirks, “Your sister got cute too.”

Bonnie ignores him, “Hey Robin?”

She turns around, goes to lean on the counter, but she misses it and nearly falls. Her face turns beat red and she crosses her arms, “What’s up?”

Bonnie laughs and props her elbows up on the counter, looking up at Robin over her sunglasses, “A new movie is showin’ at the theater, Stand By Me? River Phoenix is in it. Wanna go see it tonight at 6? I’ll pick you up.”

Robin gets a type of smile across her face that I had only seen when she talked about Tammy Thompson that night in the bathroom.

“Yeah, I’d love to.”

“Sweet.” Bonnie stands back up and pushes her sunglasses up the bridge of her nose. “Stevie, you get to hang with Billy tonight. At least I’m gettin’ the losers off your back.”

I sigh, “Hurrah.”

Billy smirks, “Oh, c’mon. We gotta lot to catch up on, sport.” He nudges my shoulder and ruffles my hair.

I roll my eyes and run my fingers through my now messed up hair, “Did you just call me sport?”

“You betcha, amigo.” He says, putting emphasis on the last word.

“I already hate him.” I mumble under my breath to Bonnie as I get into the passenger seat of her car.

The kids are already in the back seat bickering and I look back at the new edition to the party of annoying children.

I can tell she’s a firecracker, just like Billy used to be at that age. Feisty and sarcastic.

I see Billy get into his car, which is a perfectly brand new 1979 blue Camero. It’s a thing of beauty. He lights a cigarette, “Yo Bon! You got my shitbird sister?”

Bonnie rolls down the window, “Yep. I’m dropping them off at the Wheeler’s.”

“Who the hell is that?”

Mike sticks his head out and waves.

“They’re a good family, dude. I promise.”

Billy sighs and seems reluctant, “Fine. She has to back at our house by 9:30. 10 at the latest.”

He starts blasting Metallica and drives away.

The redhead huffs, “God I hate him.”

“Makes two of us.” I say, stealing the cig Bonnie was smoking out of her hand and taking a hit, “I’m proud of ya for gettin’ a date tonight, Bunny.”

She turns on Fleetwood Mac and drives towards the Wheeler‘s, “Gee thanks. I wanted to throw up I was so nervous. I’m even skipping a Girl Scout meeting to be with her.”

Dustin chimes in, “At least you said something, Robin doesn’t know how to talk to girls.”

“And neither does Steve.” Lucas says, sipping his Coke.

I turn around and glare at him, “I’ll spill that Coke on your shirt, Sinclair.”

“Sinclair? That’s a cool last name.” Max says.

Lucas grins, “Thanks. It’ll sound even cooler once it’s yours too.”

There’s a chorus of “Oh damn!” from the boys and El just looks confused. Bless her heart.

Max face turns as red as her hair and she giggles, “Nice one. Much better than mine, it’s literally fucking ice cream.”

Bonnie parks at the Wheelers, “You losers have fun. Need me to pick you up at 9:30, Max?”

She shakes her head, “Nah, I can skate home.”

Bonnie looks at me, worry in her eyes.

“How about I just get Billy to drop by? Sound good?”

Max nods, “M’kay. Thanks for drivin’ us.”

The lanky loud idiots scramble out of the car and into Mike’s house, shouting about the D&D campaign they were planning.

“They’ll tell her. Eventually.” Bonnie says as she drives back to our house.

“I really hope not.”

Bonnie had already left when Billy came waltzing in like he wasn’t a stranger to me.

“Goddamn, Harrington. You live in a mansion.”

“Hardly.” I crack open a beer, “Want one?”

“If you’re offering.”

I toss him a beer and he sits on the couch. I sit down on my lazy boy recliner that was really my dad’s but he was never home so it didn’t matter.

“So, why here?” Billy asks after I put on Miami Vice.

“I could ask you the same thing.”

He lights his cigarette and the smoke dances around in front of his sparkly blue eyes.

“Mom finally kicked the bucket.” He says it so nonchalantly, “Neil didn’t give a shit. Still doesn’t. Moved on within weeks. Some bitch named Susan was visiting Cali, said she was from here. Now look at me.” He sips his beer and laughs a little, “Tragic, really.”

I don’t know what to say. It’s kind feels like a punch to the chest. Barely remembered San Diego. Or Billy Hargrove for that matter. But I remembered his mom. She was a goddamn cherry popper. Her and my mom got along like they were sisters separated at birth. Hadn’t seen my mom smile like she did in California in ages.

“I’m really sorry, Billy.” Is what I settle for after a good 10 minutes of nothing said between us.

He shrugs and blows out smoke, “It’s someone else’s job to care now.”

I watch him. I get a good look at him and try to think of how he was as a kid. His hair was soft and curly now. In San Diego, it was always tangled from the relentless waves that beat you down like a bully and windswept by the wind. Always wet from either the ocean or the shitty shower on the boardwalk. Sand was constantly in his shoes, his backpack, his bed. A big million dollar smile always plastered across his face. He was always a different type of happy that only the west coast sun could make you feel. Not just a ‘oh, I’m a kid and don’t have a worry in the world’ kind of happy. He would shine as bright as the carnival lights at Mission Bay.

Now, after studying the Billy I hadn’t seen since I was nine years old, he seems about as dull as the lamps that stood tall outside Maple Street. He even flickered like they sometimes did. But I couldn’t tell if that flickering was a warning like it normally was or not.

“Y’know, I’ve only been here in this literal shithole for maybe two days and I can tell you and your Shirley Temple sister haven’t changed a damn bit.” Billy says as a Disneyland ad plays on the TV.

I get up and look in the fridge which is practically empty, “Is that a good thing?”

“Not sure yet.” He replies.

I close the refrigerator door and make my way over to the phone, “You still like pineapple on your pizza?”

“Nah. Unless it’s in Cali.”

“Fair.”

After I order the pizza and sit back down, every move I make, Billy’s gaze is steady watching me.

“You honestly look a hell’va lot different. The hair hasn’t changed.”

“Yours has. Don’t think I ever saw it dry.”

Billy laughs a bit under his breath and sets down his empty beer bottle, “Still afraid of swimming?”

I look out at the pool, “No. Not at all.”

“Y’know I know.”

I put my eyes back on him and he’s staring daggers into me, “What?”

“You know.”

Oh, he knows.

“Never told you, did she?”

“I didn’t even know until it all first happened. When Byers went missing. Had absolutely no fucking clue.”

Looking back out at the pool, it all comes back way too quickly and it really is fucking suffocating. I ignore it and just shove it all down.

“I was able to write her letters. She asked about you. Could never answer the questions she had.” I hear Billy say but the ringing in my ears is so loud, I’m not even fully sure if he actually said anything or if it was just my mind playing tricks on me.

“Harrington.” He snaps his fingers in front of me and the ringing stops.

“Sorry. Sorry, my ears ring a lot.”

I hear the doorbell and I get the pizza then bring it back to the coffee table.

“Eat what you want. I’m not really hungry anymore.” I light a cigarette and take a long drag of it. Bonnie always scolded me for smoking, saying it would kill me faster than a demodog could. But neither of those things had killed me yet.

Billy shrugs, “Alright.”

M*A*S*H comes on and I see Billy smile, “Love this show.”

“Me too.” I say, my voice coming out quieter than I want it to.

The next 30 minutes is peacefully silent between is, with both of us laughing every so often at the show. Billy laughs more than I do. It’s kinda hushed, but he still smiles.

I steal glances when I know he’s eyes are on the screen. I hadn’t seen him in almost 10 years and honestly, I had forgotten about him. I tried so hard to forget about California and all the things that happened there. San Diego was just as big of a nightmare as Hawkins.

The Billy I knew was different in California. He had this way about him that was different than the other kids. I went to Baldwin Academy, a Christian private school 30 minutes away from Torrey Highlands. I wore a uniform with shorts that were way too short and itchy knee high socks. Billy went to Canyon View, a public school that was a 5 minute bike ride away. He wore whatever he wanted. He always poked fun at me, saying that I had to go on a way too long bus ride just to get to school when I could just bike with him every day and wear whatever I wanted. I never understood why I didn’t.

We had surfing lessons together every other day from 2:30pm to 6:00pm. Skate park on Saturdays. Our moms put us in hideous matching outfits. I would meet him at the boardwalk on Sundays after church. He would sometimes come with me to the evening bible studies. He would pay for my ice cream on the extra hot afternoons once the beach got too crowded and we would spend countless hours running around the neighborhood, petting every cat we could find. We would watch the sunsets on the beach and trade baseball cards.

Bonnie would sneak us free Girl Scout cookies. We collected stamps to send her when she was away at camp. We always got jealous of the super cool patches she had on her vests and sashes. She had to get two Brownie vests because it was overflowing with all the little stamps of approval. Bonnie was always the favorite, with her perfect beaming smile and goodie two shoes attitude. Billy and I always stood in the shadow of her perfection as the older child.

But one oddly cool day in March, Bonnie had to give us a tearful goodbye and a few days later she left. My mom said she was going off to a “Girl Scout boarding school”, so she could achieve even greater things.

Billy and I kept collecting stamps, checking our mailboxes every day in search of postcards. They never came. We stood by the phone every night, eagerly waiting to see if she would call. She never did. In April we stopped trying.

A year later, in yet another day in March, I had to say goodbye to Billy. We cried and cried. My dad called me a pussy and told me to get in the car. Boys don’t cry, he said.

I stared out the back of the car, looking directly into Billy’s tear filled eyes. I never got his address. I never got the number of his house. And as we drove away, down the highway to the airport, I knew that my California heart would forever be different, forever be miles away from whatever heart I got in Indiana.

And when Billy Hargrove smiles at me as he’s leaving to pick up his sister, I knew the same thing applied to him.

Chapter Text

Another day of waking up and going to work while running on shitty coffee and three hours of sleep. The nightmare I had at 2:30am like always was a really bad one. Involved not only the feeling of falling forever, but it had the fireworks and the screaming of the Mind Flayer. An ear piercing scream that seemed like it was right outside my window.

I get in my car and start the engine, but don’t go anywhere for a few minutes. Bonnie didn’t come home that night. I knew she was with Robin and I knew once I walked into work, Robin would be there with a huge grin ready to tell me about how it all went. But after everything, shouldn’t I be allowed to worry?

I check the clock on my dash and it reads 10:15. God, I just wanted to sink back into my bed and never get up. I could, I really could. But I needed this job, needed the small amount of money. I needed to get out of this fucking town.

I walk into Family Video and the bell on the door rings.

“Thought you weren’t coming.” Keith says, his voice deadpan as usually.

“Almost didn’t.” I go into the back, where I find Robin making a pot of coffee.

“Steve!” She says all chipper and happy like she normally is. Just like Bonnie. It’s incredibly annoying. “Good mornin’, how was your evening with Billy?”

I put my bag down, “Just fine.”

“Stand By Me is really good. You should go see it soon.”

“Noted.” I rub my eyes, pulling my hands down my cheeks and sighing.

“Oh, c’mon. There’s gotta be somethin’ interesting that happened with Billy last night. Do you like him still? Is he any different?”

“Robin, I love you. I do. But last night was bad. Not with Billy. I’m saying the nightmares. It was really, really, really bad. I’m not in the mood for your fake happiness.” I put on my hideous green vest and go out to the front counter before she can reply.

The day went on so slow, like the humidity of way too many people crammed in on the Mission Bay boardwalk.

I was extra jumpy and I hated it. I flinched like I had just got punched in the face when someone dropped a VHS on the floor. That then triggered a debilitating migraine that made me want to puke. Had a mini panic attack when I heard a car’s engine sputtering and making a sound like fireworks. I could hear every single little noise and it was driving me crazy.

Keith leaves when his shift ends at 4:30. Robin and I were there until close, which was 8:15. We had to clean up too and that meant I would be going home at night. Not much I could do about it, but for the first time, I dreaded leaving work. Since when I did, it would be dark and the visions would act up. That leads to panic attacks and hyperventilating.

4:30 is normally a pretty chill time. It was also a really hot day so most people were at the pool. Billy had told me yesterday about his lifeguard job and that it was the closest thing he could get to California here. I laughed and told him Bonnie always said the exact same thing.

Robin hadn’t talked to me all day. She was quiet, standing on the opposite end of the counter instead of next to me like normal. To be fair, I had been silent too.

She walks over to where I’m sitting on my stool, re-reading some Marvel comic. She sets down her own chair and sits beside me.

“Hey.” She rests her head on my shoulder, “Whatcha reading?”

“Captain America.” My voice is kinda gravely from not talking, “This is my fourth time reading it.”

“Fun.” Is all she says.

A few minutes pass and I put the comic down, “I’m sorry for snapping at you earlier.”

“S’alright. I know you’re not a morning person…you doin’ better?”

I sigh, “Not really. Kind wanna go home and melt into my bed.”

Robin laughs a little, “Tell me about it.”

We sit there in silence and watch as the kids file out of the arcade and into Jonathan’s car. Dustin and Mike wave at us, we wave back. Jonathan makes eye contact with me and gives a half assed smile.

Robin puts a piece of gum in her mouth, “Y’know. He’s a creep.”

“He’s a real nice kid, though. Treats Nancy right. Takes care of his brother and his mom. I respect him.”

“Hm. Alright.” She blows a bubble and pops it, making me jump, “Sorry. Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.”

“It’s okay.”

Back to quiet.

“To answer your question, my evening was nice. Billy is nice. Hasn’t changed. Still the little shitbird he’s always been.”

“The girls of Hawkins are already gawking over him. Bonnie told me he was makin’ them all just swoooon at the pool yesterday.”

I laugh and roll my eyes, “Of course. I mean, it’s the same thing with the guys and Bonnie. My god, you would have died if you came to Tina’s Halloween party this year.”

Robin lifts her head up and raises her eyebrow, “Oh really?”

“Oh yeah. Her costume was Lisa from Weird Science. Like, the gym one with the tube top and leotard.”

Robin’s eyes go wide and blush forms on her cheeks, “Shit. I cannot believe I missed that! She wouldn’t wearing something like that, though. I don’t believe you.”

“There’s a polaroid of us in my room. I thought she looked pretty dumb.”

Robin gasps, “Bonnie is not dumb!”

“Uh sure she is. But so am I.”

“Can’t argue that.”

Clock hits 6:36.

The store is still empty and the sun is very very slowly tucking itself away.

Robin opens a Coke and takes a sip, “She told me.”

I turn to her, “What?”

“Bonnie told me literally everything. How in the fuck is she still alive?”

I blink in surprise. Bonnie never told anyone anything. Not about the lab, about her powers, why she wore gloves even in the scorching heat of July, why she had a “001” on her wrist, why she was so overly kind or why she really left on that oddly cool day in March then didn’t come back for 8 years.

“Everything?” I ask.

Robin nods.

“Then by God, Robin Buckley, if you break her heart I’m going to have to literally kill you. Not even joking.”

Robin’s eyes widen again and she throws her hands up in surrender, “Alright, Alright! No need to threaten me like that.”

“Oh there’s plenty need. The kids don’t even know everything. Seriously, Robin. This is really serious shit.”

“You’re bad at being serious.”

I sigh again, “You at least catch my drift?”

“Yeah, I got you, man.”

I hear Queen playing from a car outside, and sure enough it’s Billy with Bonnie beside him.

They walk in and Bonnie hands Robin a slushee, “Gotcha cherry. If that’s cool with you.”

Robin smiles and I swear I see her blushing, “It’s my favorite, thank you.”

“Mhmm.” Bonnie reaches over the counter and ruffles my hair, “How ya doin’ sport?”

“I’m just livin’, man.”

Bonnie gets wrapped up in a conversation with Robin and I spot Billy looking at the section of brand new movies that had just come out.

I walk over to him and lean up against the wall, “Gotta ask you an important question.”

Billy looks at me, eyebrow raised and a smirk on his face, “What is it, pretty boy?”

Pretty boy. Tommy used to call me that all the damn time and I hated it.

“Star Trek or Star Wars?”

“Star Trek.” Billy answers with no hesitation, “It’s cooler.”

“Good choice. Just don’t say that around the group of nerds, they would rip your head off.”

Billy rolls his eyes, “They couldn’t if they tried. Max could, but not those other shits.”

“You barely know them.”

“I can read people well, Harrington.”

Clearly you can’t, I think to myself.

He picks up the last copy of Top Gun, “Now this. This looks cool as hell.”

“Mhm. Watched it a couple nights ago with Bonnie, it’s pretty good.”

He gets that stupid half smile half smirk on his face again, “Are your sister and those pack of kid nerds your only friends?”

I cross my arms and shuffle my feet, “I have Robin too, you shit. She’s my best friend.”

I almost say ‘I survived a secret Russian base with her, I’m closer with her than I ever was with you.’ But it would be pointless because I’m almost certain he knows that.

Billy doesn’t say anything and goes up to the register, putting Top Gun down on the counter.

“Ms. Buckley, I’d love to get this.”

“Alright. How do you know my last name?”

“Your little girlfriend,” He nods to Bonnie, “Doesn’t shut up about you at work. I know plenty about you.”

Robin blushes, “Of course.”

As Robin is ringing up the VHS, Billy takes out his wallet and I swear I see smoke coming out of his ears.

“Oh that little bitch.” He mumbles under his breathe. He sighs, “Nevermind. My fucker of a stepsister took my $5.”

Robin looks at me and she has a look.

I know what she’s doing and I mouth, “Don’t you dare.”

“Too late.” She mouths back.

“I’ll give it to you on the house iiiiiif.”

Billy takes a cig out of his pocket and lights it, “If what.”

“If you and Steve watch the nerds so Bonnie can come with me to the fair.”

“Robs, we close tonight.”

“It’s July 4th weekend, everyone’s at the lake. Barely anyone has come in today so we can close early. Keith doesn’t have to know.” She answers immediately, knowing I’m just trying to make excuses.

Billy holds his hand out, “Deal.”

She grins and shakes his hand, “Sweet.”

I cross my arms, “I hate you, Buckley.”

“Naah you don’t.”

“I do.”

“Do not.”

“I do.”

“Do not!”

“Do too!”

Bonnie swats my arm, “Would y’all stop it?”

“Sorry, mom.” Robin and I say at the same time.

Bonnie is pacing the living room, dressed in a bright primary colored jumpsuit with her brand new sparkly white Converse.

“I’ve never worn anything besides my Girl Scout uniform around her. What if she hates it? She’s the opposite of me. She wears all black. Is this too distracting? Should I just wear jeans and a tshirt?”

“Bonnie. You look fine, you look like you.”

She sighs and sits beside me on the couch, “I guess. What are you doing with Billy and the kids tonight?”

“Watching Top Gun. Probably gonna get roped into playing D&D. Also managed to get my hands on some of the world famous Scoops Ahoy Butterscotch ice cream.”

“Whaaat! No way! You gotta save me some.”

“Mhm, I’ll try.”

The doorbell rings and Bonnie shoots out of her seat, fixing her hair and taking a deep breath.

“Have fun, funky lesbian.”

She laughs and rolls her eyes, “You too.”

-

Less than 15 minutes later, the pack of nerds are in my living room, setting up their D&D game on the coffee table.

Billy is outside with Max, yelling at her about stealing his money. She insists she didn’t, calls him a dickwad then comes inside, sitting between El and Lucas.

I walk outside, “Your dad coulda taken it, Billy.”

He sighs, “Yeah you’re right.” He leans up against his car and blows smoke out from his cigarette.

“You brought Top Gun right?” I ask after watching him for a minute.

“Yep. Max has it.”

The sun is starting to set and the sky is a painting again, the pinks and oranges reflecting on the windows of the cookie cutter houses lining the Indiana suburbia. Billy probably didn’t know the way everyone envied anyone who lived here in Loch Nora, or the house parties I had when my title was still King Steve instead of ‘the loser who works at Family Video.’

I think about how he said he knew ‘everything’. If he meant just everything about Bonnie, or all that’s happened in this inconspicuous town. If he knew about Barb, about the nail bat I kept in the trunk of my BMW, if he knew about El’s powers, about the Russians, about the lab.

I look at Billy’s car, the way the sunset is perfectly reflected across the sparkling clean coat of blue paint.

“A 1979 Chevy Camero. How did you manage to get your hands on that?” I ask as the sound of summer begins to fill the air.

Billy blows out smoke from his cigarette, “It was my uncle’s. Passed it down. Pain in the ass to take care of.”

“Yeah, cars take so much effort. Bonnie’s got a-“

“-1980 Pontiac Sunbird Coupe. Yep. Not gonna lie, I’m very jealous. She said she even got customized white leather seats?”

I nod, “It was her Christmas gift last year.”

Billy chuckles, “Damn. You got your own car?”

“Just a shitty Beemer. Nothing special. It’s actually my dad’s, that’s why it’s not here.”

“Steve! Billyyy! C’mon! We have the game and movie set up!” I hear Dustin yell from inside.

“Don’t mind smoke in your house?” Billy asks.

I shake my head, “Nope.”

He goes inside and I stay standing in the driveway, looking around at the unsuspecting neighborhood in front of me. I look at the street lamps and I think about what they’ve seen. I remember the lamps on Amber Sky Lane back in California and how I could look up at them without fearing they’d flicker.

And when they did, I didn’t loose sleep over it.

“So you knew my shithead brother?” Max asks as we’re sitting by the pool and eating pizza.

The sun has set completely now and it’s dark. My least favorite time. I keep my eyes fixated on the water, “Yeah. He was my neighbor.”

“Dude is there, like, something in the water?” Billy asks.

And that answers my question that I asked myself earlier.

“No. Sorry, I just zoned out.” I sit back in my shitty plastic chair and sip my beer.

There’s a few minutes of silence and it’s a silence that hangs over you like a dark cloud. I keep scanning the line of forest behind my house, too scared that something is gonna jump out.

Max breaks the quiet that’s as thick as the summer humidity, “So has Billy always been a dick?”

I laugh a little and so does Billy. Because he wasn’t and he knows that. He was so sweet, loving and happy.

“Nah. I don’t think so.”

“You on the other hand were the biggest spoiled brat this side of Mission Beach. Went to a Jesus private school and everything. What was it called? Baldwin Academy?”

“And you think that was my idea? You’ve met my parents, Hargrove.”

“I’m surprised they didn’t send you into Chicago to go to Evanston.”

“Y’know Steve I just realized I’ve never met your parents.” Dustin says with his mouth full of pizza.

“Yeah do they even exist?” Lucas asks.

“Honestly, dude, sometimes I think they don’t.”

Max flips the page of the Wonder Woman comic she’s reading, “Are they nice at least?”

“I guess. As nice as parents should be.”

After the pizza is finished, the kids go back inside and get wrapped back up in their D&D game. The moon is shining bright and dancing on the water.

I stare at the pool again and zone out. I could have saved her. Nancy could have saved her. Could have, should have. But I didn’t and for what? Mediocre sex? I swore to myself in bed that the night was on fucking fire and that night with Nancy was my perfect movie scene. And in the end, it wasn’t.

I watch the trees as the breeze blows through them, the pitch blackness beyond the brick wall taunting me. All of it is terrifyingly beautiful, honestly.

Then I remember Billy, who’s sitting beside me staring up at the stars.

“You’re awfully quiet, Harrington.”

“Sorry.”

“No need to be.”

I look over at him and the way the light hits his face. It hits me just how pretty he is. Looks like he’s straight out of a magazine. The perfect jawline, curly hair, piercing blue eyes.

I wasn’t gonna lie to myself and say I didn’t have a thing for boys. I messed around with Tommy a lot but he was nothing more than a fuck on a Friday night whenever Carol and Nancy stayed home. He was pretty too. Amazing kisser. He was always touchy, needed to have his hands everywhere. I missed that, missed having him to rely on.

Or maybe I just missed having a friend.

“What’s on your mind?” Billy asks.

“A lot.” I answer honestly.

“Me too.”

He turns his head towards me, “You go first. My mom taught me to y’know, talk it out.”

“I can’t really talk about it.”

“Bullshit.”

“I can’t, Billy.”

I get up, but he grabs my wrist and pulls me back into the chair he’s sitting in. His eyes are staring into mine.

“You can tell me.” His voice is soft, but a little harsh.

Billy’s hand is still wrapped around my wrist, our faces inches apart. He tilts his head a little, like he’s searching for something in my face. I feel a familiar heat creep up on my cheeks and Billy smirks.

“Am I makin’ you blush, pretty boy?”

I pull my hand away from his grip and look down, “Shut up.”

“You are pretty, you know that right?”

“Shut up.”

“Make me.”

I just roll my eyes and get up again, but he pulls me back, “Billy! Stopp!”

He laughs, “You didn’t make me!”

“I don’t have to make you stop annoying me!”

He keeps pulling me, then he lets me go, causing me to fall back into the pool. I go under and everything is muffled. I can barely hear Billy’s laugh and the kids yelling at him. It feels like I’m under for minutes. As I go up tot he surface, the weight of my soaked sweatpants is pulling me. I can’t get up, I can’t get a grip on the edge. The tight pain in my chest starts rising, my ears start ringing, my head starts spinning.

“Steve!” It’s Bonnie. Thank God.

She pulls me out of the water and lays me down, “Hey, hey it’s alright.”

I’m still dizzy and I can’t breathe at all. I try to tell her that, but nothing comes out. My lungs are still on fire. I can’t fucking breathe.

—-

Once I come to, I’m laying on the couch in warm clothes and wrapped in a blanket. The kids are sitting on the living room floor with their eyes on the TV.

Bonnie is standing outside with Billy, pointing her finger at his chest and she has a very angry look on her face.

“It doesn’t matter, Billy! I’ve already told you that he’s got anxiety, shouldn’t that be enough?”

“But shouldn’t I get to know why?!” He roars. It makes me flinch because he sounds exactly like his father.

“No! No, you shouldn’t! I don’t think you deserve to! You aren’t kids anymore, Billy! Things have changed!”

“Bullshit! If I know so much about you, why can’t I know what happened with Steve?!”

“You just can’t! It’s just…It’s too complicated!” Bonnie throws her hands up and they hit hard as they fall against her sides.

Billy gets up in her face and his teeth are gritted together, “Bull. Fucking. Shit.”

Bonnie pushes him away, “Just go home. We’ll talk about this tomorrow.”

Billy scoffs and comes inside. I quickly close my eyes and I hear him mumbling to Max that they had to leave. She doesn’t protest and the Camero soon drives away.

 

Chapter Text

Bonnie and Robin leave without explanation two days later. Well, that’s not completely true. Robin had asked about the fancy cabin my parents owned on Lake Maxinkuckee and I told her I hadn’t been there since junior year when Tommy and I threw a party that got busted by the cops. Bonnie technically told me they were going for the weekend, but I wasn’t really listening so I didn’t catch the details.

My mind was way too occupied on how aggressive and mean Billy had gotten since his “fight” with Bonnie two days previously. I wouldn’t call it a fight like Dustin did, it was more of an argument. I tried to explain to the kids, who were up in arms that Billy yelled at Bonnie, that he obviously didn’t know as much as we thought he did. Max was completely confused and Lucas explained everything to her.

Billy clearly just knows about what happened with Bonnie and where she was for eight years. He doesn’t know about everything else.

And I intended to keep it that way.

It was a sweltering day, the sun high in the sky and beating down without a cloud in sight as I walked down the sidewalk lined with American flags into Family Video.

As I sat through my shift, I was drifting away as normal and dreaming about what could have been since in my world I’m constantly having a breakdown or I’m just blacking out from the constant alcoholic burn in my throat that comes from drinking all night to forget. I dream that everyone in Hawkins forgets my name and I run to wherever my hollow heart takes me. I wish this town wasn’t so damn small and I wonder if anything would change if I moved to the city. Away from here. To Chicago, or New York, or Seattle. Or back to San Diego, back to the sand underneath my feet. Become a poet or something. Become something more than a empty shell of a boy who was once on fire, living life through a haze and never caring about what lay beyond the colorful world I had created.

The store is empty, and has been since my shift started at 1:30. It’s July 4th, meaning everyone had gone to the lake or the fair. The party was out with their families doing whatever the picture perfect American family does on July 4th. I heard they have outdoor barbecues, run around with sparklers and play Bruce Springsteen. I wouldn’t know. I hadn’t spend the 4th with anyone, let alone my parents, in years. Bonnie always went somewhere with her girlfriends, which was normally just Carol and Nicole. Tommy would be at his lakehouse fishing with his dad.

But we weren’t friends with them anymore. At least I wasn’t. Bonnie is the picture perfect all American Girl Scout, so she’s friends with every single person in Hawkins fucking Indiana. She does a much better job at hiding her pain than I do and I will never get how she does it.

The bell of the door rings and I look up from my comic. I’m met with Tommy’s eyes and his freckles. The pretty face I hadn’t seen in months.

“Long time no see, Hagan. Shouldn’t you be up at your lake house? Y’know, fishing?”

He gives me an annoyed look, “My dad is on a business trip to Dakota.”

I put my eyes back down to the Marvel comic and flip a page, “Which one?”

“South, smartass.”

Tommy leans down on the counter in front of me, “Out here all alone huh?” He has a look in his eyes, a look I know all too well, “I betcha the quarry is most definitely empty.”

“I can’t just leave my job, Toms. I’ve already done it once this week.”

“C’mon, now. Keith is out of town. Out of state actually, right? No one is down here, everything else is closed up today. I miss you, pretty boy, let’s go have some fun. Celebrate America or whatever.”

I lift my head up and he’s grinning at me.

“I thought you hated me.”

“I did. Now I don’t. People change.”

I sigh, “What’s in it for me?”

“Free booze and maybe some Mary Jane if I’m feeling nice.”

“I don’t smoke that shit anymore. Makes my head hurt like a bitch.”

It didn’t really, I was just afraid of what I would say if I was high off my ass with yet another boy I used to love who’s coming back into my life like nothing ever happened. Tommy didn’t know anything either and I wanted it to stay that way.

Tommy rolls his eyes, “Oh King Steve is a lightweight now?” He laughs and uses his high pitched mocking voice, “Gunna run away like you always do?”

“Eat my shorts, dude. Weed isn’t good for my health.”

He chews on a toothpick like he always does and raises an eyebrow, “I call bull but whatever. You takin’ the offer or leaving’ it? Still got time to live it up.”

Looking at the clock it reads 3:38. We close at 5:00 on Saturday’s. And Tommy was right, the shops along the arcade had been pretty much vacant all day.

“Fine. If I’m fired, I am completely blaming you.”

Tommy grins way too big as I close up the store before calling Joyce to tell her I didn’t need a ride home. He laughed way too hard at the fact that I still didn’t have a car and Bonnie did. We pass the fair, the lights brighter than the moon and bustle of the crowd loud enough to hear from the road.

We park at our usual spot in the quarry, ABBA playing loud but not so loud that other people could here. As I sip my beer, it dawns on me what I’m really doing. Acting as if this was something I had been doing every night. Like Tommy and I were still good, close friends.

I turn off the music and Tommy gasps exaggeratedly, “What’s your damage?”

“Uh, more like what’s your damage. You haven’t talked to me in weeks. Fucks sake, you didn’t even come to my graduation party or even wave at me during graduation. I sat barely ten seats away from you. Then you come walking in like we’re still pals?”

“I said it already. I missed you.”

“But who’s fault was it that you were ever away from me in the first place?”

Tommy hesitates, but answers in a matter of fact tone, “You, dickwad.”

“Not even! I was trying to show you who you really are. I was a dick too and between the two of us, clearly I’m the one that changed.”

He hits his hands against the steering wheel, “Even! I was jealous, okay! And I was fucking pissed that Nancy broke your heart! You didn’t deserve that!”

“Tommy…”

“And I was hurt too because you just made it seem like what we had was just…just pointless! I don’t give a flying shit if we have to keep it all secret. That doesn’t mean you just brush it all off.”

I don’t know what to say, so I just look out the window up at the stars.

I hear rustling in the leaves and immediately reach for the bat that wasn’t even there because this wasn’t my car. The headlights of a car come in through the trees, then a figure walking towards us.

“Who the fuck is that?” Tommy mumbles.

Billy’s smirking face comes into view, cigarette in his mouth, “Am I dreaming or is that you, Harrington?”

I sigh and get out of the car, “Yeah, it’s me. Don’t cream your pants. Whatcha doin here?”

“Could ask you the same thing.” He blows out smoke and nods towards Tommy, “Am I interrupting something?”

“No. Anyway, Cali boy, shouldn’t you be watching your sister?”

He rolls his eyes, “Don’t call her that. She’s a bitch. And no, ‘cause that Wheeler girl is with them at the fair.”

“Nancy?”

“Yeah. Girl who broke your heart, I heard. I’ve been filled in with all the rumors, like some Russians were under the mall?” Billy laughs a little and blows out smoke, “I think that’s all complete horseshit.”

Tommy gets out and lights a cigarette, “I know right. Like, why the hell would Russians come to fuckin’ Hawkins out of all places?”

I just force a smile, “Yeah. Horseshit.”

Apparently it was too forced because they both look at me funny.

“Wait. Were there actually Russians under Starcourt? You worked there didn’t you?” Tommy asks.

“Yeah, Scoops.”

Billy laughs, “That’s how I found out you were in Hawkins, boy wonder. First day in the house and I saw you on fuckin’ TV in the stupidest goddamn uniform I’d ever seen.”

I roll my eyes, “It was horrendous, I know. I hate it as much as you do.”

Billy smirks, “Never said I hated it.”

“Okay but back to the commies, Steve. Were they really here?”

Nobody told me I had to keep my mouth shut, seeing as how the military officials didn’t know Robin had cracked the commie’s dumb code in under a day thus leading them to kidnapped and drug Robin and I so I guess, in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t matter if I told them. Didn’t have anything to do with the Upside Down either, so what the fuck?

I sigh and rub my temples, “Yes. Dustin tapped into a conversation the Russians were having on his radio he made at nerd camp or whatever. They had a secret code and Robin figured it in a day. It was, the week is long, the silver cat feeds when blue meets yellow in the west, a trip to China sounds nice if you tread lightly. One thing lead to another and we got stuck in the elevator. Dustin and Erica Sinclair ended up off somewhere then Robin and I got kidnapped.”

Tommy drops his cigarette. Him and Billy are both looking at me like i’m insane.

“Russians tied me up and interrogated me, asking who I worked for. Beat me up and shit. Then they put Robin and I back to back then drugged us, it was scary as fuck. Big giant ass needle to the neck and it hurt like a bitch. But the drug got messed up and we were just high then we puked our guts out. There ya go, that’s the story. We went home before the fire, I don’t know what caused that.”

After a few minutes Billy blows out smoke, “Jesus Christ.”

“Yeah. It was so fun, let me tell ya. Imagine that? Two teenagers who scooped ice cream for a living starting world war fucking three? Would have been hilarious.”

Tommy puts his arm around my shoulder, “Steve why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because you hated me, dickwad. You weren’t close with me. Still aren’t, really. Robin is my best friend, like, the absolutely coolest friend I could ever have.”

Tommy pulls his arm back and scoffs, “Oh shut the hell up we all know you’re screwing her.”

I shoot Billy a glare and surprisingly, he nods and doesn’t say anything.

He gets back in his car and starts it, “Whatever, Steve. I was trying to be nice ‘cause you’re fucking miserable and I thought you needed a friend.”

“Don’t lie, you just missed my dick.”

“Fuck. Off.” Tommy sneers and drives away.

Billy huffs a laugh, “What a shithead.”

“Says you.”

He ruffles my hair and leads me back to his car, “Oh, but you love me, Stevie wonder.”

“Would you quit with the nicknames?”

Billy sits up on the back of his Camero, “Nah. It’s funny how much it still annoys you.”

I just smile and stare at the darkness beyond the headlights. Anything could jump out and I wouldn’t have any protection. I couldn’t protect Billy. And he knew part of my secret now. I let him, and Tommy too, in so willingly knowing deep down I shouldn’t have.

“You alright pretty boy?” He asks.

I look away from the dark and into the light of his eyes, “Sure.”

Billy looks at me, “Steve.”

“Yeah?”

“No lying. We never lied. I know things are different, I see that now. But you’re still my best friend and I’ve waiting so long to see you again. Friends don’t lie.” He puts a hand on my cheek, “Right?”

The touch of his fingers is something I never knew I missed and his gentle voice, his gentle promises. Promises he always kept.

“Right.“

Billy moves his hand away and I almost catch his wrist, wanting the touch back, but I don’t.

We sit side by side in silence because there was so much to say, so much to explain and so many feelings I could be spilling my guts about but there was absolutely no language that could help me put it all into words.

Billy takes in a deep breath and nudges my shoulder a bit, “So who was that douche?”

“Tommy Hagan. Used to be my best friend, back when I was also a douchebag of the highest order.”

“Ah, I see.”

“Yep.”

Back to the silence. The moon shines down brighter than normal and the glow of the fair can be seen across the top of the trees. I lay back against the car and stare up at the sky.

Billy lays beside me and runs his fingers through my hair, “You still know all about those stars, pretty boy?”

He used to do this all the time when we were kids. We would stargaze on the beach and I would tell him about every constellation, how to connect the dots to find each one.

“Not really.”

“Oh, bullshit. You would ramble on about that shit for hours.”

“Yeah but it’s different now.”

Billy moves his hand out of my hair and sighs, “Different. Yeah. Stupid of me to think you would be the same as the last time I saw you.”

“I could say that about you, too.”

He scoffs, “Rude.”

“Just the truth.”

“C’mon, I gotta go pick up Max from the arcade.” He gets in the car and so do I.

Laying in bed that night, I think about how I wasn’t scared when Billy was beside me and now that he wasn’t, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep.

It was the same way back then. We constantly had sleep overs, especially whenever Neil got really angry. Billy and I would share my bed as he cried into my chest, telling me he wished we could run away together.

I think of his heartbeat, the way it always matched up with mine, the way it flowed with the waves in San Diego. The way it beat along with Queen on the hot summer days.

The way it beat with mine on his car in Hawkins in the humid night with the carnival music so faint in the background. And how my heart sped up whenever his touch was on my skin, in my hair.

Our heartbeats and all that shit that gave me comfort when he was away might be the only thing that hasn’t changed.