It was almost unsettling how fast word got around, even now that high school had ended. Chrissy had been single for a little more than a week and the entirety of Starcourt Mall seemed to know. Months ago, she might have revelled in the attention. Now she was just tired.
Kimberly, another girl she worked with, would collect numbers given to Chrissy to light on fire during their smoke breaks. There had been a few times a guy was cute enough to entertain the thought of a date or two. The interest never seemed to stick, and that scrap of paper would go up in flame like the rest of them.
She thought about messing around with her shift manager, Terry, a couple times. He was cute in a gangly sort of way, kind brown eyes. The total opposite of Billy. It would’ve been a nice reprieve. But Terry, she learned, had a girlfriend who he was so dedicated to it almost made Chrissy want to heave. Truly the opposite of Billy.
All this meant when Mitch walked into Spencer’s one Saturday afternoon, Chrissy surprised herself.
He certainly wasn’t her usual type. Not that Chrissy necessarily had a type.
Mitch carried himself with ease. A flannel-clad, messy haired man who definitely had seen a few summers on the farms around the Hawkins area. Baby faced under the stubble around his cleft chin. A rugged Simon Le Bon, she realized. Perhaps more her type than she thought.
“You got nose rings in stock at all?” he asked, leaning against the counter. Chrissy blinked, eyes flitting from his near-black eyes to the small silver stud on his left nostril.
“Uh, yeah,” she said, setting aside the tagging gun and rolled posters. She motioned for him to follow, walking towards the upright case. “You looking for a specific color?”
“Plain ol’ steel works just fine,” he answered, looking at the selection. “Lost my favorite one and I hate studs. Figured I’d come in and grab one after work, y’know?”
“Gotcha.” Chrissy unlocked the case, scanning the selection.
Her hand reached out swiftly, grabbing a pack at the bottom before handing it to him. “This one’s got two rings. In case you manage to lose one again,” she teased.
“Good thinking,” he smiled.
He took the package from her hand, his larger hand enveloping her own. A series of thumps resounded in her chest, catching her off guard. Black eyes caught hers, flitting down to her name tag before looking back into the case.
“You think I should get a few more, Chrissy? Different colors, switch it up a bit?” he asked, folding his arms.
“Up to you…?”
“Mitch,” she repeated. “Though, I think the oil slick ones are pretty spiffy.”
“I’ll take ‘em.”
“Where do you work?” Chrissy asked, trying to sound nonchalant. “I mean, not a lot of places allow face piercings.”
“Uh, Hess Farm. You’ve probably seen me there during the haunted corn maze. I’m the one with the Leatherface mask.”
“That’s you?” she said incredulously, a laugh wrapping around her words. “I almost punched you last year, I’m so sorry.”
“It happens,” he chuckled. He checked his watch, thick eyebrows raised in surprise. “Hey, I gotta head out, but you want to continue this conversation later? Sans the whole work environment?”
It was Chrissy’s turn to raise her eyebrows. “Like… a date? Or hanging out?”
“Date, hanging out, it’s up to you,” Mitch shrugged, a warm smile playing on his lips. “You seem like a cool chick. I can always use some more cool people to hang out with.”
“Y-Yeah,” she said, the pounding in her chest returning tenfold. “Uh, let me get you checked out. I’ll decide once I’ve made a sale.”
He laughed, handing over the plastic packages. Everything about him seemed so open and warm. As she rang up his purchase, Chrissy came to a decision. It wouldn’t hurt to have some fun after all the hell she had put up with the past month. Like he said, it would probably be beneficial to make a new friend, get out of the high school bubble.
She handed back his change and a sticky note with her number scribbled on it.
“I’m off at five,” she said, biting her lip to hold back a grin. “Give me a call, figure something out.”
“Cool.” That warm smile spread across his face again. “Thanks. The oil slick ring may make its debut tonight.”
The diner wasn’t very busy, to her surprise. It was the first place either of them could think of. Neutral ground, devoid of expectations and cheap.
Chrissy knew she was a sucker. Mitch’s face was gorgeous and calm, smoke hanging around the short, wispy ends of his black hair. A tiny voice in her wouldn’t stop proclaiming that it was fate; that he was meant to be here to break the spell Billy had put over her. The voice was dead wrong. She knew that with her whole being. If only it would shut up for a second and let her enjoy the fucking moment of reprieve.
“You ever listen to The Three O’Clock before?” Mitch asked, taking a drag of his cigarette. He smoked Camels; the lack of the bright red packaging of Billy’s chosen brand was a relief.
“Nope,” Chrissy answered, taking a drink of her lemonade. “They good?”
“ Fantastic. Real psychedelic. If you like The Bangles, I think you might dig them.”
It wasn’t really her music taste, but she was willing to give a listen. Expand your horizons, Chrissy, she thought wryly. Just like Mom keeps telling you.
“There’s a band playing at Wolski’s tonight,” he added, swirling his iced tea in the glass. “Few buddies from the farm are in it, they mostly do covers but they’re solid. Care to go?”
“Wolski’s?” she repeated, raising an eyebrow. “Dude, I’m eighteen. They aren’t gonna let me in.”
“So? I’m only twenty, they let me in all the time,” he smiled, waving his hand to shoo her concerns away. “They’ll just draw a smiley face on your hand or something so they know you can’t drink.”
Chrissy shrugged. “If you say so. If we get kicked out, it’s your fault.”
“They won’t kick you out if you’re with me.”
“Sure,” she said, giving a half-cocked smile. “So, what do they play?”
“Uh, CCR, Zeppelin, Bowie. Iron Maiden.” Mitch paused. “They’re very… diverse.”
Mitch was certainly right about the band having a vast catalog of music to play. It was a little ridiculous, if Chrissy was honest. Still, there was obviously an audience for them in this small town, and with an abysmal nightlife in Hawkins, it was hard to be picky.
She settled against Mitch, whose arm slung over her shoulder. He seemed perfectly content with the situation, every so often tapping the beat of a song against her collarbone. Chrissy was surprised; he wasn’t handsy, like most guys she came across. She was beginning to suspect he was an alien. Or a robot.
It put her at ease, though. Even if he had seen her at school before he graduated, it was long before her reputation had become a hindrance. There were no expectations here. She was just some girl who worked at Spencer’s who he happened to find cute.
“I’m gonna get a drink,” she announced over the band. “Want anything?”
“I’m good,” Mitch answered, giving her a wink. “You want me to pay for it?”
“I think I can cover it,” Chrissy teased, biting her lip as she made her way to the bar.
The clink of glasses as they settled into the metal sink behind the bar drew her attention as she waited for her drink. A soda, since mixers were the only think she was allowed to have besides water. She probably could have gotten some faux-cocktail, but it seemed almost more pathetic than just a soda by itself.
God, she thought. I wish I could just have a frickin’ beer.
As soon as she forked over a dollar, she meandered to the front of the bar, taking a sip as she looked out on the street from the dirty windows. Daylight was still trying to hang on, bathing the town in a warm pinkish glow as it battled with the incoming dusk. Everything felt at peace until a familiar sound overtook Chrissy’s ears.
It was near Pavlovian, her response to the sound of the Camaro tearing down 5th Street. Her heart jumped, breath hitching a bit as the deep blue car came to a halt and turned into the parking lot. Dread swept over her, a hundred questions running through her brain. She didn’t want to talk to him. Hell, she really didn’t want him to see her out with someone else at this point. If she asked Mitch if they could leave, it’d cause more of a scene than just staying. Perhaps if she nestled further into the small crowd, she could avoid the blonde altogether.
As she made her way back to Mitch, nearly spilling her drink a few times, she made the mistake of looking back. Billy had made his way inside and seen her. The way his eyes pierced through her only made her more sure she wanted as much space between them as possible. They were a lit match and gunpowder. Keeping away from each other meant the world around them was safe from the potential explosion. Stealing one last glance at the blonde, Chrissy slipped a hand into Mitch’s.
She debated how far she’d be willing to let this night go. Before Billy had shown up, Chrissy had waffled between a kiss goodnight and making out. Now, there was a desire to prove she didn’t need the blonde anymore. Maybe she’d fuck Mitch. It didn't feel fair to him if it was partially out of spite, but if he wanted her that way, he didn't need to know.
She turned her head to look at Mitch, who in turn glanced down at her, that amiable smile back on his face. It only took a few beats before he ducked down, pressing a kiss to her waiting lips. Slow kisses bloomed between them, the lazy guitar of a butchered David Bowie song setting the pace.
Chrissy didn’t know whether to be disappointed or relieved. It wasn’t that Mitch was a bad kisser. While a heat had gathered in her, probably from the lack of anything remotely sexual in her life, the spark wasn’t there. There was no electricity, nothing close to how she had felt kissing a certain blonde for the past few months.
As she pulled away, she stole a glance Billy’s way. His face was hard, eyes diverting away once she caught his eye. He’d seen everything. His expression, as hard as he tried, was so telling of the thoughts running through his head that Chrissy almost felt bad.
He gave her a glare before pushing his way through the crowded bar, the door flinging open with ferocity. A few of the other patrons watched as it slammed shut. Chrissy’s jaw set, a small stream of air blowing through her nose. She turned back to Mitch, hand tapping on his chest as she gave him a small kiss on the cheek.
“It’s getting hot in here,” she said. “I’m gonna get some air.”
“Want me to come with?” he asked.
“Nah. I’ll be fine.”
“A real independent lady,” he stated with a lazy smile. “I dig it.”
As she pushed through the growing crowd, Chrissy felt anger replace the dread she had felt before. She couldn’t have one thing to herself without Billy’s presence ruining it. What was he expecting, seeing her with another guy? Chaste hand holding? He knew her better than that. She pushed the door open, stepping out into the warmth of the balmy summer evening.
“What’s your deal?” she asked, voice almost shrill.
“Hello to you too, sunshine,” Billy deadpanned, lighter flicking on and off as he lit his cigarette.
"You're not very subtle when you're stalking someone, are you?" Chrissy folded her arms, a petulant frown on her face.
“You think I’m keeping tabs on you?" He laughed, the sound almost scornful. "It’s a small town, don’t flatter yourself."
"Feels a little too convenient that you show up somewhere when I'm on a date."
"It's a local band. I wanted to get out of the house. Sue me.”
The muffled drone of a guitar solo filled the silence as Chrissy glared at him. Billy only stared back, his face a disaffected blank slate as he blinked.
He was right and she hated it. In Hawkins, it was impossible to avoid someone in public. If you wanted to stop seeing a person you disliked altogether, the best option was to move to Fort Wayne and pray you never ran into them again.
“Whatever,” she muttered, arms crossing tighter. “Doesn’t mean you have to stare at me whenever you see me.”
“You were staring right back.” Billy paused, blowing smoke out of his nose. “So, you screw him yet?”
“None of your business, dickweed.”
“So you haven’t,” he said, tongue tracing the ridges of his teeth. “If you want my opinion—”
“I really don’t.”
“— he doesn’t look like he would know how to fuck you right, anyway.”
Chrissy bristled, fingers gripping at her arms tight enough to whiten her knuckles. “Fuck you, Billy.”
Half-lidded eyes traced her face, a sardonic smile resting on his lips as he took another drag. He shrugged. “If you’re offering, sure. Just don’t expect me to get all cuddly after.”
“What is wrong with you?!”
“Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about it.”
“Fuck,” she muttered under her breath before letting her voice grow louder. “Seriously. Just stay away from me, Billy.”
“Or what, you’ll sic whatever guy you’ve hooked up with, courtesy of your new slut tour, on me?” He blew out a breath from his nose, now glaring at her. “Give me a fuckin’ break.”
Chrissy turned on her heel to stomp back into the bar. “I hate you.”
“Yeah, yeah. Ten bucks says you call me tonight after you’re done with Nose Ring,” he called after her.
It was that type of shit that made her question why she had been with Billy in the first place. He always had to have the last word, always had to remind her that
Whatever. Chrissy slid past a cluster of patrons, finding her way back to Mitch. She wasn't about to let Billy ruin what had been a good, if tepid to this point, night. Perhaps that’s what she needed after the whirlwind of the past few months. Billy was a wildfire, inescapable and consuming, while Mitch had the comfort of a campfire. Comforting, easy to leave and return to as she pleased.
And that was was she planned to do. Come and go as she wished, flitting through life without the desire for love dragging her down.
Billy Hargrove was understandably irate today.
He had been unprepared to take over Adam’s swim class today. Normally, Billy's group were the young ones, kids still too small to know how to talk back and whose parents made them call him 'Mr. Billy'. Today however, he had been stuck with the 7+ group. Bunch of little fuckers who never had their goggles and constantly asked stupid questions.
The 7+ group happened to include Caitlin DiMartino. She wasn’t a very strong swimmer, and tended to glom on to Billy when she could out of nervousness. Avoiding her questions about where he had been the past few weeks was a fucking nightmare.
There was a sense of relief at the end of class when Patty had come to collect Caitlin. She at least was civil, still friendly in the polite way that Midwestern moms tended to be. Patty being there meant he could avoid Chrissy’s glance a little longer. After the fiasco at Wolski’s, he didn’t think he would be able to handle those wounded eyes, nor more words meant specifically to hurt him.
If she found herself a new distraction, fine. Screw her.
He could do the same. He had someone in mind, anyway, another challenge to keep his mind from wandering back to the mixed emotions. Billy had planted the seed months ago, long before he and Chrissy were even a thing, and he wanted to see if he could make it bloom.
After his lunch break, his plan took motion. The parade down the waiting line of bored mothers, a simple compliment thrown specifically Mrs. Wheeler’s way. It was all just to test the waters.
As he sat on the lifeguard chair, catching a glimpse of Mrs. Wheeler every now and then, his resolve solidified. He felt like he couldn’t sit still today, couldn’t concentrate at his normal level. At this point, it was a literal countdown till his next break. Twenty minutes. He unwrapped in a piece of gum, popping small bubbles between his teeth in an attempt to relieve himself of boredom. Fifteen. He blew the whistle a few times, yelling at fucking Curtis for the umpteeth time this week. Ten. Mrs. Wheeler left her spot under the umbrella for the lanes.
She was eye candy, that was for sure. Near perfect backstroke, not a care in the world as she did laps. Billy had seen the loser she called a husband a few times while picking Max up at the Wheeler’s. Always asleep or ignoring the world around him with a newspaper or the tv. There was no way she was getting what she needed from him.
Thank god his hour on watch was up. He couldn’t remember a time he got off the chair as fast as he had just done. It was as if he was on autopilot. His feet carried him to Mrs. Wheeler’s chosen spot, making small talk with the other ladies as he grabbed the light blue towel at the foot of the chaise.
“Looking good out there Mrs. Wheeler,” he called out as he made his way to her.
“Perfect form,” he added, tilting his head as he handed a towel to the older woman.
“Well,” she gushed, “ your form is amazing.”
He couldn’t help but let out a breathy, nearly giddy laugh as he looked away, scanning to see if anyone was watching. Hoping it looked slightly bashful, just to rustle up Mrs. Wheeler more.
“Sorry, I mean, I’ve seen you. Teaching. Lessons. Swimming lessons.”
Christ, she was flustered. Like a little school girl with her first big crush. Billy couldn’t help but want to push it further, to see how far he could get her to go today. Part of him knew it only took a slight nudge to get her to do whatever he wanted.
“You know, I could, uh,” he started, making direct eye contact with her, “I could teach you if you like.” A flutter of his lashes and a smile really went a long way with this woman.
“I know all the styles. Freestyle, butterfly,” he said slowly, taking a step towards her. Mrs. Wheeler was rapt with attention, hanging on to every word. As he unwrapped a piece of gum, he gave her a once over, grinning as he went in for the kill. “ Breaststroke. ”
Bingo. The towel slipped to the floor, Mrs. Wheeler seemingly short-circuiting at the thought. They both bent down. Billy managed to swipe the towel and handed it to her with a grin.
“You okay?” he teased.
“I didn’t think— I didn’t think you taught adults,” she said, trying to recover. That bubbly smile of hers widened, masking whatever was going on in her pretty little head.
“I offer more, uh, advanced lessons to select clientele,” he grinned.
“Oh.” Her face looked disappointed for a moment. Billy, not willing to let this slide for a second, rattled on.
“Come to think of it, there is a good pool down at the Motel 6 on Cornwallis. It’s very quiet. Y’know, very private.”
It all seemed to click in that instant for Mrs. Wheeler. Billy gave another small grin, gum popping between his teeth. Part of him hoped someone had overheard this, watching the brazen display.
“Shall we say tonight? Eight o’clock?” Billy searching her warm brown eyes, watching as another bead of water took part of her makeup in a streak down her face.
There was a slight nod. Suddenly, it seemed to occur to Mrs. Wheeler what exactly was being propositioned, that this was no longer just play between them.
“I’m sorry,” she finally said, bashful once again. “I can’t.”
“Can’t what?” he asked, feigning naivety. His eyebrows creased in concern before a smile broke slowly on his face. “Have fun?”
“I just— I don’t think I need any lessons,” Mrs. Wheeler said, giving him a confident look.
“Oh, you see, I think you do. I just don’t think you’ve had the right teacher.”
“It will be,” he rasped, “the workout of your life. ”
He knew in that moment, he had her. Tonight, he’d have something to look forward to, a respite from the moping and irritability that had engulfed him. He’d have a wild memory to look back on, something to hold on to during any lows that would hit him.
Eight o’clock rolled around quicker than he thought. The realization that he hadn’t had a reason to go through his date routine in ages was a grim one. It seemed to be a thought that couldn't be avoided as he flit about his room.
The wave of relief with being single again came and went, sometimes rolling back far enough to reveal the fresh scar where Chrissy had been. With her gone, he was alone again. It had been uncomfortable at first; realizing he couldn't just pick up the phone and bitch about whatever came to mind, or stop by her house out of boredom. He'd bought Marlboro Golds along with his pack of Reds out of habit one time. Six months of little habits were hard to break.
He wondered if she was having the same problem. How many times she had seen something that reminded her of him. If his shirts she had taken still hung in her closet among the pastels and neons of her wardrobe. If waves of loneliness washed over her in the most unsuspecting moments.
She at least had Annette to help guide her through the pain. Billy had… Tommy, maybe. Word had gotten around to him that it was Tommy who had ratted him out to Chrissy. The idea of going to the freckled bastard for support was unappealing. He’d just have to deal with it alone.
Billy had been a loner most of his life. The adjustment could be made again. He could flit in and out of lives again as he chose. And that was exactly what he planned to do tonight. Swoop in, have his fun, and get the hell out before things got messy.
He rustled through his closet, eyes coming upon the red shirt he had worn the night he’d first met Mrs. Wheeler. Maybe that would be a good choice for tonight. Some nostalgia ought to get the lady hungry for him. Billy pursed his lips. Maybe not. It signaled he openly cared about tonight, and there was no way in hell he’d let a housewife hold that over him. Fingers grasped at a navy button down instead.
He was done with the sentimental crap.
The Camaro sped down the empty street of Cherry Oak Drive, the noise from the engine echoing between the trees. Nightfall had already blanketed Hawkins, deadening the town that was barely alive to begin with.
Billy tapped along to the song thumping over the radio. A triumphant smile played at his lips, eyes flitting up to his rear view mirror. He caught a glimpse of himself, not a hair out of place, impeccably groomed and dressed, all to set the stage for tonight. A laugh slipped out, the knowledge that he was finally going to see the fruits of his labor tickling him pink. A hand flew up to the mirror, adjusting it slightly so his face was visible fully.
“Hey Karen,” he said to his reflection, voice sickly sweet. “You don’t mind if I call you Karen, do you?”
He could almost hear her voice, stuttering and bashful, telling him, “Karen’s fine.”
“Good,” he grinned to himself.
It all seemed to happen in an instant. Something smacked against his windshield with enough force to spin his car off the road. The squeal of his tires, the sickly smack of his head against the window as the Camaro collided with a thicket.
“Shit,” he muttered.
All he could think of was how fucking unfair it all was. He’d finally found a good way to get his mind off everything, he’d gotten his hopes up to have some fun , and now he was sitting, bleeding, in his piece-of-shit car.
As he got out to assess the damage, Billy mulled over whether or not Karen would still be down for their ‘swimming lesson’ if he showed up with a gash on his head. She’d probably get all protective, try to fix his head up. He really wasn’t in the mood to be mothered. Maybe she’d just roll with it, find his roughed-up appearance hot.
Gravel crunched under his boots as he made his way around the car, slamming the door closed loud enough for it to echo. The spidery crack on his windshield caught his eye, eyebrows furrowing as something glinted in the low light. Against his better judgement, Billy dipped a finger into the viscous substance, face screwing into disgust. He really didn’t know what he expected. It didn’t look like anything he had ever seen before.
His thoughts were interrupted by skittering behind him.
Are you fucking kidding me? He turned, eyes shifting back and forth in the dim light, hoping to see whatever had made the noise. Maybe it was the thing he hit, or some asshole who had thrown whatever hit his car in the first place.
No answer. With a few tentative steps, he called out again. “Hey! I said, who’s there?”
Something wrapped around his ankle, pulling with enough force to bring him to the ground. It dragged him, Billy screaming and clawing at the ground in desperation. Dirt and debris under his nails, unable to get a grip until he hits the stairs. There was a moment he thought his strength would save him, that he could pull himself away. Panic rose in him, yells getting louder and more desperate as his fingers slipped from the steel doorway. His head hit the bottom of the stairs with a clang, the force enough to make his stomach flip over and over.
The only thing he can remember after that was a flesh-like appendage, attaching itself to his face and forcing something into him. The release from the thing , his adrenaline kicking in as he made his escape. The relief that the Camaro still drove, tires squealing as he peeled out of the lot, back toward the pay phone he had seen a mile back. Panic as he called 911. A deep sense of terror as he realized there was no way to explain what happened to him.
There wasn’t enough time to figure out an explanation. The phone cut out, then the lights in the surrounding area. Everything seemed bathed in a sickly haze, the sky lit up with red clouds and lightning. The sound of footsteps came from the north, all measured and purposeful. Billy’s heart thudded faster, a barrage of welts inside his chest as he stepped outside the booth.
“What do you want?!” Billy called out,
He was convinced he had a concussion. A bad one, one that made him hallucinate all of this. The flickering lights, the… people, his own fucking self . All of it had to be his mind in disarray from the crash.
“I said, what do you what?!”
To build. I want you to build.
“Build what?” His delirious mind couldn’t hold back the question. This vision of himself chilled every cell in his body.
What you see.
It all seemed to dissipate with a flash of lightning. The phone booth lights flickered back on, street lamps coming back to life one by one. Cornwallis was quiet once more, except for Billy and his echoing shouts.
“I don’t understand!”
He never got clarity on what his other self meant. It fucking haunted him the whole drive home, eyes flitting back in fear of seeing the throng of people with his dead-eyed self as their leader behind him.
Thank god everyone was asleep or gone when he returned. Neil and Susan had left on a mini-vacation to see some stupid air show in Wisconsin, leaving him and Max to fend for themselves over the holiday. The less questions tonight, the better. As he shut his bedroom door, Billy rested his head on the wood, letting out a small groan.
Every part of his body hurt. Everything was on fire and so cold at the same time. The idea that what had happened was beyond a concussion seemed more likely as the minutes passed. He knew he was different; he was ruined somehow.
Billy peeled off his clothes, nausea returning at the sight of the unidentifiable black substance mixed with dirt on his tank top. A few ragged breaths came and went as he steadied himself, tossing the clothes in the laundry basket.
"Fuck," he muttered to himself.
For a brief moment, he thought of calling Chrissy. A familiar voice would have been a comfort. Whatever terrible thing that had seeped into him felt too dangerous to share, too overpoweringly disgusting to speak of. She wouldn’t understand. The probability that she would hang up immediately was high anyway. Maybe it was for the best.
Curls stuck to his face, others hanging limply around his neck. His hands wouldn’t stop shaking. With a wince, he hefted himself to his feet, shuffling towards the bathroom.
Clean. He had to wash this night off him.
A stream came from the shower head, lukewarm water coating his aching body as he rested a hand on the wall to steady himself. Eyes found the discolored spot on the tub, his mind devoid of thought besides a resounding ‘why?’ . Why he had asked Karen to meet him in the first place. Why he walked away from his car instead of driving off. Why he had been shown a vision of himself and given such incomprehensible instructions.
He felt a creeping shiver up his spine, ears not quite ringing but filled with a fluttering hiss.
Billy winced, running his hands through tangled hair. After this, he was going to smoke a bowl and hope it’d knock him out for the rest of the night. The fresh memories were already burning themselves onto the interior of his eyelids. He couldn’t fucking handle this, not right now.
Tomorrow he’d figure this all out.