The summer of 1989 brought a dry heat to the small town of Derry, Maine. Roads cracked under the oppressive weight of the afternoon sun, the air thick as ocean waves. It was a stark contrast to the near monsoons of the months before as the flooded banks of the Kenduskeag receded. In the grand scheme of things it was like every other summer that had come before. The heat and the crackle of anxious energy as the children of Derry buzzed at the prospect of impending freedom, was familiar. It was only in the smaller, personal confines of individual lives that the summer of ‘89 was beginning to pull itself away into unknown territory.
It started with Beverly Marsh.
Derry for all its quaint and quiet small town aesthetic was simmering with barely concealed vitriol. Whispered words hissed in school hallways and rumors scrawled on bathroom stalls had become a familiar soundtrack for Beverly’s life. Slut. Whore. Dirty Bitch. She’d heard it all and trained herself to school the expression on her face, to not let anyone see her cry. Not like the first time. Even when Greta Keene and her sneering minions cornered her in a bathroom stall she didn’t let herself show anything but mild disinterest. Green eyes half lidded in a thin veil of boredom as she pressed her cigarette to her lips.
It’s been so long she’s not sure when the rumors started, or where they came from. Trying to deny them only piled them on higher. Derry was small, tightly packed and boiling with barely suppressed anger and resentment. It was kind of like the writing on the bathroom stalls was its own kind of cancer. Her name tied to a dozen boys she’d never so much as glanced at. She didn’t consider herself particularly imaginative, not really, but when she’s perched on the edge of a toilet trying to forget she couldn’t help but picture that ink spreading outwards. The words blanketing the stall, then the bathroom, zooming through the school’s hallways and classrooms, before laying across Derry like a shroud. Until it wasn’t just girls like Greta looking at her like she was dripping in every unspeakable thing, but adults too. Teachers and parents.
Today was different. She shouldn’t have come to school.
There was a tremor in her fingertips that hadn’t gone away even with the nicotine in her system. Her eyes rimmed in red and a purple bruise spreading angrily across the left side of her face. She should be running. Hiding. Taking the money she’d stolen from her father’s wallet and doing something with it. A bus ticket maybe.
She wondered if she’d killed him. If he was still lying on the floor of the bathroom right now. Bleeding.
Her hand was shaking so hard she missed her mouth twice. Her eyes blank and unseeing. She’d stopped wondering why her father was the way he was. Stopped trying to remember when he’d been kind or gentle, when his hands hadn’t hurt and his voice hadn’t made her skin feel dirty. If only she could cut it off as easily as she did the hair he touched.
Coming to school had seemed logical when the adrenaline was still coursing through her. All she had to do was grab her backpack, hop on her bike, and go. It could have been just any other morning. Any other day. Except she didn’t know if her father was dead or not. She didn’t know where she’d go after this.
“Beverly Marsh?” She’d been spiraling so hard she hadn’t heard the door open.The vaguely familiar voice of the school’s assistant principal echoing in the room around her and making her entire body freeze.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
“Ms. Marsh?” It was too late not to tuck her legs into her chest and pretend she wasn’t here. Too late now to do anything except put her cigarette out on the stall beside her and suck in a shuddering breath of air.
“Y-yes?” She flinched at the crack in her voice, teeth biting into her bottom lip.
“I need you to come with me.” There was a soft rap of knuckles on the stall door. Light and tentative.
Beverly didn’t want to go. Her eyes shut tight and her hands clenched into fists in her lap. The cigarette but discarded beside the toilet. Get it together Bev. She tried to remember the face she’d cultivated these past few years, the facade she’d built around herself like unscalable castle walls. Slowly, with that shielding hugged tight around her like a blanket, she got to her feet and stepped out of the stall.
The school’s assistant principal was a woman, tall and slender with a hard bird-like face. A hooked nose and steely grey eyes made her seem like a vulture just waiting for Beverly to drop dead at her feet. Except that she was smiling and it was soft and sad, and when she spoke- offering a hand out, it was like she was talking to a skittish horse.
“Come with me.” She said, and Bev didn’t see any other options. She couldn’t run. Not with how hard her knees were shaking anyway. So she let the woman take her hand and guide her out of the bathroom to the principal's office.
Part of her was sure. Was terrified. That her father would be standing there waiting for her. She could already picture the anger burning like fire in his eyes, the tight line of his mouth and hard clench of his jaw.
Are you still my little girl Bevvy?
It made the instinct to run so much harder to ignore as they approached their destination. Her feet dragging, heels digging just the slightest bit against the linoleum. If the woman pulling her along noticed she didn’t say anything or rush her. Simply held her hand a little tighter and kept guiding them forward.
She’d been in the principal’s office more times than she could count. Usually for being caught smoking somewhere on campus. She knew her way there and she knew the layout of the room before they even stepped through the door. She knew that the principal would be sitting at his desk, hands folded. She expected all that and she expected her father.
It never occurred to her to think the police might be there. Her entire body jolted like an electric shock as Sheriff Hopper turned towards the door as they entered. Something like anger flashing across his features as his eyes landed on her face. Oh God. Oh she's fucked up. Her dad was dead and now she was going to- going to-
The sudden flood of terrified thoughts were cut off as abruptly as they started when a woman pulled her out of the vice principal's grasp and into a tight hug. Instinctively Beverly froze, growing as still as a statue in the unexpected affection. Uncertainty and confusion flooding her features as her eyes took in the faces of all the adults in the room. What the hell was happening?
The woman holding her pulled back, holding her at arm’s length and bending slightly to make them eye level. “Oh honey…” she whispered softly, one hand moving to hover over the bruise on Beverly’s cheek, brows knitting together.
“Beverly, can you sit down?” Hopper spoke up, clearing his throat and gesturing to one of the chairs in the room. His gaze moved to the principal “Could you, uh, give us a minute?”
“Yes. Of course. We’ll be right outside.” The man got to his feet, giving Beverly a nod before guiding the assistant principal out the door.
Which left Beverly alone with the Sheriff and the strange woman.
She hadn’t moved from where she’d been standing. She felt too much like a deer caught in the headlights, frozen in place just waiting for death to hit her fast and hard. It was the woman who finally led her to the chair and helped her sit, her hands quickly moving to brush a lock of orange hair behind Beverly’s ear.
Hopper settled on the desk across from Beverly. He watched the exchange between them before clearing his throat, and nodding in Beverly’s direction. “Did your dad do that to you?”
Beverly’s hands flew to her face unconsciously and she winced as her fingers touched the still too tender skin. Instinct told her to say no. The word was right there, on the tip of her tongue. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d lied about it. I fell. I tripped. I got hit by a ball. It was an accident. All the old excuses were piling up too fast in the back of her throat, clogging her lungs and keeping her silent.
Something in Hopper’s face told her he wouldn’t believe her even if she did lie. The way he looked at her now it was like he could see every excuse as it clamored on the tip of her tongue. Could see right through them to the truth behind each one.
“You don’t have to protect him anymore. He’s never gonna touch you again.”
“You’re safe now Bev.” The woman was speaking now, and her hand was resting over Beverly’s, thumb rubbing a soft pattern against her skin.
Was it hope or fear she could feel pounding in her chest?
Her eyes moved from one adult to the other, blinking up at them with uncertainty. She had to swallow before she could speak the next words and even then they were so quiet, a barely there whisper. “Is he...did I…”
“No, no sweetie. You didn’t.” The woman’s hands moved to touch her face, gentle fingers brushing over her uninjured cheek. “He’s in the hospital, but he’s never going to touch again, okay?” She smiled, “You’re coming with me.”
Bev’s brows furrowed, her gaze flicking over the woman’s features like she was trying to spot something familiar in them. Some reason why this stranger would want to have her- dirty, slutty Beaverly, in her home. She’d seen her around school before. She was almost sure that she was Will Byer’s mom, but she couldn’t be certain. Not really.
“Joyce I don’t think she knows who you are…” Bev’s eyes shifted to Hopper, who was looking at her with a mix of concern and something else. Anger? She remembered the spark of anger from before but now she understood it a little better. He wasn’t angry at her. He was angry at the bruise on her face, at her father.
Joyce looked pained at that realization, like it physically hurt her to see Bev’s face and not have some sort of recognition shining back at her.
“You’re Will’s mom right?” Bev said cautiously, shifting in her seat. She was uncomfortable under all this scrutiny. She never thought she’d miss the bathroom stall with all its insults but she almost wished she could be there right now. If only to stop people from staring at her.
“Yes honey, I’m Will’s mom.” Joyce smiled softly, “But I’m-” she sucked in a breath, sitting back on her heels from where she’d been kneeling on the floor. “I’m your aunt. He- he really didn’t say anything?” Her brows stitched together, “He didn’t mention me at all?”
Bev tried to think, wracking her mind for mentions of any other family. After her mom passed away her father had essentially cut them off from the world. If she ever asked about anyone- about grandparents or cousins, or any other family. He’d tell her they were dead or non-existent. The fact that she an aunt, and one that actually lived in Derry, whom she’d seen around town more than once...was a shock. “No.” She shook her head, “He said he didn’t have any family, and that mom didn’t either.”
She didn’t notice that her hands were clenched tight around the skirt of her dress again. The grip tight enough to turn her knuckles white and the fabric barely enough protection to stop her nails from digging into her palms.
Joyce sighed, her head bowing for a moment. She seemed to notice the death grip Bev had on her own clothes, and gently pried her fingers loose from the fabric. Holding both her hands in her own. “I should have tried harder to come see you.” She said with a soft sigh, meeting Bev’s eyes again. “I never thought-”
“Don’t Joyce. Don’t go there.” Hopper was on his feet, shifting closer to them. “It’s not your fault your brother’s a rat bastard.”
He shifted, groaning a little as he went down on his knees beside Joyce, offering Bev a reassuring smile. “Look kid, that goes for you too, okay? What happened? Not your fault. You did good, I’ve been wanting to clock your old man since high school.” He reached out, seemed to consider patting her arm, before changing his mind and resting his hand on Joyce’s shoulder. “Your aunt here, she’s gonna take you in. You don’t have to worry about your dad anymore.”
Up until this point Bev had been in shock. She’d likely been in shock since this morning when her dad had pinned her to the floor of their home. Now, here, in the wake of all this kindness and warmth she could feel her walls involuntarily crumble. Everything she’d tried so desperately to hide came tumbling out. The tears she’d been keeping to herself for the last few years burned their path down her cheeks, her shoulders shuddering with thinly controlled sobs.
Joyce’s reaction was instantaneous. Her arms were around Beverly in a moment, pulling her from her chair and letting her curl up in her lap on the floor. “Shh, shhh it’s okay honey. It’s okay.” Bev could feel kisses pressed against her hair, arms warm and safe around her shoulders. “You’re okay now. I’ve got you.”
For the first time in a long time...Beverly Marsh felt safe.